Many Hats: Making the Most of Your Author Platform … by Margo Christie

2015_MargoChristieWe all know the challenge of selling fiction to the reality-crazed techie generation. Time and again we’ve been told we need a “platform” – that area of specialization that enables us to sell books to people who aren’t necessarily shopping for them.

In writing my debut novel, THESE DAYS, I was partly motivated by the resurgent interest in the Depression-era art of burlesque. THESE DAYS takes place on an historic burlesque strip, The Block in Baltimore, which also happens to be where I came of age in the late 1970s.

In 2007 when I sat down to write, “New” Burlesque was in its formative years. I was 45 – well past “formative” but still agile enough to compete as a performer. And I had that special something that appealed to aficionados of the art: I’m a “baby legend”: a performer who was around at the tail end of old burlesque. As one who bridges the gap between the old and the new, I knew my tale of coming-of-age on a notorious burlesque strip would appeal to the newbies of the craft.
With the aid of social media, I connected with the Denver burlesque scene and began performing. Author/Burlesque Performer: I wore two “hats.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t make me an instant success. I’ve sold books at burlesque shows and discussed burlesque, old and new, with bookstore audiences. I’ve given readings in towns where I’ve performed, thus tying the two together. Still, selling books in areas where I’m unknown is a challenge. I have little trouble getting events in Baltimore, where THESE DAYS takes place, or in Denver, my home for 16 years. Other cities have presented more of a challenge, however. While performing in Laramie, I gave a reading to a bookstore audience of four, one of whom was my husband and two of whom were employees – I’ll let you do the math.

This past winter, while on my third Baltimore book tour, I reached out to a bookstore in Philadelphia, ever-hopeful but expecting the usual spiel regarding the need for a local following. That came, but with a twist: “Can you teach a writing workshop?”

I hadn’t taught a workshop, but I’d talked with many in the burlesque and literary areas of my life about the process of creating. I sat down with literary and burlesque friends to brainstorm. The concept that came up most often was that of dressing up.

Writing fiction and performing burlesque both involve dressing up. In burlesque, performers spend countless, unpaid hours fashioning elaborate costumes. To entertain and amuse, we create characters that are sub- and super-human; over-the-top, even. In fiction we want our characters to be relatable; down-to-earth, yet we still strive to give them that extra “umph” that will make them walk, talk or dance their way into readers’ hearts.

We also strip them bare, manipulating them in and out of tricky situations to show what they’re made of. We do the same in burlesque, but with flair and tease – There’s nothing like expectation to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. We can make a tight-fitting gown without spending our extra dollars on sequins and rhinestones. It will suffice for peeling out of at just the right moment, but will it pop off the stage, shining at its biggest and brightest best?

No. Nor will our fictional characters be their best without details, details, details. Their backstories, motivations and predicaments are what make them shine. For better or worse, details are their “sequins.”

At Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Bookstore, I filled a room with aspiring writers and a few curious passers-by. I sold a dozen or so books and gained a bit of a following in previously uncharted territory. Thus I discovered “hat” number three: Workshop Presenter.

On November 7, I will present “Dressing Up and Baring All: A Workshop for Fiction Writers” at the Standley Lake Library in Arvada (Denver). Bring a sample of your writing and be prepared to “dress it up.”


Event Details
Dressing Up and Baring All: A Fiction Writer’s Workshop

Burlesque Performer and Prize-Winning Author, Margo Christie will present a workshop on dressing up your fictional characters to make them larger than life and stripping them down to keep them real. Through her experience on the burlesque stage and examples from her own and other novels, she will talk about “adding the sequins” to otherwise everyday characters then “baring it all” to keep readers emotionally-hooked. She will also demonstrate ways to supercharge your public readings by adding some G-rated burlesque pizzazz.

No matter your style or genre, Margo's exercises will help you bring your characters to life.

November 7, 2015
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Mountain time
Standley Lake Branch Library - Jefferson County
8485 Kipling St.
Arvada, CO 80005

No RSVP Required

Learn more about Margo and her work at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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?

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?

You Can Never Learn Too Much

When it comes to writing, there’s always more to learn, either through instruction or experience. I think most writers love to learn, or simply to refresh what we think we already know.

You may have heard of the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop that’s held every summer. I know of a few writer friends who have had the privilege of attending. I haven’t had the pleasure myself and really hope I can someday (when I’m able to afford both the time and the expense), but the good news is there’s an annual free online writing workshop sponsored by the University of Iowa that’s open to anyone interested in expanding his or her writing education. It’s called “How Writers Write Fiction” and this year’s course is currently in session (not endorsed by RMFW).

