Writer’s Retreats

6-am-viewYou get to see things like this when you glance out the window at Frontier Camp, home of the Christian women’s retreat in January or kids’ retreats other times of the year. The place is called Fossil Creek, hence our names, Fossil Creek writers.

Last year, five of us took over cabin space at Fossil Creek. The cabins are stark. The bathrooms are adequate, but bunk beds are the only furniture. Not nice, cute wood-structured bunk beds, but the metal-frame type with springs that squeak every time you move. Get several people sleeping in a room together, and that’s a lot of squeaking. It only keeps you awake the first night.

The cabins are stark, because the point is to get out of the cabin. Go to the lodge and connect with others, or get outside and take a walk around the beautiful grounds. Do something.

lisa-and-antheaFor us, of course, the point of going to the lodge is to be connected to Wi-Fi so we can work. And we do work. And laugh. And share.

A great advantage of being with fellow writers is that you have an audience, “Y’all have to hear this!” or immediate help, “Does this sound right?” I got stumped a time or two and sought out advice from the others, and they did the same. We encouraged each other, laughed and cried together—and had some wonderful meals together, which was a definite benefit. All we had to do was write. We attended a twenty minute optional devotional, had breakfast, and went to work (or whatever we wanted to do with our time) until the next meal time. We weren’t responsible for cooking or cleaning up afterward, or anything else for that matter. I could look out the windows and not worry that they were dirty, because they weren’t my responsibility. If sand had been tracked in, making the floor gritty, who cared? Certainly not me! I’d left my housecleaning responsibilities behind for a few glorious days.

If you don’t have a group of writers you can meet with, you’re missing out. And if you don’t have a chance to get away with them for  several days, you’re really missing out. Do a little research and find a reasonably priced place to hold a retreat at. See for yourself what a treasure this concept is.

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Create a Marketing Budget, by Cindy Huff

Cindy Huff, author of the incredible, soon-to-be-released novel, Secrets and Charades, had an excellent post on her site, Writer’s Patchwork Blog, and she has generously allowed me to reprint it here in its entirety. This is her Marketing Tip #3. Numbers one (“You Gotta Ask“) and two (“Are You Participating?“) are important, too. Be sure to crash her site and read them.

This is sage advice folks, listen up!


calculator-1464008_1280Marketing tip #3 Budget

This is not a fun subject to talk about. Have a budget. I am focusing on doing as much free marketing as I can for my new novel.  Free is always good. But to reach more readers, I am going to have to spend money. Gone are the days where the publisher paid for all the marketing. My budget is small so I am going to be very careful where I place those funds. Every publisher has their own list of what that is so I won’t elaborate here.  If you are self-publishing then all the expenses of the book fall on you. A budget is even more crucial for self-pubs to stay on track with what needs to be done.

Free marketing

Facebook, twitter, and other social media are free forms of marketing. Just don’t make every post about your book. There’s an 80-20 rule. 80% of your posts is about other things; your characters, your setting, funny things, memes and photos, other author’s books, promoting other people’s endeavors and 20% talking about your new release and buy my book posts.

Word of mouth is free advertising. Encourage your friends, family and launch team to spread the word.


Marketing cost may consist of launch party giveaways, both virtual and live parties, bookmarks, postcards, flyers, ads. Other possible investments might be craft fair table fees and book trailers. Video trailers are becoming very popular but may not fit your budget.

Marketing never stops

I will need to continue to market after the initial sales. Funds from a portion of the sales must go toward ongoing marketing budget. Authors are in business. So, I better not use every dime of my royalties for household needs or a vacation.  A percentage must stay in the bank.


Once that first book is out I will need to continue producing more books because the possibility of that one book becoming a best seller giving me millions of dollars is highly unlikely. So, I’ll need to budget funds for editing and advertising for those upcoming projects as well.

Test the waters

If one form of marketing doesn’t get me the results I desire, I’ll try another. I’ve been advised not to invest more than I am comfortable losing on any new method. Test the waters with the smallest possible investment. If I’m happy with the results I’ll invest more.

If your income exceeds your output, you are a success.

Don’t know what is a reasonable budget? Refer to my marketing tip #3. Ask author’s with good sales figures what they have done.

Final thought

No amount of budgeting will work if your manuscript is not well-written. Always make craft your number one goal. That said. Even a well-written manuscript won’t sell if it is not marketed well. Writing and marketing go hand in hand.


About the Author:

cindyCindy Huff has been writing since high school in many arenas. She served as a guest columnist for the Beacon News, wrote scripts for Children’s Bible Hour, children’s stories for various publications, as well as magazine articles and devotionals in a variety of publications, Not to mention a plethora of skits, monologs, and mimes performed in church services and by homeschoolers. She also coached drama teams and a teen mime group.

