5 Tips for Using Your Business Card

This past weekend some writing friends and I were discussing why we need business cards and how to use them. The business card, after all, seems like an outdated concept in our world of electronic everything.

Picture of Bob Popyk's book, Here's My Card
Learning to use a business card well will help your writing business.

As a marketing person from way back, I’m not ready to chalk off this ubiquitous form of personal branding just yet. Business cards have been around since the 17th century, after all, and are a handy form of advertising that meet some pretty hefty requirements. Business cards tell others about who you are as a writer, how to best reach you, and what social media you can be found on. Well duh! But did you know that you can use business cards to build your readership, impress the editors and agents you meet, and build great business relationships?

Lately, I've had the chance to dive into a fun read by Bob Popyk, called Here's My Card.  He has some terrific examples of how to use your card that you can add to your own experience.  I've used some of his tips, and generated some of my own to put together a solid marketing effort when meeting other people in the publishing industry.

Here are five ways you may not have known about, or forgotten to use, in employing your business card to enhance your writing business:


  1. Collect new readers
    You’ve heard it before. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, bagel shop, movies and more, talk with people. Even introverted writers can do this one-on-one activity. Almost inevitably, people will ask what you do. If you’re prepared with a card, not only will you make someone’s day by meeting a “real author” or “real writer,” but you’ll have them following you on Facebook or liking you on LinkedIn. Just ask. When you bring out your card to hand to them, bring a second one, flip it over, write “Important” on the back, and ask your new friend if they’d like to be on your mailing list. Ask for their email address. Presto! A new fan for you.
  2. Connect with total strangers
    This tip is so simple it’s hard to understand why more authors don’t use it. You’re stuck on that first weekend of the month paying your bills. Blah, blah, blah. No one enjoys this task. How ‘bout adding a little fun to the process by stapling your card to the check you write? Yes, this means spending about three cents more on your bill, but it’s a very low cost advertisement for people you might otherwise not ever reach. If you send this card to the same vendor every month, again, flip your card and jot a note like, “This month’s recommended reading is . . . (a book you just finished reading).” Great community service on your part.
  3. Support your writing community
    The next time you’re at a conference and talk to someone who has business cards, ask your friend for two or even three of their cards. Let them know you like their work and want to spread the word about them. Talk about making someone’s day! Just be sure to try to follow up and actually hand out those cards. This works especially well when your friend writes in a different genre from you.
  4. Picture of how to post your business card in publicPublic exposure for your work
    We’ve all seen those bulletin boards at the grocery store, at the library, sometimes at church. People post business cards in hopes that they’ll get a call about their service. Here’s what I’d suggest. Cut a piece of colored paper a little larger than your business card, and write across the top of it, “Read a good book lately?” Pin your business cards (3 or 4) in the center of this sheet and onto the bulletin board. Check your stock every few weeks. You may not add to your mailing list, but you’ll add to your readers.
  5. Make friends with librarians
    My neighbor is a retired librarian and she told me that these wonderful people are not in the habit of using their business cards either. If you go into a library and meet a librarian there, start to hand out your card. But then pull back and point something out on your card that the librarian needs to know. “Sometimes people have a hard time with my email. It is dot net and not dot com.” Don’t be obnoxious about this tease, but when you use it effectively, the librarian is going to read your card more carefully when he or she gets it. Then, be sure to ask for their card. When you get home, write them a note and perhaps suggest a display that just so happens to have your book in it.

Business cards continue to be the individual artist’s best advertising friend. Do you have your cards ready?picture of collecting business cards


Chuck Sambuchino – Information and Inspiration in New Books

Chuck Sambuchino ProfileI recently had the chance to ask Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Magazine a few questions about two of his most recent publications, the Writer’s Digest 2016 Guide to Literary Agents and a humorous book called When Clowns Attack. This popular author, public speaker and columnist had a lot to share, and I’m thrilled to post his thoughts here . . .

About the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents

  1. Chuck, why do you think authors should seek agent representation?

There are a bunch of reasons, but I'll just explain one: The biggest/bigger publishing houses and publishing imprints out there usually do not take unagented submissions. We're talking about dozens of imprints that will be off limits to you without an agent. And these medium-sized and large imprints are the places that can afford to pay you a decent advance, that can try and sell your rights overseas and to Hollywood, that can distribute your work all over for sale. Agents open all doors, and can get your work considered anywhere. Ruling out these many large, powerful imprints is not a good idea.

  1. What new material will this guide offer compared to previous editions?
WD Guide to Literary Agents Cover
The Yellow Pages of Literary Agents

I've always called the GLA "a yellow pages of literary agents." So, like a phone book, it updates its info every year. Previous buyers will just be buying a more up-to-date resource that includes new/newer agencies that we added. Each edition also spotlights different new agents who are seeking clients right now. Every new addition adds new/newer agents that just joined an agency. This is key because it's those new/newer agents at established agencies who are building their client lists and look for writers just like you.

