Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Letter from the Editor – March & April

Dear Readers,

My letter to you this month is coming a few days late. Sorry, but I have a really good reason. Writing from the Peak is jam packed with such an amazing batch of posts that I am having a few problems getting them all scheduled. It is so packed that I am going to skip my letter in April.

KICKING OFF MARCH

We kick off these two months with a two part series from DeAnna Knippling who will guide you through Book Appraisals: Picking Comps. Margena Holmes introduces us to a non-PPW event, Camp NaNo, which takes place during the month of April. Jason Diaz, faculty member for PPWC2019, also has a two part series post on Why diversify our characters? Don’t miss this one.

INTO APRIL

As we go into April, award winning author and keynote speaker Susan Wiggs shares her writing process in Stuff you need to Know about Writing. Next up is Rebecca Davis, a long time attendee of PPWC, who has her top 5 lists of the Peevie Jeevies of editors and agents.

Mid-month, New York Times best selling author John Gilstrap will get you up to speed on Networking at Conference. Be ready to shake some hands and pass around business cards at PPWC2019.

Wrapping up April, Gabrielle Brown will give you the scoop on What to Expect at Conference followed by Margena Holmes who is in the know about Marketing on a Budget.

Never fear…your favorites are still here. Lit-Quotes will celebrate a few birthday anniversaries, and the wrap up from Writers Night will stop by in March and April.

Whew!! That’s a lot! Be sure to BOOKMARK this blog so you don’t miss anything. Come back often to keep up with all the news from Writing from the Peak.

See You at Conference! ~Kathie~

CONFERENCE!

What’s in store for early May? CONFERENCE!!

The Prequel is May 2nd and PPWC2019 gets in full swing on May 3rd. Take a look at the workshops that are scheduled and the Who’s Who of PPWC2019. Hope to see you there!!

REGISTER TODAY!

EARLY REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 7TH

Regular registration runs April 8 – April 28


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging 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.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Today marks the birth anniversary of Ted Geisel, known to most as Dr. Seuss. He offered timeless advice to authors of every generation.


Photo: Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain]


Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Why You Need an Email List & How to Create It

“But nobody reads emails!” “My inbox is already too full!” “I hate getting more email!”

Email remains the most effective way to reach an audience.

You’ve heard all this before. Five years ago, I would have agreed and told you building an email list and creating an email newsletter was a waste of time. It was going out of style. It was fading to Instant Messaging and social media platforms. It was antiquated. Well, I fully admit that I was wrong. While social media sites come and go, even the influence and reach of Facebook and Twitter ebb and flow, for the foreseeable future, email remains the most effective way to reach an audience – an audience that wants to hear from you. Here are three reasons why you need to start building an email list:

1. People Read Email

According to Forrester Analytics, 91% of U.S. customers (people who are online to buy things) use email daily and more than 70% of them read email first thing in the morning. The number of email users worldwide is projected to reach 3 billion by the end of 2020.

2. Email Converts to Sales

According to Campaign Monitor, the delivery rate for an unboosted Facebook post is less than 5%, while the delivery rate for an email is 75%, and an email is six times more likely to generate a click-through than a tweet. Anik Singal, founder and CEO of Lurn, Inc, reports that email marketing for Black Friday / Cyber Monday deals converted ads to sales at double the rate of social media. For more statistics on this, see WriterNation/EmailStats

3. You Own It

This one is key. Everything you post on social media is no longer owned by you. Instagram owns your pics. Twitter owns your tweets. Snapchat owns your snaps.  They also own your followers. Whereas you own the copyright on everything you write, film, design in your email. You also own the list. If you move from Facebook to Instagram or Snapchat, you can’t take the followers with you. You can with your email contact list.

Ways to Build Your List & Create a Killer Email

Whether you’ve published twenty books, ten books or no books, now is the time to start building your list. Don’t think because you don’t have anything to sell it’s too early to start building your list. It’s never too early or too late. Start now. To get you going, I’ve included some tips below. 

