May 15th, 2017

Divine Inspiration… Or Not: Mining Your Life for Story

Kate Moretti

A few weeks ago, the fabulous Kimberly Brock wrote a post about the fear of the blank page. She claimed that there are people who love it and she called them psychopaths and equated it to jumping out of airplanes.

I’m here to confess: I am that psychopath.

I just handed in my latest novel to my editor. I have a few scenes I know it needs so I plan on banging them out now while she is reading. I have articles to write (this one!) and emails to catch up on. But the lure of the blank page is too much. Today I opened a Scrivener file and wrote 800 words. I don’t know where the scene will fit in the novel, if it’s the first scene (feels like it to me) or if will be relegated to the murky middle, as a flashback. I just know that right now, everything about this book feels kind of amazing: fresh, new, not muddled and unclear, the shimmering pull of discovery right around the next bend.

For me, the draw of writing isn’t in the actual drafting. It’s in the idea of story. I have a Google word document with ten primary story ideas (and a zillion other partial ideas) in various stages of development. Some are just a logline with zero details: a woman does x, a woman’s sister/friend does y. Others have fleshed out characters, and still others have a theme I’m interested in more than a plot. Bottom line? They’re all potential stories. (Side note: I keep it in Google so I can access it anywhere, even from my phone on the go).

Are you the kind of writer who feels paralyzed by the beginning? Who looks at a blank page with dread? Who thinks, “Oh no, now I have to come up with a whole new idea,” and rather than feel that zing of anticipation, you want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head?

4 tips to help you come up with a new story:

1. Open to the stories around you.

They are everywhere. In the man who walks from his house across the street to three houses down, every single morning, and walks home every night. Who lives three doors down? I’ve never seen them. I assume a sweet, octogenarian romance. But how cute is it that he comes home every night? Does he care that much about propriety?

I write suspense, so sometimes I see a story and think: oh, this is not my story, not my genre. Sometimes I even pass those ideas along to friends. Sometimes I can massage the inspiration into something that does fit my genre. Writers can be lightning rods for stories, but we struggle to receive it. We can get so caught up in the questions: Is it commercially viable? Can it carry a book? Is it for me? Can I make it for me? Can I bring that something-something into another plot? It can get so exhausting that it kills creativity.

I find that getting the initial lightning strike down on paper — regardless of logistical questions — is what captures the essence of story. My Google word doc has zillions of these; it stands at almost twenty-five pages: some of it is complete non-sensical, various fonts (copied and pasted!), it’s messy and disorganized but it’s all (gold)mine.

2. Read the headlines.

I peruse headlines from five or ten years ago, just for fun. There’s a danger here, especially for historical fiction writers, since what inspires one may inspire many. The old adage, “the truth is stranger than fiction” is never more true than when you find a gem like this or a heartwarming story like this.

I read a story, years ago, about a family of children who was kept in a small New York City apartment their entire lives. Their mother died and the children were taken in by social services. They’d never been outside, never been to school, never socialized with other children. This is absolutely in my story document. I can’t find an angle that fits my brand but I just love it.

My forthcoming novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, was inspired by a news story I read about a teacher who followed his students on social media. He was praised in the story for being involved and going beyond the call of duty. I thought, hmmm there must be a twist I can apply to this. What if the very thing that once made him a great teacher became the thing that made him a suspect in a student’s murder? I catalog these odd bits and pieces on Pinterest where I can access them later.

3. Consume other fiction: Not just books, but movies, television.

I find a lot of inspiration in true crime TV, as does a writer friend who recommends shows to me. I am currently into The First 48, which breaks a case down to the investigation level, each episode ending with an arrest. I am also inspired by books outside of my genre. Years ago, I read the book THE CASTAWAYS by Elin Hildebrand. I loved the ensemble cast structure and the beach setting, so an ensemble cast with a beach setting has been on my list since. In a fit of inspiration, I recently dusted it off and developed the four main voices, the murder, the motive, the red herrings.

4. Try.

This comes off like sanctimonious B.S. I’m sorry. I do think some percentage of writers expect inspiration to be like divine intervention. I’ve heard a newly published writer say “I have to really be inspired by something” when discussing story development. While many great stories may start as pure lightning strike, others must be ferreted out of the confusing depths and coils of the writer’s mind.

