Write Right Where You Are


Because my husband and I are always moving, trading one “hometown” for another around the continent, we frequently pick up local newspapers to see what’s happening while we’re in the neighborhood. On a recent visit to the Grand Canyon we bought the Grand Canyon News, and it delivered a juicy bit of information about an upcoming arts and crafts fair.


Being an avid reader (I should do another post on reading signs in laundromats around the country), I start with the headlines then comb every page — all the way through the classifieds.

This time it paid off (again):

On page 2B of the Grand Canyon News a letter to the editor titled “The Grand Canyon is in peril” caught my eye. It describes the efforts of an Italian development company to “pursue a project that would add 3 million square feet of commercial space and thousands of homes to the town of Tusayan, which borders the Grand Canyon National Park,” according to Carl Taylor, former Coconino County Supervisor, in his letter. He asserts that “The Grand Canyon is a national treasure and should not be turned into a theme park.”


In the very next letter, titled “Forest Service public scoping to begin for road access,” Tusayan’s mayor, Greg Bryan, argues for the development. “Most of us came here to work and be a part of this wonderful experience that the Grand Canyon offers. Our goal in developing housing is not to ruin that experience or the resource, but rather to give the people who serve our resource and its visitors a better quality of life while doing so.”

As an outsider, I don’t know the details around the controversy, but it sounds like some big players are involved, personal quality-of-life issues are at stake, and — are you still with me here? — THAT makes for great conflict. And great conflict makes for the best fiction, right?

Your fiction brain should be going to town about now, tuning out these words you’re automatically reading but no longer paying close attention to… because your fiction brain is wandering, toying with some ideas that are popping around. Your fiction brain is thinking “What if….?”

We were in Nevada last month and in California the month before, and each of the towns we stayed in was embroiled in some controversy. One county newspaper railed against the sheriff. Another poked journalistic fingers into the sides of a local homeowner’s association board of directors.

When you live in a place for any length of time, you’re invested in what goes on. The politics can get personal. But when you travel, you don’t have the same attachments; you don’t have a stake in what goes on, so you can absorb all sides, find humor in a situation locals don’t notice. You see irony, hypocrisy and all kinds of oddball behavior because you’re standing on the outside looking in, and your view is much clearer.

Indulge yourself when you travel — whether for a quick vacation or for work, for the brief (or extended) family visit or high school reunion. Collect a local newspaper or two, reade the opinion columns and letters to the editor. What’s the local controversy? What are the possible plots you could spin from what’s going on? Who are the players? What’s at stake?

Make notes. Tear pages and stuff them into your briefcase or carry-on bag. Save them. Use them when that so-called “writer’s block” threatens.

Train yourself to write right where you are, any time you travel, and you’ll have more ideas pinging around in that fiction brain of yours than you’ll have space for. Trust me!

How about you? Has something you read in a newspaper away from home influenced how you developed a short story or novel? Tell us!

Life as a Traveling Writer


Travel writers are a dime a dozen. Well, okay, maybe not *that* common. But when someone says they’re a travel writer, they usually don’t have to explain what it means, especially now with so many cable TV channels and hundreds of magazines devoted to travel. Travel writer implies they travel to various locations to write about it for magazines, books, and guidebooks. They get photos, interview interesting people, and make note of important details. The destination is the thing.

I’m not one of those writers. Nope, I’m a traveling writer. It’s a very different thing. Let me explain.


When my husband and I tell people we travel full-time, that we’re full-time RVers, to be specific, we get a lot of puzzled looks. And when we tell them we sold our house, bought an RV to live in the RV while we travel the continent, they say things like, “That sounds awesome” and “I want to do that someday.”

When we planned for this phase of our lives, I was already a published author, former fiction editor for a national magazine, and was looking forward to leaving my day job so I could focus more of my time on my writing. Travel writing seemed like the perfect fit. I bought books and read every article I could find on what it means to be a travel writer. Restaurant reviews. Destination pieces. Interviewing the locals.


