Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Interview with Maureen Moretti

By: Bowen Gillings

Writing from the Peak is pleased to present a special interview between Bowen Gillings and Agent Maureen Moretti .

Maureen Moretti
Maureen Moretti

Maureen Moretti began her publishing career as an intern with several prestigious New York City literary agencies before joining P.S. Literary as an associate agent. She holds a B.A. from Saint Mary’s College of California, and attended the Columbia Publishing Course. Maureen is looking for narrative driven non-fiction with a gripping voice and a unique hook, such as unusual or untold biographies, commentary on culture, both mainstream and subversive, and new interpretations of history. She is also actively searching for fiction, romance, upmarket and commercial women’s fiction, select science fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and literary fiction. She loves new perspectives on old stories, characters that resonate and stay with you, novels about the zeitgeist, non-fiction that teaches you by accident and loves a happily ever after. 

Bowen Gillings: Have you always wanted to be an agent? Allow me to reword that as, “What motivated you to become an agent?”
Maureen Moretti: I wanted to advocate for authors. Agenting is a mix of skills that range from editorial to advocacy. I wanted to do work I love and ensure that the artists were fairly treated and paid. It allows me to be both creative and technical. I love contracts and I love art. It’s a mix of the two.

BG: What are you reading right now? I would add to that, reading for pleasure or for work or both.
MM: I recently finished THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams which I adored. It subverted so many tropes of the genre. I’m also finally getting around to ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, I’m definitely late to that train! 

BG: What books and authors have most influenced your career?
MM: First and foremost, Nora Roberts. I inhaled her books, I must have read at least 100 of them. 
Rosemary Graham, STALKER GIRL
Tom Rachman, THE IMPERFECTIONISTS
Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa edited THIS BRIDGE CALLED MY BACK

BG: Walk us through your process of taking on a writer as a client. How do you determine that you want to represent that writer?
MM: Do I think I could I sell their book? Do we have similar ideas and working styles? Do we have a similar vision for their work and their career? It’s important to me that I’m not forcing a vision of a work and having revisions done that don’t feel right to the writer. Ultimately, I want the book that’s on the shelves to be the best version of the book they imagine. 

BG: What are the top three things a writer should do to make you want to be their agent.
MM:
1. Write a book they love
2. Have a community of writers (e.g. a platform, a critique group, supportive friends etc.)
3. Have a positive attitude and a willingness to put in the work

BG: What story are you longing to read? Describe the type of novel you long for, but have yet to see cross your desk. If that doesn’t exist, describe which novel you have read that is as near perfection as could be, and why.
MM: RED WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston is on my top 10 of the last decade. The absolute joyful abandon, the incorporation of marginalized characters, the real and intense emotions made that book a joy to read. 

 BG:  Describe your perfect reading scenario fantasy. Are you a beach reader? Secluded in a mountain cabin? On a retreat with a book club? What is it?
MM: I live in New York and it’s one of my favorite places in the world, but there’s nothing like a cabin in the woods to read. When everything in the city gets too loud, I like to get a cabin for the weekend and relax with a stack of books. I never travel with fewer than five.


Bowen Gillings

Bowen Gilling’s writing has appeared in Allegory e-zine, was selected for “Ghosts of Downtown,” “Writing is Art,” the “Writing from the Peak” blog, and has placed in the Zebulon Writing Contest. He is a member of Pikes Peak Writers and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and participates in Colorado Tesla Writers and Colorado Writers and Publishers groups.

Producing a Novel – Part 1

Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books

By: Donna Schlachter

Surveys suggest that, when asked, more than 80% of people said they’d love to write a book. Unfortunately, only about 25% ever do. Why is that? Whenever I tell folks, “I believe that everybody has at least one book in them”, most shake their head and deny my statement. When I ask why, they usually say something like, “I’m not famous”, “My life is boring”, “I can’t tell a joke let alone an entire story”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have anything interesting to say”, or “I don’t have the patience to sit and type that much.”

Identify the kind of book you'd like to write.

I believe that all of these responses are merely excuses, and that the real reason more people don’t write is because of one thing: they don’t have an idea that will stand the test of whether it’s enough to make a complete book out of it.

The interesting fact is that coming up with an idea is the easy part. We hear and see them every day: headlines in the news; front covers on the rumor rags in supermarkets; gossip around the water cooler at work; other books we’ve read; problems we’re facing, or somebody we know or love is facing; television programs and movies. If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us, right?

The main problem is that there are too many fiction books that all have the same plot: somebody is living their life; something happens to force them to make a decision; that decision changes them; and their life is something other than they originally envisioned.

In fact, this plot line is the same for every novel, unless you’re talking literary, which may have no plot at all.

