Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Writer’s Night

Pikes Peak Writers is known for our annual conference, but we also do tons of programming throughout the year, much of it free! 

Join Mytchel at the next Writer's Night!
Join Mytchel at the next Writer’s Night!

One of our free monthly events is Writer’s Night, where writers of all genres gather together to discuss writerly topics over food and drinks. Anyone is welcome to attend, whether they have a question to ask or they just want to hang back and listen.

Why Go to Writers Night?

At the last meeting, I asked the attendees for their top reasons to attend Writer’s Night, and here they are:

  1. Hearing from other writers inspires you to keep writing.
  2. It’s nice to be around like-minded people.
  3. Sense of community. Writing is such an isolated experience–sometimes you need to escape it.
  4. Helps fight impostor syndrome.
  5. Exposes you to diverse perspectives.
  6. Casual education. Learn from others while just hanging out!
  7. Bragging rights. Each session, we go around the room and allow people the chance to tell us about their accomplishments.
  8. Gets you out of the house.
  9. You don’t have to make dinner.
  10. Beer!

NEW Location!

We’ve got exciting news to share, too! Writer’s Night is getting a face-lift. It’s moving to Navajo Hogan in August. Plus, we’ve got a new host! Mytchel Chandler has taken over as Writer’s Night host, bringing a fresh perspective to the group.

The Next Writer’s Night is:

Monday, August 26 (every fourth Monday!)
6:30 to 8:30 PM
Navajo Hogan (private room)
2817 N. Nevada Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80907

We hope you’ll come check out Writer’s Night and all our other monthly programming! Look for it under “events” on our website or in the events on our Facebook page.


Mytchel Chandler

Mytchel Chandler, Secretary of PPW, has taken over Writer’s Night! Mytchel has written a time travel comic titled Chronic, and is finishing up his debut novel, a YA fantasy titled The Dark and Dangerous Days of Sin Shadow. In his spare time, Mytchel is an avid movie goer, comic collector, and cosplayer. Be sure to follow him @authormytchelchandler on Facebook and Instagram, and at www.mytchelchandler.com.

Blogging: Should you start & how to do it

By: Jennifer Lovett

Did you happen to attend a writer’s conference recently where you heard every author must have a blog? Or maybe you heard an agent won’t pick you up if you don’t have a blog. Or maybe you’d just like to join the community because believe it or not, blogging isn’t dead. New blogs still pop up all the time and become successful.

So, do you need a blog?

  • If you want to sell more books, no.
  • If you want to drive traffic to your website, not necessarily but it helps.
  • If you want to establish a daily or weekly writing habit that will also drive traffic, then yes.

But if you plan to start a blog, I want you to think about a few things.

  • It is a fantastic way to start and maintain a writing habit
  • It is a fantastic way to drive traffic to your website
  • It is time-consuming and requires some creative brainstorming for topics after a time
  • There are 31.7 million bloggers in the U.S. by 2020

Yes, there are a lot of blogs out there. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you. Your fiction content is unique and more than likely, there won’t be too many other fiction writers out there clamoring away to write about your content. So that opens up a lot of post possibilities.

The best way to keep track of what you’re writing is to create a content calendar. It’s a device to help you plan out your blog strategy, which posts to write and when to post them. You’ll never be lost on what to blog again. Here’s mine, feel free to steal it.

To get you started, here is a list of topics you can blog about:

  1. Behind-the-scenes. Talk about how you get your ideas (because you know you’ll be asked), where you write, where you do your research
  2. Excerpts of your work. Do you have a really favorite scene? Share it.
  3. Character Interviews. These are always fun and can help you flesh out a character as well.
  4. Book chronicle. Journal your book. How you create your characters; how they respond to you on a given day; where you’re having writers block and why; how you resolved the issue
  5. Book covers. Talk about why you like one over the other.
  6. Research trips. Write about what you ate, where you stayed, what you discovered, where you discovered it.
  7. Location Scout. Write about your setting and its history
  8. Writers life. How you became a writer, stay motivated and started your career
  9. Supporters. Interviews with people who’ve helped you on your journey: librarians, researchers, biggest supporter, funny little guy you met on the train who was super excited to find out you’re a writer!
  10. Reviews. Connect something in your work to popular culture and become an expert on it. For example, Young Adult novelists could review episodes of Riverdale or Stranger Things. Mystery writers could review CSI or NCIS.

