How to Write a Bestseller

016You ever notice that the people who teach how to write bestsellers are not actually writing them? I always wonder about this...

Anyway, as writers, we spend a fair amount of time contemplating, discussing and, yes, taking workshops on how to write bestselling books. We pretty much all want to have our books sell well, and that's the pinnacle. There's a lot of reasons to want that - money is always useful and we'd all love to have lots of readers. I suspect even the most Zen among us would dance a happy jig to hit the NYT Bestseller List.

One of the problems with thinking about writing a bestseller, however, is worrying about likability. Obviously, a bestselling book appeals to a great number of people. So, above and beyond our usual concern that we want our books to be loved and celebrated, we start thinking about getting All The People to love and celebrate our books.

Even though we know that's impossible.

This is on my mind because the novel I finished last week has a difficult heroine. Now, I often have flawed characters. That's part of who I am as a writer. And when I set out to write this book, the story appealed to me because the heroine is unusual and not terribly likable. Okay - she's a hot mess. She's damaged and, as a result, does some pretty awful things.

Predictably, one of my critique partners came back with notes that I was going to have a problem with likability. She cited several things that readers would object to, particularly romance readers.

I started fretting about it.

And reconsidering if I should change some things, haul it back.

The thing is - this IS the story I wanted to write. I knew going in that not all readers would love it, and yet I keep going back to the desire to modify it so they will. As if it's possible to find a way to please everyone.

I have a note pinned up next to my desk: "What would you write if you weren't afraid?" I should make it into a big poster. Because this is all about fear. Being afraid that readers will push back, that the book will fail, that I will fail and not in some tragically romantic starving-in-a-garret way, but in a with-a-whimper way.

And it's all nonsense.

Nobody knows how to write a bestseller. If there was a magic formula, wouldn't everyone be using it? Everyone is guessing and hoping. The best we can do is be true to the stories we want to write.

As long as we obey our feline overlords, we'll be just fine.

Facebook: To Page or Not to Page?

facebookOver the last year I’ve taught a few workshops on writing and being a writer. Inevitably I hear the same question in each class, and surprisingly it isn’t, can you even tie your own shoes, but I digress… The question is—should I create a Facebook page or use my profile?

The answer: I have no clue. I barely know you. Stop staring at me like that.

Okay, the real answer is similar: You tell me what works for you.

Yes, it is that simple.

And far more complicated.

Confused? Good. Marketing yourself as a writer is a confusing world. You can ask anyone for advice, but that doesn’t mean what works for them will work for you. That being said, I do have a few pros and cons for the fan page versus the profile.


Fan Page                     


Ability to schedule posts: Yes, you can schedule posts if you use a third party software, but the ability to do so directly from Facebook is only available on a fan page.

Insights: Learn about those who view your page, when they view it, and what they interact with.

Ads: This is my favorite part. You can create an ad specific to your target audience. Don’t know who your target is, research! Let me give you an example, 84% of romance readers are women, age range of 30-54. Now if I was creating an ad, I would pick women who like books (you can get more specific) in that age range. I could even go as far as to target women who’ve LIKED a particular author or book. Can’t get better than that. And you pick the cost of the ad.

Tabs: You can make tabs for new pages like a website. I have a newsletter signup form (using mailchimp), a page for giveaways, and an events page among others.

Shop Now button: I have a button on the top of my page that says shop now. It takes people to my amazon author page, and all my available books. Quick and easy. You can create a button for most any call to action.



LIKE ME: For people to see your page without you boosting the post (which costs cash) they have to have LIKED the page.

Impersonal: The fan page can feel a little impersonal, if you let it. You need to put effort into cultivating your fans. You need to be as open and genuine on that page as you are in real life. Or if you suck in real life (I’m totally sure you don’t. Really. Don’t you look pretty today…), you should keep that suckiness under wraps. Which is great life advice too. So you are welcome.