Cindy was a member of the Christian Writer’s Guild and completed both the Apprentice and Journeyman Courses offered by the Guild. The mantra, “writers never stop learning” is important to her. She is a member of Word Weavers International and president of the Aurora, Illinois chapter.  Like most writers, she reads extensively to improve her writing skills and immerses herself in the beauty of the written word.

I had the honor of reading her Secrets and Charades, her debut novel which will be available March 2017. It won the 2014 Editor’s Choice Award from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and for good reason. All of Cindy’s work and study is evident in this novel. Her novels will be an excellent addition to the world of Historical Fiction.

You can her here:

Facebook www.facebook.com/cindyehuff
Twitter: @CindyErvinHuff

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In the comments section of my truncated post, “Tate Publishing Troubles,” Keith Kelly asked, “What do we do now?”

I can promise you I’m not the all-knowing queen about this, but I can share what I do know: Predator presses should never be an option. You have alternatives.

Since computers and word processing programs have made writing so much easier, big-name traditional publishers are inundated with queries. They accept so few of them that it’s almost not worth trying. You still can, through an agent and writers conferences, but just as predator publishers aren’t necessary, neither are large, traditional houses.

Here are some alternatives:

  • Small- to mid-sized publishers

Several entrepreneurs have taken up the slack in the publishing industry by opening their own houses. Most don’t require an agent to query them. They’re “traditional” in the sense that you pay nothing. They may or may not buy the rights to your book, but they do pay royalties and many houses pay advances. They do all the grunt-work involved: editing, cover design, formatting, and uploading to the distribution sites. Some even help promote and market (a job that’s primarily on your shoulders even with large publishers). Because they do all this, they’re worth it, but investigate them. Check out their covers and interiors, find out where their books are distributed, see if you get to keep your rights or, in the alternative, when you can have your rights back. And, check out what percentage royalty they pay, because that’s often the rub when going traditional.

  • Independent publishing services

Often, these are boutique-type shops where you can buy what you need. If, for instance, you already have your book edited by a professional and already have a great cover, you may need only formatting and uploading to the distribution sites. There are several who do this much for you.

Of course, this is also where you can get into trouble, so check up on those companies offering publication services. I noticed the Predator and Editor site is currently down, but you can find a list of predators on Charles S. Weinblatt’s “Book Publishing and Marketing.” Among those to watch out for are AuthorSolutions, XLibris, AuthorHouse, Westbow Press, and Abbott Press, but there are many others.

  • Freelancers

One of the best things about belonging to writers groups is that you find people who love doing the very things you hate. Frankly, I have absolutely no desire to learn certain aspects of this business, but I have friends who excel at them. Sometimes I pay these folks outright, sometimes I exchange my editing services for their formatting services, or whatever.

When my publisher released Give the Lady a Ride, I hired a cover designer/friend who also formatted the novel and uploaded it into CreateSpace and Kindle for me. All of that cost me around $300, and I earned it back in the first month.

If you don’t belong to a writers group—a place where favors are exchanged or discounted by people you have met and trust—the next best thing is to find a trusted source of these services. I recommend David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital. In the appendices, David has a list of several resources, from cover designers and formatters to promotion services.

I have the 2nd edition of Gaughran’s book, with a 2014 copyright, so a lot of his information is outdated, but it’s still a great tool to have. Within the covers of this book, he discusses virtually everything necessary for getting a digital book out there, so it’s a great place to start, and you can research the rest.

  • Pros and cons of going traditional

What I love about having books released through a traditional publisher is that I don’t have to pay attention to all the minutia: getting the bar code and ISBN and copyright, dealing with Library of Congress stuff, etc. Editing, cover design, formatting, uploading, distribution—all this falls on the publisher’s shoulders.

What I don’t love is the small royalties; the lack of control over editing, cover design, format, and pricing; and not having access to my sales numbers so I can see how a marketing campaign is working.

  • Pros and cons of going indie

What I love about being indie is the control over everything denied me in traditional publishing, and the immediate gratification of indie publishing. I can release a book much more quickly when I do it through my network than I can when I publish through a traditional publisher. And I can see within a few hours how my sales are.

What I don’t love about indie publishing is that everything is on me—all of the minutia I mentioned.

Since I’m still a beginner at all this, I’ve made a gazillion mistakes. Not being registered with the Library of Congress, for instance. That never crossed my mind. Not being with several distributors so my print book can be in libraries and stores. Not having bar codes. Just like writing itself, this end of the business is a learning process. In today’s industry, “I just want to write” is obsolete. No can do. We all have to learn the biz, even if we’re traditional, but especially if we’re independent.

