Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Who Wants to be the Indented Author?

By: John B. Roberts, II

Surf camp in Costa Rica is a funny place to realize you need a co-author. I was unsuccessfully trying to learn to stand up on a surfboard when my wife called to say an acquiring editor wanted to see an old book proposal. After passing on it years before, he’d changed jobs and thought it was right for his new publisher. But there was a catch. Two, actually. The original proposal covered the twenty years after the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet and a secret CIA program to support the Tibetan resistance against China. The editor wanted to dramatically enlarge the scope of the book and publish it to coincide with the fifty-year anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile. There was no way to meet this deadline without a co-author.

What to Look for in a Co-Author

A failed collaboration that ended with a $12 million lawsuit taught me what I didn’t want in a co-author. A judge dismissed that suit, but only after substantial legal fees. The project involved a principal author, his co-author, and me as a ghostwriter. Divisions of labor were ill-defined, the book bogged down, and the publisher cancelled the contract. To complete the Tibet book required a co-author with strong research and interviewing skills, the ability to conform his or her writing style to a common standard, and a track record of meeting deadlines.

My wife, Elizabeth, was the perfect candidate. We’d met working at The McLaughlin Group, a nationally-broadcast political show whose host was a demanding perfectionist. She later wrote for an authoritative publication, The Cook Political Report.  We’d already collaborated successfully on Best Bets, a Washington, D.C. visitor guide.

We approached the Tibet book like two professionals, creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, delineating assignments, determining who would be the lead (or sole) author for each chapter, setting deadlines, and holding frequent accountability sessions to assess our progress. Because foreign and domestic travel was involved to complete the interviews, we divided responsibilities and budgeted expenses. Photo research and permissions was another major task. Before we began writing we had a mutually-agreed plan of what we were each going to do and how we would get it done. We also set clear boundaries between our personal and writing lives.

Compatibility is Key

You and your co-author don’t have to think alike. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Different perspectives challenge us and help sharpen the final product. Your experiences, tastes, and personalities can be highly divergent, but the key is compatibility working together.

If one writer is always productive and meets deadlines while the other is habitually late or blocked it’s a red flag. If one author is highly confident and the other insecure or prone to second-guessing it could become problematic, just as two highly-dominant personalities likely spell conflict. Take time to get to know the individual you are going to be working with as co-authors. No matter how brilliant their writing, make sure that your working styles and core personalities mesh well. Above all, if you respect one another, it will help a mutual writing project flourish. There will be hard choices and tough times in team-writing, and respect is what will get you through the contentious moments.

Put Your Agreement in Writing

Once you and your co-author decide to collaborate, make a contract. Whether you use Legal Zoom, share a lawyer, or each get your own, cover the key issues likely to arise. How will advances and royalties be divided? What will happen to ancillary rights, including story rights for film or television? In the event one co-author predeceases another, what happens to his or her rights? What about speaking fees? Does each author keep his or her own, or will the revenues be shared? What happens if the publisher rejects your work and demands repayment of any advances? How will you handle litigation if someone sues you over the book? If you have a falling out over the project, will you handle it through mediation or litigation?

Elizabeth and I didn’t have to worry about many of these issues because we have a straightforward marriage in which we share everything. But if you want to work with your spouse and keep your finances separate, you might want to consider these points and reach an agreement even if you don’t create a formal contract. Whoever you choose as a co-author, establish boundaries. If you work best at night and like to sleep late, let your co-author know you don’t want phone calls or texts before noon. If weekends are private or family time, make sure your co-author respects that.  

Rolling with the Punches

I value flexibility in a co-author. Just as a battle plan never survives the first contact with the enemy, in my experience no book gets published without lots of changes. With non-fiction, there’s the added complexity of how accessible and cooperative sources are and how easy it is to search archives. Highly-classified information was involved, complicating our task.

You get it. We made many adjustments to our initial plan for writing the book, some easy and others not so pain-free. It helped that we’d both worked in the highly-collaborative, pressure-filled world of writing for television. We knew how to press our individual point, but also how to concede. We’d learned not to reject an idea out of hand just because it was totally alien from our own viewpoint and truly disruptive. And we both embraced the mantra of our late agent, Mike Hamilburg, that “writing is re-writing.”

