July 24th, 2017

Detour Ahead: Obstacle or Opportunity?

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

You chose to pursue a career as a novelist because of your passion for the written story. But what is your long-range goal? Mine was specific—as a writer interested in legacy, I wanted to leave behind a “body of work,” which to me meant eight novels. Maybe your interest in creative range, and you want to be published in three genres. Or maybe financial gain is most important and you hope to support your family.

“Human desire is a sticky thing,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn in Wherever You Go, There You Are. Desire is sticky enough to pull you toward your goal, but can also be sticky enough to blind you to unexpected opportunity along the way.

I wonder how many of us have written off opportunities as obstacles? I could imagine someone who tried to make it in TV and is now writing novels, saying, Oh great, I’m trying to write a novel and now someone offers me a job hosting an arts show on a local cable channel. I’ll never finish my novel! 

Who’s to say this is the best year to seek publication? We live in politically (and therefore economically) unsettled times and publishers are twitchy. What if getting published three years from now might get you to your goal quicker—and in the meantime, you could put those years to good use fleshing out new novels while building a valuable platform? Let me tell you how many publishers would like to see “cable TV host” in your query letter. Even delivering mail could introduce you to countless potential readers.

I love the old joke about the man praying that God will save him from the floodwaters threatening his home. A neighbor knocks on his door and says, “We must leave now. There’s room in my car—come on!” But the man says no. He too heard the warning, and is certain God will save him. When the floodwaters cover his stoop, the man retreats to the second floor. A stranger in a boat comes past his window and says, “Get into my boat and we’ll paddle to safety.” The man says, “No thank you. God will save me.” Then, from a hovering helicopter, a rescue worker shouts, “Grab hold of the ladder and climb up.” The man shouts back, “No thank you, God will save me.”

The man drowns. When he gets to heaven, he rails against God. “I was praying to you the whole time. Why didn’t you save me?” God answers, “What do you mean? I sent a warning, a car, a boat, a helicopter…what more did you want?”

Tunnel vision may appear to offer the shortest route between two points, but it may not be the quickest or the most satisfying. While focused on your all-consuming author goal, could you be missing the warning, the car, the boat, and the helicopter?

A softer focus on your goal could help you see these opportunities for what they are.

Aspiring novelists are told all manner of things that tighten their white-knuckle grip on our goal. Perseverance is key. Write every day. The only failure is quitting. Getting agented is a numbers game. Type “x” number of words a day. It takes a million words to make a novelist. These old saws can help us reach a destination that seems too far away. But think about it: should the same advice apply to all authors, when no two careers are ever the same? Who’s to say that an unforeseen opportunity might not increase your visibility, stoke your creativity, and lead to connections on which you can capitalize?

The quandary interests me, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the answers. While I’m happy to play God in my novels, I am overjoyed I wasn’t cast as the master of the universe. I would have bungled the job by giving myself an easy path rather than challenging myself to explore the deep, lasting rewards of prevailing over rockier terrain, which ultimately gave me so much to write about.

I have seen writers hold onto their goal until it has shredded them apart. I’m just saying, this might not be the best use of your time on earth.

Think carefully before declaring something an obstacle or an opportunity. Saying “yes” might just take you one step further on the path of your unpredictable, creative life.

Maybe those opportunities could open more doors for your writing career.

Maybe they could make you happy.

As a fun exercise in career imagination, pick one of the following “obstacles” and show how it might lead to novel success. In addition, please share stories of success that arrived in an unexpected—or perhaps even unwanted—package!

  • Your talented daughter wants you to move to Nashville to support her singing dream.
  • Your mother, in hospice, asks your help in writing her life story.
  • Your boss wants you to move to Thailand for a year.

About Kathryn

Kathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.

July 21st, 2017

The Shifting Priorities of Your Writing Career

College then work. It’s a right-of-passage most of us go through in one form or another. Some multiple times. And I realized recently that I was on wave two.

College Years = Aspiring Author

This is when everything is shiny and possible and fun. You take classes, hang out in coffee shops, meet new people. You put in long hours studying, sometimes longer hours partying. Each new class brings on a new level of excitement and the possibilities are endless.

