No NaNo?

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Tomorrow is the day. The day. The day that marks the start of NaNoWriMo.

If you don't already know, NaNoWriMo is a worldwide challenge to write a novel (at least 50,000 words in length) between November 1-30. It's a short month. (One less day makes a big difference.) There are lots of reasons why you should accept the challenge (whatever word count you get down is more than you would if you didn't do NaNoWriMo, there is built-in support via encouraging videos/writing "friends" and it's a good thing to stretch yourself as a writer). However, there are also some obstacles (lots) and ways to avoid those obstacles.

Obstacle # 1  The frenzied pace. It's like stepping on a scale. The more you step onto it and look at that number, the more stressed-out you get. Just write. Don't worry about your word count on an every minute hour day basis. Check it only occasionally... unless keeping close track of your progress spurs you on. If that's the case, strap on the spurs and jab them into your writing psyche as frequently as you need to.

Obstacle # 2  The perfectionist syndrome. Yes, we all want our words to be lovely and lyrical and perfect when we get them down on paper. However, when doing NaNoWriMo, the pace is beyond fast. This is (probably) a first draft. Certainly not a final draft. As William Faulkner said, "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." This is the time to just get black on white (as Guy de Maupassant put it). Get the ink on the paper. Just write... and worry about getting it perfect later on.

                                                                    image by Pixabay

Obstacle # 3  Your competitive spirit. Do you look at some of your writing friends--you know, the ones who are so prolific and so successful and so darned talented--and try to keep up with them? During NaNoWriMo, you're competing with yourself. How many words can you get down this year? Last year, did you crash and burn right off the starting block? Well, this year you'll make sure and top last year's word count total. 

Obstacle # 4  Your weird and bothersome in-laws. Oh, sorry. That's just one of my problems. However, if you have the same strangeness going on with your in-laws, NaNoWriMo can help. With that incredibly huge word count looming over you, you cannot stay long on Thanksgiving. "Sorry. I have to gobble and go. I have to get over 1,600 words down today," and burn rubber getting away. Eat some turkey. Grab a gravy boat to go... and go.

Obstacle # 5  Your fear of failure. The only way you can totally fail at NaNoWriMo is if you don't try. Even a small amount of words is better than none. You may stumble and falter this year, but you never know... A tiny kernel from that small mound of paragraphs might lead to something huge next year. I started a piece during NaNoWriMo six years ago. Now it's a book, published by a traditional publisher. I didn't finish it during 2016's NaNoWriMo. It wasn't good at all when I did finish it. But during the next few years I revised and edited and queried. 

And now, I have to go and decide just what exactly I'm going to work on... beginning tomorrow. How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? And if so, what's your project? Curious minds like Sioux's want to know...

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a dog rescuer for Love a Golden, and a writer. Her debut novel, Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, was published in April 2021. Currently, she's working on a screenplay based on the book. 

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Using Asana for Simple Project Management

Thursday, October 28, 2021


A few months ago, I was drowning underneath the deadlines and timelines of a few different clients that I write for and episodes and content for my true crime podcast. I shared this post with the readers of The Muffin and began exploring ways a virtual assistant could help my writing business and productivity. I put out a few feelers for virtual assistants, but then began noticing that most virtual assistants in the creative space also provide content, editing, social media help, etc. This is great, but those services also come at a premium. While I would eventually love to hire a few people to help me create content for my own personal projects and social media accounts, that’s not in my budget yet. What I needed was more an organizational tool or system that I could easily check in with each day and provide me with a set of deadlines. 

There are free project management tools out there that can be helpful. Some include Monday, Trello, and Basecamp. There are also helpful YouTube videos where vloggers break down the pros and cons of using these systems. After doing a little bit of research, I decided to check out Asana, because you can create a free version if you have a Gmail account, which of course, most of the world has at this point. (Disclaimer: this is not a sponsored post; just sharing what has worked for me). 

I like that the software isn’t overwhelming. I set up “boards” for my various clients, and then added individual assignment descriptions and deadlines onto each board. Where I found this especially helpful was for magazine production deadlines. Each month, I develop concepts for at least 85 percent of the articles and 100 percent of the photography. I kept finding myself falling behind on the deadlines for assigning articles and photos. Then we would get a late start to the production cycle because everything starts with me. What I was able to do in Asana was look ahead on my master calendar and create deadlines for when I needed to have article ideas completed, assigned, and dates I needed to assign photographer to our freelance creatives. Breaking these tasks up into manageable chunks I could see visually on a board was the missing puzzle piece. 

Every day I open Asana and look in each project board to see what my daily tasks are. One thing I haven’t been able to figure out is if I can put ALL my deadlines on one master board/calendar so I have a bird's eye view of each month. If there’s a way to figure out how to do that, I haven’t discovered it yet. One thing that brings me a small bit of joy is that if I have a day where I’m jamming through my tasks and click several completed boxes, a rainbow unicorn or other animal will sort of float across my screen. I don’t know why, but that always makes me laugh and encourages me to keep checking off my boxes. I can continue using the free Asana version after my trial period, but teams can also use this software to collaborate for a small monthly fee. Because I’m a solo writer/editor at this point, the free version suits my needs. 

Here is one of the videos I watched that helped me land on using this particular type of software. 

I'd love to know if you've used this type of software for your own projects and if it has helped you.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more about her at
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NaNo Planning

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

I know that NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) is kicking off in just five days, but better late than never when it comes to planning, right?

And this time, for once, I’m not joking around. Planning is crucial if you’re jumping into this annual November writing challenge. 

So for those new to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo/NaNo), let me explain what it is (or just borrow from their website as they put it so well):

 “NaNoWriMo is a non-profit that believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.” 

Which in practical terms means this: 

Every November, writers from across the globe hunker down to write a novel, with the goal being 50,000 words completed by the end of the month. This roughly translates to 1667 words per day, and while these writers are putting in the work, they’re also able to network and gain support online and in-person. 

I’m a fan of NaNo and generally participate because I’m motivated by a challenge. But I have never completed 50,000 words, and I’m fine with that because I have achieved the goals I’ve set for me

Well, most of the time. And that’s why planning is so important. 

Before starting NaNo, I recommend taking the time to think about your writing goals. Because here’s the beauty of this challenge: it can be about writing whatever you want but it works best if you know what you want. 

Do you have a completed novel that needs serious revision? NaNo can help you do that. 

Do you have 25,000 words of a novel you’ve been working on all year and want to push yourself to get to 35,000 words by the end of November? NaNo to the rescue!