With regards to non-fiction, most people read to be entertained, encouraged, or educated, which is perfect for non-fiction. With a good topic, an author can accomplish all three in one book. Think of your favorite non-fiction author. Why do you read whatever they publish? For me, Max Lucado ranks high on my list. His story-telling techniques, wrapping parables around real-life happenings, then explaining how this applies to me, draws me into his books like a moth to a flame. I cannot resist it.

Ways to identify the kind of book you’d like to write.

So let’s look at ways to identify the kind of book you’d like to write. Because, let’s be honest—if you don’t enjoy writing it, nobody will enjoy reading it, either. Most of the following tips will apply to fiction or non-fiction, and every genre within those two categories.

  1. What topics get your heart pounding and your blood pumping? Is it the atrocity of sex trafficking? Slavery by any other name? Genocide for profit, such as blood diamonds or drug cartels? Underhanded politicians? Crooked law enforcement? Sleazy lawyers? Animal abuse? Child abuse?
  2. What topic do you like to read about? Any of the above? What parts of the newspaper draw you in? Athletics? Obituaries? Lifestyle?
  3. What topic makes you angry when you read about it? Makes you want to write to your representative or even enter the political arena yourself? What would you join a protest for? Or against?
  4. What topics do you talk about with friends? Neighbors? Family?
  5. What are you most afraid of? What do you enjoy doing? Where do you spend most of your time? Your money?

By now you should have a list of at least three topics that capture your interest. On to the next step.

Where to find information and ideas about those topics:

  • newspapers, online news sites, and online searches
  • organizations and associations where folks who suffer from, practice, or congregate
  • friends and family
  • businesses that provide services
  • television and movies
  • libraries, including librarians and their books
  • bookstores
  • online book sites, such as Amazon, or Google searches
  • online social media groups

Figuring out your story:

So let’s say that a couple of your hot topics are sex trafficking, child abuse, and dishonest politicians. You gather research about the thousands of children who leave home under mysterious circumstances in the US each year, both runaways and the missing. You do some research into laws regarding child abuse, and find the penalties can be relatively minor. You contact some organizations that search for missing teens, and learn that many of them run from a bad home situation, ending up in large cities either as addicts or prostitutes or both. And you watch some online investigatory programs about the wealthy who hide behind their money and escape prosecution even for something as serious as murder.

You have your nugget.

You can write either a novel with these same characters, or you can write a non-fiction book to parents, helping them improve their communication with their teens so they don’t run. Or a book for teens, educating them with stories of other kids who ran and ended up in a bad place. Or a book for law enforcement, giving them the signs and clues of an abused child, a runaway, or a sex trafficking ring.

Regardless of which message you’re communicating, there is an audience.

How do you know whether it’s good enough to carry an entire book?

If it’s a novel, you should be able to summarize the book in one sentence, three sentences, and a paragraph.

For example:

One liner:

When Sarah Taylor runs away from her abusive father, she runs straight into the arms of an abusive pimp, who wants to control her mind, body, and soul; especially her body.

Three sentences:

Sarah isn’t one of the cool kids at school, none of the boys even look at her twice, and her father likes to smack her around for no good reason. When she runs away, and a boy offers to put her up for the night with no strings attached, she falls for it. And later, when she runs again, a social worker might be her only lifeline.

Paragraph:

Sarah Taylor, 15, thinks life couldn’t get any worse. She has no friends, nobody who understands her, and nobody she can confide in. She can’t take it anymore. So she runs, looking for that perfect life she is certain is out there.

Tom Wilson is always on the lookout for a lonely girl. One with no friends. One who needs him. And the best place to find girls like that is the bus station. Every day, three or four teens hops off the bus in downtown LA with that deer-in-the-headlight look.

Molly Green chose social work for a reason: she wants to reach kids who are just like she was once. Alone. Vulnerable. Looking for family. And while the boys tend to gravitate toward gangs, these girls are hooked into seemingly romantic relationships where the boy pledges to do whatever he must to treat her well—except that she will owe him.

Organize your topics and points.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you should be able to organize the various topics and points you want to make into a table of contents that will carry the reader from the premise, through the solution, to the conclusion and action steps you want them to take as they become another supporter for your position. While writing this kind of book, you want to ask yourself how you can help the reader achieve their goal of education and activation.

If you’d like to download a free worksheet that will lead you through this article and culminate with a great story idea or the outline for a non-fiction book, email me at donna@livebytheword.com and I’ll send that to you.


Donna Schlachter

Donna 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 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
Blog: www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com
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Indie vs Traditional – Which Would You Choose?

By: Jennifer Lovett

Are you on the fence?

Traditional publishing is still considered the holy grail to many a writer. It validates you as a bona fide author. There is definite street cred to getting an agent and a book deal.

But … there seems to be a growing movement to “just go indie” when the traditional route takes too long or isn’t panning out quite the way writers had hoped. Going indie may sound super easy – write a book, slap on a cover, post to Amazon. Done.