I started college as an art history major. The first year, I changed majors twice. I changed two more times before finally settling on English Lit. I dabbled in set design and lighting, political science, experimental psych, drafting, and graphic design.

Looking back, the aspiring author years were very much like college. 

When I dipped my toe into the writing pond, it was with chick lit in mind. It was at the height of that genre bubble and a lot of what I was reading at the time. I wrote three picture books. I have a middle grade novel in progress. And I’ve written a couple of women’s fiction stories.

Over the years, I’ve taken every workshop I could fit into my schedule and afford. I joined writer’s groups (the equivalent of sororities/fraternities I suppose). I don’t frequent coffee shops much but I have a very solid relationship with the espresso machine in my kitchen.

I took on all sorts of extra-curricular activities, which in this case, included volunteering with various writer’s groups, joining blogs, and setting up on every social media platform that was listed as a must for writers.

Gap Year/Graduate School = Debut Author

I didn’t take a typical gap year. I worked for a year but only because I decided at the last minute that, on second thought, I had absolutely no interest in law school and then had to wait while my applications for journalism school went through.

But then came graduate school. Oh my god was that fun. I was finally where I belonged. I loaded up my class hours and took on as many internships as I could fit into my schedule.

Being a debut author felt wildly like being a grad student again. Working on revisions with my editor had shades (mostly red) of working on my thesis with my advisor. “Internships” became more writer’s groups, this time focused on connecting with readers and signing up for author events. Confession: I was far less nervous defending my thesis than the first time I had to talk about my book.

Working World = Published Author

I was lucky with my first job. With most of my jobs actually. I loved going to the office, enjoyed the work I was doing, had fun with my colleagues. I put in ridiculous amounts of hours and it was worth it.

But as I got busier with work, I also realized that not everything I’d been doing fit into my new life. I didn’t have as much free time or, more appropriately, flexible time. Priorities had to be established and choices made.

Now that my first book is out in the world and my second book is about to go into production, I’m realizing just how many parallels there are with that earlier stage in my life. There are limited hours and unlimited demands.  

Like the adjustment period after I joined the working world, I’ve had to evaluate a lot of what I’m spending my time on lately. And the sad truth is that once again, choices have to be made.

And with that, I’m stepping aside from my regular involvement with Writers in the Storm. I’ve learned so much from all of you – contributors and commenters – over the years and I’ve loved being part of this community. I’ll still be around, reading, commenting, and contributing. But for now, I’m packing up my pens and coffee mugs.

I’ll see you in the comments and on social media!

About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world, where she spent roughly sixteen (cough) years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is a co-founder and past president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy WritersShe is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut, The Distance Home (Forge), released on May 2, 2017.

You can find her on on FacebookInstagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, or on her website, www.orlykonig.com.

July 19th, 2017

SHOULD You Create Your Own Audiobook?

In light of June Westerfield’s recent post about creating your own book cover (if you missed it, you can read it here), you’re thinking I’m going to say you shouldn’t narrate your own audiobook, right? Wrong! My answer is:


Yeah, that’s helpful, right?

I think the easiest way to explain is to tell you how I did it, the pros and cons, and let you decide for yourself. But first: 

Do you have the rights?

If this is a New York published book, odds are, the answer is no. Publishers don’t often give up the chance to make a buck. I’m not sure about Small Presses – check your contract to be sure. Self-pubbed? Green light!

I released my first self published title in January of 2016, Days Made of Glass. I loved the control of self-publishing. Then I read how audiobook sales are on the rise, and thought that I’d love to have Days in an audiobook format. 

I read through ACX (Amazon’s audiobook publishing arm-very informative), and through pages and pages of Google results, and discovered . . . it’s expensive. 

