Posted in For Authors

Chemistry and Tension Writing Rule: Bring Out the Rocks!

Clinic Rule Chemistry and Tension 1

I began the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic as a means for sharing what I’ve gleaned over the years concerning content editing. I learn best by example and like to use memorable rules to help myself remember how to avoid particular pitfalls that I’ve read in books or that have been exposed in my own writing. For years the rules have been hidden in a shared document between myself and Dana Kamstra.
These “rules,” while being helpful, can be ignored if the author desires. I never want to set something up as an unbreakable rule. I certainly have not invented the art of fiction writing. However, each of the rules are meant to be guidelines to help you stay away from troublesome areas.
You’ll find a live video within the Facebook Clinic group discussing this writing rule.

This month, we’re looking at one of the Chemistry and Tension problems.

Symptoms: Lack of tension, Reader not invested in the story, Reader not caring about what happens, Boring, Reader being able to put the book down and
forget about the story, Shallow tension

Have you ever read a book and was so drawn to the story that you couldn’t wait to pick it back up? Maybe you even thought about the characters while you were away. Or maybe you contemplated how they’d get out the jam they were in or how you’d get out if you were them.
It was a great book, wasn’t it?

Now stop and consider a book that you read where you felt just the opposite. You never thought about the characters and their problems when you weren’t reading. Maybe you even set it down for good and never regretted not knowing what happened to them.

Why is that? What makes one book so thrilling and the other so optional? What keeps you turning the pages late into the night when you know you should have already gone to bed?


Tension in real life isn’t all that pleasant. But tension in fiction … that’s the key to the entire genre.

There are a lot of different ways we authors can hiccup in the tension/chemistry department but one of the basics is simply forgetting to add conflict.

Ouch. If the entire genre hinges on great tension and we forget to add it, we’ve created something bland instead of something exciting. It’ll read like a good little girl’s diary instead of the page-turning, action-packed drama that we were hoping for.

If nothing happens … then nothing is happening.
I don’t mean to sound redundant but it really is that simple.
But what do we do about it? And how can we tell if we’ve slipped up and sorta forgot to add tension?

Here’s your answer: You bring out the rocks.

Dana is often quoting this concept to me … which proves that we all need to be reminded to keep the pot stirred and the drama bubbling. Here’s the visual for you:
Your job as the author is to chase your character up a tree, then throw rocks at them.

I’m serious! And don’t you dare feel sorry for them either!

You can’t protect your characters just because you love them. If you love them, let them suffer! Chase them up a tree (in a position where they can’t get out) and throw rocks at them (problem after problem), and in due time you’ll help them down and bind their wounds but not before you’ve made them suffer.

Making your characters suffer is your sole purpose and the reason why everyone bought a ticket to the show. It’s like showing up at a Roman Colosseum but not seeing anyone fed to the lions.

When the time is right, you’ll bring them down, bind their wounds, and lead them to their happily-ever-after.
But not yet!
Right now,  you’re a troublemaker. You’re an instigator. You’re a bully with a rock and a good aim. USE IT.

Sometimes we simply forget to add conflict.
Sometimes we chase them up a tree but quickly put up a ladder and help them right back down.
Sometimes we love them and want to shelter them, so we chase them to the tree but never force them up the tree or even consider grabbing a rock.

So take inventory of your current draft. Has your character been chased up a tree and into a position where there’s no easy way out?
Have you thrown rock after rock at them when they were helpless?
Giving them one problem then fixing it for them isn’t adding tension, it’s keeping your character weak and your tension shallow. And it’s boring your readers to tears.

Tension is the one thing that the fiction genre has that no other genre can claim. Religious books, cookbooks, how-to’s, biographies … none of these are tension driven. Only in fiction will you find book after book after book with varying degrees of tension.
So doesn’t it stand to reason that if fiction was the only one to offer tension, that we’d better be using it?

Here are a couple quotes to keep in your back pocket: 

“Trouble is your business; make more of it!” -James Scott Bell

“Write the tough stuff! It’s going to be great!” – Christy Gragg


Posted in For Authors

Author Interference Writing Rule: Mother Hen Knows Best

Clinic Rule Author Interference 1

I began the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic as a means for sharing what I’ve gleaned over the years concerning content editing. I learn best by example and like to use memorable rules to help myself remember how to avoid particular pitfalls that I’ve read in books or that have been exposed in my own writing. For years the rules have been hidden in a shared document between myself and Dana Kamstra.
These “rules” while being helpful can be ignored if the author desires. I never want to set something up as an unbreakable rule. I certainly have not invented the art of fiction writing. However, each of the rules are meant to be guidelines to help you stay away from troublesome areas.
You’ll find a live video within the Facebook Clinic group discussing this writing rule.

This month in the Clinic, the topic has been Critique Partners. So I wanted to offer the first official rule from the troubleshooting file because it’s not like the other rules. This one is a little more personal.

Symptoms: Argumentative, Denial, Clinging to a particular idea

The Mother Hen Knows Best rule is meant to zero in on the author who is refusing to see the truth about her draft. This is the sort of problem that typically only surfaces during the critiquing/revising process.

You might be the author who has dug in her heels and refused advice. Or you might be working with an author who is refusing to see reason.

If you’re the author, recognizing that you’re guarding your baby should cause you to snap out of it and think a little longer before tossing aside the valued advice of your critiquer.

But if you’re the critiquer, you might gently let them know that they’re being a little overly protective of an unfinished draft. Try to encourage them to pray and to give the draft a little more space before making any final decisions.

This rule came into existence because I WAS the mother hen. I forget now if it was me or Dana who had created the rule, but it’s something that we both point back to.
Sometimes feedback just doesn’t jive with your plans. Sometimes you just want to keep things the way they are.

Over the years, I’ve had to admit that I was being the mother hen and needed to back off and think objectively instead of like the creator.
What would I have said if I was reading this draft and it wasn’t mine? If I would expect someone else to make the revision, then why wouldn’t I?

After being honest about being overly protective, it opens the door for me to dig deeper into why I’m so against a particular change. And it allows me to be honest with Dana and myself about what is holding me back.

