Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Tension and Cliffhangers

By: Terry Odell

When we’re writing, we want reader to keep turning pages. There are lots of ways to do this. Donald Maass speaks of “microtension” where every sentence makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next. According to Maass, the tension, the friction, make the reader want to know the outcome of the immediate situation. It’s not necessarily part of the overall plot. He suggests looking at any random page of a novel and studying the following three components: Dialogue, Exposition, and Action.

Looking at Dialogue

Escalating the language can add tension. Stronger verbs, more reactions, show friction between speakers. Raise the reader’s apprehension.

Looking at Exposition and Interior Monologue

To add tension, try to add the opposite, or conflicting, or contradiction of inner emotions. Two ideas at war with each other—and this holds true for literary work as well as genre fiction.

Looking at Action

In action scenes, use less expected emotions that play off the action itself. Action does not create tension. The reader must be emotionally involved.

Tension comes from inside the POV character’s emotional reactions to the action.

Tension can be subtle. It can appear in sub text.

There’s also the bigger picture – ending scenes and chapters so the reader wants to turn the page. Ending a chapter on a cliffhanger can do that. One of my critique partners referred to them as “landings.” There’s nothing new about cliffhangers. According to Wikipedia, “Cliffhangers were used as literary devices in several works of the medieval era. The Arabic literary work One Thousand and One Nights involves Scheherazade narrating a series of stories to King Shahryār for 1,001 nights, with each night ending on a cliffhanger in order to save herself from execution. Some medieval Chinese ballads like the Liu chih-yuan chu-kung-tiao ended each chapter on a cliffhanger to keep the audience in suspense.”

Newspapers and Movies

Newspapers used to publish novels in a serial format with one chapter appearing every month. There are numerous online sites that use the same approach.

Cliffhangers were used in the movies, such as The Perils of Pauline, a weekly series which was designed to bring viewers back for more. Soap operas on television used this technique as well. In fact, “mini cliffhangers” are used in most television shows to make sure viewers don’t change channels at commercial breaks. If you’re a DVR watcher of television, rather than a ‘live’ watcher, you can probably sense when to pick up the remote even before the commercial kicks in.

The End…

So, cliffhangers and tension are good to keep readers turning pages. But what about the end of a book? I read a novella (which triggered the idea for this post) where the story simply ended. The heroine gets a call from her new boyfriend who has gone missing, and he basically says, “I’m in terrible trouble.” I turned the page but there were no more pages. What I could do, and this was undoubtedly the author’s intent, was buy the second novella in the series. Did I? Nope. No way, no how. I was incensed at being played like that (not to mention I really didn’t care much for the characters anyway), and wouldn’t plunk down a cent for more.

I checked reviews, and was surprised to find that many people left glowing reviews for the story, while only about 20% of the people leaving reviews felt cheated by the cliffhanger ending.

What about you? When you get to the end of a book or story, do you want a cliffhanger? Or do you feel cheated the way I did?


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows. WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreadsAmazon,

Post-Conference Check In

This week we have two articles that take a look at Post-Conference. The first is from Kim Krisco who shares his thoughts on his first conference experience, and the second, by Margena Holmes, explores what’s next. We hope you enjoy this double hitter.

PPWC2021 – What an Experience!

By: Kim Krisco

Caught up in the volunteer spirit that seems to permeate Pikes Peak Writers, I volunteered to write a post-conference retrospective for Writing from the Peak. Given the heap of notes, handouts, and slide downloads piled on my desk, the most obvious topic would seem to be how to organize all the information and teachings I received in the two and one-half days. To be honest, my notetaking became less prolific when I fully realized that all the sessions are recorded, and I would be able to review the presentations I attended and learn from those I was unable to attend for the next thirty days. A perk from this year’s conference that, for me, escalated its value 10X.

PPWC 2021 was my very first conference. What could I possibly offer? A promising topic didn’t take form until I asked myself the questions that everyone asked:  What have I come away with? What is the most valuable takeaway? What difference has PPWC 2021 made in my writing life?

Like many of you, I was registered for the 2020 conference and was deeply disappointed when it was canceled. However, I did not fully realize what I missed until this year. It wasn’t only bountiful presentations and workshops, but rather something more important — qualities that necessarily inhabit every writer’s mind, heart, and spirit. PPWC 2021 gave me three exceptional gifts:

  • Greater humility
  • Recommitment to the writing craft
  • A deep appreciation for the Pikes Peak Writers community

Over the years, I have made steady progress honing my writing skills, and my efforts have borne some fruit. But if I am to continue growing and improving, I must fully embrace a student mindset. Absorbing the knowledge and insights of the presenters and noting the marvelous accomplishments of these teachers put me squarely in the classroom. I’m grateful for this because one of the most wonderful things about pursuing a writing career is that the quest is never-ending. We never get there. We can always be better writers. So, notebook out, pen in hand, I come away ready to learn. Nay, “ready” is too ordinary a word, for a greater energy is motivating me.

