The Evolution of a Writer

At Bouchercon 2016

2016 has been the year of the question: What kind of writer do you want to be?

It’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for years. When I was young, I loved writing stories. Then in Middle School, I wrote a column for the school paper, The Ram Page, and decided I wanted to be a journalist. I studied Journalism in college, and started writing columns and articles for a regional paper. Then six years post college, two years post marriage, I found myself writing stories again. It didn’t take long for me to figure out I had a lot to learn.

With very limited options, I signed up for an Institute of Children’s Novel Writing class, sent off my money, received my course instructions, read the first chapter of the workbook, wrote a chapter, sent it to my instructor, repeat. She (or he—I never knew) read my work, critiqued the pages, sent it back with suggestions and instructions, repeat. By the end of the class I had a YA novella that was totally unpublishable.

Then I met Maggie Osborne. She was speaking at the local library, was well-published and willing to teach. Under her tutelage, I wrote a Harlequin Intrigue that was totally unpublishable. A few years later, my husband and I were moving back to the Front Range and she introduced me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. That was in 1988. Since then I have been part of the RMFW family, made a number of lifelong friends, found my voice and a support system that has sustained me through the good and the bad of publishing.

In the summer of 1998, I was offered a three book contract for my Birdwatcher’s Mysteries. Then, with the first book in the series scheduled for release, the second book turned in and three more books on contract to write, life threw me a few curve balls. One required I spend two months in Israel in the Fall of 1999 while one of my daughters received medical treatment for an auto-immune disorder; the other required a prolonged battle against breast cancer (ultimately successful) that delayed the fulfillment of my contracts in a timely fashion.

It turned out serendipitous. In Israel, I came up with the idea for DARK WATERS (published in Sept 2015), while the battle against cancer meant I was late turning in manuscripts in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, impacting the momentum of sales. While my editor was supportive and understanding, the publisher viewed it smart business to cut their losses and chose not to renew my contract. I was devastated. BUT being out of contract meant I could focus on writing DARK WATERS.

It was a joy to have the time I used to have to write books. I could write at my own pace, ruminate over story, research to my heart’s content and polish my prose to perfection. Fast forward, I now have two publishers—one for the thrillers and one for the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series. DARK WATERS is out, Book #6 in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series is out, and I’m midway through my editor’s revisions on RED SKY, scheduled for June 2017. AND yet I’m once more facing decisions.

Writing two books last year was hard. So, do I write Book #7 in the Birdwatcher's Mystery series or work on another thriller? Do I sign new contracts or take the Tony Hillerman approach, write a complete book nomatter how long it takes, polishing until I'm satisfied, and then try and sell it? Or do I sign a new contract with my traditional publisher, opt to go Indy, or quit and take up traveling full time?

Simple choices? Not!

While writing is art, it’s also a business. We may love to write, to play with words, and create stories that captivate readers, but once we’re under contract, there are expectations. It becomes a job! So, do I want to work on deadline, do I want to make money, do I want to practice the art of writing, can I do all of the above? Do I want to keep writing to a theme, or branch out and write a different book, a different genre altogether?

As a new monthly blogger, I plan to tackle some of these questions, share some of my own insights, struggles and perspective. If any of you have a topic you’d like me to address, please send me an email.

Bouchercon in New Orleans 2016
Bouchercon in New Orleans 2016

Meanwhile, for me, September has been the month of conferences. First there was Colorado Gold (a great con), and now there’s Bouchercon. These are two very different conventions. Colorado Gold is a teaching conference where you can take writing classes, meet agents who may want to represent you, read for editors who may like your book. Bouchercon is a mystery fan conference designed to showcase mystery writers and introduce them to readers, where already established writers can meet with their agents and editors and attend publisher parties. This year at Bouchercon I was up for an Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook, a big award in the mystery community. I didn’t win. Hard! But “it’s an honor to be nominated.” In truth, I had several people tell me that “the win is in being nominated.” Maybe, but I thought winning meant walking away with the Anthony. One dear friend put it best, “It sucks not to win. I’ve been a loser seven times and it never gets easier.” She bought me a drink and made me laugh. But, while it may suck to lose, I'm counting my blessings. It’s much better to have lost to Louise Penny than Paula Hawkins.