From there, we’re able to work together to find a way to fix it. Maybe I DO just need to come to terms with the problem and fix it as suggested. But sometimes, we can find a different alteration that can bridge the gap between what I want and what the story needs.

But the mother hen is too occupied with protecting her baby that she can’t consider the other options around her. Learning to let go and at least consider the options are the first steps for a mother hen.

While the other rules in the troubleshooting file focus on the draft, the Mother Hen Knows Best rule focuses on the heart and attitude of the author. So keep this one in your back pocket. I promise you, it’ll only be a matter of time before you find yourself with a death grip on your manuscript.

*As mentioned in the Critique Partner series, the author is not obligated to take 100% of the suggestions offered. A general rule of thumb is that you’ll likely accept 80-90%. I don’t think I’ve ever accepted 100% of the feedback from any of my drafts. So don’t feel like you have to. But this rule is meant for those times when the problem is more obvious to everyone except the author.

Posted in For Authors

Critique Partners: Part 3

Critique 3This month in the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic we’re focusing on critique partners. I want to share some things that I’ve gleaned over the years.
Note: I’m using the phrase critique partner but this applies to beta readers or whoever else reads and offers feedback to an unfinished work with the intent on shaping the draft. This does not include grammar or line editors.

The Critique Partner series will be broken into 3 parts.
Part 1: How to find a critique partner and how to be a good critique partner
Part 2: Preparing yourself for feedback and what to do with the feedback once it arrives
Part 3: Dealing with hard to swallow feedback and conflicting feedback

Processing Hard Feedback:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Everyone hears it
~ Do you want to publish just to publish or do you want a great story?
~ Reviews last forever, hard work will only last for a moment
~ Do the hard stuff; it’s going to be great
~ Never expect perfection
~ It’s not personal
~ Your critique partner is on your side

Everyone hears it:
There’s something comforting in realizing that you’re not alone. If the greats are being corrected, then why shouldn’t you be? If your favorite author stares down criticism and pushes her way through to a wonderful story, then why can’t you?
Once you grasp that you’re not alone, that every book you’ve ever enjoyed had been through the wringer, then you can let the pain roll off of you and get back to work. Being distracted by your wounded feelings will only keep you from your goal.

It’s not personal:
Despite how you feel, the comments are not personal. Your critiquer still likes YOU, she just thinks you need to dig deeper or clean up your writing style. So don’t take it to heart.

They’re on your side:
Instead of taking it to heart, side with  your critiquer and view the draft as the “enemy.” Correct the draft. They really do want to see you publish your best story. An honest critiquer is hard to find, so don’t feel bullied when you have one. Listen and learn. They only want to help you. And the story you love so much is worth it.

Do the hard work:
Listen. The simple fact is that a great story IS hard work. If writing is too easy, you’re doing it wrong. I guarantee you that if writing has become too easy, simply switching critique partners will change that for you. You’ll suddenly be challenged and stretched.
Don’t cheat yourself, your beloved characters, or your readers with a story only half done because you rushed the publication process. Put in your best effort. And if that means you sweat a little and take months longer to complete the novel, then so be it. Reviews will last forever, the work will not.


What to do with conflicting feedback:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Listen
~ Pray
~ Consider the results of both options
~ Re-examine your story’s purpose
~ Consider the level of expertise offered by the critiquers
~ Just because only 1 person says it, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
~ It’s ultimately your story and your decision. Never forget that.
~ If a reviewer made the same comment would you be upset?

Listen and pray:
Just like in our other sections, pausing to process, listen, and pray is vital. There’s no need to rush into anything.

Consider the results of both options:
Sometimes there is no “wrong” answer, there are just two different options. So take time to truly consider both options. How would your story change if you did A? How would it change if you did B?

Re-examine your story’s purpose:
After you’ve taken some time to consider how A and B would change your story, you need to take a closer look at your purpose. What is the theme or purpose you really mean to express with this story? Does A or B take you closer to that goal or further away from it? Is your original goal still the goal you want? Maybe after considering one of the options you realize that the change takes you further away from your original goal but closer to what you’ve now discovered you want to express.
It’s okay to change your mind. And it’s okay if you choose not to change your mind. The key is to KNOW without a shadow of a doubt what you mean to do with this story and challenging your ideas is never a bad thing. Weigh your options. Test the ideas. Then make a decision.

It’s your story:
While it’s healthy to challenge your ideas, in the end, it’s your story. As my friend often reminds me, she only has an opinion but it’s my name that has to be on the cover.  YOU had better be pleased with the outcome.  Don’t feel bad if you go in a different direction. Sometimes that happens.
The important thing is that you took the time to weigh your options before brushing an idea aside. Your critique partner should respect that.

If a reviewer made the same comment your critiquer did, would that upset you?
I have personally faced this in my writing. My critique partner said that my plot needed more tension. And she wasn’t wrong. After examining the types of tension I could add, I did add some but kept it fairly light because to add more would have taken me away from my intended goal. I did decide to set her advice aside for the most part and press on. And I have heard from the occasional reviewer who agrees with her. And you know something, it doesn’t bother me. If I hadn’t been challenged beforehand, the reviewer comments might have upset me. But I could agree with their comment and walk away with confidence knowing that, while I saw what they were saying, I did what I meant to do and wouldn’t have chosen differently.
Your critiquer is your first line of defense. So listen closely. The next person to say it just might be a reviewer. How would you feel if it was?

There’s not always power in numbers:
There’s a reason why we hear conflicting advice, and it’s because we have differing strengths. While it’s a must to take note of repeated comments, don’t be so quick to brush aside the lone ranger comment. There’s a reason you’ve asked this person to critique your work. They’re not stupid. And if they’ve worked for you in the past, their opinion should hold even more weight with you. Sometimes only 1 person can see the problem but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. So tread lightly and take time to pray for wisdom and clarity.

Consider the level of expertise:
Let’s say you have 2 conflicting critiquers. It’s possible that both are right. But it’s also possible that one is wrong and one is right. But who? Maybe one says she loves it as is while the other said it was shallow.
Consider the level of expertise being offered here. Again, you asked them on your team for a reason. Could it be that the author is pointing out a problem while the reader is praising it as is? If you find yourself in this position, you’d be wise to side with the author in most cases. And the reason is that they’re qualified. They’ve studied the craft. It stands without reason that they’ll pick up more than the average reader will.

Posted in For Authors

Critique Partners: Part 2

Critique 2This month in the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic we’re focusing on critique partners. I want to share some things that I’ve gleaned over the years.
Note: I’m using the phrase critique partner but this applies to beta readers or whoever else reads and offers feedback to an unfinished work with the intent on shaping the draft. This does not include grammar or line editors.

The Critique Partner series will be broken into 3 parts.
Part 1: How to find a critique partner and how to be a good critique partner
Part 2: Preparing yourself for feedback and what to do with the feedback once it arrives
Part 3: Dealing with hard to swallow feedback and conflicting feedback

Prepare Yourself for Feedback:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Expect to be challenged
~ Pray for yourself
~ Pray for the critiquer
~ Remember the 1st draft is a jumping-off point
~ Never expect perfection

Never expect perfection:
The biggest mistake authors make is thinking that their story is perfect as is. I admit I’ve been guilty here. The truth is, we work and work and work on that draft. We wouldn’t pass it along to a critique partner unless we knew it was ready (unless, of course, we knew it wasn’t and needed their help finding the problem). Because we brought it to a place where we thought it was ready, we’re prone to believe there will be no corrections to make. And THAT will hurt you when the feedback comes rolling in and you’re proven wrong.

It’s a jumping-off point:
The first draft isn’t meant to be the final draft. It’s meant to be the first solid place for you to launch. If you can establish this mindset now while your draft is out, you’ll be prepared to hear what needs to be changed.

Expect to be challenged:
You should EXPECT your partner to have work for you to do. And if your partners have little to no work for you, it’s a good sign that you’ve outgrown them. The more you grow as an author, the more you’re going to need to be challenged. That’s why it’s vital that you don’t stick with only your momma and favorite readers as critique partners. They don’t have the skill set to help you to improve any more than you already have. You need writers who are also learning and growing in the craft to help you find where you can continue to grow. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that you’ll arrive someday. Every great book, every talented author, is proof that drafts are revised again and again.

Pray for your critiquers to have clarity and to be able to explain to you what the problems are. Pray for a blessing on their time. They’re doing you a big favor! Pray for them to have the courage to speak up and point out what they find. It’s not easy to give painful truth with grace. So pray for them. (Note: If your partner cannot be honest with you, drop them! The #1 goal of a critique partner is to be faithfully honest.)
And don’t forget to pray for yourself! You’re about to have the rug pulled out from underneath you. Feedback is coming that may very well knock you back and make you question your path as a writer. You’re going to need to be protected. You need to know that you can survive this. You need the ability to accept what they’re saying and to truly listen. You need to be able to take sides against your work as if the draft is the enemy and not your critiquer. You’re going to need some thick skin. You’ll need clarity.
There are verses all throughout Proverbs about a wise man accepting advice or rebuke. One of my favorites is Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Find and pray over these verses while your draft is out.


What to do with feedback:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Read it and set it aside
~ Do NOT touch it
~ Take notes
~ Look for common comments
~ Separate minor and major comments, then tackle separately

Read it and set it aside:
Step one is to simply read it. Don’t expect you’ll understand everything or agree with everything. Your first job is to simply read what is written. That’s it.

Do NOT touch it:
Seriously. Walk away. Don’t start dismantling the entire draft. Just set it aside.
How long? That depends. You might come back after a few hours or the next day. Chances are the seeds have been planted since you read it and you’ll begin mulling over the comments, especially anything that confused you or something you didn’t agree with. Let things marinate for a little bit before picking it back up.

Take notes:
Your next step after your break is to read it again. This time take a piece of paper with you and just jot down some notes. Not every note, but some things that stood out to you. Maybe the comments kept pointing out that something was wrong with your heroine. You’re still not ripping it to shreds, but you’re wading through it. You’re still processing what has been said. Jot down questions you have for the critiquer.

This is so vital. Don’t throw it away. Don’t fistfight your critiquer. Just listen. Hear what they’re saying. Take sides against your draft and see if they’re actually right. A lot of times they are. But you’re not going to think they’re right the first time you hear what they’ve said. It’ll be later when you begin to see things differently. That’s why taking a break is so vital.

Look for common comments:
Ideally, you’re working with more than 1 critiquer. Look for those common threads. If everyone points to your heroine in some way or another, you know you have a problem. They may say something different but if your attention is drawn again and again to something, it’s a clear trouble area.

Separate minor and major comments:
Minor comments would be something that can be cleared up in a single line or single paragraph. It might be missing a detail or confusing line. Maybe a telling line that can be shown instead.
Major comments will require larger widespread rewrites. You’ll have to dig deeper into your character development and weave more detail throughout the story. You might have to cut or add chapters. You might be adjusting your plot and outline.
After you’ve read it a couple times, read through it again and start separating the comments. Make a list for major and minor revisions. Pending on the major revisions, you might want to start there if you have a lot of rewriting to do. But sometimes getting the quicker list done is a confidence boost. There’s no wrong way. Both need to be done, so whatever works best for you and your draft is acceptable.
Personally, when critiquing I like to highlight and comment directly on the draft. This is a great way to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. Consider the difference in getting only a summary letting you know that you need more tension compared to finding notes inside the story pointing out various places where tension was lacking.
But when I’m finished reading, the big picture problems are standing out to me, so while I have some notes on the subject sprinkled throughout the draft, I’ll also summarize the problems and praise in an email as I send it back. I’ll let them know that there’s a tension problem and add more detailed information if it isn’t already in one of the comments in the document. I also take the time to leave praises throughout the document as I come it and I’ll summarize some of their strengths in the email too.
My critique partners follow the same pattern. That’s a freebie for anyone who isn’t sure what to expect from a great critique partner or who is attempting to be a critique partner for the first time and aren’t sure how best to help out.

Posted in For Authors

Critique Partners: Part 1

Critique 1This month in the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic we’re focusing on critique partners. I want to share some things that I’ve gleaned over the years.
Note: I’m using the phrase critique partner but this applies to beta readers or whoever else reads and offers feedback to an unfinished work with the intent on shaping the draft. This does not include grammar or line editors.

The Critique Partner series will be broken into 3 parts.
Part 1: How to find a critique partner and how to be a good critique partner
Part 2: Preparing yourself for feedback and what to do with the feedback once it arrives
Part 3: Dealing with hard to swallow feedback and conflicting feedback

How to Find the Right Partner:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Look within your genre for readers
~ Look within reader groups online
~ Work with a mix of readers and writers
~ Don’t work with people who are easily offended
~ When working with a writer, preview their writing first
~ If your critique partners are not challenging you, find someone new!

Work with a mix of readers and writers:
I think it’s normal to start out on the writing journey and have your mom, granny, or other close friend or relative read your work and offer feedback. And that’s not a bad place to start! But it’s not the best place to end. It doesn’t matter how blunt honest your momma can be, unless she’s an author, she’s not going to know the finer details of the craft, and you’re going to need the experience of other authors picking and prodding at your work.
Any author who has had their work brutally revised will become sensitive to the very things they correct in their own work. It’s why authors struggle to simply read a book once they begin revising their own. Once you’ve been taught that something is wrong, you can’t help but trip over it when you see it again later. So when you consult with another author, they bring to you their previous lessons to bear down on your work. They’ll call out what they would correct in themselves.
But a mixture of authors and readers can come in handy. The avid reader is still a devoted reader and will have something to offer. It’s a great first test for your novel to see how it’s connected with readers.

When working with a writer, preview their writing first:
Because we can’t help but point out our own flaws in someone else’s writing, it’s a good idea to make sure you like the author’s work before asking them to look at your draft. Even if you don’t like their writing, they may still have something to teach you, so don’t turn your nose up at them just yet, but it stands to reason that you’ll learn best from authors who write what you’d like to read.
Again, this advice is contradictory because we should be challenged outside of our comfort zone. It’s how we learn to write better. BUT if their style grates against you when you read it, you wouldn’t want to mimic their style. And chances are their feedback in some way or another will steer you in that direction.

Don’t work with easily offended people:
There’s a strange balance with critique partners. They offer their best, honest advice but you’re not required to follow it. It’s best when both the author and the critiquer understands that you’re not obligated to blindly follow their advice. And if the critiquer finds it offensive that you ignored their advice, it’s best not to work with them again in the future.
That being said, if you have a critique partner who you ignore large portions of their advice, you should stop and consider why that is. Do you have an unteachable spirit? If so, look for tips on this in Part 2 of the series. If the critiquer is constantly offering you advice that moves your story away from where you had envisioned it, you’ll have to ask yourself why. There are likely 2 reasons: 1) Their vision is not your vision and you’ll need to drop them. 2) You need to strongly consider some solid changes in your story. They may be pointing out major flaws that you’re unwilling to listen to.  Part 2 and 3 of this series will address these areas.

Where should you find a critique partner:
You’ve decided that you need more than your granny, but you don’t know where to look. Here are some ideas.
Writer or critique groups. You may find a local group or an online group.
Mingle online in reader groups. You’ll find authors and readers there.
The key is to look within your genre. If you find a suspense author to read your women’s fiction, she may have some things to teach you but she’ll have some expectations that your story should not live up to. So it’s important to work with someone who understands the expectations of that genre.
Goodreads and Facebook have active reader groups where you can find someone.

How to fish for critiquers:
It’s best if you’re already mingling in these groups and chatting up books that you love that have nothing to do with your own work. This will create a friendly image. Someone the people in the group already recognize and maybe even relate to.
When it’s time to ask for readers, simply throw a line out there! Make sure it’s within the group’s laws to seek critiquers in the group. Each group has different rules. You can ask the admins if you’re unsure.
Start a post. Let people know what you’re needing. Something similar to:
I have a Christian Suspense novel that I’d love some feedback on. It is 78,000 words long. It’s about a mouse outrunning a cat. And a cat who is outrunning a fox. …
And when people start responding, check them out!! Make sure they actually read suspense. Check to find out how many books they typically read in a month. Some people just want a free story. If the person reads 4 or more books a month, they’re likely fast readers and will get to it and get back to you. If they read 1 book every other month, they’re not fast readers and may not get back to you at all.
Be sure to let them know when you’d hope to hear back from them. And then go check up on them! Generally, you should probably give them a month to read and get back to you.
But understand that readers are looking for a good time. So while they can be a help, you’re likely to hear vague feedback from them. While an author is most likely to offer detailed feedback. They’ll likely tell you which technique you’re not applying in your work.

Personally, I work with a variety of critiquers and I do it in 2 stages.
Stage 1: My toughest critic. I start off holding nothing back. I have a writing partner who can analyze the draft in great detail. She’ll help me see my plot holes or other inconsistencies.
Stage 2: I use a mix of readers and writers. If there were any conflicting ideas from stage 1, now is the time to test them out. These readers help clean the story up even further, but the biggest part of the work is behind me.
Once I’ve revised the draft based on their feedback, I send it off to grammar/line editing. My critique partners might point out a few grammar errors but it’s not their main focus.
Note: It’s not recommended to spend a lot of time on grammar while the bulk of the story is still subject to change. Correct things as you find them, but NEVER pay for a grammar editor until you’ve made all the changes you intend to make. This process is meant to cut out or add in new scenes and characters. You may be rewriting an entire section of your story. So focus on the big stuff here then focus on the little stuff later.


How to be a good critique partner:

Fast and Free Tips:
~ Begin with praise, offer feedback, and end with praise
~ Keep in mind the genre you’re reading
~ Be as detailed as possible
~ Don’t be easily offended
~ Be available to troubleshoot or further explain
~ Don’t work with someone who argues or is easily offended

The Key:
Remember that you’re also an author! Treat people how you would want to be treated! If you can stick to this guideline, you’ll be just fine.

Sandwiching Criticism:
Feedback is going to hurt. It’s just part of the process. But you don’t have to make it hurt any more than necessary. So drop compliments throughout the draft. If you like a line, TELL THE AUTHOR! The same way you’d highlight a remark and tell them it stunk, tell them you loved it! Those compliments will go a long way when they hear your feedback and question whether they should continue writing.
When offering feedback in paragraph form, compliment them first, then offer the hard facts, then follow up with another compliment. And don’t lie to them, either! Take time to examine what they did do right. Maybe their characters are weak but they have a good handle on the setting or description. Be sure to tell them that.

Keep in mind the genre you’re reading:
We’re not experts in all genres, so keep that in mind. If you’re reading slightly out of your norm, consider what the norm is for that genre. YA is different from Historical fiction. If you’re not certain, be honest. Don’t make your comment sound like an unbreakable rule.

Be as detailed as possible:
Sometimes we don’t know what to say or how to say it. But other times we know exactly what the problem is, we just don’t take the time to embellish it. Don’t just tell them that this line is weak, tell them WHY it’s weak. How could they change it to make it stronger? If they have a reoccurring problem, stop and talk to them about how to fix it. YOU might know what to do, but they likely don’t or they wouldn’t have written it that way.

Be available:
Again, how would you want to be treated? If someone gave you vague feedback and you needed to hash some things out with them, wouldn’t you appreciate being able to talk with them? Don’t drop your feedback in their lap then disappear. Be willing to talk or just let them talk. Sometimes they have to verbalize some things before coming to a conclusion.

Don’t be offended:
You’ve offered your advice but it’s their name on the cover. If they choose to ignore you, don’t take it to heart. Hopefully, they thought long and hard about that decision before making it, but either way, it’s not on you. You’ve done your duty.

Don’t work with someone who argues:
Now, every author is prone to getting their feelings hurt at some time or another. I admit that I cling to certain ideas more than I should and have to be talked down step by step. But there’s a difference in someone who is willing to learn and just needs time to process and someone who will fight you over offending their precious messy baby. You can’t work with someone who doesn’t want to learn. It’s sad but true. Some people only want to be told that they’re right and never wrong. They aren’t willing to wrestle with plot points in the trenches. They just want to rush through their story and see it printed.
So step out of their way! It’s hard and it hurts to watch them ruin themselves but it’s not worth it to try to change them. If they have an argumentative spirit, let them go.
For the most part, people will be wounded but willing to grow. They will accept 90% of your feedback but cling to that one thing. There’s still hope for a working relationship there as long as they aren’t lashing out at you for your comments. And that’s really the key. If they’re lashing out, it’s not worth your time.



Posted in For Authors

Author Branding and Yearly Cleanout Checklist

Over in the Facebook group, Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic, we’re looking at cleaning up our author branding. You can join us in the group and catch the Facebook Live when we chat about this very subject. You can also join in with the group during the weekly challenges to help keep yourself accountable. FB Live: Tues 1/7/20 @ 1pm central

There’s a slew of information out there about how to brand yourself as an author, and while I’ve taken some courses on this and am prepared to help in a small degree, the bulk of this post isn’t about how to help you find yourself as an author but is a checklist of areas that you may need to comb over to make certain that the author you’re representing is still the author you are today.

Author Branding Overview: 

Since author branding is a hot topic for many, let’s pause and consider what it is and how you might improve upon it before we look at our checklist.
I’ve heard of 2 basic ways to brand the author: brand the book or brand the person. Here’s the quick of it:

Branding the Books: 
This works really well if you’re a single genre brand. Think Sarah Sundin who writes only WWII fiction. She’s able to share historical tidbits related to her era. Her fonts are typically the same (or similar) because they work well for her style of writing. And since her style and era never change, there are certain visual things pertaining to her brand that never need to change.

Branding the Author:
This can work for either the single sub-genre or the multi-genre author. For myself, it’s essential because I write both contemporary and historical. But what does it look like to brand the person instead of the work?
It’s a matter of showcasing who YOU are and what your interests are (in writing and outside of writing). It’s a matter of establishing what it is that you offer the world through your books and making that known. Even when you’re a multi-genre author, there are certain elements that will always stay the same because each work is written by the same person. I’ll admit, it’s harder to determine what you have to offer when you write for various eras/genres. But the key is to remember that you’re still you and you’ll have to dig WAY deep to figure it out.
For an author like Mrs. Sundin who writes in one era only, they may not have to dig very far to figure out what they mean to offer.

How, or WHERE, do we brand ourselves? 
The answer is everywhere in everything. What I’ve come to learn is that true branding happens in the day to day process.
Take a minute and take a look at what you post on your social media platforms. Pause and scroll through your pages.
If you only ever post about your upcoming novel, then you aren’t branding yourself or your work. You’ve become a billboard.
If you’re posting about your personal life, writing process, books you read, and other interests, then you are in fact branding yourself. The question then is what part of you are you showing the world? One of the quick ways to answer that is to ask your friends and followers (especially followers since it’s our social media accounts that are in question here) what they think of when they think of you. If any of your followers have ever tagged you in something because they thought it would interest you, take note because they’re secretly telling you that they believe this is part of your brand.

Fast and Free Tips for Establishing Your Brand: 
Create a vision or Pinterest board of things that interest you.
Ask your followers what they think of when they hear your name.
Scroll your page (personal and professional) and write down the topics you see yourself posting.
Has anyone ever tagged you in a post? Write that down and put a star beside it.
Look at font and color combos. Which style grabs you the most? (If you’re branding off of your genre, you’d want to work within the realm of what works for your genre. But if you’re branding the person, you get to decide what represents you.)
Talk with your faithful readers and street team and ask them to help you understand which elements are always present in your work.
Scan reviews of your books and look for reoccurring comments. Ex: Is it always uplifting? Always a page-turner? Always swoon-worthy? Etc.
Ask yourself some questions. What message do you most want to share? What is your goal for your writing?

NOTE: After you quiz yourself over what you mean for your brand to be, double-check it against what others are picking up. It may be that you think you offer family-friendly fiction but your readers keep commenting on how edgy it feels. Don’t be ashamed if you’re slightly off on what you meant for your brand to be. Sometimes we think we’re putting one version of ourselves out there but our audience is seeing something different.
If your idea of your brand is different than your audience’s idea then you’ll need to make some changes. Consider if you’re simply not putting your brand to practice? Are you posting regularly about the things that make up your brand? If not, get started.
Consider if their idea of you is more accurate? It may be time to rethink who you are as an author.
Or consider if there’s room to marry the two ideas together.

Fast and Free Tips for Putting Your Brand to Work: 
Remember your brand is where you are!
Post about things other than your release.
When making graphics stick to a style of fonts and color schemes.
When sharing quotes, consider your brand. If you’re the swoon-worthy author, posting the kiss scene makes more sense than the inspirational quote that another author might use.
When designing your website, blog, and newsletter be sure it matches your social media side of your brand. Look for the same color and font schemes.
Consider a posting schedule to keep your brand even. (see tip below)

Showcasing Your Brand Through a Posting Schedule:
This is probably my biggest tip for putting the brand into practice. We all want to stay away from the trap of becoming a billboard. But how do we do that?
The key is to understand that you’re more than the mother of that book you keep talking about. So ask yourself, WHO … Are … YOU? (Am I the only one who heard the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland in my head?) So grab a piece of paper and ask yourself this question, and we’ll use little ole me as an example.
I am an author.
I am a Christian.
I am a history lover.
I am an avid reader.
I am a wife and mother.
I have other interests: tea, Jane Austen, the color pink, etc.

With my list in hand, I sat down and considered how often I want to post. When I blogged regularly, I posted on Mondays. When working on Facebook, I’m posting Mon-Fri. So now that I know what categories I can place myself in and how often I want to post, I assign a different category to a different day.

My blog schedule was:
1st Mon: About my Books (NEVER leave this out! Just don’t make it the only thing you post)
2nd Mon: Spiritual post
3rd Mon: Miscellaneous. It was always personal. Maybe my reading list or favorite books. Or a new recipe I was trying.
4th Mon: Historical post.
5th Mon: Either a day to catch up or skip completely.

My Facebook schedule looks a little different:
Mon: #MondayMorningMugs I share the fun mug I’m drinking out of, give a recap of my life or current project, and ask my followers about something going on in their life.
Tues: Fun day! I share a fun game or silly meme. We see a lot of Austen posts on Tuesdays.
Wed: Spiritual day. Either scripture, quote, or song.
Thur: #ThrowbackThursday For a history lover this is like a holiday every week. Sometimes the posts are connected to my research and sometimes they’re not.
Fri: #FictionFriday I share what I’m reading, spotlight other authors, first-line Fridays, etc.

Keeping a schedule in hand helps me to space out my content. Granted, when there’s a release, things are uneven and I’m posting more about the new book. That’s normal. When there’s a sale or giveaway, we’re going to see an increase in those posts. But generally speaking, I wanted to keep my page interactive and featuring more than my personal novel.
What happens if you can’t keep up with your schedule? Either make adjustments so your schedule matches your posting abilities or pick up where you left off. I’m not always able to post daily on Facebook. But when I sit down on a Thursday morning, hoping to post, I’m not searching my brain for a topic because I already have one. And that narrows down my options and helps me not to waste so much time considering what to post. And because there’s so much of my personal life mingled in, I’m slowing establishing my brand.

Branding Cleanout: 

Because the Writers’ Clinic focuses primarily on content revisions, I wanted to focus on cleaning up our branding content. I broke the tasks down over 4 weeks through the month of Jan. Feel free to work ahead, out of order, or to skip whatever you desire.

Week 1: Bios

If you’re like me, you probably have multiple bios circulating. I have a “serious” one for my Amazon page. There’s a fun one for Goodreads and other sites. And a short serious one for the back cover of my books.
The goal this week is to pull out all of your existing bios. Make sure they currently describe you. Look for typos. Let your critique partners read it to ensure it still sounds good. Or scrap it and write something fresh.
Here are some areas to look for bios:
Back of your book

Week 2: Meat and Potatoes of Your Brand

This week we’re looking at areas that regularly promote who we are. Check to make sure your image is current. Look for areas where you can create something fresh.

Author Tagline or Mission Statement – I was challenged to create a mission statement in one of the branding classes I had taken last year. It was hard work, I won’t lie. But it was so essential. It helped me to see my purpose in my writing and weeks later when I was struggling with one of my drafts, a dear friend pointed me back to my own statement and said that I was lacking the very thing I said I wanted to provide. WOW! It honestly helped to bring me back on track.
What is a tagline or mission statement? Some authors may use these differently but I’ll share how I’m using them.
My tagline is the short and sweet sum of my writing. It’s found on my banner on Facebook and here on the page as well. It reads: Read. Write. Live. And glorify Christ. (preview other authors to see what their short, and typically 3 word statement is about themselves to get more ideas.)
The mission statement is 1-2 longer sentences. It basically blankets all that I mean to say about my writing. Start by asking what you write and why, then keep narrowing that down, being as specific as possible, until you find exactly what you offer and why you offer it.
I recommend taking the time to write your tagline or mission statement, or both! It’s great practice for discovering who you are as a writer. But the key this week is to make sure that whatever you do have posted is STILL accurate.

Take a look at your branding graphics. Check your banners on Facebook and social media sites. Look at your email signature. These are great places to showcase your tagline. If you have one, make sure you’re using it! Also look at the graphic itself. Do you need to create something fresh? Does it match the fonts and color scheme that you said would represent your brand? Does the image itself represent your first novel or all of your novels as a whole?

Look for other areas where a mission statement could go. Is it posted on your blog or page? Did you know that Facebook has a new feature just perfect for a mission statement? Look in the About Page section if you haven’t used yours already. It’s a block on the right side of your page that contains a bonus picture and some room to talk about your page.

Remember the key this week is to make sure what you have visible represents the author you currently are and not the author you started out to be because sometimes those are two different people. I started off writing Civil War fiction but have evolved since then and my plantation-style fence picture isn’t an accurate representation of my writing anymore.

Week 3: Website Details

This week we’re going to take the time to look at the various details on our website (although you may need to do this on other platforms as well). Here are some suggestions of what to look for. Feel free to add to your list.

Double-check your list of Available Publications.
Check your list of WIP if you have those posted anywhere.
Check all of your links. Do you need to add any? Has anything changed?

Week 4: Author Picture

This week is easy peasy. Sorta. 😉

Take a look at your author picture. Is it time for something fresh? Or maybe something taken within the last 4 years?

It may take more than a week to get this one done but if you know you need an upgrade, start brainstorming locations, poses, or your wardrobe. Make an appointment. Or set a personal deadline for yourself.

I hope the overview on Author Branding and the Cleanout Checklist was helpful to you.


Posted in Uncategorized

Author Opportunity: Writing Together; Courses by Krista Noorman

Krista Noorman is one of the first author friends I made when I started the journey to publication. She’s become a good friend to me over the years and we’ve worked together on several projects. She’s had her hand in my cover art and she helps to grammar edit my novels.

So I’m thrilled to be able to share this opportunity with you. Krista’s heart is to coach and train other authors, and she is opening up her knowledge on self-publishing, cover design, writing, editing, and marketing in her Writing Together Courses. Here’s what she has to say about it:


Are you just starting on your novel writing journey and wish you had a little support along the way? Or have you already written a novel and are thinking about publishing, but have no idea what to do next? Need a little guidance, but don’t know who to ask or are just too afraid to?

If that’s you, then you’re in the right place.

I was all alone in the writing world when I wrote my first novel, and that story sat on my computer for six years before I did anything with it, partly because I was intimidated by the process and didn’t have someone encouraging and helping me along the way. And when I finally decided to work on it again, I spent hour upon hour browsing the internet, researching my options, figuring out how to edit and publish and do all the things on my own.

If I’d had someone there to ask my specific questions, someone to teach me how to do some of those things and get where I wanted to go faster, it would have saved me so much time.

I want to be that someone for you!

Our time is valuable. We have a million things going on in life and not a lot of time to get things done. Let this group save you precious time and get you to your writing goals faster.

You and your story are worth it!

If you’re interested, you can check out her site here.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Writing from the Trenches: Tips and Techniques from Ten Award-Winning Authors

400YOU … and an Army of Ten!

TEN-HUT! Gear up for your writing with tried-and-true tips from the trenches. Ten award-winning authors share invaluable tips and secrets they’ve gleaned the hard way, offering a broad range of insights and opinions on the best way to tackle subjects such as the following:

Plotting Techniques
Villains We Love to Hate
Dynamic Dialogue
Sigh-Worthy Heroes
The Right Heroine for the Job
Hooking Your Reader in the First Chapter
Scene Endings to Lead Your Readers On
Creating a Movie Set
Making your Readers Cry
Deep POV
Copyediting your Manuscript
Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Marketing for Those Who Hate Marketing

At last … a writer’s tool that provides the experience and expertise of ten authors who’ve been on the front lines of publishing and lived to teach about it: Connie Almony, Lynnette Bonner, Hallee Bridgeman, Louise Gouge, Michelle Griep, Julie Lessman, Elizabeth Ludwig, Ane Mulligan, MaryLu Tyndall, and Erica Vetsch.

My Thoughts: This was a terrific overview of writing. There were so many sections covered that it’s a must-read for aspiring authors. The beauty of it was that it was compiled together by ten different authors so you’re getting the strengths from each author. I found it so helpful that I immediately offered to buy a copy for the aspiring author that I’m coaching.
As a published author, I didn’t really find “new” information but rather a new way of explaining old information which I found really helpful. I kept finding myself quoting something from this book as I pulled my notes together for the aspiring author I was critiquing.
The layout was perfectly arranged so that one point naturally flowed into the next. The beginning opened with all ten authors sharing how they plot their novel. While it did start to feel a tad repetitive with each author giving nearly the same intro, all ten authors had vastly different styles of plotting. I found this section really interesting and I didn’t find any one author who did it exactly like myself, so I certainly walked away with some ideas for things I could try in the future.
I do feel obligated to share a warning for more conservative writers. There’s a section on how to create a great hero which was extremely well thought out and packed full of outstanding material. The author even shares a vast selection of examples from her writing. I’m the sort who learns best by example so I double appreciate that sort of effort. But in this particular case, I found the majority of the examples a bit steamier for my personal tastes. While I wholeheartedly stand by the information, for more conservative writers, I would just caution you that may find yourself skimming. But the information itself should NOT be skimmed over but soaked up instead.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 5 stars and highly recommending it to aspiring authors looking for a solid overview and to published authors looking to finetune some areas or seeking a great teaching aid.

~ I received a copy from the authors. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in About the Book

A Peek Inside my Workshop and the Drafts in Progress

I’m giving you a tour inside my workshop today! I want to warn you upfront that each author approaches the writing life a tad differently, so you don’t be surprised. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of similarities as well.

For me: I’ve come to notice that I use two different sides of my brain while I’m working. I have a creative side, that typically feels very free. And then there’s the side that edits everything it touches. The editing portion tends to stress me, so I like to keep at least one draft in progress open that I can pick up and do some freestyle creative work in. But the moment that draft becomes a complete first draft, it shifts over to the editing section of my brain.

The graphic below is the one I’ve been using for months now to show my Street Team the progression of a variety of novels. And here’s a quick rundown of the various steps involved in a novel:

Progress Chart Layout

Plotting: Some authors take more time to plot their novel than I do, which is why the plotting portion is a sliver.

First Draft: This is that freestyle moment that I mentioned. Since I’m not using a strict outline, it really does require a great deal of freestyle work. I listen to my characters, write with my gut, and enjoy the ride. 😉 Or most of it at least. I can and do get stuck from time to time.

There are two major phases to the revision process. The first step is to revise the actual content. And this section is broken into two portions as well. My first goal is to read over my manuscript on my own and make as many revisions as I can spot on my own. Then I begin working with the critique team. I send the manuscript out to a group of readers who return it with some suggestions for ways to better the story as a whole. They’re looking for things like character and plot development. They’re also pointing out areas that may appear inconsistent, unclear, or where the story may lag. I work with their feedback and then often resend the manuscript to see how the story sits with readers. Once I have a draft that I’m confident in and that readers are enjoying, I’m ready for the next phase of revisions.

So it’s off to the editing staff. I work with a group of volunteers who bless me more than I can ever convey. I send it to the first pair of line editors who are poring over the document, looking for grammar errors. Once I make the corrections they’re pointing out, I send it to a second pair. After those corrections are made, I send it to yet one more team. I call them my Spotters. They read the almost ready manuscript and help me sniff out any lingering errors. I make those corrections then read the novel myself for the last time.

Once the manuscript is polished, I’m ready to format. Formatting is always a bit of a headache for me, but I’ll not get into that here. You only have to read my Facebook page to hear what all goes on during this phase. But here, I make a spare copy of the document, then make two more copies. One for paperback and one for ebook. Then I sweat and toil until the files are ready to go. Also during this time, the paperback cover is being designed and I’m test-printing it to see how the coloring works when in print. And once all the pieces are together, the book is ready for publication! The only thing that remains is to promote the novel.

So now that you know the general flow, here’s the breakdown of what’s actually on my desk:

Progress Chart For Blog

As you know, Yesterday’s Christmas releases 11/5/18. Also in the revision process is Dance With Me and The Accident. Dance With Me is currently hanging out with the first grammar pair. The Accident is in between critique teams. I had sent it out once and am not finished with those revisions. And I plan to send it to a new set of readers when it’s ready.

In the writing department, I happen to have a total of seven novels in progress!! I’m not even sure how that happened! I won’t be able to go into too much detail just yet, but I’ll share with you a bit about the drafts currently sitting on my desk.

#2 Art of Love Novel: I’m not sharing the title or the cover until I have the first draft. But suffice it to say that this story has stolen my heart in a special way and I often find myself reaching for tissues while I’m writing it. I really think you’re going to love it.

The Birth of Grace: This is a standalone novel that I had shared with you before. It was inspired by my grandmother and carries a pro-life theme. I’m really looking forward to finishing this one and bringing it to you.

The Hope of Yesterday: Book 3 of A Season Passed. Already readers are eagerly awaiting the completion of this series, and I long to give it to you! Unfortunately, the stories weren’t quite ready to be told so we’ll have a gap in the publication. But fear not, the Lord has given me some other great stories to share in the meantime. But I will tell you that this is Logan’s story.

Yesterday’s Trouble: And Book 4 of A Season Passed is Ruby’s story. In both of these novels, we’ll be in 1885 and we’ll find out what really happened to the Hillman siblings that we met in Liz’s dream in If Only It Were Yesterday.

Top Secret Project: I recently stumbled upon a bit of local history which inspired a fiction story. And as often as I told myself that I wasn’t ready to work on it, the characters came to life and I had little choice but to follow them around. I think I’m going to sit on the details of this one until I have the first draft. But it’s remarkable and a bit different than some of my other novels. I can tell you that it’s set in the 1930s, so this is a different era than I’ve been working in so far. But I’m loving it there! In fact, I love it so much that it’s not the only story I’m writing that’s set in the ‘30s.

Top Secret Novella: For the first time ever, I’m teaming up with 3 other authors to write a novella set! We’re all extremely excited about this venture, but we’re not quite ready to go public, so I have to be quiet here too. I can tell you that our stories will be connected. Sadly, we’re all busy with other projects so this is something that we’re kinda playing with on the side at the moment. Lord willing, it will move up in importance at the right time and become a story you can’t wait to read. 🙂

Ancient Words Spin-Off: I had created a set of stories that feature the next generation of Maple Grove, and I’m attempting to write them as novellas and publish them as a set. I’m currently uncertain whether or not these stories can be contained to a short plot that a novella requires so I thought I’d give it a try and see what shakes out. So I’m currently working on the story titled The Runaway Bride which features Frank Harper’s daughter, Louise. As much as this particular set will interest readers, I can tell you now that it’ll be a long wait before these are released. But I am working on them already with the hopes that they’ll be released shortly after books 4 and 5 of the Ancient Words series … which are just sitting off of my “currently writing” list. Lord willing, once some of these are completed, I’ll be back in Maple Grove!

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my workshop. It’s almost wrong of me to tease you with the stories that are still in the early stages of taking shape, but this will give you an idea of what you’re praying for. You’ll have to let me know which of the stories I mentioned that you’re most eager to see come into completion.

Fall Writing Campaign: Now that Yesterday’s Christmas is wrapping up and Dance With Me is spending time off of my desk, I find myself with more writing time and plenty to write! It’s a personal goal of mine to finish one or two of these drafts by the end of the year, but if I don’t make it, hopefully, I’ll finish them by the end of winter. So I’ll be sharing more updates on my writing progress in the weeks to come. And now you know a bit about the drafts I’m working on!

Follow me on Facebook where I’ll give weekly and sometimes daily writing updates during the Fall Writing Campaign. You’ll also find more info on the older drafts here.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: English Through the Ages


Lists words, grouped by subject, that were in use in different time periods, including prior to 1150, and in increasingly smaller ranges to the present.

They didn’t offer much of a description, so let me help you out:

This is one of those gems that, as a historical author, I wish someone had told me about sooner. Not only is it helpful, but it’s flat-out fun to read. Ok, I just admitted to having fun reading a dictionary. I’m aware of how that makes me look, but I don’t care. Lol Did you know they were using the word “kicks” for shoes by 1905?! Or “rock” as another word for diamond? Or that “groovy” was in use by 1945?

As with any book, there could always be more information or more words added, but this is a great overview of a wide variety of words, subjects, and eras. Here’s the breakdown:

The way the eras work, is they’re showing you words that were in use BY that particular era. So if you wanted to know what new words were commonly used in 1955, you’ll look under 1960.

And here are the categories they cover in each era: 
Natural Things
The Body
Physical Description
Everday Life
Thoughts/Perception/The Mind
The Workplace
Language and Speaking
Performing Arts
The Law
The Fantastic/Paranormal

There’s an Index in the back where you can look up a word and find where it falls in the timeline. They tell you if the word is a noun, verb, adjective. With some words, they offer a brief explanation and other words, they believe to be self-explanatory (although, I’ve found some that I would have liked an explanation for.)
The book is helpful in showing you when a word is first documented, but it doesn’t show you how it faded from use or reappeared years later. Take the word “groovy” for example. They claim it was in use by 1945 and yet we know it as a word from the 1970s.
Overall, this a great book to have on hand. Even if it doesn’t address ALL your questions, it’ll address many and/or make for a great conversational piece later.