Being a PPW newbie, I hung out in Zeb’s Lounge before each conference day began, virtually tiptoed into several of the accompanying breakout rooms, attended the volunteer award ceremony, and was at the main stage when the flash fiction contest results was presented. As my well-intentioned voyeurism unfolded, I became aware of a warm and wonderful feeling gestating within. Vague at first, it soon blossomed into a beautiful awareness and appreciation for the relationships I saw manifested among the various members. This lustrous warmth burst through my cold blue zoom screen and touched my heart. This is where some of you might say, “Dah,” because it’s not news to you. Yet, I wonder if you appreciate just how precious it is. This loving and supporting community may well be the most remarkable “benefit” the association offers. What is more, this kind of community does not magically emerge from bylaws, meetings, or educational events. It must be consciously and intentionally woven into every engagement and experience, engendered in each communication, placed at the center of each decision, and developed and nurtured over many years. What a gift this is to all of us. But that’s not all. I came away with one more priceless takeaway.

During each workshop presentation, at some point, I scanned the faces of the participants, whether they be still pics, avatars, or live video shots. I also browsed the ongoing chats — the comments, reactions, and greetings flowing from the participants during each session. Maybe I was searching for a familiar face or just curious. Indeed, the avatars were interesting and amusing, and many of the comments as well. But as the workshop continued, some of the faces became more familiar. In Zeb’s Lounge and during Q & A sessions, these photos and avatars became flesh and blood. Suddenly something stirred in me that made me smile and nod like a bobblehead figurine on the dashboard. I was aware that my chest was puffing up just a little. What was it? Then, during Saturday’s keynote address by Mary Robinette Kowal, it hit me. I was experiencing the most powerful force on earth, human commitment. Every person presenting, conference team member moderating, and every participant attending the conference was motivated by a shared commitment to be the best writer they could be. And indeed, I could feel my own commitment growing more vibrant.

A deep abiding commitment is necessary for any endeavor or accomplishment, but especially so for writers because it is a solitary, and at times even lonely, endeavor. Commitment is the psychic soil from which sprout persistence, patience, power, and perseverance. That’s a marvelous gift to take away.

Thank you, PPWC 2021.


The Conference Is Over—Now What?

By Margena Holmes

This year’s conference was just a little bit different than previous years. Because of COVID-19, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference took place via Zoom meetings (like everything else this past year!), but the workshops were still as great as ever, and I know I came away with a lot more knowledge and information than I did going in.

Now, the conference is over, and the high you were on all weekend is slowly fading away as you resume the daily grind. What do you do now?

Follow-up

If you made pitches and the editors have invited you to send more, make sure you follow-up with them. Don’t wait (unless they’ve told you to)—you want your work to be fresh in their minds, and you’ll have that excitement of the invitation still with you.

Send them a thank you note after the meeting with them, whether they’ve asked to see more or not. They gave their time to you, and if you ever pitch to them again, they may remember you for your courtesy.

Follow-up with any other authors you met, too. You may find that you have a lot more in common than just what you write, and you can be each other’s cheerleader. Many friendships have been started at conferences.

Get Organized

If you took notes (actually, there is no “if” about it), organize them in a way you will use them. If you took notes on a laptop, make sure you clearly mark what they are with the conference name and dates, especially if you go to more than one a year. What the workshop’s subject was and who the presenter was is also helpful.

I’m old-school and take notes in a notebook. I then type them up, print them, and put them in a three-ring binder, so I have them at hand if I need to look up something. I also organize any hand-outs the same way.

Put The Info To Use

I don’t know about you, but after the conference, I am more motivated than ever to write. As I’m listening to each presenter, I get ideas on what to do with my work-in-progress and I’ll jot down my ideas in my notes. Let that excitement and motivation drive you to do what you need to do to make your WIP better, or get started on that very first project. No matter what stage you’re in, make your enthusiasm work in your favor, while everything is fresh in your mind.

If you enjoyed the conference, sign up for the next one! You may get an attendee’s discount if you register right away, and you’ll be set for next year.

I missed the interaction at meals and in the hallways with other conferees this year, but I know next year we’ll be together again and we can give out hugs and smiles that we missed this year. Happy writing!


KIM KRISCO is the author of three Sherlock Holmes novels — The Celtic Phoenix is his most recent release.
Before writing fiction full-time, Kim served as a consultant, trainer, and coach for business and non-profit organizations and published three non-fiction books to support this enterprise.
He and his wife Sararose Ferguson live in south-central Colorado (USA) in a tiny home that they built themselves on the North Fork of the Purgatory River.  You can learn more at: www.mysterybookauthor.com.

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photo of margin holmes

Margena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, short stories, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

The Challenge to Write

By Leeann Betts

(from her writing craft book, Nuggets of Writing Gold© 2015)

Several years ago I completed a 14-day writing challenge where I committed to do something every day related to writing. While I thought the process would be a breeze, it was anything but.

On Day 1, I listed the titles of ten books I’d like to write. This is what I put down for myself and for my real life persona, Donna Schlachter, who writes historical mystery:

Titles of 10 books Donna would like to write:

  • Then Sings My Soul
  • Christmas Inn, Colorado
  • Klondike Gold
  • Honor Denied – Book 2 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Denied Liability – Book 3 of the Heart of Honor Series
  • Collusion – Book 2 of the Florida Detective Series
  • Resolve – Book 3 of the Florida Detective Series
  • My Surrendered Heart – Book 1 of the Echo Canyon series
  • The Long Trail Back – Book 2 of the Echo Canyon series
  • Home is where the Heart is – Book 3 of the Echo Canyon series

10 Titles I want to write:

  • There Was a Crooked Man — Book 2 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Unbalanced – Book 3 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • Five and Twenty Blackbirds – Book 4 of the By the Numbers Mystery series
  • The Labyrinth – Book 2 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • The Landfall – Book 3 in the Lighthouse Foundation series
  • One Moment in Time
  • Of Horses and Wishes
  • Walking on Sunshine
  • Characters and Creeps
  • Remembering Mama

The good news is that Donna has written some of those books. She finished Christmas Inn, Colorado as well as My Surrendered Heart, and I have written There Was a Crooked Man and Unbalanced, as well as nine other titles in that series. She also finished One Moment in Time. Some of the others are still in progress or in the planning stages, and honestly, there are a few that I wished I’d made notes about because I don’t have a clue what I was thinking at the time.

