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.

The “Next Day” Critique Group Apology Letter Template – Blank For Your Convenience

So it’s happened. You brought pages to your critique group, it didn’t go well, and you exploded, making an ass of yourself.

You know what RMFW’s own Mario Acevedo says? He says the only appropriate response to a critique is “thank you.” And in our group, he says thank you a lot. Because Mario insists there is only one rule for writers and that is to be gracious.

Well, I try to be gracious and say thank you, but sometimes I crack—out spills my insecurity, hatred, and self-loathing. Darn, I hate it when that happens.

I always print out the pages I submitted and jot notes on them. If I’m writing comments, I’m less mouth, and that’s always a good thing.

But even now, after nearly a decade of being critiqued, I still have issues sometimes, and I find myself drafting the post-critique group apology email. I figured all of RMFW might benefit if I gave them a template to use. So here is it is. I added some parenthetical suggestions.

Dear __________________ (Critique Group, Critique Partner, Writing Buddy, or You Bunch of Illiterate Jackals),

I’m writing to apology for last night’s ___________ (outburst, chainsaw massacre, uncontrollable sobbing, sarcastic gales of laughter, shameless name-calling).

As you know, my life has been very stressful lately with _______________________ (wife/husband problems, divorce, death of a close relative, my son/daughter, day job, frenemy drama, buttloads of rejection, crushing self-doubt). Still, that doesn’t excuse my behavior.

I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into your critiques, and I know sometimes I can be _________ (sensitive, combative, feloniously violent) about my current work in progress. I just ________ (love it, hate it, want to burn it, want to win a Pulitzer) so much.

Writing _________________ (fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, high literary) novels is a challenge, and I recognize that I have issues with ____________________ (POV, verb tense, long passages of exposition that expose the inner workings of the character’s mind through tons of back story and internal dialogue, cheap hooks, histrionic characters, facile plot points, unabashed genius), but I’m trying to improve.

Next time, I will try to be less ______________ (criminally insane, judgmental, defensive, offensive, vomit-y, loud, weepy)  and more ___________________ (socially-acceptable crazy, understanding, offensive, defensive, iron-stomached, passive aggressive, even tempered).

Thanks again for all your time and for including me the group.

Yours ______________ (truly, in Christ, sarcastically, literally, bookishly, in hellish pain),


_________________ (name, pen-name, Aaron Michael Ritchey, socially security number)


So there you have it. The next time you need to apologize to your critique group, you now have the perfect template for your apology letter.

On a more serious note, if your critique is bashing you week after week, and if it’s slowly killing you, it might be time to either find another critique group or look for edits by other avenues. We have a lot of options—beta readers, freelance editors, mothers, lion tamers, et cetera.

For me, the perfect critique is one that makes me excited to revise, which is why I love my current critique group. Someone says something, and suddenly the spark of the story explodes in my mind, and I can’t wait to incorporate the changes.

If someone says something I completely disagree with, or if someone triggers me, I don’t argue, I don’t scream expletives (most of the time), I try and simply nod and thank them.

Because in the end, if you have people reading your stuff and offering suggestions, you need to thank them. They could be doing a bunch of other stuff with their time, and yet, they are using their precious minutes to try and improve your work.

So be gracious, say thank you, and keep at it.

Good luck!


Ten Tips for Staying Healthy

Writing is never easy, but when you're sick? That sneezing, sniffling, aches, pain, and fever thing is death to eloquent words and brilliantly devised plots. Your brain gets stuck on thoughts of, will I ever breathe again? and I want my mommy. You take a pill or swallow some nasty tasting liquid out of a bottle that promises to make you function like a rock star, but all you get is a medicine head and, if you're lucky, a nose that drips instead of flowing like a garden hose.

I don't know about you, but the only things I excel at when I've caught a bug are whining and moaning. Well, and maybe sneezing. I'm a fabulous sneezer.

It could be said that the experience of illness will allow you to write this state more realistically if any of your characters are taken sick, but I'm willing to guess you've already been there, done that, and don't really need to do it again.

