How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To the Gooey Chocolate Center of a Bestselling Novel?

So recently, in the writing community, we’ve been a-buzz over a blog post that warned no writer should ever write four books in one year. I won’t paraphrase, but issues came up over quality and care and other such fears for people who write fast.

I thought I could write a big long blog post defending the slow writer, or villainizing the fast writer, or saying nasty things about political candidate, but naaaahhhhhhh.  Other people who are smarter than me have already done all that.

I wanna talk about drafts. How many drafts does it take to complete a finished novel? And then there’s how many drafts do I WANT it to take to get a finished novel.

I might be a bad person to talk about this. I mean, I was pantser for a long time. My first novel took four years to write. I can’t tell you how many drafts I had. It was re-write city and I was the mayor. I then turned around worked on a book for seven years. Again, playing dice the story. Paper cuts, man, nearly bled to death because of paper cuts.

Then I discovered story structure by reading Robert McKee’s STORY. And I started outlining. And while that helped, it’s still taken me years to write books.  Several. Years.

I’d be lucky to get one book every four years let alone four books every one year. But I’ve been talking to people. I’ve been looking to see what other writers do.

It seems Stephen King writes a book, puts it aside for six weeks or six months, picks it up, goes through and reads it for big stuff (in one sitting if he can), does that second draft, and it’s off to his editor. He incorporates the edits into a third draft, it goes through line edits, and bam, four drafts and he is out the door. But that’s Stephen King. He’s been at this for a bit.

Other writers I talk do something similar though. They do this:

  • Rough draft
  • First draft
  • Beta reader’s draft
  • Editor’s draft
  • Copy edits draft
  • Line edits draft

And out the door. So that’s still six, which is a whole lot less than what I’ve done in the past. Now, most of the novels I’ve written were practice, working on my chops, getting my sea legs under me. But others, well, I didn’t want to give them up out of fear.

What if I sent a bad draft out and no one loved me anymore? I’d die alone.

So I’d go over the words again and again and again. Out of fear.

Notice in the bullet points above, there’s no entry for “Edit Out of Sheer Terror Draft”. Nope. That’s not up there because the brave warrior writers I know get their books done and out into the world. Bam. Fearlessly!

I think people can write successful books and publish multiple a year. I believe that. I also believe that books need several drafts to be tightened up and beaten into shape. In the end, it’s how much time do you want to spend on this?

And the other thing?

There are no rules. Crappy, unedited books do really well sometimes, while golden books of platinum-level editing go unnoticed. No rules, baby. Do what you want.

I’ve been lucky. Well, I’ve been lucky and I’ve been smart. I paid a copy editor to go over my last draft even though I’ve had publishers edit my stuff. RMFW’s very own Chris Devlin is a great copy editor, and she’s saved my books.

But in the end, no matter how much editing you do, you’re not going to please everyone. People will find stuff. A million people could read your book, and the one million and oneth person would find a typo, or find a plot inconsistency, or notice your character probably wouldn’t have eaten the English muffin on page fifty-fix.

I’ll leave you with an example. I was talking to a Star Wars fan, and he pointed out that it was quite the coincidence that you had a Skywalker on Tatooine after the Anakin became Darth Vader. Wouldn’t someone had called up Mr. Vader and said, “Hey, kind of a funny story, but there’s this kid named Luke living on Tatooine and his last name is Skywalker. Is he a relative of yours?”

Yeah, editors missed that one. But it’s pretty safe to say Star Wars did pretty well however imperfect it is.

I’m thinking six drafts, multiple readers including a professional editor, will do for me. I don’t know about you. Find your own path, Padawan learner, find your own path.


Life Work Balance

closeup view of golden scales on whiteYeah, I know, it’s backwards. Everyone always says Work/Life balance, right? Well, after Colorado Gold this month, I can see how we’ve had it wrong all this time.

I mean, really, which is more important: Life or Work? (Hint: this is not a hard question to answer) Yes, most of us need to work to make money to pay the bills, put food on the table, and keep a roof over our heads. But we can do lots of things that accomplish that. Some might not be all that fun, but it’s not called funning, it’s called working.