As you start blogging or want to punch up the blog you have, here are some best practices to help you:

  1. LONG form!
    1. Not 250 words. Not anymore. 1000 words. Why? Because Google likes search words and the more words you have, the more likely you’ll pop in a Google search. This maxes out between 1500-2000 words though.
    1. Will readers take the time to read all that? Yes. Statistics show people are reading just as much as ever, even with short attention spans, they are reading. They’re just doing it on their phones. (Source)
  2. Bullets, headers, lists.
    1. I know I just said readers will read up to 1500 words, but really that’s only true if you break up the text with these elements. It makes it an easier read for users who have the attention span of a gnat.
    1. Attention span has been reported at 8 seconds in the online word. But more than 30% of blog readers admit to liking lists and headers, and more than 40% admit to skimming. Breaking up the text will help your reader stay involved with the post. (Source)
  3. Video is still king.
    1. So what does that have to do with blogging? One of the best ways to up your search engine optimization is to create a quick 1-3 minute video that basically just tells the reader what’s in your blog. Pop that on the end of your blog and you should start to see an increase in traffic.
    1. In addition, 80% of blog readers report they remember more of what they read if it’s accompanied by a video. Win win! (Source)
  4. Images.
    1. Articles or blogs with images receive 94% more views. Even if you just use one, put it toward the top so you pull readers in right in the beginning.
    1. Find photos on Flickr, Google Images, Shutterstock and Pixabay. Most of these sites will have free or inexpensive photos you can use copyright-free. (Source)
  5. Launch with 20.
    1. Because content is how Google finds you, it’s better to have at least 20 posts before you officially launch your blog.
    1. Think about that … 20000 words. That will certainly help your search engine optimization.
  6. Be consistent.
    1. This one has been preached forever. Right now the going rate is at least every other week, but weekly is best.
    1. Never go for once a month. It simply isn’t enough content to drive traffic. (Source)

If you’re read to start, you’ll need a platform like Wix, Weebly, or Blogger – all of which have a pretty easy learning curve and free templates. I use WordPress because it has better integration with the Google search engine and an amazing SEO tool in the Yoast plugin which makes SEO super easy. You’ll also want to own your own domain (URL), so head over to GoDaddy, SquareSpace or HostGator and purchase the URL.

For slightly more information, check out this link.


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.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Backstory Reverb

By: Deb McLeod

Recently the issue of backstory came up again with a client who is writing a YA in the aftermath of a pandemic. The horror is over and the story is about how they will live from here forward. About the society they will create and how they might do it differently this time. The writer, working on her first draft, was feeling the pressure of writing backstory and wanted to talk about whether it had a place in the novel or not. 

As I’ve said here before, there are writers who insist no backstory is the right amount. But I disagree. I think it depends upon the story, of course. But there’s more to that feeling of needing backstory that deserves to be looked at as part of the writing process. 

Thinking about my client’s story I wonder how backstory can not play a role in the front story. What happened during the pandemic to each of her characters is relevant to how they respond to the changed world. The complete loss of any kind of control in the face of a global disease, an invisible foe, has to change the people that lived it and the society they will create the next time. It will also reverberate for generations to come.

For example, I think about whether or not my mom living through the depression had an effect on me. Here’s a story that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. During the depression, my mom was poor. She lived with her immigrant grandparents because her mother died at twenty-four and in those days men didn’t raise children, especially widowers who didn’t marry someone else right away. So my mother and my aunt moved in with their grandparents. 

My great-grandfather was injured at work in 1930. In those days, sans any kind of compensation, he was simply out of work. My great-grandmother cleaned the house of the factory owner and they had to accept subsistence from the government. They lost their house. The girls wore heavy, black, government shoes that were delivered by a big truck that stopped in front of their house to bring food and supplies. When the truck came my mother and her sister would hide. To be supported that way was shameful. 

Certainly in any story I would tell about my mother, that time in her life would reverberate, always. The backstory would have an effect on the front story. Formative experiences always do. 

But I have wondered what strings from my mother’s experience of living poor are threaded through my life and into my daughter’s. During my conversations with my writer-friend I thought about what my mom’s life event meant to the current story. 

One conclusion I came to was that both me and my daughter learned my mother’s extraordinary ability to “make do” which I believe is a direct result of the depression years she lived through. The women in our family make do to a fault. And I’m not just talking about groceries. It’s been more along the lines of accepting and getting along without, rather than fighting to get what we deserve. Does that make sense? 

And that bleeds over into other areas besides money or jobs. It’s an attitude I’ve been fighting since I realized how unhealthy that is and exactly what it says to the universe about getting my needs met. It’s sort of like neglect on a spiritual level. I believe I can trace it back to my mom’s experience with poverty and I can see it in my daughter, too. 