  • Use Mailchimp. It’s the easiest to get you started and its free for the first 2000 contacts. The analytics are good. It has A/B testing and segmented lists. And it has automation. Other email providers to check out are ConvertKit, AWeber and Constant Contact.
  • Create a killer landing page. This is where you tell the reader what they’ll get out of signing up with you. How often you’ll send them news and what type of things they can expect in your email. Here’s mine for reference.
  • Post it everywhere. Make sure your website has a subscriber link. Mailchimp has a pretty seamless plugin with WordPress. Even if you don’t use WordPress, the URL for the landing page works on any website or blog. Pin a tweet or Facebook post to the top of your profile. Put the link in your signature block and on every piece of paper swag you take to conferences, meetings or retreats.
  • Offer a freebie. For signing up with you, what special something can you offer? The possibilities are endless: deleted scenes, extra chapters, checklists, planners, calendars, access to a closed Facebook Group or Instagram feed.
  • Automate the first three to five emails. Once someone signs up and confirms their subscription (*always require confirmation to be in compliance with Anti-Spam laws), send them a thank-you and a link to the freebie.  Within 24 hours, send another note welcoming them to the email news and give a longer introduction to yourself and any news they should know as they embark on this journey with you. A week later, send the first email.
  • Create a Killer Email. Whether you use a newsletter format or simply an email is up to you. The difference in Return on Investment is negligible until you start segmenting lists and selling different items, and I’ll post on that next month. What really matters is what the reader gets out of it. They’ve already told you they want to hear from you and they dig what you’re doing. So, now offer them information they can’t get elsewhere. Some ideas:
    • Progress reports on the current work in progress
    • Event announcements
    • Photos of your research or interviews
    • List of your favorites (books, authors, movies, plays, music, etc…)
    • Promotions and/or Giveaways
    • Backstory (you know all that stuff you wanted to put in your book but your agent made you take it all out)
    • Quotes and Questions
    • ALWAYS put in a Call to Action (buy the book, attend the event, respond to a question)

If you still have questions, find me on any of my social media sites. I’m standing by to help!

Peace & Prose!

Jen


Jennifer Lovette HerbransonJennifer 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 Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

Advice for Beginning Writers

Though none of us are new to the process of stringing words together, there comes a moment when we stop writing for the sake of a task and become writers.

I became a writer when…

My own moment came when our family purchased a computer and my mom gave me her electronic typewriter. I was so excited! I sat down right away and began typing a report (voluntarily) about black jaguars. But the love for writing fiction actually came from an assignment. We were moving from Hawaii to Colorado, driving the rest of the way from California when I became horribly ill. To help take my mind off feeling so gross, my mom had me work on a short story. And so, with incredibly bumpy handwriting I produced The T-Rex That Ate Pancakes.

Everyone’s story has a different beginning, but the point is…they all had a beginning. No one has sat down to write their very first story ever and ended up with a best seller. Like anything, writing requires practice, perseverance, and support. The adventure of being a new writer is very much like Frodo’s journey to take the ring.

Here are five ways to follow in Frodo’s footsteps as you progress as a writer.

