Writers@Work: From Blog to Book by Barbara Mahany

27 January 2015

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

What obstacles will you have to overcome this year to finish writing and revising your book? I’m looking for your toughest blocks—so I can address how to overcome them in a very special Write Now! Mastermind class (to be held Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM CT). If you have an obstacle you’d like me to cover, let me know via email. And if you’re not a member of the Write Now! Mastermind class, you can sign up here.

And think about joining me to knock out those obstacles in our Write-A-Thon accountability group starting February 18. You can check out the details here.

Today’s tip was written by Barbara Mahany and talks about how a yearning to write about the homefront blossomed into a blog and then a book! And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, Mahany will be reading and signing books this coming Thursday, January 29 at 7:00 PM at Boswell Book Company.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

bougainvillea bw-1


It all started, honestly, because I bumbled my way through my annual sit-down with my editors in the features department of the Chicago Tribune, a meeting in which we reviewed my work from the previous year and talked, at the very end of the hour, about what I might truly love to do in the years to come.

I tried to explain that there was a sort of writing from the heart — and the soul — that I might love to bring to the newspaper’s pages. Fumbling for words, I managed to say that I thought there was much to be mined in the landscape of the homefront. But I had a hard time articulating just what those stories might be. Or why they belonged in a newspaper.

Riding home that night on the “el,” Chicago’s rapid-transit train, I remember cringing at how I’d stumbled through my once-a-year chance at shooting for the journalistic moon.

But here’s what happened next:  That very December night, when he should have been doing his homework, my then-13-year-old son decided to fiddle around with the laptop he’d just handed over to me, because he’d traded up for a refurbished MacBookPro. He was showing me all the tricks I could do on his old Mac. Among the tricks: software that amounted to Blogging for Dummies.

As the clock ticked toward bedtime, the kid built me a website, we gave it a name, then he looked me in the eyes and declared: “Mom, you can do this.”

So, the very next morning, Dec. 12, 2006, I rose before dawn, and began typing the first words of “pull up a chair,” a blog that amounted to a virtual kitchen table. I wrote, every weekday morning for a solid year, whatever most captured my imagination — subjects and stories culled from the heart and soul of the homefront. I was typing the sorts of stories I’d been trying to explain to my editors. And slowly, quietly, readers were “pulling up chairs,” sharing in the conversation, offering wisdom all their own, always in a realm of gentle consideration. No harsh confrontation allowed.

I’ve been sitting down before dawn ever since — although after the first year I cut back to three posts a week, then two, and now, religiously, I write every Friday morning. What happened during those early mornings was akin to working out every day at a gym, and discovering muscles you never knew existed. Even though I’d been writing newspaper feature and news stories for 25 years, I’d never before exercised a deeper-down voice. One that at first was only a whisper. But morning after morning, as I wrote in the dark and the quiet, I found synapses firing more swiftly. I found myself connecting dots, and discovering truths I’d never quite realized when my writing was confined to reporting and writing other people’s stories.

I worked hard on the craft of unspooling the stories I knew best — the ones that unfolded right here inside my old house and my rambunctious garden. I worked to strike those deeply personal chords that resonate through universal connection. It’s the art of the personal essay: To make the words reach far beyond the confines of my own little life, and open veins that connect deeply with readers, even readers whose life looks little like mine.

Over time I found myself weaving the spiritual into those essays — not always, but often enough. Flash forward to the summer of 2012, when my husband and I were moving to Cambridge, MA., to spend a year studying at Harvard University, where my husband would be a Nieman Journalism Fellow, and I was generously invited to partake of what I called The Year of Sumptuous Thinking. When the man who would become our landlord, a professor of poetry and divinity, asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book, I answered yes — the first time I’d said so out loud. When he asked me what that book might be, I said something about a Book of Common Prayer, believing some of the best essays I’d written might be the ones that found the sacred amid the noisy messiness of the everyday homefront. I’d imagined a collection of those essays, somehow woven into a whole.

SlowingTimeThat book became Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014). Publishers Weekly generously named it one of the Top 10 Religion Books, Fall 2104. And the book I never knew I’d set out to write is, in many ways, the answer to my deepest prayers.

In my own quiet unorthodox way, I’ve always believed in the power of words to heal, to illuminate, to strike the common ground between each one of us. Nothing touches me more deeply than the letters and emails from readers who tell me that Slowing Time has touched a quiet place in their hearts, and something beautiful is blooming.