And believe me, I just heard this version at a writer’s conference back in the fall and just about fell out of my chair.

Before you decide, weigh the pros and cons of traditional versus indie.

Indie publishing isn’t that easy. It takes a crap-ton of work. Before I decided to indie publish my nonfiction, I weighed the pros and cons of traditional versus indie.

For nonfiction, indie won out for a couple of reasons but mainly because I wasn’t all that concerned about wide distribution and I’m comfortable marketing.

For fiction, on the other hand, I’m still holding out for a trad deal.

Before you decide which direction you should go, I really, really, really encourage you to do a pro-con list because publishing indie isn’t for the feint of heart.

The factors below helped me decide, and I hope they help you before you decide.

Street Cred.

  • Although Jeff Bezos told Amazon shareholders in his annual report that more than 1,000 authors hit the six-figure mark, there is still a stigma around indie publishing as not being of the same quality as traditionally published books. Is it as deeply ingrained as it used to be? No. And if you are confident in the quality of your books, then you can build your own street cred. But that brings me to marketing.

Marketing

  • Regardless of which method you decide to publish, you will have to do upwards of 80% of your own marketing. Yes, even with a traditional deal. Former Writers Digest Publisher Guy LeCharles Gonzales led a publicist’s panel at Writers Digest conference in August and all agreed with this. This means you will need to know how to sell yourself and your books online and in person.
  • However, the traditional houses have ins with the major networks and news outlets you would have a hard time busting into as an indie.
  • There are a million ways to market a book and the information available is overwhelming and doesn’t all work. You’ll have to do a ton of testing to find which works for you.

Timeline

  • If your books are not time sensitive, then traditional publishing will work for you. It takes one to two years to get a new book to market.
  • With indie publishing, you’re on the timeline it takes you to write, edit, design and publish. It took me 10 months from the start of the first page, through the edits, book designers and uploading to Amazon. It’s taken five for the second book.

Editing

  • Traditional publishers want a clean manuscript, so having beta readers or a critique group or even a freelance editor review it is smart before you query. That being said, they will still edit it a million times for you.
  • If you indie publish, you’ll have to hire an editor (developmental, content, line, proofreader). I found mine on Reedsy and scored with the first one. I’ve had friends go through several before finding the best one for their work style.

Book Cover and Design

  • For the book cover, traditional houses will determine that for you. I’ve heard repeatedly that even authors with a stipulation in their contract to have final say on the cover never actually get that final say.
  • With indie publishing you’ll certainly have final say, but you’ll also have to do the market research to ensure your covers are industry standard and then hire the designer. It took me four before I found the right chemistry with a designer.

Distribution

  • Traditional publishing has the upper hand here. They can get your books into brick and mortar stores and yes, those are still a thing. Indie bookstores are rising and the Big Five have the contacts.
  • However, with IngramSpark, you can now pitch your books to libraries and bookshops.

TV and Movie Rights

  • Traditional publishing has the contacts to sell your book to Hollywood and get your story on the small and large screen.
  • If you indie published, you’d have to find an intellectual property attorney or a hybrid agent to help you do this.

International Rights

  • Selling your books overseas is lucrative. Period. A traditional agent again has the contacts at the London Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, BookFest Singapore and others. It takes money and time to get to those, make contacts and get you an international deal.
  • That being said, you can sell in other countries on Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Google Play Books. You can use an aggregator/distributor like Smashwords and Draft2Digital to help you.

Audio Books

  • Audio is simply exploding this year and with a trad deal, you won’t have to pay upfront costs or find a reader.
  • As an indie, audiobooks can be cost prohibitive as it can cost upwards of $3000 to produce an audiobook and you’ll have to find a reader using ACX or Findaway Voices.

Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

The First Break

By: Robin Laborde

The email was matter of fact:

Dear Robin:

Thank you for your submission to the annual Ghosts of Downtown flash fiction event. Your story will join those used by Downtown Colorado Springs to spook visitors on their tours in the month of October.

It was SO matter of fact I had to read it again. Wait, did that just say my story had been selected? Well, not exactly. My story “will join” the others, which I suppose, is a selection of sorts. Or at least not an exclusion.

Now, there was no money involved in this contest, no byline, and quite possibly, no mention of it anywhere else but in this brief email and during the tour itself. But it was still one of the most exciting moments I’ve had as a writer, because it was a first.

That sense of wonder, that tickle in the brain, that is the rare and precious thing. I’ll happily chase it for the rest of my life.