So how much of that backstory would make it into a novel about my story or my daughter’s story? Perhaps none. But isn’t the writer better informed if they’ve taken the time to explore those issues in their character’s lives and to write about how the backstory still reverberates? 

Perhaps the definitive answer for my friend’s novel is to write the backstory in the first draft exploration. Spend time wallowing in the Why of it all so she knows what influences her characters and their story. Perhaps she should look for the threads that still live in all of their lives, how the backstory changed the front story and what it says about the future stories. The individual reactions to that pandemic will reflect in each person differently, in each family differently and it will have a societal ‘flavor’ as well. Perhaps even different in different parts of the country. 

Here’s an illustration. One day during a dinner when both my mother and my mother-in-law were present, the subject of the depression came up. My mother-in-law, raised in Cape Cod in a wealthy family (think coming out balls and Sarah Lawrence college), lamented over the loss of their summer home on the beach during the depression. My mother’s lips pressed to white and she said nothing about the government shoes. Still steeped in shame. 

So thematically, I think all stories deserve a time playing with backstory. Then even if you don’t use the actual scenes you write in backstory, or use only some of it, you understand your characters and their world better and you might find themes that will serve as the bones that holds your story together.


Deb McLeod is an author and creative writing coach. She has been coaching writers for over ten years, and worked with fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction writers. She has also worked with poets and screen writers.

Things to Remember When Writing Post-Apocalyptic

By: Shannon Lawrence

You’ve envisioned a world where some large-scale event has wiped out hordes of humanity.  Your characters are alive in your head, probably struggling to survive.  You can see the blighted landscape all around you.  What do you need to do now?

There are a few things that must be part of your post-apocalyptic story, or you have no story. 

~An apocalyptic event. 

 That’s right, you can’t have a post-apocalyptic world without something that got them there.  What will yours be?  Viral, bacterial, natural, man-made, space-related or nuclear?  These are all options, and there are probably plenty more.  Did the swine flu get out of hand?  Was it helped by humanity or just one of those things that happens in nature?  Did the Earth tilt too far off its axis?  Did nuclear Hell flame rain down upon the continents?  There must be a reason the people in your story are stuck in this particular landscape.

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887;  Viktor Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887; Viktor Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
~A time frame.

Are they living through the event or has it already happened?  Is it fresh or decades down the line?  You have to know when it happened and what stage humanity is in to really tell your story.  If it happened decades ago, the landscape is going to be significantly different than if it just happened yesterday.  Quality of life will also probably be very different.  If they’ve been coping for decades, they probably aren’t struggling to find food or water sources as much as if it just happened and everything is tainted or burning.  If it’s a new problem, there will be mostly individuals and small groups, whereas a length of time may mean there are established towns/cities.

Stalingrad after the battle;  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Stalingrad after the battle; [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
~A fully realized landscape. 

World building is important in any story, but you need to build this post-apocalyptic world so that people see your vision of what it looks like.  They must know what your characters’ reality looks like.  Are there fires raging?  Or is everything underwater?  Are there bodies everywhere?  Or has nature reclaimed what once was solely hers?  Let us know what it is your characters are looking at.  Make sure it makes sense for passage of time and the particular event that occurred.

~Strong characters. 

We need to believe that these people can make it (or not, as the case may be).  It must be a real struggle.  We have to care whether they can survive, one way or another.  Maybe we hate this guy so much that we question why he survived, when better people died.  Maybe we love this character and desperately want to see her rebuild her life.  Whichever characters you have, we must believe in them, and they must have a mission, of sorts.  Does Evil Guy want to take over what remains of the world?  Find natural resources to survive?  Or just be left alone?  Does Lovely Heroine have a child to fend for?  Is she just trying to find a home she can call her own?  What drives them?  What are they trying to accomplish?  This is important in every single kind of story you may write, but don’t get so intent on your world building that you forget your characters.

~A purpose. 

All right, we get it.  The world has ended.  The apocalypse has found us.  Whoopty-doo.  What is so important about this world that you just have to tell the story?  What are we going to take away from this?  I’m not talking about a moral (necessarily), but just a life story that means something to us when we read it.  A violent post-apocalyptic world, where survivors are constantly under siege, does us no good if we don’t come out of the story feeling something.  Perhaps you want us to know that humanity will always find a way to thrive.  Or that love will always pull someone through.  Whatever it is, make it part of your story.