Do you want to write 10 poems, or three articles, or five essays in 30 days? Yep, NaNo can help you with those goals, too. 

And of course, it can help you write 50,000 words of that novel that’s been stuck in your head forever. It’s a writing challenge, and you get to choose what and how you need help. 

Now, because it is all about novels, you’ll find a ton of information specific to novel-writing but that doesn’t mean it won’t translate in some way to what you’re writing. Check out all the writer’s resources, starting with NaNo Prep (and yes, it’s modeled on starting in September but you only have five days. Read fast!). Not only does NaNo Prep give you a calendar, outlines, exercises, and other tools, but it also gives you more in-depth information about how you can get involved and get that accountability that you might crave. 

But if that’s too overwhelming, check out a couple of Pep Talks, guaranteed to get your writer motor running. 

Finally, I know that some writers like to just sign up for NaNo and write by the seat of their pants. “Words on the page!” is their motto. And though I heartily agree that one must have words on the page, I’m not keen on wasting my time. If I’m going to challenge myself to write every day or thereabouts in November, I want the finished product to be a decent effort. 

But that’s me. I think about what I want to accomplish during NaNo and plan how I can get ‘er done. Sometimes I succeed mightily; sometimes, not so much. And like I said, I’m fine with that. As for you, dear writer, you do you. And good luck!

~Cathy C. Hall (who coincidentally has about 25,000 words in her latest WIP and would REALLY like to get to 35,000 by the end of November)
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Interview with Tara Campbell: Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Tara’s Bio:
Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and CRAFT Literary. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her at or on Twitter: @TaraCampbellCom or IG: @thetreevolution. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Tara's award-winning story "Another Damn Cottage" (originally published by Spelk) and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest! What excited you most about writing this story? 

Tara: I began writing this story in a mini-workshop at a Barrelhouse writer's conference. The prompt was to write a commonly-known fairy tale in the voice of a well-known writer, as a way to consciously practice changing our voice in our writing—hence the nod to Little Red Riding Hood and Joyce Carol Oates in my piece. It was freeing to pretend to be someone else in such a concrete manner, rather than creating and channeling my own narrator as I went. 

WOW: Isn’t it funny how adding constraints to a prompt actually makes it feel more freeing? What did you learn about yourself or your writing while crafting this piece? 

Tara: I think this story brought home to me how no-nonsense my preferred writing style is. My style is more direct than ornate, and my work tends to be more experiential than cerebral, meaning I tend to show my readers what's going on so they can digest it, rather than spending a lot of time in my characters' heads. 

WOW: How has your experience as a co-editor at Barrelhouse changed or shaped you as a writer? 

Tara: Seeing the kinds of stories that come through our submission queue has really brought home what I'd heard from other editors before: final selection really does come down to how much room the publication has per issue. There are so many more great stories than we have room to publish. I've learned the importance of crisp beginnings, as well as how helpful it is to familiarize oneself with the publication—sometimes we get really great stories that just don't fit the vibe of the magazine. It's cool to see when they wind up with a better fit somewhere else. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing that glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of a publication, which is so useful for writers to know. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it? 

Tara: Right now I'm combing through the table of contents of the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021, trying to read as many of the stories as I can find online. I'll be teaching a class based on the anthology when it comes out, and in order to have time to read the stories multiple times, I'm getting a head start. I've always loved spec fic anthologies for their breadth of voices and ideas, and this series is probably my favorite. 

WOW: Sounds like fun reading and an awesome class! If you could give your younger self one piece of writing advice, what would it be and why? 

Tara: Keep writing. There was about a 20-year gap when I didn't write at all because I thought I had to be "practical" and focus on my career. But as I'm finding out, writing is often something that happens on the side, and having other interests and occupations can make the writing richer. It's great to have time to focus on writing, but it doesn't have to be an either/or kind of situation. 

WOW: Thank you so much for that great advice and your other thoughtful responses! Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.
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Earning Money as a Writer

Sunday, October 24, 2021
by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

This past week I clicked on an article about making passive income as a writer. But after I read it, I was more than a little confused. 

“Hey, what’s passive income?” I reached over and prodded my husband, Mr. Business-Major-Man. 

“Money you just sit back and earn. Investments are passive income. Interest is passive income.” 

That’s a relief. I do actually know what passive income is. But many of the people giving recommendations to writers clearly do not. I know this because I went beyond clueless article #1. I did a Google search. I read something like a dozen articles on passive writing income. They suggested things like. . . 

1. Teach online. The idea is that once you pull together your teaching material, teaching is just easy peasy mac-n-cheesy. 

2. Create a blog. Putting up valuable content on a daily basis is all you have to do. Then you just have to monetize your blog to earn income. 

3. Create a podcast. This works a lot like a blog and, really, it isn’t that much work. 

4. Indie Publish a book or books. Since you get to keep all of the income, once you get the book written it will be pure profit. 

5. Traditionally publish a best-selling novel. 

I kid you not. Each and every one of these suggestions was mentioned again and again. The reality is that if you are looking for easy money, writing probably should not be your #1 plan. 

It isn’t that you can’t make money writing, but you aren’t going to find a lot of passive income. What you will find are ways to use one income stream to boost another. 

You write books. You have a blog that is monetized. If you speak at a conference or on a webinar, you will be billed as Whitney Writer, the author of An Amazing Novel who is also on Blogger. Yes, it was work to put together your class or presentation. But you can use it to help sell your book. You can send people to your blog. 

Or perhaps you write an article about something related to your book. You’ve got a byline and bio. You mention your book, your class, and your site. No, the article wasn’t effortless but it has helped earn more income from your book, your class and your site. 

Very few writers make a living from one income stream alone. You won’t find a lot of truly passive income, but, if you are clever, you can use one source of income to boost the others. It isn’t passive but it a pretty smart way to work. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on November 1, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021). 
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Discovering and Accepting the Type of Writer I Am

Saturday, October 23, 2021

It's funny that Sue recently blogged about picking and choosing your pathway with writing. I ran into that very realization lately. It all started with a flash fiction contest I entered a couple of years ago. Part of the appeal of the contest was that you write the 500-word story in 48 hours, and submit what you have by the deadline. This resulted in little revising and rewriting on my part due to the time constraints. And I loved the little story I wrote and thought it was so charming.

Over time, I've attempted to rewrite that story. Through that process, I've come across various flash fiction contests and wondered to myself if my story was worthy. I've even submitted it a few times, and yet, as I look at it now, I feel like it doesn't represent the type of writing I want to put my time into. I have written flash fiction since then and each story tells me there's something more of a story inside yearning to be fleshed out.