Easily Ignored: I tend to ignore requests to LIKE someone’s page, and yet, I am willing to be ‘friends’ with anyone. You might be different, but I am guessing based on the response of my own friends to LIKE my page that that is true. I am also less likely to read a post from a fan page.




You already have one: No mess, no fuss.

Most engagement:  Again, it might just be me, but I tend to engage with a post by a profile more than I do a page. It might contain the same information, but I trust a profile more. Which makes me an idiot, but you knew that already (see my inability to tie my own shoes comment earlier).

Friends are better than fans: If you can turn a fan into a friend, then you have won the marketing game. Fans are wonderful. I love people who adore me. Not sure why, other than it is awesome. But a fan is 2D. I don’t know them. A friend, on the other hand, is someone I can engage with at any time.

Newsfeed: It’s just not the same on a fan page. I love my newsfeed. I love knowing about other’s perspective. Yes, I am FREAKING NOSEY. Always have been.



Opening yourself up: Using your profile opens you up to anyone you accept as a friend (and sometimes, depending on your settings, to anyone in general). Now I don’t have a problem with that. I am the same on either my profile or page, though I am more active on my profile.

No Ads: You have to have a page to create an ad.


I suggest you create a fan page, just to see how you like it. If you don’t, just delete it. It can’t hurt, and it might make you famous. Remember to remember the little people when you are. (Yeah, I’m pretty short).

Do you have a Facebook fan page? If so, link it in the comments and I’ll LIKE you. Or give us your profile link and I’ll friend you.

I also wanted to give a shout out to all the veterans. Happy Veterans' Day! Thank you for your service!

Ann Hood – 2016 Colorado Gold Keynote Speaker

AnnHood-smRMFW is pleased to announce Ann Hood is our 2016 Colorado Gold Conference Sunday afternoon keynote speaker.

Ann Hood wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. Her favorite books when she was a kid were Little Women and Nancy Drew. Later, she loved Marjorie Morningstar, Les Miserables and Doctor Zhivago, obviously choosing books by size!

A Rhode Island native, she was born in West Warwick and spent high school working as a Marsha Jordan Girl, modeling for the Jordan Marsh department store at the Warwick Mall. She majored in English at the University of Rhode Island, and that's where she fell in love with Shakespeare, Willa Cather, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When she was in seventh grade, she read a book called How To Become An Airline Stewardess that fueled her desire to see the world. And that's just what she did when she graduated from URI--she went to work for TWA as a flight attendant. Back then, she thought you needed adventures in order to be a writer. Of course, she now knows that all you need, as Eudora Welty said, is to sit on your own front porch.

AH-AnItalianWifeBut she did see a lot of the world with TWA, and she moved from Boston to St. Louis and finally to NYC, a place she'd dreamed of living ever since she watched Doris Day movies as a little girl. She wrote her first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, on international flights and on the Train to the Plane, which was the subway out to JFK. It was published in 1987. Since then, she’s published in The New York Times, The Paris Review, O, Bon Appetit, Tin House, The Atlantic Monthly, Real Simple, and other wonderful places; and she’s won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award.

Over a dozen years ago, Ann began writing stories about the Rimaldi's, a fictional Italian-American family who, like her own Italian-American family, arrived in Rhode Island in the late 1800's. The Rimaldi's struggle with homesickness and alienation, and the desire to be American as they try to stay connected to their culture and traditions. When she finished a Rimaldi story last year, she realized that she had over 300 pages about the family. She printed them, placed them in chronological order--spanning one hundred years!--wrote two more, and with great delight created a family saga that centers on Josephine Rimaldi and her children and grandchildren. Josephine and her daughters and granddaughters seek love and acceptance, suffer loss and disappointment, live through wars and historical upheavals. But like all of us, they make their way--in family, in regret, in dreams, and desire. An Italian Wife is, really, everyone's story.

