Category Archives: 2020 NIWA Blog Tour

NIWA Spring Blog Tour–Week 6, Suzanne Hagelin, Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing

Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing

This is Suzanne Hagelin’s final post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.


Behold the secrets to instant success! How to make every marketing dollar count! Rocket to the top of the NYTimes bestseller list and STAY there!

I have no idea how to make any of that happen, but maybe I can save you some wasted money and effort. Marketing is complex and some ‘secrets’ lose their potency by the time they’ve reached you. There probably are expensive courses you can take that would make all the difference, but how will you know which ones are going to work for you and which ones are a waste of money—or worse, a fleecing operation that strips newbie authors of their limited cash?

The best I can do is point you in the right direction and give you some tips on getting started.


How does the news get out for books in your genre?

What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Mysteries aren’t the same as science fiction. Memoirs and self-help aren’t marketed the same way as fantasy and humor.

One place to start is visiting bookstores in person and online. Look for books in your genre and see which ones catch your eye. Try searches on Amazon, Google, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. Don’t assume you have to compete with the books that show up on top. Each store has a different feel and clientele. All you’re doing is familiarizing yourself with it.

Mailers. Get on a number of email lists targeting your genre, check them daily, read their blurbs, click on the ones that appeal to you as a reader, and buy some books you are genuinely interested in reading. As you figure out how to pick books you like, watch how they promote them. Look at the covers and the blurbs. Are there words and phrases that consistently engage you? Have you begun to identify ‘red flags’ that mean you won’t like the book? It may take a while, but at some point, you’ll be able to scan through the books for sale quickly and pick out the best ones. You’ll also get a feel for well written blurbs. While this doesn’t automatically lead to writing good blurbs, it’s still valuable.

There are many mailers for readers out there. My current favorites are BookBub and Bargain Booksy. I’m also on the Book Barbarian list and quite a few author newsletter lists. Authors often share sales on their own and other authors’ books as well as giveaways and contests where you can pick up free or discounted books.

Talk to Authors. Author-networking is one of your most valuable resources. As you’re setting up strategies to test, ask some of them for input. They could save you from wasting time or give you hints that will increase the benefit.

Be careful. If you’re considering paying for training or a service to help you promote your book, please look them up first and find out if they are reputable. Talk to other authors in author groups, check out websites like Writer Beware. Don’t buy something blindly.



Not quite ready for ads yet? No problem! Practice writing blurbs and ad copy. No matter where or how you market your book, you need succinct phrasing to spark readers’ interest and help them catch your idea quickly. And it’s not easy to learn.

Ad copy and pitches. Novelists don’t usually have any background in writing ads, but this skill is the most valuable one you can develop in your marketing. No one else is as invested in your book as you are or will take the time to hone a good pitch.

You need more than one pitch. One-liners, two-liners, headline-style, individual words, short descriptions. Look for tropes and catch-words readers will recognize. Keep a file with a number of variations on your ad copy and come back to it periodically to make new attempts. Use it for testing ads and for social media posts. Try them out in person, pitching your book to a friend or acquaintance.

I had the help of some author friends in coming up with my main pitch for selling “Body Suit” in person. I often use it for ads as well. It starts with a twist on a cliched phrase and highlights two key parts of the story: “A riches to rags adventure of a clever woman in a high-tech suit versus a hostile AI”. I had to memorize this and practice giving it multiple times before it came fluidly to my lips—and it continues to sell the book to people who like that kind of thing.

Here are two examples of some delightful pitches:

What happens when the Chosen One dies in chapter 1?Unchosen

It’s about a snarky, sarcastic fortune-teller who hates people. So of course she’s the one who has to get the group together to save the world.” The Fallen

There are lots of resources you can tap to help you learn to write better pitches and ad-copy but in the end, you’re training your mind to think this way and it’s worth the time it takes. This is an important part of your marketing strategy.