Yet, it's not like I haven't been successful with this style of writing. Not too long ago, I got a 1,000ish word story published with Sky Island Journal. But, as I see contests come and go encouraging flash fiction submissions, I'm beginning to realize I'm not much of a flash fiction writer, and I really don't yearn to be. If it happens, and I write one, great! But I've accepted that it's not necessarily a craft I want to spend time perfecting. 

I've also discovered this truth in other areas of writing. For example, with freelance writing, I enjoy SEO writing, writing on behalf of businesses, and blogging. But ask me to pitch an article to an editor? I draw a blank. Ideas don't come. Weirdly enough, I could write articles for a business blog or newsletter and not run into that brick wall at all.

So, I've come to accept and learn more about the type of writer I am. It's not that these aren't areas I couldn't grow in, but I often ask myself if I really want to take the time to expand in these areas. Doing so may result in me pulling away from my own writing time, and become an excuse for me not to work on the stories I do have in my pending file. 

Like Sue says in her article, it's not like you shouldn't try new things. I love the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone but don't let that become a roadblock for you. Sometimes comfort zones are comfortable for a reason.

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Your Character Needs a Goal

Thursday, October 21, 2021
Think about your current work-in-progress and your protagonist. He or she or it (and your anatognist, for that matter) needs a goal. This is different from their journey that the catalyst sends them on. It's different than the problem they are trying to solve. Your main character's goal is what this person wants more than anything else at this point in life. 

I know it's only October, and none of us like to think of goal setting before January 1. And I understand that your eyes will be rolling in the back of your head before I can get the S out in S.M.A.R.T. goal. But I want to show you how knowing what your character's goal is can help you when plotting your book, creating tension for your reader, and making your main character sympathetic, too!

We all get an idea for a novel, and it's usually a plot, something like: A boy discovers when he's 11 that he's part of a wizarding world, and it's up to him to defeat the most evil wizard of all. 


A rich, old, cranky meiser is visited by the ghost of his deceased coworker and three fellow spirits, warning him that he must change his ways before it's too late. 

But what is Harry's goal in Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone? What is Scrooge's goal before the ghosts are visiting in A Christmas Carol? 

In the beginning of the story, once Hagrid tells Harry, "You're a wizard," Harry's goal is to go to Hogwarts, learn how to be a wizard, and escape the Dursleys. His goal is to be great like his parents. His goal might change a bit once he discovers he can fly a broom pretty well. Then his goal might be to be the best Quidditch player and win the House cup. But, his goal is not (in the beginning of book one): I will kill Voldemort and save wizards everywhere. That doesn't happen until book 7. 

Look at Scrooge. It's pretty simple to figure out his goal. Make as much money as possible regardless of anyone's happiness. His goal is NOT to change his ways. That's what happens because of the plot. 

Let's look at a book we've heard quite a bit about on the Muffin: Greenwood Gone by Sioux Roslawski. In this book, Henry's life changes the night of the Tulsa Race Massacre when the White citizens of Tulsa destroy the Black section of town. Henry's journey is to survive that night. But his goals in the beginning of the book are to stay out of his momma's way enough that she will not scold him for anything and to practice baseball, so he can become a great baseball player. 

When the race massacre is happening, Henry's goal of wanting to be good for his momma is still in him. He still wants to be a baseball player, but that goal moves to the back of his mind, as he tries to survive and help his family. But as Sioux was writing, she knew Henry's goals, and knowing those made a difference in how the book was written. And then in turn, how readers perceive the character, and how Henry holds a place in our hearts when reading the book. While reading, we might find ourselves thinking, He's such a good boy for his momma and only 12 years old. He is so helpful to her during this journey they have to go on because their neighborhood is burning down. And all the poor kid wants to do is play baseball with his dad. 

Or your reader might not think any of that because you can't control what your reader thinks (ah, that's another blog post, I think!). But knowing your character's goal, what he or she really wants, will help you make smart decisions on the way your character acts in any situation in the book. If you haven't thought of this for your current work-in-progress, go ahead and give it a try. Keep this goal in mind while you're writing, and see if plotting becomes any easier. Usually what this exercise helps authors do is stay more focused, and the plot will be tighter as you merrily make your way to the satisfying ending (oh, another blog topic!).

And if you are into S.M.A.R.T. goals, then your character can have one of those, too. 

Margo L. Dill is an editor, author, publisher, writing instructor and coach, living in St. Louis, MO, with her daughter and dog. Her next WOW! class starts on November 5 and is about writing a novel with a writing coach. You can check it out here. The middle grade and young adult authors class starts again in 2022 in late January. Check that out here! For more about Margo, visit
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Vision Boards... and the Wisdom of 8th Graders

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The other day my 8th graders and I were brainstorming emotions for possible memoir stories. We were coming up with ideas like "incredibly excited--when my team won the soccer tournament." The idea was to jot down just a few words to jog our memory, so later, we could write some rough drafts and then even later, we could decide which story we wanted to invest some time in as we revised and edited and shared.

                                                                 image by Pixabay

I was sharing my memoir ideas because in my class, I write right alongside my students. To get them started, I went through each emotion as we took notes, and wrote down the experience I would write about.

One student asked, "Could a story be about a dream?" After ascertaining they did not mean the story itself would not be a fantasy, I said certainly.

"If you had a dream--and you either struggled with it and it never came true or it did come true, that would make an awesome story."

Another student stopped me dead in my tracks. He's the class barometer. When the students need some levity (which according to him, is every 15.7 seconds) he provides it. However, there are other times when he adds a serious/poignant/mind-blowing moment. This was one of them.

"What's your dream, Mrs. R?" He was sitting in the front row, less than four feet away as I danced and cajoled and tried to keep all of them engaged.

That's when I came to screeching halt. Quickly I recovered (you don't want to slow down around 8th graders, or they'll either make a break for it or attack).

"Getting my book published was my dream."

He came right back at me. "Well, you've already done that. What's next?"

I thought for just a few seconds. Then it came to me. "I want my book to become a movie."

"There you go," he replied. For him, it was just that simple. One dream's been realized. Work on a new one.

Vision boards... Could one of those help me achieve my next dream?

Don't tell my publisher--because she really believes in the power of vision boards--but I've always thought theey were a bunch of hooey. They might work for some people, but for me? That abra cadabra stuff is not for me.

However, my publisher has had some pretty incredible dreams come true. And my dream of seeing my novel become a movie/Netflix short series/small-town puppet show is a fantastical dream.