Sometimes I use long drives to deliberate think of story ideas. I talk into a microphone and pretend it’s a person. Sometimes I talk to another writer. The act of using my voice prompts me to dig deeper. I might say, “What if a woman who is hiding from her ex-husband falls in love, unwittingly, with her ex’s brother? NO, that’s been done before, I think. Wait, look up the plot of Sleeping With the Enemy, God I haven’t seen that in like 15 years.” It’s the stream of consciousness that awakens THE THING in me: the creative beast that will eventually unlock the story.

And that is all I really need: the key to unlock the story I know I have. Somewhere. I get the partial down in my Google doc and call it a day. When I’m at the stage I’m now, where I have to write up a pitch for my agent to send to my editor or even start a few chapters, I mine the document monster I’ve been keeping for years. Sometimes, it even works.

How do you mine for story?


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About Kate

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 SeasonHer 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

May 12th, 2017

Knowing When to Walk Away from a Publishing Deal

Susan Spann

In the immortal words of Don Schlitz (made famous by Kenny Rogers): “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away … know when to run.”

Smart words for any gambler, but equally valid for authors. Unfortunately, too many authors don’t have the courage of those convictions when a long-awaited publishing offer comes … even when they suspect the offer isn’t necessarily a good one.

Learning when to walk away from an offer (and developing the strength to do it when necessary) is one of the most important business skills an author can develop.

No one can, or should, tell you when to refuse a contract, but let’s look at a few situations when wise authors should at least consider refusing a publishing deal:

1. The publisher is a vanity press or offers a predatory contract.

Legitimate traditional publishers never ask authors to pay for anything out-of-pocket. Legitimate publishers pay royalties based on gross receipts or “receipts on all sales of the work,” less returns, without deducting publishing costs or expenses before calculating royalties due to the author.

Any publisher that requires the author to pay publishing expenses (or pay for anything out of pocket!), to purchase “mandatory copies” of the work, or to agree to non-standard contract terms is not offering a fair and equitable deal. Beware, in particular, of publishers who attempt to place short time limits on accepting the deal, try to prevent the author from hiring a lawyer or agent to review the contract, or bully the author in any way.

2. The publisher won’t agree to a reasonable, industry-standard contract.

Sometimes, even legitimate publishers’ contracts don’t meet industry standards. Most publishers will negotiate, but if the publisher won’t budge on terms you consider vital, or won’t allow you reasonable termination rights if: (a) they fail to publish within 12-18 months of signing the contract, or (b) if sales drop too low, it’s better to walk away than to sign a contract you consider unreasonable or unfair.

I strongly recommend hiring an agent or publishing lawyer to advise you and negotiate any contract on your behalf. That said, you, the author, have the right to decide what business terms you will and will not accept. You have the power to refuse any deal that doesn’t meet your standards.

3. The publisher lacks the experience or capacity to publish and distribute your work appropriately.

Small publishers and micro-presses often lack extensive distribution; larger publishers may not give your work the attention it would receive at a smaller house. Different presses have different advantages (and disadvantages) – and you, the author, have the right (and obligation) to choose your path. Create a business plan for your work, and follow the publishing path that meets your goals. However, always investigate the publisher’s resources, distribution, experience, reputation, and business practices before you sign a deal.

4. The publisher can’t do more for you than you could accomplish as an author-publisher.

Before accepting a publishing deal, ask yourself: can this publisher do more for me, and for my work, than I could do if I published the book myself?

If the answer is “no”—or even, “I’m not certain”—you should seriously consider walking away from the deal altogether. Becoming an author-publisher is a serious business decision that no author should make lightly. However, signing a contract is serious too. Never entrust your work to a publisher that can’t do more for you than you could on your own (or by hiring people to assist you).

It’s better to walk away from ANY offer than it is to sign a contract you regret.

Have you walked away from a publishing deal? Would you have the strength to do it, if you recognized the offer was not a good one?

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About Susan

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

Find her online at, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).

May 10th, 2017

Writing For and About Children: Find Your Childlike Wonder

Donna Galanti

When I was a kid I used to sneak into people’s coat closets when visiting with my parents, hoping to find a Narnia world on the other side. I would huddle in the dark, beneath winter coats, imagining an older world long gone as I hid among musty wool. If I sat long enough would I be transported there?