  1. When should a writer seek a new agent, or ask hard questions of the one he or she is already working with? Some of our people have had agents for years without nibbles from the publishers.

You want an agent to be communicating with you, and submitting your projects, and passionate about your work. Those are all important steps. And you want them to be selling books. If these publishers haven't nibbled, it's hard to say if that is the agent's fault or perhaps the fault of the writing. There was a period of time in my writing life where my agent & I pitched 7 nonfiction books in a row and none sold. But the whole time, she believed in me, and was submitting, and liked what I pitched. Plus, she had other clients that were selling books. That last point is key. If your books aren't selling, make sure that the agent is selling the books of others. That proves that your agent has skill; she just hasn't found a publisher match for you yet.

  1. If you sell to midlist publishers or smaller presses, the advances and royalties are quite small.  Is that worth investing an agent fee in?

Typically, agents do not aim for these small markets. They're not financially worthwhile. For example, if you were only getting a $2,000 advance, their cut is only $300. It isn't worth weeks of time for $300. So they don't aim for the smaller markets.

When Clowns Attack
Be afraid--be very afraid--heh, heh, heh!

About When Clowns Attack

  1. When Clowns Attack. Hmm. Guessing this is for readers with a funny bone waiting to be banged.

That sounds dirty. I like it.

  1. Okay, Chuck, are you secretly a wannabe clown or do you just like to pick on creatures most of us love (first gnomes and now clowns)?

I know plenty of people like garden gnomes (though I have no idea why), but the truth is I have heard very, very few people in life say "I love clowns!!" Clowns are the creepiest, and I am now keeping my distance from you, Liesa, for saying those words. I am not a wannabe clown, and the fact that you called these people "creatures" says, I think, everything one needs to know. Clowns will hit you in the head with cotton candy; they will spray seltzer in your spouse's face; they will kidnap your toddler when you're not looking. They're roaming the world, unchecked and untraceable, and they must be contained.

  1. Who will be your next target, dinosaurs?

No no no. Don't be silly. (*Writes down "next book idea: dinosaurs" on pad*)

  1. When do you think the next major clown attack will occur, and will it be covered by CNN?

Clowns pop up out of the woodwork around Halloween each year with haunted houses and pranks and weirdos standing on street corners. That's the reason we wanted to release this prior to Halloween. This is peak season for clown weirdos harassing and attacking people. And as far as CNN goes, I hope so, but the mainstream media has yet to realize the true danger of these red-nosed bozos. Sadly, it will take a few more legit clown assaults before people walk up to the danger of jokers with big shoes.

On the Writing Business

  1. WD has been in the business of encouraging aspiring authors and copywriters since 1920. With all that history, is there really hope for successful writing careers “out there?” (Stats here would be great, if you have them.  Most of us live in the world of bad news, little to no profit from our efforts, and a changing publishing world that makes our prospects of traditional publishing dim more all the time)

This is hard to answer, but let me address a few key things. One, to say the word "career" makes it sound like you want all your money to come from writing. That is a fine goal, but not necessarily one many will achieve. I always say that writers need to diversify themselves and make money any way they can (ransom notes work the best). When you're writing novels, short stories and poetry, you need to take money out of the equation. You have to do this for love, because you never know when you will create something great that someone will pay you for. Plenty of debuts still come out every year. You have to enjoy writing and enjoy the process. Let's look at Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer's Digest magazine. She wrote a women's fiction novel a while back. She got an agent, but they failed to sell the novel. Her and her agent amicably parted ways. A month ago, she got a new agent (Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary) and this week she got a two-book deal from St. Martin's. That is a big, big deal. She is a debut with no other books under her belt. She is a grand success story, and if she would have bought into the point of view of "There is no hope; The publishing world is dim," then she wouldn't have this amazing news this week. Yeah, most novels don't sell. But some do. So keep writing.

  1. Your Author Platform book was focused for the main part on non-fiction writers.  In it, you said an author platform for novelists and fiction writers isn’t so important.  Why do you believe that?

If you’re writing fiction, the top priority is excellent writing. That is what makes books sell through word of mouth, and that is what gets them into book clubs. Platform is great because it helps you sell more copies and make money. I’m not saying platform is unimportant for novelists. I’m saying that for nonfiction writers (like myself), it is a massive priority and absolutely necessary. I cannot query an agent or publisher for a book without platform on my side. A novelist can. So while you want platform (money, control, sales), you do not need it to query.

  1. You seem to be on the road a lot.  Is this a requisite for becoming a successful author, or is it simply something you enjoy?