Maybe it's time for me to create a vision board...

Here's an article that tells a bit about why vision boards work, and how to do them. 

Here's another article that gives some tips on how to make a vision board (or action board) work more effectively. I read this and learned that Katy Perry (in 4th grade!) created one, and Oprah Winfrey made one when she dreamed that Obama would be elected president... and she included a picture of the dress she'd wear to his inauguration.

How about you? Have you created a vision board?

Sioux Roslawski is a middle school teacher, a dog rescuer and the proud author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story

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Interview with D. Slayton Avery, Runner Up in the WOW! Spring 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


D. Slayton Avery, recently retired from teaching, now works at playing with words. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in online and print journals and anthologies—Boston Literary Magazine, The Hopper, Enchanted Conversations, and Santa Barbara Literary Journal among others. She is a regular contributor at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. D. has two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls, and a collection of flash fiction, After Ever, Little Stories for Grown Children. D. Avery’s writings are available for online sampling at ShiftnShake. When not writing, D. Slayton Avery can be found hiking the Vermont woods or out on the water catching stories. 

----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Welcome, D., and thanks for joining us today! Setting is an important element in creating compelling flash fiction. How did you get the idea to set your love story, "Going," in a diner? 

D.: I don’t think I thought about it, but I do love diners—unpretentious food, unpretentious people. A place where you can comfortably eat alone in the company of others. But none of this story was planned or developed very thoroughly. It began as a response to an online flash fiction blog hop with the prompt word ‘filter’. The first line just came to me and I wrote it down; I had a strong visual of someone stepping out of a big rig. This flash started (and eventually ended) there in the cab of that truck. But once begun the story and the driver had to go somewhere, so into the diner. It wasn’t until I kept writing the story that the driver became a woman. I felt that made the Camel and the boots more interesting. And it made Deborah’s decision more of a risk, and therefore a more compelling story. But yes, diners are special places, both gritty and wholesome, where anyone can come in and anything can happen. 

WOW: Now you have me craving some delicious diner food . . . ha! You’ve published a collection of flash and short fiction called “After Ever: Little Stories for Grown Children.” What types of stories can readers expect to find? 

 D.: That collection is some of my first flash fiction, much of which had also been published online. I have trouble naming a genre for my stories beyond fiction, or flash fiction. These stories are realistic fiction, fables, fairy tales… Many of the stories are only 99 words long or only six sentences long, though there are a few longer ones. Some stories are narrated in a child’s voice, though they are not children’s stories. Much of it is on the darker side. There are also some laced with humor and hope and a sense of wonder. I’d like to think there’s something to think on in each of them. If nothing else it is interesting to experiment with story length, to see how much can be done with a very few words. That is a literary puzzle I continue to play at. 

WOW:  You’ve also published two books of poetry. How did you first become interested in this form of writing? 

D.: I’ve read poetry from the beginning, from nursery rhymes to Dr. Seuss, to Robert Service, Robert Frost; these we had at home. Maybe that’s why I have written poetry since I was a kid. I was a voracious reader so was ripe for the assignments of English teachers in school. I placed in a couple contests while a school kid, which was encouraging. But I never took writing seriously or thought of it as something I could “Do”. But I did it here and there always. When I was a teacher my doodles during the dreadful staff meetings seemed to be poems, funny on one level, pointed at another. I had a small following. Chicken Shift started out to be just silly rhymes that came to me on my bicycle commute, though poems on the theme of crossings kept coming and became more philosophical. For the Girls, a sort of journal of my time dealing with friends’ breast cancer as well as my own, also has serious humor in it. I’m becoming more confident now and writing poems without the shield of humor, though it may still infuse some of my poetry. 

WOW: How does your love for the outdoors help with the creative process? 

 D.: Ha! The outdoors is how I sustain my humor. If I didn’t have so much outdoors I would feel back-against-the-wall, trapped, stifled. But helping the creative process? This is such a tough question I went off in my kayak to think about it and it’s still hard to answer. There is definitely a rich palette of color and images to dip into when I am kayaking or hiking ... or even just sitting outside as I am doing now. Some of that might show up in a piece of writing. The places I go aren’t necessarily settings or scenes of my stories, though they inform the details of some stories. There is so much to see and hear and smell and taste! Mostly being outdoors is grounding and awe-ing for me. It’s where I gather strength and calm. It’s where I am surrounded by beauty and am truly grateful for small miracles. It doesn’t inform my writing so much as enable it. 

WOW: I can totally relate to the outdoors enabling your writing. Spending time in nature helps me work through a lot of my own writing ideas while coming across the occasional, rabbit, fox or deer. What subject did you teach and what do you miss about it? 

 D.: I mostly taught at the elementary level, so got to teach all subjects. I enjoyed learning with the students. It was great fun to integrate the different subjects through project based learning. Social Studies— history, geography— was usually the hub that provided a context— a story! I often said that the best sound to me was the “Aha!” of a student who suddenly ‘got it’. I miss that and the busy hum of a class that is absorbed with their work, sharing ideas, working things out, solving problems. I miss seeing that growth. For years I ran a volunteer student newspaper where kids came to write after school. It was this group that encouraged Chicken Shift. I enjoyed encouraging the kids as writers but then I took on math as an area of interest because it seemed to me that numeracy took a back seat to literacy in elementary school. I made math more accessible to students and teachers by likening it to literacy in approach, understanding the syntax and vocabulary of math, and also to the attendant story. I became a middle school math teacher. It was very gratifying when students who initially claimed to hate math as a subject reported that math class was a favorite. And even as a math subject teacher I found ways to encourage young writers in class and after school. In any class I taught there was always storytelling and laughter.

WOW: D., thanks once again for being here today and for all this great insight into your writing! You are making me want to pull out my old notebooks of poems now. I also loved hearing your about your enthusiasm for teaching and making sometimes not-so-fun subjects accessible. Write On!
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Think You Can't Build a Platform for Your Writing? Think Again.

Monday, October 18, 2021

If you’re a writer who wants to one day attract the interest of an agent or publishing house, or create products to sell on your own, creating a platform for yourself is a must. In essence, this platform is your visibility as an author. 

There are several different ways you can work on building your platform if you haven’t already. 

You can: 
  • Create a website or blog. 
  • Build an e-mail list where you can alert subscribers to upcoming projects, books for sale, and provide free content. 
  • Write guest blog posts or articles for online publications. 
  • Grow a social media following through sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. 
  • Become a public speaker on topics you write about. 