The low point came when our editor wanted us to cut 30,000 words from the final draft and add chapter sub-heads throughout the book. We spent a day venting about this to each other and relishing how surprised he’d be when we refused and took our masterpiece to another publisher. The next day, slightly calmer, we started to see where cuts might be made. Over the next few days we created a new, tighter structure for the book that actually looked like an improvement. With a more volatile co-author, it might have been the end of the book.

Today people still ask how we managed to write a book together and stay married. The same conflict-resolution skills that work in a marriage make co-authoring possible. We agreed to shelve some disagreements or unresolved problems until a better time to deal with it, but then set a date to handle it and stuck to it. We listened respectfully to each other’s views even when we didn’t initially agree. We applied the kind of rules used in writers’ workshops when it came to critiquing each other’s work. Professional courtesy is a good formula for working with any co-author.

There was only issue we couldn’t resolve. Although we shared equal credit on the book jacket, the Library of Congress catalogues co-authors alphabetically. Because E comes before J that made me the indented author! We still get a laugh out of that today.     


John B. Roberts II is a writer, television producer and artist living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was senior producer of the top-rated, Emmy-nominated weekly political television talk shows hosted by John McLaughlin, “The McLaughlin Group” and “John McLaughlin’s One on One.” He has written and produced thousands of television broadcasts.

He is the author of “Rating the First Ladies: The Women Who Influenced the Presidency,” (Citadel 2003) and co-author along with Elizabeth Roberts of “Freeing Tibet: 50 Years of Struggle, Resilience and Hope,” (AMACOM 2009). His most recent book is “Reagan’s Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Reelection Campaign’s Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro” (McFarland 2020.) Story rights to “Reagan’s Cowboys” have been optioned by HBO. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Times, Colorado Springs Gazette, and Colorado Springs Independent as well as George Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and The American Spectator, among others. He is a member of the Pikes Peak Writers, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America. https://www.jbrobertsauthor.com

Coffee Shop Inspiration for Writers

By: Leeann Betts
Originally published in Nuggets of Writing Gold

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, I’d sit in a coffee shop trying to figure out what to write. All around me were people sipping java or tea, munching bagels, meeting friends, talking on phones—and it hit me.

I was looking in at the goldfish bowl.

I really missed that over the past fifteen months or so. My goal is to get back to that coffee shop every Monday morning from ten until noon. Maybe have a friend or three drop in and chat. No masks. No social distancing. Let the ideas flow.

This would be a typical morning from pre-March 2020:

It’s only five past ten. I have my coffee, my asiago cheese bagel, and my laptop fired up. Already I eavesdropped on three friends who meet every two months to discuss a book, like a mini book club. While I couldn’t see the title of the one they are reading, it seemed to be full of witticisms, observations, and helpful insights. For example, one was about Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. He married 1,000 women, which were his downfall. So if a man doesn’t marry 1,000 women, he’ll already be smarter than the wisest man who ever lived.

Later there was a table of older women gathering tables from near and far, even settling for round tables, to get enough seating for their group of about 20 women. Along comes one woman with a little girl, maybe about 4 or so. And I got to wondering if this older woman was the grandmother—or the mother. And plot ideas sprang forth immediately.

Today

A few days ago, at a table nearby, sat a middle eastern man and two women. Sometimes they spoke in English, sometimes in another language that sounded Arabic. Sometimes they mixed their sentences together, using English words in the middle of a sentence with this other language. For example, I heard the word ‘embassy’ and ‘must be careful’ in the midst of other words I couldn’t understand. Got me thinking about a suspense plot.

Every Monday when I am here, there is a woman sitting nearby who is a counselor of some kind. I’ve heard her talking to a client on the phone about an issue the client was going through. Not details, but I saw this counselor’s demeanor change from the way she looked when she was typing on her laptop—doing right-brain work—to the way her face softened and her posture relaxed as she talked to her client—left-brain work. She’d make a good character where I could show both sides of her at work.