  1. Surround yourself with people who will be supportive and honest. Frodo would have been very vulnerable to attacks, getting lost, and failing his mission if he had not had a good support system. While the bulk of your writing may be a solitary activity, you should involve others in the revisions. Your supporters need to be able to constructively tell you the truth when changes are needed and encourage you when you are discouraged.
  2. Keep moving and eating. It is so easy to dive into what we are working on and forget to take care of ourselves. You need to take care of your health as much as possible because the state of your physical health greatly impacts mental health, and therefore, your writing. If Sam had not pushed Frodo to eat throughout their journey, Frodo wouldn’t have had sufficient strength to reach the end. If you tend to get lost in your work, set an alarm to remind you to eat. When you’re stuck in the story, that’s the perfect time to do a few minutes of your favorite exercise—which is beneficial to your body and will usually clear your mind for new ideas!
  3. Network. Frodo enlisted help from others besides the Fellowship and you will need to as well. As important as your supporters are, they shouldn’t be the only ones involved in your writing life. You will need to branch out and form relationships with agents, editors, fellow writers, and readers. Editors will shape and polish your work. Other writers will gladly share tips and tricks and will cheer you on! Agents will represent your writing. And when you take time to connect with your readers, they will frequently share your writing with others. I strongly encourage you, especially as you are beginning to network, to attend a writer’s conference. Not only will you learn to improve your craft, but it is the best way to network.
  4. Check your work. There will be lots of revisions and multiple versions of your story. Though you should generally avoid editing during your first draft, subsequent drafts will be full of edits. When you hand over your work to an editor, it can be a little nerve-wracking. But, just like when Frodo asked Sam to carry the ring, Sam gave it back and so will your editor.
  5. Finish. This is the most important bit of advice I can offer you. It’s also the best part of the Lord of the Rings movies. The moment Frodo finally threw the ring in the lava; the moment you finish your book. Finish. Your. Story. No matter the obstacles you face, no matter how long it takes make sure you finish. All the hours of writer’s block and nights spent falling asleep on your keyboard will be worth it the moment to get to type ‘The End’.

Some will say that a “real” writer is published, or that a “real” writer writes every single day. While it is true that you should write something every day, what makes you a writer is you. Your love for words, your insatiable appetite for books, your desire for adventures and new fictitious friends—these are the things that make you a writer. Though your writing journey is still in the beginning stages, you are a real writer now.


Leilah Wright lives in beautiful Colorado Springs where she amasses books like a dragon hoards treasure. She is an editor at Novelesque and is writing her first novel. A true pluviophile, she is happiest on rainy days while drinking obscene amounts of coffee. When not working she enjoys time with her two children, reading, and catching up on shows. Keep up with her on her Blog and on Facebook.

Danilo Kiš’

Danilo Kiš’ ; (22 Feb 1935 – 15 Oct 1989) novels and short stories are influenced by the death of his father in a Nazi concentration camp and his family. Danilo, who’s image appears here on a postage stamp from Montenegro, is best known for his Family Cycle trilogy and was intended to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature before his untimely death. His short stories, novels, and poetry earned him international awards. This quote was part of an address to aspiring writers. Our characters become interesting as they gain scars.



Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Editing an Anthology

What’s involved in editing an anthology?

As an editor you define the vision and theme for the project, select the stories to include, edit those stories, and usually write accompanying material like a foreword, introduction, or epilogue. You’ll determine the order in which the stories appear, and might write a short introduction to each story and/or author. Depending on how the project is structured, you might also write the sales copy, give direction to the cover designer—or design the cover, and put together promotional material.

You need to define the theme clearly enough so the authors understand what you’re looking for, review and edit manuscripts, and sometimes pass on a story you love because it’s not right for the collection you’re working on. Editing might go smoothly, or you might find yourself spending hours editing a story, only to find that the author isn’t willing to make the requested changes and you have to find a new author/story to fill in at the last minute. Thinking through your goals and making decisions ahead of time can make the whole process significantly easier.

The more clearly you envision and describe your project, the closer the authors will get to it.

How to Select Authors and Stories

Invitations vs. calls for submissions

If you extend invitations, think about the expectation you’re setting. Are you extending a blanket invitation to accept any story an author sends you? Or have you made it clear that you intend to review each story to make sure it’s a good fit for your theme?

If you put out a call for submissions, have you made sure your guidelines are clear enough so that you don’t end up having to wade through a zillion manuscripts that have nothing to do with the theme you’ve envisioned? Will you publish the guidelines on a website, in a newsletter, a Facebook group, mailing list, or all of the above?