When I first started my freelance career, I looked at other authors with large followings and thought I’d never be able to emulate those types of platforms. For several years I fumbled around, worrying too much about having the necessary platform elements in place all at once. Then slowly, the puzzle pieces started coming together. I created a simple writing website for my clips. I found consistent work as a freelance writer and editor for regional magazines. I developed a specialty on writing about parenting topics, and then, one on human interest stories. I won my first magazine writing award, which helped solidify me as an expert in freelance writing. A local writing group invited me to speak to their members, an event which also offered me a free dinner and a small stipend. Then, I won a few awards for fiction writing, which gave me solid credentials for my bio when pitching literary agents. 

I began researching and writing regularly about true crime on my blog, then developed my own true crime podcast. The following for the podcast has continued to grow and not only am I producing regular content, but I’m networking with other true crime writers in the process. I’m almost at the point where I’ll be able to promote more of my products through this channel. I’m about to approach a few writers’ groups and the public library to see if they would like me to speak on the art of true crime writing and places to submit in this genre. 

WOW! also offers classes for anyone looking to begin the process of platform building. There’s a video course on “Online Clips for Freelance Writers: Websites vs. Portfolios” by Bernadette Geyer that begins upon ordering. Karen Cioffi has “Build Your Author/Writer Platform” beginning on Nov. 1. 

Now I want to hear about your platforms! What steps have you taken to solidify yourself as an expert? What are some easy ways you could build up your platform more? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas, which recently surpassed 30,000 downloads. Learn more about her at
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Picking and Choosing, Or You Don’t Have to Do It All

Saturday, October 16, 2021

For the past six weeks, I’ve been working as a mentor in a program that helps prepare writers for the educational market. The goal is that by the time the program is over they will have all that they need to apply to any educational market, and there are many. 

One group of educational markets specializes in testing. The authors who write for these markets prepare passages. Some of them also write the actual test questions. Many write for state assessment tests. 

Another group writes books for the school and library market. Most of these jobs are work-for-hire with a vast range of topics. To write for this market you have to write fast and you have to be flexible. 

Then there are the curriculum markets. They write actual text and workbook pages. There is the explanation of the lesson, the lesson itself, and the challenge for the student to apply what they learned. Then there are the markets that prepare material for the teachers. 

How can one program prepare writers for all three areas? Really, we can’t. Writers with teaching experience will have an easier time getting curriculum jobs. Writers with no experience will have an easier time getting jobs writing test passages. Experience in either of these areas will help land a work-for-hire job. 

But there’s something else. Writers have to pick and choose what they are best suited to write. 

My friend Chris is a top notch question writer. Frequently she writes questions for her own passages and for those of other writers. Not everyone can see the nuances in the many requirements for question writing. Let me be honest – I am unbelievably bad at question writing. 

I write work-for-hire. I’m a good researcher who is interested in a ridiculous number of topics. And I write fast. In the last 10 days, I’ve written two elementary school books. Add to this the fact that I actually enjoying seeing the book change and grow. The finished product is always better than what I first turn in. But this means that I have to be willing to let go and follow my editor’s lead. 

I used to write test passages. This is another area that requires the ability to write fast and also an eye for detail. I’m good at this but I don’t want to do it. Let’s just say that I have philosophical issues with testing and leave it at that. 

And curriculum writing? I can write for the students but the teaching material is a challenge for me, and I don’t mean a good challenge. So I don’t accept those jobs. 

It doesn’t matter if you are writing educational material or essays, picture books or novels. You aren’t suited to do it all and you probably don’t want to anyway. There are things you like and things you are good at. You’ll have to pick and choose what is right for you. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try new things, but don’t feel bad when you just don’t get the appeal of a certain market. Leave that for someone else, someone who may not get what you enjoy doing. We all have to pick and choose. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on November 1, 2021).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins November 1, 2021). 
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Friday Speak Out!: 6.5 Months to A Beginning that Worked

Friday, October 15, 2021
by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it for 6 ½ months. But my editor, Marc Estrin, patiently stuck with me, nudging me, until I did: the opening to my novel was all wrong. The way my characters had met wasn’t “true.”

I’d set the scene with the couple meeting at a college football party. Al and Sarah ended up sharing space on a couch to view the game. Despite the team getting trounced and limping off the field, a slightly inebriated but always loyal Al rose to sing the Gopher fight song, and Sarah got a kick out of him. I loved that moment of Al’s, but I came to understand that I had trivialized my characters in this scene, perhaps made Al look silly, and so I wrote something new. It didn’t work. Nor did the next effort. Or the next. Marc kept nudging me away from the whole idea of a party, but every draft, it reappeared. It was just a different party or location. Then, at his suggestion, I wrote about their first date.

Suddenly, two things happened. In the new pages, the best of Sarah met the best of Al. One glimpses her strength and also his kindness. Right there, in the bright beginning I gave them, were the traits that would see them through what came next. No place else in the novel do they shine in quite the same way, with such hope and confidence. But that mix of hope and confidence becomes their anchor, as does their marriage, and gives them the ability to survive the bumps. More importantly, with this revised opening, readers would believe this couple had what it takes to endure. If they’d met in my original scene, would anyone have quite believed Sarah and Al could have the necessary grit?

This is an age in publishing when there are, in my opinion, too few editors. With respect, I can’t think of one who would have stuck with me, going over the same five pages for months on end. This short essay is about my revision, yes, but it is really about Marc. The best of Marc—his patience and keen eye—helped my story find the best of my characters. So thank you, Marc. 

* * *
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University. Her story collection, TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS, won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, and was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her debut novel, GEOGRAPHIES OF THE HEART, was inspired by three stories in her collection and is due out from Fomite Press in January 2022. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. Find her online at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Saving Your Sanity (In Five Easy Steps)

Thursday, October 14, 2021
It started with Halloween. 

Or rather, thinking about Halloween and a story I’d written years ago and how that story would be the perfect Halloween post on my personal blog. Yep, I’d share that story with the whole wide web world. Except for one teensy problem: I had no idea what the name of the story was. 

Okay, Cathy, I said to myself, no need to make yourself crazy. You can figure this out. So off I went to my website to search through the archives of the blog. Because back in the day, I had a feature called “Tooting My Horn” Tuesday and just a key word or two (in this case, fairy tales) would send me right to the story. So step one, I searched my blog and Eureka! There it was! A story called “Not Exactly Innocent” and I confidently clicked on the link to take me to the story. 

Except the link didn’t work. Okay, no problem. In fact, it confirmed that the story was no longer on the web which was necessary if I were to run the story on my blog. But just to be sure (and thanks to all the fine things I’d said about my story and such, I now knew the name of the webzine), I moved on to step two, and found the webzine. Yay! 

But all my searching on the webzine did not produce the story. It did, however, bring up my name and a poem I’d also written that had appeared in this webzine. And so step three, I had to read this lovely and erudite essay by a fine fellow who said all kinds of smart things about my poem. I had no idea I’d said all that in my simple poem but who am I to argue with a college professor? Except as smart as I now felt, I still did not have my story. 

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why, with title in hand, I didn’t just search amongst my many files? And though I’m loathe to admit it, I will tell you the sad truth. Namely, that the story, along with hundreds of other stories, were on my old laptop, the laptop I called Precious. And back when I switched from Precious (who had seen far better days) to my shiny new laptop, I used a flash drive and downloaded all of the files from Precious. But here I was at step four, kicking myself and pulling out my hair, because I did not know where that precious (pun intended) flash drive was. And I had never quite got round to downloading all my stories on this laptop. 

Is there any worse feeling, dear writers, than to suddenly realize that your story may never be read again because you were such a nincompoop? My sanity was teetering until…was it possible? Would my brilliant idea work? 

I opened up my email—the same email that I have had for lo, these many years—and I clicked on my Sent folder. And step five, I searched for the webzine and the story title and thanks to the wonders of amazing technology, there it was! Way back in 2009, the story! Attached to the email when I’d submitted it! 

And I smiled, friends, as I read that story. It was truly a perfect story for Halloween and since it was no longer on the webzine, I could put it on my blog for a funny, creepy post. Except… 

It really was such a good story, and I thought, Cathy C. Hall, you know what? You could sell that story again. 

So I’ll let you know how that goes. And in the meantime, think long and hard before tossing away an old email. Laptops can fry, links can die, and flash drives can disappear. But an email is (thank goodness!) forever.

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One Foot in Front of the Other

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

I used this picture for my last article - which was quite a long time ago. In the meantime, I've missed several deadlines, dropped several balls, gotten sick, spent some time in the ER, and lost a crown on my tooth. There's actually much more - but those are the ones fresh in my mind. I'm using this picture  because it reminds me of a simpler time. A time I am eager to return to. 

I've spent so much of the last year (more if I'm being honest) feeling overwhelmed. I don't know if it's the stress of the pandemic, the volatility of farming, trying to juggle teenagers and toddlers, or being an only child with an aging mother. I really can't just pick one thing, but I keep straying away from things that bring me joy - and now my health is paying the price for it. 

I want to get back to writing. I want to read more books. I want to do more blog tours. I want to ride my horses more often. The list goes on - I just want to get back to my happy self. When I think of all the things I haven't done and all the things I should be doing or want to do, I feel absolutely overwhelmed and pretty horrible about myself. When I start thinking like that, I just want to pull the covers back up and take a nap. I mentioned this to a friend who shared some fabulous advice. She started by talking about something I love - running. She said "you didn't just wake up one morning and run a 5K, you started walking slowly, then increased your speed, then you'd run a bit and walk, run a bit more, walk some more, and eventually you worked your way into loving your daily run, right?"

I sipped my coffee and sat back - she was right. So I asked "how do I apply that to all this other work and all this other stuff I've let slide?" 

She looked right at me and said:


Sounds good in theory, but she was right. I don't have to sit down tonight and write the next great American Novel. I do however have to write this article. Once I'm done with this article, I can start working on the next one. I can grab a book off the shelf and start reading - not the entire thing in one night, but one page at a time. 

I'm here to tell you I'm going to be the person I want to be. Not all at once, but I'm going to get there. I want you to be part of that process. Will you help me please? 

**  If you have a favorite heartwarming book or author, share the name or title with me in a comment below!

**  If you've ever felt this way, tell me what you did to put one foot in front of the other - what worked for you? 

**  If you're an author, and you would be interested in doing a blog tour with me, drop me a note below or send an email: - I'm eager to get back at things I enjoy - which is helping spread the word about amazing books and authors like YOU! 

And with that - hugs my dear friend and until next time! You know we love hearing from you - if you don't feel comfortable commenting on this post, feel free to drop us a note - we love that too! ( )


Today's blogger is Crystal J. Casavant-Otto who is a hot mess of a momma and dairy farmer enjoying her little corner of the cornfield in muddy Wisconsin this fall! 

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After attending the same high school as Ernest Hemingway (give or take 80 years), Emily Hampson studied psychology at Stanford University, battling imposter syndrome. Post-college, she abandoned California sun and date palms to return to her Midwestern deciduous roots and raise two daughters. For nearly two decades, she worked in hotels and hospitality before pivoting to the tech industry. A year later, she still boasts a robust collection of travel-size shampoo bottles. Emily is a member of the Chicago Writers Association, having published personal essays in Keystrokes, and serves as a class correspondent for Stanford Magazine. She is currently editing her debut historical novel in stolen twenty-minute increments.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Spring 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Emily: Thanks so much for this honor! This particular piece was my first attempt at flash fiction after taking an online course through my ala mater. Honestly, it was meant as a distraction from the query trenches, to keep me writing and busy with something. I believe I happened about the contest after some late-night Google tinkering and I’m thrilled to have found this community of women writers.

WOW: We're glad to have you here! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Suburban Warfare?”

Emily: I first wrote “Suburban Warfare” from a female perspective and then decided to challenge myself and flip the gender roles. I sought to explore the complexities of a marriage in peril but in a more covert fashion by focusing on what was unsaid, the miscommunications and misconnections. My goal was to have nature, or more specifically a suburban backyard setting, convey ominous energy and inform the idea of a battlefield at home. It wasn’t hard to capture some of those dismal and doleful undertones while staring out my window on a cloudy March afternoon in Chicago when I wrote it. I should also mention (for any PETA supporters especially) that no squirrels or furry rodents were harmed in the composing of this piece.

WOW: You’re also currently working on an historical novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far? I appreciate that you said you’ve been editing it in twenty-minute increments.

Emily: Yes, this novel was my quarantine year passion project. I have another more contemporary novel gathering dust in a drawer and once I completed that first one, I thought, “Well, why not?” I suspect it’s not dissimilar to getting that first marathon under your belt, except I despise running. I’d much rather hit mile markers by tapping on a keyboard. Anyway, after seventeen years of working for the same hospitality company, I lost my job during the pandemic. With my kids both in remote school, I decided to stall my return to the workforce and dedicate my time to writing a fictionalized version of my grandparent’s immigration story out of post-war Czechoslovakia in 1945. My grandmother, Baba, is the most stubborn and plucky 96-year-old you’ll ever meet and boasts a far superior memory than most Jeopardy players. Last spring over tea and kolacky, we revisited all the microcassettes of personal interviews I’d done with her over the years, taking additional notes along the way. The novel centers around three generations of women, a daughter, a mother and a grandmother, who persevere in the face of forbidden love, family secrets, sudden loss, and domestic duty. I found it a privilege to write this book under the historical guidance of my Baba and while the editing process feels endless, I’m also determined to shepherd this story into the world in one form or another.

WOW: That sounds fascinating, best of luck with the project. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Emily: At any given time, I try to have two books in circulation. One print and one audio. I love to walk and the audiobook affords me the ability to get through my TBR pile that much faster. Although the fact that I bought a brand-new bookshelf during COVID to accommodate my insatiable novel-buying habit should tell you that I have a ways to go. I recently devoured The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (along with legions of fellow Hello Sunshine book club fans) and was drawn in by the dual timelines, both set in present tense. For me, I’m at times less engaged with one particular timeline, but this story flowed and melded seamlessly. It was one of those books that I mourned when it ended. I’m also currently listening to V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie Larue and it’s masterful. At times, the writing makes me stop, slack-jawed, on the sidewalk. Julia Whelan’s narration is flawless. Honestly, I’d listen to that woman read an instruction manual.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Emily. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Emily: Often the difference of me powering off my laptop and feeling as though I had a productive writing session is simply the result of sitting in my chair in the first place. Given that I’m a mom of two young girls with a full-time job and a perpetually churning washer and dryer, I started instituting a thirty-minute rule in an attempt to improve my self-discipline. When I was knee-deep writing my novel, I would intentionally carve out a half hour to write every night. (I’m come to embrace the fact that I’m not a morning person). If I felt like stopping after that, I could move on guilt-free to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or prep school lunches, but most nights, once I got in the groove, I didn’t want to stop. It was a great way to trick my brain with seemingly short commitments and get words on the page.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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Time to Give Yourself a Fresh Start

Monday, October 11, 2021
Fresh squeeze? Fresh start!

Have you ever needed a fresh start? 

As I see the end of the year drawing closer, I usually have a habit of looking back at the goals that I had at the start of the year and the intentions that I set for myself. I realized most of these goals have changed. At first, things changed when I started a new job in January, and they changed again when I lost that very job over the summer. Now that we're in October, I'm eager for a fresh start. 

The question is: how can I do that? 

 Seasons changing always lead me to a stage of transition, and as the summer ends and cooler weather begins, I'm kind of in a slump. I thought I'd share some of the ways I'm hitting that restart button, and maybe it will inspire you. 

Limit social media. 
Recently, I took a major step back from social media and it's been almost two weeks since I really took an active approach. Frankly, I don't miss it at all. The problem with social media is that I get the "why not me?" disease, which isn't all that easy to overcome. I get it when I realize someone gets way more likes than I do on a post, or more followers, or better news to share, or more clever things to say. I don't deal with that all the time, but if I'm in a slump, I'm more inclined to get there in that mind frame. So, taking a step away from it all has been a great feeling. I know social media is important for an author's platform, but if you are in a slump, consider taking a step away from it. 

 Stop adding to your to-do list. 

I have a horrible habit of committing to things I later regret. For example, I started reading regularly again and with that brought back my habit of accepting books to read and review for authors. As a result, I overcommitted myself. I'm nearly caught up now, and I've even updated my blog page to announce that I'm not taking any more feature requests. So, I've learned a lesson: stop adding to your to-do list. 

If you are in a slump, it may be a sign you are stressed. So, do a self-check and figure out what you can cut out of your to-do list. Yes, this means you may have to use the word that I personally struggle to say in these circumstances: no. 

With that said though, make sure you actually complete the stuff on your to-do list. If I have tasks looming over my head that I had agreed to, and I'm putting off, that stresses me out. Lately, I've been finishing up various commitments, and it's helped me feel a lot better (with each checkmark of completion, I'm reminding myself to not add to that to-do list). I'm also leaving room for the fact that I may need to tell some people I don't have time for something anymore. 

Get rid of clutter. 

Did you know that decluttering can help relieve anxiety or stress? I also find it incredibly invigorating. I love organizing closets, my notebooks, and other spaces that tend to attract clutter. However, even if you don't have physical items to get rid of or organize, try your digital world. As a result of cleaning up some digital files, I discovered a story I thought I lost, and I created a new system for keeping things organized. 

Also, and while this may shock some of you, but I've also gotten rid of many of the e-books I had downloaded. Many of them were books I thought I would read and after some careful skimming, I now realize I probably won't. Now my "to be read" digital folder is emptier, and I'm promising myself that the next time I download a book, I'll actually read it (or won't buy it until I know for sure that I will enjoy it). And for some reason, this made me feel better and relieved at the same time.

 So far, that's the approach I'm taking, and I'm also planning to tackle some of my previous short stories that have collected digital dust this year. Also, with a slump, consider the fact that your reading, writing, and creative tastes of changed. I find that's the case for me lately, and I'm largely uninterested in some of the things I found so fascinating earlier this year. Take that into consideration and venture off into the unknown. See what you discover.
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Be Wary of Marketing Offers for Your Books

Sunday, October 10, 2021
You know that saying, "If it's too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true"? I was reminded of it recently when checking my email, and I thought: This subject would make a good WOW! blog post. Probably other writers are receiving emails like this or will be soon, and so let's discuss...

These are the kinds of emails I'm talking about:

Dear Ms. Dill:
We want to market Finding My Place for you. It is such an excellent book! We will put your book in front of thousands and thousands of our followers on Twitter by tweeting about your book every day for XX days for $XXXXX dollars. Don't wait. 

Book Marketer Extraordinaire


I'm not trying to be mean or condescending. I know that there are some legit marketing firms out there, including services that help authors promote books. But I also know that if someone is contacting you to promote a book that is not famous and where you recently promoted it yourself through a legit eNewsletter, most likely, this is not a good deal. And I also know that tweeting your book title with a link to a bunch of people who may have no interest in your type of book will not sell books. It just won't.

Even if the above email came and the person said they would do it for $1 or $5, I wouldn't do it. Most likely, here's what happened. This person subscribes to a newsletter for children's books that are being offered for free or a discount. They saw that I ran a promotion on Finding My Place. They Googled my name, and they found my website, where I have my email address. Then they emailed me and made me feel "special", so that they can send out tweets that no one will care about, and they can take my money. 

