Posts Tagged ‘writing from the peak’

How to Invest in Diversity in Your Story

Part 1

By: Jason Evans

This year I am kicking off a seven month series on the basics of writing diversity in your fiction. Whether you write dystopia or romance or science fiction. Right now, diversity in fiction is still a major issue. Over in Romance Writers of America, this very issue has led to a schism in that august organization. The question is why?

How do we write diverse characters?

Like anything else, the question is never Why should we write diverse characters, but How do we go about it? How do I write diverse characters? How do I define the term? Where can I go for research? Once I’ve done the research and created an awesome character for my awesome story, how can I make sure I’m not offending anyone? Did I get it right?

These are all really great questions. They deserve sincere answers that can make navigating the waters of writing fiction at least clearer, if not easier. Well, fear not, gentle reader, I am here to help you. While I am no master at this craft, it seems to me that this is an obstacle that can be overcome with some patience, kindness, and honesty.

Topics in this Series

Here is how we will break down our topics over the next several months. Please be aware that this blog is only supposed to spark your curiosity and get you going in the right direction. It will not, nor can our conversation about diversity and representation be comprehensive. You have been forewarned.

For the next six months I will focus on different kinds of diversity, giving a snapshot on how to approach each subject as you write. Here’s the list:

May ~~ Ethnicity

June ~~ Sex

July ~~ Gender

August ~~ Sexual Orientation

September ~~ Physical Ability

October ~~ Neurodivergence/Neurotypical

The great thing about diversity and representation is that you don’t have to do it all. Choose one and dedicated yourself to doing it really well and you’ll be farther along the game than a lot of other people. It may seem daunting now, but you’ll be a better writer at the end of the process.

A Note on offense and Outrage.

I’m going to be blunt here. Somewhere down this road of diversity and inclusion and representation you are going to offend somebody. It is inevitable. You’re going to use the wrong tone or the wrong pronoun. You’re going to disappoint some people and flat out enrage others. You’re going to get bad book reviews. People are going to call you names.

So what do you do?

You stop and you listen.

See, many of the groups we’re talking about have been so misrepresented that these marginalized groups are hypervigilant against being misrepresented again.

I teach a class at writing conferences called How to write authentic African-American Characters. After spending about half the class time going over the history of African-Americans in the United States, I talk about the stereotypes you see routinely in literature and film. None of them are negative or outright hurtful. All of them are one dimensional and antiquated. The process of creating authentic African-American characters requires people outside the African-American community to sincerely listen to us in the community in order to get better. All I’m asking is that you do the same.

Listen. Find sensitivity readers and get honest feedback. If someone confronts you about your story, listen to their concerns and promise to do better. The fact that they want to talk to you at all means that they believed you wrote in good faith. That is a compliment.

Are you ready? Good. Next month we’ll answer why we should do this kind of work at all. See you then and happy writing.

Jason Henry Evans
Jason Henry Evans

Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer; he just didn’t know it. After attending college and working in education, Jason’s life changed when he fell in love with the Fetching Mrs. Evans. After over a decade as a teacher in public and private schools, he discovered the wonderful writing community in Colorado, where he still lives. Jason is an educator, and a historian (as well as a bon vivant,) who is active in the Colorado writing community as a teacher and speaker. Visit Jason’s website for more about Jason and his publication.

Producing a Novel – Part 2

Genre and Markets

By: Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel—or a book of any type—requires groundwork laid in advance. Last month we discussed how to identify your topic, idea, or plot line; how to identify what you’re most passionate about, which makes the project personal, relevant, and much easier to write; and how that translates into a plot line or book subject. If you missed that post, you can catch up here

This month, we’ll look at ways to build on the foundation begun last month and identify which genre your book fits into, and then which markets might be interested in your book.

Why is Genre Important?

— It tells your audience—agents, publishers, book distributors, bookstores, and readers—what kind of book this is.
— Publishers fill slots in their publishing calendar based on that information.
— Book distributors need it to sell your book to bookstores.
— Booksellers need to know where to put the book on the shelf to recommend to patrons.
— Readers look for books based on an expectation of the genre.

Genre Definitions

  • Romance – romance is the main plot element; many sub-genres, defined by the time period of the setting; heat of the romance; and subplots.
  • Mystery – solving of the mystery is the key plot line; many sub-genres; can be contemporary or historical.
  • Thriller & Suspense a.k.a. Action & Adventure – where the reader often knows who the villain is, and that person has somehow put either the main character or somebody important to the main character in danger; the main character has a limited amount of time to complete the assignment (ticking bomb) such as save the world, save himself or someone/something, or simply catch or stop the bad guy; many sub-genres.
  • Science Fiction – where the setting is a world constructed by the author which could be partly or wholly based in real science; many sub-genres.
  • Horror – where the prime purpose of the story is to evoke a strong emotional reaction of fear, and keep the reader immersed in the story through that fear; can be physical, psychological, and/or emotional fear, for the character, someone they care about, or a larger societal notion such as justice, freedom, or equality.
  • Fantasy – where magical, supernatural, or demonic forces act on the characters, either to their benefit or detriment, and where the main character couldn’t achieve their goal without it; many sub-genres.