It's all for platform. You meet a lot of people on the road and sell plenty of books. The more I'm on the road, the more money I can make and more books I can sell. And in terms of enjoying it, I would say that I used to enjoy it more when the trips were relaxed. But then I had a daughter, so the last three years have been filled with faster trips, and that makes them more hectic. After a conference, while everyone is meeting up at the bar for drinks, I'm hightailing it in a rental car to the airport to catch an evening flight home. I don't enjoy the rush, but I cherish the smile of my toddler when I get home. So it all works out.

Chuck's Background

Chuck Sambuchino (@chucksambuchino) of Writer's Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. His latest humor book, WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE (Sept. 29 2015), will protect people everywhere from malicious bozos and jokers who haunt our lives. His books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, and more.

Life is Fun with Carol Caverly

Author Carol Caverly
Carol Caverly, still writing and enjoying life today.

Carol Caverly said recently that she’s the kind of person who goes from being interested in something to becoming almost obsessed once she’s had a chance to see what’s going on. It’s no wonder then, that when she borrowed her first Writer’s Digest magazine as a young Wyoming mother in the 1980’s, both the magazine and creative writing in general sucked her in. Soon she was writing more and more, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers benefited as a result.

“It was all so much fun!” said Carol. Over the years she’s written three books and several short stories, was a founding member of Wyoming Writers and then Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She participated in Mystery Writers of America as a chapter president and is a long-standing member of Sisters in Crime.

The death of her first husband resulted in Carol moving from Wyoming to Colorado, where she met among others, Kay Bergstrom, Pat Dalton, and Jasmine Cresswell, and helped to set-up RMFW.

“I found the three or four gals, and we started getting together to discuss writing. The group kept getting bigger and bigger and we added critiques as well as meetings,” said Carol. “Our first RMFW Colorado Gold conference was held at the Aurora Public Library where I worked. I remember we had sack lunches and donuts for food, and Rex Burns was our keynote speaker.” The meeting was quite a bit different from the 400 member strong Colorado Gold conference held these days.

Carol seems to have fun wherever she’s involved, and writing has been a big part of it all. She’s been an avid reader since her childhood just outside of Chicago, Illinois. There, she enjoyed Nancy Drew books from the library, and shared that interest in mysteries with her mom. Years later, when her books won recognition as Detective Book Club selections and local best sellers, she was filled with nostalgia for those times spent reading with her mother.

While in Wyoming, Carol subscribed to Writer’s Digest and read every issue for 20 years. She also read every book she could get her hands on with regard to writing and still has a copy of Dean Koontz’s How To Write Best Selling Fiction which she pointed out currently sells for over $50 on Amazon.com (a check in August revealed the book is now worth $72).

“His books are excellent,” said Carol. “Of course, I love his writing.” She said that Donald Maass is also her guru, and she keeps a copy of his book handy too.

One of the best things about talking to Carol is the story of all the people she’s met and shared writing memories with.

“At one of the first conferences we held in Colorado Springs, Clive Cussler was a speaker,” said Carol. “He was a nut when we were signing books together. I remember he signed a book for a woman who didn’t know him at all. He wrote, ‘I’ll never forget that wonderful evening we had here.’ That woman about died! What would her husband say?”

“But when my first novel came out and I was at a signing in Cherry Creek, Clive came in with his wife and bought one of my books because I was a new author.”

Carol also is good friends with Deni Dietz, one of the visiting editors to Colorado Gold this year.

“We used to carpool to critique in Colorado Springs together,” said Carol. “She’d tell me her plots as we went. I’ve been so proud of what Deni’s done. She works hard to this day, and is very diligent. I’m really happy for her.

“The first time Deni came to conference to hear pitches, I signed up for a session with her, even though I had nothing to sell. I sat down and said, ‘So you’re an agent now. Good for you!”

Carol said that she has had fun watching everyone’s careers take off, that she soaked it all up, and has enjoyed the entire writing community, from dear friends like Christine Jorgenson to Sharon Mignerly to Kay Bergstrom.

“Kay is an inspiration,” said Carol. “She’s one of the few who earns a living with their writing. She’s so knowledgeable, and she’s funny—just delightful.”

Carol will be one of the celebrated Guiding Members at Colorado Gold in September and left with this last piece of wisdom:

“I suppose it’s most important when you want to write, is to write right now. So many say they’re working on a novel or a thriller, and will probably write them when they retire. I say, do it now.”

And one more thing. If you’re Carol Caverly, be sure you’re having fun.

Chris Goff–Author on the Rise

By Liesa Malik

The Published Authors Liaison (PAL) is a sub-organization within RMFW that exists to provide networking and promotional opportunities for traditionally published authors. This begins a series of profiles on some of our PAL members in the hopes that you will make an opportunity to read their books and meet them either at Colorado Gold or in other venues throughout the country and the year. . .