The aftermath of Hurricane Camille. Ruins of Texaco gas station with Rambler automobile,  Biloxi, Mississippi, 17 August 1969
The aftermath of Hurricane Camille. Ruins of Texaco gas station with Rambler automobile, Biloxi, Mississippi, 17 August 1969

There are many elements that are important in a story, but these are just a few of the top ones to keep in mind when writing a post-apocalyptic tale. 

Looking for a few good reads?

Want to read a story that takes something familiar and turns it on its head, all the while showing us the strength of humanity and the power of good versus evil?  Read Stephen King’s The Stand.  Watch Book of Eli for another viewpoint.  There’s also The RoadMad MaxWater World (hey, I’m not saying these are all good), The PostmanJericho and The Walking Dead for movies/television shows.  For books, this link should take you to a comprehensive list of classic post-apocalyptic stories.  Of course, The Hunger Games and Forest of Hands and Teeth should be on there.  Also, I recently read Without Warning by John Birmingham, on a whim, and I enjoyed it.  It was more a political/government/military-type book that took on what happened in those facets – so different than I’m used to for this genre, but also quite good. 

I don’t know how The Marbury Lens and The Maze Runner are qualified, but I’d consider both to be sort of post-apocalyptic.  We really aren’t sure with The Maze Runner, but we get a sense something big must have happened, and in The Marbury Lens, the alternative world he visits via the lens seems quite post-apocalyptic.  Both are excellent books, though be aware that The Marbury Lens can be graphic or disturbing, despite being Young Adult.

The short of it is, fully realize your story so we can be drawn into it, feel for your characters, smell the fires, feel a sniffle coming on as everyone dies of the Hulk of flu bugs.  Watch some of these movies or read some of the books (or both) and figure out what you like in them, so you can duplicate that, in a sense.


Shannon Lawrence

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Once Upon a Scream, Dark Moon Digest, and Space and Time Magazine. Her first solo collection of short stories, Blue Sludge Blues and Other Abominations, was released March 1, 2019. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. 

Find her at www.thewarriormuse.com,  Facebook or Twitter: @thewarriormuse.

This article reprinted from PPW archives

Forensics 101

By: K.J. Scrim

No matter what genre you write in, the need for a crime scene of some sort may crop up somewhere in the course of writing your book. It is imperative for you to get your facts correct. You must respect the laws of how the human body reacts to violence, the mechanics of safe cracking, or the physics of an explosion.

Nose prints from a dog or cat are unique in much the same way as a human fingerprint.

 In doing research for a new novel, not only was I treated to a tour of Colorado’s CBI Forensics lab, but I also attended a workshop presented by a forensics expert (thank you Sisters in Crime!).

Here are a few things I learned on the tour and at the workshop.

  • If an officer is hit in the protective vest by a bullet, what does that really feel like? Like getting hit with a baseball bat. The higher the caliber, the bigger the bat.
  • What can a pet’s nose print tell an investigator? Nose prints from a dog or cat are unique in much the same way as a human fingerprint. If you look closely at your pet’s nose you will see lines and ridges that make their nose unique.
  • Does broken glass tell a tale? Broken glass can tell you a few things, but the most basic is from which direction the glass was hit. If it was hit from the outside inward, the glass lands inside. Easy solution there. But what about multiple bullet holes in a windshield? Not only can a forensics expert tell what order the holes were made in, but also what direction they came from. [Side fact: a skull will shatter nearly the same as glass.]
  • Diatoms? What the heck are diatoms? Algae. It is found in fresh water, marine water, in soils, and decomposed bodies. But they do not occur naturally in a living human body. If any diatoms are found in, on, or around, a body, the investigator may be able to determine the location of the crime. Diatoms vary by season and geographic location. They even differ between those found along the shore vs the center of the same lake.
  • Today, aerial photography is done with drones. It is the best way to get the layout of a crime scene and the area around it. Rest assured CBI does not do surveillance with drones. That’s not saying no one surveilles with drones. [Queue dramatic music.]
  • How long does it take to process DNA? Because of a huge backlog at CBI, it takes 4-8 months to process. If there is a priority on a case it can be faster. The process itself only takes 24-72 hours.

What do writers get wrong?

  • Miranda Rights are not read at the time of an arrest. They are written out and the criminal must read and sign them when they are processed into the system.
  • Cordite was used during the 1890’s in elephant guns and has not been manufactured since 1945. It would not be smelled at a crime scene. Put it in a revolver and it would explode.
  • At a homicide, evidence is not collected in plastic bags. Especially not anything that may have biomaterial. Dump the plastic and use paper. There are instances where a plastic bag is preferred for evidence so do your research for the preferred method.
  • DNA information collected by the CBI, or by companies like Ancestry.com, is never shared between agencies. If you send your DNA sample to find a long lost relative, that information cannot, and is not, used by law enforcement agencies. It is inadmissible to use it for a case because there is no paper trail as to where that particular sample came from.