Where Does Your Book Fit?

  • Setting – historical, contemporary, futuristic, time-slip (where the story starts in one time and ends in a different one);
  • Primary Plot – romance, mystery, thriller, and so on
  • Secondary Plot
  • Level of intimate contact on the page – from sweet to erotica

Markets for Your Book

  • What agent might represent it?
  • What Publisher will publish it?

— read the guidelines carefully – see the resource list at the end
— if they say they don’t represent your genre, don’t send it to them
— don’t choose the first agent or publisher who shows interest without checking them out first:  check out their websites. Talk to friends. Contact the authors listed on their website.
— Don’t respond to unsolicited emails offering you a contract.  
— Don’t agree to pay even one cent to an agent—not only is it simply not done, it’s illegal and predatory.
— Consider carefully any publisher offering a contract that requires you to pay money up-front. There is nothing wrong with publishing with a self-publishing company, but just understand you might well end up paying for additional services, such as editing, cover design, and marketing.

Your publishing model choice comes down to deciding:
— how much time and effort you want to invest in the process of publishing your book
— how long you might be willing to wait to see your book in print
— your level of expertise when it comes to the production of your book.  

Sources of information on agents and publishers

– writer’s market guides – often found in libraries
– writing magazines – subscribe to at least one writing magazine and share with friends
– writer’s websites and blogs – search online
– word of mouth – ask a represented or published author friend
-books in bookstores – find one like yours and look for the publisher’s name. Often the agent will be listed in the Acknowledgements or Dedication

Next month, we’ll discuss the process of building believable characters, so hope to see you back again.


Writer’s Digest University

It’s Getting Hot in Here A Romance Writer’s Guide to Heat level

Top 101 Independent Book Publishers

Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Smashwords, Etsy,

Finding Motivation to Write in a Stressful Time

Covid-19 has everyone staying at home and most writers I know are in introvert heaven. Stay home? Sure thing! Most of us do that anyway. But even though the stay at home order doesn’t affect us the same way as others, it does affect us.

Many writers just have no motivation to write.

We feel the stress of others. Having this pandemic and having stores, restaurants, and schools closed makes many of us think about the economy. How will these businesses survive? I work at a movie theater for my day job and there are news articles saying that my particular company may not survive this shutdown.  How will restaurants survive? The small businesses survive?

We have our own stressors, too. Everyone panic-bought toilet paper and canned foods. Where are we going to find these items for our own family? How do we keep ourselves safe?

With all this going on I know of many writers who just had no motivation to write. Too busy worrying about everything else to even think of writing. So how do you get that motivation back to write again?

Have A Purpose

When the governor first declared the stay at home order, I thought Cool, I can get a lot of writing done now that I don’t have to go in to work. But, as the reality started to sink in, I had no motivation to do anything creative. I couldn’t edit, I couldn’t write. I thought about my job, now closed, and the economy. How are these places going to survive?  How are we going to survive?

Luckily, April is Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I had been planning out what I was going to write (funnily enough, about the pandemic) and had my outline written. I was excited to start writing it, and in fact, wanted to start before April 1st. But I followed the rules and started on the first day of Camp NaNo and wrote 1,347 words that first day!

Writing As Therapy

It was actually therapeutic for me, in more than one way, to write out what was going on. It helped to write out my feelings about not being able to find toilet paper (since I didn’t get the memo to buy a ton of it), and also helped me to focus on something other than this pandemic. I was able to think as a writer as I wrote, kind of detaching myself from the issue, but in a way also think as a person, and trying to make sense out of it all.

Take Your Time

Let yourself feel what is going on around you. Don’t try to ignore it, or it will creep up on you and mess with your head. Once you work through what you’re feeling, even just by writing it all down in a journal, you can finally start working on your stories again.

Give yourself time to work through all that is going on around you, be it this pandemic, or any stressor that comes around. It is a stressful time, and if you can keep one aspect of normality in your life, you will be able to keep your sanity and have something to show for it later.

Here are some other inspirational posts to keep you writing:

photo of margin 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:

Why Use a Pseudonym?