Photo of Christine Goff
Christine Goff -- Photo courtesy of Mark Stevens.


Kevin slid a paperback across the table and said, “Try this author. She’s really good, and I think she is, or was, a member of RMFW.”

The book, A Rant of Ravens, by Christine Goff truly was a good read, and a fun start to the great Birdwatcher Mystery series of five books with regional bestseller status and nominations for several awards. The sixth in the series, A Parliament of Owls, is set for release this fall from Astor+Blue Editions.

Christine Goff (Chris to friends), has been writing fiction since 1984, joined RMFW in 1988, and has played several key roles our group. She is the 2002 RMFW Writer of the Year, and has a number of other successes in the Rocky Mountain writing communities. Like many PAL members, Chris continues to support our community with behind-the-scenes efforts.


“I’ve often judged 30 or more entries a year in the Colorado Gold contest,” said Chris. “We all have a responsibility to give back. I got a tremendous amount out of RMFW in my formative years, and enjoy celebrating the new success stories.”

Chris’s multiple roles in RMFW have been a tremendous boost to our community, but the three she enjoyed most are Newsletter Chair, PAL Chair, and President.

“I have a graphic production/editor background, so Newsletter Chair was right up my alley,” said Chris. “And then PAL members offer so much in the way of support and credibility to the (RMFW) organization, and often behind the scenes--judging manuscripts, mentoring, critiquing, teaching and championing those who are working so hard to make it in the business—that as PAL Chair, I was pleased to get some things happening in support of our published writers. Lastly, as President, I was proud to be able to steer us through a controversial year and help RMFW weather a public relations storm.”

You’d think that a writer with such an illustrious resume might be tempted to sit back and relax. But not Chris. She’s on to new writing adventures and continues to support our writing community with fresh projects.


Last spring, Chris gathered several organizations together to help bring about Genrefest, a one-day workshop that highlighted national best selling author, David Morrell. Mr. Morrell, a friend of Chris, was one of the famous authors to endorse her newest offering, Dark Waters, a thriller set in the Middle East (Crooked Lane Books).

“Dark Waters is Chris Goff’s breakout book,” said David. “A relentless international thriller with a terrifying topic and an impressive heroine, Raisa Jordan. It’s been a while since I had such fun reading the work of a fellow writer. Well done!”


“Dark Waters is a book that came into my head years ago,” said Chris. “The idea sparked in 1999, when I was in Israel with my then 11 year-old daughter, who was there for some medical treatments. But, with my first Birdwatcher’s Mystery coming out in 2000, and three-books under contract, I put the idea aside. Then in 2008, finding myself out of contract, I decided to pick up Dark Waters again.

“Seven years later, I just got my hardcover copy in the mail and the book will be coming out to the world in September. Writing a thriller is very different than writing a cozy. It was a big change for me. There’s a difference in pacing, a difference in character development, a difference in stakes. And then there was the international setting and the political aspects of the book...just a lot of things that made it much more challenging. I have my fingers crossed readers are going to like it.”

Knowing the quality of work Chris generally produces in every aspect of her writing life, the book is bound to be a success. You can find it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.


Chris will be at Colorado Gold, September 11- 13. She’ll be on a panel with Jeffery Deaver, and presenting a workshop on Elements of Mystery.

“I’m easy to approach,” said Chris. “I hope people feel free to just come up and introduce themselves. I figure unless someone is clearly having a private meeting with an editor or agent or another author, anyone should feel free to step up and listen in on the conversations, and join in when there’s an opening. I love to meet people at conference.”

Chris will also be one of three Guiding Members of RMFW to receive recognition for their long-term support of our organization at the conference this year.

Asked for her one piece of advice for aspiring writers, she said, “If you want to be successful, treat it like a job. It’s so easy when you’re working on your first book to treat writing like a hobby. So many of us put in our three or four hours, then go off and do other things. But the truly successful authors treat it differently. They’re putting in eight to ten hours a day, sometimes six days a week. They spend their most creative hours writing and their less creative hours editing, social networking, making phone calls, promoting. As soon as you have a multiple-book contract, you have to start looking at it like work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.”


By Liesa Malik

Recently, my family and I had a chance to go to Rome. Rome! Can you believe it?

We were excited beyond belief, and made plans for months in advance. We even took a few Italian lessons and yes, bought the Pimsleur tapes with all good intentions of some fluency (personal note—a couple of months of practice doesn’t prepare you at all, but you give the natives a good chuckle before they kindly help you out, in English).