A combination approach can work well in situations like if there’s a well-known author or two who you’d like to include in the collection, or if there’s a group of authors you know will write exactly what you’re looking for.

Time

Suppose you’ve extended an invitation to an author based on reading some of their work. You know they’re capable and talented. Then they submit a story that’s not nearly as well-written as you know they can write. Do you have the time and energy to edit this story to get it up to par?

Variety

Do you want all of the stories to be similar, or do you like having more variety? The tighter the constraints you specify in your vision and guidelines, the more similar the stories will be.

Promotion/Social Media

Do you care if an author has a modern, professional-looking website, or perhaps doesn’t have a website at all? Do you want to work with authors who have experience with promotion, or are you and/or the publisher planning on handling this?

If you’re not counting on the authors to help out with marketing, you can choose to invite authors based solely on the quality of their stories. If instead you’re relying on the authors to help with promotion, you’ll need to base your selections on the quality of the stories and how effective you feel each author will be at marketing.

There’s no right or wrong way to choose which authors to work with. The key is to figure out what is important to you and to then be mindful of this while you make your decisions.

Project Decisions

Vision/guidelines

Your vision for the project should include both the genre and the theme of your project. The more clearly you envision and describe your project, the closer the authors will get to it. Just be sure to keep your vision in mind when reviewing the submissions, as sometimes authors will submit stories they know are close but not on point.

In addition to information about your vision for the project, project guidelines typically include things like allowed story lengths, the length for author biographies and, if you’re opening the collection up to submissions, how to submit a story, including the desired manuscript format.

Anthology title

The title of the collection is just as important as the title of any other book. Make sure it fits with your vision as well as the genre of the project. One way to figure out if the title is working is to compare it to other titles in the same genre.

Number/length of stories

You can either set a specific number of stories to include, or set a target word count for the anthology.

The word count range per story should be set in the guidelines. You might choose to give authors the option to check in with you if they’re over or under this range, or you could make it clear that there’s no wiggle room. Authors will often submit stories that are either too short or too long, regardless of how firm you’ve said the rules are, so you’ll need to figure out how to handle these situations.

Scheduling and deadlines

Make sure to set a deadline for submissions that allows authors enough time to write their stories, and factor in enough time for you to review and edit the submissions.

If you’re involved in other areas like formatting the book, designing the cover, and putting together promotional material, take the amount of time you’ll need to spend into consideration when setting both the launch date and the author deadlines.

Pricing

If you’re working with a publisher, this may not apply. However, it’s becoming more and more common for editors to work very closely with small presses, and often the editor is also the publisher.

If you’re involved with setting the price for your collection, look at other, similar anthologies to see what prices are working well. You might also consider different strategies, like launching at a temporarily low price point for a week or two, or making the anthology available for pre-orders.

Contracts, licensing, and payment/royalties

This is another area that was traditionally outside of the hands of the editor, but today editors are often involved in.

Do you have a standard contract ready? If not, do you feel comfortable putting one together on your own, or do you need—and can afford—legal advice?

If you’re determining licensing terms, do you want to request stories be exclusive to your anthology—and for how long? Are you okay with reprints, or are you only interested in new stories?

Will you provide a one-time payment for each story? If so, will you provide a fixed fee per story, pay per word, or offer a contributor’s copy but no monetary payment?

Would you prefer to pay royalties, so that each author gets a percentage of the revenue in perpetuity—and if so, how will you track the sales and deliver regular payments? If you’re paying royalties, will each author get the same percentage, or do you want to give a larger percentage to a well-known author?

Anthologies can be fun!

While putting together an anthology can entail a fair amount of work, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your vision for a project come alive.


Jamie Ferguson has curated ten multi-author collections and is working on many more, including a monster-themed anthology series she’s co-editing with DeAnna Knippling. She’s also a member of the Uncollected Anthology, an urban and contemporary fantasy author collective, which she joined in the spring of 2018. She loves creating colorful spreadsheets and has spent her day job career working in software. Jamie lives in Colorado and spends her free time in a futile quest to wear out her two border collies, since she hasn’t given in and gotten them their own herd of sheep. Yet.