What does this have to do with Colorado Gold? We’ve heard from a lot of people, including the incredible writer of the year Susan Spann, about how great Colorado Gold was. And it’s all true. But what I really took away from it, besides the (OMG/Yea/Holy Cow) requests for pages/full reads, was that writing fits into the “life” part of the equation above, not the work part. I am not one of the stupendously lucky people like Jeffrey Deaver who get to combine the life and work parts and write for a living. But I can still write. And I make a little money doing it. Enough that I can almost say it pays for itself (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but who the heck cares!).

Being surrounded by other writers, agents, editors, drinks, food, drinks (hey, it helped counteract the smoke in the air from the California fires), was like what I imagine a Prius feels like when it gets plugged in. My life, love, and pursuit of happiness batteries were recharged. All the way home (and it took 5 hours!) I was thinking of new and improved scenes, a kick-ass ending, and having a bunch of other writing-related epiphanies (and let me tell you, those epiphanies make it damn hard to keep from getting a speeding ticket!).

Those of you can’t see a good reason to fork over the money, or take time off from your job (see above equation!), or are afraid to admit that writing is more than a hobby for you, are missing out on something that can make your whole life a better place to live in. I know a bunch of you out there are saying, yeah, yeah, it’s just a bunch of people sitting in rooms listening to a bunch of other people talk blah-blah. But until you are there, soaking up inspiration, motivation, craft and just having the opportunity to talk to other writers who have been there/done that JUST LIKE YOU, you have no idea what you’re missing. It’s not “What happens at Gold stays at Gold.” It’s “What happens at Gold sticks with you for the next twelve months.” Really.

So start saving your milk money, hang on to a couple days of vacation, and make plans to attend in 2016. While you’re at it, check out the submission guidelines for the RMFW Anthology. Maybe you have “THE” short story inside you that gets you published along with some other really great writers. Go for it…and Write On!

Where to Begin: A Review of Sharon Mignerey’s Workshop … by Samantha Ross

The story is … off. There is something wrong with it, and you don't know exactly what it is. How do you fix it? Something went wrong somewhere. Not sure where. Or what is wrong. You’re stuck. It’s a huge tangle. How do you even start to fix it?

You start at the beginning.

Oh, wait. You tried that. That is where you’re stuck. The attempts to rewrite it, cut out parts, add parts, none of it worked. You made it leaner. Made it juicier. Tried this, tried that, and so many other things. And then you started to doubt the whole story. The whole thing is just one muddy mess.

Go back to the basics. And go to the beginning. Unmuddy the waters.

Sharon Mignerey reminded us of this at her Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers event “Sucked in from Page One - Beginnings.”

Where does your beginning begin?

You, the author have the story in your head, all jumbled in there, parts of it on paper, parts of it still floating around in the universe waiting for the ink. The backstory is done. We know her goal, motivation, conflicts, the obstacles she has to encounter and overcome, both external and deep within her. We know all these things about our story.

Here we are at Chapter One. We need to set the scene up, show the ordinary world so the reader can see the change. Start with the main character dreaming about apple pie, and the hidden meaning of home and safety? Do we add all the back story of her loving, yet somewhat dysfunctional family? It’s all going to change in a moment. Show her everyday life with all the things she has woken up to on past mornings, or all the things she wished she had woken up to, because what wakes her up today is a huge moment of change. The reader has to be aware of her stressful job, and why it is so stressful that she usually sleeps in on the weekends to recharge. That explains why being awake so early is odd today. And, of course, we want the reader to care about her. Show that she feels guilty about arguing with her best friend, how she is unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend; so when she has to team up with her coworker, it’s ok that the sparks fly.

This is where we start, right?


Jump to the problem with their day - the change. Why start there? Because that is where the trouble starts. It’s the inciting incident. That inciting incident is the moment that her life is different from what it normally is, or different from her expectations. It doesn't start with her dreaming, and then being woken up by a frog. You start with the frog dressed in a cowboy outfit sitting on her pillow aiming his shotgun at her forehead informing her in a slow drawl that she has to get up to save her coworker, George. Because if she doesn’t, George will come back as a werewolf, and eat everyone under the age of four on the next full moon.