The good news is that there are things you can do to bump up your immune system during the colder, darker days of winter, so that you are less likely to play host to the tiny, evil, opportunistic organisms swarming around you.

  • Don't rely on the flu shot. I'm an RN in a clinic, and I often encounter patients who are shocked, appalled, and even angry that the flu shot did not prevent them from getting sick. Here's the thing: the flu shot will only provide protection from the flu, and only from certain strains of the flu. It's not going to help you out at all with colds and other viruses and bacteria. It's important to know that the flu shot only provides immunity to whatever strains the experts predict will be most prevalent during a particular year. Last year, the formulation was way off target and pretty much useless. I'm not saying don't get one, I'm only saying don't rely on it as your only means of protection.


  • Wash your hands. I can hear you saying, "Yeah, yeah, we know." Well, I'm telling you again. Wash 'em. Frequently. Colds and flu viruses can be spread through tiny droplets that hang in the air, but you are much more likely to catch the disease by touching an object covered in viruses and then transferring them to a mucus membrane (eyes, lining of nose, mouth). Objects that are reservoirs for the bugs that can make you sick—doorknobs, for example, and little kids—are known as fomites. (I figured, as writers, you would like to know this word.) Somebody with a cold blows their nose, then opens the door. An hour later you come by and put your hand, all unsuspecting, on the doorknob. Then your eye itches. And bingo – you've provided a colony of little viral immigrants with a new home. You could do the Howard Hughes thing and never go outside your door without gloves and a mask. You could scrub the skin off your hands and spend all of your free time sterilizing every possible fomite you encounter. But then you wouldn't have time to write. Besides, a healthy immune system does an amazing job of fighting off intruders, and there are things you can do to help out.


  • Cut back on your sugar intake. Sugar is an immune damper and leaves you more susceptible to invasion by the microscopic barbarians. I know this is a tough one for writers – most of us love to snack while writing, to keep the words flowing. We use treats as incentives and to honor goals completed. We comfort ourselves with ice cream and chocolate when we're faced with bad writing days, rejection, and low sales numbers. Candy. Cookies. Pie. I'm drooling over here. I'm not suggesting to cut these things out all together – they are delicious and life is short. But make a choice to cut back and choose a healthier snack when you can.


  • Get some Vitamin D in your day. If you're pale skinned and live in the western hemisphere, chances are good that you're Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D plays an integral role in a healthy immune system, so you might want to consider getting a good supplement. D3 is better than D2. Of course, if you can get plenty of sunshine that works, too. But winter days, for most of us, are short and dark.


  • Manage your stress. Chronic stress has all sorts of negative effects on the body, and I'm not going to begin to address all of them here. Suffice it to say that the primary stress hormone, cortisol, can negatively impact your immune system when there is too much of it floating around. The life of a writer is full of stressors. All of us are balancing writing with a busy schedule, hitting deadlines, and dealing with rejection, and this takes its toll.  Anything that relaxes you and calms the stress response (except for alcohol, unfortunately), is good for your immune system. Take a leisurely walk, preferably somewhere in nature. Get a massage. Read a book – for pleasure. Critique reads are often stressful in one way or another. Soak in the bathtub. Engage in music or art. Try Yoga and meditation, as these are both fabulous stress reducers. Think you don't have time? Think again. A recent study indicated that just 3-5 minutes a day of meditative breathing dramatically lowered the stress hormones in the body.


  • Get a reasonable amount of sleep. I know, I know. You've got word count goals. Deadlines. Nanowrimo. But if you get sick, you're going to lose a ton of productive writing time. Writing is usually a marathon, not a sprint. Conserve your energy. If you suffer from insomnia, make sure to consider stress management, since that is one of the major culprits in a sleepless night.


  • Consider immune boosting supplements. The jury is still out on whether taking Vitamin C, Garlic, Zinc, Vitamin B, Echinacea, and other supplements is helpful to the immune system or not. It's possible we'd just be better off eating a well-balanced diet rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I'll admit, research evidence or not, that the minute I start feeling a tickle in my throat I grab a bottle of Sambucol Black Elderberry and slug it straight out of the bottle. I'll also argue vehemently that it works.