My point? If someone is emailing you and asking you to market something for you for $XXXX, I wouldn't do it. In 999 cases out of 1000 (or maybe even 1000 out of 1000), this won't be a good ROI for you. They may even do what they say they're going to do, and Twitter may show you that they have 200,000 followers, but you have no idea if those followers are mostly bots or readers of a completely different genere you write. 

So my advice--delete those emails--send them to spam. Don't waste your time.

What does work? 

I think offering the first book in your series for free still works. I don't think it works as well as it used to because there are so many free books out there. But if you offer your ebook for free and advertise it in a newsletter for people who love that genre and free ebooks, you will get a lot of downloads, and some of those people will read the book. Some of those people will review it for you, and some of those people will buy book two. 

What are some good newsletters?

My two favorites are Free Booksy and The Fussy Librarian. There are more, I'm sure, but those are the two I always use. As for Twitter, we tweet at WOW!, and we get some love on there, but none of our book packages for authors are just for Twitter. We use our blog, our eNewsletter, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter--plus sometimes banner ads on our website. It's a combination of strategies that works to sell books.

If you want help with marketing, it works much better if you find someone to help you. You are in charge. You find the service or the person, and you tell them what you want. This October, in the season of Halloween, you don't want a bad and wasteful book marketing service/package to scare you away from your writing career! 

Margo L. Dill is a children's author, editor, publisher, and writing coach and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO, with her fifth-grader and almost three-year-old rescue dog. You can find out more at 

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Tips for Finding Unique Article Ideas

Saturday, October 09, 2021


A conversation with a historian in my area netted an article about an unsolved murder.

As a magazine editor, I’m responsible for planning the content each month that fits in well with our departments and themes. While I accept pitches from writers and columnists, the job of scouting out timely story ideas mostly falls on me. So where do I find these ideas that we turn into content for our magazine? 

I use press releases if they feature a local person, place, or angle, but I also find a lot of ideas on social media. I’ve pulled numerous ideas for our food and dining section from a Facebook group called Lake Norman Eats, and this past month, we profiled the Facebook group, since it had a unique story behind it (a local realtor started it up during the early months of the pandemic so residents would know which restaurants were serving curbside and carry out). I follow a lot of other area publications and blogs, and bookmark interesting story ideas when I see them for future use. I scout out the calendar pages of the town websites. I try to keep up with small business owners, interior designers, entrepreneurs, etc. because inevitably, I will come across an idea from them that will pique my interest. For example, my favorite independent bookstore shared a post one day talking about their youngest employee, a 17-year-old classmate of my daughter’s who is on track to read 200 books this year. I sent the bookstore a message, they connected me with the employee, and I interviewed her for my monthly column that runs in our magazine called “Renee Wants to Know.” 

You also never know when a simple conversation will lead to an article idea. Last year a city magazine featured an interview with a local historian about some haunted places in the greater Charlotte, N.C. area. I saved a copy of the magazine. Recently, I reached out to that historian to see if he had any ideas I could use for our monthly history column. He saw that I had a missing persons podcast from my e-mail signature, and we set up a call to talk about an unsolved murder of a young bride in a nearby town from 1937. From that conversation, I wrote an article for our most recent issue titled “Who Killed Lue Cree Overcash Westmoreland?” and am sure I can take deeper dive into this topic and others from future conversations with this historian and author. 

Longtime writers are also phenomenal about pitching good stories, too, for which I’m grateful. One of my writers sent me an e-mail a few months ago about a chance meeting she had while visiting a popular coffee shop designed specifically for veterans. She told me the woman, who is the spouse of a Vietnam vet who volunteers at the shop frequently, is known as the unofficial “Sweetheart” of the café. She suggested a profile of the woman for our November issue, as it ties in nicely with Veterans Day. The article is set to run soon and I’m sure it will be a popular piece. 

Ideas for articles and blog posts really are everywhere, you just have to know where to look and keep an organized list in one safe place, like a spreadsheet, notebook, or document on your computer. 

For the freelance writers out there, where do you find a lot of your ideas? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor for Lake Norman CURRENTS, and also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.
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A Cover is a Cover is a Cover...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

If you saw this cover, would you buy the book?

photo by Sue B. Edwards

I imagine not. However, what if the title didn't look like it was written in blood? And what if the blurb said something like, "Two men form an unlikely friendship, as they team up to fight the battle of their lives" instead of "Across the twilight of fear, the red-drenched, terrifying dream begins..."? Might the book at least prompt you to pick it up and give it a second glance?

(By the way, Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin is one of my favorites. And bonus: it's not long enough to serve as a doorstop, unlike his Game of Thrones books.)

The cover of a book is huge. I've not bought books because the cover didn't hook me. They might have been incredible books that I passed on... And yet I did exactly that. I passed on the books because either the cover didn't hook me or it turned me off.

A cover that I love is Pat Wahler's book I am Mrs. Jesse James. It's simple, classy, and gives you (what ends up being) an accurate idea of what the novel is about.

Pat's publisher designed the cover. She was lucky. Pat liked the design. If your publisher chooses one you don't like, you might not have any say in the matter.

I was even more fortunate. Margo Dill (my publisher) let me use an artist of my choice, and when the cover was finished,  Margo finalized it with different colors and borders/text placement. I really love it. It's striking, and the black, white and gray color scheme represents the fact that this is a story about racism--what the White people did to the Black people in 1921 Tulsa... and all the gray details in-between.

It also solved a huge problem: I had no idea what the main character--Henry--looked like. The silhoutte the artist cut out of the 1921 newspaper headlines allows the reader to form their own impression of Henry.

Authors--if they're self-publishing--hope their research and getting feedback from writing friends results in a great cover. Authors who are working with their publisher hope that either their input is considered or their publisher makes a wise decision when it comes to what goes on the (front and back) cover of the book.

In reading about what makes an effective book cover, I came across this article that highlights various books and what covers were rejected. I was fascinated with why some didn't make the final cut.

If you have a book (or two or three or more), I'd love to hear about your choices and decisions when creating a cover. If you're a fan of Fevre Dream, I'd love to hear from you (it's a little-known book). And if you're a fan of my book, I'd really love to hear from you...

Sioux Roslawski is the author of Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story, which is the first book she has birthed. Most of her time is spent teaching middle-schoolers (a true labor of love) and taking her dog, Radar, on walks. You can check out her work by checking out her blog.

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