I attended last year and got so much out of it that I knew I wanted to take it again. This year they have both a beginning writer’s track and one for experienced writers, though students are free to participate in both. We’ve just finished the Welcome Wagon, a week-long introduction that includes getting to know our classmates, the instructors, the teacher’s aids and the moderators. The host is NovoEd, which has an interface similar to Facebook in the way it’s organized (but without all the annoying ads). Lots of great conversations are going on and this year we are encouraged to form our own discussion groups based on location, interests, writing levels and/or genre. It’s only been a week and I’ve already met some great people with similar interests.

Every day there’s a short video made by one of the workshop instructors. The first week’s daily videos focused on best practices, and every day there’s a link to a different writing article, usually essays by renowned fiction writers. All of them are excellent. Then a discussion thread is started for us to talk about what we saw and what we read. For example, today’s short video covered nine basic writing tips.

So far, we’ve had a series of writing practice assignments to prepare us for the actual lessons that begin right after Welcome Week is over. It’s getting us ready for Class Session 1 called “Starting With Character.” This was so helpful to me last year, and there’s even more focus on character this year, which is extremely important to me. Each week there will be a new class video, required reading assignment, discussion topics on best writing practices, writing assignments and peer feedback. Each week will also have a different fiction fundamentals video followed by a discussion and a quiz.

Everything on the course site is incredibly well organized. The course itself is set up like its own website with links to different areas that we can access throughout the course. It’s an 8-week course, entirely self-paced, and I could spend an entire day, every day, exploring the site and participating in all the different discussions going on. Hard to believe it’s all free, but I can attest to its value since I took it last year as well, however this year’s course is more extensive.

Each week will focus on a different area of fiction writing, as it applies to both long form and short form. Here’s this year’s course schedule after Welcome Week:

Class Session 1: Starting with Character
Class Session 2: Expanding on Character: Cast and Dialogue
Class Session 3: Working with Plot
Class Session 4: Using Character to Produce Frame and Arc
Class Session 5: Voice and Setting
Class Session 6: Immersion and Setting: Description and World-Building
Class Session 7: Embracing Revision
Farewell Class: Onward! The Writing Life

I’ve just started writing a new novel that I’m approaching from a new angle. This story is not genre specific for a change, so the course comes at a great time for me. I’m learning something new and I'm eager to dig in.

It’s not too late for new students to enroll this year, but as stated earlier, this course is not endorsed by RMFW. Since we’re only a week in, you can still sign up. If you'd rather wait until next year, you can get on the mailing list to receive advance notice. The Iowa Writing University has something going on all year long and there are lots of great articles on the blog. Check it out here

Happy learning!


Halloween – yea or nay?

Here we are the second week of October and already, I’m thinking Halloween.

I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween.

Oh, when I was a kid, we did the costumes and trick or treat thing. And in high school there were the parties. In college, I was much too “serious” a student to join a sorority. I was engaged to a military man so campus life for me consisted of attending classes and the occasional civil rights demonstration (this was the sixties, after all).

Then it was onto life on various military posts. Again, there were parties, but I can’t ever remember wearing a costume to one. When I had my daughter, we did fun things with her. But in the way of the world, she grew up and wanted to do her own Halloween things with her own friends.

So it was back to ignoring the holiday.

Then I started writing vampire stories. In formulating one story line, I discovered that Halloween had an interesting history rich in plot possibilities. What was that history?

1. Present day Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead.

2. Wearing costumes and giving out food were protection from, and an offering to, the souls of the dead, believed to be out and about on that day. Dressing like fairies, witches and demons and performing antics in exchange for food is the genesis of trick or treating.

3. The customs of bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins go back even further to the holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-ween), a celebration of the harvest.

4. Samhain was the biggest and most important holiday of the Celtic year. It was the day the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People sacrificed animals, fruits and vegetables and lit bonfires to aid the dead on their journey and keep them away from the living.

5. Christian missionaries were responsible for changing the practices of the Celtic people. In 601 AD, they assigned November 1st as All Saints Day, a substitute for Samhain, to replace the Celtic’s own holiday. But Samhain never died out completely. The evening before was (and is) still celebrated as the day of the traveling dead.

Of course, I’ve simplified and abbreviated the history. There’s a wealth of information on line if you want to learn more. The point is on October 31st, the dead are thought to be able to walk the earth. I used it as the chance for a witch to call up a demon. There are countless other possibilities.