That’s great you say, but why does the reader care about this character? Where is her character arc? The reader gets to know this character by how she reacts to the frog. Then the reader keeps caring about her as she changes due to the decisions she makes, the actions she takes, and the external and interior struggles as she strives to reach her story goal.

The beginning needs to get to the point. On the first page you need to let the reader know who is telling the story, where they are, what’s going on, and why it is important. And it should give the reader a hint at the story problem - both the external and the internal, and how that can alter the characters life. Don’t dally around with the past. Get on with it.

Begin with the frog. That is the change. The call to action. The moment the character steps onto the road that changes her life. That change gives her a goal, motivation and conflict. It clarifies your story. For the reader, and for you.

Now you are both sucked in.


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.

Learn more about Samantha and her writing at her website/blog.

For more information about Sharon Mignerey's workshops, please visit the workshop description page on her website.

Finding Your People

The Viking says I need a new travel agent. This business of flying into Spokane at 11 pm and then traveling home over dark, deserted highways filled with suicidal deer has got to change. I tell him if it is the price I must pay to engage in a conference like Colorado Gold, then I am willing, even if it does leave me shuffling around for days like a zombie with a big, red, "recharge battery NOW" sign blinking where my brain should be.

This year, as usual, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers crew put on a fabulous conference: great classes, wonderful speakers, along with opportunities to talk to industry professionals and get books signed by awesome authors.

But for me, what made the conference spectacularly awesome was hanging out with other writers. I skipped interesting and informative classes to talk to writers. I stayed up way past my bedtime and functioned on minimal sleep in order to spend time hanging out with writers. I even skipped coffee once or twice in order to talk to writers.

I'm a full on introvert, and this is not my usual modus operandi. My forays into social events tend to be infrequent and brief. Not because I'm shy, but because I usually find gatherings of people draining and exhausting. Besides, my life is bursting at the seams with writing and other things I need to get done.

I tell myself I don't have time for anybody outside of my immediate family.

This is a comforting little lie that allows me to feel like a better human.

The truth is, I don't have time to hang out with people who want to talk about shoes and clothes and kitchens and the latest reality show on TV. And I don't really care which movie star is cheating on his spouse or which singer just got pregnant. Sometimes at a party I'll catch my eyes glazing over as I realize that I'm terribly, horribly, bored.

But give me people who want to talk philosophy, writing, personality typing, how to get things done, book ideas, character development, publishing industry news - and I light up like a prairie sunrise.

Where I'm going with all of this, I guess, is that it's important to find our people. Even those of us who are hard core introverts need a tribe – or a herd, as Susan Spann so eloquently put it during her Writer of the Year speech at Colorado Gold. We need people to spark new ideas for us, to believe in us, to support us. We need people to encourage us when the publishing industry looks like a Sharknado, or when the book we're writing sucks so bad we can't bear to even look at the page.

And we need the experience of being the person who offers support and encouragement, along with the understanding that even our seemingly boring little lives can be a catalyst and inspiration to somebody else.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait for conferences to be a part of this experience. Check your social media feeds and find the writers who are interesting and supportive. Or, for that matter, non-writers with whom you share interests. And remember that you have the power to shape your own social media world – you can let in the members of your tribe and lock out the others. Life's too short to spend it either bored or alone.

Adventures in Cover Art for Traditionally, Hybrid, and Self-Published Authors by Theresa Alan

You finally finished your one-hundred-thousand word masterpiece after tireless effort, and, if your writing process is like mine, much metaphorical head bashing against your laptop. You think the hard part is done. You are wrong.

Whether you’re traditionally published, self-published, or choose a hybrid publisher (you’ll get a small or no advance, an editor, a publicist, and higher percentage of royalties than traditional offers but maybe not the reviewers and other perks), one of the first steps in marketing your book—the cover—presents myriad challenges.