All of this goes to my point: writing a book rarely happens in a vacuum. We get an idea, a nugget of dialog, perhaps a snippet of setting, maybe even a title, and before we know it, a plot and a character or two fall into place. When this happens, the creative juices flow, and we are off to the races. In this case, reviewing this piece ignited the desire to write these books. I’ve printed off the page with the titles and placed it in my “To-Do” pile.

Unfortunately, the muse can flee as quickly as she appeared, so that what once seemed like such a great idea fizzles like wet firecrackers.

What do we do when that happens? We can press on, force the story, force the ending, and maybe end up with something worth revising.

We can start at the beginning, with the gem that got us excited about this story, and see if we can find the true essence of the story in a different direction.

We can toss out the whole thing and start all over with a new project.

Or we can do a little of each, and treat it like a tossed salad of words.

In Donna’s case, for example, Remembering Mama was probably an idea for a coming-of-age story about a girl whose mother died when she was young and the impact that had on her life. There have been several books published with that theme in subsequent years, however, so she’s thinking she may need to switch the story around a little bit. Maybe Mama didn’t die, but ran away from her abusive husband, leaving her children behind. And the father forbade the children to ever mention their mother. But they do. The more he says forget her, the more they get together in secret to remember her. Except they don’t have much to go on because they were young, and so they make up a lot of the details. Until one day the father dies, and the mother comes back. And she isn’t anything like what they remember. Bittersweet for the mother and the children.

Plus, a while back, thinking about this story sparked an idea for another. Taking Daddy Home is about three estranged sisters who get together for a road trip to drive their deceased father’s ashes back to his hometown. What should have been a joyful reunion turns into something else. Donna isn’t certain what at this point. But that’s okay, because up to now, that’s about as much thought as she’s put into that particular story idea.

All this to say: Don’t be afraid to abandon one story idea in favor of another. All writing is good exercise for the brain, so nothing is wasted.

Takeaway: Writing requires discipline, but don’t try to shove a square peg story into a round hole outline.

Exercises:

  • Make a list of ten books you’d like to write. Make notes, maybe a couple of sentences, about the story so you’ll remember it later.
  • Choose the title that excites you the most. This would be the one where you can already see the main character and what’s going to happen to her/him.
  • Start writing that story. Let nothing stop you until you write “The End” on the first draft.

Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC.

Website: www.LeeannBetts.com
Blog: www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com
Facebook: http://bit.ly/1pQSOqV
Twitter: http://bit.ly/1qmqvB6
Books: Amazon http://amzn.to/2dHfgCE  and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2z5ecP8
Etsy online shop of original artwork, book folding art, and gift items: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dare2DreamUS 

Write with All Five Senses

By: Terry Odell

As writers, we’re encouraged to include all five senses in our writing. Most of us are guilty of relying too heavily on sight, with sound a close second, but we shouldn’t neglect the other three. Even so, it’s important to remember not to stop the story to insert sensory images. Otherwise, you end up with a checklist: Sight? Sound? Smell? Touch? Taste? These descriptions should tie into the plot as well as be grounded in the character. You can use them beyond adding descriptions to your scenes. Use them to show your characters.

Two authors I read a lot stop and describe—in detail—every character when he or she first appears in the scene. It got to the point where I stopped reading them because these descriptions did nothing for the story, very little for the character, who was often never seen again.

When I was training tutors for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, we had the class members fill out a survey to determine whether they were visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners so they could better help their students. Some people learn by seeing, others by hearing, and some need to touch something or be moving around. The same goes for your characters. You should know what senses are dominant for them. A character who’s an auditory learner will respond differently than one who’s more visually oriented.

When you’re writing, it’s important to bear in mind what your character would notice. For example, I hear birdsong. My sister-in-law can identify what kind of birds I’m hearing without ever seeing them.

A friend of mine, a musician, is also far more tuned into hearing than seeing. She’ll listen to the news rather than read it.

The sense of smell is another important sense. It evokes powerful memories. I can’t open a bag of birdseed without being carried back to my great-uncle’s chicken farm where I helped feed the chickens when I visited.

My husband worked on a farm when he was young. He has fond memories of those days, so the smell of manure will evoke an entirely different response for him than it does for me.

When your character walks into a room, what does he smell? What memories might it invoke? What emotional reactions? If a cop enters a homicide scene, what’s he going to smell? How will he react? If your character is visiting her mother in the hospital what does it smell like? But don’t stop with one sense. What’s she hearing? How does it affect her?

Taste can also evoke memories. Sitting at the dinner table, eating a dish that doesn’t quite measure up to Grandma’s. Why not? What’s missing?