At last the great time came. We stepped off the plane and into a world of history, and history, and history. Two thousand years of lives and deaths were displayed everywhere we went. We walked and walked, through weather that was hot, and places that had ruin after ruin.

Centro Storico Cobblestones
History you can walk on.

By the end of our first day, we’d walked close to five miles and most of us were ready with all sorts of complaints about our feet, the lack of places to sit, and anything else we could think of (except, of course, the gelato).

And those cobblestones! Okay, so they looked very nice, these black four-inch squares that pave almost all of downtown old Rome, called Centro Storico. But my goodness, they hurt American feet strapped into lightweight sandals.

By day two and a wander past the Spanish steps, the Piazza Navona, and even the great Pantheon, we had cobblestones indelibly etched into our consciousness and toes.

Day three and the cobblestones became something of a curiosity point. “Wonder what they’re made of?” “Do you think they’ve been here as long as the ruins in that Largo Arenula Argentina—that place where Ceasar was killed?”

It was right about then that my daughter met up with like-minded acro-yoga fans (long story). One of the people who gave her a lift to the meeting (a total stranger but for the Internet), told Nicola that the stones are indeed throughout Rome, and are called San Pietrini or Little Saint Peters.

The cobbles were originally made from the volcanic rock (black basalt) that surrounds Rome, and chiseled into their classic square shape. I have read on the Internet (so it must be true) that the cobbles are now sometimes imported from the Far East.

The stones were apparently originally used to pave St. Peter’s square by order of Pope Sixtus V in the 1500s so while not as old as the Roman Empires, there’s still quite a bit of history to these modest landmarks of a great city.

Multiple San Pietrini
Whew, St. Peter's been busy!

One story I heard was that each cobblestone, or San Pietrini, represents a soul that St. Peter has saved. This doesn’t sound like so much until you look across the vast spaces of the piazzas and realize just how many stones are there.

The most compelling glimpse of these stones took me completely by surprise. I like to photograph the quirky but beautiful small things I see on trips. You won’t view a lot of family-in-front-of-monument snaps from me. But you will see doorknobs, windows, bugs, and other small items.

So, one morning on my first walk of the day, when the streets were quiet and the merchants were still busy setting up their tents in Campo De’ Fiori, I wandered down a street I hadn’t walked before.

Cobbles from Rome's Jewish section
I cried at this part of history.

After about ten minutes of walking and taking my quirky snaps, I looked down to see two cobblestones that weren’t black at all, but were made of brass. Of course I snapped a photo, and then did my best to interpret what I saw. Angelo Tagliocozzo was the name carved into the first stone and Angelo Limontani’s life story was on the second.

Angelo Tagliocozzo was born in 1916 and died in 1944.

Angelo Limontani was born in 1920. He was “arrestado” May 8th 1944 and “deportato” to Auschwitz where, at age 24, he was “assinato.” I had accidentally wandered into the Jewish section of old Rome. I’m sure St. Peter saved those young souls, but for me, the cobbles I walked on for the rest of my trip meant something much more than an unsteady walk for me.

Can you write the story of a cobblestone? Whose name would you carve? What part of history would they have played? Is your life one that will find its way to the streets of Rome?

Wishing you a creative week.

The Basics of List Building

By Liesa Malik

Lists are everywhere—the to-do list, the project task list, and most of all, the illusion of the golden contact list.

Screech! Breaks! Illusion?

That’s right. Many people believe that you can purchase, rent, or find on-line great contact lists for the asking. Unfortunately, in the years I’ve been in marketing, I’ve only found one absolute truth where the golden contact list is concerned—it doesn’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Even the largest companies continue to search for the golden list.

To me, the best list you can have is the one you develop yourself. Here’s how I’d suggest you get started:


Photo of Contact List
However you build it, they need to be contacted.

I don’t mean the blast out to the universe kind. I mean reaching into your community (list) and regularly touching people one-on-one. A few weeks back, someone from The Ladders employment agency contacted me and asked for my advice on writing careers. He said he considered me a “thought leader.” Not only did that puff up my ego, but it also gave me a blog post on my personal blog, which the representative asked to use in his work with writers. Very cool. AND he earned a follower to The Ladders.


What’s that you say? Why waste money on a list you know isn’t going to be great? You buy lists or rent them because it gives you a place to start. Just as a detective knows that all clues in a mystery aren’t going to lead straight to a killer, all lists aren’t going to lead you to multiple thousands of sales. But you may find a handful of contacts that eventually become associates and friends.


Yes, this sounds very inefficient. But the real contacts you make often end up being supporters for years to come, whereas blast recipients remain strangers, and your name can easily become synonymous with the word, “annoying.”


Ouch! First there were Facebook and LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter followed Twitter and Pinterest. Today there is Goodreads and a host of other social media. With all this posting and messaging, where’s the time for list building?