By; Donnell Ann Bell

In a writing world where I’m surrounded by authors, I often know them by both their legal and author names, or wonder when I “cyber” meet them if they’re using a real or fictitious one. I often wish I had gone with a pseudonym, but by the time I published, nine years after I’d started writing, people knew me by Donnell. Besides, my editor at the Colorado Springs Business Journal had dibs on the coolest name ever—Victoria Lipton Smythe.

I bring this up because a few days ago on Facebook, a new Indy author was lamenting that she was publishing under a pseudonym, but friends kept addressing her by her legal name when they posted congratulations on her page. She very much wanted to keep the two separate and was asking experienced authors how to address this problem.

I thought that an interesting conundrum and wanted to know more. Obviously, I get the typical reasons of someone writing erotica, writing in different genres, or a controversial topic might choose a pseudonym. But I wanted to dig deeper, so I asked a few colleagues the following questions:

  • Do you use a pseudonym? Why or why not?
  • Have you found it advantageous to do so? Why or Why not?
  • If you publish under two names or more, would you ever consider using . . . say Author X writing as?
  • Are there any legal ramifications and/or protections to authors who use a pseudonym?
  •  Do you have to post your legal name in the copyright area?

Here are some of the answers I received back. (I have tried to stay true to their statements, while deleting names and reference points to protect their anonymity.)

Author A. I do, because I was just starting to get some gritty short stories published as my husband decided, late in life, to become a Methodist minister. I thought it would be good to separate our names.

Have I found it advantageous to do so? Very much so! And in some unexpected ways. I found it convenient to use my legal name as my “company name” for my Schedule C on my tax return.

Then, after a few years of getting published, I ran into some scary people online. One got irate that I had not told her. In a personal email, I responded that I had assumed (at the publisher’s request) another pen name. My website clearly references each other, so I didn’t understand. But the all caps and dozens of exclamation points, plus the language, made me think this person might be violent. I was very glad she didn’t know my real name. And I’m careful not to put my address anywhere. I use a PO Box for my newsletter.

Author B:  I have two pen names. The first I chose for professional reasons, and to keep my private life and my book business somewhat separate. I’ve never regretted that decision. And no, you don’t have to use your legal name to copyright something (in the U.S. at least). All my books are copyrighted under the pseudonym.

Author C: For my second cozy series, my editor wanted me to use a pen name. My agent said it was so I would look like a debut author to booksellers and readers, since the first series didn’t sell hugely well. It worked. My two series under my pen name are way more popular than the work I published under my legal name.

My (publisher/agent) never said I couldn’t link the names and I do, everywhere. I talk about my alter-ego and vice versa, and my copyright is always my legal name.

Author D:  I was a professor of Health and Exercise Science, publishing articles of the credentialing of yoga teacher training programs, when my first book came out. And I was also teaching a lot of first-year students who didn’t always exhibit much maturity when they got low grades. I could imagine a one-star in revenge for a D or and F. Or social media harassment. I was keeping my professor life and writer life separate.

Author E:  (finally, here’s an author who uses her real name but . . . ) As you know, I use my real name.  People assume it is a pseudonym.  The bonus is it grabs attention.  The downside I was put in Facebook jail until I proved myself. My friends campaigned to spring me.

I enjoyed reading the various answers as to why authors use pseudonyms and the benefits behind using one. These responses aren’t particularly helpful to the author who would prefer people not to “out” her. Perhaps a private message is in order to anyone who does.

Donnell Ann Bell

Donnell Ann Bell is a former editor of Writing from the Peak. These days she’s writing a cold case series, but hopes to pop in with an article now and then because she misses her tribe. 

Conference Under Quarantine…

We’re Bringing the Resources To You!

By: Jennifer Wilson

There is no denying the heartache felt around the world in this unexpected climate. On a global level, we are experiencing a full-blown pandemic. With public health in mind, quarantines have continued to spread, and many doors have closed. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions. Or as we in YA like to say – “ALL the feels.”

Resources that will inspire you to keep writing, keep pitching, and keep going.

But there is a proverbial silver lining. While we practice physical social distancing, the World Wide Web has allowed us to be alone together. Not to mention the plethora of information it puts at our constantly typing fingertips.

Let’s get real, for all the good content out there, there’s a bazillion more not-so-great resources to weed out. So, we’re doing it for you and bringing conference to your desktop.