Again, tie characterization into your sensory descriptions:

He ambled to the bank of vending machines and selected a cup of coffee he knew would taste like cardboard, not because he needed a caffeine jolt, but to avoid dealing with the thoughts bobbing to the forefront of his brain like a punching bag clown.

Then there’s touch, probably the most neglected sense in writing.

Is your character getting dressed? What does the fabric feel like against the skin? When exchanging a handshake, what does the other person’s hand feel like? Can it be a clue to character? Can it add tension?

She absently rubbed her hand where Windsor’s had touched her when he took the flashlight. A frisson ripped through her. It had been an uncallused hand, with very well-tended nails. On a handyman? Her mouth dried up. Her brain whirled. It made no sense. Who was he? Undercover cop? Private detective? Didn’t fit.

Again, don’t limit yourself to a single sense in your descriptions. Taste, smell, and touch play well together. Is your character eating a hot fudge sundae? How does the cold ice cream feel on her tongue? How does it contrast with the warmth of the fudge? Another example:

Randy arranged half a dozen pillar candles on the coffee table and lit them. The scent of vanilla filled the air. Sarah picked up her bowl. An ice cream purist, she turned the spoon over as she put it into her mouth so that the initial sensation on her tongue was the creamy richness of the ice cream, not the metallic taste of the spoon. The vanilla-scented candles intensified the ice cream’s sweetness.

It’s also important to understand the physiology of how the senses work. Eyes need light to see. Don’t make the mistake one author did. She was creating tension by having the characters in total darkness, yet they were able to see each other’s eye color, the colors of the clothes they wore. If you’ve turned off all the lights and closed the blackout curtains, your characters won’t be able to see anything. But it’s a good place to heighten the other senses.

You can also use the senses to create conflict. In a romance, for example, what if your hero is a visual person? He wants the lights on during lovemaking so he can see his partner’s responses. What if she’s a kinesthetic person? She wants it dark to heighten her sense of touch.

Or this example, where simple differences in learning types can create tension between two characters:

Rebecca shoved the book aside. “Words don’t make sense when I read. When I hear them, I can remember. Copying them from a book helps get them in my brain, but not always. If I try to take notes in class, I get so far behind what the teacher is saying that I miss it.”

“Then why don’t I read it to you?” Tim asked.

“I can read,” she said, a bit too snappish. “It’s just— Words don’t stick. Numbers are so much easier for me. I was always okay with math.”

Here are some more in depth articles about sight and taste.


Terry Odell, Author

Although Terry Odell had no aspirations of becoming a writer until long after receiving her AARP card, she’s now the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her awards include the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida where she spent thirty years in the heat and humidity. She now enjoys life with her husband and rescue dog in the cooler, dryer climate of the Colorado Rockies, where she watches wildlife from her windows. WebsiteFacebookTwitterGoodreadsAmazon,

How’s Your Instagram Game?

By: Jenny Kate

Instagram: Feed, Story, Reels, IGTV – Oh My!

Facebook bought Instagram for a cool $1 billion, and put its juggernaut of an advertising platform behind it. For that reason alone, it’s worth a look. Yes, there are others making a run for “Best in Show” – SnapChat, TikTok, Clubhouse. But for 2021 at least, if your reader is under 40, Instagram is going to be your new best friend.

Cultivating a following on IG is the same as everywhere else. Give readers a reason to follow you. Make your content fun, entertaining, informative or educational.  Be yourself. Consumers, readers included, buy from those they like, know and trust. IG is a great place for them to get to know and trust you.

But where should you put all that great content you’re going to create?
Instagram has four main places to do this:
Your Feed, Stories, Reels and IGTV.

Your Instagram Feed

The Feed is your main profile page. It’s the blocked grid that followers see when they click on your profile. This is like window shopping. It’s the first impression people will have of your feed. How does it look? How does it feel? Is this something that will keep my attention?

The algorithm changes all the time, but for the most part, it does not prioritize the Feed. So that means you don’t need to spend hours creating beautiful graphics on Canva to post every day. Posting every two or three days works great. But this isn’t your Facebook Feed where you dump photos and go. Curate your best content, make it look great and write a compelling caption with a call to action to click the link in your bio or DM you for more information.

Pay attention to your bio. Have a professional headshot. Use emojis and tell people who you are and what you do. Whatever link you decide to use, make sure you have a strong call to action to tell followers what to do at that link. 

Your Stories

Stories are Instagram’s answer to SnapChat. They can be found at the top of the screen where you see a row of circles. The best Stories actually tell a story. You’re a storyteller, just do it visually with videos or photos or a mix of both. Use emojis, hashtags, GIFs – have fun with it. The name of the game on IG is fun!

Stories are definitely shown more often than the Feed. They are a great place to jumpstart and grow your readership, so consider posting to this every day or every other day.

You can mix it up here. Chat about your day, talk about a current event, or give updates on your writing. But again, just be yourself. This is the place where readers get to know you.

Your Reels

Reels are Instagram’s answer to TikTok. The link for Reels is found toward the bottom of the screen and looks like a movie clapboard.

These have shown to absolutely jump engagement. Reels are short form video that if you use the TikTok rules, it’s a lot of dancing, singing, and general merriment. You can add music if you want.