Places to Advertise

There are lots of places to advertise your book; here are a few key ones to consider. Remember that expenses can add up rapidly and it’s important to test out ads with small budgets to narrow down that best approach. This can be a time-consuming process.

Amazon          —Amazon gives good metrics and updates quickly so it’s easy to see how your ads are doing, that is, how many clicks it’s getting. If you’ve uploaded your eBook to KDP, it will show you the conversion into sales.

FaceBook       —Some genres work better than others with FaceBook ads, I’ve heard. I don’t have much experience with them. Nice graphics can make a difference.

BookBub        —BookBub ads reach a lot of readers and are easily targeted toward the kind of readers that would like your book. You can associate it with well-known authors in your genre. If someone wants to find something like “The Lord of the Rings” and searches on “Tolkien”, your ad will show up if you chose his name in the author search. I like this feature a lot.

Book Mailers            —You can apply for ads or featured deals in mailers. This is where your research into mailers will come in handy. Once you’ve identified the ones that fit your genre and preference, check out their requirements for applying for deals and submitting ads. Some of them will be much more affordable than others. The cost is usually linked to exposure and overall success of their ads.

When making your ad plan, you’ll need to consider several things: where to place ads, what to emphasize, whether to offer a free book or a discounted one, how much to spend, and how to measure results. You may have heard a lot about ROI (return of investment) but in the beginning, you need to focus more on learning what is successful than making money.

Investment in your learning curve is worthwhile.


Befriend and support other authors. Read and review books. Follow them on social media and share posts if you like their books. Set up newsletter swaps and blog tours with authors in your genre. Authors are always coming up with new ways to work together to promote books.

I have found the Northwest Independent Writers Association to be a great resource for getting to know other authors in my area, working with them, learning from them, and sharing with them.

Author Reputation

Building your reputation as an author is more than just getting fans who love your writing. Connecting online makes it easier to promote books and maintain a following. There are a number of ways to do this.

Here are a few:

  • Newsletters. Get your own mailer going and build a list of people who are there because they like the books you write and help promote. This is also a great way to work with other authors, promoting each other’s books, and increase your reach.
  • Blogging. Support your reputation and build your online presence by having a place online where people can find free content you’ve shared.
  • Social Media. There are many platforms where you can build a reputation and raise interest in your work through frequent posts. Is there one you prefer? Focus on that one and add it to your marketing strategy. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are very popular with authors for a reason. They’re free, versatile, and a great place to test out your marketing ideas.

Another word of caution. It’s easy to spread yourself too thin. I know authors who are brilliant at balancing posts on multiple social media platforms and I’ve made attempts at learning some of their techniques. But I’m not able to keep it going so it hasn’t been effective in gaining me readers. I’ve decided to address it in the future because it’s an important component in online reputation and sales. For now, I’m juggling enough as it is.

Other Marketing Approaches

Social Media marketing is a whole topic on its own. There’s no end to how you can promote your books in creative ways. An author friend of mine, for example, decided that she wanted to give away 10,000 copies of the first book in her five-book series. Normally, you would pay a well-established book mailing list quite a bit for the privilege of giving away that many copies. She came up with some ideas using social media, swaps, and a couple of smaller mailer ads, and accomplished her goal in a number of weeks. I’m sure it took a lot of hard work and ingenuity. And there’s no question it gave many new readers a chance to discover her popular series, Adaline, (which I love by the way).

Be strategic

Come up with three or four different ways to market your book and plan a trial run for each. Test them one at a time. If they are successful and you are ready to continue with them, make them a part of your marketing plan. If they don’t fit your current limitations, set them aside and check them again at a future time.

It’s better to work on one strategy at a time and build it solidly, than to have many wimpy ones bleeding you of time, creativity, and money.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here but at least this give you a good place to start.


The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”. You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”, the fourth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process”, and the fifth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Sales”.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and by Victor He on Unsplash




USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.


Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.


