Writing came to me by accident. After graduating college as an older adult, I was busy applying and interviewing for positions in the public relations field, eager to put my degree to work and ready to get a return on my financial and personal investment in my education.
It was during that time, that my husband asked me if I would write his grandparents’ story. He explained that it was a cute love story, but he left out some of the essential details. Their story was also one of ethnic cleansing, immigration, determination and courage to start a brand-new life in the United States of America. It took me longer than I ever expected and more than one attempt until it was done.
I learned a lot about myself writing my first book. What kind of writer I am—an outliner, or plotter. What time of the day I write best in—mornings and early evenings. Where my inspiration comes from—nature, the great outdoors. The type of support I need—my critique group and finally, how many hats I’d actually wear during the process—from creative writer to savvy marketer to professional speaker.
My first book was published five years ago and remains a best seller in a local store in my hometown. Since then, I’ve written two more books. My first two books were independently published. My last book was picked up by a small Christian publishing press. Presently, I’m working on outlining book number four with plans for a novella on the back burner. I’ve learned plenty of hard lessons along the way that I’d like to share with you in hopes that my learning curve will steer you in the right direction and encourage you forward in your own work-in-progress. Here are a few quick tips:
Know where your inspiration comes from. For me, it’s simple . . . nature. For example walking my dog in the crisp Wisconsin winters, kayaking across the lake in summer, pulling weeds and making order in spring or raking leaves in the fall. It doesn’t have to be an exotic retreat, it may be right in your own backyard.
Understand your writing style. Do you like to write scenes out on index cards or on a large sheet of paper and then tape it on a wall? If so, you’re a plotter like me. Or, do you prefer to write whatever moves you on a particular day, jumping scenes, or writing projects for that matter. If so, you’re in the panster camp. Once you understand your style, you can set your goals for the week, month, and year.
Find a critique group or writing class to join and bond with other writers. Writers live very solitary lives and reaching out to others may be uncomfortable at first, but I encourage you to take that first step. There are so many opportunities available online through professional organizations linked to your specific genre. Another suggestion would be to contact your local library or bookstores and inquire about writing groups that may meet. Having a regular group of dedicated writers to critique your work and support you along the way is invaluable and will keep you motivated.
Create a tracking system. Knowledge is a powerful weapon. Understanding what made high volume days productive and other days not will help you to formulate a commitment that works for you, eventually meeting your goal.
These are the lessons I learned after I wrote my first book and what I live by in my writing life. If you are new to writing, I would suggest some introspection on where your inspiration comes from, so when you need it, you know where to find it. Understand that everyone takes a different avenue to writing. No two writers approach it the same way. Don’t second guess your approach. If it works for you, run with it. Seek out other writers who are on the same path those who will support you. Considering forming your own group—it’s not hard, I actually did it. And finally, make a commitment to your work-in-progress and stick to it. It’s the only way to the end.
My hope is that you embrace your call to write and figure out the puzzles pieces that will make it all come together in a beautiful story. You can accomplish what may feel impossible with the right tools and with the understanding of the writer within you.
by: Christine Schimpf
Christine Schimpf was born and raised in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin. Growing up she enjoyed fishing with her dad, bicycle riding, and climbing trees. She attended a Catholic elementary school where she met her husband in second grade.
When she’s not writing she enjoys planting seeds and flowers in the spring, golfing and kayaking in the summer, and playing indoor tennis over the winter months. She and her dog Rudy walk every day unless the temperature drops below 20 degrees. Presently, she lives on five acres in the country with her husband and golden retriever.
There’s been some recent internet controversy over the value of self-publishing, and it’s really gotten me thinking about the whole process. Since I do self-publish and I am a member of a community that still predominately promotes the traditional publishing route, I wanted to add my voice to those indie authors trying to explain the value in self-publishing.
The easiest way for me to describe the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing in today’s market would be to compare it to doing the dishes by hand versus with a dishwasher. The end result is still clean dishes either way as long as all the steps are followed. The difference isn’t the amount of work you put into the process, but where, when, and how you put the work in. The dishwasher is all about the prep. You need to rinse the dishes and maybe presoak the pots. Washing by hand is all about the elbow-grease while scrubbing in the water.
To me, traditional publishing is like using the dishwasher. To have success, a large amount of up front prep work is needed. Synopsis refinement, query letters, and verbal pitches are often all part of the pre-publication process. However, once accepted, the traditional publishing machine takes over the brunt of the work, with the exception of manuscript revisions and shared marketing.