Now, as a children’s book author and writer of fantasy, I get to step through doors into other worlds. The easy part is stepping into that new world. The hard part is creating a world, characters, and story from a child’s point of view. How to get into that view? By finding my childlike wonder again.

Do you remember what filled you with wonder as a kid?

I do. I walked along rock walls under the stars when the world was asleep. I climbed trees and sang songs to the woods. I swam all day becoming as brown and leathery as an armadillo. I hid away in rose bush caves to write – all the while believing that magic existed, and every day held little miracles.

But what evokes childlike wonder now as a grownup? And as adults writing for children, can we even recapture that? 

Regaining a childlike sense of wonder isn’t about returning to a childlike state, it’s about letting yourself be awed by the little things in your grownup life. Our mundane responsibilities can often dull our wonder, but just because every day is filled with little things it doesn’t mean they aren’t miraculous. 

However, keeping our childlike wonder can be difficult when grownup duties mount. In order to do my job well as a children’s author, I often need to rekindle and sustain my kid wonder. But how?

11 ways to evoke childlike wonder:

  1. Re-visit pictures of ourselves as kids. Search through specific memories. Journal in our voice from that moment. What were we excited about? What did we most desire? What made us sad?
  2. Did you write diaries as a child or teen? Re-read them to inspire that voice of youth in your own writing.
  3. Look at the world from an unfamiliar perspective. Make a snow angel. Hide in a closet. Climb a tree. Be pulled along in a little red wagon (if you can fit!). There are Big Wheels for grownups now. Try it!
  4. Create a new bucket list with your kids or grandkids. What do they dream of doing that you could do together?
  5. Do your kids write stories? Read them to grasp a worldview through their own words. What do they notice? How do they feel?
  6. Revisit the age of your characters. Go back to that time in your life and draw a map of your neighborhood. Walk through it in your mind and journal about it. What do you see? How do you feel? How did you react to events there?
  7. Do a stand-up dramatic read-aloud of a scene in your story.
  8. Face a childhood fear (mine was going down in our creepy 200-year-old cellar where I was sure bodies were buried).
  9. Engage in child’s play with your kids. Hide-n-Seek, Tag. A favorite of my son and mine was battling sock wars to Irish music.
  10. Eavesdrop on kids at the mall or park. Take notes of their conversation.
  11. Visit those places you spent time at as a child. Walk in your childhood shoes again.

I did this last one not so long ago. I resurrected an old manuscript rich with one of my childhood settings. It prompted me to go back in time to the campground my parents owned and operated in New Hampshire. When I drove up, I was zapped back to the 1970s. 

Suddenly, I was nine-years-old again. I swam in the pool, fished with my dad, romped through the woods, collected dead butterflies and shotgun shells, whizzed about on strap-on roller skates, played pinball machines, and spun 45 records on the jukebox.

Returning was an emotional gut punch. I could be a child again in that place of innocence but just as it resurrected joyous moments from childhood, it also brought back painful ones.

What did I take away from this trip for my writing?

  • Vivid feelings of childhood – the good and the bad – to enrich my writing.
  • Revisited my creative foundations and reinforced my yearning to write for kids.
  • Fortified the connection from childhood to adulthood.
  • That I can mend my past while forging my future from it.
  • A renewed sense of childlike wonder, boxed up with a crooked bow and broken seams.

Most importantly, I remembered how awesome it was to be a kid again, to be lost in the moment. And that every day as a kid held magic. By renewing my own sense of childlike wonder, I could once again be lost in it while writing – and tap into the magic of the little things. 

Have you ever thought of writing for children? And if you do write for children, how do you write from their point of view? Share your tips!

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About Donna

Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. She attended an English school housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). There she fell in love with the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl, and wrote her first fantasy about Dodo birds, wizards, and a flying ship. She’s lived in other exotic locations, including Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer. She lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse, and dreams of returning one day to a castle.

Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She enjoys teaching at conferences on writing craft and marketing and presenting at elementary and middle schools. Visit her at and

Connect with Donna:

Check out Donna’s books

May 8th, 2017

10 Strategies of Successful Ghostwriters

John Peragine


When a fellow writer finds out what I do for a living, they usually have a hundred questions. They span from how do I capture someone else’s voice, to how do I find leads.