BAM_headshot_finalAbout the author. Barbara Mahany, the author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014), was a staff writer at the Chicago Tribune for nearly 30 years. Before that she was a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She is married to the Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Blair Kamin, and they have two sons.





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Is it Time to Write Your Book? by Rochelle Melander

Photo_26Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

I’ve been frustrated this winter—with the kids home most of the time and a full work schedule, I haven’t had time to write. Maybe you are struggling with the same thing?

Instead of complaining or worrying, I decided to host my own Write-A-Thon. WAT_therapy-2During Lent this year, I plan to write a book. And starting February 18, I’ll be leading a Write-A-Thon accountability group. You can check out the details here.

To help us get ready, I’m teaching a very special Write Now! Mastermind class on how to overcome your most common writing obstacles. If you have a writing obstacle you’d like me to address during the class, let me know.

Today’s tip talks about how to know if you need to write a book! Enjoy!

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



“You should write a book,” Ron told Hermione as he cut up his potatoes, “translating mad things girls do so boys can understand them.”

— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Last week at the library, I had the young people write about their nighttime dreams. After they sketched out the bare bones of a dream, I invited them to use those characters, events and images to create a story. Each one brought something unique to their story, and it occurred to me that each of them had the raw material for a book.

I have that thought nearly every time I talk to someone. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and avid reader, and I tend to think in books (instead of inventions or movies). I don’t have the time to talk to every one of you before the winter Write-A-Thon group begins, but I’d be willing to bet that you are also holding onto a book idea.

Am I right? Or maybe you’re not sure. For those of you on the fence, I’ve grabbed three of the best reasons for writing a book from my book, Write-A-Thon. See if any of them fit you:

1.         You have IMPORTANT, life-changing INFO to share. You’re constantly thinking about how you could change the world and, more specifically, the lives of those you love, if only you could tell them what you know. Perhaps you’ve developed a tool that could support others in working smarter or living better. Stop thinking about how this great stuff could help others and write a book. You can’t be everywhere at once, but your book can. It will save you time and help a lot of people.

2.         You want to promote your work or business. Maybe you offer a unique service to individuals and businesses—but no one knows it. Your goal is to get people to work with your company, buy your product, or hire you to consult, coach, or speak to them. You have a web site—but you can’t exactly hand it out when you speak. You need something more portable to help people know you and your work. A book that offers your clients and potential customers real value can teach them about you and help them see the worth of buying your products or services.

3.         You make up stories. Some people—like your boss, parents, or significant other—might call it lying, but you know the truth. You have been making up stories since you were old enough to talk (and maybe before). Your beloved grandfather with the twirly mustache was secretly a spy. The woman who sat in front of you on the subway yesterday—the one who was crying and rubbing the tattoo on her arm that said Arnold—you spent the whole ride debating whether Arnold broke up with her or died in a tragic accident. Stop wondering aimlessly. Put your stories into a book that we all can enjoy!

So? Do one of those reasons fit you? If so, you might want to enroll in my winter Write-A-Thon group. In the course of 40 days, you’ll write like crazy with the support and help of a coach and the accountability of a regular group meeting. Sound like something you’d like to try? Click here to learn more.


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Restart Your Writing by Rochelle Melander



Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

—L.M. Montgomery


How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Have you had difficulty keeping all of them? Or, like me, did you simply postpone making them? Fear not. I have a plan for those of us who’ve either bumbled our new beginning or forgot to push restart.

My plan comes from the wisdom of 92-year-old producer Norman Lear: “There are two small words that are important and mostly overlooked: over and next. When something is over, it is over. Everything is about what comes next.” (TV Guide, October 27-Nov. 9, p. 7)

Got that?

Stop dwelling on anything you’ve done or failed to do last year, this year, or any other year: it’s OVER.

Now focus on what you want to do NEXT!

Instead of worrying over what you haven’t written yet, write now. Jot down a few words about the present moment, the story of your life, or wisdom to help another.

In the words of Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.


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Need an Epiphany? How to Create Aha Moments By Rochelle Melander



I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.

—Albert Einstein

It’s a New Year: we’ve made our resolutions and put our butts in the chair. This will be the year we write that novel, pen the self-help book or blog our way to fame and fortune. Or not. We’ve already heard predictions from people who don’t even know us that we’re likely to fail at keeping our resolutions. We’ve never lost the voices in our head telling us we’re not good enough. And now, as we type away, we wonder what happened to all of our good ideas. We need an epiphany—and quick!

Don’t worry. I’ve got five tools to help you court the aha moment and rescue your writing:

1. Write, doodle, repeat. The cartoonist Charles Barsotti takes a big stack of paper and doodles until the aha moment occurs. Madeleine L’Engle famously said, “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” (The Summer of the Great Grandmother, p. 144). So that butt in the chair thing? Best idea yet!

2. Clean the house! Do the dishes, sweep the floor, and fold the laundry! Repetitive, mindless activities lead to aha moments. (The Breakout Principle by Herbert Benson and William Proctor). If you’re not the cleaning type, think about taking up knitting, tennis or doodling.

3. Get out! Enact the metaphor “think outside the box” and work somewhere other than your cubicle (or your version of it). Researchers found that people who worked outside a box, no matter how comfortable it was, were more creative than boxed-in workers.

4. Work tired. Feeling fatigued? It’s the perfect time to dream up new stuff. When we’re tired, we’re more open to innovative ideas. According to a 2011 study led by Mareike Wieth at Albion College in Michigan, students performed better on problems that required novel thinking when they were tired (Thinking & Reasoning, 2011).

5. Still Stuck? Take a shower, walk in nature, listen to music or nap! When Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci asked creatives where they got their best ideas, those were the most popular answers. Greek polymath Archimedes got the very first Eureka moment while in the public bath.

Your turn: How do you encourage those aha moments? Make a list of the last 5-10 times you had an aha moment and pay attention to what was going on around you. Could that practice be the key to your next aha moment? Leave your comments below.


Resource: For more on cartoonists and their aha moments, check out this article by Robert Mankoff.



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Your Toolbox: What You Need to Make 2015 Rock! By Rochelle Melander


When we take a trip, we rent condos or homes. The practice gives us more space and saves us money on food. It’s also often cheaper than a hotel room. And, as a result, we’ve been able to stay in real neighborhoods and get a feel for the city we’re visiting.

After a few condo stays, I noticed a pattern: we’d go food shopping and while making our first dinner or breakfast, we’d discover missing essentials—coffee filters, dish soap, and so forth. So we’d run back out to the store to stock up. After several trips, we’d collected multiple kinds of coffee filters, boxes of plastic silverware, and a variety of wine openers. Instead of repeating the pattern, I created travel box packed full of the essentials we might need on future stays, including coffee filters, storage bags, and salt and pepper shakers. That box stays packed and goes with us on every trip. When we get home, I restock it so that it’s ready for the next adventure.

As I restocked our travel box this time, I wondered: What if I had this kind of box for my writing life? What would I need to make my writing time productive? As I doodled my answers, it became pretty clear that the things I needed couldn’t be put in a box (silly me): scheduled writing time, journaling, exercise, idle time, reading, connecting with writing colleagues, and connecting with readers.

I write a good deal about creativity and productivity, and there are the things productive writers do. They:
+schedule writing time
+write regularly
+take time to be idle and dream

Beyond those basics, the habits of writers vary. Some of you swear by writing first thing in the morning. Others must write in that hour before dinner. Some of you choose paper while others write on your laptop. As you say good-bye to this year and begin to imagine a new one, try this.

1. Review. Review your most productive times in 2014 (and before) and record what was going on. What did you do to support such productivity? You might write a bit of narrative about each experience or simply list what practices made you more productive.

2. Box it. Now that you’ve examined your most productive times, you know what you need to put in your writing box. But make a list anyway. We forget this stuff when we’re stressed by deadlines, chaos, or illness. Write your best tools in BIG letters—and post it in your office.

3. Practice it! Get out that calendar and a journal—and make notes about how you’re going to put these tools into practice. Schedule your writing time. Plan artist dates. Clean up the office. Add walking time.

Got that? Good.

Keep this exercise handy and repeat it, as needed, when you get blocked and can’t remember what works. (Believe me, it happens.)

Here’s to a brilliant, beautiful New Year filled with much writing!

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#WritersRead: Why Writers MUST Read and Books to Get You Started by Rochelle Melander

Greetings! And welcome to the big book review issue. I hope you find something in here suitable for your last-minute holiday gifts. If not, certainly you can find something you might like to read! And scroll on down to the bottom to find out how you can win a book. I’m giving away two copies of Lynne Hinton’s new book, Sister Eve, Private Eye.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays, Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



During National Novel Writing Month, I taught a writing class at a Milwaukee Public Library. On the first day, I found a young African American boy standing in the short hallway that led to the classroom. He was creeping along the wall and peeking around the corner at what was going on in the room.

When I invited him to join us, he shook his head and said, “Don’t want to.” I told him we’d be making lists of the people and animals, places and events that we loved to read about in books. He shook his head again. But, after a bit, he came into the room, gave me his name, and grabbed some paper and a pencil. He sat at the far end of the table, curled into himself and the paper, and scribbled. He looked up only once, as far as I could tell—and that was to find a baby name book. (We use those to name our characters.) At the end of the first class, he had a long list of characters (and their names), places, and events for his story. By the end of the three-session class, he’d made a good start on his own story.

When I teach writing, we always start here: listing what we love to read about. (See: Write What You Seek) Usually, the characters, settings, and situations that we find delicious when we read tend to be the ones we’ll also enjoy writing about. For this boy, the list was a gateway into writing.

As a writer and a writing teacher, I tell all of my students: If you plan to write books, you must first read books. Every writer needs to know what it means to be a reader—to look to books for escape, kinship, comfort, direction, new worlds, new understandings of old worlds, a kick in the pants, and—always—a good story. Once you know what it is to fall in love with a book, to think of the characters as your own close friends, to underline and commit to memory passages of narrative that will guide your life—then you will be ready to write your own book.

I’ve come up with ten rules for reading as a writer, which I will post some day. But for now, I want to give you just the first two:

87284791. Read anything that you experience as delicious or fun or engaging. When I was in graduate school studying theology, I often read fiction in between theological tomes. Once, I carried around Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin that had a woman on the cover. My classmates teased me for reading “trash” when I should have been reading God’s Word. (Perhaps they’d never found the truth about God in fiction.) The same or worse may happen to you when you pick up a kid’s book, erotic fiction, or ancient Greek literature. Put your own book cover around it and read it anyway. 

2. Read the books you wish you’d written. If you desire to write a specific kind of book—children’s fiction, young adult, romance, business—then read everything you can get your hands on in the genre. Read the bestsellers, the best reviewed, and the best loved. Talk to your potential audience and ask them what they like to read—and read that.

That’s it for my rules—for now. And now for my eclectic list of books I’ve loved this year.

Fiction and Mysteries

126381Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Set in Nigeria during a military coup, 15-year-old Kambili and her brother Jaja leave their wealthy and fanatically Christian home to live with their Auntie Ifeoma. They’re exposed to a world where they can challenge the status quo, be open to new ideas, and laugh often. The reader has the pleasure of watching Kambili weigh this new world against her old one and find something new.




1096390The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Blame the dogs. The Queen’s dogs ran off one evening, and she found them barking at the traveling library. The Queen borrows a book and falls headfirst in love with reading. It changes her life. She asks everyone she meets, “What are you reading?” (and receives blank stares back). Because Queens tend to pronounce, the book is filled with lovely pronouncements about books and authors such as this one: “A book is a device to ignite the imagination.”



17934521Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. Do you need something sweet to read? This might be it. Shotgun Lovesongs, set in small-town Wisconsin, follows the friendships of four high school friends as they grow into men, husbands, fathers, and lovers.





15096025The Trinity Game by Sean Chernover. I’m a sucker for a good religious thriller, and this one fits the bill. Priest Daniel Byrne investigates alleged miracles for the Vatican. When his uncle, televangelist and known con artist Tim Trinity, prophesies about events that come true—Daniel is sent to investigate. When Daniel’s findings contradict the Vatican’s wishes, he must decide who to obey: his family or his calling.




18467818An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay. Mireille Duval Jameson lives a life of privilege—she grew up with means, is married to an adoring man, and has a beautiful son. While visiting her wealthy parents in Haiti, she’s kidnapped and her father refuses to pay the ransom. Mireille spends 13 days with her kidnappers and many months recovering from the ordeal. This novel presents a terrifying and riveting portrait of violence, the results of wealth and corruption, and  what it means to live with post traumatic stress disorder.



16032127Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. The eleven linked stories in this book, filled with precise language, eerie images, and unforgettable characters, will haunt you—I guarantee it. And if you happen to be a writer—well, let’s just say that Ogawa seems to have much fun creating perfectly hellish situations for writers to inhabit.





22253776Famous Writers I Have Known by James Magnuson. When Frankie Abandonato, a con man, discovers that he looks just like the reclusive writer V. S. Mohle—he takes his place as a guest faculty member in a prestigious Texas writing program. The position is funded by Rex Schoeninger, a bestselling novelist who’s never gotten literary acclaim and has kept up a 25-year feud with Mohle. I have to say—this book made me laugh out loud. It’s a fun literary satire.



15811545A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. The narrative moves between the diary of Nao, a lonely, despairing 16-year-old documenting the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun and Ruth, a middle-aged Canadian novelist who finds the notebook on the beach, in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.





18666094The Black Hour Lori Rader-Day. Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor at a private Chicago college, has just barely recovered from a getting shot by a student she didn’t know. As she returns to work, she wants to discover why he did it. Then she meets Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student fascinated by the study of violence and Emmet’s new teaching assistant. Together, they’ll search for truth—even if it endangers them both. A riveting stand-alone mystery debut.



20821087The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I had a huge book hangover after reading this riveting story–and no wonder. At 576 pages, it’s a book that a reader can settle into and then get lost in. Set in 1922 London, 26-year-old Frances Wray and her widowed mother are coping with many losses—the death of Frances’s brothers in the war, the death of Mr. Wray, and the decline of their family finances. To help make ends meet, they rent part of the house to a young couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber—and this small act changes everything. Filled with passion and mystery, this is a story that twists and turns in ways you couldn’t imagine.


Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

1342425045 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson. Sixteen-year-old Ann Galardi wears a size 17. Her perfect mother wears a size 6. When Ann’s invited to be her Aunt Jackie’s bridesmaid, she sets off on a quest to lose the weight before the wedding, no matter what. At once funny and poignant, this is a book for anyone who’s felt not-quite-perfect!




20344687Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall. Fifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was born with ambiguous genitalia. She was raised as a boy but knows inside that she’s a girl. After being beaten by bullies, Alyx and her mom move to Milwaukee to start over. Alyx makes new friends, earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and begins to revel in her new life–when a dangerous game of Truth or Dare reveals her secret and threatens everything. This is a powerful book about gender, identity, and the importance of family.



18225037Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Albie is a fifth-grade boy who doesn’t quite measure up. He’s not super smart or artistic or athletic. His busy parents want more from their only child, and pressure him to do better. Then he gets a new babysitter who helps him figure out what he IS good at. This is a sweet, quiet book that shows what really matters in life.




18405507West of the Moon by Margi Preus. I loved this book, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Astri, a young Norwegian girl, wants to join her father in American. But then her aunt and uncle sell her to a cruel goat farmer. Astri escapes, rescues her sister Greta, and sets off on a harrowing journey across country and onto a ship heading for America. Beautifully written, the story weaves in Scandinavian folktales and their characters. If you like plucky, fierce young girls—then you need to meet Astri. She’ll show you how to stay sane and move forward in the worst of times.


17428880When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. I teach writing to inner city youth, and I struggle to find books that reflect their lives. This does. The story is set in Bed Stuy, New York, a not-so-good neighborhood with gun-toting drug dealers but also plenty of hard-working families just trying to get by. 15-year-old Ali boxes and helps out with his little sister, Jazz. He hangs out with his best friend Noodles and helps protect Noodle’s brother Needles, who has Tourette’s syndrome. But then the three boys end up somewhere they shouldn’t be, where people don’t know them, and things don’t go so well. A riveting story that gives the reader a peek into the challenges facing inner-city youth.


16068905Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and her twin sister Wren adore Simon Snow—the fictional protagonist in their favorite novels. In fact, they’ve been writing fan fiction about him for years—and they have their own set of raving fans. But when they go to college, Wren wants her own room and a break from writing. Suddenly alone, Cath must find her own way through her first year of college while worrying about her fragile dad, coping with an abrasive roommate and her ever-present boyfriend, figuring out what her fiction-writing professor really wants from her, and trying to keep up with her Simon Snow fan fiction. This is a sweet coming-of-age book about learning to navigate a new world alone and with others.