A K.I.S.S. of Comedy

Subtext, Silly

Okay, they’re going to revoke my comedy writer card for this, but I’m going to share with you the great secret of being funny. Listen carefully. The secret is … a kiss. (Put down the breath mints; it’s not that kind of kiss.) You’ve heard the phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” but in the realm of comedy writing, you’ve got to “Key Into (the) Subtext, Silly.” Yes, subtext. You know, that thing that clicks when you hear the punchline of a joke. It’s what people relate to when they hear something amusing. It’s the “ah-ha!” or the “Oh, I get it!”

It’s time to pucker up and slip them some … subtext.

Think about a character who has all the scene stealing lines in your favorite book. Why are they so good? Why are their wit-filled quips the mic drops of every scene? Because, more often than not, they’re saying what we’re all thinking. They’ve got the bravery to spit it out with sass. They’re hitting those universal truths that we’re all picking up on consciously or subconsciously. Yep, I’m bringing in big, serious words now. Why? Because making people laugh is serious business.

Guffaws are Great

Adding a guffaw or two to your story, even if it’s a work of horror, can be immensely satisfying for both you and your readers. A simple comedic detail, an outrageous adjective, or a sarcastic barb in the middle of a monologue can go a long way to keeping a reader interested. And let’s be honest, those humorous moments are fun to write. So, let that character whose been hanging back in the scene you’re currently writing step up and work some sarcastic magic. It’s time to pucker up and slip them some … subtext.

Uh-oh. The Comedy Police are coming. We didn’t talk. I wasn’t here.


For more on the secret of subtext and other reasons why R.J. Rowley is going to get her comedy card revoked, check out the humor writing workshop “H.A.: Humorists Anonymous, the 12 Steps to Embracing Your Funny” at the 2019 Pikes Peak Writers Conference in May.


R.J Rowley illustrated headshot

Satirist and Joker of All Trades, Rebecca “R.J.” Rowley captures life’s absurdities on the page and keeps them there until the proper authorities arrive. Publications include humorous fiction novels, short works of satire, and random acts of poetry. When not entertaining the masses or terrorizing the villagers, she copyedits for a local publisher and utilizes her MBA in Entertainment Management to develop programs designed to support fellow authors and humorists in building their careers. Find out more at www.bexly.org.

The Advantages of Being in an Anthology

The obvious advantage, of course, that your story is published—and, depending on how the anthology is set up, you might make some money! But there are a few other important advantages as well.

Discoverability

A reader who picks up an anthology because they’re a fan of one of the other authors in the collection might fall in love with your story, and seek out you and your work. This can provide tangible results, like someone buying a novel of yours, or signing up to your newsletter. They might enjoy your story so much that they mention it to their friends and family, who then also seek out your work.

By participating in a project with other authors, you’re getting exposure to people you might never have reached on your own. The same goes for your fans—they may find they enjoy reading stories by the other authors in the project.

By participating in a project with other authors, you’re getting exposure to people you might never have reached on your own.

Not only do you get the benefit of having the other authors’ fans potentially reading and enjoying your story, anthologies often permit—and sometimes encourage—reprints. Reprinting allows you to breathe life into a previously-published story by giving new readers the chance to discover it.

Visibility

Anthologies are a great way to put content out on a regular basis. If there are month- or year-long stretches in between publication of your longer works, seeing your name pop up in collections of shorter stories helps readers stay aware of you and your writing.

Anthologies that allow reprints are great for this as well. For example, you might include a story in one anthology, then a year later include it in a different anthology. Even though it’s the same story, including it in more than one collection provides additional opportunities to draw people in to your work.