Self-publishing is like hand washing the dishes. I can skip the dreaded query process and the writing of the synopsis and go straight to working with the copy/line editors, proofreaders, and cover designers. Only, I have more control over each step to buff the manuscript into the story born in my head. Much like handwashing the pots, I don’t stop buffing until the manuscript meets my satisfaction.
The biggest source of contention in self-publishing is the missing validation of the work by the “gate keepers,” the acquiring editors who exist in traditional publishing. It is wrong to believe self-publishing does not have “gate keepers” like traditional publishing. It does. Only it’s a large group of people who hold that position. Readers. They are the ones who validate the manuscripts published. If my book isn’t good, the readers will say so through the lack of reviews, negative reviews, or through low to no sales.
I’m not here to tell anyone that one route is better than the other but only to say both routes have value. Both take a large amount of work to produce a professional book at the end. Yes, some self-published authors may skip steps that result in less than professional work. But, both methods should have the opportunity to provide the same amount of credibility in the publishing community based on the success of the final work in the market.
I have three kids and have raised them to avoid using words like ever, never, and always because there are usually exceptions that make the use of them untrue. Likewise, I would advise not to label the self-publishing process as only good for producing subpar works. Success can be found in self-publishing, just like in traditional publishing.
On a side note, although I’m self-published, the dishwasher does my dishes.
by: Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. An avid reader she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.
The 2016 WisRWA Write Touch Readers Award Winners are announced! This contest is for books published in 2015. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the contest was not completed in its usual time frame. We are delighted, however, to finally have the winners for this contest.
Without further ado, congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Write Touch Readers Award contest!
*** = WisRWA member
Contemporary, Long 84,000 words or more (includes series and single title)
A Winter Wedding
by: Brenda Novak
Contemporary, Mid-length 56,000-84,00 words (includes series and single title)
Power Privilege & Pleasure: Queens of Kings: Book 4
Fiction With Romantic Elements
by: Bev Pettersen
The Gunslinger and the Heiress
by: Kathryn Albright ***
by: Tessa McFionn ***
by: Barb Raffin ***
Author, professional certified coach, and teacher Rochelle Melander has helped thousands of people overcome writer’s block, write more, turn their ideas into books, navigate the publishing world, and use speaking and social media to reach their readers. She’s the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It). She will be the featured speaker at the Milwaukee area meeting on January 21, 2017. Milwaukee Area Contact, Jennifer Rupp, spoke with Rochelle about social media and it’s importance to a writer’s platform.
How important do you think Social Media is to marketing your brand or your novels?
Social media provides unique opportunities for writers and readers to connect. Before social media, authors had to travel to bookstores and libraries to meet readers. Fans who lived in remote areas rarely had an opportunity to connect with authors. Social media transformed all of that. Now, anyone can connect with their favorite authors. And writers can build relationships with their fan base. And that’s crucial in today’s publishing world.
Publishers are spending less time and money marketing their books. Indie publishing has flooded the market with books. Authors need to use multiple tools to connect with readers and sell books. Social media marketing is an essential part of any marketing plan.
That said, authors need to use social media in multiple ways. In addition to research and building connections with other authors and publishing professionals, authors can use social media to develop relationships with readers and market their books.
As a coach, I recommend that writers spend more time building relationships with readers than promoting their books. Authors who focus solely on self-promotion can annoy colleagues and readers. And I’ve heard several agents say that a negative social media reputation is worse than none at all.
Approximately how much time per week or per day would you recommend investing in Social Media marketing or promotion?
This depends on the writer and their current social media goals. When writers are pre-publication or between publications, I recommend they use social media to:
During a book marketing cycle, authors might participate in a blog tour, advertise on various sites, run book giveaways, offer freebies to readers, and more.
I recommend that writers set a social media goal for the week or month, depending on what task they’re working on. Then, they can set aside time each day to work on these goals. For a writer who wants to build their platform, I would recommend spending a couple of hours strategizing. Once they have a social media plan, they can schedule time each day to accomplish their goals.
For a writer who is simply building a platform, I think 15-30 minutes a day is a reasonable amount of time to spend connecting on social media. For writers who are in a marketing cycle—promoting a book or other product—they might spend an hour or more a day working on social media. Of course, tools like Hootsuite and Buffer can increase one’s efficiency and save time.
How do you reach or convince authors who might resist the use of Social Media?
Most authors resist social media because they feel overwhelmed. They might feel comfortable with one tool, like Facebook, but confused by Twitter or Instagram. I encourage authors to begin by building relationships on a single social media site. Once they feel comfortable on that site and see the results it offers, they’re more willing to try other sites.