After I graduated with a spanking new bachelor’s degree in English, I can remember being so hungry to see my words in print that I would write ANYTHING. Sales letter? Sure! General website content? Absolutely, I’m your girl. Contest instructions? You got it! (Actually, I enjoyed writing contest instructions, in a passive-aggressive bossy sort of way.) I jumped at the chance to write unpaid concert and theatre reviews for a short-lived independent newspaper, parlaying this experience into a few paid articles for a slightly longer-lived independent newspaper. I earned twenty-five whole dollars for each bland little item that probably six people in the world ever read, including me. At last I landed a job as a technical writer and was able to make a decent living with my writing, producing pages and pages and pages of methodical instructions, informational tables, and bulleted lists.

But somewhere along the way, I became numb. I started to feel like writing was a pedestrian thing, a kind of space filler measured between the thumb and forefinger of an art director. I heard the phrase, “Nobody ever reads the instructions anyway” more times than I can count. I lost the excitement of starting a new technical manual because I knew how it would end up: slashed up, pissed on, and pasted back together like a half-dead Frankenstein’s monster, unrecognizable as anything that came from my brain, stripped of even the infinitesimal shred of creativity that attended its conception.

So that’s why I am so excited for this little story. Because it is a STORY. I made it up, 430 words about a the ghost of a dead girl haunting downtown Colorado Springs, something that didn’t exist before I thought of it, and which will (hopefully) entertain and amuse those who hear it read aloud on a crisp fall day, and make them wonder if maybe, just maybe, such a thing could happen . . . That sense of wonder, that tickle in the brain, that is the rare and precious thing. I’ll happily chase it for the rest of my life.


Robin Laborde

Robin Laborde is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. She is currently writing a speculative fiction novel and working part-time at the East Library in Colorado Springs.

Confessions of a Former Pantser

By: Margena Holmes

Can a Pantser Change Into a Plotter?

Like many writers, I often write with no outline, but by the seat of my pants—a “pantser” if you will. Plotting? Meh, who needs it. Planning? Ugh, that’s for wimps. I like to see where my characters want to go within the story, how they get out of any given situation, and what happens next. But sometimes—many times—I’m left trying to figure out just how the hell they got into that mess and how they’re going to get out of it. Help, I’ve written myself into a corner and can’t get out! I’ve had to implement that “What if” questions to get my characters back on track. It works, and I find a way to save my characters from certain doom, but it seems like an awful lot of work for one character. So, what’s a writer—a pantser—to do?

Keeping Things Straight

Lately, I lean more toward plotting my story, filling out every detail of my character, where my story wants to end up, and all the situations where my character(s) may end up. Why the change, you may ask? Well, I’m getting older and I’m finding that keeping everything straight in my head sometimes gets to be confusing. Was his name Rennick or Ronnick? What color was the vehicle? Why does my character love spaghetti here, but loathes it there? Not only that, my plots are becoming more complex as I move through my series, and I have many more ideas for future books. I need timelines for my characters as well as knowing what their home looks like.

Can a Pantser Change Into a Plotter?

It’s been fairly easy to convert into a plotter. For my latest book in my series, I became a “plantser,” a hybrid plotter/pantser. I planned out a few things, but also left some things to chance. Even then, however, I was running into issues. What side did my character get shot on? When did this happen? Who was where when it happened? I’m having to go back a few chapters to find these things out. I’ve started taking notes on my own writing to keep things straight. Some of these things may be trivial, but attentive readers will notice these small discrepancies and call you out on them.

Planning Can Be Flexible

For my next novel I will be planning/plotting every detail to keep things straight, and for my peace of mind. Just because I’ve planned it out doesn’t mean I have to follow it to the letter, though. Want to make the character go out with friends instead of with a date? If it works with your storyline, who’s to say you can’t change it a bit? You can still “fly by the seat of your pants” with minor details and see how your character responds to the change. You can always go back and stick with your original idea and keep those characters under control. They’ll be okay, I promise.


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Successful Queries Start with Honing Your Craft

By: Jennifer Wilson

Querying can bring on a whole slew of sleepless nights, obsessive inbox refreshing and a soul-crushing anxiety of the word “No”. While navigating the social media trenches of the querying process, the biggest question I see is “How do I make my work stand out?”

The bad news is there is no magical button. A unicorn is not going to trot in, tap its horn on your manuscript and make it a must-have best-seller that agents are going to fight over. But the good news is unlike Katniss Everdeen, you can stack the odds in your favor. And that starts with honing your craft and your manuscript.

Say you finished your final chapter last night, huzzah! Now you can write a quick query letter and start emailing agents tomorrow, right? That’s a hard no. Like I will slap your hands off the keyboard kind of no. So what are the steps to help hone your craft? To get an agent? To be successful? Read on, friends. Read on.

Step one: Research standard word counts for your genre

If you haven’t done this already, do it now! For the planners this is an easy feat, but for us pantsers the struggle is real. We don’t always like to plan ahead, but in this case, it’s a must.