One of the benefits of being traditionally published is that you’ll get help with marketing. Depending on the size of your publisher, their assistance could be significant. There is a lot to be said about having a traditional publisher’s marketing contacts and dollars go toward helping your sales, but the trade-off is that, generally, you don’t have much say in the cover, cover copy, or the title, especially at the larger publishing houses.

My first seven novels were all traditionally published. My second novel, which is about six improv comedians, was translated into, among other languages, Portuguese, and the cover featured a swarthy construction worker wearing a tool belt in front of a half-finished house. All of the comedians in my book have day jobs, however, none of their day jobs has anything to do with construction. In fact, at no point in the book is any construction work or handsome construction worker involved. Obviously whoever picked out the stock photography either didn’t get the blurb, didn’t read the blurb, or couldn’t have possibly cared less about truth in advertising.

Of course a cover is important to sales, but you want to sell a book with a cover that doesn’t mislead readers. If they are in the mood for a light read and they buy a book with a cover that looks frothy and then get a dark, moody novel, they are more likely to review your book harshly even if it’s brilliantly written. As writers and readers, those reviews can make or break sales.

The cover to my third novel, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, is cute and does get the tone right. The book is about two girlfriends backpacking through Europe. The cover my publisher created has a woman wearing high heels and a flouncy skirt, and she’s carrying a tote bag. Have you ever back-packed great distances or known someone who has? If so, than you know no heels were worn and no adorable tote bags were toted because it’s rugged and challenging and hence called “backpacking,” not “tote-bagging with one mint and a single change of thong.” At least readers know from the cover that Girls’ Guide will be a fun book, and it’s not a how-to guide for backpacking through Europe.

A plus-side of being self-published is that you can be sure that your cover reflects both the tone and the plot of your book. However, getting a cover as a self-published author isn’t necessarily all rainbows. Having original artwork created for you can be a big investment, or combing through stock photography can be time-consuming and frustrating. As writers, we want to spend our available hours, you know, writing, not whiling away in a Photoshop time-suck. I looked in to self-publishing, and the process made me appreciate the challenges my publisher went through to try to communicate that I write humor, although some of my books are deal with more serious issues than others. (Although there is no excuse to have a construction worker represent a book about six people trying to make it as improv comedians/actors/performers. Seriously.)

With hybrid presses, I’ve heard from author friends that it’s the luck of the draw. You have an editor and publicist who are more your teammates than your directors, so they’re often more open to input. But most indie or hybrid presses tend to have a “look” to their whole imprint, so study the covers on their website and decide if it’s a match for your work, and ask a lot of questions before signing the dotted line.

If you do find success with a traditional publishing house, kudos! Know in advance however, that, at least at the larger houses, you won’t get much say in your cover or blurb on the back and, while your publishing house might ask for input on what you might like for the title, odds are, they ultimately don’t care much what you think. There are many stories I’ve heard of authors doing well self-publishing (sometimes while also writing for traditional publishing houses) and many cover artists charge reasonable prices, so this is a definite consideration.

Whether you land a big publisher, go with an indie publisher, or do it entirely on your own terms, CONGRATS! You are doing it. Just go into this next stage of publishing and marketing knowing the right questions to ask, what to expect, and what is going to feel right for you. Of course, then, if you do get the cover of your dreams and still get negative reviews, you’ll know it’s either because that reader just didn’t connect with your writing . . . or that you suck. (Or maybe you just need to do more polishing on your work and hit some more critique groups to get feedback for how to improve.)

In any case, happy writing!


Theresa Alan became a bestselling author with her first novel, Who You Know (2003), and her novella Santa Unwrapped was in the New York Times bestseller Jingle All the Way (2004). She is the author of six additional Kensington novels, including Spur of the Moment, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, Girls Who Gossip, Getting Married, Spa Vacation, and The Dangers of Mistletoe. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies I Shaved My Legs for This?! and Sex and the Single Witch. Theresa was named the Colorado Romance Writer of the Year in 2004.

A graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Theresa lives in Denver, Colorado.