Now, enough of my words—let’s check out what PPW and the 2020 guests, staff, and colleagues have to share:

PPW Presents:

April 2020 Write Drunk, Edit Sober: Presented ONLINE Apr 08, 2020 — 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Pitch Your Book: Loglines, Synopses and Queries that Hook & Hold April 11, 2020 — presented by; Chris Mandeville

Write Brain: Zen and the Art of Parody April 21, 2020 — presented by; R.J. Rowley


How To Pitch Your Manuscript – Chris Mandeville, Author

Write From the Seed – James Persichetti, Lost Hat Editorial Services

Don’t Go Crazy with Your Comps – Angie Hodapp, Director of Literary Development at Nelson Literary Agency

Start Here: How to Write a Book Proposal (Non-fiction) – Jane Friedman, Author & Editor


25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author – Delilah S. Dawson, NY Time Bestselling Author

Indie vs Traditional – Which Would You Choose? – Jennifer Lovett, founder of Writer Nation

Writing Skills:

15 Blood-spattered Tips for Writing Violence – Delilah S. Dawson, NY Time Bestselling Author

Electrifying Emotion – James Persichetti, Lost Hat Editorial Services & David R Slayton, Author

8 Ways to Make Your Characters Sound Distinctive – Laura DiSilverio, national bestselling and award-winning author

Writing from an Editor’s Perspective Podcast – Tom Hoeler, Associate Editor at Del Rey Books

Successful Queries Start with Honing Your Craft – Jennifer Wilson, Author

Juggling Multiple Projects – Catherine Dilts, Author

Character Profiling — Are You Missing the Spark? – K.J. Scrim, Writer & Managing Editor of the PPW Blog

How to Structure Your Novel: Story Arc and Character Arc – Jason Henry Evans, Author

Author Brand & Marketing:

Effective Social Media Marketing – Claire McKinney, founder and CEO of Claire McKinney PR, LLC and Plum Bay Publishing, LLC.

Author Branding – How Are You Different? – Jennifer Lovett, founder of Writer Nation

How’s Your #Hashtag Game? – Jennifer Lovett, founder of Writer Nation

Do it Yourself Book Marketing – Jason Evans, Author

Defining Your Author Brand – Sandra Beckwith, Author

Connect with other writers online:

Facebook, Facebook, Facebook – No joke! Use the Google machine to look up “Facebook writers groups for + your genre.” You will be shocked by how many groups are out there. Start with Pikes Peak Writers! (FREE!!)

Manuscript AcademyStill want to take classes, but quarantine got you locked down? The Manuscript Academy offers online courses. Brace yourself, it’s a bit pricey for us starving writers. But their free podcast has great insights and they occasionally host free webinars. ($49 – $69 per month)

NaNoWriMo – Writing a novel alone can be difficult, even for seasoned writers. NaNoWriMo helps you track your progress, set milestones, connect with other writers in a vast community, and participate in events that are designed to make sure you finish your novel. Oh, and best of all, it’s free! (FREE!!)

Pitch Wars – Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for an agent showcase. (FREE!!)

Writers Club Live – Author, ghostwriter, and book coach Christine Whitmarsh hosts live virtual workshops focusing on the art and science of writing your book. She’s even offering structured sessions to provide ample collaboration and quiet work time at a fair cost. ($19 – $29 per month)

Craft books?

Why, yes please! (PS many local book stores are delivering – don’t forget to support them too!)

The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience – Chuck Wendig

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

On Writing by Stephen King

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by 

Cheryl B. Klein

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel – by Jessica Brody

True to our 2019 conference slogan “It takes a tribe,” now more than ever, my friends, is the time to #SupportEachOther. I hope these resources inspire you to keep writing, keep pitching and keep going. Share these articles with your friends and remember to thank the contributors on social media.

It’s okay to lament the cancellation of the 2020 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. It’s not often we introverts want to come out and play. Even though there will be no hugging of old friends or toasting a long day over evening drinks this year, PPWC is still here to help you further your writing skills and connect with other writers in a safe way.

Stay healthy. Stay home. Stay supportive.

For the latest news on the Coronavirus, please refer to

Jennifer Wilson

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

Interview with Maureen Moretti

By: Bowen Gillings

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

Maureen Moretti
Maureen Moretti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowen Gillings

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

Producing a Novel – Part 1

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

By: Donna Schlachter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to find information and ideas about those topics:

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

Figuring out your story:

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

You have your nugget.

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

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

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

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

For example:

One liner:

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

Three sentences:

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


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

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

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

Organize your topics and points.

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

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

Donna Schlachter

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at
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Indie vs Traditional – Which Would You Choose?

By: Jennifer Lovett

Are you on the fence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Cred.

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


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


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


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

Book Cover and Design

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


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

TV and Movie Rights

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

International Rights

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

Audio Books

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

Jennifer Lovett

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

The First Break

By: Robin Laborde

The email was matter of fact:

Dear Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Laborde

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

Confessions of a Former Pantser

By: Margena Holmes

Can a Pantser Change Into a Plotter?

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

Keeping Things Straight

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

Can a Pantser Change Into a Plotter?

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

Planning Can Be Flexible

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

Margena Holmes

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