The best Reels content is entertaining, educational or inspirational. Make people smile. Teach them something to get a result. Tell a story to inspire them.  

A Quick Word about Live Video

You can also go live using IGTV or your Stories. This is what it sounds like. YouTube for Instagram. This is more long-form video content than Reels. You can go live from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. Accounts with larger followings can go up to an hour.

Best practice for using Live Video is to be consistent with your timing. Almost like having a weekly show where people know you’ll be there. Tease it beforehand with a post telling people what time and day to expect you. The algorithm prioritizes Live Video in both the Feed and in your Stories, so that works in your favor.

Content

The location of your content is honestly less important than the type of content you create. Make it fun, educational and motivating. You can read your book, interview a character, talk writing with a friend, go into your research. You can also make this about other hobbies having nothing to do with writing.

Do you hike, knit, play an instrument, sing, woodwork? Any of those are great for helping people get to know you. Readers want to know, like and trust you. IG is an amazing place to help make that happen!


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram

Writing Conferences are a Must!

By: K.J. Scrim

Pikes Peak Writers Conference logo - 2021

No matter where you are in your writing career you should attend at least one writing conference every year. For every writer in the world there are just as many reasons to rub elbows with fellow authors and industry professionals. You may say, “I can learn all this stuff online.” You cannot. Granted there are many aspects of writing you can learn online, but there is so much more to writing beyond what you might be able to glean from asking Google.

Here are just a few:

Learn your craft.

  • You have the opportunity to hear from writing professionals who can help take the mystery out of the publishing industry.
  • There is a plethora of subjects covered such as, how to find an agent, building your author platform, how to break into publishing, or grammar and style.
  • Even though you will find a lot of knowledge about writing online, it doesn’t compare to the in-depth knowledge during in-person or virtual sessions.
  • Most conferences have critique breakout sessions where you receive immediate feedback on your work in progress.
  • You gain not only writing knowledge, but also learn the business aspects from professionals.

Be around your people.

  • You will meet, talk, and listen to industry professionals such as editors and agents along with fellow writers who have walked the same path.
  • Sometimes you just need to talk to someone else who really understands the life of a writer.
  • Their struggles might be your struggles. This kind of support is invaluable.
  • Forge new friendships in the writing community. You aren’t alone in your career.
  • It is a non-threatening environment to share your writing with others.
  • Reinvigorates your spirit to write your story after talking to so many other great writers.

What about the financial aspect?

  • No one should be left out of a conference if they are financially strapped. Many conferences offer full or partial scholarships to help ease any financial burden you may have.
  • Conferences do cost money but look at it as an investment in yourself and your future as a writer.
  • The person-to-person connections you make are financially invaluable. You may meet the agent of your dreams or find the solution to some aspect of writing you have been wracking your brain over. These serendipitous connections can only be found at a writing conference.
  • The facilitators are professionals, just like a professor in any university. Not all education is free. Remember, this is a professional career and if you approach it that way, the conference fees are just a part of it.

Mytchel Chandler, Pikes Peak Writers’ BoD Secretary, said it best, “Conferences are special for writers the same way comic con is for pop culture enthusiasts. It reminds you that you’re part of a community and re-energizes your self-esteem. While a virtual conference doesn’t quite have the sparkle of hallway conversations and bar-con blunderings, it does give you the sense of pride and satisfaction of being present in the moment. Conferences are amazing to attend because of the connections you make and the wealth of knowledge you’re able to glean from those connections.” 

Are you ready to find your next writers conference? Here are a few resources to take a look at:

Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2021 – Pikes Peak Writers Conference was founded in 1993 by author Jimmie Butler under the auspices and sponsorship of the Friends of Pikes Peak Library. PPWC2021’s theme is Bet on Yourself. “After a tumultuous 2020, one that stilted creativity and silenced muses, many of us need a fresh start and renewed confidence in our gift to tell our stories. So, in 2021, we at Pikes Peak Writers want you to Bet on Yourself, it’s a sure-fire win!”

Top 25 Writers Conferences for 2021 – This is a great listing of conferences around the country, many of which are virtual, but still valuable!

Writers’ Conferences in North America – This is a very complete list of conferences all over North America.


KJ Scrim, head shot

Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the pseudonym K.J. Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Project Manager of PPW’s first anthology, Fresh Starts. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, KJScrim.com and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, skiing, or rock climbing. 

Producing a Novel – Part 12

Cover Design and Self Publishing

By Donna Schlachter

Cover Design

Research tells us we have less than five seconds to capture our reader’s attention, and that usually happens when they pick up our book based upon the cover. Which means that designing a great cover that fits readers’ expectations of your genre is key.

If you already have a contract with a traditional publisher, they will design the cover based on a Cover Questionnaire which you will complete, containing details on audience, genre, and story line. The designer will not read the book, so you must make certain to include any physical characteristics of your hero and heroine to be sure the designer gets the build, and the eye and hair color correct.

If you don’t have a contract yet, don’t waste your time designing a cover. A traditional publisher is unlikely to use it. However, continue reading, since this section will give you insight into how a designer will come up with the cover.

If you plan to self-publish, read on. Whether you plan to design your cover yourself or hire someone to do it for you, knowing the process will help.