To further your research, here are a few online resources:

  • Colorado Bureau of Investigation – Forensics Unit
  • Parker Police Ride-Along Program – This link is for information with the Parker, Colorado police department. Check with your local station to see if they have a program in your area.
  • Sisters in Crime – SinC has a plethora of resources and information regarding most aspects of crime. Whether you’re a fan of crime fiction, or a writer, you will have a vast resource at your fingertips.
  • Mythbusters – I loved this show, especially when they blew stuff up. Many of their shows were based on the what-ifs that found their way into TV and novels. MacGyver was one of their favorite shows to bust, but if you are looking for a twist in your story, this list will give you some explosive ideas.

If you should have a fight scene, murder, assault, robbery, or other type of criminal activity in your story DO YOUR RESEARCH. The entire scene, or even the entire novel, could be ruined by lazy research. Talk to police officers, detectives, or forensics experts before you publish. Take a tour or attend a workshop led by experts in the field. They will open your mind, and your writing, to the realities of true crime.


KJ Scrim, Profile Image

Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym. You can catch up to her on her website or blog.

Imposter Syndrome

by: Margena Holmes

As an author, you will almost always have doubts at one time or another about your writing. Is it good enough? Am I good enough? How does an author feel validated? You may have a case of Imposter Syndrome.

What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. You may feel inadequate or incompetent as a writer despite evidence to the contrary.

Don't let Imposter Syndrome stop you from writing.

What Equates Success?

My problem with Imposter Syndrome is that I sometimes don’t feel validated as an author because I’m not “successful” in my eyes. But what equates to success? Having a certain number of books out? If that means success, then yes, I’m a successful author, having five books published and three more coming out this year (well, that’s my goal, anyway). I’m not prolific, but I’m trying to keep a steady pace of publishing books, with a goal of one a year now. I know authors who do more, but in many cases, writing IS their job. I work outside the home, so I have to plan my writing time around my work days as well as watching my grandson on some days and evenings.

Does successful mean having lots of sales? In that case, no, I’m not successful. I know of some indie authors who have weekly book sales, and they are bummed when they don’t sell a book in one particular week. I’d LOVE to have a book sold each week. My marketing skills suck, but I’m trying to learn more about marketing through reading books, like Craig Martelle’s Become A Successful Indie Author, Unmarketing by Scott Stratten, and Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke. But I digress.

How about reviews on Goodreads and Amazon? I have a few of those, and they make me feel good about being an author (the good ones, anyway. The so-so ones leave me feeling like a fraud again). I’d love for a random reader to say they just found my book on Amazon and read it and loved it. I do have a couple of reviews from random readers, and they make me think, well, maybe I do have a handle on this writing thing.

How to Get Past it

How does one get over this sense of feeling like a fraud? Well, writing can be an isolating career, so talk with other writers. I’m sure they’ve felt the same way at some point in their career. Also, remind yourself of how hard you’ve worked to get where you’re at now. How many hours have you spent writing and editing? Those add up to being successful.

Reflect on positive feedback. I know authors aren’t supposed to read their book reviews, but that may help you to realize you are not a fraud. If you don’t have a book published yet, what positive feedback have you received from critique groups and beta readers? Focus on that.

A lot of people know that I’m an author and when they mention me and how many books I’ve published, I feel kind of embarrassed, because I don’t feel successful in my eyes. I don’t claim to know everything about writing and that’s why I go to writer’s conferences and workshops as often as I can to keep learning about the craft, and like I said above, I read a lot. I enjoy learning because it helps me to become a better author and maybe with that and the steps above I will overcome Imposter Syndrome and I’ll finally feel validated as a writer.


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.

Advice for Aspiring Authors – Insights for Interested Readers

by: Catherine Dilts

Today I offer a peek behind the curtain to the struggles and triumphs of writing. Here is my advice to aspiring authors, while readers may find it interesting to learn what goes into the creation of their favorite fiction.

Pantser or Plotter?

Remember the joy of writing, and why you started on this crazy journey.

Writers will ask whether you are a pantser or plotter. A pantser writes by the seat of his or her pants. Page one, blank screen – GO! A plotter creates an outline of the story before beginning. Many writers fall somewhere in between, doing some outlining, but not hesitating to depart from the outline if the story veers in a new direction. Which are you? It may take years of writing to decide. You may also discover that being a pantser works better for one story, while careful plotting is required for another. Experiment. 