The real “win” for me was the opportunity to sit on a panel with Lee Child. The Rogue Women Writers (a group of eight women writing international espionage and geopolitical thrillers, who blog at were assigned a Friday afternoon slot with Lee moderating. For those who don’t read the genre, Lee Child is the #1 international thriller writer of the Jack Reacher novels. Now, I’m smart enough to know that nearly everyone in that room was there to see Lee, but still…what a thrill it was speaking to a standing-room only crowd. Thanks to all my RMFW friends who attended. A lot of you know how intimidating it is to sit in front of an audience and talk about yourself. Not only were you there to support me, but you Tweeted, Facebooked, shared photos, posted comments and took the time to tell me you thought the panel went well. FYI, I thought you all did well, too!! In my book, RMFW and the whole Rocky Mountain writers’ community rocks!

Take the First Step

14311444_1050223608424117_3014868071978910328_oTwo weekends ago, I was honored to be a presenter and panelist at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. If you are new to writing, or unfamiliar with the conference arm of this organization, I would highly encourage you learn more, consider attending, or even offer up your time as a volunteer. It is a fantastic opportunity to meet other writers, learn craft, and pitch your books to a variety of agents and editors.

I first learned of RMFW in 2005. I had just relocated back to Colorado with my husband, our two babies, Beth and Matthew, and a few dozen pages of a novel I had started writing while pregnant with Beth. Back then, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I remember the Internet search in Excite (the old Google for those that either don’t know or remember):

Colorado Writing Clubs.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers was one of the first results to pop up.

I didn’t know what this organization was, but I scoured every word on that old site and discovered they hosted writer critique groups and that there was one in my area, the North side of Denver. They met at the now closed Borders Bookstore on 104th avenue.

I was terrified, but I reached out anyway. Certain that I would be told no, I wasn’t welcome, good enough, or experienced enough to join their ranks. But that didn’t happen. For a small yearly fee, I joined RMFW and was accepted into my first ever critique group. I had been an avid reader my whole life, absorbing and learning story without ever knowing it. But it was that day, the day I took that first step toward RMFW that my formal education in writing and publishing began.

csdp0hcuiaaianbWriting can be a solitary and lonely business. Most writers I know, myself included, prefer those hours alone in our heads with story. But because we are not entirely nonhuman, we also need to connect with others of our kind. Since that day in 2005, I have slowly built up a truly fantastic network of fellow writers who I am proud to also call friends. Most of those connections started and continue to flourish because of RMFW.

I was a presenter and panelist at this years conference, but I clearly remember eleven years ago being an outsider looking in. Take that step, connect with other writers. I can practically guarantee you won’t be sorry you did.

A Few Words About Photo Copyrights

The topic of photo copyrights came up during several of my workshops at last weekend's Colorado Gold Conference (one of the best Writers' Conferences anywhere - and if you've never attended one, PLEASE join us next September, when the conference turns 35!). Authors often have a limited understanding of how copyright law applies to photographs - and sometimes don't realize that using photos pulled from the Internet without a license is copyright infringement unless the photograph is in the public domain (or the owner has released it for use by others).

In light of that, I thought I'd take a little time today to review the law of copyright as it applies to photographs (and their use online), and offer tips for protecting yourself and your work from claims that you've infringed a photo copyright.

Copyright attaches to photographs at the time of creation, and belongs to the photographer who shot the image (or, in some cases, the client who hired the photographer to create works for hire). You cannot use someone else's image without a license (or permission), unless the image is released for your intended use and/or has entered the public domain--and you must be able to prove that status.

In other words: you cannot simply pull someone else's photographs from the Internet and use them, even on a blog that earns no money. 

Also, you cannot assume a photograph is released for use or in the public domain because it appears on Pinterest or on someone else's blog or website. (Even sites that claim to offer copyright-released or licensed photos for free can carry some degree of risk, because if a troll uploads a copyrighted image without the author's permission, people who subsequently use that image may be subject to infringement claims. It's rare, but I've seen it happen, with expensive consequences.)

So what's an author to do?

Some authors subscribe to reliable paid photography services that give access to image libraries. For a fee (and, in some cases, for free on a more limited basis) authors can use the images in these libraries for book covers, blogs, and other creative endeavors. Some services work on a "pay as you go" basis, licensing individual images, while others allow authors to pay a monthly (or annual) fee for unlimited image use. Only subscribe to reputable sites, and when using free photo sites, make sure the operators actually check the source of the images they offer.

Some authors stick with images that have entered the public domain, either due to copyright expiration or a confirmed copyright release by the photographer or copyright owner. Once an image has entered the public domain, it's free to use and it isn't copyright infringement to use it for blogs, book covers, and other creative works. The U.S. Library of Congress has an extensive collection of images, many of which are in the public domain and thus completely free to download and use. (Here's a link to their Japanese collection - much of which is in the public domain.) 

When pulling images from any website, BEWARE. Some free image sites are legitimate, but others may contain stolen or copyright-infringing images uploaded accidentally (or, in rare cases, on purpose by devious individuals wanting to cause trouble). When in doubt, don't use the image. You will be legally liable for copyright infringement even if the infringement was accidental.


The best solution of all is to create the images yourself. Most people have either a camera or (more commonly) a mobile device that includes a camera. When traveling, or even out and about near home, take photographs of everything from rocks to flowers to automobiles (be sure to blur any license plates you capture - or, better still, take photos where the license plate doesn't show).


I refer to this habit of taking photos of various objects and places as "shooting B roll" - and it's a habit every author and blogger should adopt.

In film and television, camera crews shoot a combination of "A roll" - the scenes involving the actors, hosts, or primary subjects of the film - and "B roll" - still and moving shots of background, interesting objects, and other items used in post-production to enhance the film, as well as for bumpers and introductory scenes.

By shooting your own B roll when you're out and about, you're establishing a photo library of images you own, which you can use for any and every purpose, from cover art to blogging and beyond.



Need a mug for a post on your favorite morning beverage?







Don't limit your photographs to family functions, historical sites and lovely landscapes--though they're certainly useful too. 



Start photographing that B-roll now. It won't take long to build a photo library all your own.



Like this bowl, you'll be glad you did.

Hello and Here’s to Romance

Hello from the high mountains of Colorado.

After what can’t be called a hiatus - because it was too long - I am back writing for the RMFW blog. Looking forward to it. When Patricia Stoltey asked me to write, I asked her if there was a topic she’d like me to explore. She replied that she’d like more posts on writing romance. Her wish is my command.

When I was a kid, I really didn’t love to read. I was captivated by television - maybe even addicted. That was back in the day before recorders (yes, campers, we did have color TV in those days) and I knew exactly what days and times my heroes would show up on the screen. Woe be unto anyone who interrupted. And, if my mom planned something different for me - EGADS!!! I’d have to wait and catch that episode on reruns.

Looking back, I realize that this obsessive TV watching was feeding the romance writer in me. Feeding my fascination with heroes.

Then, when I was in my late teens, I was introduced to romance - historical romance to be exact.

Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers.

The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove, Sweet Savage Love and Dark Fires.

8131425And I became a reader. I then married a military man and books kept me company in Germany during the long weeks when he was away.

I carried stories in my heart for years, wondering if I could actually write a novel, before finally making the leap. Whether you write romance, or sci-fi, or fantasy, or whatever you write - you know that feeling of taking a deep breath and beginning that first story.

Though some of my tastes in romance have changed, I still love going on the journey. Romance is a journey whose destination is pre-determined. To be classified as a romance there must be a happy ending. The hero and heroine must be together in some sort of committed relationship at the end of the book.

Romance readers demand it.

As an aside - this is why some of us rail at the categorization of Nicolas Sparks as a “romance” writer. Hello. No, Message in a Bottle is NOT a romance novel. It’s a love story. But - spoiler alert - a book in which the hero dies halfway through - not a romance.

Sorry for the digression.

And how committed are the readers of romance? Pretty darn committed.

Romance is the number one selling genre.


According to Romance Writers of America, 84% of romance book buyers are women. (That’s surprising to me. Yet, I do have male readers of my military romance.) 64% of those readers read romance more than once a month, 35% buy romance more than once a month. And by and large, those readers have been reading romance for 10-20 years.

The top rated sub-genres in romance are:

Print: romantic suspense (53%); contemporary romance (41%); historical romance (34%); erotic romance (33%); New Adult (26%); paranormal romance (19%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (17%).

E-book: romantic suspense (48%); contemporary romance (44%); erotic romance (42%); historical romance (33%); paranormal romance (30%); New Adult (26%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (14%).

The reason I mentioned these statistics is to show that writing romance is not a whim. It very well might be a great business decision if you love the genre. Also I wanted to point out the wide variety of stories you can tell within the category.

Why do I write romance?

Because I believe in love. Love that overcomes obstacles. Love that, after all is said and done, wins the day. Love that binds two imperfect people together to face the world together.

I’ll be back next month and we’ll get into some of the requirements of the genre.

Until then, campers, BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.


It’s About Who You Know: The Truth About Successful Publishing

Word Cloud "Social Innovation"I won’t claim to know what makes a successful writer. I do know what it takes to be a working one. Let me start this post by dropping a little knowledge: A working writer is a writer who works. I know, right? Who knew? A working write writes. They often write a lot.

I’m a working writer.

I don’t write every day.

I don’t outline.

I don’t do many booksignings or other promotions.

I get sick of writing.

I get even more sick of publishing.

I am a bad working writer.

I still write.

This past weekend me and about 400 of my new closest friends spent three days revealing in A) workshops and B) the fact we aren’t alone. No, dear writer, you are not a freak of nature…okay, you might be, but the rest of us surely aren’t.

There were so many fantastic workshops. I learned lots of things. I pitched to an editor. I met my agent in person for the first time since 2007 when I signed with her. I hung out with people I don’t spend enough time with. Met so many more who I now adore.

And in the midst of the madness, it came to me. THIS IS WHAT PUBLISHING IS ABOUT. Being part of a tribe. Being a part of something bigger than my writing cave, bigger than my isolation. If I sold a million books tomorrow, I’d know, while the money and fame are nice, it’s about the people I consider my tribe.assassins_kiss

Don't believe me? Fine, buy 10 copies of my latest book, and then tell 10 friends.  ----->

You never know when that person you meet today, turns out to be the very reason you become rich and famous. Thank you to all those I met this conference. To those I hold dear until next year, when you forget to buy me a whiskey.

Hope you had a lovely conference too. Tell me what you enjoyed most--Who you met? What you learned?

Colorado Calling

I believe Colorado crime fiction is having a moment.

The writers?

That’s not what I mean.

I’m talking about the dramatic setting.

I mean, right now.

In August, it was the release of Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying.

This month, it’s Kevin Wolf’s The Homeplace. (Today as a matter of fact; Sept. 6 is the official publication date.)

In October, it’s Barbara Nickless’ Blood on the Tracks.

What else is unusual?

All three are debuts.

And I mean, these three books make for a fascinating triple header.

And they take major advantage of the Colorado landscape. Storey’s is all Western Slope—Grand Junction to Steamboat to Leadville and back to G.J.

Nickless is all Front Range—Denver, Fort Collins and a splash of the eastern plains (get ready for your close-up, Wiggins).

And then Wolf is all farm country, way out east in a fictional town in a fictional county but just as “real” as they come. Dry and windy, too.

I’ll go west to east to give you a flavor.


Nothing Short of DyingNothing Short of Dying is big. It’s rough. It’s tough. It’s a full-throttle thriller led by a guy named Clyde Barr, who has his own moral code. He’s a loner. He’s a fighter. Yes, we hear the echoes of Jack Reacher (I’m dying to know if Storey is tired of hearing the comparisons between Barr and Reacher) but Barr’s motivations, to me, are built on a stronger foundation.

The plot is less cartoony, too, than Lee Child’s stuff (as addictive as those cartoons might be). Clyde Barr is a man who keeps his promises and he’s made one to his sister, Jen. When she needs help, Barr goes looking for her. He teams up with a woman he meets along the way and calls on old friends including one guy named Zeke, a pal from his days in a Mexican prison.

Barr is not all bad boy. He’s got his weapons, sure, but he’s also got paperbacks by Friedrich Nietzsche and H. Rider Haggard. He can be sensitive when the time is right, but you do not want to piss him off.

The backdrop for all this action is pure Colorado. “Sandy escarpments rose up on the left and forested mesas hugged the right until we dropped off a hill and headed into the Rifle valley. The river was wider here, with waves shimmering in the sun. What were once hay fields in the flat floodplains were now natural gas pads, pipe yards, compressor stations, and gas plants. One of the latter spewed a flame sixty feet in to the air. Closer to town, the cattle pastured I’d known as a kid were buried forever under asphalt and pavement, with house and apartment complexes built on top.”

Hey, Colorado ain’t all beautiful.

(I already reviewed Storey’s book on my book review blog, here. This includes an interview with Storey.)


Blood on the TracksBlood on the Tracks is just as tough and wild as Nothing Short of Dying.

I am really taken with this ambitious story, which starts out as a thriller, morphs into a mystery, and turns back again into a movie-ready action-packed finish.

Railroad Police Special Agent Sydney Rose Parnell is one complex and interesting character. She sees dead people, for one thing. But don’t think paranormal. Uh, hardly. These are “skills” she doesn’t necessarily want. She’s haunted for many reasons, including the fact that she worked in corpse retrieval during the war in Iraq. She was also involved in a situation covering up atrocities. The past is chasing her down. (A common theme in all three of these books.)

The plot here involves the murder of young woman who was known for her kindness to hobos and drifters. She is murdered in vicious fashion. The killer scrawls bloody hobo symbols nearby so Sydney and her K9 partner Clyde (yes, again, Clyde) are pulled into the investigation. Clyde is a great character, too. He’s got his own darkness. Something is broken inside him, too. Clyde is absolutely one of the best-developed dog characters I’ve ever met in a book. But he doesn't overshadow Sydney Rose.

After a big scene where they stop and search a freight train, they think they’ve got their man—or do they? The guy in custody seems like the obvious culprit but based on the number of pages left to read we know there are some problems coming and they start rushing at Sydney in waves. The hunt leads to big-picture conspiracies and into the deadly lair of white supremacists and ultimately into a terrifying confrontation with a predator during a snowstorm in, yes, Wiggins. In the end, there is blood on the tracks and many other places, too.

Cue the movie for this one. And don’t just take my word for it, check the great advance blurbs from Vikki Pettersson, Jeffery Deaver, and Hank Philippi Ryan, among others.

Blood on the Tracks is already reaching readers ahead of its launch next month; check the reviews already rolling in from a Kindle promotion for early readers.


The HomeplaceAt the end of Blood on the Tracks, when Sydney Rose comes into Wiggins, Nickless writes:

“Barns and ranch houses gave over to businesses as I drove into town. A single traffic light swayed forlornly above the empty street. I drove past a dry goods store, a saddle shop and a single-marquee theater, all with Closed Please Come Again signs in the windows. Near the end of the block, red neon blinked through the snow. A grinning cowboy became visible, holding aloft a flashing beer stein.”

That small-town flavor connects right over to The Homeplace.

Of the three books here, this is the quietest, the most serene. But it does not lack for suspense.

The Homeplace won the Tony Hillerman Prize in the fall of 2015 (the prize goes to an unpublished writer of a mystery that captures the southwest flavor of Hillerman’s work).

What’s hard to believe is that The Homeplace is the work of someone from the unpublished ranks.  But those of us who have been around Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers know that’s true—and also know that Kevin has long turned out beautiful stories with clear-eyed prose.

The Homeplace features Chase Ford, who is coming home to Comanche County, where there’s “forty miles of dirt for every mile of blacktop.” He’s a former basketball star and he’s also the first of four generations of Ford men to put Comanche County in the rearview mirror. At least, that is, until now. Ford is as deeply troubled as Clyde Barr and Sydney Rose Parnell. And all three of these folks share a strong streak of stoicism, too.

In addition to Ford, there’s a full small-town ensemble cast. Wolf jumps easily from perspective to perspective. There’s Birdie Hawkins, a game warden for the Department of Wildlife. There’s Mercy Saylor, who works in the café in Brandon, and deputy sheriff Paco Martinez. There’s also Ray-Ray Jackson, who lives on the edges of society.

The sky is big and the wind blows, but life in the small town has a trapped, closed-in feeling. Complexities abound. And Wolf’s writing is uniformly calm and unsentimental, as when Chase and Mercy reconnect in the café for the first time since he disappeared over the horizon to play big-league basketball. “Quiet slipped into the room and took the empty chair at their table. Pans and pots clanged in the kitchen. Dishes loaded with eggs and bacon slid over the front counter, and the cash register drawer opened and shut. They both stared out the window, content in that minute to say nothing.”

The Homeplace is billed a mystery—dead body in the first few pages and all of that. There is a “who done it?” But with its weight and depth, The Homeplace could easily be read as straight novel, characters and setting first.

“As the first spikes of orange painted the gray morning, Chase spotted a deer at the edge of the field. No chance it would scent him. Through the binoculars, Chase could tell it was a big deer. The broken tine on the buck’s wide antlers and its graying muzzle meant it was an old bachelor, most likely run off from the herd by the younger bucks to live out what years it had left on its own.”

Yes, this is Colorado, too—way out on the windblown plains where the inimitable Kent Haruf (Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction) set his novels.

I wish Haruf was still alive to read The Homeplace. He would recognize the setting.

This is also Gregory Hill country—East of Denver and the Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles.

Congrats to Storey, Nickless and Wolf for putting some terrific new characters in motion against one of the best backdrops going—good old Colorado.


On Reviews

An author friend recently thanked me for posting an Amazon review for her latest book. “How do you always know when I’ve reviewed your books?” I asked. “Because I read my reviews,” she answered. “All of them?” “Yes.”

I’m the opposite. I seldom read my reviews. I might occasionally check my star rating and the number of reviews I’ve received. Or even glance at the first few when my book comes out. But after that, I avoid them.

I’ve put some thought into why my friend and I have such different approaches to reviews. Maybe it’s because my friend is a very non-controversial writer. She writes inspirational romances, and her books are what are called “gentle reads”. They’re never going to offend anyone, or provoke strong reactions. I can be a very polarizing writer. For example, when I entered my latest historical romance in the RITA, I got scores back of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Readers' responses to my books tend to be all over the place.

Since the beginning of my career, my books have gotten mixed reviews, and I’ve come to accept there are aspects of my world view and creative vision that are a bit different from that of most romance writers. I also have a very distinctive voice, which draws some readers in, while turning others off. I can’t change either of those things. And so I seldom read reviews, because a lot of the time it’s my voice or my story vision that the reviewers are reacting to, and their opinion, good or bad, isn’t going to be helpful.

In contrast, my friend reads her reviews to discover what readers like and don’t like in her books. The idea is to figure out how to write a better, more compelling book next time. It’s great when a reviewer gives you something specific that you can process and use in the future. But a lot of the time, that’s not what happens. Many readers don’t analyze what they didn’t like. They simply express their emotional reaction to the book.

Professional reviews are another matter. I read a lot of them in my job ordering fiction for a library. Professional reviewers tend to discuss both the good and bad aspects of a book. When they are critical, they tend to criticize specific things. They will mention slow pacing or tired tropes, clichéd characters or awkward prose, things like that. They also tend to balance negative things with a disclaimer, like “Despite the over-the-top action and lack of character depth, urban fantasy readers will be pleased”. Or, “Her (the writer’s) fans will find what they’re looking for.”

In those cases, the reviewer is recognizing that even though they didn’t like the book, there is still going to be demand for it. For someone like me, who is purchasing books for a library, that’s very helpful. I can’t simply buy the books that get the best reviews. I have to buy the books that the patrons at the library where I work want to read. And trust me, those aren’t always the ones that get the best professional reviews.

Despite my resistance to reading reviews of my books, I have to admit reviews have influenced my writing. I’m currently rewriting a book that was published almost fifteen years ago. As I rewrite, I’m conscious of the fact a fair number of the reviews of the original version found my heroine unsympathetic and cold. This time around I’m trying to make her more appealing. I’ve not only tried to get inside her head more and better reveal her psychological state, I’ve actually changed the plot so her actions aren’t so frustrating to the reader. I’m trying to make her less flawed and more “heroic”.

Bear in mind, it’s taken me fifteen years to get to the point where I can do something positive with those negative reviews. And that’s the thing you have to be careful about. Bad reviews can be devastating. They can demoralize you to the point that you feel like giving up writing. Or, they can push you to make changes that don’t play to your strengths as a writer. You have to remember that for every reader who dislikes a certain aspect of a book, there may be another one who loves that very thing. There are books I find plodding and dull, while other readers see them as beautifully crafted and complex. There are books that bore me because the characters seem shallow and uninteresting. But other readers don’t care because they’re focused on the action and suspense.

Over and over we’re told that a review is only one person’s opinion. And that truly is something to keep in mind. If that opinion helps you write a better book next time, then maybe it’s a good review, even if it is critical of your work. But if it does nothing except ruin your day, then it really is a bad review.

How about you? Do you regularly read your reviews? Do they influence your writing?


I was re-reading some of my past posts here on the RMFW blog. Can you believe I've been a contributor for two years? Who knew I had so much to say? I would've expected to be ridden out of here on a rail just weeks in!

As I revisited some of my old topics, there were many I feel made some good points, if I say so myself, and that might be worth a fresh look. So in lieu of fresh content this month I thought I'd share links to some of my favorite past articles over two years of contributing to the RMFW blog. If you missed any, maybe take a look at one or two, see if there is anything in them worth taking away and applying to your own writing.

I HATE MY BOOK (12/2014)
How I went from loving my book to hating the very mention of it to loving it again!

How to enrich your world-building by bringing complex political pressures to bear on a plot.

Tackling what can be a daunting task: relating large-scale conflict while still keeping your story character driven.

Academics will only take you so far. Without passion, you're just writing, not storytelling.

The occasional caustic off-hand comment often says more about us than we know, and can have devastating effects on our fellow writers.

Something wrong with you.noʎ ɥʇıʍ ʇɥƃıɹ ƃuıɥʇǝɯoS (5/2016)
Worried that you aren't writing the traditional formula that sells books? Don't be - it's what makes us different that makes our stories stand out.

Thanks for reading for two years! Here's to many more!

Author Newsletters or Aliens Ate My Lunch … by Stephanie Reisner

2016_Stephanie Reisner
I subscribe to quite a few author newsletters. Not just because I’m an author, but as a reader I like to keep up with my favorites, too.

As a reader, I want a newsletter to do one of three things:

  1. Inform me of what’s coming or what has just been released. The truth is I only want an author’s newsletter when something new is releasing, pre-releasing, or something big is happening. This may only be once every month to once every quarter.
  2. Let me know about sales or freebies. Sure, this could go along with #1, but sometimes sales are happening on older books and I’ll want to share that information with my friends if I already enjoyed the book.
  3. Let me know about important events or dates. This would include book signings, appearances, or online events that I might be interested in.

Anything beyond this, meh. I mean, if I wanted to know every time my favorite author posted a new blog, I’d subscribe to their blog separately. Some writers are boring bloggers (myself included at times). So keep your blog subscription separate from your newsletter subscription. Check out FeedBurner or Networked Blogs to help you install subscribe buttons for your blog. I subscribe to newsletters to actually get NEWS (about books).

2016_Reisner_AliensHere are some tips to make your newsletter better:

  • Don’t spam readers weekly if you’re not releasing new books weekly. If you do that, we readers will eventually start treating your newsletters as SPAM.
  • Don’t start a newsletter and forget it. Try to send out something regularly (once every month or every quarter), even if it is just a SALE or FREEBIE announcement. You want readers to remember you’re there without annoying them. This will also (hopefully) motivate you to release on a more regular schedule, especially if you’re indie. If you can’t release quarterly, consider writing short stories or novellas between books to keep readers interested.
  • Put new releases first. Sales and freebies second and important dates or events third. Because that’s how I, as a reader like to see it. I imagine I’m not alone in this.
  • Include links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble where I can actually buy your latest book or get the latest deal! Don’t send me to your blog, which will then send me to your book. You might lose me at your blog. I want a direct connection to buy. If you want to include your blog/web link in the newsletter, just throw it in at the bottom.
  • I prefer short descriptions as opposed to an entire chapter excerpt within the body of a newsletter. Just link the excerpt and if it looks intriguing, I’ll go to your blog or website to read the excerpt.
  • Don’t include full articles in your newsletter. Give me a heading, at most a paragraph description, and then a link to where I can read more. Click-bait me, baby!
  • Concentrate on no more than three books per newsletter. I might feel overwhelmed. The point being I want to be able to open the email, get the highlights while I’m having my morning coffee, and click what interests me. If your links are lost behind paragraphs of rambling commentary, I might get bored and move on to the next thing in my inbox.
  • Use eye catching taglines and descriptions. Not: “My new book is coming out!” Why not: “Aliens are stealing your lunch on September 1! Pre-Order **Aliens Ate My Lunch** today and save .99 cents! Well damn it – I’m ordering Aliens Ate My Lunch right now if I see that header. And if I’m not ordering, I’m definitely reading the brief description. If that brief description is just as intriguing, I’ll likely buy.
  • Include book covers. I like to see pretty book covers.
  • Don’t bombard me with the same book month after month. I get it, you only have one book currently available, but there are ways to rectify this. Did I mention short stories and/or novellas between book releases? In the case of one book bombardment, give me updates on your next book first (maybe a cover reveal?), then list appearances, and THEN remind me about your existing book with the cover, title, brief description, and buy links.
  • Of course if you are an awesome blogger, go ahead and click-bait me to your blog at the very end. I may not click it all the time, but if you’re entertaining enough, I might.

As a reader, what do YOU like to see in an author newsletter?


2016_Reisner_Ascending2016_Reisner_SavingColorado native Stephanie Connolly-Reisner grew up with a love for reading and writing. She started penning her first stories in grade-school and never stopped. Now much older, she’s a prolific writer who lives along the front range of the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and a couple of very pampered house cats. You can find her and her four author personas at She can also be found at Facebook. Stephanie writes under four pseudonyms: S.J. Reisner, Audrey Brice, Anne O'Connell, and S. Connolly.

Pitch Like a BOSS by Angie Hodapp

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Pitching your book to an agent or editor is daunting. How are you supposed to cram the essence of your entire novel into a pithy couple of sentences? (Hint: You’re not.) Here’s a formula for a concise pitch that will set you on the right track. Ladies and Gentlemen, James Scott Bell‘s “three-sentence pitch”:

First Sentence: Your lead character’s name, vocation, and initial situation. Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high-level merger negotiations between computer companies.

Second Sentence: “When” + the main plot problem. When Will celebrates a recent merger by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.

Third Sentence: “Now” + the stakes. Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology that can be used for mass destruction.

Boom. Three sentences. The first introduces the protagonist in his ordinary world. The second presents the inciting incident. The third is what your character stands to lose if the antagonistic forces prevail. Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch. When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her. Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

Give it a try, but keep each sentence brief. Having taught this formula at pitch workshops, I know how tempted writers are to pack those three sentences full of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building. Resist that urge!

Now, can you boil your three-sentence pitch down further to create an even more concise pitch? Conversely, can you expand it to craft an evocative query letter? Whichever way you go, start here: with three sentences.


Above, we looked at a quick three-sentence formula that will help you start to craft your pitch. Did you try it? Yes? Awesome!

Did you thwart the temptation to squeeze in a bunch of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building? No? Alas. Go back to those three sentences and whittle, hone, refine, and polish. Until you do, your pitch probably isn’t ready.

Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent. Then let’s get you ready for your pitch appointment:

Ditch the idea that your pitch is supposed to be a complete summary of your novel. It’s not. Your pitch is a conversation starter. Pitch appointments at writing conferences tend to run about ten minutes. Deliver your pitch, then let the agent you’re pitching to ask you questions about your novel. About you. About your writing in general. Relax and have a chat.

Focus on character and plot. Ten-minute pitch appointments fly by, and many are wasted by the author who spends…way…too…much…time…explaining (1) his protagonist’s backstory, (2) his world-building elements, or (3) all the cool historical facts he discovered when researching his novel. Seriously. I once listened to a pitch during which the author never actually told me a single thing about her plot. Even when I asked questions about the story itself, her replies remained focused on backstory and setting. The agent wants to know if the story you put down between page 1 and page 350 is something they can sell. That’s what’s on the table, so focus on that.

Be prepared to respond to feedback and questions. Things I’ve said (gently, I hope!) to writers during pitch appointments include: (1) You’re pitching this as YA, but it’s coming across as a middle grade. What makes it YA? (2) How will your novel stand out among current bestsellers in your genre, or how will it appeal to readers of those bestsellers? (3) What are the last three books you’ve read in your genre? (4) What is your novel’s inciting incident, and how far into the manuscript does it occur? (5) In the story you just described, it concerns me that your protagonist isn’t actually the one who solves the plot problem. (6) The conflict you describe is very internal to your character. What is the story’s external conflict, and how does it get resolved and/or relate to the internal conflict? (7) Has your manuscript been critiqued by a critique group or beta readers?

Bring a copy of your query letter. If the agent stops you in the first minute of your pitch appointment with something like “I don’t represent that genre” (or anything else that feels like a shutdown/letdown), then politely ask if she wouldn’t mind giving you her quick impression of your query letter. After all, it’s your ten minutes. You paid for the appointment. And her input on your query letter just might help you land a different agent—one that’s right for you, your genre, and your project.

Understand that a disappointing pitch has zero bearing on your future as a writer. There will be other conferences, other pitch appointments, other opportunities. Keep pitching. Keep sending out query letters. The more doors you knock on, the more likely one (or more) will open.

And above all, keep writing.


AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.