Mystery Series

I love mystery series because I can watch a character develop over several books instead of just one. If you’ve read this blog before, you already know I love to read and recommend series mysteries by Louise Penny, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Sara Paretsky, and many more. Here are a few new series I’ve discovered this year.

16244759Seven Kinds of Hell by Dana Cameron. (Fangborn #1) Zoe Miller, a twenty-something archeologist, has grown up on the run—but she’s never known from what, until now. Then her mother dies, her cousin disappears and she learns the background behind her secret life as a werewolf. Zoe is actually a child of the “Fangborn” – a race of werewolves, vampires and oracles. As she tries to save her cousin, she embarks on a quest for artifacts, including Pandora’s Box. An great addition to the paranormal genre—I love the quick-witted dialogue, the Fangborn world and characters, and the archeological details.


6688087The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway #1). When I ran out of books on our summer vacation, I happened upon this series at a small Vermont bookstore. And happily so! Set in the saltmarshes of Norfolk, England, Ruth Galloway makes a quiet, solitary life as a professor of archeology specializing in bones. When a child’s body is discovered, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls on Galloway to help him find out what happened.



21556065Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton. I received this book from the publisher to review—and enjoyed it. Sister Eve is a nun with twenty years of service under her belt. When her father, Captain Jack Divine, a private eye and former police detective asks her to help him recover from surgery, Sister Eve takes a leave of absence. In the middle of Captain Jack’s recovery, the two find themselves searching who killed a famous Hollywood director. This is a sweet first mystery in what promises to be an entertaining cozy series.



606928The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer. On her 14th birthday, Enola Holmes—the younger sister of Sherlock—discovers that her mother has disappeared. She heads to London to find her mother and escape her older brothers who want to send her to (gulp!) boarding school. This is the first book in a stunning series featuring the nearly fearless Enola as a first-class teenaged detective.




Nonfiction: What I’m reading now.

20613619Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry. I’m constantly inspired to be a better teacher and writer by Barry’s What It Is . When I heard about Syllabus, I purchased it right away. It’s a delicious little volume, bound to look like a student’s composition book.





22318578The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Before I bought this book, I’d purchased three new bookshelves and three bins to hold clothes. Then I learned that the life-changing magic comes from getting rid of stuff BEFORE you organize. Oops. Well, I’m hoping that the holiday break–if I ever get to it–will give me some time to get rid of that extra stuff. I’ll keep you posted.



17070443How the Light Gets In: Writing as Spiritual Practice by Pat Schneider. I’m only 16 pages into this, but already I’m hooked by the brutally honest prose and beautiful images such as this: “Tonight, words are turtles/sleeping under mud.”





On my shelf for the holidays:

I attended a fair number of writing conferences this fall–which led to buying way too many books that I had no time to read. As a result, I have stacks of books that I want to read. Here are the ones I plan to read while eating Christmas cookies:

13538878The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Jane Ryland and Jake Brogan, #1)







508919May Day by Jess Lourey (Murder-by-Month, #1)







20821284Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson





That’s it for this year, writers! Please leave your favorites in the comments below—and don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Sister Eve, Private Eye! —Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



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A 30-Day Promotional Plan for your Book Release by Valerie Biel

Circle of Nine Cover reveal - high resDear Writers,

I have a giant treat for you. As a grand finale to the indie publishing series, Valerie Biel, my SCBWI colleague and the author of Circle of Nine: Beltany, has written an amazing article on promoting your book.

Looking ahead—this Friday, just in time for the holidays, I’ll be posting my annual big book review issue. (You must read it. I’ll be giving away some amazing books!) And next Tuesday, I’ve got a fantastic tip to help you get ready for your best writing year ever. (As well as an end-of-year book coaching offer to support you in getting that book written!)

Happy Writing!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



While promoting your book should be an ongoing process, what you do during the 30 days leading up to your release is crucial to getting the attention your book deserves. To keep this from being overwhelming I created a step-by-step approach, dividing the tasks into the following categories.


EARNED MEDIA (Free Publicity)

1. Write your book launch press release.

Once you have your main press release ready, you can tweak it to fit different media outlets. Make sure (especially to reviewers) that you offer a complimentary copy of your novel upon request. Attach relevant photos (author photo/book cover image) to the email. Here’s my sample press release.

2. Identify the local, regional, and possibly statewide media that might write a story about your book, its release date, and your launch party if you’re having one.