Don’t Hurry

There may be anecdotes about people writing a best seller or classic in a weekend, or a matter of mere weeks. Good luck with that. My best work has taken time. Due to deadlines, that time is often compressed, but the work will not be cheated of the hours.

On that same note, don’t rush to get your work before agents, or push it prematurely into self-publication. After you have written “the end,” set your story aside. Days, a week or two, even a month will allow you a fresh perspective. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job

When I first became published, I joked that I’d be able to earn my living from writing on the day I retired. Sadly, this is probably going to be the truth. The economic reality of writing is harsh. Short story author R. T. Lawton has quite a bit to say on this topic in his article, While We’re At It

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the majority of folks I know who are writing full time are retired, or are supported by a spouse. Be cautious before you leave that paying gig. A steady paycheck, health insurance, pension, and paid vacation are non-existent for the self-employed writer.

Learn the Business

As budding authors, we crave learning the art and craft of writing, but the business end? Not so much. How can you learn, besides reading books or blogs? Join a writing group attended by successful authors. By joining the Mystery Writers of America, I was fortunate to meet published authors who freely shared their experiences at local chapter meetings. Libraries may offer writing workshops, or can direct you to local writers’ groups. If you attend a conference, include sessions on the business aspects of writing.

I’m not talking strictly about the financial side of business, although learning the best method to track your income and expenses is important at tax time. You will need to know how to write a synopsis. (Hint – you can’t do much better than Pam McCutcheon’s how-to book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis.) Where to find agents representing your style of fiction? What is the proper etiquette when pitching to an editor at a conference? If you want a career writing, treat it like any other business, and educate yourself.

Renew the Joy

Writers can burn out, just as in any profession. I have heard complaints from the entire spectrum of writers, whether unpublished or multi-published. At some point, it becomes a job. Maybe even drudgery. You begin to hate your story, dread sitting in front of the computer, and doubt your sanity for thinking you had the talent to write fiction. Before you throw in the towel, ask yourself some questions.

  • Who is stopping you? A negative person in your life? Someone who needs your attention, whether a child, a boss, or an elderly parent? Yourself? Can you turn the negativity into motivation? “I’ll show them – I am a writer!” Find a way to balance the needs of people in your life with your own goals. If you’re not happy and healthy, how can you be a good parent, spouse, employee, caretaker?
  • Why did you begin writing in the first place? A book inspired you? Did you escape pain through reading, and want to give someone else that gift? Do you have fond memories of being read to, or reading in a favorite comfy place? Revisit your earliest motivation to be a writer. 
  • What did you have to say that was so important, you were willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life in order to hammer out words for hours on end? Is that message still valid? Your message, or theme, doesn’t have to be lofty. Distracting readers from their worries and problems with an entertaining story can be more valuable than any deep literary tome. 
  • That moment will return when suddenly the words flow. The scenes click together. The characters jump off the page. You become lost in your own story. You remember the joy of writing, and why you started on this crazy journey. 

You Can Do This

Even if you have to write in snatches of stolen time. Even if you have to battle doubts, whether from people around you, or yourself. A good deal of success in writing is mere persistence. That is a trait we can all nurture.


Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library. Working in the world of hazardous substances regulation, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in her murder mystery Survive Or Die, where Deliverance meets The Office. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/ Contact her at catdiltsauthor@gmail.com.

Audiobooks – Now’s the time!

by: Jennifer Lovett

Do you have a book out? Have you turned it into an audiobook yet? Audiobooks are exploding on the market and now is the time for you to jump in. Do it! Just do it!

Why? Because everybody else is doing it!

  • In March 2018, Pew Research reported a seven-point increase in Americans who listen to audiobooks.
  • Another study found drivers admit to listening to podcasts and audiobooks while sitting in traffic.
  • And yet another study found that Harry Potter was the most listened to book on Alexa in 2017.

Use the commute!

People are admitting to listening to ebooks while working out, cleaning the house and taking a walk. Besides the fact that everyone is doing it, providing an audiobook is also an excellent way to exploit the daily commute. Studies show that in the United States today, the typical commute is 24 minutes long. If you live in Denver, that commute tops 45 minutes–Fill that void baby!

Meet Big Daddy ACX

Before you decide whether you want to read it yourself or pay someone, you need to know about Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). It’s the dragon in the Amazon, Audible and iTunes’ moats. There are other peeps trying to get in on the distro business but for now, you’re stuck with ACX. Go ahead and just accept it and create your account, then upload your book cover, input your product description, list price and distribution options. Then upload your file. Hit publish and market as usual.