Collaborative promotion

When you participate in multi-author projects, promotion is done by the editor, publisher, and the participating authors. Perhaps the publisher pays for advertising, while the editor and the other authors merely post on social media, or announce the collection in their various newsletters. All of this is promotion for the anthology. You benefit from other people promoting your story, just as they benefit from the marketing work you do for the project.

Note that how much promotion is done by the editor, publisher, and other authors can vary significantly from collection to collection, so make sure to ask about the plan for promotion before committing if this aspect is important to you.

How do you get into an anthology?

Calls for submissions

The traditional way to get included in a collection is to submit a story in response to a call for submissions put out by a publisher or editor. The editor writes up their vision for the collection and lists the guidelines, which usually include things like the theme, allowed story lengths, the deadline for submissions, and whether or not reprints are acceptable.

This approach allows you to get a sense of what the editor is looking for. However, no matter how close to the mark you feel your story is, the editor might not accept it. If you write a new story and it’s not accepted, you still have one more story to market elsewhere—but if you’re short on time, this approach might not work well for you.

Invitations

If an editor knows you and your work, or someone recommends you to the editor, you could get a personal invitation. This could range from a blanket invitation to include whatever story you feel fits the project’s theme, to one where the editor invites you to submit a story for consideration. While there are no guarantees, if you’re invited to submit a story, your story will probably be accepted if it’s well-written and on target with the editor’s vision.

Networking can play a big part in getting invitations. You might meet a fellow writer at a workshop or conference, or meet someone from an online authors’ group who later decides to edit an anthology and invites you. Editors often post about their projects in email lists or Facebook groups; these are usually calls for submissions, but occasionally the editor is looking for authors who are ready to commit. If you know someone who has edited anthologies you feel are a good fit for your writing, you could contact them to see if they’d be interested in working with you on a future project.

Participating in the right projects

The opportunity to participate in an anthology is exciting. But just because you have the opportunity doesn’t mean you should participate.

Theme

Make sure the theme is a good fit for you and for your branding. If you write Science Fiction, and receive an invitation to participate in a Romance anthology, is this project really something you want to participate in? You might enjoy writing something different, but make sure you do so because it’s really what you want to do—not because you’re trying to shoehorn yourself into a project that isn’t a good fit.

Time and Money

Do you really have time to write a new story, or will that mean the novel you’re working on will be delayed?

If you receive a one-time payment, are you being paid a standard professional rate? Are you comfortable knowing that you won’t receive royalties from future sales?

Is the one-time payment, or the percentage of royalties, the same for all authors? If not, are you comfortable with the split? Sometimes a higher-profile author might get a larger percentage of the royalties, or the percentages might vary depending on the length of each story. If that’s the case, make sure you’re comfortable with the difference.

Editor/Publisher

Do you feel comfortable working with the editor? Are you willing to make any editorial changes they request, or do you feel their vision for your story conflicts with your own in a way where there’s no good compromise?

Suppose this editor and publisher have put together a number of anthologies already. Do their covers look professional? How about the sales copy? Have they done a good job of marketing the other anthologies, or do they rely solely on the authors?

Rights

What if you’re planning on including your story in a collection of your own next year, but the anthology contract states that you’re licensing the rights to your story for two years? What if the terms state that you’re granting the publisher subsidiary rights, like film, television, and merchandising? What if the fine print says that you’re granting copyright of your work to the publisher?

Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable publisher. The opportunity to be involved in an anthology that sounds like a great fit for your story can feel very exciting, but it’s imperative that you review the contract and make sure that you understand—and are comfortable with—the terms.

Anthologies can be fun!

Participating in an anthology can be a fun and wonderful experience. Figure out what is important to you with this type of project, and vet each opportunity to make sure it’s a good fit for you and your career.

Next week: Editors and Anthologies. Part 2 of this two-part series on Anthologies.