Take the time and do your research. Start with learning what companies to steer clear of. Start with joining a large writers group—even if it’s online. There are several indie authors groups on Facebook, for instance. Start with studying something like David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital.

But if you’re serious about this business, start somewhere learning it. Don’t wait as long as I did to realize these are things you need to know.

Keith, I hope I answered your question.

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Reader Manipulation, a Lesson from Steven James

Loved this post from a few years back, and decided it needed to resurface . . .

Reader manipulation is a writer’s tool for the experienced author, and Steven James illustrates just how experienced he is in his recent release, The Queen.

Several bad guys are at work in this book, but one in particular is fascinating: Alexei Chekov. He’s a paid assassin who approaches his job as any professional from AAA Bug Extermination would. He’s cold. Quick. Lethal–but only if necessary. Sure, he’ll kill his target, but he’ll only incapacitate those who get in his way. Then he’ll do whatever he can to take care of them. Like the state trooper whose car he stole. He apologized for breaking the man’s wrists, worried whether he would suffer from hypothermia. Spoke soothingly to him about how he’d regain use of his hands after surgery.

He has a code: He doesn’t kill women or children. But he’s been set up, he tells hero Patrick Bowers–as he leaves Pat with the dilemma of pursuing him or saving the deputy who he’d made lame and tossed into the freezing waters of the Chippewa River. Still, he watches Pat dive into the waters, sees his struggle and failure to save the deputy, sees him pull himself to the snow-covered bank, and calls his location in to authorities who can save him before driving away in a stolen eighteen-wheeler.

He’s sympathetic: Someone killed his wife, and he believes that Valkyrie, the one who has hired him, is guilty of the murder. He wants revenge, and we’re rooting for him in a morbid, unfamiliar way. Okay, so he’s an assassin. A man’s gotta make a living, right? He’s one of the good guys–well, no, not a good guy, but not entirely bad, right? Well, yeah, he’s bad, but . . .

We struggle to figure out where to fit Alexei on scale of morality for several more pages, then James tells us this:

I told Jake about Alexei’s claim that he wasn’t responsible for killing the Pickron family. “It seemed important to him that I not associate him with the murder of Aris and Lizzie.”

“Typical assassin mentality,” he said, profiling on the spot. “They have their own unique, individualized set of moral values and convictions. Often they see violence that isn’t mission-oriented as immoral, but violence committed in the context of their professional life as simply necessary. Mental compartmentalization.”

Jake was right.

Next, James turns the tables on us:

It’s not just assassins who do that, we all do. Freud once said that rationalization makes the world go round, and whatever else he got wrong, he nailed that one.

Everyone rationalizes their own immorality–people have affairs and yet look their spouses in the eye, they cheat on their taxes and then get mad at corruption on Wall Street, they lie outright to their bosses to get ahead and still manage to feel good about themselves, to have high self-esteem.

Mental compartmentalization.


Without it we’d have to live in the daily recognition of who we really are, what we’re really capable of. And that’s something most people avoid at all costs.

He just put us on the same plane with a stone-cold killer. Where do our sympathies lie now? How do we feel about Alexei now that we discover we’re “kindred spirits” of sorts. How do we feel about ourselves?

Even if we aren’t guilty of the things James lists through Bowers’ POV, we’re guilty of something similar. Where should we put ourselves on that morality scale we’d just tried to fit Alexei on?

This is reader manipulation at its finest.

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Enhance Your Setting Descriptions

mcallisters-ny-apartmentDon’t you love this condo? I picked this out for Patricia Talbert’s parents in Ride to the Altar. It’s in a modern building on Park Avenue. Bet you already know how I found it. I went searching through New York real estate sites. The site gave several pictures inside this home, including kitchen and bath, and gave some great description. For instance, if I hadn’t known already that the floor is set in a herringbone pattern, the site told me so.

What was so wonderful about this site is that it also provided a floor plan:park-imperial-floorplan

This helps me conceptualize the apartment even better. Which is why I need it—I’ve never been to New York, much less inside a rich New York apartment.

Although I had a hard time capturing the images, I was able to plug the address to this place into Google Maps to find it, see the building it’s housed in, and peek at the surrounding area. I know, for instance, how far this is from the Hudson River and the Lincoln Center. I even know which streets around it are one-way. I also know that there’s a Wendy’s not too far away, which is important to Talon Carlson, who isn’t all that interested in New York cuisine.

There’s a caveat to all this: It’s fun. It’s engrossing. It’ll Hoover up the daylight as surely as if God took an eraser to the sun.