A common question I get is: “Does it ever bother me if that I don’t get my name on the cover and credit for the work?” My answer is always, “The only thing that really upsets me is if the check doesn’t clear.”

Below are my insights, the top ten things I share with new and even veteran ghostwriters to help them elevate their business and, more importantly, keep sane.

1. Always meet your client.

I cannot tell you how much information I am able to gather when I meet face to face with a client. I once met with a client who had a room full of tennis memorabilia. I would not have known how much tennis was important to her, and we used the game as an ongoing metaphor in her book.

2. Remember it is their book, not yours.

You are hired for your expertise, and you should always give them honest advice – but don’t forget they call the shots. You must leave your ego at the door and remember: you are the pen, they are the author.

3. Create a daily schedule.

Even though you are the ghost writer, it does not mean you don’t fall into the same traps as other writers. Set daily goals of word counts and stick to a schedule, or you will find that procrastination can become your new friend. Turn off the social media and get to work.

4. Never forget you are a business.

You must do everything you can to grow that business and that means acquiring new clients and balancing it with the work you already have.

You can get caught on the teeter-totter. On one side is work you are currently doing with clients, and on the is sales. If you are working too much on the actual work every day, and neglect the sales, you will find that soon you will be scrambling to keep the lights on. On the other hand if you spend all your time and marketing and sales you will not have enough work to sustain you, or you may be neglecting work you should be accomplishing which can hurt relations with paying clients.

Work to find the balance, but keep in mind it is a daily balance.

5. Record everything.

You never know when a nugget of wisdom or brilliance will occur when talking to your client, so record everything. Sometimes once it is out, it is hard to recapture what they said exactly. Recording it assures you miss nothing.

6. Respect confidentiality.

I am asked often about who I have written for, and as exciting as it might be to reveal my high-profile clients, I respect my promise – both for ethic and legal reasons. This can make it tricky at times to convince new clients of my value, so I have an agreement with a few of my former clients that they do not mind being references for me. Each time I am asked to provide a reference, I ask my client first, out of respect.

7. Stay relevant in your own writing.

Because it is sometimes difficult to share past work due to non-disclosure contracts, it is important that I continue to write books, articles and blogs under my pen name. It keeps your skills sharp, it adds to your portfolio, and your credibility. In addition, it makes a great marketing piece and can lead to further work.

8. Network like crazy.

The point of networking is not about selling. People will be immediately turned off by that. What they do want is to connect, and so always offer to help in any way you can. You never can anticipate the day they will call you to engage you in work or refer you. Ghostwriting is a people business – you are selling relationships and trust before your skills as a writer.

9. Be ready to say no.

It seems counter intuitive to turn down a potential client, but sometimes it is best for both of you. The relationship and dynamics are important when getting into someone’s headspace and drawing out their book. Let’s face it, we don’t always get along with everyone. It starts at the negotiation. Trust your gut and intuition. If it doesn’t feel right from the beginning, it won’t get any better.

Have a list of other ghostwriters handy to make a referral to and others may return the favor or even pay you a finder’s fee. In addition, no one is the expert at every topic. There are ghostwriters that have niches in which they write strongly in. Don’t chase the money, focus on creating long term clients- and this means picking the right ones.

10. Take care of yourself.

Move around. Exercise. Expose your skin to sunshine once in a while. It is easy to become siloed in your work, and this not healthy for your body, mind or soul. Be sure to keep healthy snacks at arm’s reach, and schedule in walks, runs or time at the gym. Some of the best ideas and writing comes from the times you are not sitting in front of the computer. A healthy body equals a healthy mind and a healthy mind equals literary genius. Well most of the time, or at least some of the time.

Have you ever thought of ghostwriting? Do you have questions for John?

Special Ghostwriter Mentoring Package! If you email John and mention this article, he will answer any questions you have and provide a 40% discount off his next ghostwriting course (coming in June!). [john(at)johnpwriter(dot)com]


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About John

John Peragine is no novice to writing a book. He is a published author of 12 books, has ghostwritten over 100 others and does freelance work for the New York Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg News. John ghostwrites for some of the top names in business, real estate, Hollywood, politics, fitness and healthcare. He has published articles in WineMaker Magazine, Herb Companion and Speaker Magazine to just name a few. 