My advice is to relax. Social media posts are the same as blasting to a huge mailing list. I suspect more posts are written than read. There are no real connections when someone has 1,000 “friends” or more. Create an editorial budget and schedule, or invest in a multi-media service like Hootsuite, and get back to enjoying your life of writing. But connect, really connect with a handful of true friends a month. Here are some ways to make new friends (i.e. contacts) and keep building your lists:

  • Go to meetings and let people know you’re an author or aspiring novelist. Meetup.com has a bunch of interests listed and ways to get involved with your community.
  • Volunteer—you kill two birds with one stone here—you give back to your community and you build friendships.
  • Speak—Does your church need a witness? Does the cub or brownie troupe down the road need to earn a communication badge? Ask your local librarian if they have a speaker’s program. I’m excited to say I just joined my local chapter of Toastmasters. I have visions of opportunities to come.
  • Never forget family and friends! Haven’t written the Christmas newsletter in a while? Try again. Or better yet, pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes with great aunt Sarah, who is part of that romance book club.

Lastly, while we do sincerely want and need contacts in publishing, we also have to be good contacts back. Know an agent looking for westerns? Promote your friend who writes westerns. Your publisher having a hard time getting writers to do self promo work? Send along ideas that have worked for you.

I’ll be talking more about lists and contacts in my talk “Author Platform 101,” at Colorado Gold. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll join me there.

Keep writing and keep sharing. Book sales are all about the lists and contacts we make.

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.

Why You Should Vote for the WOTY   

By Liesa Malik

writeroftheyearOkay, friends, here’s the low down, the scoop, the real deal – the WOTY is fixed! That’s right. Fixed! And you know why? Because each year three distinguished authors willing to represent our organization with their work end up on a ballot that is under-supported.

It’s rather like local elections. According to Governing Magazine,  during a study by the University of Wisconsin, researchers found a steady decline in voter turn out. Not great at 26.6% in 2001, by 2011, that turnout declined to 20.9%. That’s roughly one in five people who took advantage of the American electoral process. These minorities of voters influence how we’re being governed today.

What has this to do with the Writer of the Year? Plenty. I don’t have any exact figures, but in checking with people involved in the voting process last year, most of our group did not vote for the WOTY. Shame on us all!


The Writer of the Year is someone who represents the highest standards of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and represents our organization throughout the publishing industry. I spoke with Shannon Baker, the 2014 Writer of the year and she said that winning this distinction was life changing.

“Right before the nominations last year, I was ready to quit writing,” said Shannon. “I felt defeated. But the nominating process boosted my confidence, and the vote validated that newfound interest in continuing to write. Not only that, but being able to put the Writer of the Year title behind my name has opened a lot of doors for me.”

She mentioned that she was recently requested to speak at the CU Friends of the Library annual district event. It was a dream come true, yet Shannon said she didn’t approach this group, they contacted her.

Also, at every event, speaking engagement, and book sale (and more of these opportunities come up for the WOTY), Shannon says she does her best to put in a promotion of RMFW.

“I think it’s very important for the Writer of the Year to speak well and knowledgeably about this great organization we’re all a part of. If the Writer of the Year cannot or will not do this, why should they be voted to that honor?”

We hope that at some point, winning the WOTY would be similar to winning a Pulitzer Prize, but until that happens, everyone who is part of RMFW still has a certain celebrity, albeit a tad smaller, for people who love to read.


To make finalist, a person must fulfill these hefty qualifications:

  • Be a traditionally published author with a book released in the previous year (in this case, the 2015 WOTY has had a book release in 2014)
  • The WOTY winner is a member in good standing with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers—while the WOTY is NOT an award recognizing volunteerism (that’s what the Jasmine is for), being active in our community is important too. After all, the Writer of the Year is representing us all in the larger publishing industry.
  • Have a high quality of writing. This may seem like a duh point, but the vetting committee read samplings of each author and had to distinguish candidates based on critical reviews of their work. Talk about hard work! So many great pieces of commercial fiction writing, so few slots we could fill. Whew!
  • Offer proof of significant achievements with their writing work—regional or national reviews or, awards, guest blogs and more.

Every time someone meets the WOTY, they’re being introduced to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers as a whole. This makes your writing platform even stronger when you mention that you’re part of our organization. Free publicity. How cool is that?


In years past, I felt much like you might be feeling today. That is, I didn’t know the writers personally, hadn’t read their works for the most part, and felt that some secret inner circle of friends put together the nomination list in a smoke-filled back room of political dealings.

Sorry to burst your literary dreaming, but this isn’t how things work. The same people are not nominated year after year. In fact, we haven’t had a WOTY become part of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Hall of Fame. The one qualification for that distinction is to win the WOTY three times. While there have been a number of two-time winners, no one has made the top selection three times.