Jamie Ferguson

Jamie has curated ten multi-author collections and is working on many more, including a monster-themed anthology series she’s co-editing with DeAnna Knippling. She’s also a member of the Uncollected Anthology, an urban and contemporary fantasy author collective, which she joined in the spring of 2018. She loves creating colorful spreadsheets and has spent her day job career working in software. Jamie lives in Colorado and spends her free time in a futile quest to wear out her two border collies, since she hasn’t given in and gotten them their own herd of sheep. Yet.

Red Herrings

The topic of red herrings is a big one.  There are a million ways to distract or mislead a reader.

But…

There’s really only one strategy to building a red herring: figure out the reader’s expectations and feed them information relating to that expectation, then sent the plot careening off in another direction.

Reader Expectations

The story you didn't write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

The real trick is discovering what readers expect.  Part of the reason that it’s so important to keep up with your reading (and watching TV/film, and playing video games…) is that expectations change.  The expectations of someone who watches forensics shows on TV are going to be different than those of a longtime Agatha Christie reader.

But once you’re in front of a blank page, how can you work red herrings into your story? (And do you have to plot it all out ahead of time in order to pull it off?)

Your main weapon, whether you plot as you go or plot ahead of time, is going to be something called Wilhelm’s Law, after science fiction and mystery author Kate Wilhelm:

Throw away your first three ideas.

Now, using Wilhelm’s Law while writing fiction is a good idea in most cases anyway; instead of writing predictable stories, you’ll usually end up with a story that reflects you personally as a writer.  But a side effect of taking in a lot of stories is that those first three ideas will pop out as being what most readers would expect.

Let’s say you’re writing a murder mystery and we want to test Wilhelm’s Law.  Who done it?

  • The butler.
  • The significant other.
  • Whoever profits by the crime.

Those first three ideas are something that anyone could come up with, right?

Those first three ideas might make really good red herrings.

Let’s say that the real killer was someone recently humiliated by the victim and “accidentally” didn’t save the victim when the victim fell into a lake while tangled in a rope.  Oops, can’t swim! 

Your job, as a writer, might be to make sure that your story has a butler character who might have done it, a significant other who might have done it, and a scuzzy niece who just happened to have been seen near the scene of the crime (and who is now blackmailing the real “killer” and will get murdered in the last 50 pages of the novel).

You can do this on the fly, editing to make sure that your red herrings actually fit the bill, or you can plan it out ahead of time: whatever suits.

However, you must keep up with your intake of stories!  Otherwise, you may not know that the red herrings and plot twist that you just planned out have already been discovered by other writers and done to death! 

Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice…

There are two ways to deceive the reader using Wilhelm’s Law.  One depends on deceiving the characters within the story, which means the reader will also be deceived (as in our example above). 

The other depends on deceiving the reader without necessarily deceiving the characters.

In the first type of red herring, the POV character might think the killer is one person, but it’s really another.  Characters might lie, leave out details, or shade the truth. The bad guy might not be the real bad guy, but someone else’s puppet.  You can set up red herrings within the plot in lots of ways. 

In the second type of red herring, the way the book itself is written is what deceives the readers.  One example is the misleading title.  One of my favorite books is called John Dies at the End.  Hint:  John does not die at the end!

You might also:

  • Start a story with a prologue featuring events that happen toward the end of the book, but do not happen in the way the reader might expect.
  • Start a story with a POV character who gets killed off right away, or in the middle of the book (George R.R. Martin does both in A Game of Thrones).
  • Set up a cliché, then overturn it (the bumbling housewife in The Long Kiss Goodnight is set up to be rescued by the world-savvy spy Samuel L. Jackson, which is not the case).
  • End a scene by hinting at some event, and starting the next scene with something that seems like that event but isn’t (The Princess Bride, when Buttercup has her nightmare of having already married Humperdink).

Each instance of deception is crafted in the same way: identify what the reader expects, give them a hint to confirm their expectations, and let them deceive themselves.  (Letting readers do most of the work to fool themselves is usually a pretty good strategy.)  But instead of using Wilhelm’s Law on the plot itself, you’re using it on the story structure and other elements.