John has been writing professionally since 2007, after working 13 years in Social Work and was a professional musician in the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 20 years. He has been providing services to the National Speakers Association  and the Global Speakers Federation since 2013. John is a member of the National Writer’s Union

His expertise is in business writing, real estate, small business, finance, Amazon self publishing, how to self publish a book. He had built a company that is a leader in self publishing companies

John lives with his wife and two children on the beautiful Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.

May 5th, 2017

Have You Embraced Your Natural Voice?

Julie Glover

When I first began writing novels, I longed to pen my prose like the literary greats I’d read in high school and college. Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, etc. were my beacons of beautiful prose.

But alas, their light flickered on me. Because I couldn’t seem to get two pages in without snark coming out on the page. So much for my lofty plans.

I’m not the only one who wanted or expected a different writing voice.

Too often, we struggle to be the kind of writer we wish we were. We imagine ourselves as the next J.K. Rowling, when world-building isn’t our superpower. We want to write funny books, when we’re at our best telling tissue-soaking tear-jerkers. We try to write juvenile fiction, but our stories sound like they were by a 35-year-old parent—and what kid wants to read that?

Hey, I get the frustration. I was kind of pissed off to find that I wouldn’t be digging deep like Dostoyevsky or rendering romance like a Brontë.  But when you fully embrace your natural writing voice, you grow to love it and the writing flows much more easily.

I’m not saying it’s always easy. Even when you’ve embraced your writing voice, it’s real effort to turn out a book. Not to mention a great book, a book that more people than your mother and that reclusive aunt with the seven cats want to read.

But you might be working harder than you need to by avoiding the kind of writer you really are.

Here are five quick tips for discovering your natural writing voice—and embracing it:

  1. Try different genres. Don’t try everything, of course, but choose genres you’ve enjoyed and see how well and easily you can write a few scenes or even a whole manuscript in that voice.

Many writers try several genres before finding one that really fits. Give yourself time and space to discover who you are on the page.

  1. Pay attention to your stress levels. If you’re extra uptight about turning out that next scene and always dealing with high stress in your writing, it might not be the writing at all but trying to be something you’re not.

Own your feelings and ask tough questions about where your stress is coming from. Is it just the deadline? The usual challenge of writing? Or are you trying to work outside your natural voice?

  1. Listen to trusted colleagues and friends. Let others read what you’ve written and invite honest feedback. Ask, “Does this sound like my natural voice? Do you have an idea of what might be a better voice?” You don’t have to take their advice, but if several trusted colleagues and friends converge on a suggestion, it’s worth considering.

Very recently, I had my critique partner recommend a new genre for me to try. I balked at first, but when I ran the idea past several colleagues and friends who know me well, they all said something like, “That totally sounds like you.” Thank goodness, because I’ve just started a new, and very exciting, project in the new genre.

  1. Get over unrealistic expectations. You wanted to be the next Janet Evanovich, but your stories come across more like John Grisham. You wanted to be the next George R.R. Martin, but your voice sounds more like Judy Blume. Get over it.

Plenty of authors started writing in one genre, then found their voice—and their success—in another. Throw a short pity party if you must, but then dwell on all the great stuff about being exactly the excellent writer you are.

  1. Recognize that you can adapt as your voice changes. Just because you write dark now doesn’t mean you’ll write dark forever. Or that funny authors must always be funny. We change and grow in life. Circumstances shape us. Our interests evolve.

You only have to commit to writing in the voice you have right now. That could change in the future, and knowing that may free you up to embrace your writing voice in the present.

Are you trying to be someone you’re not? Didn’t we all learn the folly of that back in junior high?

Writing is hard enough, so I encourage you to embrace your natural writing voice. Find out what it is, and then run with it. Like you’re running with scissors! It’s an adventure to write with your natural voice. So many possibilities will come to light. And your audience will benefit from reading what you uniquely offer on the page.

Do you feel like you’ve found your natural voice? If so, what helped you get there? What helps you keep it going strong?

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About Julie

Julie Glover, Writers In The Storm


Julie Glover writes young adult—and possibly humorous mystery—fiction, collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for the interrobang. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. She teaches courses on YA characters and grammar and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.