You may connect with her on Twitter @Theresa_Author or on Facebook



Are Your Characters Larger than Life?

So what exactly is a “larger than life” character? You hear that term bandied about all the time, especially as one of the attributes agents and editors are looking for in a good story.

If you were to take the term literally, you’d be wrong. It fact, larger than life is often misused and assigned to god-like characters and Rambo-esque heroes. LTL characters are less likely to be big in size and personality, or to talk big and lead with their fists instead of their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong; the Rambos and Supermen and Thors are certainly memorable and deserve to have stars by their names. They’re big enough to be household names and have the neighborhood kids dress up in costumes that look like them on Halloween. But are they truly LTL characters?

My point is an LTL goes beyond the physical. You make your characters bigger than life so they’ll be worthy of the role they’ve been given, and deserving of the boon they'll win at the end of a book. The LTL character is put in extraordinary situations and forced to make extraordinary decisions, to make sacrifices and put the needs of others above their own. There are LTL characters in real life as well as novels and movies. Lets look at some.

Mother Theresa – She’s famous for saying “A sacrifice to be real it must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.” She was big on sacrifice, but there were three things she said you should never sacrifice: your family, your heart, your dignity. She’s memorable and heroic for what she stands for, and this makes her bigger than life.

Winston Churchill – Small in stature, yet big in wisdom and courage, Churchill was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. As a leader, he perpetually demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and was the lion that roared when the British Empire needed him most. Unforgettable quotes from his speeches are repeated to this day.

There’s a lot we can learn from the flesh and blood LTLs to help make our fictional characters more authentic. Flaws, foibles and insecurities as well as morality, compassion, empathy and countless other characteristics shape a three dimensional human being (or non human, depending on your genre).

LTL characters are deserving of a prominent place in our stories because they’ve risen above adversity and made the hard choices that led them to victory. Strength is superficial without the weakness a character is forced to overcome in order to win.

Who are some fictional LTL characters? I’m sure there are many who star in your favorite books and that’s why those books are your favorites. I have some, too.

Katniss Everdeen – Yes, I’m a big Hunger Games fan. Katniss is made of courage and compassion, and is a great example of a LTL faced with the horrors of a cruel government run by a totalitarian dictatorship that uses children to fight its battles. These atrocities affect Katniss’ family and her own district, and against all odds, she stands up to her nemeses and refuses to back down. She deserves to win.

Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer – These two heroines get equal billing in the critically acclaimed novel, Orphan Train. The best book I’ve read in years. What makes these two ladies LTL characters? Vivian is an elderly survivor of the torture she lived through as an orphan, shipped from home to home, one hard life to the next, starting in 1929. Molly is a teenager, a foster kid, who’s had to survive similar tribulations. Molly records Vivian’s story, which allows her to understand more about herself than she ever knew just by listening to the elderly woman’s memories. A truly moving tale of determination and guts. I’ll never forget these two. They were real, and yet they were more than real. They were larger than life.

Can you share any LTL characters you’ve read in your favorite novels? What makes them larger than life?


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.






Choosing Cons to Attend – How Do You Decide?

Dark SecretsI'm sorry to be missing seeing and meeting everyone this week at Colorado Gold!

I'd planned to come up and at least sign on Friday night and meet Emily Keyes from my agency, as I have an out-of-town guest the rest of the weekend. However, I talked with Nina of Who Else Books while we were both at Bubonicon, and she talked me out of it.

It would have been a tight turnaround and it's probably better that I'm not trying to do it.


Everything in moderation, I know, but it can be difficult to decide which conferences and conventions to attend. I go to more than most authors I know. Partly I like to travel and am comfortable doing it. Also, I have a day job which helps fund going to conferences. And I believe that they're productive venues for me to connect with readers and network with other writers and industry professionals.

Sure - a lot of people get into ROI (return on investment) and obsess over whether the resulting sales from con appearances make up for the sometimes outrageous expense of going. I don't believe in ROI for this sort of thing. I think building human relationships creates potential and opportunities that can't be quantified.

Let me give you a relevant example.