Visit Ann’s website and blog and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Fate and the Crooked Pathway

I recently had a dream about the boss who fired me. I remember being pleased to see him (in real life he’s been dead for nearly ten years) and wanting to thank him for firing me. Because it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me. If he hadn’t fired me and I hadn’t struggled to find a job and ended up staying home with my toddler children, I might not have started writing. Bored and frustrated, I channeled my angst into poetry and then a novel. Although I only wrote a few chapters of the novel, a family saga, before I realized I was way over my head.

If I hadn’t been fired and finally been forced to take a job working at a bank where I sat all day, the discs in my lower back might not have given out, resulting in back surgery. Because when I signed the paperwork for the surgery and got to the part where it said I could potentially die, I realized I couldn’t die. Not only because I had two small children, but because I hadn’t written a book yet.

If I hadn’t been fired and been forced take the bank job I hated, I might never have considered applying for a position at the local public library. It wasn’t a career job, and it didn’t pay very well. But because of what I’d gone through, I applied for the job and got it. And it was working at the library where I discovered the genre of historical romance and realized this was a kind of book that I could write.

Being fired, which was devastating at the time, set all the steps in motion for me to become a writer, and also for me to get published. Because it was the support and encouragement of my co-workers at the library that made it possible for me to see myself as a writer and to take the necessary steps, like joining RMFW, which gave me the connections to sell that first book.

Since then, my career has been very up and down, with a lot of downs. But on my journey, when things have been very grim, I’ve reminded myself, that a lot of the time, bad things happen for a reason. When doors slam shut in your face, it means you’re supposed to backtrack and go a different direction. And even then you may still find you’re not going the right way. You may have to alter your path several times before you find the right one. The one that will lead you to where you need to go. Although where you need to go might not be the place you expected.

My philosophical outlook may have no meaning beyond being my personal coping mechanism. A way for me to see my checkered career path in a positive light. But even if that’s all it offers, it still has value. By allowing me to remain positive, it’s given me the strength to fight through the tough times and keep writing. And since writing is a big part of my personal happiness, that’s definitely a good thing.

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast #20

Margo Christie - Dressing Up and Baring All

The guest on this episode of Rocky Mountain Writer is author, performance artist and educator Margo Christie. Margo is on a mission to blur the lines between high- and low-brow art. Her debut novel, "THESE DAYS, A Tale of Nostalgia on a Burlesque Strip," won a second prize in Amazon's 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award and was labeled "as original as it is addictive" by Publisher's Weekly. A 16-year resident of Denver, she's now semi-retired in Tampa Florida, where she's working on a second novel, tentatively titled "Memory Motel," and a collection of travel-inspired essays.

On the podcast, Margo chats about the writing ideas and concepts behind her workshop, "Dressing Up and Baring All."

Show Notes:

Margo Christie

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens:

Interview: Mariko Tatsumoto

Mariko TatsumotoThis month I had the great privilege to interview author Mariko Tatsumoto, author of thelovely and wonderfully heartwarming middle-grade novel Ayumi's Violin.

What made you aspire to be a published writer?

I accidentally took a children’s writing class. I thought I was signing up for a creative writing class. Our “final” was to write a picture book. The instructor praised my work and encouraged me to get it published. I later took a creative writing class from the same instructor.

How long have you been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

About ten years. I learned so much at the Gold Conferences. I always attended a session every hour, I never skipped. I also bought CDs of sessions I couldn’t attend. I relished in listening to stories speakers told. By attending conferences, I made writing friends whom have become vital in my writing life. I joined online critique groups set up by RMFW. The writers in those groups have taught me so much and have given me so much support, I could never thank them enough.

Who are some of your own favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?

Michael Connelly, Tony Hillerman, J.K. Rowling. I used to own hundreds of books, many of them first editions or signed, but I decided to pare down only to those I really care about. Now I own about a hundred print books. I only have about a dozen ebooks. Some that I could never give away are: Tom Sawyer, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Snow Falling on Cedar, October Sky, The Wave, and all the James Bond books by Ian Fleming because they were my father’s.

What are you currently reading?

Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

Ayumi's ViolinWhy was it important to you to tell Ayumi’s story?

I think the hardships we endure in our lives never leave us, and we want others to understand what we’ve gone through. Immigrating to a foreign country is a difficult transition. Many people don’t understand how tough it is to make a new life in a new country where you don’t speak the language and you don’t understand the culture.

In some ways Ayumi’s father is subjected to the same mistrust and racism as Ayumi, and yet his experience with these things differs from Ayumi’s in fundamental ways.

Especially in 1959, being white allowed many privileges, such as traveling unrestricted and not being judged by his looks by strangers. As the book progresses, he learns to stand up for Ayumi more, but he doesn’t carry racism and resentment from his childhood like Ayumi. Father can get another job and speak up for racism.

While to Ayumi the violin represents her connection to her mother, from her death bed mother said, “I will always be in the music.” Not in the violin itself. Why is this distinction important to what happens later?

To Ayumi, when Mother tells her to take care of her violin, the violin embodies her mother. But Ayumi’s mother knew that music is what is important to Ayumi. The violin is only how Ayumi expresses her music. Even when she can't play her violin, wherever there is music, her mother is there.

While Brenda resents sharing her parents with Ayumi, it isn't the same as the racism of those who hate Ayumi but do not know her.

Brenda is jealous of a new sister in the house, not because Ayumi is biracial. Brenda is pretty much color blind, which children are if they are not taught to be racist. Jealously of other siblings is normal and natural, racism is learned.

Diego’s presence in the story is critical to show how his experiences with intolerance differs from Ayumi’s.

People stereotype depending on the race: Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are lazy, Blacks are thieves, Asians are smart. Of course in 1959, Asians were not attributed with any positive stereotyping, but I threw that in to show that not all stereotyping is bad, such as Blacks have rhythm, Blacks are great athletes. Because different races are thought of differently, Diego, being Mexican, is thought of as being dishonest, prone to stealing. Thus, he’s fingered whenever there might be a burglary. Ayumi, on the other hand, isn’t regarded automatically as a thief.

If there is one message you wish families to take away from the story of Ayumi and her violin, what would it be?

Never let go of your passion, it will carry you through your darkest times.

What are some of your own personal writing habits?

I think about my book, such as plot, dialogue, scenery or whatever away from my computer. I think about those things while I’m hiking, driving, or lying in bed. When I’m at my computer, I’m putting words on the screen. I don’t allow myself writer’s block. I don’t have that kind of time to spare. If the next scene isn’t coming or I can’t figure out how C gets to D, I work on something else. Maybe I work on a scene or a dialogue that’s way beyond where I’m currently working on. Maybe I rewrite a previous scene. I keep going, not always chronologically, but that doesn’t matter.

The ages old question for writers: to outline or not to outline?

A flexible outline. If I don’t know where the story is going or don’t know what the theme is, I don’t know what scenes to write, what words to put into characters’ mouths. But if a character says something unexpectedly or a scene twists a different way than planned, I go with it. In those times, the story often takes an unusual curve that turns out to change the book for the better.

What can you tell us about any upcoming writing projects you have in the works?

I have two manuscripts that are ready to publish, which I plan to release in the next 6 -7 months: Accidental Samurai Spy and Kenji's Power. I’m currently working on a book with a working title of The Messanger about twelve-year-old Lilly in an internment camp during World War II.

Thank you so much, Mariko, for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm sure all of our members are grateful to you for sharing your insights into writing with us, as well as some details about Ayumi's Violin. Good luck! Or as they say in Japan, work hard and persevere!

Words of Warning …. by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromThere are no bad words...only bad writers.

Some words, however, set off warning alarms, signaling that the writer is venturing toward a danger zone and should back away slowly. Before you use these words (if you must) be aware of what you’re doing.

Here are a few examples:

Suddenly: The word is okay to use in children’s books because children’s books are limited in word length. The author doesn’t have time for motivation, transition and goal. “Suddenly, I came upon a dragon” is perfectly fine. In fiction targeted at grown-ups, “suddenly” might indicate that the writer hasn’t made a transition. Where did the dragon come from? How did you find it? Or “suddenly” could show a lack of motivation. What does it mean to find a dragon?

Almost: Catalogued with almost are: nearly, kind of, sort of, a little bit, and so on. Check these qualifiers. You’ll almost always (sorry, it got by me) find a stronger way to say what you want. “A little bit of scotch” becomes “two fingers of scotch.” “Almost afraid” becomes “afraid.” “Kind of greenish-blue” becomes “jade and teal.” Almost isn’t accurate, i.e., almost pregnant.

Very: Consider the same warning as almost but in the opposite direction. A “very large kitchen” becomes “a kitchen as big as a basketball court.” There are times when “very” is accurate. As any mother who has been even a few days overdue will tell you that there is a state of “very pregnant.”

Laugh: The phrase “we laughed” doesn’t make the reader want to laugh. We laughed so hard that we all fell down and peed our pants is worse. Pointing out humor doesn’t make it funny. As writers, we have accept the fact that much of our cleverness and wit will go unnoticed by the reader.

Smile: Imagine the variety of emotions Meryl Streep can convey with a smile. She could be sad or loving or menacing or nervous or angry, etcetera. And the observer would understand because he could see her face and hear her tone of voice. Alas, as writers we don’t have a Streep to illustrate what kind of smile is being given. There are many words to describe facial expression. Pick one that more clearly indicates what the character is feeling.

Walk: While we’re on the topic of finding the best word to suit the action, “walk” is a warning word. Whenever I use “walk,” I visit Ms. Thesaurus to look for something better: sashay, stride, shuffle, dance, leap, bound, skip. Each of those words conveys an image that plain old “walk” doesn’t show.

Exclaimed: It’s hard to think of a situation when “exclaimed” isn’t redundant. Use an exclamation point! I have two digressions here. 1) There’s nothing wrong with exclamation points as long as they aren’t popping up on every page. 2) In dialogue tags, using “said” doesn’t become redundant. Similar to a script where each piece of dialogue is labeled, “said” disappears.

Phat and other cute slang: Slang that’s current now is dated in a couple of years. I’ve never thought of my books as something that would be read years from now, and so I have been known to indulge in slang. At times, I threw around “dude” like Wayne’s World. The joke is on me. My first book was pubbed in 1984 and is available as an e-book.

“Ah jist knows dat’s de bestest.” Dialect should be used very gently. Consider whether you want the reader to stumble.

F-Bombs and all their x-rated friends: I love the f-bomb and use it frequently in first drafts to convey down and dirty rage. In final draft, the profanity usually comes out. There are too many readers that get pulled out of the story by cursing.

Not a car: If you’re writing anything set in Colorado, your character will probably be in a vehicle. Be careful not to identify the character as the car. “I made a U-turn” isn’t accurate. The car turned, you didn’t. Nit-picking, but why not?

Feel: As a writer of romance and suspense, my characters are feeling all the time. They’re scared, sexy, courageous, seductive, outraged and hurt. Whenever I use “feel” (guilty admission: yes, I use it), I stop and think about another way to say how the character feels. Better yet, I need a better way to show how they feel. Is it worth a scene to show? Where did the feeling come from? Do I need a flashback?

It: Not the Stephen King novel. Each and every time you use “it,” you’re missing a chance to say something more descriptive. Unfortunately, “it” is one of those necessary words that can’t be totally avoided. “It” is always there, like Pennywise the Evil Clown. When you see “it” on the page, let it be a warning to you. There might be a better way.


Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) is the author of 79 novels of romance and suspense, has been on the USA TODAY Best-seller list and has twice been RMFW’s Writer of the Year. Her next book, Colorado Wildfire, will be available in January 2016.

Kay is starting a developmental editing service. Contact her at: kaybergstrom (at) hotmail (dot) com

Invitation to the Game

This question popped up on a discussion group recently and it’s one I’ve pondering of late.

Here was the abbreviated question, posted by Shalanna Collins:

“I'm wondering how you feel about the ‘invitation to the game’ that constitutes the mystery opening trope. What I mean is . . . when you pick up a mystery, do you expect the normal trope of (1) the sleuth's normal life, some intriguing thing happening, and then (2) the call to action signaled by her/his finding a body or witnessing a death that is suspicious? … I don't read only for the mystery plot and only for action. I've been dinged for including deeper stuff in my books. What say you?”

What I say is this:

I am starting to like books that set their own rules.

I think, within the first few pages of a novel, we can tell if the writer has one eye on a paint-by-numbers formula.

I think we’re all eager for a strong book that wrecks the formula—and has a good time doing so.

Ordinary GraceI give you William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. There’s nothing formulaic about it. Murder mystery? Coming of age novel? Literature? Forty years after a series of powerful deaths in a small town in Minnesota, a grown man named Frank Drum remembers the series of events, all intertwined with memories of his religious father and agnostic mother. The book just flows, suspense mounts, and there’s no sign of paint or numbers.

UntouchableI give you Untouchable by Scott O’Connor, published a few years ago and widely praised. I was shocked—shocked—to discover it had been reviewed as crime fiction in the New York Times. The book is about a man named David Darby who cleans up messes after, well, death takes its toll. It’s also about the man’s mute-by-choice son Whitley, who fears that he’s responsible for his mother’s death. These are two of the strongest character portraits I’ve read in a long time—even though O’Connor uses a ton of adverbs (not my favorite) and relies on the passive tense. I didn’t give a lick. I was completely sucked in by the story and a thin “plot” (and I use that term loosely). Near the end is one of the saddest chapters I’ve read in a long time and it introduces us to a new point of view on page 362.

I didn’t care.

The Mercy of the NightI give you David Corbett’s Mercy of the Night, another character-centric novel that might look a bit like a crime or mystery on the surface but is one of the most deeply felt and human books you’ll ever read.  (I reviewed it in depth here). There’s a prostitute, a counselor and a former litigator, Phelan Tiernay. Again, vivid and human portraits against the backdrop of crime.  Formulas nowhere in sight.

So I think the recipes are a rough guide.

I think some stories need more air underneath them—more contemplation.

Not every book is skipping-stone compilation of plot points.

More and more I find myself more drawn to character studies.  It’s the people I remember, not always the clue-finding and the guns-drawn face-offs.

Some weeks, you want the comfort and ease of that formula.

At other times, you find yourself more open to more variety in voice, tone, style and pace of the plot and action.

To me, the invitation to the game starts with cracking open a new book and being welcomed to a new story, a new point of view.

I want to see the plot points disappear.

I want to get to know new people so well I can imagine what they’re thinking and understand how they act.

And why.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Rene’ Zimbelman, Publicity Chair

Now that we have so many new members of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Board of Directors, we'll once again be featuring the RMFW Spotlight on the blog. Our goal is to introduce our board members to all our readers and encourage other RMFW members to offer their time and energy to this energetic and growing community of writers.

2015_Rene Zimbelman1. Rene', Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I spearhead PR for RMFW. I’m passionate about RMFW because it’s important for writers to have a supportive community where we can meet other writers and obtain valuable insight to the craft.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My debut novel, Mizerably Happy, is finished, aside from a last round of edits for formatting, etc. I plan to query agents mid-October. Further information can be found on my website (My pen name is Rene’ Collier).

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Well, of course I want the right agent and for Mizerably Happy to be traditionally published in the near future! 😉

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Spending too much time editing before getting to the end. With my sophomore effort, I plan to outline and write until I finish it, THEN go back and do more technical edits.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love how an idea can be shaped and polished into a scene, then story. I also love the therapeutic and independent nature of the work.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

I would say stick with the genre you’re comfortable with and keep your story within that framework. If you receive criticism on your work, take into consideration the other person may not read your genre, and don’t change your work just because it doesn’t meet someone else’s expectations.