How has social media helped you?
I’ve been publishing books for a long time, all through traditional publishers. Since social media, my sales have increased and my network has expanded. Readers who were fans before social media have sought me out on Facebook and Twitter and connected with me. I’ve developed new readers around the world through my presence on Twitter and other social media sites. I’ve also been able to connect with some of my favorite authors, building a wonderful network of colleagues.
What other kind of work do you do with authors?
My work with authors falls into three categories: supporting their process, strategizing around their product, and editing their work. Many authors come to me because they feel blocked or frustrated by the writing process. They have ideas but can’t find the time to write or overcome their fears and self-doubt. I’ve discovered that there are no blanket solutions. I work with each author to evaluate their situation, understand their particular blocks, and discover a solution that will help them write more. I also work extensively with nonfiction authors who need help planning books that boost their business. Other authors approach me to strategize their publishing and marketing plans. We work together to craft query letters or book proposals, develop a social media marketing plan, and connect with readers. Finally, I also do developmental editing for both novels and nonfiction books, supporting writers in creating books that sell.
We hope you will join us for Rochelle’s program on Writing and Social Media. She will be speaking at the Milwaukee area WisRWA meeting on January 21, 2017 in the Community Room at Mayfair Mall. To learn more about Rochelle Melander, visit her online at writenowcoach.com and follow her on Twitter (@WriteNowCoach).
Need a cure for the winter doldrums? Come to the Chippewa Falls area meeting in January to discuss Candace Havens’s “High Concept Story Writing,” and strategies for using it in your own projects. This program is open to WisRWA members from anywhere in the state. Not a WisRWA member, but interested in seeing what we’re about? You’re invited to join us too. See all the details below.
The new year is here and that means the 2017 Fabulous Five Contest is open for entries! If you’re unpublished or self-published, polish your first 2,500 words and enter today.
First round judges evaluate the entry on the Opening, Characterization, Plot, Dialogue, Setting, and Style. In its 26th year, our contest is known for giving good, thorough critiques no matter what level of the writing journey you are at. The top five finalists in each category move onto the final round where their work is ranked by one editor and one agent. Final rankings are averaged and the winner of each category receives a beautiful Silver Quill Award.
The categories this year include:
For more information including the complete rules, score sheet, and how to enter, please see the Fabulous Five page. If you have any questions, please contact Molly Maka, Fabulous Five Contest Coordinator.
So you can handle a 300 page novel, but the very thought of writing a synopsis makes you break out in a cold sweat? Does writing a synopsis stop you from sending out queries to agents and editors? Pretty sure you’re missing the synopsis gene? Liz Czukas can help. Liz will teach you a simple formula for synopsizing with plenty of tips and tricks to help you get through the worst of it. Whether you’ve got a synopsis you’re currently struggling with or you just know you’ve got one looming in your future, this workshop is for you. They don’t call her The Synopsis Whisperer for nothing!
We had an opportunity to catch up with Liz and asked her to tell us a little more about how she deals with the dreaded SYNOPSIS.
WisRWA: Tell us a little about your publishing journey.
Liz: I am a slush pile success story! It took a lot of mistakes and rejections, and a few trunked novels before I finally attracted the attention of my awesome literary agent. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows after I had an agent on my side, either! It took a few books before we made my first sale. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have 5 books published. My current YA books were published by Harper Teen, and my adult romances are with Ballantine and Loveswept. I’ve also sold in foreign territories. It’s been an exciting few years in publishing, and I can’t wait to see where my career goes next!
WisRWA: I bet you don’t even have to write a synopsis anymore!
Liz: Ha! I wish! No, on the contrary, I find them more necessary than ever. Especially when it comes to selling a book on proposal. It’s the rare writer who can sell a book on a simple pitch. Most of us have to have sample chapters and a synopsis to make the deal.
WisRWA: So would you say your perception of the dreaded synopsis has changed during your writing career?
Liz: Well, I’ll be honest, I still don’t love them. But they are definitely a necessary part of my process and definitely an essential part of the selling side of the deal. I’ve learned how they can be helpful to me at all stages of writing, and most importantly how to give myself the upper hand in my rather tempestuous relationship with synopses.
WisRWA: What’s your favorite part about being a writer?
Liz: All of it! I can’t believe I’m actually doing what I love for a living. Even when the writing is frustrating, or the business side of the job is making me crazy, the fact that there are readers out there who love my books, and put them on their lists of all-time favorites, and take their time to send me a message or seek me out on social media…it’s like, pinch me! Is this really real?