+Newspapers & Magazines – Research staff to see if there is an assigned book editor or reviewer.  If you have an angle that makes your book perfect for a magazine on a specific topic, make sure to contact them as soon as possible.  Most magazines will finalize their issues at least one month before the release date.

+Radio/TV – Are there shows that feature local writers? Find the names of the host and/or producers of these shows. Stations often have many segments to fill each week. You may end up with a great slot!



1. Decide if you will have a budget for advertising.

2. If you do, research where this money might be most effectively spent. Consider the genre of your novel and look for websites or publications that specifically feature your type of story (young adult, mystery, self-help, etc.) There are many websites that for small fees ($20 and under) will promote your book to their subscribers. Remember that advertising specifically to readers will give you the most impact rather than general advertising. (See resource list at the end of the article.)



I am assuming that you have long ago created your website or blog and have a presence on Facebook and other social media sites. You may be comfortable with more, you may be comfortable with less—but at a minimum you need some sort of online presence that provides your biographical information and info on your book and that allows readers to interact with you and you with them.

Communicate with your followers frequently as you count down to your release date:

1. Create book giveaway contests. (Be sure to check the rules on the different sites you are using.)

2. Tease the readers with excerpts of your book to build excitement.

3. Encourage your readers to interact on your blog or Facebook page by asking them questions. (To enter one of my Facebook novel giveaway contests readers had to answer “What magical power do you wish you had?”)

4. If you are on Twitter, consider using a scheduling service like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck so you can focus on this once per week. This way your book promotions continue even when you are busy doing other things.

5. You might also consider scheduling a blog tour. For a fee, tour organizers will coordinate a group of bloggers who either review your book, interview you, or offer you the chance to guest post.

6. Post your book release info on the websites and Facebook pages of writing groups and associations you belong to.

7. Finally, just like in the paid advertising section, there are many websites where you can also list your book for free. (See resource list.) Time will be your only enemy here as you decide how many fill-in forms you are willing to complete.



Talk to your area bookstore managers, librarians, teachers, and book club organizers to set up events. It’s a great way to make yourself known in the community as an author and as a resource for discussions on writing, your book’s topic, and anything else from your experience in the publishing world.

1. Decide the driving distance you are comfortable with for planning events and create a list of the locations and contact information. For me this is bookstore managers, youth librarians, middle and high school English teachers, book clubs, writing groups, and writing conferences. Your list might look different, depending on your book’s audience.

2. Create a presentation packet that looks equally nice printed or attached to an email.  Include a biography, book synopsis (blurb from your back cover), description of events you might do, fee structure for visits (if any), and your contact information. You can see my event page and workshop descriptions at: www.ValerieBiel.com/events

3. Decide how you will deliver your promo packet, by stopping in or emailing. Where possible I visit the location, often leaving bookmarks or promotional postcards when appropriate.

4. One important note on fee structure—it is always difficult to determine what to charge. Right now because I’m in promotional mode, I do author visits for free in a limited mileage range. Usually there is the chance to sell books at the event (especially at conferences), and I take that into consideration as well.

5. When you go on visits be sure to have someone take photos. These will be invaluable for future promotions and blog updates.



Submit your book to as many review sites and contests as possible. (See resource list below.) Contest placement and good reviews are invaluable to future promotions, creating instant credibility for your book. If possible, do these well before your 30-day countdown begins, but don’t worry if you haven’t done this in advance. It will give you good news to share and help you further promote your book after its release.

(Note: It will be up to you whether to pay for reviews or not. Reputable paid reviewers only guarantee that you will get a review—not that it will be a positive one.)

If you follow these steps in the 30 days prior to your book release, the resulting publicity will most definitely increase your sales potential. Remember—it’s up to you to make sure readers know about your book so they can purchase it.

Your turn. What’s worked for you? What didn’t work? What questions do you have?



+List of free and paid advertisers, book reviewers, blog tours and more promotional ideas.

+Seven top blog tour organizers.

+Book awards open to Indie authors.

*Self-publishing advice

*The book designer.


Valerie Biel author photoAbout the author: Valerie Biel’s debut novel Circle of Nine: Beltany is a Gotham Writers’ Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest top six finalist. Her love for travel often provides the setting for her stories. Fascinated by Irish standing stone circles, Biel was inspired to incorporate their mystery and mysticism into a book for young adults. The story follows the path of 15-year-old Brigit Quinn as she learns she’s descended from a legendary Celtic tribe that serves as guardian of these stone circles. Click here to learn more about the book or purchase a copy. 