Writing with word counts in mind is important for a multitude of reasons. #1 is that many agents will pass immediately if your word count is too far below or above industry standards. Sarah Nicolas of Pitch Wars has an excellent reference page for genre word counts here.

Step two: Write and finish your novel

This is obviously the most important step. You can’t query a project that’s not complete. Once done, make sure to stop and celebrate! You just finished a manuscript which is a huge feat in itself. So be proud, do a little dance and toast with your emotional support team.

Step three: Self-editing is fun! Not really… but do it anyway

Before you hand your work over to an editor or beta-readers. Go over it yourself! It should go without saying, but no first draft is ever amazing. From manuscripts to query letters to elevator pitches – if you’re not slightly ashamed of your first drafts by the end of editing, you’re not doing it right.

When self-editing, it’s crazy easy to overlook spelling errors, odd phrasing and  descriptions. But there are a few tricks to help hone your editing skills.

The first editing trick is to change your font. Your eyes have grown accustomed to the shapes of your current lettering, and by changing the font your brain will fire on to process the new lettering and catch more errors.

Next, study and fill out the same Beta Reader Questionnaire that you will give to your critique partners. This will prompt you to think like a reader and hopefully catch a few things you may not have thought about before.

Lastly, read out loud or have an auto-reader read to you. Your ears will pick up more than your eyes did. 

Note that some writers prefer to have ongoing feedback as they write, while others like to finish their entire project before handing it over to beta readers. Both are fine! But either way, self-edit before handing your work to someone else.

Step four: Get outsider feedback

Cultivate the right group of beta readers. This is your book baby you’re handing off, so trust is a must. Also, make sure they’re your target market. Aunt Sally may be a voracious reader, but if she only devours Erotic Fantasy, her feedback on your Middle-Grade Historical Fiction isn’t going to be as relevant as your 11-year-old nephew’s. And sadly, no “yes men”. It always feels good to hear how amazing you are and cheerleaders are important when you’re writing. But when it comes to critique time, you want people that are going to push you and call out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Make sure they review your Beta Reader Questionnaire before your manuscript. (Here’s my favorite questionnaire!) This helps them shift from the pleasure reader mindset to a beta reader mindset. Make sure they fill it out or better yet, go over it with them. I like to get my betas together for drinks and dive in as a group. It spurs great conversations and also highlights sticky areas in my writing.

You won’t always like what you hear, so it’s vital to recognize the difference between critique and criticism. Remember, your betas genuinely want you to succeed, so listen to their thoughts. You may find their dislike of a character is because he needs to evoke more emotions, or that your favorite scene isn’t really as necessary as you thought in advancing the plot. A huge part of honing your craft during feedback is growing a thick skin. I promise this will serve you well throughout your writing career.

At the end of the day, don’t forget the number one rule of reader feedback – this is your story. If editor or beta feedback doesn’t jive with your storyline, it’s okay to ignore it. You don’t have to change a character’s name because someone didn’t know how to pronounce it or rewrite your entire plot to appease one person. Look for the overall sweeping themes. If multiple readers were confused by the same chapter, it probably needs reworking. 

Step five: The craft of the query

Truth? This is a whole other can of blog post worms for another day. But basically, repeat steps one – four in query form. Do your research. Know what agents represent your genre and follow their submission requirements to the letter. Write an amazing query – PPW has free classes on this regularly *wink wink* — and then begin the edit and critique process of your letter.

So no unicorn, but it’s a step toward success. If you’re putting your best work forward, you’re already floating to the top of those query slush piles.

Writing is not easy. And anyone who tells you differently is lying. So say this with me. Out loud. Right now. “My best writing will come from hard work.” Now commit to that mantra. Whether you’re striving to be a New York Times Best Selling Author or simply want to self-publish, your readers deserve the best version of your book and so do you.

Want a mini craft-honing practice you can do right now? You got it! Pick up your favorite book and go to your favorite scene. Now, read it with analytical eyes. Why did you love this part? How did it make you feel? What sentence structures give you the warm fuzzies? How can you replicate those feeling when telling your own story? It goes without saying to never, never plagiarize another writer’s words, but recognizing analytically what it was in their phrasing that reached you as a fan will ultimately help polish your voice to reach fans of your own.


Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of the young adult New World Series. The gripping trilogy spans RisingAshes, and InfernoJennifer is constantly on the move, always working on her next storyline and drinking way too much coffee. When not writing, she is enjoying life in Colorado, rock climbing, camping, exploring new foods, playing with her golden retriever, Duke, and sharing life with her heroically supportive hubby. You can connect and nerd out with Jennifer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on her website.

Author Branding – The Nitty Gritty

Part II

By: Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

In part one of Author Branding, we talked about what made you different. In this post, we’ll talk about putting that into practice.

An author brand is the experience you offer the reader. But how do you develop that?

First, determine who your ideal reader is.