2015_Zimbelman desk7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My desk is white, with a Nantucket feel, and it sits in front of a window. I have a few pictures, along with a vase full of flowers and deocorative book that says BE BRAVE and FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS, from which a fairy dangles on a chain.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I’m reading Contrition by Maura Weiler, an author on the PAL panel this year at RMFW GOLD. I highly recommend it! Also reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I just finished Carry On Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton, who is entertainly funny and insightful. Next on my list is Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert.


Mizerably Happy is Rene' Zimbelman's first novel. Writing has always been in her blood, whether it be song lyrics, journal entries, poetry or short stories. She was born in Boulder and received her degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado. Rene' enjoyed writing website and promotional copy for a cable television network in Los Angeles, but ached to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write a novel.

Currently, she live in Centennial, Colorado, with her husband, two boys and Jack Russell. They are endlessly patient as she delves into her untitled sophomore effort.

You can find out more about Rene' and her writing at her website and her blog. She can also be found on Twitter.

Nothing More Terrifying: Writing the Holiday Novella

Many moons ago, as the cold winds swept across the lands, I used to scoff, yes I said it, scoff at those writers writing holiday novellas. Hacks the lot of them.

And then I realized something—I’m the hack.

I’m the writer not using all the tools in my utility belt.

It’s me who sucks, not them. And that is the horror or all horrors, besides seeing your grandfather naked.

So let’s talk holiday shorts/novellas. My original dislike of them came from a true consumer perspective, in that, they felt like marketing ads. Why else, I figured, would a writer do it other than to sell me a holiday novella for near the same price as a full length novel? Only a moron would buy half of something for the same cost. It was a total crock. A amazon christmas photoway to make writerly millions (okay, writerly tens at best).

But publishing isn’t the same world it was then, or even yesterday. Writers build readership by giving the readers what they want. If readers like holiday novellas, then damn it, I’d be truly stupid to ignore the trend, especially given the vast f***ed up fairytale world I have to work with.

If you plan to write novella/shorts for the holidays, I do have some suggestions about how to go about it:

  • Don’t cheat your reader.

Sort of a given I know, but here it is, in plain black and white, if your novella shorts the reader in any way, chances are you won’t get that return reader for your next work. So don’t think of shorter as any less content. In fact, you have less time to impact them more. Do you best work.

  • Give your secondary characters a chance to come out and play.

One way to keep the shorter story fresh is to open up to other voices. Say you have a series that features one character and his/her/it’s constant plight. Awesome. But think about using the holiday short to give the reader a more in-depth look at a secondary character. Who knows, they might have a breakout series of their own. Try new things. Be bold.

  • How you publish matters.

For those who are traditionally published only, I suggest taking a hard look at self-publishing your holiday novellas. It’s a great way to dip your toes in the water and to build your traditionally published books readership. I suggest the self-publishing route for one very good reason, traditionally publishing a novella is hard enough, but adding in the length of lead time and it’s more than my tiny brain can handle. Plus, who doesn’t need a little extra money for Valentine’s Day? Penicillin is expensive. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  • Don’t limit yourself to one holiday.

This is perhaps my favorite part. By holiday I don’t mean Christmas alone, which is the main ‘holiday’ novella. You can create a holiday novella for the most obscure ones, for example, I’d love to see a novella about the Bolivian
Holiday of Tinku
, in which neighbors gather to punch each other in the face.

And on that note, I’ll leave you to pound the keyboard or that annoying guy down the street. Either way I look forward to reading your take on a holiday. Oh, and in case you’re interested, I have A Very F***ed-Up Christmas Tale coming out in a few short days, on November 3rd. Pre-order is available now! (See the cheesy marketer in me?)

BTW, hope you have a great Halloween!

Tell me, do you have a holiday novella out? If so, why that holiday? If not, what holiday would you pick?