When I was a newbie writer, I attended the RT Booklovers Convention for the first time in 2009, in Orlando. It had never occurred to me to go, because I figured it for a reader convention to meet *published* writers. Then an author - Linnea Sinclair - who was a member of my online RWA group, the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal (FFP) special interest chapter posted that all us aspiring writers absolutely SHOULD go to RT, in order to network with already published authors, who could then know and help us.

Best advice ever!

At that convention, though I pitched my book to a bunch of people, I didn't sell it as a direct result. I did not sign with an agent, nor did I get a publishing deal. It goes without saying that I had no book sales to offset my expenses. But I *did* meet some amazing people. Some of whom are my friends to this day. Including the fabulous Cynthia Eden.

Cindy was already multipubbed and doing awesomely well at that point and, also a member of FFP, was really nice to me. We hung at a party and talked. She became a friend, advocate, and my go-to person for questions. Fast forward six years and, as a direct result of that friendship, which has otherwise enriched my life in so many ways, I get to be in this fantastic collection with Cindy and four other authors who are mind-blowingly good. DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY comes out on September 29 and I'm effervescent with excitement. I mean, Megan Hart and Rachel Caine have written books that are in my top favorites of all time. Like, Cindy, Suzanne Johnson is a longtime friend from FFP and I've known Mina for years.

It's like my clubhouse girl-pack decided to put on a play and everyone just happens to be Judy Garland.

This is why I feel making author friends is ultimately unquantifiable. There's simple no way of knowing what will produce a return in the future - or what form it will take.

Thus, I'm sorry not to make it up to the Colorado Gold Conference. Who knows what might have resulted? But I wish all of you well. I hope you learn new things, make new friends, and return home inspired to create.

I'll be thinking of you!



Six award-winning authors bring you this spellbinding collection of stories about dark desires, mysterious worlds, and danger that lurks in the shadows of the night. Where nothing is black and white; where things might not be as they seem; where magic and mayhem rule.

We are now on Goodreads:

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All Romance eBooks



Best Conference Advice: Leave Your Clothes On (Almost) All the Time

With less than three days until the Colorado Gold Conference presented by RMFW, I wanted to drag out and dust off the conference rules. Mind you, these are not ‘rules’ as in those that will land you in the conference clink, but ‘rules’ like those of writing itself--Good guidelines to follow, but every once in a while shattering them can lead to a fun adventure and/or ruining your budding career.

Rule 1 - Have fun.

Sounds easy enough, right? Except for some of us of the shy/introverted variety. We would prefer to hide in our hotel room, and if we don’t have a hotel room, the bathroom will do. Fun can be hard, especially if you’re adding pressure to yourself to perform, which brings me to rule 2.

Rule 2 – Manage your expectations.

When I first started going to conferences I would spend hours memorizing my pitch for that 10 minutes I might spend with an agent/editor. Don’t get me wrong, that 10 minutes can change a small bit of your life, but it isn’t going to change everything. Go in understanding that a conference doesn’t make or break (unless you throw up on the agent/editor) a career. Spend your time more wisely.

Rule 3 – Make friends, after all sharing is caring.

No, I don’t teach grade school on the side. But I know this better than anyone does. It is all about who you know.

But not in that gross way. Who you know means making those connections with people in similar boats. These are the people who will read your manuscript for the 10th time, or come to your third signing when no one else will. These are the people who understand when you talk about how to get blood out of shag carpet.

Meet your peers is the best advice I can give.

Amazingly, even though this is my 8th RMFW conference, I meet new people each time. And even more, I am NOT sick of those I see every year. Which again brings me to my next point.

Rule 3 – Shower. Please. (You know who you are).

Rule 4 – Don’t annoy others.

Please don’t pitch during workshops. I’ve seen it a million times at the agent and editor panels, people summarizing their book during the Q&A. If you have a question about your book specifically, ask in a private moment or better yet make it a general question. For example, if you want to know about where your book ‘fits’, which I know as a newbie I spent way too much time and energy trying to figure it out (and the publisher changed it twice since), ask a general question about the category and keep it under 140 words. We want to know the status of the industry, not about your book. Save it for dinner conversation.