How things really work is that an author can either be nominated or apply to the WOTY committee for consideration. After all nominations are closed, the WOTY committee of at least five members spends approximately two hours per candidate, reading the application form, checking out websites, and most importantly, reading and evaluating a piece of the writer’s work. This year, with as many candidates as we had, this means that about 135 volunteer hours went into narrowing the distinguished field to just three names.


Please watch for the April newsletter when the finalists will be announced. Then, beginning April 20th be sure to vote.


This year we’re going to try something new. Although you will still have two months to make your decision, we’re hoping to implement voting online via the RMFW website. Please keep an eye on your emails for more information.

And what if you haven’t read the nominees’ work? Try visiting your local library, or you could go onto the major bookseller sites to at least read a sampling of the work. I think you’ll be pleased if you do.

Be sure to read the author profiles that will be a part of the newsletter announcement. I think you’ll agree that we’re lucky to have such high quality writers in our community.

Still think the WOTY is a sham or a fix? The only way you’ll know for sure is to sign in and vote. Personally, I’m excited for all of the nominees and only wish we could select from everyone who sent author information.

Think I’ll go try to up my own level of writing. Someday I'd like to qualify . . . for a WOTY .

Beyond the Page: Your Writing Career

By Liesa Malik

As a marketing professional, I’m always looking for the next great thing to grab attention and make my clients’ products or services successful. I watch for ways to build awareness and markets of buyers, vendors, and supporters, and believe that these efforts lead to financial success. That success often doesn’t come in large numbers but in small efforts that stand out.

As a critique group leader, I send approximately 55 invitations each week to people involved in writing a commercial-length novel. My co-moderator sends notices through his Yahoo group for another large group. This may sound massive, but each Tuesday or Thursday evening finds us at Panera Bread with many fewer attendees than invitees. We generally host from five to fifteen people who take the invitation (and their writing commitment) to heart.

Picture of Colorado Gold Attendees
Getting involved with writing.

I’m not offering this to make lapsing Littleton Writers members feel guilty. After all, in marketing, a direct mail piece with 27% return is astronomical. Those who can’t or don’t take advantage of the invitations have many extenuating circumstances and reasons to delay one more week.

However, if you’re a writer who isn’t a member of any critique group available through RMFW, I suspect you might be making your journey to publication more challenging. This critique opportunity is one small differentiator between aspiring and published authors.

And all the above is not meant to guilt you into more active membership in your critique group, or sign up for Colorado Gold tomorrow, but to encourage you to think about your writing career beyond the page. You already know how to write; most of us write very well. But there’s more to being a writer than producing words on a page. Here’s what I mean:

Get Involved.

I know someone who just applied for his dream job. We both know he won’t get it. That kind of job requires connections and references he’s pretty much neglected for over thirty years. If you’re not involved in your community, you’ll never feel like a true member, and when opportunity comes knocking, yours is not likely the name that will surface.

The same holds true for your writing career and community. Yes, quality writing is of paramount importance, but being involved with other writers is a great way to keep your skills up-to-date, enrich your social life with like-interested acquaintances, and be in the know when a new opportunity comes your way.

In the past, I heard a lot about the “cliques” of RMFW. Personally, I have to say, HOGWASH! The reason you may hear the same names over and over when it comes to recognitions and awards is because you’re witnessing the outcome of people who stopped dreaming and started working at their writing careers beyond the page. They built reputations one raised hand and one volunteer moment at a time, and those efforts have come back with a “thank you” attached. That’s a strong platform.

Build Your Author Platform.

“Author Platform” seems to be the term of the moment. Writers without their first sale become obsessed with this platform and how to build it. They join every social media venue possible or follow all sorts of publishing gurus wherever those wizards can be found. It’s like watching the movie star fans who believe that if they only impress the right actor or producer, their own careers will be made. Hate to say this, but there are no recipe books for author platform success.

I remember when “platform” was called “personal branding,” or even being “as good as your word.” All this means is that you have a personal reputation for things like writing a good story, or you have a lot of people interested in buying your next book. You build that reputation by getting to know others, not by sending letters to every publisher listed in the latest Writer’s Market.

In marketing, we’re all about the story you present. But with writing, your story will sell when you reach out, volunteer, get to know others, and risk sharing both your story and yourself with others. The RMFW website has constant opportunities for becoming involved.

And if you want to build your platform using traditional corporate marketing efforts, please keep in mind that corporations spend triple figure budgets on getting a few new buyers. Can you afford that kind of spending? And what’s your Return on Investment (ROI) for such spending? It’s more time consuming, but a lot less expensive to build your brand with a handshake.

Making Friends helps Make Stories.