WisRWA: So what’s next for you?
Liz: I am going to be joining the ranks of hybrid authors for the first time! I’ve got a new YA book coming out in December that I’m really excited about. It’s called Throwing My Life Away, and it’ll be available in ebook and paperback wherever you like to order your books. I’ve got a few other projects in the works that I’m not at liberty to discuss right now, but suffice to say that you haven’t gotten rid of me yet!
Don’t Fear the Synposis with Liz Czukas
Saturday, November 19th at Mayfair Mall Community Room in Milwaukee 9:00am to 11:30am
Liz Czukas is the author of books for teens like Ask Again Later, Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless, and the upcoming Throwing My Life Away. She also writes for adults such as When Joss Met Matt, Call Me Maybe, and Just a Girl under the name Ellie Cahill. Before becoming a full-time writer Liz got her bachelor’s degree in History and Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and illogically went on to get a Master’s in Nurse-Midwifery from Marquette University, which she put to good use as a Labor & Delivery nurse for nine years. Liz is a lifelong resident of the Milwaukee area, and currently lives in Brookfield with her family and her golden retriever.
WisRWA’s Fabulous Five Contest will be opening for entries in a few short months. As such, we are pleased to announce our final round judges for the 2017 contest.
Editor: Meghan Ferrell – Tule Publishing
Agent: Rachel Burkot – Holloway Literary Agency
Lexi Smail – Grand Central Publishing
Lisa Rodgers – JABberwocky Literary Agency
Shana Asaro – Harlequin Love Inspired
Jessica Kirkland – Blythe Daniels Agency
Theresa Cole – Entangled Publishing
Tricia Skinner – Fuse Literary Agency
Tara Gavin – Kensington Publishing Corp
Jennifer March Soloway – Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Caitlin Dareff – St. Martin’s Press
Sarah Phair – Trident Media Group
Young Adult/New Adult
Mekisha Telfer – Simon and Schuster
Shannon Powers – McIntosh and Otis
Coming in to its 26th year, this contest is open to unpublished and self-published writers so long as the entry has never been published before. Focusing on the first 2,500 words of a manuscript, first round judges evaluate the entry on the Opening, Characterization, Plot, Dialogue, Setting, and Style. All judges are encouraged to leave comments on both the scoresheet and in the entry itself. Our contest is known for giving good, thorough critiques no matter what level of the writing journey you are at. The top five finalists in each category move onto the final round where their work is ranked by one editor and one agent. Final rankings are averaged and the winner of each category receives a beautiful Silver Quill Award.
The contest opens on January 1, 2017 and will accept entries through March 1, 2017 at 11:59 PM CST. Categories need a minimum of 10 entries to continue and are capped 35 entries.
Information will be on the WisRWA website under the Contests tab by the end of November. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Contest Coordinator, Molly Maka, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WisRWA’s Chapter Service Award is all about VOLUNTEERISM. It’s about serving the organization and its members as chapter leaders, such as serving on the WisRWA Board or as an Area Contact. The award is also about serving in the trenches and volunteering in many different capacities over the time of active membership in WisRWA.
WisRWA remains healthy and strong as a helpful, mentoring professional organization for novice writers as well as published ones because members step up to fill a need when necessary. We have so many ways to serve and each position, small in its scope or large and demanding in its tasks, provides those members who accept the challenge so much more than they give. For example, name recognition, getting to know much better other WisRWA members, learning exactly what it takes to keep this organization efficient and useful to writers from novice to best seller.
One of the best methods for honing our skills as writers is to interact with other writers. Writing can be very isolating which is why having an opportunity to expand our frame of reference and meet others writers by offering a helping hand where we can provides so much for so little.
The two recipients for the Chapter Service Awards given at the October 8th Fall Writers’ Workshop exemplify all the above characteristics. As past recipients of this award, committee members found making a choice as to which nominee was most deserving of this award very difficult. We were thankful that past practice has, on occasion, awarded two nominees. That was our choice. Both women are continuing to serve WisRWA and its members in the coming year and exemplify what makes WisRWA strong.
The 2015 WisRWA’s Chapter Service Award are Kristin Bayer and Molly Maka.
In 2010, Kristin Bayer joined WisRWA and immediately volunteered when asked to help in various ways. Most significantly was 2013 when she assumed the presidency of WisRWA on short notice because of an unexpected vacancy. She served ably in that position–traveling around the state to visit and get to know members along with mentoring board members, sub-committee members, and general members with questions.
She stayed active on the board as past president giving her expertise to new members. More recently when the chapter had another unexpected vacancy on the board, she stepped forward to handle social media pages and news blasts, the WisRWA website and other communication issues. WisRWA is better for its members because of Kristen’s volunteer character trait.
In the words of her nominators, “she’s effectively filled gaps wherever she’s seen them with her incredible spirit of service.” And, “through her faithful leadership, Kristin has seen WisRWA through uncertain times and made the organization thrive.”
Molly Maka has volunteered to help at every conference during her ten-year membership, given workshops on historical reenacting and historical costuming, attends meetings regularly, hosts events in her home, and is a “constant cheerleader for the success of our membership.”
Molly has done a fantastic job as the contest coordinator for the WisRWA Fab 5 contest. She has worked diligently to ensure the contest had the judges it needed (both preliminary and final) to be a success. Her experience as a contest judge, then a category coordinator, helped her gain the expertise to do so.
Recently Molly stepped up to help with WisRWA’s social media and outreach – taking over for a member who abruptly resigned. Molly jumped right in, stepping up to do what she could to strengthen connections within the WisRWA community, as well as build the chapter’s presence on-line. In the past month she once again volunteered and accepted a position on the WisRWA board.
I think we can all agree that doing the proper research makes or breaks a book. Glaringly obvious mentions of places, events or details that haven’t happened yet are akin to all of us Wisconsinites watching Titanic and realizing that Jack Dawson could not have been ice fishing on Lake Wissota in Chippawa Falls in 1912…as there wasn’t a lake yet.
Alright, maybe I’m one of the few that is obsessed with accuracy in any movie I watch, but you get my gist. Research can not only authenticate your world building, but it can imbue your characters with truth, and a genuine placement in their surroundings. Even if you only mention something in passing, it adds a rounded, 3-dimensional depth to protagonists and antagonists alike.
If, say, your novel is set in the Civil War, even if your characters aren’t fighting in battles or even on the same continent, they’d likely hear about it in the news, or people would discuss it in passing, much like we do about major political or social news today. (If I had a quarter for every time my husband came home with a tidbit of celebrity gossip I hadn’t had a chance to hear because…babies…I’d be so rich!) Using research to allow characters to notice details, such as the pattern on the spongeware china, or the particular cut of a bodice, tells your reader that not only are they learning something, but that you did your homework.
I don’t suggest we all dive in as deeply as, say, Jean Auel did. But we can all probably create just one more small layer of richness to our novels. Those handfuls of tiny additions can really add up to one accurate story whether it is the ins and outs of a wedding planner’s job, a more involved description of a hunk’s financial schemes and clients, or the daily lifestyle of an obscure tribe in Antarctica. (I don’t think there are any…but then again, I haven’t done any research.)
So where do we get that research? Certainly the first thing that pops up in Google searches these days is some sort of Wikipedia link to potentially faulty information. But the internet is still one heck of an amazing tool with which we can supplement our information, check our facts, and hone our craft from the comfort of our laptops and pajamas.
With some time, you don’t even need to head to the library, though I’m a full-fledged believer in checking out at least one or two original volumes that might help you with some in-depth research on your most detailed subject. The internet can be completely used for research as long as you do a handful of things:
Beyond the internet hunting, however, discovering information for your book can also be a lot more interesting and interactive. Want to know exactly how to write the language of Pocahontas’ tribe? Reach out to the nation itself and ask for help. Care to get a taste for life in Revolutionary times? Go to a local reenactment (or better yet, ask if you can join in for a weekend in costume). I know Molly Maka has spoken to that notion and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Or at the very least, reach out to a few of the groups on Facebook and inquire about your needs – many old-timers will be more than loquacious enough for you.
Do your characters have a specific trade or job? Run in circles you don’t touch? Reach out via Facebook, LinkedIn, or even through your own network to get some good insight. We are authors, but we are also observers and questioners – we wonder, wait, watch and then write.
Remember when you do reach out to be:
This is not to add to the never-ending list of requirements aspiring or published authors have already. I’m merely hoping that this is just a nudge to remind you of easy and relatively painless and quick ways to incorporate accurate details in your novels and manuscripts to add flavor, desire and depth.
by Sara Dahmen
Sara Dahmen is the award-winning author of Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, a metalsmith, American cookware designer and manufacturer, and a mom. You can reach her @saradahmenbooks or at email@example.com. Her next novel, a romantic drama, Wine & Children, is due out by November 2016.