I practiced with our blog, Bob and Ellen’s Great RV Adventure. And now, more than seven years later, that’s still the extent of my travel writing: the blog. I haven’t even drafted a conventional travel piece for a magazine, Web site, or guide book. Somewhere along the way, I realized a couple of things: most travel publications weren’t interested in the quiet, out-of-the-way places we preferred to visit and if they were — why invite crowds of people, ruining what made the town or restaurant so special?


Besides, my heart has always been loyal to its first love: fiction. Being on the road has given me more characters, plots, settings, and possibilities than I could ever have dreamed up sitting in a house for years and years.


My first novel in many years, Pea Body, grew out of a visit to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If we hadn’t traveled there, the idea would never have struck. If we hadn’t traveled there in an RV, essential details of the novel would have been completely different — so different I can’t even imagine it having the same soul.

My travel and writing are now so tightly wrapped around each other, separating them would be like severing conjoined twins: possible but tricky.

So we ramble the highways and byways, and I blog, and jot notes, but forget to scribble them down sometimes, and still have to practice a form of Zen self-hypnosis to lull myself to sleep. Otherwise the noise of those ideas would keep me awake longer than any refrigerator truck idling next to us in a rest area where we’ve stopped for a night, or the noisy folks around a fire in a campfire somewhere else.

Wherever you are, ideas are coming at you. Pay attention. Reach out. Grab a few. Tuck them into your pocket. Save them for those rainy, writer’s block days when you can pull them out like rays of sunshine.

Writers Roundup

As you read this, I’m probably hiking somewhere in the depths of the Grand Canyon… or off-roading in Nevada… or exploring someplace new to me. Hopefully something in this list of resources will lead you someplace new with your writing and publishing efforts. If you’ve got a resource to share, please add it in the comments section!

I’m cheating on my own post here by not including a link. But it’s my blog, so I can do that if I want, right? Instead of a link, I’m going to encourage you to open a book and read. Read something different. My husband and I read nonfiction together — a nice change for me from the fiction I usually have my head into. And we’ve covered a huge range of topics. Right now we’re reading “Mind of the Raven,” by Bernd Heinrich. If ravens soar in your neighborhood, give this book a look. Heinrich conducts some amazing field studies of these “wolf-birds” — and the results are stunning. How does this infuse my fiction? Opening my brain up to the possibilities of the universe opens my imagination, stirs my curiosity, and connects me to the world in ways I’m not even aware of until I write something and it occurs to me I wouldn’t have thought of that particular thing except for something I read. So read. Read a lot. Read a lot of various things. And don’t stop except to write. (Oh, and travel. And hug your loved ones.)



May is Civility Awareness Month, a global initiative. Barbara Rogan, mystery writer, has a take on Manners for writers at her In Cold Ink blog. How should a writer respond to a bad review? Nasty comments from readers? Read and learn.

Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

Kurt R.A. Giambastiani is a writer whose opinion matters to me, so I read his post, “Amazon and the Devaluation of Art” with much interest. It’s enough to have me rethinking whether the lending of my book through Oyster is such a good thing…. Of course, I’m still attracting readers and book buyers, while Kurt has much more to lose in sales. Read his post, see what you think.

Indie and Self-Publishing

Lauren White summarizes her results from “Dissecting the Bestsellsers of Self-Publishing: What You Can Learn from Self-Published Success Stories” at the Independent Publisher. She focuses on three self-published authors’ experiences and methods to identify what’s worked for them — and how we can benefit from doing the same things.

Wondering why your book isn’t on the shelf in the local bookstore? Want to know how to get it there? Brooke Warner at She Writes gives us the lowdown in her article for Huffington Post, “5 Reasons Why Your Book Isn’t Being Carried in Bookstores.” If you self-published your book, you *must* read this.

Marketing and Promotion

If you’ve heard about GoogleAds and wonder how they work, Daniel Lefferts has a terrific yet concise explanation at booklife. See “Google Ads 101: A Guide for Indie Authors” for help deciding if this is an investment you want to make.