What do they like, dislike, expect from your genre? Why do they read your genre?

This is important because if you don’t know who you’re trying to find to read your book, then you’re just spitting in the wind.

Write all this down on a list.

Second, decide what it is you, the author, offers the reader – besides books.

In this day and age, the author is as much the brand as the books. That doesn’t mean readers get to invade your private life, but it does mean they want to get to know you. Decide what they get to know.

Brainstorm your hobbies, interest and values you want to project. Add those to your list.

Third, add more. Your brand is you, the author, and your books.

What from your books can you use to create your brand? Locations and your characters’ hobbies, interests and careers provide a wealth of additional assets for your brand.

Brainstorm your books and add those to your list.

Fourth, put it altogether.

Look at your list and pick five or so items that you are comfortable consistently sharing across your platforms. These are what your author brand will be known for. Keep in mind, your reader is what matters. What will they consistently get out of your platform? These five items are it: the world or experience you are creating for them. THIS IS YOUR BRAND.

Fifth, time to pick colors and fonts.

What feeling do you and your books bring to the reader? Colors reflect feeling, so use appropriate ones. Red: aggression or romance. Yellow: cheer. Blue: calm. Black: haunting or ambition. Brown: soothing. White: purity or efficiency. Orange: enthusiasm, energy. Green: growth or fertility.

Fonts also reflect emotion. Frilly fonts are probably not best suited for horror books. Strong, bold fonts are good for mystery and thriller. Choose wisely.

Sixth, create your logo.

You can use a platform like Tailor Brands (www.tailorbrands.com) or Canva (www.canva.com) to help you.

The logo should reflect the brand you developed in the fourth bullet of this post. It’s a bit subjective and intuitive but you’ll know it’s the right one when you see it.

Seventh, be consistent.

Your colors, logo, font, values and persona should be consistent with every single thing you post online or develop for written products. A reader should be able to look at something and know it’s you.

Make sure your URL and all your social media handles are the same. Make sure your printed products all use the same font.

Your brand is what you offer. If you are clear on that, then your readers will be too. For a checklist to help you, click here.


Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Author Branding – How Are You Different?

Part 1

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

It seems like everybody is talking about “author brand” these days. Do you remember when all we talked about was “author platform”? It’s the same thing but I think it’s much easier to understand and develop a brand than a platform, especially for a fiction author.

What makes you distinct from other writers?

Do you Stand Out?

While branding does include logos and slogans, the bulk of it is what you offer the reader. It’s how you are different and stand out. What makes you distinct from other writers in your genre? Why should anyone want to read your work as opposed to anyone else’s?

Agents and editors ask writers this question all the time. They are looking for something different and unique. But it’s difficult sometimes to figure that out for ourselves.

I recently attended a branding seminar by a consultant firm that had nothing to do with writing, and it finally all clicked.

This firm used Marty Neumeier’s book Zag to help explain one aspect of brand, and I think it gets to the heart of everything writers need to develop the answer to their “uniqueness.” I’ve tweaked it to be specifically for writers and it starts with five questions.

5 Questions to Branding

1 – What do you offer?

This is your genre. Be clear and specific about which genre you write in. Romance isn’t enough. If it’s romantic suspense or romantic sci-fi, then say so. If you write thrillers, determine exactly what kind – spy thrillers, international thrillers, domestic thrillers, etc..

2- How is it different?

This is the twist on your take of the genre. Again, be specific. How is your romantic suspense unique? How is your international spy thriller different? This is the element of your brand that is unique to itself.

3- Where is it set?

Location can really help you set yourself apart. If everyone is writing about LA, and you write about Chicago, that’s great news. Location also gives you lots of color and character for your brand.

4- Who is it for?

Be very specific about your audience. Who is your reader? Have you done a reader sketch yet? Time to get on that.

5- What is the current trend?

Understanding and articulating the current trend is the foundation for how you explain the way you stand out.
What is everyone else writing right now? Vampires? Great then you write werewolves.
Thrillers in the Soviet Union? Awesome, because you’re writing about them in China.

“Only” Statements

Now that you’ve answered all these questions. Put it together in your “only” statement. Here are a couple of examples to help you:

Example #1:

Dan Brown is the only thriller author writing Catholic-themed adventure stories set in Rome for action readers in an era when the market is saturated with Middle Easter terrorists’ thrillers.

Example #2:

Stephenie Meyer is the only young adult shifter romance author writing vampires and werewolves set in Washington State for teenagers in an era when the market is saturated with vampire-only romances.

Example #3: (ok, this is my group, but had to make a quick plug!)

Writer Nation is the only book marketing group for authors that espouses a marketing strategy where authors get to be writers first and marketers second in an era when the publishing industry is expecting them to do the bulk of their own marketing.

Once you’ve figured out your “only” statement. You have the foundation to build every other aspect of your author brand. More on those other aspects in Part 2, next week.


Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group 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.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteTwitter, and Instagram: @writernationjen

Writers Conferences and Workshops

 Just Keep Writing

By: Margena Holmes

Writing is a craft that needs to be practiced and honed to get better. What’s out there to help the writer sharpen those skills? Writer conferences, workshops, critique groups, and classes are all out there to help the writer be the best they can be. But where do you find them?

Sharpen your writing skills at a Writers Conference.

Finding a Conference

An easy way to find conferences is to Google “writer conferences” and your city or state. A whole slew of conferences come up. But how do you sort through them all? Reading the description will tell you what kind of conference it is. There are some dedicated just to mystery writers, or science fiction—pretty much any genre! Your local library will also most likely have a list of conferences and workshops in the area. I found Pikes Peak Writers from looking on the library’s website.

Social Media

Another way (and maybe the best way) to find them is word of mouth. We all have writer friends on social media, so ask around, find out what they recommend. I’m sure at least one of your friends has gone to a conference or workshop. Also, you can search Facebook for writer groups, too. Some are affiliated with conferences and workshops, and others are for writers to ask questions or just to vent about their editing process, and will have special days where you can post your work for critiquing by the members to help you out.

A Few Recommendations

One group is Writers Club Live. On the third Saturday of each month, author, ghostwriter, and book coach Christine Whitmarsh hosts a live and virtual workshop focusing on the art and science of writing your book.

My favorite one, of course, is Pikes Peak Writers Conference, held once a year in Colorado Springs. It’s a favorite because it’s near me, but also because of the fantastic classes it offers to all levels of writers, and all stages, from beginning to write your book, to editing, marketing, and more. And, they feed you! The price includes all meals.

Along with their conference, PPW also hosts a lot of monthly events. The Write Brain workshops are usually held on the third Tuesday of the month. The free two-hour workshops bring in experts on writing, with emphasis on craft, as well as experts in other fields to help you make your story real. Make sure you bring something to write and take notes with.

Pikes Peak Writers also hosts a critique group once a month. Sign up to bring in your work you’d like critiqued, or just come in to observe how it works (no sign up necessary).

If you don’t mind travelling, the Southern California Writers Conference is held twice a year, in February (San Diego) and September (Irvine). It’s run very similarly to PPWC and also well worth the price of admission. I’ve attended twice and just one workshop made it worthwhile.

Another conference that is a hot commodity is the 20 Books to 50K Conference, held in Las Vegas. This one sells out in half an hour, that’s how popular it is. It is mostly for self-publishers on how to market and sell their books, but anyone can learn something from the conference. I’ve only heard good things from those who have attended, so I’m going to try to get tickets to this conference this year!

TCK Publishing has an great list of conferences. You can find every genre of writers conferences here, even very specific conferences on subjects like Haiku or Cats.

If you’re a crime or mystery writer, there are a whole slew of conferences and conventions for you throughout the country and abroad. You can find a list of them here.

One final conference to mention will get you out of the rat race and into the mountains of Crested Butte, CO. Murder in the Mountains is a thrilling weekend celebrating all things murder and mystery.

There are many conferences and workshops around in given area if you know where to look (and Google makes it easy) to keep you writing and learning throughout the year. Take a look and see what you can find that is the best fit for YOU. Happy writing!


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

How to Tell if a Writing Contest is Legit

By: Tammila Wright

            I have several short stories that would be perfect for entering into writing contests. The notoriety would be nice, and, of course, a cash award would great, too. Right? My quest started by diving into an internet search for writing contests. Wow, look, here is one that offers a prize of $10,000! Sign me up. The entry fee is $75.00, ouch. But wouldn’t that amount of a fee guarantee the contest is legitimate because why would anyone enter? But in my gut, something seems off.

A Writer's Guide to Entering Contests

WHO IS THE SPONSOR?

Something called “vanity publishers”, will use contests to attract paying customers. As a marketing tool, it doesn’t sound so bad if you win. Most of the time, the winner will receive free services, but if you’re an entrant, you will become the object of a persistent, relentless marketing drip. Ugh, don’t we get enough of that already?

Watch for literary agencies that may or may not charge a fee but are also trying to attract clients similar to vanity publishers. But with a twist, they will represent you, but YOU get to pay upfront, inflated editing fees. Oh, and there are the agencies that hide behind false names. The winner will be required to sign up with the actual agency for a steep fee. Another detail to watch is if the company is disclosing the exact amount of semi-finalist, meaning everyone that enters has won a prize.

If the contest is sponsored by a magazine, it must be reputable, right? Wrong. Similar to literary agencies, they will advertise disguised under several different names and URL’s to attract entrants. If a magazine offers monthly contests, it probably is running a contest mill and won’t be to your benefit and waste of your time.