  • Exercise regularly. We all know that a healthy body is more likely to have a healthy immune system. Exercise also happens to be a fabulous stress buster and one of the best defenses against depression. It's easy to not have time for this - trust me, I know. My schedule is crazy and I totally understand that a lot of us do not have time to go to the gym everyday. But I'm suggesting that you walk when you can. Park in a spot on the far side of the parking lot instead of searching for a space close to the door. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do what you can.


  • Laugh. If nothing funny is presenting itself, go look for things. Watch funny clips on YouTube. Seek out the Twitter and Facebook people who post things that make you laugh. Watch funny TV. The old saying "laughter is the best medicine" came to be for a reason. Laughing has all kinds of crazy health benefits, actually, and one of them is a boost to your immune system.


  • Tend to your relationships. Recent research shows that the health of our relationships has an enormous impact on our immune systems. Like a lot of research, I read this and said, "Well, duh." There is no greater stress than a relationship that is all in tangles. Sometimes the solution is as simple as walking away from a toxic friendship. Often, it's not so easy. Important relationships often demand - and deserve - hard work to sort things out. To which I say, do the work. Your body will thank you for taking action.

Guest Post by Samantha Ross: Four Things to Do

I remember when I first started out writing, I'd stumble, slam into a wall, some days I would realize I was clueless, other days it was pointed out. Again and again I heard “Just keep writing.”

I agree with it.

Up to a point.

I will never be a better writer if all I do is write. It means I repeat my weak areas over and over again. Yes, I write, but I have found I need four other things also.

I need to read. Not just my genre, but read craft books. Instead of fumbling around, I read a book on whatever it is I am struggling with. I visit webpages and blogs on writing. If I really want to grow as a writer, I need to educate myself. Honing my writing is a life long lesson.

Classes, events and conferences. These get budgeted in my calendar, and hopefully into my finances. There is incredible information to be had at these. RMFW gives some of the best, usually for free with their monthly events hosting big name authors and agents. I am amazed at the things I have learned, the contacts and friends I have made by going to these. I ask questions, get answers. I surprise myself sometimes that I didn't need to ask anything, I have conquered that specific weakness. I went to my first conference in Crested Butte, Colorado where I ran into an old friend who pointed me to RMFW. I wouldn't be writing this blog otherwise.

I joined writing groups. I need to talk shop with someone. I did more than just sign up though, I participate, attend meetings, and volunteer. I need others who understands the lingo of plot, character arc, and deus ex machine. Writing groups come in all shapes and sizes. Online and in person, some offer support, some critique, others get together and set writing goals. I found a combination that works for me. I was astounded when after years of looking for a writing group, the local library started one and writers came out of the woodwork. I thought there were only a handful of writers in my area. Now, there are a few formal and informal groups I go to every month. I found my first critique group by going to an event at RMFW. Never underestimate the benefits of joining a group.

I don’t know it all. I will never know it all. No one knows it all. I need a mentor, a "Been there, done that" person. I have found several people who fit this to varying degrees on numerous levels. I love my mentors. And yes, I have more than one. Mentors can come and go, others are for life. I change, they change, goals change. People want to help other people, share knowledge, advice, encouragement, cheer on success. I am a firm believer in mentors, whether they be one on one, through their writing, or their teachings. I am thankful for my mentors and for the other writers who look to me as one of their mentors.

It does not matter where you are in your writing life, do the following:

Join a group, you are not an island.

Read, read, read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more.

Take a class, don't be stagnant.

Be inspired. Find someone you admire. Pass it on.

And keep writing.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.



Published Author Responsibilities

This year, at Colorado Gold, I had the opportunity to attend both the PAL and the IPAL meetings. I also talked to a lot of attendees. I heard some terrific positive feedback about the conference and I heard a few complaints. For the most part, these complaints echoed sentiments I’ve heard before. As authors, we often express the same gripe every year and wonder why we aren’t being heard. Yet, having now served as RMFW conference chair and RMFW president, I feel it important to consider our responsibilities as published authors and our roles in addressing the very things we complain about most. If we fail to do this, we are not contributing to solutions and we have no right to complain.