LINKS—, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium



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NIWA Spring Blog Tour #5–The TANSTAAFL Press Philosophy of Publishing, by Thomas Gondolfi

This is the fifth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at

The TANSTAAFL Press Philosophy of Publishing – The Golden Rule

by Thomas Gondolfi

Let’s be honest with ourselves – many large publishing houses take advantage of basically everyone in their ecosystem. They use the slush pile to get intellectual property (IP) cheaply. They use their size and segment share to pressure vendors, distributors, and sellers to do as they want. It’s a nasty fact of life. Almost all authors know it but with little other choice are forced to run the gauntlet in hopes of grabbing the brass ring. Smaller publishers don’t have that level of power. They can still be predatory or just dirty using contracts to steal IP, lawyers to threaten litigation, or even take money from unsuspecting authors. I didn’t choose the name of my publishing concern by rolling random numbers. TANSTAAFL Press*, by the very nature of its name, wants to give a fair deal to the authors, vendors, and the customers.

We have all heard of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As a hybrid publisher, I feel that I need to not only follow this rule but be held up as an exemplar in all facets of the business.

Let’s start with the authors, shall we? I try to give new authors, not established ones, a voice by publishing their exceptional works. It takes a bit of extra effort to find those whose work I love, but it is worth it. Along the way, I can assist other authors who aren’t quite there yet, all in a way that I’d like to see, such as personalized rejection letters that encourage more submissions.

Contracts or publishing deals are made as fair as I possibly with none of this “take it or leave it” BS that many big publishers do. In generating our standard contract, I pulled in as much of the SFWA contract as possible. Then I leavened it with what I would want to see if I were to sign a contract. You can see it at On a simple reading, many things will stand out in my contracts vs. those of other companies. I am proud of several of these. Royalties go up rapidly for sales over a set amount. There is a termination date or sales numbers where the author gets his / her rights to the book back. Most importantly, the contract is only a starting point that I encourage the author to input toward customization. The idea in my mind is a fair deal for everyone.

Education: If someone feels like they want to go down the publishing path themselves, I’m more than happy to provide my experiences and advice – for the most part, gratis. I write books, give seminars, working on a community college course, and just sit down to chew the fat with folks about writing and publishing. My reward for most of that is indirect, kind of like the reward for being a parent. Seeing the recipient of your knowledge avoiding your mistakes is golden.

I try to apply the Golden Rule of fairness to vendors I work with. If I think they are asking too little, I make them accept more (has happened more than once). If they do something exceptional (like help me get something done faster when I’m in a schedule crunch), I’ll throw them a bonus. I always offer the names of my vendors when asked and often publish them in my works. Conversely, when something doesn’t feel fair to me, I move on to a vendor that does. BUT, don’t assume a significant dollar figure means something isn’t reasonable. Factor in how many hours it would take them. What specialized equipment or training did they need to pay for? Then figure out how much per hour it cost. With that knowledge, could you make a living on that much money per hour?

Customers get our works at the same or lower prices than those of a traditional publisher, even if the cost to produce is higher. I can do this primarily because I take a higher risk and my payroll is significantly lower. I often throw in discounts for those who buy multiple books or an entire series. Wins for everyone.

By putting yourself in the shoes of the other party, it becomes easier to decide if any deal is fair. Don’t sell your work short, nor the risks you are taking investing money. At the same time, don’t assume you are someone that deserves a champagne fountain at every luncheon because you can get a book into print. Turn the deal around. What you will get in return for this mental exercise is a group of faithful, long term relationships AND more that would be eager to do business with you.


* – TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Thomas Gondolfi founded TANSTAAFL Press in 2012. He is a book parent of the Toy Wars series, the CorpGov Chronicles, and Wayward School, along with numerous other writing and editing credits, which can be found on He is a father of three (real children), consummate gamer, and loving husband. Tom also claims to be a Renaissance man and a certified flirt.

Raised as a military brat, he spent twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years, giving him a unique perspective on life and people.