Rule 5 – Learn as much as your brain can take.

Three days is a crazy amount of learning. Remember to pace yourself. If you need a break, you need a break.

Go hide in that bathroom.

I’ll be in the next stall.


Do you have any rule you'd like to share? Also, roll call. Who will be at the RMFW Conference?


And my last bit of advice is, say hi to me. I love to hear about books. I want to hear about yours. Let's be friends, so I can ask you the best way to dispose of a body.

Check out my new website and get a free eBook. And make sure to friend me on Facebook, so the cops know just who helped me bury that body.

Fifty Shades of Self-Doubt

As I was reading Jeff Seymour’s recent blog (, I was struck by the thought that for a writer, there are all kinds of ways for demoralization and discouragement to find their way in and poison your life. Jeff describes his sense of failure in terms of sales and income, in other words, his writing career. I’ve certainly spent my share of time agonizing over similar issues. But I have to say that worries about my career haven’t caused me nearly the misery as some of my other bouts with self-doubt.

Despite his sense of feeling like a failure, Jeff still comes across as fairly confident in his writing abilities. He describes his book as good art and shares how this was validated by having it named to a list of the Best of 2014. But what if you publish several books that don’t get positive reviews or win awards? It’s very easy for the insidious doubts to creep in. It’s hard not to wonder if getting published was a fluke. Maybe it was all a mistake, and you just got lucky. Maybe you have no talent, and now that you’ve been exposed as a lousy writer, you’ll never sell another book.

And then there are the reviews. A single one-star review on Amazon or Goodreads can destroy whatever confidence you've gained by getting published. A few ho-hum two and three-star reviews drag down your rating and inspire more agonizing. Readers are the final arbiters. If they don't like your book, you know you're in trouble.

Or, maybe you’re confident you're a decent writer but worry there’s something terribly flawed with your story ideas and your fictional vision. Technical ability can be worked on and improved. You’ve seen it happen in critique groups and in the publishing world. A writer you considered mediocre finally writes an exceptional story. Clearly they’ve been working at their craft and it has paid off. But what if you begin to feel that no one else is interested in the stories you’re drawn to write. Where do you go with that?

Of course, if you’ve never been published, the claws of self-doubt can dig in even deeper. That’s when you wonder, after the tenth or twentieth rejection, whether you’re wasting your time, not to mention your money, on those conferences, contest entry fees, critiques and writing advice books. There you are, selfishly taking away money from the family income to indulge the hopeless cause of your writing.

You may have confidence in your talent and your stories but end up feeling that fate is against you. I’ve known authors who got published just as the line their book was featured in was closing down. Or they published their first book at the exact time their genre fell out of favor with readers. Or maybe you’ve been cursed by an incompetent agent, who never sends anything out, even to editors who ask for the manuscript. Or the editor who acquired your book moved on right afterwards and your new editor considers you damaged goods. Or your book got the most terrible cover ever. Or it came out the same month as a blockbuster hit that left every other book in the dust.

Most of us who’ve been in the business awhile accept that at least a part of publishing success is due to luck. But that doesn’t help if it you’re one of those people for whom it seems if not for bad luck, you would have no luck at all.

Of course these days you can make your own luck. You don’t have to wait for an editor who believes in your story. You can publish it yourself and go directly to the readers. Unfortunately, the freedom to indie-publish doesn’t free you from all the things that can undermine and discourage you. Yes, you have control. You control your cover, your release date and every marketing detail. But with control comes responsibility. For everything. Which means if things don’t work out as you hope, you have no one to blame but yourself. And that can lead to even more layers of self-doubt and questioning.

Sometimes it seems endless, the way the world can gnaw away at our writing dreams and leave us empty and hurting. But because there are so many things that can trigger the doubt lurking in our artist souls, we have one advantage. Self-doubt is an incredibly common problem, something all but a few fortunate writers face at one time or another. Which means that lots of creative and dynamic people have endured and survived what you’re going through, and many of them are willing to share what helped them go on. What restored their faith in themselves and gave them new motivation and optimism.