Right now, there is a couple sitting next to me who are speaking Chinese, perhaps. I don’t understand a word they are saying, but they’ve been very animated at times, voices raised, hand gestures, smiles. Are they planning a business move? To buy a house? Get a cat? Have another child in contravention of China’s one-child law? What if one of the couple wants to return to China, but the other doesn’t? Will that impact their decision?

Sitting in a coffee shop may sound like a waste of time. Usually, I come here just to get away from the laundry or to meet fellow writers. But perhaps I need this unique stimulation to get the old grey cells, as Hercule Poirot would say, working.

Takeaway

Sometimes changing our surroundings gets us looking at characters differently.

Exercises

  1. Go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations around you. Can you use some of what you hear?
  2. Hang around a central bus depot or train station. Watch the people; make notes of what they do.
  3. Go to the airport and hang around the main concourse. Make up stories about the people you see.

Leeann Betts

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. You can follow her on her blogFacebook, and Twitter. Her books are available everywhere including Amazon and Smashwords.

Why Writers Need Newsletters

By Christina Lorenzen

Most writers spend hours every day on social media, whether Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Spending so much time, one would think social media platforms are the best way to keep in touch with readers. However, with the good there is always the bad and social media is no exception.

It seems like there’s always something happening on Facebook (#deleteFacebook as I write this) or Twitter that should have you consider what would happen if they all went away. How will you stay in touch with those readers you spent so much time building a relationship with? Newsletters. If Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram fell by the wayside, there are several reasons why a newsletter is invaluable to you as a writer.

Staying in Touch

While Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are hopping, you may also remember that some are now in the heap pile (MySpace, and Friendster come to mind). While people from those now defunct spaces may have moved to the three most popular platforms today, it’s a reminder that another means of staying in touch is vital for writers.

Enter good old fashioned email.  

A newsletter keeps you and your books in your reader’s mind. It’s ideal for sharing little bits about your life and writing. Readers love getting a behind the scene peek. One of my favorite authors loves chocolate as much as I do. Another shops at Target just like me. My favorite newsletters are ones with pictures of the author’s writing space. Oh, the envy!

There’s much you can include in a newsletter, but the most important reason for having a newsletter is the ability to stay in touch should a reader leave social media or a platform becomes obsolete. The newsletter is a priceless marketing tool. Take that relationship you’ve built through social media a step further by asking your readers to sign up for your newsletter. You can do this simply through your website’s contact page or right on the home page. However you decide to do it, you will need a way for readers to give consent to receiving emails from you. On my contact page I have a simple box for readers to check. I also have a privacy policy that assures them I will not share their email or use it for anything beyond my newsletter.

For information about privacy policies and collecting emails visit  https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business

Chat One on One with Readers

While social media is great for talking to readers, a newsletter is the place to chat one on one. This past year has shown us how human contact and staying in touch is so vital. Writers saw in-person writing events canceled, rescheduled, and canceled again. A newsletter is a great way to ‘meet up’ with readers when we can’t do so in person. With so many people spending more time at home, what better way to keep in contact?

Like social media, a newsletter is about building a relationship. Most writers tend to be introverts so a newsletter is an easy way to let readers get to know you. There are so many ways to do that.  You can share your favorite recipes, places to visit, movies. The difference is when a reader leaves Facebook or Twitter, you may lose touch. Building an email list for a newsletter becomes invaluable in this way. People check their email. Wouldn’t it be great for them to find something there from you?

They Keep You Writing

Every writer has been there. The slump. Maybe that short story isn’t gelling. Maybe the book proposal has been rejected. Again. You’re at what I call ‘the in-between’. No assignments, no deadlines, and you’re just free falling. Nothing kills creativity faster than not having anything to write. Writers write and while it may be a cliché, it’s true that writing begets more writing. For those times when you’re in between, a newsletter is a great way to hone your writing skills. It’s a creative resource and what you write is all up to you.  

Having a newsletter gets your BICHOK (butt in chair hands on keyboard) during those times when you may be tempted to blow it off and hit the couch. A newsletter deadline helps you keep writing and stay productive. Once you announce a newsletter is forthcoming you won’t want to let your readers down. They’re waiting. Get that newsletter out.