Yes, you could go with Overdrive (the library distributor) or Audiobooks.com or even Downpour but then you’ll lose high royalty rates on ACX. This goes into the big debate about being wide or exclusive to Amazon.

Just how techie are you?

ACX has a pretty stringent set of requirements. If you hire someone, they’ll make sure your file has all the correct technical requirements. If you do it yourself, you’re on your own. Because I don’t want to scare you right off the bat, I put them in the DYI section.

BUT BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, you have to decide how you want to go about producing these things.

To create an audiobook file, you have several options:

  • Record it yourself
  • Partner with a narrator and pay up front
  • Partner with a narrator and pay in royalties
  • Partner with a narrator and pay by the hour

DYI – If you do it yourself, you need to consider a few things. First, it’s easier for nonfiction authors because they don’t have to be in character. Second, are you comfortable reading your work? Do you have any voice or acting training to help with emotion and character differentiation in your reading? Are you comfortable editing audio? Third, just how techie are you?

 If you answered yes and you’re ready to go, this is what you need:

  • Editing software. I recommend Audacity. It’s free and easy to use.
  • A good dynamic microphone. I recommend ATR2100 rather than the Snowball I use for podcasting. It will pick up less extraneous noise.
  • A very quiet space. Recording at your kitchen table isn’t going to cut it. Pad the walls of a small room in your house with egg crates or set up a tent (seriously) and throw a blanket over the top of it. Now, listen for things like the humming of the air conditioning, traffic on the street, or the dripping water at the sink.
  • Decrease noise on the audio file. Before you start recording yourself reading your book, record the “silence” in the room for five to ten seconds. When you’re done recording, highlight that section, go to the Effects menu and click “Noise Removal,” then click “Get Noise Profile” from the drop-down menu. Then select the entire audio on the track and click Noise Removal. Adjust any settings or go with the default, click OK and you’re done. This should help eliminate any ambient noises you may not have noticed while recording. This step is key because Amazon won’t take an audio file that has extraneous noise.
  • Tech specs. Here’s how your files need to be composed:
    • Be comprised of all mono or all stereo files
    • Include opening and closing credits
    • Include a retail sample between one and five minutes long
    • Section titles must be recorded
    • Be a 192 kbps or higher MP3 file
    • Each file must have a running time of 120 minutes or less
    • Measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS and have -3dB peak values

If you’d prefer to use a narrator, ACX has an exchange of narrators and producers. These folks are professionals and will offer you an “audition” reading of your work. Using professionals who are trained to record audiobooks will ensure your book sounds professional and will increase your credibility. It also cuts down on your learning curve.

There are three ways to pay a narrator: pay by the job up front; pay through a percentage of royalties; or pay by the hour. I do not recommend paying by the hour because it can take upwards of 20 hours of reading to get a normal-sized book read for a file. As a totally broke writer, I like the small percentage of royalties but over time, that could screw you. So, the ideal way if you have investment funds is to pay for the job up front. And let’s be real: audiobooks are NOT cheap! They can range anywhere from $1500-$3000. Are you choking? I did when I found out. BUT, if you can figure out a way to get it done, it’s a pretty big bang for your book over time.

Final word on this from a famous-type guy: Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur says, “The audiobook market is growing at a rate of 30% per year, which nearly quadruples the growth rate for eBooks.

Don’t you want in????


Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett Herbranson 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. She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Diversity in Historic Fiction

by: Jason Henry Evans

A couple of Fridays ago my wife and I sat down and watched “Always Be My Maybe.” A good, old fashioned romantic comedy about a hyper successful woman whose best friend and personal assistant arranges for her to run into a mutual friend they hadn’t seen since high school.

The movie was funny in unexpected ways. It was lighthearted. Both the male and female leads were quirky and flawed – which made it easy for the audience to like them. And since we already liked them it was easy for us to root for them to fall in love. It was a little formulaic in the 3rd act, but considering rom-com’s are a dying breed, I’ll take a good one when I can.

So why am I writing about a romantic comedy produced by Netflix? What does this have to do with writing historical fiction?

Because this movie was DIVERSE. I mean SUPER diverse. The male lead was Korean-American and the female lead was Vietnamese-American. The mutual friend who set them up was African-American and gay and pregnant! The male lead’s dad was a diabetic. The male lead’s best friends all played in a hip-hop band in San Francisco.

All this diversity was done so effortlessly. It did not feel self-conscious or awkward. The characters’ diverse backgrounds enriched and informed the story. It brought context to the main characters upbringing and personal flaws. It just made sense.