If you are attending the Colorado Gold Conference a week from now, you will have a chance to meet some of these veterans of writing hard times. You will be able to network with them informally at meals, in the bar and after workshops. And there will also be a panel on this very subject. Come and hear Jeff, me and three other writers (including the 2014 Writer of the Year, Shannon Baker) as we discuss our battles with self-doubt and discouragement. We’ll share what worked for us, how we overcame our fears and despair and lived to write another book.


A fellow member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers did not see any immediate impact on the careers of those she witnessed working so hard on our all-volunteer staff, either at the annual Colorado Gold Writers Conference, nor throughout the year on our board and support positions. She asked me if I found participation in RMFW rewarding. Because of the context of the question I knew she wasn't asking whether I found it personally rewarding. What she was really asking was: Did I feel the effort and time I put into volunteering in RMFW translated in any way to book sales, or any other help for my career as a novelist.

Not at all a simple question.

You've heard, I'm sure, the term: You get out of it what you put into it. And I'm sure that's true, as far as it goes. The benefits of participation in RMFW as just an attending member are direct - E=MC2. But are the benefits for volunteering and actually participating in the operation of the organization even measurable in any instant or even short term calculation? I submit that one actually gets back much more than what they put in when actively participating in RMFW.

I post to the RMFW email loop ( to keep members with whom I’m acquainted, but not necessarily on a direct-email basis, informed of what’s going on with me. I may not get any direct response to my posts, but doing so also helps to keep one's name out there on the loop. Your name also becomes prominent in other areas of RMFW such as the newsletter, volunteering for conference, submitting to the blog, etc. Keeping your name out there in the RMFW community does translate to your publicity, if not directly to sales, and opens doors that may not be open otherwise. Eventually guest publishing professionals – speakers, visiting editors and agents, etc. – will hear/read it. There are a million subtle ways in which this can benefit you. I’ve gotten a lot more attention (followers on Facebook and Twitter, name recognition when introducing myself at workshops and conferences, etc.) since I agreed to become a regular contributor to the RMFW blog, and I love doing it. You never know where this kind of networking might benefit you down the line.

So no, volunteering does not perhaps convert directly to sales, and I suspect that’s why things like the email loop aren't nearly as active these days as they once were. It used to be a very lively forum for discussion and debate, but lately most posters want to sell their books and that’s all. Well I assure you that while most readers of the loop scan over or even ignore ads for your books or promotions for your blog, they are eager to read other news and opinions of current events and hot publishing industry topics. The loop and other methods of keeping your name prominent in RMFW may not translate directly to sales, you never know what it might lead to indirectly down the line.

Likewise attending our free workshops and education events throughout the year. These are not just opportunities to look at an aspect of our profession from another colleague's perspective, something from which you are far more likely to learn than not, you also have the opportunity to network, to meet fellow writers and introduce yourself to them.

conference1The Colorado Gold Writers Conferences, sponsored every Fall by RMFW, is the Grande Dame of all networking opportunities the organization offers. There is no end to the openings you have to make yourself known to the organization at large, not to mention guest professionals from the publishing industry from around the country, and even, sometimes, other countries. From pitching a workshop, if you feel you have something to share with others, to volunteering to moderate workshops. You can volunteer to judge the contest, work the registration table, help in operating the pitch sessions, or just in general as a docent or information source for newcomers and other attendees. One of the best opportunities is to volunteer as a driver, to pick up and transport conference guests between the airport and the venue - here you have a good thirty minutes or more alone with one of the visiting editors, agents, or authors invited to the conference to chat with them and become acquainted. No better networking opportunity in my book.

In short, never pass up an opportunity to volunteer and participate in RMFW and get yourself and your name out there. Doors only open to you if people know who you are. And RMFW is one of the greatest local opportunities you will have to do so.

Oh, and when the doors do open, always be ready and never say no. Even if it doesn’t end up going anywhere, sooner or later one will.

Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

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