I agree that many workshops at conference are targeted to beginning or intermediate writers. I’ve done my fair share of complaining on that matter in the past. And, there are always workshops that appear geared toward advanced or professional level attendees but which, in the end, aren’t—something that frustrates all of us. I’ve also expressed concerns about certain presenters being selected each year.

There are topics published authors would like to see: marketing, distribution channels, getting reviews, networking in ways that translate into sales. Not all workshops that purport to be about these topics actually offer any useful information. Like my fellow authors, I want concrete methods not general information on the need to do this or that and am sick to death of not enough detail.
But, here’s the thing…if all we do is complain and never step up and take responsibility, two things happen. Some of the things will not change and we will fail to notice those that do. To avoid this, we need to practice responsible attendance and responsible leadership.

Responsible Attendance (the things to remember for next year):

1. It is my responsibility to carefully read the conference program and make selections. This means looking at session descriptions, not just the one-page schedule. The program booklet has descriptions and labeling to help me select workshops. If I choose to avoid this information, I cannot complain that there were no workshops on…. Or that there were no workshops for…. Since 2009, all conference programs have labeled workshop sessions according to subject (e.g. craft or marketing) and level. I cannot complain something wasn’t offered if it was my own lack of effort that kept me from noticing it.

2. It is my responsibility to look for look for new knowledge and glean new techniques even if the information seems to be “old.” We can always learn more. If I choose not to attend sessions, I must accept that I may have missed out on valuable information that was, indeed, offered.

3. It is my responsibility to understand that some presenters simply fail to deliver upon their promises. No matter how hard conference chairs try to select something for everyone, some presenters don’t follow the proposals they submitted. In these cases, it’s important to convey that to the conference committee so they have that information.

4. It is my responsibility to realize there are many more beginning and intermediate writers than advanced writers in attendance. This means that the majority of workshops will be designed to appeal to them. I cannot ignore the numbers nor can I disparage the workshops that provided me with the skills I needed when I was a beginner.

5. It is my responsibility to look for sessions with deeper layers or those that focus on career development, marketing, and the writing life. I am the one who needs to identify which I want to attend.

Responsible Leadership (the things to do now):

6. It is my responsibility to look for ways to address unfulfilled needs rather than simply complaining about them. If I don’t see what I’m looking for, I need to step forward and help see that those needs are met in future years.

7. It is my responsibility to submit conference proposals (if I am comfortable presenting). Because the only way the workshop selection committee can assure they are offering quality workshops with presenters that follow through is via proposal evaluation, I must provide them with enough detail to make those evaluations and comparisons in any proposal I submit. I must understand they need this information and if I feel my workshop would be unique, I must convey that in the proposal.

8. It is my responsibility to understand attendees provide feedback to the conference committee. Attendees request certain presenters return and complain about others. If I have not attended a presenter’s workshop, I have no right to complain if he or she is asked back—good presenters should be asked back.

9. It is my responsibility to ask about any feedback on my own performance as a presenter and to work to address any complaints received.

10. It is my responsibility to take ownership in the professional level workshops allocated to published authors’ needs and designed outside of the regular proposal process. This means volunteering to plan them and attending them. By making that investment, I am helping assure that they continue. If I fail to help plan them or to attend them, I sacrifice any right to complain if they are discontinued for lack of interest.

The time to take these responsibilities seriously is now. In the coming months, there will be several opportunities to be responsible leaders. PAL and IPAL will be asking for volunteers to serve on the Professional Track committee. Those volunteers will shape workshops to meet the needs of published authors and PAL/IPAL participation (in planning and attending) is essential if this program is to continue in future years. With the new year, the call for regular workshop proposals will go out—fresh new ideas presented in detailed formats are important in shaping the next Colorado Gold conference.

Are you ready to step forward?

The Artist’s Way, Still Relevant After All These Years

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is the best path I have found for learning to create more freely. Essentially, how to unblock your creativity and keep it clear. There are highly effective tools that will help you recover your creativity from a variety of blocks including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions and other inhibiting forces. Replacing such negative blocks with artistic confidence and productivity.