First, here are some basics:
  • Our eye tends to scan in a Z pattern, beginning with the top left of the cover, to the top right, down the center to the lower left, then across to the lower right. Put important information in those key areas.
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. It’s fine to mix and match fonts so that the keywords of the title are in one larger font, with the filler words in the same but a smaller font; the subtitle or title series in a smaller font; and the author name in a different font. Try not to use more than two fonts.
  • Imagine your perfect reader and design the cover to please them. You should already know this reader intimately, since you wrote the book for them and them alone.
Now, on to cover design specifics:
  1. Pick the best picture you can find. Don’t worry right now that it isn’t perfect. You can fix that later. Keep the genre in mind. I’ll talk more below about genre expectations.
  2. If you’re designing your own cover, buy the best software you can afford, or use a free online service, such as BookBrush or Canva. If you’re using a designer, or are publishing with a traditional publisher, they will handle most of the design process.
  3. Research books in your genre to see what the covers are like, the layout, the number of actors (usually no more than two unless the book is about a larger group such as a family). Study the fonts, the placement of title and author name, and the colors.
Genre expectations:
  • Romance: choose a script font, reminiscent of a love letter; choose colors that evoke romance, including blue, purple, red if passion is involved, turquoise and pink. Red and black are preferably used in erotica; for the image, typically the two lead love interests in either a close-contact pose (if the story is about a happily-ever) or in an oppositional pose; include elements from the story, for example, a wedding gown, cowboy boots, big city background or country setting background.
  • Cozy mystery: choose a font that emulates hand-penned font; choose coordinating colors that emulate paintings, or illustrations are popular right now; no dead bodies, blood, or half-clad characters for this genre; a scene from the book, the setting (town, rural areas); if there is a theme, such as cooking club, knitting or other craft, occupational, include an image related to that; blurred or frosted images; actor walking away from the camera or posed in the distance.
  • Thriller, Suspense, Mainstream Mystery: use a font that is bold and clean; choose colors that emulate the tone of the book such as black, red, green; often the images are dark, blurred; often the actor is in the top half and a background scene in the bottom; a cataclysmic scene from the book.
  • Fantasy: Choose an antique or gothic font; choose a vivid color palette; illustrations can focus on the main character’s special power, supernatural ability, or personal quirk; if magic is included, visualize it on the cover.
  • Mixed genre: incorporate colors and elements of both genres, with more from the primary genre. For example, if the genre is fantasy romance, choose an antique or gothic font for the title with script font for author name; include the lead characters but they could be separated by a fantasy element, such as a cauldron, if that’s in the story.

Should I Self-Publish?

Your book is written, polished, and edited, and you want to see your book on store bookshelves, but you don’t have a publisher. Do you spend time looking for one now? Or do you want to get this book out to the masses so you can move on with the next project?

Here are some questions you can ask—and answer:
  • Do you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores across the county? Most self-published books sell online as print or eBook, although it is possible to work through a book distributor.
  • Do you want to be on bestseller lists? You will need a traditional publisher’s media clout behind you, most likely. Not impossible with self-published, but it will take more work.
  • Is your reader niche large and general (but not too general) or is it specific and smaller? Traditional publishers are less likely to publish niche books that reach smaller audiences, so self-publishing is often the best route, particularly if you plan to reach your audience through in-person events, such as speaking.
  • How much work do you want to do? If you think writing the book and getting it ready for publication is difficult, marketing and promotion is about ten times worse for most authors. While the marketing budgets of many traditional publishers is relegated to their top-selling authors, they usually set aside a few dollars to promote your book. In self-publishing, you are your book’s best marketer.
  • How soon do you want to release your book? Traditional publishing generally takes 12 to 24 months from signing the contract to publication. If you have written a time-sensitive book, such as a political, medical, or social event, or perhaps one about the anniversary of a particular historical event, self-publishing is your best route. If you’ve written a book in a hot current genre, you might want to self-publish now to catch the wave of sales in that genre.
  • How much control do you want over your book? Cover design and distribution in a traditionally-published book rests almost entirely with the publisher. You retain more control when you self-publish, but you will do all the work.

The good news is that self-publishing doesn’t mean that’s the end of your traditional publishing opportunities. In fact, several decently selling self-published books tells a traditional publisher that you can complete a project and that you understand book marketing and promotion. Being a hybrid author—one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes—doesn’t mean you’re compromising. As you can see from the above questions, WHY we write a book is as important as WHAT we write.

Whichever path you choose, determine to follow it to its end. Keep working on the next project—always! And don’t try to cram your book into a publishing process because you need the validation of a traditional publisher or you don’t want to write the best book you can—readers need what you write. The myth that self-published books weren’t good enough for a traditional publisher simply isn’t true any longer—in most cases. So make your book the best it can be, then honestly consider your audience, your motivation, and your ability and resources.

Resources:

Fiction Book Cover Design: The Definitive Guide
3 Foolproof strategies for designing fiction book covers that work for any genre
Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide
Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Donna’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read previous installments click on one of the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Anthologies – What, Why, How?

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

With PPW’s new anthology, FRESH STARTS, publishing today it seemed appropriate to talk a little about anthologies. Back in August I wrote a post, Submitting to an Anthology in 5 Easy Steps. Today I will answer a few questions you might be thinking about. What exactly is an Anthology? Why write for one? How do you find an anthology to submit to?

What is an Anthology?

Simply put, it is a book that brings together a series of short stories, poems, and/or essays written by different authors. Usually there is a theme that all the authors write to. For FRESH STARTS the theme is the same as the title, with the added theme statement:

After the fires are out, the smoke has cleared, the divorce is over, the widow has stopped wearing black, the sun has risen, the monsters are dead, the world is saved (or destroyed!), the storm has calmed, and the trouble is over…

…what do you do next?

We can’t promise only happy endings. Just that moment when you pick yourself up out of the wreckage and find the strength to begin anew.

Is an anthology the same as a collection? No. A collection is a book that the contents are written by the same author, whereas an anthology’s stories are by different authors.

Why submit to an Anthology?

Even if you’re a novelist, you should consider writing for an anthology. Creating a short story will help you tighten your writing. You will learn how to condense descriptions the size of the Sistine Chapel down to a masterpiece the size of a thumb tack. It will still make your reader’s heart flutter, but with fewer words.

Maybe you want to try out an idea you have for an epic novel, but you aren’t sure if the subject will keep your reader engaged (or keep you writing). Start with a short story and shop it around to see what response you get. If it falls flat, then you might reconsider writing a three-book project.

An anthology also gives you a way to test out a genre you have never written in before. Writing outside your normal genre may spark inspiration in unexpected ways.

One last reason to submit to an anthology is to expand your resume. For most writers, books take a long time to write, but a short story…? With practice it can be created in a short period of time. Each publication in an anthology is another notch on your writing resume.

How do you find an anthology to submit to?

Well, PPW just so happens to be one resource. Plans have already started for the next anthology which should publish in March of 2022. The theme and details are being worked on and you can check the website for up-to-date information.

In the meantime, there are several ways to discover anthologies that are accepting submissions. One, is a search on your favorite online outlet using the keyword, “anthology”. Make notes of the publishers that pop up and check out their websites for information.

Doing a search like that is a little arduous so you might consider opting for a subscription to a listing service such as DuoTrope or Submission Grinder.

I did a broad search on DuoTrope for “anthology” and here is a screen shot of the results:

As you can see, there are a lot of anthologies to submit to (173 to be exact). DuoTrope does have a free trial that you can take advantage of if you want to take it for a test run.

Submission Grinder is a little cumbersome to use. Searches here are limited to names, titles, fiction, and poetry. Here is a screen shot of the search I did under the fiction option which took me to a menu to drill down my search. Anthology was not an option.

But, the landing page does list the names of publishers and what they are looking for whether it’s flash fiction, short stories, poetry, or essays.

Even if you never submit to an anthology, you will gain writing skills. Find a fun theme then write to it. You never know, you may end up opening your mind to things you never dreamed of.


KJ Scrim, Profile Image

Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the pseudonym KJ Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Lead Coordinator of PPW’s first anthology, Fresh Starts. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing.  


P.S. Have you heard? PPW’s first anthology is here!
Fresh Starts is now on sale!

Now available on Amazon.
Pre-orders accepted on KOBOBarnes & Noble, and Apple Books (sales on these channels begin 4-9-21).

Clubhouse – Everything you need to know for now

By: Jenny Kate

Clubhouse is the hottest social media outlet on the internet right now.
But how familiar with it are you? Is it right for authors? What can the book industry get out of it?

Let’s dig in.

What is Clubhouse?

It’s the social media outlet all haters of live video have been waiting for!
It’s basically a conference call without video. Like having your own TedTalk with a bunch of people. You can listen in to any open room on the platform.
You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to. Or you can host your own room and have a conversation about a topic of interest.

Clubhouse is new

First, a little background. It’s only been around since the spring of 2020. So if you haven’t heard of it, don’t despair. It’s super new. And my guess is you had other things on your mind back then than worrying about a new social outlet. But there is nothing like it out there and I’m super excited about it.

Poll after poll shows people like to listen. Whether it’s to audiobooks, podcasts or the radio, listening while working out, driving, gardening, cleaning, working has shown to be extremely effective as a marketing tool.

How Clubhouse works

Right now it’s in beta and only on iOS so Android users have to wait until late 2021 at the earliest. Without an invitation from an existing user, you’re on the outside looking in. So, if you’re an iPhone user it is easy to create your account. Once you receive your invitation, just go through the steps. If you want to find out if any of your contacts are on Clubhouse, you can search via phone number. If you want to invite others, the platform gives you two invites. You’ll need to input their phone number and Clubhouse will send them a text. (Of course get their permission first). 

I got mine through a colleague who posted about it on Facebook.

A really great workaround came from Tiffany Lee Bymaster on Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast where she suggested finding an old iPhone, connecting to wifi, download the app, get an invite and explore. It’s a great idea! I borrowed a friend’s old iPhone since we’re Samsung users.

What can authors get out of it?

For now, I see two ways authors can use Clubhouse.

  1. Authors can listen to great conversations for research. The exposure to experts and celebrities is unreal. Take advantage of that.
  2. Name recognition through speaking will be way easier than on other social outlets. You can add to conversations or host your own. Either way, participation will have a tremendous payoff down the road.

I think Clubhouse has really filled a hole in the social media market. So many people don’t do live video because it’s intimidating or just not fun. Speaking where no one can see you gives you a lot of freedom to connect without worrying about the extras (lighting, being camera ready, location, etc..).