As an example, let’s say you’re writing a domestic suspense novel.  Readers expect the titles of that kind of novel (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us, Lie to Me,etc.) should:

  • Have a pronoun in the title.
  • Have “girl,” “woman,” or “wife” in the title.
  • Have a one-syllable negative word, like “Lie” “Die” “Sharp” or “Last.”

Those are reader expectations.  If you wanted to play on those expectations, you might name your book “My Daughter’s Last Lie” and imply that she’s dead and the mom is searching for her killer, but instead have the daughter on the run because she told the truth about her (KGB sleeper agent) mother.

Often, what works best is using both techniques at the same time.  There’s a lie within the plot, and you use elements of the story itself to reinforce the expectations related to that lie.              

Warning:  Beginning writers often write stories where the narrator withholds information from readers in a disappointing, cheesy, ill-considered manner.  This is not a proper red herring technique! 

Oh, so the evil invaders from outer space were really humans all along, were they?  Yawn.

Oh, so the first-person narrator dies at the end?  Never seen that before!  Yawn.

But being forewarned is forearmed, because now you know that plot twists and red herrings don’t come from completely reversing reader expectations, but knowing them so well that you can one-up them.

A good rule of thumb for red herring success: 

The story that you didn’t write has to be as interesting as the one you actually wrote.

I know, it sounds weird.  But think of any story with a letdown plot twist.  Personally, I hate the movie Bridge to Terabithia.*  It starts out as a pair of kids imagining a cool fantasy world.  Then (spoiler alert) it turns into a book about death.  The red herring story is much more interesting than the story about coping with death.  The red herring needs to be as interesting as the actual story, too.  You’re not fooling anyone with a stereotyped butler character! 

The thing about red herrings is that they play with reader expectations—but you can’t just overturn reader expectations with a sneer.  Readers need to know that you respect the stories that they love and not just being mean.  What readers love is when you surprise them—not when you show them contempt.

*It feels like the story punishes people who like fantasy over realism in their fiction.  Pooh, I say. 


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

With all the new developments here at Pikes Peak Writers I’m not sure if I can contain my excitement. PPW started as a writing conference and has grown to so much more. They continue to spread their wings and soar to new heights. Read on for more.

It’s a NEWSLETTER!

Did you receive the first PPW Newsletter? What a fantastic job Kim Olgren did to bring this to fruition. If you missed the debut issue go to the membership page to join PPW. It’s FREE, and so is the newsletter.

Can you say, ANTHOLOGY?

I am excited to announce another addition to the Pikes Peak Writers toolbox. Can you say, ANTHOLOGY? The planning is still in the early stages, but PPW is publishing an anthology! The editorial team is being assembled along with the theme and publication details. Watch the website, social media, and this blog for information to come.

This Month in Writing from the Peak

To kick off PPW’s anthology announcement, Jamie Ferguson has written two posts on writing for an anthology. If you are interested in submitting to PPW’s, or if you have your eye on one of the many wonderful publications out there, you need to read both articles. DeAnna Knippling throws a Red Herring your way, and Leilah Wright has Advice for the Beginning Writer. Get A K.I.S.S. of Comedy from Rebekka R.J. Rowley then wrap it with inspiration found in Gabrielle Brown’s bi-monthly Lit-Quotes.

#PPWC2019

It will be another amazing year at conference. Will you be there? This a great place to meet new people (It Takes a Tribe!), and the workshops will be phenomenal. Registration is open. Don’t miss this fantastic conference. You’ll find all the details here. Find your Tribe at #PPWC2019!

Spread Your Wings!

How are you spreading your wings this month? Are you starting a new project, or pruning the feathers on your WIP? Whatever you are working on, do it with purpose. Write with conviction. Make every word soar on the wind. Be the best you can be. WRITE!


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging 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.