Penny C. Sansevieri edits the fantastic Book Marketing Expert Newsletter — so packed with tips I keep saving them to refer to over and over. She’s at Author Marketing Experts where you can sign up for the newsletter, find out about her services, and get some neat freebies (and we love those, don’t we?), like a handy book signing checklist.


Ricardo Fayet, guest blogging at The Wicked Writing Blog, tells us “How to Let Your Readers Do Your Publicity For You.” His advice is contrary to that give by Barbara Rogan in the above entry, but there’s some style to it.

The Myth of Starting Small — Part 2

Our previous post discussed why “starting” with short stories doesn’t necessarily lead to publishing a novel. But there’s another myth related myth out there about “starting small.”

Let’s go back to the example we had last time: you’ve devoted yourself to perfecting the craft of writing short stories, and you’re ready to publish.

Should you “start small” and hit those low-circulation, lesser known magazines, or shoot for the big ones?

My strategy was always to start with the best possibilities for the story. If they said no, I’d go on to the next publication. And sometimes those better publications said yes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know.

So I built credentials gradually. Some phenomenal writers can do this pretty quickly — they write abundantly, and do it well, and garner excellent publications credits in short order. The rest of us need more patience.

Patience pays off. If your goal is to eventually attract a traditional publishing house that will take on a collection of your stories — or you want to win one of the awards or prizes offered for short story collections — then you need the best credits you can get. Every single story accepted by unknown magazines won’t get you squat, because reputation is everything. (The truth hurts, I know.)

So persist. Keep polishing. Don’t ignore those little credits — they’re great motivation. But don’t think of them as bolstering your writerly reputation.

Small Press versus Large Publishing Houses

Okay, let’s say you want to publish your novel with a traditional house. You’ve heard the advice to “start small.” You’ve also noticed that many small presses accept manuscripts without agent representation.

Should you go that route? Is starting small this way a good thing or not?

It depends. It depends on what your book is about. If your book is a high-concept genre project and the publisher is known to knock these out as part of their repertoire, then go for it. But if the publisher seems attractive to you just because they’re “small,” then forget it.

Small press publishers are not just smaller versions of large publishing houses — they have different needs and different standards. They can actually be harder to publish with than the larger houses because they take on fewer projects and put a lot of their resources behind them.

The Bottom Line

Totally confused? Here’s the executive summary:

  • Don’t chase after a publication because it’s “small.” Chase the publication that’s the best fit for your manuscript.


  • Don’t write short stories unless you want to write them. They are not a shortcut to getting a novel published.


  • Don’t accumulate a lot of credits from unknown magazines or e-zines if your goal is to impress an agent or major publisher. Those credits can make you feel good and motivate you, but they won’t matter in the long run, not to the people you want to impress.

What do you think? Are you “starting small”? Is it working for you?

The Myth of Starting Small — Part 1



“Build your publishing credits! Start with short stories while you finish your novel!”

This advice is all over the Web. But is it good advice? On the face of it, it seems like a good way to go. Crafting a solid short story means developing strong characters who are motivated by something, which drives them to take action (or not), which changes their lives. These are the essential elements of any good fiction.

So you work on your short story, revising and polishing it until it gleams brighter than any dream of a bestseller, and you send it off to get it published.

One of three things happens:


  • It’s rejected. This is the most common result of a first attempt.


  • It’s accepted by a major publication — like the New Yorker magazine, the epitome of short story publishing for many writers. This is the least likely thing to happen on your first attempt.


  • It’s accepted by a little-known, small-circulation print or online magazine. This is a possibility, if you’ve done all the right things in selecting a potential market for your story.


Because the odds are you’ll make your first publishing mark in the smaller magazines or e-zines, let’s say you’ve persisted and gotten three or four stories published in some tiny publications with small readerships.

Now let’s say you’ve managed to somehow get your novel written and you’re ready to submit it to an agent for representation (or the rare publishing company that still reads un-agented manuscripts). They get your packet of materials, including the results of your hard work in publishing those short stories.

Will those credentials make a difference in whether they decide to represent or publish you?

Nope. Believe me, I know.

As a former fiction editor for an international literary magazine, I didn’t even read cover letters until I’d read the short story. I didn’t want to be lured by some fabulous credentials into taking a sub-par story and ended up rejecting crappy stories by writers all of us have heard of. If a famous name can’t sway an editor, little-known publication credits won’t help at all.

Some writers are exclusively novelists. Others are exclusively short story writers. A short story is not just a novel with fewer pages — it’s a different fictional form entirely. Learning to write a great short story doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll write an awesome novel. Or that you’ll be able to publish either one. Editors and agents know this.

So if you want to be a novelist, write novels. If you want to write short stories, write those. If you want to do both, do both. But don’t assume what you learn writing one form will transfer easily into writing the other.

You don’t have a lot of time in this world. Write what you want to write, not what someone else (mistakenly) thinks will get you farther down your path to publication.

Got it?

[Next time… more on the Myth of Starting Small… Another bit of bad advice you shouldn’t follow, despite how popular it is.]

Writers Roundup

Time for another look around the Web and roundup some helpful blog posts, articles, and other resources to help you in your pursuit of writing near-perfection (because nothing is perfect, right?).


Jump start your next project with some help from novelist Norma Jean Lutz — she’s offering her “Don’t Dilly Dally” how-to PDF for free. Download and get started here. (I’m sorry, Norma Jean, but I just can’t call a document a workshop… it’s the professional trainer in me….)

Bestselling author Ann Packer has five simple tips for writing. Okay, not always simple to implement… but give them a look, then give them a try.



We hear a lot about self-publishing, indie publishing, and traditional publishing…. but what should we make of “hybrid” publishing? For a great summary of this business model (including four sub-categories), see Brooke Warner’s Huff Post Books article, “Hybrid Publishing: Getting a Handle on the New Middle Ground.”



I confess I’d never heard of Oyster before it showed up in my sales report from Lulu. So, of course, I Googled it. It’s an online e-book lending service. I have no idea how my book landed in Oyster, but I’m keeping my eye on it. And along the way, I came across a Publishers Weekly article by Calvin Reid titled, “Oyster Adds eBook Retail.” Hmmm… So if your book is available on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo, but you’re looking for yet another distribution channel, you might check it out.



Member of LibraryThing? No? Might be worth it. I realized I joined when I read this article, then discovered I’d registered quite awhile ago. So I can’t vouch for the advice from Savvy Book Writers in their “How LibraryThing Can Help You to More Reviews,” except to say that it sounds a lot like what you can do via Goodreads. Even so, it’s probably worth checking out.



I’ve been writing author bios for years now, but they still make me scratch my head, wondering if I couldn’t be doing this little job better than the last time I updated my tiny but very important biography. Chris Robley gives us some help at BookBaby in this post from last month, “How to write a great author bio that will connect with readers.”

People who have known me a long time will wonder how this could possibly be true, but I’ve recently discovered I love crunching numbers. Maybe this newfound passion blossomed during my stint as a project manager for a Web company when I discovered what numbers could tell us: calculating a return-on-investment, risk analysis for potential impacts on the bottom line of not finishing X in favor of completing Y. So maybe it’s just that I’m not familiar with all the references in Chris McMullen’s article on advertising with Amazon (impressions? bids?) which is why he lost me somewhere, but for those of you who have been trying to figure out a magical formula for making money with Amazon ads, take a look at Chris’ calculations, formulas, and explanations in his “Advertising on Amazon with AMS via KDP — Is It Worth It?” Perhaps it will provide the key you’re missing.

Do you know “The Top 10 Things Authors Should Know About Amazon”? If not, Brooke Warner at She Writes spells them out for you. (Yep, two resources from Brooke this time — I don’t repeat sources in the same posting very often, but couldn’t resist including this one. Thanks, Brooke, for such valuable info!)

The Choice Is Yours… Here’s Mine

Writers I’ve known since way back in my traditional publishing days… even before then, actually… (and that’s a long time)… are picking up on the self-publishing, do-it-yourself (DIY) options for getting our books out there. We’re all believers in traditional publishing, but we’re also finding we have a desire to take some control over the process. In some ways, opting to do it ourselves is another way to be creative: we get to think about cover and interior design, for example.

So a few voices from my past have reached out with some questions: “What do you use to publish your books? What other choices are there? Which one should I use?”

Google any of these questions and you’ll get a slew of hits. Let me see if I can help narrow the field a bit. I’ll let you know why I use Lulu, what it is and isn’t, and give you a few resources so you can see some comparisons of the major options.

First of all, you need to know what the options are. Jane Friedman identifies four publishing paths; Gordon Williams narrows them to three based on who owns the imprint and who covers costs.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll describe Lulu as a printing house. You can purchase a package and get linked up with someone who can edit your book or design your cover, for example, but I didn’t do any of that. Instead, after I wrote my books (I’ve now published three using Lulu), I formatted them for print, created covers, and uploaded the files. Voila! Published books. Free. Repeat: I spent not a penny.

Let me clarify a few things.

You might look at my books and decide I should have invested in an editor and a cover designer, but I’m happy with my endeavors. As for the rest of the debate about whether to hire someone — well, I’ll leave that for another time. For now, just know that I did all the work (even used my own photos). Yes, it took a lot of time. I did almost twenty draft covers for “Pea Body” before I landed on one that seemed right.

A lot of companies will let you format your books for free, so Lulu isn’t unique for that.

What I do appreciate about Lulu is that they handle the middleman stuff, which takes a lot of chores out of my hands, leaving me more time to write (and blog, aren’t you the lucky one?).

Here’s what Lulu does for me:

Lulu delivers my e-book versions to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. I just click an option that says, basically, “Yes, make this e-book available in these outlets.”

Something else Lulu does is collect the money: I get one report from Lulu and one payment that includes every outlet. Do I give up some extra change because I pay them to be the middleman? Sure I do. Maybe it’s not worth it to you, but scrimping a dime or two here and there isn’t going to make a big impact on my bottom line, to be honest with you. It’s worth it to me to pay them to take care of the conversion and bookkeeping.

The bottom line reason why I keep coming back to Lulu (despite some bonehead decisions they’ve made in the past and caught flack from many of their customers for) is that they’ll issue me an old-fashioned check. I researched hackers awhile back (and have a copy of “Hacking Exposed” in my TBR pile) and that scared me silly about linking any personal or financial info up to the Web. Lulu has a current mailing address for me, so when my account hits the magic number, they print up a paper check, put it in a paper envelope, and snail mail it to me. I take that paper check to a building that says BANK on it, and trade it for green bills and coin.

Hopefully they will never decide to eliminate paper checks. If they do, I might have to go with CreateSpace or something like that.

So there are really three reasons why I stick with Lulu: I can publish my print and e-books for FREE, Lulu will collect and forward my payments from other outlets, and they’ll send me a paper check snail-mail to pay me for my sales.

How Lulu’s Business Model Works

As Gordon Williams pointed out in our interview a few posts ago, some companies make their money primarily from authors who are buying their own books. I’m not sure where most of Lulu’s sales come from, but this could be true for them. (And that’s okay by me, because that’s all I really want from them anyway.)

Recently some end-of-the-year reports came out that ranked the “platforms” — these are worth a close look and are an easy way to see how independent organizations believe the platforms stack up next to each other. Of course, a report’s conclusion or a high ranking shouldn’t be the only things you consider when you decide which platform works for you.

Here are the links so you can see how the companies compare:

Top 10 Reviews: Best Online Book Publishing Companies

The Independent Publishing Magazine’s Service Index for December 2014

eBook Self Publishing Secrets’ Reviews of Self-Publishing Companies: Best Platforms

What do you think? Do you agree with the rankings? Which platform(s) have you used? Which one(s) are you considering?