Halloween takes on a much more exotic and dangerous element if you look at it as an ancient people once did. Maybe that’s why I’ve never liked the holiday. The little kiddies in the cute witch or devil costumes look harmless. But what about the adult in that Jason mask? Or that spooky figure dressed up like a demon? This is the one night of the year that you can’t always trust your eyes.

So, how about you? Do you love Halloween? Do you dress up and set those inhibitions free? What costume have you worn that was (or is) your absolute favorite? Or are you like me, sulking in the dark on Halloween, lights out, waiting for the night to be over?

Or maybe plotting how to use this night of the walking dead in your next book?

NaNoPlanno: Get Ready for NaNoWriMo … by Chris Mandeville

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.

NaNoWriMo Logo

NaNo is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.

The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.

Roughly 14% of those who sign up actually complete NaNo successfully.

That amounts to thousands of writers who wrote novels in just thirty days. So it can be done. But why would you want to?

The NaNo organizers say the aim of NaNoWriMo is to get people to start writing using the deadline as incentive. I say there’s even more to be gained. NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It helps you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water. Overall it’s a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000 word novel and the knowledge that you can do it.

I did it! Photo Credit: thephotographymuse via Creative Commons

Of course another reason to do NaNo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both of which spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo. But heck, if you’re crazy enough to do NaNo, might as well reach for the stars.

The official NaNoWriMo is free! So if you’re inclined to sign up for NaNo’s 17th year or just want more info, visit

If you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, there are things you can—and I argue should—do to prepare. I call this “NaNoPlanno.”

Schedule. Take a critical look at your schedule for November and move or eliminate everything possible. Re-schedule doctor appointments, put off coffee with friends, cancel your weekend ski-getaway. If your day-job allows, take some vacation or personal time, compress your schedule, or reduce your hours. Find writing time wherever you can. Be creative. Can you move your Thanksgiving celebration to December 1st? Or at least move it to your sister-in-law’s house? Can you forgo Black Friday shopping just this once? Can you limit yourself to watching only the last quarter of the football game? Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write every single day. Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.

To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day (or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week).

Support. Let the people in your life know about the monumental task you have planned, and enlist their support. There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones buy in to your crazy November endeavor. Maybe it’s as simple as them agreeing not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Or maybe they’ll take on some of your non-writing duties so you have more time to write. Why not trade cooking with your roommate or spouse? They cook in November, and you cook all December. Or December and January. Don’t be above bribery. Offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November. And don’t overlook hiring help—someone else can walk the dogs, do carpool duty, grocery shop, etc. You may think you can do it all yourself, but in my experience, your odds of finishing NaNo are a whole lot better when you have help and support.

Space. Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a friend turned a closet into desk space when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless something is on fire. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Figure out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it. Likewise clear up your virtual space: make a plan for turning off your phone and email, and even hiding your Internet browser from yourself during writing time. The official NaNo site has lots of resources to help you, but these, too, can be a hindrance, so use with caution.

When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.

Story. The official NaNoWriMo rules say that you can’t “count” any writing you do prior to November 1. But prep is okay. So prep away! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Plan out a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. There’s no limit to what you can plan during this time, so take advantage of it. Even if you don’t normally “plot out” your story, spend time daydreaming about your characters. If nothing else, give your story a destination: where is it going? If you don’t know the end yet, that’s okay. Simply pick a spot between here and there. A midpoint, a hurdle, a victory. This will give you something to write toward. Once you reach that destination, chances are you’ll know where to head next.

NaNo Planning Photo Credit: Life in the minds of children by Mehdinom via Wikimedia Commons

As for me, I’m already NaNoPlanning for another November as a “NaNo Pirate:” writing like mad but not exactly following the official NaNo rules. In the past I’ve used November—with all the great support and benefits that the official program provides—to revise a novel. This year I’ll be attempting to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress. I’m such a rule breaker.

Whether you join the official NaNoWriMo or engage in NaNo piracy, I encourage you to take November to push yourself as a writer. Do your own NaNo, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be gained for a small investment of your time.

If you’ve tried NaNo, please share what you’ve gained in the comments. If you’re considering doing NaNo for the first time, post your questions and concerns so NaNo veterans can guide and support you. Then get to NaNoPlanning! November is coming up fast.


Photo Credit: Jared Hagan

Mandeville_SeedsMandeville_52waysChris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block.

Learn more about Chris and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.