For instance, while I was hunting a home for Patricia’s parents, I found one in the suburbs for Marie Lambeau Davis’s parents:


Unfortunately, that’s as large as I can make this one without distorting the image, but it’s great, isn’t it? Thanks to Google Maps, I know exactly how far it is from Marie’s family home to Patricia’s, and what is the best mode of transportation to get there. I also know that Forest Hills is an upper-middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens. And, while I explored the neighborhood, I could even pick out Marie’s favorite restaurant.

The real estate site I found the house on had tons of pictures of the grounds and interior, but it wasn’t quite as good about giving description. That’s when I relied on other things. For instance, if I didn’t already know this was a Tudor-style home, homeplans.com  would help me figure it out.

What I didn’t know was what to call the style of this gorgeous staircase inside:


One of my go-to sites for things like this is the oddly named Buffalo as an Architectural Museum. It has a list of architectural terms—such as “staircase” (how handy!)—and using this, I discovered this staircase is most likely Queen Anne. The problem with this site of architectural terms and other sites like it is that you almost need to know what something is called before you can find its definition and description.

All of this took tons of time to explore. By the time I felt like I knew everything I needed to know, my work day was done.

So, how much detail do I really need? In a way, all of it.

To use it all in one place in my manuscript would be an information dump—dry and boring for the reader. But when I take snippets of my research and drop them in as needed, I provide the reader with a richer experience. Concrete descriptions help visualization. A sense of neighborhood provides a sense of familiarity. A sense of distance also lends to a sense of time.

Building a story world is important, even when your world is not in a fantasy or on some distant planet. It enhances the readers’ experience, giving them a sense of actually being in the setting. And enhancing reading experience is part of our job description.

What tricks do you have to develop your story world?


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Re-start Your Writing

writeI’ve been having a bit of trouble kicking myself into gear after the holidays. I know my plans for 2017: Finish Kayla’s Challenge, my novella for the Tiny House Collection; write and publish Ride to the Altar, the third in the Circle Bar Ranch series; start writing Southern Challenge, the first in my Challenge series for which Kayla’s Challenge is a prequel. I’d like to finish it by the end of the year. In other words, I’d like to up my game to two books and one novella per year. Maybe even a short story or two.

Knowing my goals and actually doing them are two different things. I managed to finish Kayla’s Challenge late last year, and it’s in the hands of some beta readers now, but I need Ride to the Altar by the middle of May, and I’ve barely cranked over four thousand words into it. I read what I’d written last year and hated it—both tries at it. I’d written two different openings to the novel and wasn’t crazy about either. Then, I allowed myself to slip into the What am I thinking? I can’t write! blues. I don’t know how many authors experience that particular shade of blue, but I go through it three or four times a year. Then I have to shake myself out of it and remember that this is my job, and if I really was that horrible at it, I wouldn’t have all those five-star ratings on Amazon.

So, I had to wake up my creative side and get started. Here are a few tricks to get yourself going:

  • The ever-popular word prompt.

I love prompts. Some of my favorite short stories have come from prompts. There are several story prompt sites. My favorite is Random Scenario Generator. This one is just downright fun to play with because it gives options of creating a scene prompt or a dialogue or a plot—even down to character traits. I flip around until I find something that tickles my fancy, then scribble freely until I have a short story.

  • The also-popular picture prompts.

I like to flip through my favorite photo sites under categories that are generally titled “people,” or “faces” and come up with stories for them. Here are two I found that I’ve already written stories for:

Clancy Gallagher from my award-winning "Slider."

Clancy Gallagher from my award-winning “Slider.”

Clara Mulhane, from the unpublished "Emerald Masquerade"

Clara Mulhane, from the unpublished “Emerald Masquerade”

I have several others, waiting for me to get to them. And I will. Writing short stories based on picture prompts is fun.

You may remember I did that great outlining experiment not long ago and became enthusiastic about outlining even though I’m more of an intuitive writer. I hate to admit the enthusiasm didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. Once I started writing, I did exactly what I’d preached against: writing the events in order to put a check mark on the outline. In other words, it was shallow.

But her book does help me get my brain into gear. She has great questions to prompt you to think about plot, character, and conflict. All it takes is a few minutes with this workbook, and I’m cranking again.

Most people write in journals, meaning they’re never really out of the swing, they just need to redirect it. I’ve tried to do that and never really could get into it. Or haven’t been able to ever since I discovered the moving men ripped the lock off my diary and read it when I was a kid. I’m hesitant to put much of anything personal in writing anymore. But these are my favorite ways to get back in gear.

What are yours?



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