Working as an engineer in high tech for over thirty years, Tom has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

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NIWA Spring Blog Tour, Week # 4–The Author Community, by William Cook

The Author Community


This is the fourth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at


We are a strange group, we writers who consider ourselves “the author community.” For the partners and spouses of writers, I’m sure that sounds like an understatement. After all, they’ve lived through the sudden 3:00 AM awakening of their writer, who exclaims, “I just figured out the ending to my story, but I have to write it down now before I go back to sleep and forget it!” They’ve endured the heartbreak of watching their author mope around the house for days after a tepid two-star review on Amazon. They can’t forget the jubilation when their partner shouts, “I just sold my first book to someone who isn’t a family member!”

How did we become members of this independent author community? Some, with an abundance of self-confidence, identified themselves as authors when they first put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Others felt inducted into the group when they typed “The End” upon the completion of the first draft of a short story or a novel. For poets, it was writing that final line of the last stanza. Still others didn’t identify themselves as authors until their short story got published in a magazine or anthology, or their book appeared on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And then the fun really begins!

I had no inkling of an author community as I was writing my first novel. All I knew was that I had a story inside me that would make me burst if I didn’t get it out. But once it was out, then what? I have a friend who spent a year unsuccessfully trying to woo a literary agent into taking on his project. Another friend told me, “Just publish it yourself.” Ultimately, that’s what I did—full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes.

Once I decided to publish independently, doors began to open. The author community seemed to come out of the woodwork and welcome me into its ranks. Who knew there were groups of independent authors all around me, eager to greet me, to support me in my efforts, to help me improve my craft?

So as strange or as downright weird as we may each be individually, our group is united in its passion for all forms and styles and genres of writing. We share what we’ve learned on our personal journey, cue others to upcoming workshops and conferences, offer critiques and beta readings to hone the skills of our colleagues, act as cheerleaders when we read other indie authors and post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. We share an identity that is as exciting as it is sobering. We know we must promote the highest standards of professionalism so independent authors are not regarded as somehow inferior to those published by the big houses.

In fact, I’ve decided that what I like best about being an independent writer is this connection with others like myself. Interestingly, the author community is both real and virtual, with physical meetings as well as online Facebook meetings. I am certain I would have made very little growth as a writer without these groups having my back.

I cannot remember exactly how I stumbled upon Willamette Writers, a statewide group of authors with local branches all around Oregon. In thinking about it, it may have been my daughter-in-law, a passionate community organizer, who pointed it out to me. The Salem branch of Willamette Writers meets monthly. In addition to giving a forum to members for promoting their books, the group hosts a guest, who gives a presentation about various aspects of the craft. During one session, a professional editor instructed us in the fundamentals of self-editing. There have been conferences on building story arc, writing realistic dialogue, character development, point of view—in short, topics designed to improve our skills. There was even a session that featured a local literary agent, who highlighted the nuts-and-bolts of seeking an agent for those inclined to do so.

Willamette Writers is probably best known for sponsoring its summer writing conference in Portland. This is a national event that hosts a large program of workshops, as well as a bevy of literary agents who make themselves available to hear pitches and proposals from attendees.

Closer to home, my wife spotted a small ad in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s local newspaper, several years ago about a weekly group that calls itself WYTT—Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. This is a group of independent authors at every level of skill, from those who have already published one or more books, to those who are just turning their talents to writing and are eager for feedback. What is special about it is that everyone must read from their works aloud, after which the other members give feedback. I have found it to be extraordinarily helpful.

Given the number of members who often attend WYTT and the time limitations that imposes, it soon became clear to me that a smaller critique group would also be essential. Branching off from WYTT, we now have a group of five who meet monthly. We provide hard copies of our material to each other, and then read that material aloud. In this extended format, more in-depth criticism is possible, including developmental editing as well as some copy editing.

On the virtual front, I am a member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Although it was started by a small group of like-minded folks years ago at OryCon, Oregon’s annual science fiction and fantasy convention, it is open to all genres. It is a Facebook group dedicated to improving the skills of its members as well as improving the professionalism of independent writing overall. Need a cover designer? A good beta reader? A venue to promote paperback copies of your books? Help with self-editing? Ideas about marketing? Someone in NIWA knows, and is eager to share that knowledge with you. NIWA also publishes quarterly catalogues of members’ books, a great way to advertise our newest ventures, as well as to provide our portfolio to prospective fans. I am especially pleased with the annual NIWA anthology, a collection of members’ short stories around a particular topic. Last year the topic was “Doorways.” This year it will be “Escape,” to be published in November.

These are only the tip of the iceberg. There are writers’ groups out there which meet in almost every town. Some are specific to genre—groups for authors of romance or mystery or science fiction or horror. There are groups for promoting literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. There truly is a flavor for everyone. If you’re a new writer or a seasoned veteran, have a taste!


Other posts in this series by this author:   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)” March 29-April 4.   “Advice for New Writers” April 5-11. “My Approach to the Writing Process” April 12-18.


Watch for the next post in the series by this author: “Self-Editing, Grammar, and Beta Readers” April 26-May 2.


William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:




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NIWA Spring Blog Tour Number Three –An Editor’s Advice to New Writers–Connie Johnson-Jasperson, Guest Blogger

An Editor’s Advice to New Writers, by Connie J. Jasperson


This is the third post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with NIWA at


New writers embarking on the journey of learning the craft are bombarded with rules:

~Show, don’t tell,

~Simplify, simplify,

~ Don’t write long sentences

~Avoid vagueness

~ Don’t use big words.

These are necessary rules but can be taken to an extreme. The most important rules are

~Trust yourself,

~Trust your reader,

~Write what you want to read.

Sometimes writing advice is good because beginning authors need to educate themselves in the craft. We must learn how to write lean, descriptive prose, and create engaging conversations.

We must become fluent in the rules of grammar, develop a broader vocabulary, learn how to develop characters, build worlds, etc., etc.

But sometimes writing advice is bad. Taken to an extreme, certain writing advice is detrimental because if a writer isn’t careful, they can end up with an unbalanced narrative.

Good/Bad advice number one: Remove adverbs.

A heavy handed approach turns this advice into nonsense. Words like later and soon are adverbs. The lesson should be, don’t use unnecessary adverbs as they fluff up and weaken prose. Keep those that are needed.

Looking for weak words and phrasing is a time-consuming task. Things to look for and possibly delete or change:

  • Any kind of qualifier or quantifier: just, a little, a bit, somewhat—these are words that show indecision. Powerful prose should not be indecisive.
  • Action-stopping words: started to, began to—these word combinations slow and stall the action. They’re passive, so if you want to write active prose, go lightly with them. Your characters shouldn’t begin to move. Have them move and be done with it.
  • Adverbs are words that end in the letters ly: probably, actually, sympathetically, magically … etc. These are weak, telling words that can be overused. It takes thought and intention to show what you mean in these instances rather than saying it, but it can be done.

Check for weak combinations using infinitives (verbs with the word “to” in front of them). Forms of the word be that you should look twice at:

  1. was being,
  2. has been,
  3. had been,
  4. is being,
  5. am being
  6. about to be (or to be)

The gerund in English is usually identified by the addition of the three letters “ing” added at the end of an infinitive. For example, “to be” is changed to “being.”

In modern speech, expressions such as “can’t stand,” “couldn’t help,” and “it’s no use” are frequently followed by gerunds: I can’t stand running in place.

Why do we look at each instance of weak word combinations instead of deleting them wholesale? Sometimes these words and combinations serve a purpose, which is why they remain currently in use.

We often use them in conversations. They can be overused in the narrative, so check each instance to see if your prose can be made stronger without them. That and very are sometimes essential but can become crutch words, bloating and fluffing word count.

Good/Bad advice number two: Don’t use speech tags.

What? Who said that? Why are there no speech tags in this nonsense?

Getting rid of speech tags for two or three exchanges when only two people are involved in a conversation is fine. However, you need to insert beats (bits of action) to show who is speaking.

When more than one person is speaking, keep the speech tags simple.

Good/Bad advice number three: Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t Ever Show!

It is easy to make your characters look cartoonish by describing their most minute expressions. We must have a reference, a way of understanding what that character is actually feeling beneath those gyrations.

Please, do express the thought process or set up key bits of exposition to convey genuine emotions.

Good/Bad advice number four: Write what you know.

Well, that ruins the fun of writing. Tolkien never visited Middle Earth and never met a dragon. Nor did he go inside a live volcano. However, was in the trenches during WWI, and the horrors he saw there influenced his work.

Our life experiences and interests shape and give power to our writing. Beyond experience, imagination is the source of the story and fuels it.

Good/Bad advice number five: If you’re bored with your story, your reader will be too.

I disagree with that blanket assertion. You’ve been completely immersed in the world of your manuscript for a year or more. Believe me, the hardest part is polishing up the finished product.

The reader will experience your novel as something new. It will be as fresh and engrossing to them as it was to you the day you began writing it.

Good/Bad writing advice goes on and on.

Kill your darlings. Indeed, we shouldn’t be married to our favorite prose. Sometimes we must cut a paragraph or chapter we love because it no longer fits the story. But just because you like something you wrote doesn’t mean you should cut it. Maybe it does belong there—perhaps it was the best part of that paragraph.

Cut all exposition. So, why are we in this handbasket, and where are we going? Some background is essential. How you deploy the exposition is what makes a great story.

Don’t use words ending in “ing.” Don’t be ridiculous. Leading off with gerunds weakens your prose. Overuse leads to run-on sentences and info dumping. Use them appropriately and with intention.

Bad advice is good advice taken to an extreme. It has become a part of our writing culture because all writing advice has roots in these fundamental truths:

  • Overuse of adverbs ruins the taste of an author’s work.
  • Too many speech tags can stop the eye, especially if the characters are snorting, hissing, and ejaculating their dialogue.
  • Too much telling takes the adventure out of the reading experience.
  • Too much showing is tedious and can be disgusting.
  • Know your subject. Do the research and, if necessary, interview people in that profession. Readers often know more than you do about certain things.

Authors must learn how grammar works, and other aspects of the craft. I recommend these three books as the basic reference manuals I most often use and refer to:

  1. The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, by Bryan A. Garner
  2. The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler
  3. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee

I highly recommend investing in other writers’ guides. They’re a good way to learn the many nuances of writing craft. However, they’re written by people who assume you’ll use common sense as you develop your voice and style.

We who desire to learn the craft of writing must have faith in ourselves and apply the advice of the gurus gently. If we instill balance into our narrative, we can produce work that stays with the reader long after the last line has been read.

More than anything, I am a reader. If you write it, I will read it. Go forth and write fearlessly!



***      ***      ***      ***      ***

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. You can find her books on her Amazon author page:

Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter:

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NIWA Spring Blog Tour 2020–Guest Author Mollie Hunt, My Writing Process


This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

I was born to write. I love being alone. I love being quiet. I absolutely adore running around inside my head. The only time I’m really at peace is when I’m writing.

This realization didn’t come about easily. In a society that rewards extraversion, I spent years hiding my desire to be left alone. Then one night I sat down at the computer and began to write a story. Forty pages later, I knew I had found something important to my life.

That first forty pages turned into 450, a mystery called “The Oldest House.” I loved the way the story revealed itself to me, taking its own twists and turns. I loved the freedom I felt when I was writing it. When finished, I enthusiastically sent it to publishers and agents and got my first round of rejection slips. That didn’t stop me from writing, just from sending queries. I soon settled into my second mystery, “Broken Roses.”

Noted sci-fi author David Gerrold said in his Worlds of Wonder workshop that the first million words are practice. That sounds like a lot, but if you truly love to write, they just happen. By the time I found myself penning my first Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery, I had hit that million mark. And I’d learned so much along the way.

I am now working on my 7th and 8th Crazy Cat Lady mystery, and I have the process down. Here’s how it goes:

  1. The initial idea.

The first glimmer of a thought that could be a story that could be a book comes in many forms. It can be a writer’s prompt or something you see at the store. It can be a dream. I often think of a title and work from there. Cat Café was such a story. I loved the idea of cat cafés, and took off from there.

  1. The thrill of the first draft.

Once I’ve got my idea, it’s time to run with it. I try not to think too much as I pen that initial draft; just let the story lead me. I don’t fuss over grammar or wording—that can be fixed later. If I require research, I make a note to come back. This is the fun stuff, riding on the wings of pure creativity.

  1. The work begins: the second and third (and possibly fourth) draft.

Now for the real work, editing and revision. During these run-throughs, I check for flow and continuity, for gaps and discrepancies, for plot holes, and for anything that doesn’t seem right to me. I use an ongoing outline, a cast of characters list, and a note page where I write whatever comes to mind. Yes, I do use color-coding.

  1. The print-out/read-through. (Red pen required)

After all those edits, the manuscript should be perfect, right? Unfortunately it usually isn’t. This is when I print it out and read it out loud to my cats. Seeing the words on paper reveals typos and overused words. Reading out loud shows the flow of the wording. This is especially importing with conversations. Ask yourself, do people really talk like that, or am I channeling Agatha Christie?

  1. The beta readers.

Now that I’ve fixed the problems I found in the read-through, it’s time to hand off the red pen to someone else. As the writer, I instinctively fill in gaps that would be glaringly obvious to others, but another reader will catch those things and more. I have a list of questions for the beta reader to answer once she’s finished reading, such as, “When did you realize who the killer was?” and the ever-revealing, “Did you like it?” (Please, please say yes!)

  1. The editor.

I love my editor. She’s smart, savvy, and knows where to put the commas. Once the manuscript is as perfect as I can hope for it to be, I say goodbye to it for a little while to let her do her magic. It takes time as we go back and forth with questions and comments. Then, voila, it comes back to me a fully formatted book!

  1. Revising with the proof copy.

I publish through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing because it’s easy and free. I begin with the print version which allows me to order a proof copy. Once the proof is in my hand, it’s red pen time again. In the same way the print-out revealed mistakes, reading the actual book shows up lingering issues. I know we were taught not to write in books, but get over it and use that red pen!

  1. Finishing touches.

There are things a writer must do that go along with publishing, such as cover design, back cover blurb, front and back matter, bio, and links. Blurbs are hard for me, so I often begin working on them long before the book is finished. For Cat Café, I wrote one of my most well-received mini-blurbs though I still had no idea where the story was going: “A body is found in the cat café, and all the black cats are missing.”

  1. Do it all over again!

Congratulations! The book is done and out! Celebrate, then it’s time to get on with the next book.

Watch for my next post, #3: A WRITER’S LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH REVIEWS, coming the week of April 12-18 on the William J. Cooke, Notes From A Journey blogsite.

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

About Mollie Hunt: Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie Hunt writes the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Cat Seasons sci-fantasy tetralogy where cats save the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.

Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and NIWA. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite:

Amazon Page:

Facebook Author Page:






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NIWA Spring Blog Tour–Organizing Your Plot

Organizing Your Plot

Or, How to Avoid the Muddle in the Middle and Not Go Crazy-1

This is the first post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association

One of the epic wars between novel writers is the debate about “plotter or pantser” plot organization methods. Some writers will plan their plots meticulously, to the degree that they write elaborate outlines, synopses, or matrices which chart the progress of their story. Others have detailed backstory notes but once the writing starts, it goes where it flows as they write by the seat of their pants…i.e., the pantser. And then there are those who do a little bit of each. Nonetheless, at some point, no matter which method you use, you have to organize your plot. You need to figure out where your story is going and where it ends.

Generally, no matter whether you’re plotting or pantsing, you’re working with a three act structure or, in some cases, four acts. The first third is the setup of your problem, the introduction of your characters, and learning about the world. The middle third is the march toward the high point of the story. The last third is the resolution, consequences of the high point happening, and either tying up loose ends or setting up the next book of a series.

That middle third of the book is where many writers bog down and where a good plot organization can save your behind. Part of that comes from the tension between wanting to get to that high point NOW and realizing that you have to create all the circumstances that allow you to reach that high point. You have to sustain the plot tension without maxing it out or losing it. But you also need to have that logical progression of events that leads the reader to that high point and then resolution. This is the part of the book that really benefits from a more organized approach.

So how best to organize your novel? There’s all sorts of ways to organize your plots. One structure is to chart out your plot scene-by-scene. This can be as casual as a quick note that “Gerard reaches out to Katy to beg for reconciliation” or as detailed as “Gerard’s POV. Other characters present-Katy, Tom, and Sheila. Action-Gerard begs Katy to come back at Sheila’s birthday party in front of Tom and Sheila. Purpose-Show Gerard’s utter humiliation at Katy’s rejection and the disclosure of her relationship with Tom, to Sheila’s dismay.” Now this is a method I prefer, but I have also written books without going into this detailed a scene outline.

Another method is to focus on certain key points in your story and let your characters guide you through the scenes that get you to those key points. For example, you know that Katy is going to reject Gerard in a quite public manner, but until you sit down and think about the scene, you don’t know that it is going to happen at Sheila’s birthday party and that Tom and Sheila are going to witness it. And Tom and Sheila are husband and wife, so it’s not just Gerard who ends up being humiliated as a result of Katy’s actions. With this method you are focusing on the arc of your character’s experience, how they change and grow throughout the course of the book, and how the story events shape this process.

A third means is to write a synopsis of your novel. Generally you’re not going to do this before you write the book, unless you are already published and pitching a new book via an agent. But it is also a good way to think about your book’s organization. A good synopsis hits the high points of your story, discusses the major plot points and character arcs, and describes the resolution. Most synopses tend to run from three to ten pages.

Still another method is to write specific scenes first and then organize them later, stitching them together in the rewrite phase. So perhaps you might write the ending first, or scenes approaching the high point, or the high point first and work out the rest of the book from there. I’ve never done this but have friends who use this method quite effectively. It just all depends on how your mind works.

Sometimes the nature of a book shapes the degree to which it is organized. For example, Choices of Honor, the third book in the Goddess’s Honor series, simply would not cooperate with my usual plot organization methods. I ended up charting a quick scene list, and that was when I realized that I was biting off too big a chunk of story to put into one book. However, the follow up book, Judgment of Honor, settled right into my scene outline process with no surprises. The Ruby Project: Origins, my current work-in-progress, was drafted off of a synopsis. I pantsed my contemporary fantasy, Klone’s Stronghold, because the protagonist had a very strong voice and opinions of her own about the progression of the story. These are just examples of how I vary my process based on the needs of the book.

Ultimately, the method you use to organize your plot comes down to what works best for you. It doesn’t hurt to play around with different methods when you work on your books and I highly encourage doing so—you might just be surprised at what happens.

Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).

March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot

April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers

April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre

April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process

April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing

May 3-9—Advice for new writers


Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer from Enterprise, Oregon. Her short stories include appearances in Well…It’s Your Cow, Children of a Different Sky, Allegory, River, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Her agripunk thriller trilogy, The Ruby Project: Origins, The Ruby Project: Ascendant, The Ruby Project: Realization, are due for release in November, 2020. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Choices of Honor, Judgment of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019). Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, and hiking, and is a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County.

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