I've followed The Artist's Way about 3-4 times over my writing career, both before and after I sold. I've also done about the same number of workshops on the material.

The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
The first time I worked through The Artist's Way, a "Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self," as the book called itself, about one week in a month over a period of approximately three years. This is a twelve week course. So, I didn't think I'd been that diligent. Then I hauled out my book.

It's lower right corners are ratty, some pages have suspicious brown (tea/chocolate) and red (papercut blood/spaghetti) stains. The thing is highlighted in pink, orange, yellow, green and purple (I don't know where my blue was). There are Robin-made tabs for such pages as: Basic Principals, Rules Of The Road, Creative Affirmation, An Artist's Prayer, and my personal favorite, Dealing With Criticism. Scribbled notes and the occasional terrible drawing (requested by chapter "tasks"), sprawl all over the pages with asterisks and arrows and brackets.

I looked at the book, and just the state it was in showed that I had worked through the course and it had made a difference. Most importantly, at the beginning of the course, I was writing books I enjoyed and thought I could market. In the end, I had found my true voice and was writing books of my heart.

Elements of The Artist's Way: Morning Pages
I hated the idea of morning pages, writing three full 8 ½ x 11 pages every day, freewriting, scribbling words, any words, across the paper and keeping the pen moving. IN THE MORNING. Three pages, because Cameron believes that whatever is really on your mind won't dribble out until after 1 ½ and it takes another 1 ½ to deal with it. True for me, in the beginning, later I got so I spilled my guts from line one. Nobody reads your morning pages, not even you, until week 9.

I don't do any scheduled task (except feed cats, which is simple self-defense) in the morning. So, they became evening pages or lunch pages for me the first time around. When I became a full time writer, they became true Morning Pages. And they worked. They cleaned out my brain of all my petty (or huge) concerns of the day so I could write. They cut down on my whining to friends. They observed the seasons. True, sometimes in my pages I filled up three lines with: "Love, love, love...." But that's not so bad either, is it?

Since I dreaded doing the pages so much, as I went along, I marked the other reasons Cameron gave for consistent daily pages (paraphrases and direct quotes):

  1. Morning pages help us stop taking our negative Censor (Inner Critic) as the voice of reason and learn to hear it for the blocking device that it is.
  2.  Morning pages get us to the other side of our fear, negativity, moods.
  3.  Other writing seems to suddenly be far more free and expansive and easier.
  4. Processes extreme emotions and leads to clarity (sometimes painful).
  5. We identify ourselves. We learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it.
  6. Points the way to reality: this is how you're feeling; what do you make of that?
  7. Loosens our hold on fixed opinions and short-sighted views. We see that our moods, views, and insights are transitory. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change in our lives.
  8. We treat ourselves more gently. Feeling less desperate, we are less harsh with ourselves and with others.
  9. Morning pages end dry spells, doing the pages means we have not collapsed to the floor of our despair and refused to move on. We have doubted, yes, but we have moved on.
  10. Morning pages are meditation, a practice that brings us to our creativity and our Creator.

Artist's Date: The artist's date can be summed up in one word: Play. Or two: Pamper Yourself. Your artist is a creative child, so spend an hour once a week to fulfill it: roll down a hill, take a train ride, dance, swing, color in a book or arrange stickers, doodle. And do it BY YOURSELF.

I must admit, this was the portion of the course that I followed the least. When I started the Artist's Way I lived by myself and was used to pleasing myself. The date became more important when I had a roommate, but I rarely formalized it. On the other hand, now that I think about it, I currently have this daily journal...and developed a passion for stickers...and I've bought 4 sets of those new metallic ink pens (the ink is archive quality, but one set was a gift for my 5 year old niece)....

Tasks: Chapter exercises. These are what hooked me. One in the first chapter blew my mind open. I wrote one of the creative affirmations: "I am allowed to nurture my artist," 10 times. Sure enough, my Censor popped up while doing this: "You have so many other things to do. Your house isn't clean, your bills aren't paid. You aren't a responsible person." I listened and analyzed. Where did this come from? And found out that Censor sounded like my parents (particularly my father) and the basic idea that the critic was getting across to me, and which I truly believed, was: "You can't do what you want to do; you must do what we want you to do." With a corollary: "What you want to do is foolish and stupid and a waste of time and will never amount to anything. What others want you to do is always more important." Wow! Hooked. Try it for yourself.

Warning: Week 4, Reading Deprivation: No READING, no TV, movies, radio. This is horrible, but it works, too. It was several years ago (the week Jon Benet Ramsey was killed, and I never caught up), and was one of the most intensely creative times of my life. I was also more observant of the people and little dramas around me. The pressure to tell myself stories forced me to write and write and write. I still remember how incredible it felt -- like a dam breaking open and all this writing pouring out of me in a rush. Very heady.

Still, I only lasted 5 days, and congratulated myself that I made it that long. I got desperate. on the evening bus, I found myself looking over the shoulder of my seatmate who was reading an article called "The Guide to Effective Deworming." (This is a true story.) She must have been a vet student or something, and heroine material (I was supposed to be observant on the bus, Chapter 4 said so). Youngish -- mid-twenties -- red-brown hair, but not as dark as chestnut; creamy complexion with a sprinkling of freckles; small, straight nose. Very nice. Much more interesting than the pictures of horses with strange tubelike objects in their mouths. Ok, so I maybe glanced at the article. I didn't read it. I just looked at the pictures. After all, anyone would be interested in -- ah -- forget it. Anyway, my seatmate finished reading that particularly fascinating article and flipped onto the next. Did I mention that these were photocopied sheets, not a real magazine, and the print and photos were slightly fuzzy?

The next article. From "In the Barn." "Mounting Blocks." Temptation. Really. I was writing historical romance. I've even written about mounting blocks. I need to research them. Words jumped out at me: "old tree stump, overturned bucket," "new portable mounting blocks for easy transportation". There were pictures, too, but not as interesting as horses. My heroine wasn't riveted by the article. She scanned it and went to the next. "Metabolic Disease, Test Treatments." No pictures. I sighed with relief. I was saved.

I wanted to talk about keeping compliments, making an image of your Censor, doing a collage, or listing secret passions, but this article is now overlong. But it was fascinating to read some of the quotes in The Artist's Way, and look at the highlighted wisdom and my own words. Maybe it's time to start up again....

Finding Your Writing Pace

Authors often forget that professional writing is a two-pronged calling.

First and foremost, writers write. It's what defines us, and we do it whether or not we write for publication or for pleasure (or, as happens in many cases, both). There’s nothing wrong with writing as an avocation instead of a career – and some writers make a business decision to self-publish (or even NOT publish) their work and never worry about sales or the business side of publishing.

That is a legitimate choice.

But for authors who intend to make writing a career, publication is a business, and sales do count, and to make those sales you must start with a salable product. In publishing, as in any other business, quality is not the place to compromise. Quality works sell better, and are more engaging to read, than unpolished or hurried ones.

As the old adage says, “you never have a second chance to make a first impression.” This goes for authors too. Whether you’re querying agents, approaching a publisher, self-publishing, or marketing your work to readers, professional authors have a business obligation (as well as a personal one) to produce the best work possible.

As an author, you have a story to tell, but a working writer never forgets that a story is also a product, and high-quality goods sell better than shoddy ones.

From a business perspective, an author must plan enough writing time to write, edit and polish each work before the due date or release. Rushed works never please as well as careful, well-developed stories.

As an author, you need to learn how long it takes you to write, revise, edit and polish a work for publication--not "what the market wants," but what you can reasonably do. Your speed might not be the same as anyone else's--and that's okay.

Your time to produce a manuscript will likely decrease with time and experience, but learning how long it takes you to write and polish a publishable manuscript is a fundamental part of every author's early business plan. You’ll need to know in order to set and stick to your publishing schedule – regardless of the publishing path you choose.

Don’t panic if you can't finish a novel as fast as someone else, or if it takes you more than a year from start to finish. If you want to write faster, or more consistently, try setting a schedule and deadlines--even if they're entirely self-imposed. Vary the pace and find your comfort zone. (Also: be open to change – few writers keep the same pace throughout their careers.)

Knowing your pace helps you plan and schedule releases and publishing contracts – regardless of publishing path. It also helps you plan for future projects. Can you handle more than one series at a time? Some authors can, but some cannot--and their results don't matter...what matters is how it works for you. It's not a race, and your writing career cannot--and should not--be defined by someone else's process.

Many authors enter the business with little awareness that writing pace controls many other decisions. Finding your pace means finding the time you need to deliver a polished, professional work that readers will love. Quality wins out over speed every time.

Take some time this week to examine your pace. Try making a schedule. See what works, and discover what doesn't. Challenge yourself, but respect your creative process, too.

Do you know how long it takes you to produce a finished manuscript? Have you gotten faster as the years go by?

Do Appearances Matter?

Dark Secrets The anthology I'm in, DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY, is out now! I'm super proud to hang between the covers with so many authors I admire. Plus it's just fascinating to read what everyone did with this crossover genre concept.

It seems there's been a number of scandals lately where writers posed as someone other than who they are, in order to up their chances of publication. There was the big bruhaha about the Best American Poetry collection, and the white guy who posed as Chinese to first get his poem published, which was then selected for this very high notice.

Then there's the gal who said she took her exact query letter, put a male name on it instead of her own, and received significantly more interest from agents, male and female. She referenced studies that indicate male job applicants are rated higher than female ones.

What really got me thinking about writing a post on this topic, was a study that only recently popped into my feed, that seems to indicate that female-named hurricanes result in more fatalities because people don't take them as seriously. When I shared that on social media, a number of people were annoyed and poked at it, but the assumptions and science look sound to me, without going back to original data.

But the point of all of this is, no matter how much we dislike the reality of it, that appearances matter.

How we appear - whether gender-wise or racially - affects how seriously other people treat the work we produce. A writing teacher (female) pointed out to me early in my career that it wasn't at all a bad thing that people mistake my name for a man's, much as it irritates me when they make that assumption. I think she was right. Maybe not that my writing has been taken more seriously, but the surprise at my very female appearance is significant when people meet me in person. More than one has said, "You're not a man!" Sometimes in a tone of betrayal and accusation.

Hey. Not my fault they assumed!

But what do you all think - do appearances matter? Has this ever happened to you? Ever been tempted to try the masquerade?

Robert J. Sawyer – 2016 Colorado Gold Keynote Speaker

RobertJSawyer-smRMFW is pleased to announce Robert J. Sawyer is the Saturday evening keynote speaker at the 2016 Colorado Gold Conference.

Robert J. Sawyer—called “just about the best science-fiction writer out there” by the Rocky Mountain News—is known for exploring deep philosophical and moral questions in his work. He is one of only eight people ever to have won all three of the science-fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won for Mindscan). He’s also won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, and the top science-fiction awards in Canada (thirteen times), Japan (three times), Spain (three times), China, and France. According to the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards, he has won more awards for his novels than anyone else in the history of the science-fiction and fantasy fields. The 2009-2010 ABC television series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name. Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, calls him “one of the thirty most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing.”

With such compelling and provocative works as Red Planet Blues, FlashForward, and the novels of the WWW trilogy, Robert J. Sawyer has proven himself to be “a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation.” * Now, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing... His twenty-third novel, Quantum Night, is a March 2016 title from Penguin.

RobertJSawyer-QuantumNightCover-smExperimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously—a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible—change human nature—before the entire world descends into darkness.

“Sawyer’s work is scientifically plausible, fictionally intriguing and ethically important.”—New Scientist

Rob was the first science-fiction writer to have a website; visit it at You can also follow Rob on Twitter and Facebook.

* The New York Times

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast-Episode # 17

Chris Goff

Longtime Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member Chris Goff, a.k.a. Christine Goff, is the guest. Chris was there in the early days of RMFW and just published her first international thriller, Dark Waters. Chris talks about making the switch in styles and genres and reports on her trip to Ukraine for the next thriller. She talks about the power of networking, the importance of learning the craft, and the early days of RMFW.

Show Notes:

Chris Goff:

On Twitter: @christinegoff

On Facebook:


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: