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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the other thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Life Work Balance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any case, happy writing!


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

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

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



Guest Post: A View from the Critique by George Seaton

Several years ago when I was attending critique a lively discussion was prompted by one of the members asking the group if we thought of ourselves as writers or authors. I was surprised by the fervor some exhibited in response to that question. The person who’d brought it up was the group’s constant devil’s advocate, a young man whose demeanor was firmly categorical, his criticism blunt and sometimes unkind. When a few said they were authors, the young man aggressively responded that authors were published writers. There was disagreement on that point, and the young man countered with, “Well, raise your hand if you’re a published writer.” (I suppose one could argue that asking such a thing of folks whose singular ambition is to be published is a kind of shaming; if your hand doesn’t go up, well shame on you.) None of us had been published at that time, and no hands were raised. I gave a passing thought about the uselessness of labels and concluded the young man was as usual just giving another performance, just letting us know his ego was stoked that night. Who knows? Maybe that young man was just as frustrated as the rest of us; none of us had yet to publish our Great American Novel, and, by God, when would somebody see the worth of our talent?

I didn’t stay with the face-to-face critique group for very long.  Even though they were good people who shared my passions—to write and become published—I just had no talent for it. I was lousy at it. Who was I to tell another writer how they could improve their work? Hell, I had enough problems trying to figure out my own. The criticism? I took it well except when I didn’t. Besides that I found I was devoting more time preparing for critique than actually writing anything I was happy with.

After I’d left face-to-face critique, I joined an online group. We had three members, one of whom wrote from an assisted care facility way out on the eastern plains of Colorado. She was a delight. Her stories were as homey as I imagined she was. I don’t know where the other one lived, but from her writing I got the impression she was a Highlands Ranch soccer mom who had an interest in Biblical lore and murder mysteries which formed the basis of her storytelling. I believe it was the soccer mom who left first, and I left after that because, as I said, I was spending too much time on it. I did regret leaving my buddy out there on those pancake-flat plains to fend for herself. Though, if memory serves, the critique chair promised to hook her up with another online group. I hope that happened. Her stories were precious and they reminded me of Kent Haruf’s gems—clean construction and salt of the earth.

I’ve had some success over the years since leaving critique. My first published novel appeared in 2010. (I don’t count the novel I published in 2005. It was the product of a vanity press for which I paid a goodly sum. It was not ready for eyes other than mine to see. I’m not ashamed of it, but just a wee bit embarrassed that I had thought it was ready to see the light of day when now I know it clearly wasn’t. I suspect if I’d been attending critique at the time, and had let others see what I was up to, I probably would have heeded the criticism and polished it a lot more than I had.) The 2010 novel was published by a New York publisher. No,  not in Manhattan but Albion, six hours from the Big Apple and just off the shores of Lake Ontario. Small presses do abound, and I hooked up with one of them. Since 2010 three more of my novels have been published, as well as several novellas and short stories that have appeared in anthologies and some as stand-alone. I’ve not delved much into self-publishing and, truth be told, prefer to let someone else handle that part of the process. And, like every other writer I know, I’m working on several WIPs, writing every day, holed up in my writing room where the rest of the world knows to knock before entering.

I don’t think I’ll ever return to critique. I know I’d still be lousy at it. But, as I write this, I know there are those whose dreams have a much better chance of being fulfilled by attending critique than by not bothering with it. Not only for the constructive criticism that is essential to the process, but from the camaraderie as well. Something like everybody being in the same boat, working their oars, and all searching for landfall in the distance. That’s fine, some may say, but you didn’t stay with it. You gave up the ship. Well, I’m reminded of C.J. Box’s—former RMFW Writer of the Year and a New York Times Bestseller—response about his experience with critique: He said, and I paraphrase, “It just wasn’t for me.”

The point of all this is that we’re all different. I, for example, am a solitary writer with a quirk about letting anyone read my stuff before I send it off to a publisher. Others write good stuff in Starbucks, share it with fifteen friends, their critique partners, their Aunt Sybil in Paonia, and their Uncle Ted in Tulsa and then send it off for evaluation and hopefully a contract. We all do what we do because, yes, we are who we are. We can call ourselves writers or authors or whatever the hell we want to. I suppose what we can’t do, though, and I know you all share this sentiment, is give it up.

We breathe therefore we write.





George Seaton lives and writes in Pine, Colorado. Learn more about him at




I’m Better Than You

So in this writing game, part of the currency authors are paid in is status. Money might come, but even more important than fabulous cash prizes, in some circles, is status.

And how do you get status? Oh, the status game has many markers.  Who is your agent? Oh, that’s your agent? Wow. You get a hundred status points.

What is the name of your publisher? Oh, you signed a book deal and got a huge advance? You get two hundred status points. And since you earned out, you get bonus status points!

Friends on Facebook? One status point for every friend. Each like above one hundred likes gives you a status point. Traffic to your blog? You have to get at least five hundred hits a day to start accruing status points.

Twitter, Instagram, Wattpad, all work similarly. Email me privately and I’ll let you in on how status points work on those platforms.

A good review in the Publisher’s Weekly? That’s fifty status points, and if they like it, more bonus points. A starred review gives you the gold star bonus. I’ve heard you get special powers if you get the gold star bonus.

A good Kirkus Review? Well, that depends. The Indie Kirkus review only gives you twelve bonus points, but if you get a “real” Kirkus Review, well, that’s forty-nine points.

Are you an Amazon bestseller? Well, in what subcategory? You see, if your book is in the top 100 across all of Amazon, that is a thousand status points. If you are a bestseller in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Coming of Age>Judaism>Horror>Golems, well, you get an honorary five status points, but not much else.

Are you a U.S.A Today bestseller? Impressive. I’ll give you forty-eight status points.

Are you in the “real” game? Are you a New York Times Bestselling author? For realz? If you are, I bet you don’t use the word “realz”.

For every spot on the list, you get exponentially more status points. If you’re like fiftieth, you get X amount of status points. If you are #1? You get X to the fiftieth power. You can use your status points to buy the following: purse dogs, private jets, a date with Kanye West (to convince him to read novels), and a spot on Oprah, which I know is so over, but we have a time machine for you.

If you are #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks in a row, your bonus points quadruple, and you transcend status points. Now, you can count your status in chits.

One trillion status points equals one chit. And one trillion chits equals a Schrute buck. Google Schrute bucks. I love The Office.

I know what you’re thinking. That Aaron Michael Ritchey (three names gives me one status point automatically) is stomping around in his own sour grapes. You are totally right. I get jealous. I have a few status points, sure I do, but not as many as I want.

In the end, I had to really think on this issue. Is status my end goal? Is that why I’m in the game?

To be honest, at first, yeah, that’s what I wanted. I wanted the golden ticket. I wanted to be intrinsically better than you. I wanted you to bow down before my genius and kiss my ring.

And then, the status didn’t come like I wanted, and you know, it might not come.

Which makes me wonder why I’m writing?

I have my answer. I want to write books. I want to write a lot of books. I want to write books with people, and I want to write books alone. And since I already wrote for twenty years without publishing my work, I want to spend the next twenty years publishing what I write because for me, if I don’t get my work out in the world, it loses its meaning. For me, writing must be a selfless act, and for it to be selfless, I must let go of my fear and publish books, by any means necessary.

The status may or may not come.

But the books? The time I spend writing?

It becomes something you can’t buy with status points, chits, or Schrute bucks.

The time I spend crafting novels becomes priceless. And when I’m holding my books in my hand, I’m holding the minutes of my life. After all, I only have a few precious minutes alive on this planet, and I want to use those minutes to write.

However, for every comment on this blog post, I get one status point. Hurray! And for the record, I don't think I'm better than you.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Non-Human Characters

Birds and beasts, werewolves and vampires, fairies and trolls, rakshasas and dragons and inari okami (and did you think of a western European dragon or a Chinese dragon)? Aliens. Some or all of these can populate your work . . . for good or ill.

Liesa Malik and I will be talking about writing non-human characters at the Colorado Gold Conference, so this post is short because it's a teaser to come to that workshop and I want to invite you to come and talk to us about YOUR non-human characters and brainstorm with us.

I have spent my career writing non-human characters – everything from a mole (yes, a mole, the earth-digging-nearly-blind animal) to a planet (actually two planets, one of them Earth). My Heart series – futuristic/fantasy set in a Celtic pagan culture – features telepathic animal companions and has since the first book. In fact, I think the cat character in that book, Zanth, sold HeartMate.

Since then, I've written a slew of animal companions including (of course) a puppy and dogs, cats of various colors and attitudes, and have branched out to foxes, raccoons and most recently birds, a hawk and a raven.

I do my homework on the animals, how they live, their social structures, what they eat, how they might think. I want my readers to believe these animals are not just humans in disguise. And Liesa and I will talk about how to do that research, hands-on and otherwise.

Unlike many people writing urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance, I've only written one shapeshifter hero – a jaguar-man – and absolutely no vampires. Though since I write in those genres I've read a lot of books on both. I know what I, personally, like in a vampire and werewolf, and how the myths have been explored by various authors.

So, we'll add in shapeshifters and vampires as common characters – both as good guys and as monsters that can highlight your very human characters.

And Liesa, especially, has studied the market for writing animals, and the fantasy genre is full of variety, and in science fiction humans continue to interact with alien races.

Yes, we do have peeves about how animals and monsters are portrayed, don't you? Come share those with us.

And, yes, I also write ghosts, mostly of people of the Old West, but I consider those humans . . . except the evil one . . . oh, and the Labrador spirit guide. No, neither of those are human . . . .

So drop by and talk with us about your non-human characters and why you love them. And what makes them different. Or how you want to delve into a different psyche.

See you at the Colorado Gold!

Creating Dynamic Characters

Well-developed characters make for great reading, but also for fun writing. It's such an amazing feeling when a character wakes up and starts doing stuff without a lot of direction from me.

As you've probably noticed, there are a thousand-and-one approaches to character development. A lot of writers use work sheets that ask for details ranging from eye color and shoe size to favorite song and which high school the character graduated from. I think these sheets are awesome, but since I am not  detail oriented and get easily distracted, I have yet to complete one. Inevitably I get bored and wander off to write something more exciting.

I honestly don't have a conscious process for creating my characters. Usually, when I sit down and start writing they kindly show up and start talking. I don't consciously sit down and plot out what kind of character they are going to be.

But, I have a background in mental health and I suspect my subconscious is in on the game and kindly supplying me with information. When I stop to think about it and try to analyze my process, I realize that I am relying on a few basic principles.

  1. I make sure the character has a cohesive personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Somebody who is intuitive and flexible, or somebody who likes rules and structure and routines? Do they talk a lot, or prefer to keep things to themselves? Then I make sure that they stick to this, unless there's a damn good reason for them to break away from their usual behavior.
  2. What is the character's defining life event? Here I am talking about those experiences we go through that change us forever. Most of us have a number of these, but there is often one particular occurrence that changes everything. Pay attention to your friends and family, really listen, and you'll often hear it. Look for the "before" and "after" type words for your clues: Before the divorce … After the accident… Ever since I was diagnosed with… People tend to mark everything in their lives by this one defining event.
  3. I also pay attention to core values. What is most important to your character. Family? Independence? Success? Belonging? Individuality? Once you know what these are, you can really up the stakes in your plot by throwing your character into a situation where there most deeply chereished values are threatened and tested.

For example, in my paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying, (releasing Feb. 9 from Diversion Books) Paranormal Investigator Maureen Keslyn's top value is independence, followed closely by a love of personal challenge, and pursuing justice. In this story she's about to turn sixty, has recently been injured on the job, and is physically vulnerable for the first time in her life. She's also facing a situation where someone or something is killing off elderly people in a nursing home. This set up makes it easy to set up suspense and emotional tension and keep it going throughout the book.

I'll be talking more about character development at the workshop I'll be co-presenting with the Heather Webb at the Colorado Gold Conference. Hope to see you there!


Endings and Endings Problems:

By Robin D. Owens

Endings are extremely important. You want the reader to be satisfied, more, to remember that you gave them a good finish and look forward to your next book.

Here are some problems I, as a reader and writer, find in endings:

I had a favorite author (male writing under a female pseudonym) whose work I loved . . . until the end. Many of his/her books felt like s/he just didn't care past a certain point, or had left this particular project until late (the romances) and had to rush. Deeply unsatisfying.

So rushing pace can be a problem.

Or abrupt endings. I have a writer friend who likes to read endings with an emotional wrap-up, even as she tends to write until the action is done and stops.

Or a slow and lingering pace. The hero and heroine have solved the crime, saved the world, fallen in love, and you spend two more extraneous chapters describing how happy they and their friends and everyone else is.

Point of view. I have had books with only hero's and heroine's point of view . . . then, rather like a long camera pan in a film, the point of view changes to omniscient. This bugs me.

For example, I read a treasure hunt romance about a lost pearl (object has been changed). The hero and heroine kiss and go off to bed. The last line went something like: And in the moonlight the pearl softly gleamed. (What?)

Cliffhangers and Setting Up a Series

I would say that unless your next book will is out or will be published within, say, a week, don't do this. It irritates folks that the protagonist remains in danger, or hasn't solved the crime, or the love interest has died/left/been dumped.

A critique buddy recently read a mystery-thriller that began a series that she hadn't realized was the first book in a series. She thought the (continuing characters) cops were stupid because they didn't investigate well and didn't solve the original crime at the end, and the main villain escaped. Though the romance in the book wrapped up well, the mystery was left hanging. She was quite annoyed and would not go on to the next book. I heard about this and we dissected the technique for about two hours.

So watch your set-ups and pay-offs. If you set up an action, especially a main problem in your book, you will have less readers upset with you if you solve that problem instead of leaving it dangling.

For myself, I tend to leave a few threads unresolved in my series, this is usually acceptable for readers and hopefully tantalizes them, and it gives me a longer arc to work on a particular story.

The romance wraps up, the character growth wraps up, but there is a continuing story thread that is not resolved.

For instance: Once a hero was disinherited and this caused major problems for his whole family over the course of 3-4 books. Lately I've introduced a violent and evil political group (heh, heh) and have whittled down some of its members from book to book, but have left one last person unknown . . . to be caught and punished in the next book. This will wrap up that particular thread that's run through three books.

A final note. What I think is most important is the emotional punch of an ending. If you make sure you get the emotion right, some lack of technique can be forgiven. Like the first line or paragraph of your story should hook the reader, so should the last paragraphs or lines evoke enough emotion to linger in your readers' memories.

I've written twenty-five books, four novellas and two short stories, and I've always worked hard at the endings – to tie things up right, leave a good punctuating emotional note that would echo after the reader finished. But I think I've done exceptional endings twice.

My most recently published book, Ghost Killer, has one of the best endings I've done. (And thus why I thought of this topic). That ending is second after HeartMate, published book #1 (which might have helped get me published in the first place).

And here's a fact about Ghost Killer's ending. It came strictly through the historical research as I was writing the book. I knew in general what I wanted, but the research supplied another couple of layers to the moment.

So look inside yourself for your ending, see if it can echo your beginning, perhaps leave a hint of the next story. And be open for the muse or fate or research or an odd comment you might hear to add that emotional note you need to make a reader smile and sigh and close the book, wishing it wasn't over.

May all your writing dreams come true,

Role Play for Fiction Writers

noun: roleplay
1. PSYCHOLOGY -- the acting out or performance of a particular role, either consciously (as a technique in psychotherapy or training) or unconsciously, in accordance with the perceived expectations of society with regard to a person's behavior in a particular context.

Adult role play comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s entertainment, and sometimes it’s both. It can even be used as a training tool to prepare someone for a future performance and to improve abilities within a role, like aircraft flight simulation and war games for the military.

I decided to blog about role play (RP) because it’s not a subject I’ve encountered in the writing blogs I follow, yet fiction is at the heart of all RP. It involves imagination and creativity, and quite a bit of make-believe; the very stuff of fiction.

Star Trek_001
Star Trek RP

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get together with your friends to pretend you were a character from a cartoon, or a super hero, or you parceled out roles for a make-believe family? Or maybe you played doctor, or cops and robbers. RP is just like that, only for adults.

Role play can be done in a number of formats, like board games, card games, email, online forums, and virtual worlds like Second Life. I’ve never role-played myself, but a lot of my clients do in the virtual reality game-world where I run a business. I create 3D designs for computer gaming, and the Second Life computer game is a premiere playground for the RP community.

History of RP. Any theatrical performance can be considered a form of RP, which dates back to ancient Rome, Greece and medieval Europe. However, today’s RP is spontaneous, not rehearsed. There’s always some kind of backstory agreed upon by all players involved, but the play itself is improvised.

The futuristic city of Insilico

Genres of Role Play. RP can be based on popular novels, movies or television shows, where players take on roles of existing characters or make up new characters to parallel the storyline they’ve created. It’s typically a collaborative effort between all players who work together to create a narrative using what they know of the model story-world on which they base their RP. You might compare it to fan fiction.

Or role players can make something up totally from scratch. Create a planet and become an alien race, make up a village of dwarves and goblins and elves, produce a noir detective motif set in the forties, design your own zombie apocalypse, develop a historical community based in fact. The possibilities are endless.

Virtual Pregnancy

It’s important to know that RP doesn’t have to be fantasy. There’s military, law enforcement, and even family to name a few reality-based RPs. In fact, in Second Life it’s not uncommon for players to gather in family units and name its members mom, dad, sister, brother, son and daughter. There are child characters played by adults, usually because they’re recreating childhoods that may not have been so happy in real life, or reliving childhoods that were. Women who can’t get pregnant in real life have their avatars go through virtual pregnancies that include doctor visits, maternity clothes, baby showers, followed by simulated deliveries in virtual hospitals. RP can allow people to work through emotional and personal issues while buffeted by the support of helpful players who are sympathetic to their situations.

A version of Venice run by vampires.

RP as a writing tool. Similar to brainstorming, you can invite others to play characters from your story and work out plots together in real time. You may not know it, but you’ve already participated in RP when you did the character interviews for your story, or wrote letters in you character’s voice, or blogged about your characters from their points of view. The very act of writing your story is playing all the character roles yourself. However, traditional RP is a social game, not a solitary one.

I don’t role play, but I have dressed my Second Life avatar like my character and visited Second Life locations that are similar to my story’s settings, then parked my avatar there for inspiration as I write. I’ve found it to be very helpful.

Have you ever participated in role play?

Here's a link to some top RP sites:

If you're interested in Second Life, visit


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

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

Guest Post: Cindi Myers – Successful Buzz Building

By Cindi Myers

As promised, today I’m going to talk about some promotional efforts I’ve made over the years that I felt were worth the time and money involved. Again, your mileage may vary. And one caution: the promotional landscape is changing rapidly. What worked for one author quickly becomes overdone and blasé and doesn’t work for another, so keep that in mind as you read on:

1. Media training. In my last blog I mentioned the publicist I hired to promote one of my books, Learning Curves. Another service she offered was media training. She filmed me and recorded me doing a mock interview, then told me everything I did wrong, told me how to correct my errors, then filmed and recorded again two more times until I was more comfortable with the process. This was worth the money. I learned a lot and I still remember those lessons. Plus, publishers love it when you tell them you’ve had media training. It’s also a good thing to put in press releases when you contact the media.

2. My market newsletter. This started out as a yahoogroup newsletter and is now a blog. I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now. It’s given me lots of name recognition. People don’t care about my political or social opinions, or anything else I might blog about, but if they are writers who are trying to sell their work (and writers are big readers) I give them useful information. The cost is pretty much zero. (When I promo my self-pubbed titles on the blog, I always see a slight uptick in purchases for a couple of days.)

3. Facebook ‘pushes.’ If you have an author page, you can pay Facebook to promote a post. I’ve spent anywhere from $5 to $20 to promote a post when I have a new book release and I always see an uptick in the ebook sales, and more page likes. And it’s cheap, which I like.

4. Bookbub. Not so cheap, but every author I’ve spoken with says Bookbub is worth it. So far, I only have experience with Bookbub placement that my publisher has paid for, but it’s resulted in huge increases in sales (for instance, going from a 70,000 + ranking on Amazon to double digits in the space of a day.) This was for $2.99 books, not free ones. I’m still trying to get them to accept me for a free promo. Friends who have done this said they easily made back their money and more with every Bookbub promo they’ve done. (I’m giving a workshop All About Bookbub at Colorado Gold this year.)

5. Making the first book in an ebook series free. Even without Bookbub, doing this led to a big uptick in sales for the other two books in the series, and a much more modest increase in sales of my other self-pubbed historical titles.

6. Web ads on targeted sites. I had a book a few years ago called A Soldier Comes Home. I paid for inexpensive ads on blogs and message boards that catered to military wives. I think I spent about $75 total for four or five ads. I got good click-throughs on the ads, the book was the top-selling SuperRomance for the month of its release, and I got great fan mail from military wives who read the book. The key for me with this kind of thing is targeted and cheap.

7. Printed excerpts. For the last few years, instead of paying for giveaways for conferences, I’ve printed up excerpts of the first chapter of a book. I print them in booklet form on my computer then make copies at the local copy shop. I either staple them into cover flats my publisher sends me, or run off color copies of my cover on cardstock and use that as the cover for the excerpts. I include information about my website, where to buy the book, other related books, Facebook, Twitter – whatever I can think of. People love these. And I’ve had people tell me after they read the first chapter they buy the book to find out what happens next. Not everyone who gets an excerpt will buy a book, but enough do that I think the expense is worthwhile.

So, those are promotional efforts that have worked for me. I’d love to hear what you have done to promote your books that has worked for you.



Cindi Myers sold her first book in 1997 and since then has had “somewhere north of 60” books published. Currently, she writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue, women’s fiction for Kensington Books, and self-publishes historical romance under the pen name Cynthia Sterling.