Hiring professional(s):

First, you need a narrator/producer. They usually receive compensation one of two ways:

Outright payment – They charge around $200 an hour (SAG members start at $225/hr). You can do the math. I got the following chart from EA Book Publishing:

Schedule of Costs (this is for narration and production)

Words     Narration Hours     Production Hours     Final Cost

10,000   1                             5                                   $   950

20,000   2                             10                                 $1,900

30,000   3                             15                                 $2,850

40,000   4                             20                                 $3,800

50,000   5                             25                                 $4,750

60,000   6                             30                                 $5,700

70,000   7                             35                                 $6,650

80,000   8                             40                                 $7,600

90,000   9                             45                                 $8,550

Be sure when you’re negotiating with a narrator, that you verify if the cost is for narration only or full production. A producer cleans up the file, checks for errors, misspoken lines, and puts it in the correct format. You’ll need that.

Or Royalty share – They get 50% and may ask for a non-refundable upfront cost

Another option is to buy professional equipment, park yourself in a closet at home and record. That was cheaper, but still, the software and the equipment can run into the to thousands.

If you know me at all, you know I’m as cheap as a prison-release suit.

It’s okay, I own it.

Going it on your own:

I dearly love reading out loud. I volunteer time, reading at a senior center, so I wondered if I could do this myself. Hey, I created my own website, and my own self-published book. Okay, so the book cover thing didn’t work out so well, but….

Then I heard my local Recording Library needed volunteers to read books, daily local newspapers and textbooks for the blind. Volunteer doing what I love? I’m all over it. When I saw their offices, and the little soundproofed recording booths, I stashed an idea in the back of my mind, dug in, and got over my hatred of my own recorded voice (I hear this is a universal thing – because we hear our voices from the ‘inside’ and can’t judge the quality). It took several months, but I became proficient at it – cutting my teeth on oil reports and school board elections. When they came back and told me I was a natural, and was one of their better-sounding volunteers, I popped the question: Would they mind if I recorded my own book for their library (and take a copy for myself, of course). They said, yes. I was off in a cloud of turkey-turds! 

I began recording, correcting when I screwed up, making sure the quality was as good as I could get it. The in-house producer cleaned up the file (taking out background noise, blank air time, etc., and put each chapter in a separate mp3 format for me.

In the meantime, I studied the options for publication, and decided on ACX, Amazon’s audiobook publishing arm. You can go exclusive with them, and get a higher royalty percentage, but I decided to keep my options open and go wide. I learned everything I could from their helpful website about how to go about it.

I wanted a different cover for the audiobook than the paperback and Kindle version – I liked the result so much I did a poll on Facebook about maybe changing covers on the book, but since people were split 50/50, I decided to keep both: (keep in mind, an audiobook cover has to be perfectly square)

              Paperback Cover

                             Audiobook cover












The audiobook of Days Made of Glass went live a month ago!

So, back to the question, SHOULD you create your own audiobook? I’d recommend it if:

  • You have the rights
  • You have the voice
  • You have the patience – this is meticulous work
  • You have a thirst for learning new things, and aren’t intimidated by technology
  • It helps if you’re cheap. 😉

I DO NOT expect to make a ton of money on this. After all, there are less listeners than there are readers. But I loved the process, and will do it for my future self-published titles. To me, it’s one more way to be proud of my work.

What do you think? Would you attempt this? Would you hire it out, or DIY?

*     *     *     *     *

About Laura

Author Headshot SmallLaura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central.  The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America®   RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Laura began a video blog for writers, answering their burning questions. You can watch all the episodes HERE. If you have a question you’d like her to address in a future episode, leave her a comment!

July 17th, 2017

Your Dead Ancestors Can Help You Write That book

Ella Joy Olsen

Who are my long-lost relatives? And what role did they play in determining who I am today? Where does their identity place me in the patchwork of humanity? These are some of the questions people hope to answer when conducting ancestral research, a trend that is growing worldwide. But genealogy has long been big business for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or the Mormons).

Initially, genealogy was conducted in order to aid in a religious ritual called Baptism for the Dead, meaning Mormons endeavor to baptize all who have passed, so they will have a fair shake in heaven. For more info on this practice, click here. But in the age of the internet the church is a pioneer in genealogical digging, for all purposes. And it’s available for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

I made good use of this valuable research in my upcoming novel Where the Sweet Bird Sings.

In the story my main character, Emma Hazelton, is cleaning out her beloved grandpa’s attic after his death when she happens upon a black-and-white wedding photograph of her great-grandparents…but something doesn’t jive. According to his obituary, Grandpa Joe was born three years before his parent’s wedding. After pondering that inconsistency, combined with a few other mysterious discoveries, Emma decides to untwist the roots of her family tree.

Although Emma isn’t a Mormon she visits the Family History Library funded by the LDS Church to start her quest. The Family History Library is the largest library of its kind in the world, and there she has unfettered access to millions of books and rolls of microfilm, helping her (and the reader) to peek into the leafy branches. But what’s incredible is that many documents are digitized and available to you using the computer sitting on your desk. Here’s how you can get started:

The online search site organized by the LDS Church is familysearch.org. This site is free and uses census reports, military records, marriage records, death reports, ship manifests, you name it. It’s super user friendly. You start with the name of the deceased ancestor you’re searching for, and go from there. Of course, eventually there will be a dead end (no pun intended) and that’s when you consult other sources. 

Another free source is findagrave.com where you can view photos of over 160 million grave markers from all across the world. It is user-driven (and a little clunky) but amazing things are available on this site. However, I prefer billiongraves.com for usability. It isn’t as highly rated but it hasn’t failed me yet.

The most comprehensive site is ancestry.com. This is a paid site but if you run out of luck with the free engines, it might pay to search here. You can take it for a two week test run for free.

If you’re looking for specific lineages or angles there are specialty sites aplenty. You can Google to see if there are any specific to your search but here are a few, just to illustrate the variety: afrigeneas.com for African Ancestored Genealogy, jewishgen.org is an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, libertyellisfoundation.org  gives you access to over fifty million passenger records and amazingly helps decipher common translations of ethnic names to the Americanized version.

The title Where the Sweet Bird Sings is in reference to a family tree (you’d be surprised how many people don’t get the connection). Sometimes the things found in the roots and branches are unexpected, but they’re still part of who we are. Emma’s search is fictionalized and her desire to delve into the past is fueled by uncovered lies. Not all searches are fraught, but when it’s your family and your family ties, each new discovery is thrilling. Emma likens the search to a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece that clicks into place is satisfying, further refining the hidden picture.

Have you done any genealogical research on your own? Did you discover anything unusual?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Ella

Ella Joy Olsen was born, raised and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, a charming town tucked at the base of the massive Rocky Mountains. Most at home in the world of the written word, Ella spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library System (and four decades browsing the stacks). She is the mom of three kids ranging from just-barely-teen to just-flown-the-nest-teen, the mama of two dogs, and the wife of one patient husband.

Though she’s crazy about words Ella is also practical, so she graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Finance. After years spent waxing on about facts and figures Ella gave up her corner cubicle and started writing fiction. Fun fact: she now teaches a course on writing historical fiction at her alma mater. She has also lived in Seattle, Washington & Savannah, Georgia.

ROOT, PETAL,THORN (August 2016/Kensington) is her debut novel. And coming in September 2017 – WHERE THE SWEET BIRD SINGS.


Find Ella at … 


July 14th, 2017

What Playwrights Can Teach Us About Dialogue

Amy Poeppel

My first real job after graduating from college was working as an actress. I spent about five years performing in plays, shooting commercials, and acting in probably the worst episode ever made of America’s Most Wanted. I learned the ins and outs of union affiliation, auditioned for all kinds of roles, and developed a very thick skin. I gave up acting for a number of reasons (such as lack of talent and weariness of rejection), but I never stopped reading plays, attending productions, and discovering new playwrights. I strongly believe that there’s a lot novelists can learn from theater, in particular, what makes great dialogue.

Notice how truly compelling characters talk.

One feature that becomes apparent when reading or watching well-wrought plays is that interesting characters rarely speak to each other in a straight line. Listen carefully to how they converse: They don’t always follow a direct line of thinking, answer questions exactly as they were asked, or stay on a single topic. Rather they jump around, unexpectedly express anger or amusement, throw in a non sequitur, answer a question with a question, and interrupt. It’s that kind of unpredictable dialogue that keeps an audience on the edge of its collective seat.

Trust that the audience is watching.

My first and only attempt at writing a play, which was the origin of my novel Small Admissions, was performed as a staged reading at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit, and there was one criticism I got that came across louder and stronger than any other: It’s too repetitive! This experience taught me how important it is to trust that the audience is paying close attention. I realized that in good theater, characters rarely remind each other (thereby, the audience) of something that has already happened on stage or restate known information.

A novelist’s audience members, meaning readers, are also smart and attentive, and they’re keeping up with the plot, so it’s a good idea to keep conversations moving forward, rather than circling back. If there’s a section of dialogue in your novel that is retelling something that has already been well established, consider taking it out! Deleting unnecessary lines in a conversation can dramatically improve a scene.

Listen to your dialogue out loud.

One of the most important lessons to learn from theater is the value of hearing what you’ve written. And it’s especially important to consider that conversations are meant to be spoken out loud. Ask friends to read through some pages of your dialogue (skipping the he said-she said), just as if you’re doing a staged reading. Your ear will be able to detect words that don’t ring true and lines that are repetitive.

But don’t forget to fill in the blanks!

Now, problems can occur when novelists (like me) stick to the form and style of scripts too closely. Unfortunately, I often resist expressing clearly enough what’s actually happening “on stage.” In my mind, I can see my characters sipping their wine, rolling their eyes, shrugging their shoulders, or looking out the window, and I forget that those actions are only in my head, not on the page. My editor will read my drafts of back-and-forth dialogue, and she will make a note in the margin: “But… what’s actually going on during this conversation??” Or she will simply write, “Place them in the scene!” I will then go back and fill in everything that is missing, a task I happen to find quite challenging, but one that is obviously essential for novelists.

Read more plays!

Make the time to read excellent plays. For example, I highly recommend Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The four characters, George and Martha, and their guests, Nick and Honey, spend a long night of craziness, doing little but talking and drinking, sometimes dancing, often fighting, and occasionally even throwing up. And we learn so much about these people, from the intimacies of their marriages, to their vulnerabilities, to the games they play, to the secrets they have never divulged before. It’s an amazing play, both to watch live and to read. George and Martha speak to each other in a fierce, smart, provocative, combative, endearing way:


Make me another drink… lover.


My God, you can swill it down, can’t you?


(Imitating a tiny child)

I’m firsty.




Look, sweetheart, I can drink you under any goddamn table you want … so don’t worry about me!


Martha, I gave you the prize years ago. … There isn’t an abomination award going that you….


I swear … If you existed I’d divorce you….


Well, just stay on your feet, that’s all. … These people are your guests, you know, and….


I can’t even see you… I haven’t been able to see you for years. …


… If you pass out, or throw up, or something….


… I mean, you’re a blank, a cipher….


…And try to keep your clothes on, too. There aren’t many more sickening sights than you with a couple of drinks in you and your skirt up over your head, you know….


… a zero….


…your heads, I should say ….


Party! Party!


What Albee illustrates so well in this short passage, is that conversations can be funny, cruel, deliberate, and fast-paced, all at the same time, and they can reveal so much about the dynamics between people, their attachment to each other, their shared humor, and their viciousness.

Here’s a short list of playwrights (in absolutely no particular order) whose works I recommend reading if you haven’t already. I find their plays to be both inspiring and educational. These playwrights are very different from each other, but they are all masters of dialogue. Enjoy!

Tennessee Williams
Sarah Ruhl
Lynn Nottage
Tracy Letts
Alan Ackbourn
Noel Coward
Horton Foote
Suzan-Lori Parks
Yasmina Reza
Tom Stoppard
Beth Henley
Wendy Wasserstein
August Wilson
Alan Bennett
Paula Vogel

About Amy

Amy Poeppel is the author of the novel SMALL ADMISSIONS. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she graduated from Wellesley College and now lives with her husband and three sons in New York City, where she worked in the admissions department of an independent school. Her next novel, LIMELIGHT, will be out in summer 2018, also with Emily Bestler Books/Simon and Schuster. Her writing has appeared on The Rumpus, The Higgs Weldon, Mock Mom, and Working Mother

Find out more about Amy on her website