And speaking of handshakes, let’s focus for a moment on the richness that making friends in this wonderful community adds to your life. Yes, I remember that everyone is shooting for publication and large book sales, but let’s be honest here. Isn’t writing the story a whole lot more fun than trying to figure out where to place your next book, or how to get onto the "Oprah" show? Don’t we have a lot more fun “talking shop” with other writers than making “small talk” at some cocktail party full of strangers?

I have to admit, I haven’t done a whole lot of volunteering in the past. But in the months since I chose to embrace this wonderful community of writers, I’ve had email correspondences that get me excited to open my mail screen each morning, and shared hugs with people I both admire and respect. I’m sometimes lost in the volunteer work and don’t get enough writing done, but then I look up at the rich life I’m building, and smile.

How ‘bout you? Do you volunteer? Do you feel this helps your writing career? Where will you next be involved?

Judging A Book By Its Cover

By Liesa Malik

Malik_DierdreThree seconds is all you get. Three seconds to make the difference between a sale and a pass on your book. No matter how much time you as an author have put into your novel, or how carefully your work has been edited, artist Deirdre Wait of High Pines Creative knows you have those very few seconds to attract attention, make an impression, and influence the purchase of your book off a shelf. It’s her job to make those seconds count.

“Anyone with a computer may think they’re a designer,” said Deirdre, “but a good design requires technical and research skills as well as good ideas.”

She should know. For twelve years, Deirdre and her artist husband, Chris, have produced successful covers for Thorndike Press, Five Star Publishing, and independent authors. Generally, they produce 30 to 50 projects a month. Five years ago, the Waits moved to Salida, and currently work from a ranch they own there.

“As people, we may not have a long time on this earth, so Chris and I work on having a good time while we’re here.”

Deirdre didn’t start out to become a cover designer. She has a degree in marketing with several credits toward an additional degree in English literature, and her first work was on a newspaper selling ad space. But then, Chris, who has a background in software, purchased a home computer and Quark Express. The two artists learned that software and began selling more and more of their work.

“With this work, we never get bored,” said Deirdre. “In other design work, you’re told exactly what the client wants and you produce it. But with book covers, you have nothing to work from but the publisher’s notes, and through them, the author’s wishes. This is a real challenge, but we like it.”


Even with no specific graphics to work from, there are still steps to producing a quality cover design. Those requirements vary for each cover in order to preserve the individualism of the authors. Here are some of the items Deidre uses to produce a good cover:

  • Ask, what is the book about? Who is the audience? – If you were designing a cover for a cozy, you wouldn’t want to go into the dark tones of a hard-boiled mystery. Try to use color schemes that the audience may be drawn toward.
  • Research for the correct time period and props – “One time we were designing a cover for a Western, and used the wrong gun type. You can bet we heard about that very quickly,” said Deidre.
  • Produce covers that catch attention in 3 seconds or less – “Did you know that Amazon puts up about 100,000 new titles each day? No one has time to go through them all carefully, so as an artist, I have to provide a reason to stop skimming and look more carefully at my books."
  • Develop a mood for the book, and then dive into image searches. "Right now, I’m working on a cover for a story set in India. I’ve asked a lot of friends for images and cloth samples, and am finally ready to put the design in place."
  • Type is important, hugely important. For a while, it looked like cover designs would be pushed to the side with the advent of the ebook. However, Deirdre said that the new media delivery system has as much call for artists as ever, if not more. “Now you need to consider type very carefully,” said Deirdre, “because you have to format your ebooks to be displayed on the new smart phone platform. She said the image on a phone can be as small as one quarter inch wide by one half inch tall. If you use a script or other complex typeface, chances are the design will fall apart at such a small size. Use big type, she said, because it truly pops in the small images used today.


If you’re planning to hire someone to do your book cover art, or you want to send across good ideas for your publisher to pursue, Deidre suggests these tips:

  • Take the design process seriously, and work to communicate your vision with words. This is difficult, but not impossible.
  • Be prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money for the cover art. People claiming that they can develop a cover for $50 - $75 are generally not going to have the credentials and experience to get you what you want in a timely fashion. You should expect to pay $200 or more for a good design. The high end for designs is about $3,000, but that is for big name publishers using special papers, inks, and printing forms.
  • Boil your design down to as few objects as possible. Don’t ask for an entire scene to go into your cover. It clutters the page and dilutes the message. It invites people to go to the next book, instead of yours.
  • Don’t give too much away. If people can get the whole story on the cover, why should they buy the book?
  • Work on creating the best title you can. This way both your reader and your artist will be excited.

Lastly, Deirdre said, “No matter what they say, every single person out there is going to judge your book by its cover. Everybody likes pictures, even if they’re only on the cover.”