This is one of the reasons I like podcasting over video. I can just talk to people without a lot of technical know-how and external prep. So for now, I’m doing a lot of listening and will continue to explore how this platform will be a game changer for authors.


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.

Surgery for Your Manuscript

By: Terry Odell

Whether you’re traditionally published, indie published, or working on getting published, you want to present the best possible reading experience. I edit as I go, with much appreciated feedback from critique partners, but even so, when I hit “The End,” it signals the beginning of the real editing process. It’s highly unlikely the manuscript is ready to turn in at this point.

A tip: You want to fool your brain, because you’ve been looking at the manuscript on screen for months. Print a hard copy. You’ll be amazed at how much more you “see.” Also, use a different font. If you’ve been working in a serif font, like TNR, use a non-serif font. In fact, this is a great place for Comic Sans. I also print it in two columns, which totally changes the line length, and the words line up differently. More glitches will be visible.

Start with Major Surgery

So, you have your manuscript ready to go. First: the major surgery. This is a read-through with one big question in mind: Does it advance the plot?

Often, the answer is no. I’m not a plotter, so my characters lead the way much of the time, and sometimes they insist on a scene that’s brilliantly written, but doesn’t help the story. Or a plot thread that turns out to be unnecessary.

Cut the threads, then, right? Or the scenes. Trouble is, threads don’t exist in nice, tidy packages. There are other things to watch out for. Did you foreshadow that scene or thread? Did you follow up? Make a reference, even in passing. Those have to go. Then, you have to go back and deal with transitions. Consider this phase reconstructive surgery.

It’s more than likely the scene before the one you cut led into it. That will have to be adjusted. Likewise the one after it. If you ended the scene with a page-turning cliff hanger, that cliffhanger now sends readers into an abyss with no bottom.

Same goes for any shorter bits you’ve cut. Watch what happens right before and right after, and smooth out the edges.

One tip for dealing with these spackling jobs is to note key words from your threads and search for them. It might be the name of the character, or some specific scene detail, like what they ate for dinner, or what they were wearing.

An example: After deleting a thread, there was a subsequent reference that included a trigger for a reaction from my hero, and I needed that reaction. But the conversation was no longer viable, and when I cut it, there went my trigger.

I went back quite a few chapters, and found another conversation that had shown a much milder reaction from my hero. By snipping it from that scene and including it, with the requisite modifications, I was able to salvage the trigger I needed, plus the reaction.

Don’t Leave any Instruments Behind

Once you’ve dealt with the big things, and have checked to be sure you didn’t leave any instruments or sponges in the body after performing the surgery, it’s time for minor surgery. Your story might be finished, but you need to deal with the inevitable excesses. Words that don’t add anything to the story. In fact, they might add distance, keeping a layer you don’t want between your readers and the characters. Or, there might be awkward bits.

How do you deal with these?

You probably have your list of crutch words and filler words. Words that are the written equivalent of throat-clearing, or the ums in spoken conversation. Word lets you search for those. However, there are the inevitable words or phrases I’m not aware of, and new ones crop up in every book. I use a program called SmartEdit, and highly recommend it. The cost is nominal (I get nothing from the company—I just like the product)—and I think there’s also a free version. This program does not check for grammar, which is hard to do for genre fiction anyway. Also, grammar is not a problem for me. The minor errors I make, my editor catches.

What kinds of things does a pass through the SmartEdit program flag?

  • An Adverb Usage list
  • Repeated Phrases list
  • Repeated Words List
  • Possible Misused Words List
  • Foreign Phrases List
  • Profanity/Swear Word List
  • A Sentence Length Graph
  • Dialogue Tags (this doesn’t work as I expected it to, so I don’t use it.)
  • Proper Nouns list (This is more of an “anything that begins with a capital letter” list, but it’s helpful in catching a name you thought you’d deleted, or two spellings of the same name. In my Mapleton books, there’s always at least one place where I spell my protagonist’s name Helper instead of Hepler.
  • Sentence Start List
  • Suspect Punctuation List.

Going through all of these is tedious, to be sure, but as you work through them, you’ll see places where your can tighten your writing, so there’s an extra bonus.

Microsurgery

At this point, I’m comfortable sending the manuscript to my editor, but there’s one last step. Microsurgery in the form of listening to the manuscript. I do this after I’m done dealing with my editor’s feedback, because it’s another tedious process, and I’d rather listen to the “finished” product. Like it or not, there will still be clunkers and minor typos.

There are those who suggest reading the manuscript aloud yourself, but your brain still knows what’s supposed to be there, and you’ll miss things. I use Word’s “Read Aloud” function (it comes with Office 365. If you don’t have that version, there’s “Read Selected Text” which does almost the same thing.) There have been a lot of improvements in the voices, but it’s still going to be a computer. The plus side is that a computer reads exactly what you’ve written. There are pronunciation issues, but I find those make sure I’m paying attention. You’ll hear ‘clunkers’ as well as actual mistakes.

Here are a couple of examples of errors nobody caught.

She drove the up the dirt lane. A beam of sunlight shone through a break in the gray winter sky, reflecting off a sprawling white two-story house, as if to say, This is your light in the darkness.

Did you catch the mistake?

Or, a potentially embarrassing one: A line was supposed to say “Come in here” but as written, it was “Come in her.” That made the extra listening step worth it!


Terry Odell, Author

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.