Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One Great Way to Write a Short Story

"Exhibit A"
I am a "second -rate" short story writer. 

Why would I say that? "Exhibit A" shows the answer. It is a certificate documenting my second-place finish in the short story writing contest of the East Texas Christian Writer's Conference. I have never won a short story competition but have finished in second place. 

I have written and even sold short stories. Over the years, I have entered short story contests. I am still seeking that elusive "first place" in a short story contest. 

In my quest to win a contest, I have become a student of the short story form. Here is what I call "One Great Way to Write a Short Story." It begins with planning. 


I would never start writing a short story without at least a rough outline to tell me where I am going.  I recommend jotting down the answers to a few questions. The answers provide the framework for where the story is going. 

The first step in writing a short story is a planning exercise. Plan your short story in advance by answering questions in three areas:
  • The subject – Who is the main character? What is the problem?
  • The story –What is the character’s motivation to solve the problem? What actions occur to solve the problem?
  • The resolution – What are results of the character’s acts to resolve the problem? What change does the character undertake because of that action?

1. The Character

I decide about whom I am going to write. You have one central character in the story. It might a soldier returning home. It could be about an astronaut. It might be about a businessperson. The reader will identify with that person.

2. The Problem

What is it that the main character struggles with that he or she may not have an instant need to resolve? It is a problem the character has had for a while, but has not had an immediate need to solve. An example would be if I were writing about a businesswoman who obtained an executive position using a falsified resume. She may not have an immediate need to deal with the issue. 

3. The Motivation

Why does the main character decide to solve the problem? I’ll use the businesswoman with the falsified resume as an example. 

It could be that she has accepted a position on the board of directors for a prominent community organization like the United Way. The local media decides to do a feature story on her background. In this case, I need to put in the appropriate backstory – her claiming to have a prestigious Ivy League graduate degree when she had dropped out of college before obtaining her undergraduate degree. Now she is in a position that requires an accredited four-year college degree as well as MBA. She realizes she is about to be found out with embarrassment to herself, her employer, and maybe she could even have to resign.

4. The Action

What does the main character do to solve the problem? What does she do to correct the situation? Maybe she confesses to her company’s president or she may try to resign quietly from board of directors for a prominent community organization for personal reasons trying to avoid being exposed and hoping it will just go away.

5. The Result

What happens because of the character’s attempt to solve the problem? Maybe she tells the president and he fires her. The employer takes legal action against her demanding restitution from her for fraudulently obtained wages. He takes her to court and wins. She is required to make restitution of tens of thousands of dollars and has her reputation destroyed.

6. The Change

Perhaps at this point the character struggles financially, loses her large home and country club lifestyle. Maybe her friends desert her. She is unable to get a job because of her lying on the resume. She could go back to school and complete the education she had claimed.  Maybe she becomes an advocate for ethical business practices.

  • Remember the main character needs a good reason for what they are doing. They need to act consistent to who they are.
  • You need to set up every incident in the story. If the character obtained a high position using a falsified resume, make sure you set this up by doing a flashback or remembrance where she is sitting typing the resume and then clicks submit thinking no one ever checks a resume. 
  • If you bring it up you must conclude it. This refers to conflict in the story. If you have any conflict, you need to resolve it prior to ending the story.
Once you have planned your short story you will be able to write it. My guess is by following these simple principles you too can write a short story. Moreover, just maybe it will be “second-rate” or even better.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

ACFW's Biggest Cheerleader has a Book of Her Own!

President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, and three-time Genesis finalist, Ane Mulligan is in everyone's corner. New to the biz? You'll find her rooting for you. Been there a while? Still rooting. Need prayer, advice, a positive word? Go to Ane. She's there for you, ready with a smile and words of encouragement.

She lives in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two Mastiffs--huge by Biblical proportions. She's one of my critique partners, a special friend, and a fellow redhead, and I'm honored to get to present her to our readers here on AuthorCulture.

AC: You’re one of the most beloved members of ACFW. When did you join? Express what the organization means to you and how it has helped you. What is your role in the organization?

ANE: Loudest, yes. Goofiest, probably. But most beloved? Now you’ve made me cry.

I joined in April 2005. ACFW opened more doors for me than anything else. First, I learned so much through mentors who taught classes, shared ideas, and encouraged me. Meeting agents and editors at conferences taught me how to hone my pitch. I became friends with my agent about three years before she became my agent.

Because I love my own local chapter of ACFW (waving to ACFW North Georgia), I want to see every member belong to one. So, I volunteer as the Zone Coordinator, overseeing the U.S. and helping build chapters through the zone directors and area coordinators.

AC: How and when did NovelRocket start?

ANE: It began in 2005 as Novel Journey to chronicle founder Gina Holmes's first novel journey. She quickly realized she only had three readers of which she and I were two. She began to interview authors, a new one each day, and after a few months realized it was more than one person could handle. She brought Jessica Dotta and me on board, and the rest is history. The name was changed to Novel Rocket a few years ago when we became a dot com. Someone else owned Novel Journey dot com and wouldn’t sell it.

AC:Your other blog is Southern-fried Fiction, which, I believe, is also your brand. How did you come up with the name?

ANE: Rose McCauley branded me with that. We’d been ACFW friends, and one day, talking about brands online, Rose said, “You mean your Southern fried fiction?” She went on to say it’s what my voice sounded like through emails. My agent said it was spot on, and we ran with it.

AC: Remind me of the story: Your novel was inspired by your hubby’s painting, or his painting was created to illustrate your story?

ANE: I was talking to Eddie Jones, CEO of my publishing house, about the cover design. I mentioned my husband was an artist, and he asked if he would like to paint something to be used for the cover. Delighted, I said yes!

Poor Hubs. He had to extract from my brain a fictional town that was a feeling inside me. Yes, I’d drawn a map of Chapel Springs, but I hadn’t pictured the buildings. So he drew and changed and tweaked until it sort looked right. Then he went into his studio to paint. Over a few weeks, what began as “sort of” suddenly turned into Chapel Springs. We had a professional photographer, who specializes in making giclĂ©e reproductions (print on canvas) take the photo, which we sent to my publisher. Ken Raney, Deb Raney’s husband, designed my cover from the painting.

AC: You have some pretty heavy hitters as critique partners, but you’re also very well connected. Newbies don’t always have that advantage. What would you advise for them?

ANE: My CPs (critique partners) weren’t heavy hitters when we met. None of us knew much about writing at all. We were raw newbies when we met and grew together. I try to explain that to new writers.

Go to writers’ conferences. Deb Raney taught my first writing class, but she never critiqued me. Eva Marie Everson was another first teacher. She never critiqued me. (Interesting point – Eva Marie was my editor for Chapel Springs Revival).

If you’re serious about publishing, you’ll read every book on the craft, don rhino skin, and take every critique seriously. Hiring a freelance editor is super if you don’t have critique partners. But don’t expect a published writer to be your CP. On very rare occasions it may happen, but that will be God-directed.

I learned from my CPs when we were all newbies. We taught each other. We'd read the craft books and apply what we learned. You don’t need to have a multi-published author as your CP. You only need to be teachable.

AC: So, let’s hit the question lots of folks want to know: which side of the battle do you land on–plotter or pantser?

ANE: Smack dab in the middle. Rachel Hauck coined a name and it’s exactly what I am—a Planster. I have to have a plan, some idea of where I’m going. Then, I let the characters take over. One caveat: I spend a lot of time on the characterization. I do a backstory for each character until I know them as well as I know myself. Once I know them that well, I instinctively know how they will react to anything that comes out in the story. Karen Ball says, “God whispers His truths into hearts, and it whispers back in stories.” And it’s true.

AC: Who do you credit with being the biggest influence in your writing career?

ANE: Ron Benrey, Debra Dixon, Amy Wallace, and Laurie Schnebly Campbell. From each of those people, I learned what I call “golden nuggets” or game changing techniques.

AC: What is your goal for your career?

ANE: Write as many stories as God allows me time. If I don’t write them, I’ll start talking back to all those characters in my head. Then they’d cart me off to the funny farm.

AC: What are your hopes for your debut release? What is the take-away value?

ANE: I hope people will love my characters as much as I do, and I pray that through Claire, they’ll see how God works, even when we don’t see it. God is faithful to guard His children.

Here's the lowdown about the book:

Published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, it released Sept 8th. In a nutshell, Chapel Springs Revival is a romp through miscommunication in marriage.

With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It's impossible not to, what with Claire's zany antics and Patsy's self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is their marriages.

With their personal lives in as much disarray as the town, Claire and Patsy embark on a mission of mishaps and miscommunication, determined to restore warmth to Chapel Springs —and their lives. That is if they can convince their husbands and the town council, led by two curmudgeons who would prefer to see Chapel Springs left in the fifties and closed to traffic.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups.

To get a personal look at Ane, tune in to 777 Peppermint Place on the 24th. She'll tell a favorite story about Shadrach, one of her Mastiffs.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Writer's Resource List

Ever wonder where to quickly find some bit of information on the web? You're in the middle of a great sentence, and--Bam! you realize you need to know when the moon was full? Or which branch of government runs the Witness Protection Agency? Here you go. My latest updated resource list. Feel free to share some of your own, too. This list of one of a number of things I offer on my website in the Tips and Resources page.

OnLine Resources

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Bait

Google Free Images

 Our local writer’s group has hosted a noted western writer as guest speaker several times. His discussion about the publishing process left an indelible impression on me. He spoke of visiting his publisher in New York where he hung around the offices after a meeting. The staff had had a very long day, yet they ordered pizza and then kicked back to go through the slush pile, a huge backlog of unsolicited manuscripts. He said he watched as they “tossed” one manuscript after another. If the first sentence or two didn’t grab them, well, “that’s all she wrote”, so to speak.
There’s a reason it’s called a “hook”. We bait our hook with the best story in us, cast it into the great ocean of readers, and then hope to get a bite. I have daily access to nearly 80,000 books (I work at a library). Since the day I heard that writer describe the “tossing” process, I’ve developed the habit of reading the first sentence of many, many books over the course of a work day. The stories that make me want to turn the page all seem to have one thing in common. They create a question that I must know the answer to.
Does this make you want to read on? “It dropped out of the sky at 3:41 p.m. central daylight time on Friday, May 10, 1963, into a field in southeastern Oklahoma eight miles west of Tishomingo.”  What, pray tell, dropped out of the sky? That’s the first sentence from Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon.
“I remember…I was supposed to be sad that day.” Why? That’s from Dan Walsh’s The Discovery.
“The screech of brakes split the silence just before the Buick smashed through the guardrail and tumbled down the steep embankment.” Nicola Beaumont’s Silent Witness makes me wonder who wrecked and whether they made it or not.
All three examples caused me to nibble and download to my Kindle.
So, what question are you creating in the minds of your readers with the first sentence or two of your WIP? I’d love for you to post some of your first sentences. Here’s mine:
“Bailey’s not going to like this. Dizziness swirled my brain to jelly the moment I realized I’d have to tell her.”
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Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Book Review: In the Comfort of Shadows, by Laurel Bragstad

In the Comfort of Shadows
Laurel Bragstad
E-book: $3.99
Print: $12.99
Orange Hat Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1937165635
386 pp
Buy on Amazon

About the Book: 
In the Comfort of Shadows is a story of family secrets and the love and romance often found hidden deep within sins of the past. The novel follows Ann Olson, a big city professor, who longs to fill in the empty pages of her childhood. Unfortunately the only man alive who knows the whole story is Emmett Pederson, her adoptive dad’s crazy, poor, hermit cousin who never married and still lives on his run-down farm in rural Wisconsin. Disregarding her sister’s objections, Ann stubbornly sets out to prove that Emmett is their “father unknown.” Once she gets over Emmett’s shabby clothes and missing teeth, she senses a surprising connection to him. That changes when she discovers Emmett’s WW2 diaries which reveal the truth about her Austrian-born birth mother. As Ann struggles to sort out the facts of her birth parents’ forbidden romance and her own adoption, she finds herself falling in love with a man who has heart-breaking secrets of his own.

About the Author:
Laurel Bragstad was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As the oldest of five kids sitting around the dinner table, she learned very early that family stories are often better than any drama, mystery, or sit-com on television--with enough secrets and distinct characters to fill a book.

These days, she teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has an online course with Ed2Go/Cengage Learning. When she's not teaching, writing, or reading, you might find her digging in her garden (weather permitting), where she's either working out an assignment for her class or shaping characters and chapters for another novel.

My review: 
Cleaning out the family closet is risky at best, heartbreaking at worst. All her life, Ann Olson barely contained her curiosity about her parentage after a disgruntled relative broke the news that Ann and her sister were adopted. Elise is content being the daughter of the only parents she knew, but Ann can’t let it go. After her father’s death, and now in her early fifties, divorced, and armed with an old letter, Ann sets off on a thinly-disguised sabbatical assignment studying family history’s effect on family relationships. First on the list is her own family, her father’s cousins.

Bragstad’s novel is a charming, genteelly-paced novel set in rural Wisconsin, with all the typical flavor of “up north.” Her characters never quite go over the top and their lives are all-too-true to life. Frank and Betty, Ann’s hosts, are eager to help Ann unravel the mystery of her and her sister’s parentage. Ann’s chief suspect, the letter-writer Emmett, is an old man now, an incongruous mystery of assumed poverty and dementia. As Ann works through the cast of family characters who might be the birth father, she meets a helpful and compassionate gentleman, John Bennett, who soon becomes more than a friend.

Picking through clues, packets of letters and the detritus of a lifetime in Emmett’s house is a peek through over fifty years of mistakes, lies, and secrets; angst, the gruesomeness and horrors of World War II. Ann must also sort out her own feelings and those of her siblings as the real story comes to light. Ulterior motives, family secrets and grumblings give Ann plenty to consider about her heritage and family relationships.

Filled with both charming conversation and introspection, quotes like “…truth lays bare what is or was; but it can’t fix everything” stays with the reader.

Told in third person solely from Ann’s view, The Comfort of Shadows is part voyeurism, part revelation. Lovingly told, engaging.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Navigate the Choppy Waters of the E-book Industry

For a long while now the publishing industry news has been burning up with the Amazon/Hachette dispute. Both sides have dug in their heels and refuse to budge. Both feel they’re equally justified in what they demand. And this feud is over something as simple as the pricing of e-books.

Guest post by Winter Austin
A lot of authors have come out of their writing caves to voice their opinions on this controversy; everyone from the new indie author to many successful New York Times bestsellers. I’m not going to sway you one way or the other. Frankly, my opinion on the matter means beans since I’m still in the beginner’s stage of this game. Five published books and one self-pub does not make me an expert. What I can give you is an insider’s look at how my publisher, a fairly new division in an already longstanding publishing house, and I have found a way to get e-books out there for the consumer and the drawbacks to some of these ideas.

You’ve all heard it: e-books will last as long as you leave them out there. And it’s true. I’m one of the earlier authors to sign with my house, Crimson Romance, after they first opened their doors to submissions for e-books only. My first book, published in February of 2013 is still sitting in places like Amazon and B&N and still selling; albeit slowly, but selling. Oddly enough, it’s my first book getting the higher sales than the subsequent three. I believe it’s due in part to the fact that Relentless is the first book in a four book series and people are just wanting a cheap read without making a commitment. Typically on Amazon my books are priced around $3.82, on B&N $4.99. Of course Amazon will be the cheaper deal, but to me these are fair prices for a book that averages out at about 75,000 words and over 200 pages in e-format.

Crimson has allowed two of my books to sell for 99¢, which they did well during that short spell, but not well enough to make me a bestseller. Here’s where the joy of having e-books comes in, they’re still out there, and they’re still selling. Had my first book been a paperback right off, I don’t think it would still be sitting on the shelves. E-books aren’t limited to a shelf-life.

Now having said that, it doesn’t mean you just sit back and watch it while doing nothing in turn. When my working and personal life allows, I’m finding new avenues and ideas on how to get my books before new readers’ eyes. Currently, I’m here, visiting Author Culture and inquiring at a few other blogs I’ve never been on before. Sometimes the easiest promoting you can do is a simple spotlight on a book reviewing blog, which I recently finished. Giveaways, within reason, tend to garner interest, yet like I said, within reason. Your goal is to drum up interest, not freebie all of your potential sales.

A huge plus to having e-books as giveaways; no postage to pay for. When you stop and figure up the cost of shipping trade books to winners you have probably spent what you would have made in selling three books. (This is just a guess-tament, don’t quote me on it.) Personally, I prefer this option since my family lives on a tight budget. It’s a win-win for me and the reader.

Speaking of tight budgets, e-books are economically smart for the publisher and author, as well as the reader. In processing an e-book, the publisher cuts their costs when you consider the only people working on the book are the editors and the formatting team. There is no paper to purchase, printing machines to maintain, and the cost of adding a particular kind of cover and binding it. Just a few computers and some people who know formatting codes and how to get the book to read on the handful of e-readers out there.

In my case, as the author, there wasn’t an advance paid out, which meant I started receiving royalties as soon as the book went on the market and sold. No paying back the publisher. And in a best case scenario, the publisher doesn’t lose much money on the venture.

Now you’re wondering, what am I getting in royalties? Sorry, no kiss and tell from me. Just know it’s not your typical royalty rate.

In regard to the reader, if they’ve purchased their preferred e-reader they’ve spent a good chunk of change. And they’re serious readers looking for the most books they can have for less. While not a bad thing, I’m a reader, too, and I look for bargains on some of my favorite authors, or on authors I want to try. This is a marketing deal to help catch a new reader’s eye and entice them to come back and read more of your books.

There is a slight downside for the author. A cheaper book means less pay out. It’s a good thought, but say your book went on a short time deal for 99¢. During that sale a bunch of people grabbed a cheap book. Here’s where reality sets in: that book may languish on the e-reader, left unread for an undetermined amount of time, if it ever gets read. The other downside is the buyer realizes they got a book they never would have read because its not their preferred genre, so they return it. And Amazon is one of the few places that allows you a set number of days to return it for free. Seeing as Amazon is the biggest seller of most authors’ books this is a bite into the royalty check later on.

Granted, I’m giving the perspective of an author published with a house in e-books. My experience is different than an indie author, but the marketing and promoting is, for the most part, the same. The lone difference is my publisher is still trying to find new ways to give new life to my backlist. An indie is on their own to do this.

In closing, I hope you’ve gotten a better inside look at what an e-book author is dealing with in the current climate. Perhaps it’s given you a chance to see what the big fuss is about between Amazon and Hachette.


Winter's Degrees of Darkness series is available, and lucky you, all four books are out and you don’t have to wait on the next installment. And if you’re not an e-book reader, they are available in paperback at all e-retailers.


Winter Austin was once asked by her husband if he could meet some of the people who took residence in her head. She warned they weren’t all characters he wanted to meet, as killers walked among them. Needless to say, that conversation ended abruptly.

A lifelong Mid-West gal, Winter swears she should have been born in the South, Texas or Louisiana preferably. But then she’d miss the snowy winters.

Dividing her day between her four children and their various activities, a growing pet population, and her Beta-with-Alpha-tendencies Hero, Winter manages to find time to write chilling thrillers between loads of laundry.

Don’t worry. You won’t find any of her mouthwatering culinary dishes poisoned. Unless you’re one of her fictional creations.

Where to find Winter:

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stand Out

We’re inundated with book marketing today. Everyone is shouting about books on Twitter and Facebook, so it can be hard to get a potential reader’s attention. One way to do that is through blogging, but even then, you have to make your blog posts stand out.

Special Graphics

Everyone uses the same boring graphics these days, don’t they? There are several free places to get illustrations and pictures (and it’s great to have these resources!) but a better option is to create your own graphics.

I like to use pictures from Morguefile or my own personal artwork and then use a pull quote from my article. (Here’s one example of that.)

I created a separate graphic for a post where I asked bloggers for help in promoting my book, then used that same graphic as an ad on the side to keep it highlighted. It’s colorful and draws your eye to the request.

In sharing some of my poetry, I’ve written, I’ll illustrate it with photos (like this) or use a completely new set of graphics to make it colorful and eye-catching (like this.) I like to use Canva or Picmonkey for things like this (both of these are free).

Visually Tell a Story With Pictures

For posts where you can show a visual, use pictures to help tell your story. Part of my platform building strategy has been to show people a slice of my life, so I’ll visually display the steps of a recipe I enjoyed making or craft project I created.

Author Carol Moye asked me to do a visual guest post for her blog, so I took a few pictures I'd painted and explained the process behind them. But you don't have to be artistically inclined to create a visual post.  Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts) is great at visually telling a story. Although I’m not in love with the music that pops up automatically on her site, I do like the pictures she shares.

Know How to Format for the Web

People read differently on the Internet, so you need to change the way you write. Your writing needs to be clear, broken up into easily digestive pieces, and formatted for the screen. Specifically:

  • Use bullet points to set off important points or lists
  • Use bolded subheads to divide copy (and help with SEO)
  • Break up long paragraphs

There’s lots of argument about how long a post should be. Some places I write for require 700-1,000 words as a rule while others believe 300-500 words is optimal. My personal belief is that it takes a combination of long and short posts to keep a reader clicking through your site. The only thing that doesn’t work? Thin, short content that doesn’t hold a reader’s attention (and gets you penalized from Google.)

Use Getty Images

Getty (arguably the world’s largest source for editorial photos) is now opening up thousands of photographs for use by bloggers. This is really exciting, because you now have access to the top celebrity, news, and stock photographs around… and… you have permission to use them. There are rules, of course, so be sure to follow them. (PC World has a great write up about how to use and attribute them here.)

Use Pull Quotes

I mentioned pull quotes as part of a graphic above, but they also work simply as a text box with words. This is especially helpful if you want to highlight a specific point or make sure someone that happens to be skimming (as people do on the Internet) at least catches the overall gist of what you’re trying to say.


Cherie Burbach has written for, NBC/Universal,, and more. Visit her website,
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? by Pamela Fagan Hutchins

If you are an established writer with several products published as an “Indie Author” or are a “Want–to-be Indie Author," you need this book.

Houston Writer’s Guild President Pamela Fagan Hutchins tackles what is for many people a very overwhelming subject. She makes sure you understand the process by breaking it down step-by-step and then sharing tried and true how-tos. She does this with a tongue-in-cheek writing style that reminded me of Erma Bombeck. An example is she refers to the book as "Loser."

Reading the book was like sitting at a table at my local Starbuck’s with a friend who is there for me laying it all out, telling me how she self-published a best seller. What gives the book creditability is Hutchins is a great self-publishing success story. This book tells you how she achieved her enviable success.

I  loved her “cut to the chase” approach. She says if you think it is as simple as if you write it they will come (buy it), you are wrong. She points out Indie Publishing does not reduce the writing and editing time, but it can reduce the time to publish once you have completed the writing and editing. It also gives you greater control. She also asked a great question. Who is your target audience?

Hutchins provides numerous resources, including the marketing plan that got her debut novel national distribution.

The last third of the book deals with marketing. Don’t read this part first! She points out people who have sales that are limited to friends and family are the ones who skip the first two chapters of her book.

I loved her positive, can-do voice. This will become the definitive reference book or maybe even “The Bible” for Indie Authors.

While the print version is 280 pages, I bought and read the e-book.  I found it witty, practical, and an essential for the Indie Writer or Indie curious.

The e-book only cost me $2.99 ($3.25 with tax). That is barely over a penny a page. What an inexpensive investment for a resource that will get you on track, save you time and money as well as  give you ideas to increase your sales.

What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too? by Pamela Fagan Hutchins is the USA Best Book Award winner in Business: Writing/Publishing.
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Author Intrusion

Yoo-hoo! Over here! Right, yes, that’s me, Lisa Lickel, waving! I’m interrupting your reading experience so I can tell you something…

How many of you readers have experienced this very powerful jerk right out of the story? It’s like pulling off a fresh scab, like ripping duct tape from your lips. Or it can be a comfort, like macaroni and cheese, if you’re a fan of early nineteenth-century literature.

According to’s a fair definition: Authorial Intrusion is an interesting literary device wherein the author penning the story, poem or prose steps away from the text and speaks out to the reader. Authorial Intrusion establishes a one to one relationship between the writer and the reader where the latter is no longer a secondary player or an indirect audience to the progress of the story but is the main subject of the author’s attention.

How many of us authors are guilty of practicing this example of intrusive writing?
Active intrusion is something like the character turning away from what he’s doing and acting out of character, or trying to get your attention to tell you, the reader something: “Jordan trotted after the purse-snatcher, but as the young boy in the hoodie gained distance, Jordan knew he’d never catch up. In order to save face, he veered to tangle with a woman walking her schnoodle. And that, my friends, is how you fake heroism.”

Intrusion can be as simple as changing tense in the middle of your work – “The old houses along the boulevard used to be creepy with their boarded-up windows and overgrown crabgrass lawns. When the rehab project started to clean them or tear them down, the neighbors were pleased. Now they are beautiful and sell for over a hundred grand, and the city happily filled its coffers.” Even if you, the author, are using a bit of truth in your story, remember, if you’re writing fiction, tense is your friend. Your book is a not an expose or a piece of journalism exploring a current topic, it’s a story told in order, using literary devices which must be consistent throughout.

Passive intrusion may often be a simple point of view mistake, like a character telling us her hair is lush and soft, or foretelling the future by saying something like, if I’d known what going to happen, I wouldn’t have…

Author intrusion is not internal monolog, nor is it omniscient or narrator voice.

Is author intrusion always bad? Well, no. If you’re Charlotte Bronte, for example, you wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. If you’re Agatha Christie, you couldn’t have a murder no one would see, much less find; if you’re Jane Austen, Lizzie Bennet wouldn’t know what she was supposed to do to find a husband. Dickens couldn’t have carried off pretty much ANY of his books. Of course, works like Thornton Wilder’s Our Town wouldn’t have the same impact, now, would it? Can you imagine Jay Gatsby not saying good-by? Or Hamlet, like, not announcing he’s croaking?

Our Town is a play—but you see what I mean? It has a narrator on purpose. Sure the characters could have directed themselves, and even spoken, but sometimes an author has to take literary license. As long as it’s for a good purpose, is unique, and the exception.

You’ll notice that these examples are mostly…well, old. Fads come and go in this business. But in today’s American story-telling, it’s still a good rule of thumb: A key goal of an author is to be invisible.  

Here are a couple of other articles to check out.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Author humor

Enjoy a little humor while I get over jet lag....ask me about Istanbul :)

The monster.
Found on
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