WHAT ABOUT THE ENTRY FEES?

A high entry fee may be a clue to “scamville.” It appears to be a rule that high entry fees of $50 or more, must have a logical prize attached to it. Awarding an “honorable mention” on the sponsor’s website is sad without prize money, maybe in the form of a gift card, or the attention of a genuine literary agent. Where did all that entry fee money go? The standard fee to legitimate contests usually is between $0 and $25. Even at $25.00 Where is that money allocated? Certainly, you should NOT be required to pay more money AFTER submission. You should not have to purchase ANYTHING; critiques of your work, entry into some secret author society, credentials, or BUY your trophy, NOTHING.

HOW MUCH REVENUE CAN A CONTEST GENERATE?

Here is an example of how much revenue a contest can generate. One site explained that a media company runs dozens of conventions and “festivals.”  Here is the math for one festival in 2014: 2,832 entries, charging $75.00 per entry equaling $212,400. If the company is sponsoring 20 or more events, with only $50.00 per entry and a conservative estimate of 2,000 entrants, they are bringing in over $2 million in entry fees alone! Then, they bring in additional revenue from merchandise and professional services such as critiques, $2.5 million in business off of writers.  The Better Business Bureau is a great place to check for open claims by spurned entrants and winners. The allegations read like a horror show for a writer.

LOOKING CLOSER AT “PRIZES”

How about thinking you won a contest, but you find out your reward money is based on the number of entrants? That doesn’t sound that bad because the entry fees can be $25 to $50 or more, right? The thousands of dollars in prize money they advertise for top winners most times is an illusion. The funds are paid AFTER all the company’s expenses known as a “pro-rated basis.” Why gamble?

What other prizes can be a local benefit? Being published in an anthology sounds cool. Wouldn’t that give me bragging rights? Yes and no. Yes, there are companies publishing collections of works, poems, flash fiction, short stories, and essays, but your precious work is assembled into a compilation and sold back to the very writers that initially contributed to the issue for a required fee. Sounds a little communistic, don’t you think? “We love your work. You beat out thousands of other contestants. We want to publish it. Now, about our purchase price…” 

WHAT WILL A REPUTABLE SPONSOR’S CONTEST CONTAIN?

            A reputable writer’s contest will have a few categories directed at a specific genre or market classification — not a lump sum of short stories, poems, or novels. The rules and deadlines will be easy to understand. Your rights regarding copyrights are clear and contact information readily available on the entry site. The prizes are without substitutions, or if a replacement must occur, what is the reason? You need to know precisely the future of your submitted work. How will your name be used? Is the contest an annual event?

            Look at this example of a legit writing contest. The guidelines are easy to understand, with no entry fee, the prize of $10,000 awarded rewarded as an advance on sales of the manuscript, and the contest is offered once a year specifically for one genre at a time. The sponsor is a publisher operating internationally within eight divisions and been in business since 1813. Sounds good.

            Here is a quick checklist to scrutinize a contest. Also, there are many non-profit sites expressly set up to verify contests and grant programs available to writers. With these tools, I’m encouraged that I won’t fall prey to a scam.

A BEWARE CHECKLIST

  • Do an internet search on all sponsors and professionals attached to the contest.
  • An entry fee of over $25.00 needs an inquiry.
  • What is the winning prize? Can the sponsor substitute the prize for some reason? Is it on a “pro-rated” basis? How many winners?
  • What will happen to your rights regarding your submission copyright?
  • Will you be spammed following the contest?
  • Is the number of categories logical? Short stories not lumped with novels.
  • Research internet reviews on the contest. If there’s been a bad experience by an entrant, their review should be easy to find.
  • If the contest frequency occurs ten or more a year, RUN!
  • No additional fees following your submission.
  • A lack of a cash prize doesn’t mean scam, but the award should be worth your time in creating your masterpiece.

PPW’s Zebulon

Editor’s Note: Of course we couldn’t post about contests without including our own Zebulon. Although this contest is closed until 2021 it is certainly one of the “GOOD” ones. The Zebulon simulates the real process of submitting to an agent, serving as an excellent learning experience. Do you have what it takes to get published? The Zebulon will help you find out.


Tammila K. Wright

Tammila K. Wright is a fifth-generation Colorado Native and self-proclaimed history geek. She writes, talks, and even acts out her love of history. She is a commissioner for the Manitou Springs Historic Preservation Commission contributing articles for the Pikes Peak Bulletin Newspaper. Tammila has been involved in projects for Pilgrim Films & TV, Greystone Productions, Taurus Productions, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, PBS and Animal Planet. Her first full novel, Mirror Memory, will be released in May 2020 and is a member of the Scriveners of Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Writers.

Tammila resides in Manitou Springs with her husband of 31 years, an astonishing daughter, and runs The Feather W Bird Sanctuary.