And did I mentioned none of it felt awkward? It just was. This is how diversity in your fiction should feel. Breezy, yet important to the plot and character development.

So how do we get there?

Remember that diversity literally means diverse. Uncomfortable with having different ethnic groups in your fiction because you feel someone’s going to scream at you? Start with something you’re comfortable with. There have been many great characters with physical disabilities. What about having a character who is morbidly obese? Try having a character in a wheel chair or one who uses crutches. What about diversity of age? In many stories the mentor of the protagonist is always someone older. But once the mentor is gone, everyone slides into the same age range as the protagonist? Why? Why not have a minor character in their sixties or seventies? It would be quite unique.

Writing a military historical taking place before the 19th century? Remember civilians followed the army to provide services. Everything from the washing of laundry to commissioning new armor. Many of those who followed the army were women. (Heck, English Crusaders took their washer-women with them to Palestine and by all accounts they were treated like the mothers of the army.)

Diversity doesn’t have to overwhelm your story. It doesn’t have to be self-important or stuffy. It should be natural and obvious to everyone. Start with something you’re comfortable with. See how that story turns out. Good luck!


Jason Henry Evans

Jason Evans wanted to be a writer his entire life. He just didn’t know it. He has been an educator in public & private schools for twelve years. He has earned Double bachelors from UC Santa Barbara, teaching credentials from Cal-State Los Angeles, and an MA from UC Denver. He has two short stories published and is the editor-in-chief for Man-gazine. He lives in Denver with the Fetching Mrs. Evans and his three dogs and one haughty cat. 

Follow Jason on Twitter @evans_writer. Like his Author Facebook Page, or sign up for his newsletter at www.jasonhenryevans.com

His debut novel, The Gallowglass, releases July 10th. Details are here.

Screw this Writing Thing: My Most Epic Writing Failures

by: Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

*WARNING: Foul Words Ahead*

Ok, so I’m one of those who started writing the minute she could scribble with crayons. My father kept the first story I ever wrote. In the seventh grade, I wrote a travel story with a friend of mine in Spanish class. By college, I knew I wanted to be a writer, so I took two courses: Creative Writing Fiction and Creative Writing Poetry. Both were epic disasters.

My poetry teacher told me I’d spent too much time reading the British Romantics. He was probably right. My fiction teacher told me my story didn’t make any sense. Rejection is part of the business, right? Well, it still sucks. But there is something to be learned from every disaster.

  • Crappy teachers can motivate you. When my poetry professor called my poems angsty crap pieces and told me I’d never have a future in writing, I hung my head in shame. Yes, he said this in a class full of edgy poets on their way to Pulitzer Prizes and probably some meth addictions. Eventually, I raised my eyebrows, got pissed and decided to pay attention to what he did like. I will forever hate the tatted up, pierced girl with long black hair and willowy skirts whose poetry oozed from the page in mid-90s Alanis Morrisette stanzas that he loved oh so much. (probably because I’m jealous)
  • Learn what you can. Discard the rest.  My prof hated my poetry. Did I say that already? It was full of trite clichés better suited for John Keats’ garden and British tea time. Under his glaring eye of disapproval, I learned how to write about love and pain in a modern way. That modern way included creative ways to describe action with as few words as possible. I did eventually write something that made its way into the annual university poetry anthology. It was called, “Fuck This.” Guess I showed him.
  • Advice should be taken with a grain of salt. For whatever reason, my fiction teacher never taught us how to plot. It was a semester-long course on writing fiction and the man, a New York Times bestseller, never taught the elements of the novel. This guy told me my novel wasn’t complete. Well, genius, you only asked for one chapter. This was an early lesson for me because writers are bombarded with advice, counsel and wisdom on a subject that is, at its core, creative. Take what you can use and move on.
  • Be badass. I’m on a Cobra Kai kick lately (What?! You haven’t seen the series on YouTube?! 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!!!), and being badass is the central theme of the new Cobra Kai. I could have easily melted into a puddle of nasty poo after my poetry and fiction teachers so blasély dismissed me. But no. I stood up. I schwacked their hoity toity idea of what a writer was supposed to be. and I kept going. Being badass means you stand up for what you want.

You KNOW you want to be a writer. So be one. Don’t let anyone get you down. Ever. Take what you can from the disasters because the best lessons are learned from failure. Then drop it. Move on. Be badass. No Mercy Bitches!


Jennifer Lovette Herbranson

Jennifer Lovett Herbranson 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. She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett