August 23rd, 2017

Launching Your Book: How My First Novel Experience Can Help You

James Preston

“It’s all personal.”

      — Michael Corleone, The Godfather


We’ve all grown up with the image — finger over the button, second hand ticking down as a tense voice says — “3, 2, 1, 0. Blastoff!”

It’s such an iconic image.

I wanted to write about the launch process, because it’s interesting and because I am in the early stages of one. (And the thought uppermost in my mind is “I should have started earlier.” Learn from my mistakes.)

When I wrote a rough draft of this essay, I decided to do a quick Google search on “’book launch,” which produced 9.7 million results in less than a second. Yikes! What can I say that’s new?

I can tell you how I learned about book launches, and why I learned about them. Before I tell the story, fair warning. In the Introduction to Bazaar of Bad Dreams Stephen King warns that some of the stories — the best of them — have teeth. Mine does.

Many years ago I was writing a novel called Leave A Good-Looking Corpse. I attended a writers’ convention in San Diego where I found an announcement for a novel-writing contest, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. I’d never heard of the conference and I’d never entered a writing contest and the novel wasn’t exactly done, but the conference was in Seattle and my dad lived there; if I attended I could visit, so I sent off the requisite three chapters plus outline and went back to my day job. Along the way I got an agent. I didn’t think about the contest until a letter arrived and I’m a finalist! Flurry of reservations and I’m there. I took second and they gave me money, a nice chunk, and I got a meeting with an editor who said, “I know about this book, tell me about the next one.” She wants the book.

I finish it, dedicate it to my father, my agent sends it off and I’m deep into the sequel, when all at once I realize that months have gone by and we haven’t heard from the editor. Turns out she left the company. My book is now an orphan, which is kind of like being Oliver Twist’s underprivileged kid brother. It languishes for a while, then dies. Agent to writer: “Don’t worry. A good friend of mine is an editor at an even better publisher and she is interested.”

Insert several months.

Editor Number 2 leaves the company.

Agent to writer: “Let’s think about leading with Book 2.”

I go up to Washington to visit my folks and my stepmother says, “Ralph, you have to tell him.”

He’d been diagnosed with bone cancer. 

I warned you this story had teeth. 

I took a look at the timelines I was up against. In traditional publishing from sale to publication is about a year and my novel hadn’t sold yet. It doesn’t work if my dad’s going to see the finished product. And I wanted, no, needed, my dad to see the published book.

I said, “Screw it,” found a reputable provider and did it myself and that’s how I learned about book launches and promotion. I did it backwards — wrote the book and then figured out how to promote it. Not recommended!

The right way to promote your book, almost regardless of who publishes it, is to start early. Like, now. In fact, stop reading for a moment and think of the name of somebody you want to tell about the book. Got one? Good. The song in your head right now should be “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” because you need more. A lot more.

Remember that Google search? Well, there are things you need to do before you start going through those 9.7 million hits.

Take notes:

First — Think. Most important: think about why you like your book and why you want others to read it. Develop and polish your elevator pitch. (More later on the elevator pitch.)

Second — Ask yourself serious questions. Where are you in the countdown? Is the book done, cover designed, publisher/self-publishing decisions made? Are you finished editing? These answers will drive other decisions. Remind yourself why you love the book.

Third — Budget time. Time for the launch, and time to plan the launch. The questions you answered in Step 1 will help. How soon do you need to be ready? Stay motivated! See the last sentence of Step Two.

Fourth — Make a list. Make several lists. List people, list tools like Mailchimp, list organizations like local libraries and book clubs. While you are doing this, remember why you love your book.

Fifth — Plan a party. Restaurant, bookstore, library meeting room, back yard, take your pick. C’mon, you’ve earned it.

Now do your homework. The problem is not finding online resources; it’s picking ones that works for you. Remember: 9.7 million hits. Much as I love you guys, I didn’t look at all 9.7 million. You don’t have to either, but looking at some will save you time.

Now, go back and look at your notes.

  1. My story is worth several hours of some total stranger’s time because:
  2. My story is <insert elevator pitch>.
  3. I am _______ close to launch.
  4. The following people, blogs, organizations need to be notified.
  5. I can invest the following time and money in the launch.

And the most important thing you can do to sell the book is not only believe in the story, but distill and articulate that belief. The most boiled-down way of expressing your belief is the elevator pitch. Here’s mine for the first Surf City Mystery — “Leave a Good-Looking Corpse is about an attempt to sink a supertanker full of boiling hot liquid sulfur off the coast of Orange County, California.”

How is that important to launching your book? It’s important because you can use it everywhere. You can add it to the signature line of your emails, you can say it when anybody asks about the new book, you can use it in posts, you get the idea. But here’s the other, equally important benefit: developing this pitch forces you to think about your story, and why you like it. When you sell a book you are asking someone to invest several hours of their time reading it. Why should they? (Perhaps you sense a theme here. It’s this: believe in your work.)

Okay, here’s the end of my story. I finished the sequel, Read ‘Em And Weep and it, too, went on be an award-winner and garner me a check. I found a publisher; then an e-publisher found me and asked me to write novellas that I will be launching later this year. There are five novels in the Surf City Mysteries and number six is in the works.

And as for Leave A Good-Looking Corpse, self-publishing worked. My dad got to hold one of the first copies and read the following dedication:

Ralph Preston

Stand-up guy


My finest teacher

Thanks, Dad, this one’s for you.

Now it’s your turn. I’d like to hear your launch stories, and I’d especially like to hear your elevator pitches. Don’t have one? Now’s the time! You’ll never have a better audience.

*     *     *     *    *

James R. Preston is the author of the Surf City Mysteries. In October he is launching Crashpad and Buzzkill, two novellas set on a college campus in the 1960’s.



August 21st, 2017

How to Successfully Ask, “Can I Pick Your Brain?” 

 Kate Moretti     

We’ve all heard it. Sometimes we groan, sometimes we delight, depending on the situation and where you are in your publishing journey. You’re at a Friday evening neighborhood barbecue when the man down the street approaches you, cautiously, but also sort of expectantly, too:

“Can I pick your brain?”

As we grow in our careers, the demands on our time triple. No, quadruple. These requests seem to come fast and furious and even the most generous spirited among us feel the need to preserve our time, energy and creativity for our own writings. A few months ago, in a closed writer’s Facebook group, a fairly successful author posted this article on how to handle these requests. I thought it was brilliant. I thought the Friday Morning Solution was incredibly practical, allowing for only those who are the most committed to follow through. If you haven’t already, you should read it and follow it! Set those boundaries, girl (or guy)!

My next thought, immediately, was, “What if I’m the brain picker? Not the pickee?”

I posed the question in the group to my friend. “How do you ask to pick someone’s brain?” I want to read that article. Her answer? “I try not to.” This astounded me. How do we learn? Yes, the internet. Yes, books. Of course, read them. But nothing beats the question, “Tell me something about your job that no one knows.” If your main character is a doctor, this question is your best friend. But, how do you get the answers?

Successful, prolific authors have made an art out of asking for the “brain pick”. We talk to cops, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists. For Binds That Tie, five chapters take place in a courtroom. I have never, in my life, been in a working courtroom. I’ve been excused from jury duty four times. Then how did I do this? I talked to lawyers. Specifically, criminal defense attorneys.

If everyone is so maxed out on time, how do you go about asking, without being the person that makes everyone groan?

  1. If possible, call, don’t email. Talk to their administrative assistants, leave your name, the purpose for your call, how much time you’d like to have (I always say a half hour), and most importantly, be available when they call you back. You are asking THEM for help. You must work on their time. It is not a privilege, to them, to be a source in a fiction book by a writer they’ve never heard of (and they’ve never heard of you or me, let’s be honest!). Do not ask them to call you back between two and four on Wednesdays and alternating Fridays. If they call at midnight, answer the phone and grab a pad and pen.
  2. “Thank you so much for calling me back. I’d love to pay you for your time, what is your consultation rate?” This should be your very first sentence. Most experts will not take you up on it. But some will! I paid a grief counselor $100 for research on Thought I Knew You. Invest in your writing career. You want your imagined world to be woven through with truth and authenticity. Pay the $100. If the fee is too high, say “I’m sorry but I’m not able to manage that expense at this time. Thank you so much for the call back.” And try someone else. Do not try to get one quick question in for free. Do not try to push them into a lower rate. Take your lumps and move on.
  3. Prepare ahead of time. Do as much reading and research as you can before you get on the phone. Get the basics down and use the expert only to fill in the gaps. The little known stuff. The tips and tricks of the trade. You do not need to call a lawyer to find out about the Pennsylvania penal code. A person is not a substitute for the elbow grease of research. I always try to get a bit of that into my first question so that the person I’m talking to knows I’ve done my research. I’m a professional. “Can you explain the difference between 907(a) and (b) of “Possessing instruments of a crime” to me? How would sentencing differ?” as opposed to “What if my guy has a gun?”
  4. Be specific. This works hand in hand with #3. If you are prepared, you’ll find your questions are naturally specific. This also allows you to get more detail into your work. The more small details you get right, that ring true, the more you can play with the suspension of disbelief in your narrative.
  5. Ask the right questions. Some good ones I always like are:
    • Tell me something about your job/profession that is not common knowledge?
    • What are the worst parts of your profession?
    • What are the best parts?
    • Are you willing to share a time when you failed?
    • Do you have a greatest success/achievement?

Sometimes you get more information from experts by asking them personal rather than professional questions. In some ways, this also makes it fun for the expert! Everyone likes to share their professional achievements. Let them brag a bit, most of the time they’ll inadvertently slip little useful nuggets into their stories that will bring your characters to life.

  1. Ask them if you can record them. Most phones have an app, either native or downloadable that will allow you to record the conversation. When you’re done (and the work is written, edited and about to be published!), be sure to delete the recording as a courtesy. And remember, in most states, it’s illegal to record phone conversations without consent so be sure to get that consent on the tape.

Using this guide, I’ve never had one expert say no. They are always impressed, excited to be part of a fiction book. Sometimes, you sit in a defense attorney’s office for three hours while he tells you all his book ideas. Sometimes, they’ll set a timer and cut you off mid-sentence. Other times, you’ll take a Philadelphia homicide cop for coffee and he will BRING YOU BULLET CASINGS that have been flattened by a car at the scene and it will be a great day in this new, fun, career of yours. When done properly, I’ve found that talking to experts is one of the greatest perks of the job.

Happy brain picking, everyone!

Have you successfully picked someone’s brain for your writing? Whose brain—you don’t need to give a name, a profession works—would you like to mine for information for your WIP?


Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of four novels and a novella, including Thought I Knew YouWhile You Were GoneBinds That TieThe Vanishing Year, and Blackbird Season. Her first novel THOUGHT I KNEW YOU, was a New York Times bestseller. THE VANISHING YEAR was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards Mystery/Thriller category for 2016 and was called “chillingly satisfying.” (Publisher’s Weekly) with “superb” closing twists (New York Times Book Review). 

​Kate has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty years as a scientist and enjoys traveling and cooking. She lives in Pennsylvania in an old farmhouse with her husband, two children and no known ghosts. Her lifelong dream is to find a secret passageway. Visit her website at

August 18th, 2017

No Road She Can’t Travel

Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Does it speak well for women, or badly, that while the classic Hero’s Journey involves 12 steps, the innovative Heroine’s Journey involves 13?

Is that because women take longer to reach their happily ever after? Or does it mean they have more fascinating avenues to explore than men?

 Actually, either gender could follow either journey. It started with mythologist Joseph Campbell…

…discovering that all the world’s great legends tell a similarly-structured story. This hero’s tale:

(1) begins in the Ordinary World. He receives some kind of

(2) Call To Adventure and at first he

(3) Refuses The Call. But then after

(4) Meeting With The Mentor, he decides to embark and

(5) Crosses The Threshold into a special world. There he meets up with

(6) Tests-Allies-Enemies, and this prepares him to

(7) Approach The Innermost Cave where he faces an enormous challenge, the

(8) Ordeal. He prevails and earns his

(9) Reward, then starts traveling

(10) The Road Back home — except along the way, he comes up against his

(11) Final Challenge-Resurrection, at which point he ultimately triumphs so now he can

(12) Return With The Elixir.

All perfectly good stuff that’s beloved and used by thousands, or maybe even millions, of novelists and screenwriters who’ve read Christopher Vogler’s summary of this lineup called The Hero’s Journey.

But one screenwriter, Kim Hudson, kept wondering why that system didn’t quite work for feminine archetypes…so she created The Virgin’s Promise (a fabulous book, by the way).

Recognizing that every character who embarks on a journey of emotional growth isn’t necessarily a virgin, nor a woman, she also calls it The Prince’s Promise. But with either name, you get the impression that this protagonist is someone who hasn’t had — at least not yet — a whole lot of room to explore the world.

And Chris Vogler loved Kim Hudson’s premise. He wrote that the two systems, The Hero’s Journey and The Virgin’s Promise, work nicely for characters in the same story because the ideas are complementary rather than conflicting.  

Which means if you already love the 12 steps followed by the hero, that won’t interfere with using the 13 steps followed by the heroine. (Or the prince; whatever works for you.)

This character’s story opens in the:

(1) Dependent World, where she’s busy paying the

(2) Price Of Conformity. But then along comes an

(3) Opportunity to Shine, and as she tries this new behavior she even

(4) Dresses The Part. It gets tricky balancing her

(5) Secret World with the dependent one, which soon

(6) No Longer Fits. Only after she gets

(7) Caught Shining and can no longer be her old repressed self does she finally

(8) Give Up What Gets Her Stuck, which results in such upheaval that she sees her

(9) Kingdom In Chaos. No longer able to live her former life, she

(10) Wanders In The Wilderness until at last she commits to

(11) Choosing Her Light and becomes her true self, which means

(12) Re-Ordering her world. So now, at last, the entire

(13) Kingdom Is Brighter

Looking at just the labels for each step, it sounds a bit woo-woo. But when put into practice, it outlines a genuinely plausible path for a heroine whose greatest challenge isn’t related to desperate criminals and evil sorcerers and ferocious dragons, but rather to her children.

Her co-workers.

Her friends.

Her parents.

The kind of challenges that most of us face throughout our lives.

There’s sure nothing wrong with books where all the excitement comes from criminals and dragons. That’s why The Heroine’s Journey will probably never be essential to writers whose books focus solely on hard-core mystery and physical danger.

But for novelists who care about what’s going on inside the characters as well as outside…these 13 steps are gold. Because such a heroine is usually involved with other people who (often with the best and most loving intentions in the world) want her to stay where THEY think she belongs, rather than where she discovers she can truly become her best self.

We’ll get into more detail on that next month at my class on “The Hero’s Journey, For Heroines,” but meanwhile I’d love to hear about ANY of the 13 steps above you’ve already seen a character taking. You might’ve included some in your own books without ever using those labels, or you might’ve noticed them in a movie or other story.

What do you think, faithful WITS followers? Have you used the Hero’s Journey, or The Virgin’s Promise in your stories? (wittingly or unwittingly). Tell us what you think!

*     *     *     *     *

One person chosen from today’s commenters, who describes any such step, will win free registration to the September class, and I’ll look forward to walking through whatever heroine’s journey you’d like to explore!


After winning Romantic Times‘ “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing…if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. With 42 titles there so far, she’s always hoping for more.


August 16th, 2017

So You Want to Write an Outline…

Tasha Seegmiller

I belong to several Facebook groups where people ask for and support the members in productivity, goal achievement, ownership and intentionality. Many of these are focused on writers, so when reporting on what the goals are, there are often people who say they want to create a solid outline for a WIP.

Nearly every time I see someone indicate this is their goal, I see a dozen replies of, “HOW?

I tried to write as I went once. It was a red-hot mess and I swore I’d never do that again. And yet, I like the feeling of allowing a character to really guide me to where she wants to go, to reveal secrets and hopes in a way that I can’t anticipate until I really get to know my character, and I’ve never been able to get to know them well from filling out a profile for a story bible, and I’ve yet to come across a character sheet that really lets me get to know my characters.

So, I outline, leaving spaces and opportunities for what my characters will share as we journey through the book together.

The first thing to acknowledge is that there are LOTS of resources already out there for people who want to learn how to outline. Here are a few of my favorites:

* This was an absolute miracle in helping me plot my current WIP

But what I always have to do, after I know my characters and the places that are important to them, is ask myself three things:

  1. Where is my character at the start of this novel?
  2. Where do they want to be?
  3. What is preventing them from progressing?

That’s it. And that’s hard. Where I tend to write (and read) mostly character driven works, the where is usually referring to a mental or emotional state more than a physical location. Do they start broken? Do they start with the idea that they have everything going for them? Is there something in their life, big or small, that, if able to attain, they could check the box of being content?

Once I know this, I can go to one of the resources I listed above and consider what kind of story the resource was intended to help with, and what kind of story I’m writing. If using any beat sheet, I can often learn a great deal about my character by understanding what kind of activity would qualify as her fun and games. For a character I previously wrote, it was redecorating a space. For a character I’m writing now, she destresses by jamming out to Janis Joplin.

Then I start thinking about conflicts. I’m of the opinion that a character can’t just be pushed around (literally or metaphorically) and hold a reader’s interest. We want a character to fight back, to be willing to fight, even a little, for where they want to be by the end of the book. But someone who tries something and always gets it is jerkishly annoying.

Again, I don’t always know exact details of how my character is going to deal with these complications – that’s for them to tell me. This is one of the reasons I refer to my kind of outlining as connect the dots outlining. My job in the outline is to get the big things into place, and see how detailed the picture gets when I’ve written my way from one dot to another, have this the end, and can sit back and look at the whole picture.

But an outline isn’t meant to JUST assist in drafting. 

After I have drafted to the best of my ability, I go back again, this time really paying attention to who is doing what when, where they are growing, if they are playing an important role to the story AND if what I said they were going to do is what they do. For this, I break out my colored sticky notes and give each main character one. I jot down 10-15 words of what is happening at a particular time and group them together by chronologically.

This is a do or die time for my characters because if their color only shows up once or twice, they either need to reveal that they are essential to the story or they’re out. The son who is only there to whine about missing his dead mom? Gone. The two best friends who say the same thing, drink the same thing, wear the same thing but have different names? Kill one.

Side Note: Almost every pantser I’ve talked to has said they create outlines, timelines, character profiles, etc. once they are done with the first draft so they can have a concrete understanding of the story they created.

Then I go back to my original outline and see if there were plot points that I thought were important when I first started and if they still are. Sometimes, in the act of drafting, I forget things. Sometimes they needed to be forgotten. But then I am keenly aware of the structure and the goals of the story and the characters and the role of the setting so that when I embark on revising, I am focused.

How does my outlining process resemble yours? How about differences?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Tasha

Tasha Headshot ColorTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

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August 14th, 2017

Getting Your Fabulous Characters into Your Synopsis

Suzanne Purvis

I’m thrilled to be back at Writers in the Storm to share a few more tidbits about building a successful synopsis. In fact, you can build a Sizzling and Scintillating Synopsis.

I know the mere mention of a synopsis sends many writers to tears. And I’ve found the perfect antidote: Writers’ Tears.

Yes, there’s a real Irish Whiskey named just for us.

Alas, only available in the UK and Canada. 🙁

So instead of leaving the country and slurping gallons of whiskey, you can use all your writerly expertise and build a synopsis that matches your extraordinary book.

Last time I was here, I provided a few helpful synopsis checklists, some info about adding voice, and ideas showing how to keep your synopsis tight and trim. You can check it out here.

Today, we’ll delve into getting your interesting, intriguing, unique characters into the synopsis with as few words as possible. Because don’t those darn synopses often demand a low word count?

Most of the time, a sizzling synopsis will begin with an introduction to your absolutely phenomenal main character. After all, the characters are the interesting vehicles that tell your story. And they’re the piece of your story that agents, editors, and contest judges usually want to hear about first.

The simplest way is to provide your character’s name (which in itself can be intriguing and interesting) and then add 1, 2 or 3 descriptive words or phrases that differentiates your character from any other girl, boy, woman, man, alien, dog, etc.

And hopefully with these descriptors you can show why this character is the perfect character to tell your story.

For instance, from the movies. . .

Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his luck, small time boxer

A unique name, (Rocky Balboa)

an interesting occupation (small time boxer)

and a hint of conflict (down-on-his luck)


Here are a few examples of character introductions from students in my class. . .

From Lauri Corkum’s WIP The Prism Protocol.

DANNI WALTERS, a disgraced and discarded CIA operative. . . 

Lauri sets up the conflict with just a few words, and she used great alliteration with disgraced and discarded.


From Becky Rawsley’s WIP Merlin’s Children.

TESS BOWDEN, a seventeen-year-old student is a self-confessed science-nerd and magic-sceptic who has the unwelcome ability to see demons.

Becky’s WIP is YA, and often I recommend adding in the main character’s age or grade to show the genre.

Look at the conflict for this character.

She’s a science nerd, magic skeptic, but can see demons. Wow.

And look at the title Merlin’s Children.

Tess is going to be wrapped up with magic and Merlin; yet, she’s skeptical of magic and believes in the facts of science.

Seems like the perfect character to go on this journey.


We’re not yet looking at what the character wants or why.

That comes next.

For now, all you want to do is get that irresistible character(s) on the page.

According to Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook . . . 

“. . . a multidimensional character will keep us guessing . . . we are more likely to identify with them .. . because there is more of them to see.”

With your descriptive adjectives, you can add that multidimensionality in just a few words. It’s not impossible. 🙂

So, in your synopsis, you’ve introduced your main character, then you’ll share your setting, your plot points and of course, your ending. But along with your fabulous character, you’ll want to make sure you show your character’s arc. Don’t worry it’s not as daunting as it sounds.

Character Arc

If you cover these next stages in your synopsis, you’ll show your character’s arc.

First Stage:

At the start of your story, WHO is your main character? What kind of person is he/she?

What is his/her approach to life?

And you’ll show this with your interesting character introduction.

Second Stage:

Describe how your main character is thrust into a situation where he/she is pressured to change.

This is usually shown with your inciting incident.

Third Stage:

Does your main character decide to take a leap of faith and change? Of course they do. Show the how and when.

Does he/she adopt a new approach or take some uncharacteristic action? Or does she hold true to who she is and become more entrenched in her attitude or approach?

Fourth Stage:

At the end of the novel, is the main character better off because of the choices he/she has made? Does the reader feel he/she has done the right thing? Or in the case of a tragedy, the main character could be far worse off.

If you include these four stages in your synopsis, you can’t help but show your character’s arc.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make it easier for you to write a synopsis without tears.

And if you’re looking for more help, check out my September class at Lawson Academy — The Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis

Feel free to share your intriguing character intro in the comments or ask any questions regarding writing a sizzling synopsis.

Suzanne Purvis is a transplanted Canadian living in the Deep South, where she traded “eh” for “y’all.” An author of long, short, flash fiction for both children and adults, she has won several awards including those sponsored by the University of Toronto, RWA, Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable, and Women Who Write. You can find her work in print anthologies, magazines, ezines, and ebooks.