Sunday, June 23, 2013

Meet Ally Shields

I can't help but wonder how many of us receive a couple of rejections and give up. More importantly, how many of us actually make serious changes as a result of our rejections? Ally Shields has some excellent tips that will help us strengthen our stories.

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes by Marketing Too Soon

                                             by Ally Shields

Writing is fun. It's the publishing end that makes us tear out our hair. I made many mistakes in the process, but I'm only highlighting those that resulted putting my work out there before it was ready.

My first query letter was vague, something about a witch who solved crimes, nothing about the specific plot. A more experienced writer suggested I follow this checklist:

·        Condense the story to a one-page synopsis.

·        Condense it further to an elevator pitch.

·        Write a logline.

I couldn't believe how difficult this was, and I didn't understand the term, logline. It also became clear I didn't understand my basic plot. If I didn't get it, how could an agent, editor or reader? I went back to the story, adding and deleting, to clarify the storyline. (For help with loglines and elevator pitches try this site: A good discussion of the synopsis can be found here:

As soon as I passed the plot check, I jumped into the query process and received good initial responses. Unfortunately, my writing didn't live up to the query, and interest dwindled. Why? Because the first round of editing was up to me, as the writer—not the grammar and typos that everyone looks for—but passes through my manuscript looking for specific problems.

1.  Point of View: Is it consistent and clear throughout, without head hopping? Check here for an in-depth discussion:

2. Five senses: Is each major scene grounded with as many of the five senses as possible without becoming artificial? Sight and hearing are easiest, but smell, taste and touch can often be added with just a little effort. The payoff is adding a richness that allows readers to share the experience.

3. Backstory/narrative: Backstory and narrative slow the pace of your story. Limit both to only what is necessary and dish it out in small amounts.

4. Over-used and/or weak words and phrases: Skipping this pass can ruin a good story by making it seem amateurish. I've found a program that helps (Cliche Cleaner), but my editor finds other words I've missed. My over-used words change: in one book it was eyebrows, in the next stared. My next word obsession was well. I use the Find function to ferret out weak, tired, or vague words: just, that, few, several, most. A longer list is on this website:

5. Pacing: Are the scenes in the right order with enough variation in intensity to keep the reader turning the pages? Take a look at structure forms, such as Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet:

I spent three years writing, submitting, rewriting, and abandoned the project twice. I changed names, POV. Gradually, I figured out the issues, but failure was a harsh teacher. I burned a lot of publishing bridges and collected 167 rejections. Finally, I sat down and rewrote the manuscript from the beginning using everything I learned during all those required passes. When finished, I submitted Awakening the Fire, a Guardian Witch story, to three small presses. Two responded immediately, and I signed with one.

The book became a series: two books are published, a third coming in July. I have an approved story-arc for seven. It was a rough journey with a big payoff. I guess I learned a thing or two along the way.

Ally Shields is the pen name of Janet L Buck, a writer born and raised in the Midwest, along the Mississippi River, the setting for her urban fantasy series. After  a career in law and juvenile justice, she turned to full-time writing in 2009, and Awakening the Fire, the debut novel in her Guardian Witch series, was released in September 2012.  The author still lives in the Midwest with her Miniature Pinscher dog, Ranger. When not writing, reading or visiting her grown sons, she loves to travel in the US and abroad. Way too often she can be found on Twitter.

Contact links:

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Monday, June 17, 2013


Judy Hogan's contribution to Be A Real Writer packs a wallop. If you want to write a novel you'll learn a lot from this short piece. If you're a time-waster/procrastinator, you'll feel embarrassed and guilty. If you whine that you 've written two or three novels and can't sell them so you aren't going to write any more--publisher's loss--read on, and learn. Judy Hogan is a perfect role model for all of us.

            For twenty years I debated: am I a real writer?  I finally decided I was.  I’d been writing: diary, poetry, even a novel.  Nothing published, but it finally hit me: a writer is one who writes.  Then at age thirty-one my first poem was published in a poetry journal a friend, Paul Foreman, and I started, Hyperion Poetry Journal.  My writing life now, at age seventy-six, is more settled, confident, and ritualized.  I have five poetry books out, two non-fiction, and a mystery, Killer Frost.  I expect another mystery, Farm Fresh and Fatal, and a new poetry book, Beaver Soul this fall.

            I have about seventy unpublished books.  I have a great drive to write and feel best when I’m writing.  I use a schedule, spend two hours each morning writing in my diary, then, when I can free the time to write a book, two hours in the afternoon, and two hours in the evening.  I set aside two months when I won’t be teaching or otherwise distracted, this year, July-August.  I’ll do my farm work, a good break from the intensity of creating, let my mind go slack, pick figs, preserve soups for the winter, read mysteries. 

            Elizabeth George’s Write Away gave me my model.  Once I get my basic idea, I use George’s character prompt form to brainstorm new characters: what they look like, how they talk, what their goal is, in life and in the story, significant events, etc.  I want them to become alive for me.  Then I start sketching out the scenes.  I can usually rough out the whole novel.  Some chapters have several scenes; some only one. 

            Then I start composition. If the story moves in an unexpected way, I trust that intuition and follow it, even if the killer changes.  I often draft the whole novel in six weeks, normally 60-70,000 words.  I write by hand and revise as I type it on the computer.  Generally, I don’t change a lot.  I compose like a Japanese painter–study what I want to make vivid, see it clearly in my mind’s eye, and when it is quite real to me, then I describe what I see and hear.  I hear the dialogue better than I see the people.  The roughed out scenes are a guide, and I always reread what I wrote my last session, or more if I need to get into the flow of the novel.  Then I send it to two readers who like my work and help me find inconsistencies or more detail I might need.  Typing and later getting it published and promoted I can do with more interruptions, but composition needs me to become immersed in my book.  It’s work, but very gratifying, and it uses all of my mental life: feelings, experiences, personal history, concerns for justice.  I’ve been active in my community to improve conditions, but my best gift to other people and to justice is the books I write.
Judy Hogan’s first mystery novel, Killer Frost, was published by Mainly Murder Press in CT on September 1, 2012 in both trade paperback and e-book formats.  Her second novel in the Penny Weaver series comes out October 1, 2013. Beaver Soul, a poem written about her early experiences in Russia, will come out from Finishing Line Press, in KY, on September 1, 2013.  Judy founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91) and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81).  She has also published five other volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing eight traditional mystery novels.  In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest for Killer Frost.  The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about.  She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C., in Chatham County near Jordan Lake.
Judy's website has fascinating information. Pop over there for a visit.

Monday, June 10, 2013


While Jo Huddleston's piece isn't exactly a how-to, I learned a number of things and made mental notes as I read: 1) write story ideas down--as detailed as possible. 2) Pray! 3) Don't give away any of my writing books. 4) Pray. 5) Be peaceful, patient and faithful. 6) Pray! 7) Never give up! 8) Pray! Jo has more than 200 articles and short stories in more than fifty different publications. I hope her Be A Real Writer contribution inspires you.

Note: Jo will give away a copy of Beyond the Past so leave a comment to be included in the drawing. Please leave your email address.

How The Caney Creek Series Came to Be

The setting of the Caney Creek Series is the Southern Appalachians of East Tennessee where my ancestors and I were raised. I’ve listened to older generations tell stories at family reunions about time before telephones and automobiles. Their stories fascinated me and caused me to want to write about a time before I was born.

This story began to percolate in my mind in the late 1990s. I’m what writers call a panster type of writer. I don’t outline my plot on paper. My entire plot and characters simmer in my mind before I write a word.

 While this story still rumbled around in my mind, in 2001 I received a life altering health diagnosis with a negative prognosis. My first symptom was the loss of penmanship that nobody, even I, could read. Then I began to have involuntary muscle spasms that prevented me from holding my fingers on the home keys of a keyboard. I couldn’t write and couldn’t type—this was before speak-to-type.

I thought my writing career had vanished. I cleaned out my files—even trashed all my rejection letters I’d been saving. I gave away most of my writing craft books.

My mind was still intact but my body wouldn’t do what it was told. My balance while walking started to diminish and I quit going to writing conferences. My doctor advised me not to drive. I was dependent on my family to even get to my doctor’s appointments and still am.

In 2008, I began to improve. My hands were steadier and I could get my story started.

I’ve outlived my doctor’s prognosis by two years. I’ve finished the second of a 3-book contract and feel fine other than fatigued when I don’t stop to rest now and then. Fatigue brings on more unsteadiness in my hands and legs.

From 2001 to 2008 I had a lot of time to meditate. A relative marvels that I’ve never questioned, “God, why me?” I have not become bitter because of the health issues. I think God just gave me time to understand a lot of things when I was inactive. I’m a more peaceful, patient, and faithful me.

Book 1 in the series, That Summer, hibernated for seven years, and then became a story on paper. When I finished That Summer, I thought I had accomplished my goal. However, I found I couldn’t leave my characters in some of their situations. I had to write at least one more book about them. Book 2, Beyond the Past, came to be. I’m now writing Book 3, in the Caney Creek Series, Claiming Peace, scheduled to release in September 2013.

Jo Huddleston's debut novel, That Summer, released in December 2012 as the first book in The Caney Creek Series. Beyond the Past is Book 2 in the series. Huddleston holds a B.A. degree with honors from Lincoln Memorial University (TN), and is a member of their Literary Hall of Fame. She earned a M.Ed. degree from Mississippi State University. Professional membership: American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

Visit Jo at her website:  and her blog:

 You can purchase Caney Creek series books at the following links:

Signed copies available in left sidebar of Jo's blog:

Paperback copies available at publisher’s site:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Meet Cindi Myers

Do you know Cindi Myers? You should. She's written more than fifty books, and has one of the best, up-to-date marketing newsletters around. Cindi started her newsletter in 2000 as a way to share her publishing information with others. Be sure to visit her site, but first read her post on:

Time Management For Writers

The dream: you sit down in your beautiful office, your favorite beverage of choice close to hand. Soft music plays in the background and a scented candle fills the air with your favorite perfume. You open your laptop and the words flow. You lose track of time as your story unfolds. Hours later, you emerge from a trance, thrilled with the day's work.

The reality: you carve out a few hours to devote to writing and just as you sit down to work, the school calls to inform you that your child has the flu and is projectile vomiting in the office. The Fed-Ex man arrives with a package, the cat delivers a dead mouse to the doorstep, your mother calls, and you realize that if you don't do laundry right now you will have to go naked for the rest of the week. And then your favorite episode of Castle is on and you really can't miss it!

Finding time to write around the demands of family, home and day jobs is a challenge every writer faces. After 17 years as a full-time writer, I've developed a few tips and techniques to help you make the most of the time you have to write.

1. Take Inventory. Borrow a technique from successful dieters and spend a few days to a week tracking your time. Write down what you do all day in 30 minute blocks. Analyze the results and identify places where you're wasting time and vow to avoid these traps in the future.

2. Eliminate and delegate. Get rid of activities you can live without. Cut out the volunteer job you hate. Give the kids or your husband a chore that will free you up for writing time. Get rid of the clutter to make cleaning house easier or better yet -- lower your standards for house cleaning.

3. Carve out writing time. You've probably heard this one -- get up an hour earlier. Go to bed an hour later. Give up watching one show each evening and use that time to write instead.

4. Set a schedule and keep it. When you commit to an exercise program, trainers advise you to schedule a time and place to exercise and commit to doing it every day for at least six weeks. Do the same with your writing.

5. Make your writing portable. Carry a notebook with you everywhere. Write while your kids are at sports practice. Write on your lunch hour at your day job. Write before and after work, while you ride the bus on your commute, or anywhere you have a block of 10 to 30 minutes. It's not the ideal fantasy, but you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

I hope these tips will help you find more time to create the great stories that are inside you, waiting to be written. 

Cindi Myers is the author of more than 50 novels, including The View From Here. Find out more at

Monday, June 3, 2013

Meet L. Diane Wolfe

Many thanks to L. Diane Wolfe for being my first guest blogger. I asked her to tell us how to write a nonfiction book because I wanted some instruction. I hope you pick up on her energy, visit her websites and blog, and check out her book below.

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book
Most writers fall on one side of the equation - they write either fiction or non-fiction. Those who write fiction are storytellers and feed off their imagination. To them, writing non-fiction sounds about as fun as penning an essay. Many wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Writing non-fiction is very different than writing fiction. I’ve written books in both genres and it does require a shifting of mental gears. Non-fiction can be just as fun though. Plus, being the author of a non-fiction book has its advantages, including credibility as an expert and more media opportunities.
Below are the basic steps for writing a non-fiction book.
1 - Pick a topic you know well. You could try your hand at something new, but with non-fiction it’s all about your expertise. Consider it this way - what could you teach others?
2 - Create a basic outline. Group subjects into chapters and create a basic flow of information.
3 - Research! No matter how well you know a topic, there is always more to learn. Take lots of notes. Jot down facts, figures, resources, links, etc.
4 - If you will be quoting any sources or using images, get permission. Information and photos on the Internet are copyrighted by law. Better to get permission than to get sued.
5 - Organize your notes. Everyone has their own style, but group the notes according to each chapter topic. (I’ve literally cut my notes apart, laid out sheets of paper with each chapter’s subject, and then placed the notes where they fit best.)
6 - Once your notes are organized, adjust your outline accordingly and add details. If you are seeking a publisher or agent, they will want to see a detailed outline first, sometimes even before you’ve written the book. If you are self-publishing it, this will help you stay on track with your writing.
7 - Begin writing! One of the unique aspects of non-fiction is the ability to start with any chapter in the book. Often non-fiction in what I call a fact form - a presentation of information. But some non-fiction, especially historical non-fiction, is written with a storyline. The subject of your book will help you decide which method will work best.
8 - Once you start the first round of edits, note what is lacking. What areas need more information or details? You also want to ensure the writing has voice. It may be non-fiction, but your personality and voice need to come through loud and strong. If it doesn’t, then yes, you will have a boring essay on your hands!
9 - Editing non-fiction is also different in that you’ll need someone who knows the material and can edit for content, not just grammar, flow, and structure.
They say if you want to learn a subject even better, you need to teach it. Writing a non-fiction book achieves just that and allows you to share your expertise with others. And there’s something really satisfying in sharing.
Now, who’s ready to write a non-fiction book?
L. Diane Wolfe
Professional Speaker & Author
Known as “Spunk On A Stick,” Wolfe is a member of the National Speakers Association and the author of numerous books. Her latest title, “How to Publish and Promote Your Book Now,” covers her publishing seminars in depth and provides an overview of the entire process from idea to market. “Overcoming Obstacles With SPUNK! The Keys to Leadership & Goal-Setting”, ties her goal-setting and leadership seminars together into one complete, enthusiastic package. Her YA series, The Circle of Friends, features morally grounded, positive stories. Wolfe travels extensively for media interviews and speaking engagements, maintains a dozen websites & blogs, and assists writers through her author services.