Get the Word Out But…

This is the fun part of a newsletter. While you might sometimes feel full of yourself constantly posting about your latest book, article, award, or contract on social media, your newsletter is the perfect place that stuff. Share about your new book. Your subscribers are your first line of buyers. Let them know you’re going to be a guest blogger. You might just see some of them in the comments. And if you’re holding a contest (a subscriber favorite), let them know how to enter and what they could win. Newsletters are also the best place to give your readers content only subscribers are privy to. In fact, promising subscriber only content is a sure fire way to get readers to sign up to begin with.

BUT… remember that your newsletter is for them. Signing up is easy. Keeping them subscribed is a whole other game. And you can do that by sharing what’s going in your writing life by making readers feel they’re a part of it. I’ve watched one of my favorite author’s children grow up through her blog. Her daughter is getting married soon and I’m almost as excited as she is. Let them know how grateful you are for their being such loyal subscribers. This is where an occasional contest comes in handy. Readers love winning prizes. It can be as simple as a signed copy of one of your books or a bookmark. Let them know that without them you wouldn’t be here. Because you wouldn’t. Without readers where would writers be?

Getting Started

When you’re getting started, finding a balance in how often you send your newsletter out can be tricky. You certainly don’t want to bombard them weekly. You may not have enough news to share monthly. I’ve found a quarterly newsletter is just the right fit for me.

As I mentioned, letting readers know they will be getting content not found anywhere else is a good way to start getting sign ups. You could start by holding a contest readers can enter after subscribing. Many authors offer a free short story upon subscribing to their newsletter. It takes time. You might be disappointed to find only a handful of subscribers in the beginning. Take heart. Like anything else, it takes time to build up an email list. Be sure to let readers and followers on social media know you have a newsletter. Keep sending your newsletters out and slowly you will see your list grow. In no time, you’ll find yourself in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of email boxes.

Check out PPW’s newsletter for some great content that might spark some ideas for your own newsletter. You only need to be a member to subscribe and if you’re a member who hasn’t received the newsletter contact the newsletter editor at: newsletter@pikespeakwriters.com


Christina started writing as a young teen, jotting stories in wire ring composition notebooks. Her first typewriter made it faster to get all those stories out of her head and down on paper. Her love of writing has sustained her through a myriad of jobs that included hairdresser, legal secretary, waitress and door-­to-‑door saleswoman.

Luckily for her, writing proved to be successful and a lot less walking than going door to door. She’s the author of ten romance books and is now exploring the fun world of cozy mystery writing. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found walking her dog, talking to her herd of cats and spending time with her family. Her books are available on Amazon.

Making Your Presence Known on Social Media

By: Margena Holmes

As an author, it’s not enough to just have a website for your books. To make your name and work known, you need to have a social media presence, too. But how does one do that? And with so many different ones, where do you start? Here are some ideas to help you with your social media presence.

Facebook

I would recommend getting an author page. I have a personal page and an author page, to keep things nice and tidy and separate. On my personal page I post about family, work, and other daily life events. These are things that I don’t want to be public (I have my personal page set to private). I have my author page for posting everything about my writing—updates, word counts, events I’ll be attending, and release dates.

Thursdays are throwback days, so I’ll post something from the past related (no matter how loosely) to my writing. I’ve got photos from high school and college, jobs that I’ve had, anything that I’ve done on my writing journey. Hashtags are important to help people find these posts, so remember to use the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday. On Fridays I’ll post something funny either writing related or just to make people laugh, using the hashtag #FridayFunny. I’ve just added in #MotivationMonday where I post something to inspire others, either in writing or daily life.

If this seems overwhelming, start small. I started posting on Throwback Thursdays for the first month or so as I got used to posting more, then I added my Friday Funny. My plan is to have five days of these kind of posts.  You don’t even have to take time out of each day to do it. You can schedule your posts from your author page with Facebook’s business suite.

Twitter

Twitter is a little different than FB. Anyone can see your posts, so make sure it’s something you don’t mind your readers seeing (and that’s the point—you want your readers to see YOU!). Using hashtags here is important since the posts are easily lost in the shuffle (and Jenny Kate wrote an awesome blog on using hashtags), but you can use the same posts from FB on Twitter. It’s also easy to retweet a lot of Tweets from other authors.

LinkedIn

If you were to think of Facebook as the kids’ table for holidays, LinkedIn is the adults’ table. Political posts and cat videos are pretty much non-existent here. What you’ll find are helpful job related memes and posts, motivational posts, and articles. Here it’s a little more intimidating after being on Facebook for so long. This is the place to post about your release dates, maybe write an article on your writing process, or share an inspiring picture, meme, or story, so you’ll want to make content specifically for LI and not reuse your posts from FB or Twitter. Hashtags abound here, too.

What To Post

If you don’t know what to post, there are plenty of ways to get content. Angie Gensler has a variety of packages to purchase that takes the guesswork out of posting. I bought year of social media post ideas in 2019 and I just keep reusing the ideas each year. There are also free websites for ideas. Hootsuite has a list of ideas for you to engage your audience. Visit your favorite author’s social media and see what they do on social media and follow their lead. I would also recommend following Gary Vaynerchuk on Linked In. He’s written a lot of articles on how to create content for social media.

Buy My Book Posts

One goal of writers is to sell their books, but don’t inundate your news feed with “buy my book” posts. It gets annoying after a while and you’ll end up losing followers. That’s not to say you can’t post those on your social media. Try to keep it to 80-20—80% generic writing/book posts, 20% buy my book posts. You can even make a graphic showing the cover of your book with a quote from it without it being a “buy my book” post. It’s important to post regularly to keep that engagement with your readers.

Final Thoughts

Start slow and be engaging with your posts. Get to know your fan base and see what types of things they like to talk about. Make it about them as well as yourself, but most of all, be creative and have fun!


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.

Find Your Story

By: Leeann Betts
(revised from original publication in Nuggets of Writing Gold)

At a recent conference, I attended a continuing education class by a firecracker of a teacher, both in her teaching style and in her personality. Rabbit trails she runs, but somehow manages to get her point across. In these classes, she actually had someone in the class keep track of her points so they could steer her back on course after she ran a tangent. Too funny!

At one point in this track, which was titled “Writing that Sings”, the teacher asked us to think about what we write. Not our genre or time period, not the tag line for our website or the elevator pitch for our book, but overall, what do we write.

What do you write?

So here’s the question for you: what do you write? For example, Kim Vogel Sawyer writes about broken people finding healing in the arms of a loving God. Sure, her tag line is gentle stories of hope, but if you look at her characters and plots, all of her characters are broken.

As I considered each of my books, I came to the realization that all of my characters are experiencing second chances — through remarriage, through reconciliation, through overcoming their past mistakes, through overcoming their circumstances. Doesn’t matter which book I consider or even which short story I look at.

So I came up with this: I write stories about second chances from a God who is bigger than our past.

Challenge

I challenge you this week to think about each story you have written, are writing, or are thinking about writing, and ask: what one sentence describes what I write?

Why is this important? I’m not trying to button-hole you into a particular kind of story, but I believe, as the instructor said, when you understand what you write, you’ll see the connection between your stories and your worldview. In my case, I write from the point of view of a follower of Jesus. I’ve had more second and third and more chances than you could count.

While our stories aren’t supposed to be autobiographical, they do convey our worldview. Each one of us has come through a unique set of circumstances, and each of us is equipped with a unique set of gifts and callings. Through this, we have the story of our life, carefully woven into a story others can receive, a story that can take the reader’s broken story and weave it into a beautiful tapestry.

Exercise:

  1. Look at the stories you write, and come up with a sentence that describes the kinds of books you write. Write it down.
  2. Think about the last ten books you read that you loved. How would you describe them? Write that down.
  3. Is there some overlap?

Takeaway: We each have a unique story to tell. The hard work is finding what makes the story different.


Leeann Betts

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. You can follow her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Her books are available everywhere including Amazon and Smashwords.

Tension and Cliffhangers

By: Terry Odell

When we’re writing, we want the 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