Biel is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and political science. When she’s not writing or traveling she’s wrangling her overgrown garden and doing publicity work for the local community theatre. You can learn more about her books at www.ValerieBiel.com.


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How to Get Your First Kindle Book Published on Amazon by Hazel Lau

Dear Writers,

I’m hard at work on the annual Write Now! Coach book review issue—which comes out next Tuesday! It’s packed full of great reads to inform and inspire you. And today’s tip from Hazel Lau, Kindle publishing specialist, will help you place your book on Kindle with ease! And be sure to read through to the end. She has a special gift for you!

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



If you have your best piece of content written but waiting for someone to pick your book and get it published, you’re way behind many other authors.

Do you know that there is a group of authors who’ve made their way to the top of the Kindle ebook category; most of them, are not even established authors or consider themselves as full time writers.

How did they do that? It’s through a route called self-publishing. And specifically, self-publishing a Kindle ebook on Amazon.


Why publish to Amazon anyway?

Before I dive in explaining the process in more detail, here are the top reasons to self-publish on Amazon.

1. Easy and fast.

Unlike traditional publishing, anyone can start self-publishing their ebooks on Amazon regardless of where they are—starting today! As long as you have a manuscript, publishing can happen in a matter of hours, and your book appears on Amazon worldwide within 24 to 48 hours.

2. Low cost and more money

In traditional publishing, hardcover books pay royalty rates of 10 to 15 percent of the cover price, while paperback books pay at the average royalty rate of 6 percent. On Amazon, authors earn up to 70 percent royalty on sales to customers and more if they enroll in its content exclusive and lending program.

3. Free and no contract.

Did I mention publishing to Amazon is free? There are no upfront costs to use their publishing services and tools. There is also no contract (well, sort of, you have to agree to their terms and conditions). There is no advance paid to you, so you don’t have to repay Amazon for any unearned advances, nor do they stop paying you royalties if your book is not selling well.

4. High traffic marketplace

You may already know that Amazon dominates the book market. It’s the largest paid search engine in the world. By “paid”, I mean people who search for things on Amazon are ready to take out their credit card and spend money. Publishing your book in a high traffic store increases your chance of getting more sales.

5. Established marketing tools

Amazon wants you to succeed because the more succeed, the more money they’re making! Therefore, it has provided many book marketing tools to help sell your book. What’s even better is that once your book has started to rank and sell well, Amazon makes your book more visible in the Kindle Store through its internal marketing system. It’s a snowball effect!

6. Helpful community

Stuck? No worries. You’re not alone. You have an active official community forum to back you up. And there are many other external forum sites where you’re able to seek helps from Kindle authors who have gone through the same process.

What do you need to publish your next Kindle ebook?

I hope you see the beautiful side of self-publishing on Amazon by now. Let’s talk about how you can do the same.

Here is how I see Kindle publishing. It consists of two stages: Production and Promotion. Without producing your book, you won’t have anything to sell and promote. And without effective promotion, your book is going to die on the virtual bookshelf sooner or later.

To get started, producing your own Kindle ebook is the first step. The good news is that the process is simpler than you think, you can learn to do everything yourself or hire one or more persons to help speed up the process.

Here’s how:

Step 0: Writing

I assume you already have your manuscript done. If you haven’t got the book inside of you written, talk to Rochelle to get help.

Step 1: Content editing

Self-publishing with a low budget doesn’t mean you have to compromise the quality of your book. The first crucial step in production is making sure your book is polished. It’s frustrating to read a book that is full of content errors, grammatical mistakes, and incomplete sentences.

Step 2: Ebook formatting

There is a difference between content editing and formatting. Editing makes your content flawless; formatting makes your entire book (headings, paragraphs, page flow, etc) look professional. This also includes turning your manuscript into Kindle friendly ebook format (Mobipocket or Epub). I have an article about why proper formatting is so important in Kindle publishing.

Step 3: Cover designing

People do judge a book by its cover. A great book cover is often a deal breaker especially in competitive genres. You only need a flat front cover for your Kindle ebook, and it should matches these Amazon cover guidelines:

  1. The longest side is at least 2500 pixels.
  2. With a height/weight ratio of 1:6.
  3. In JPEG or TIFF format.

Step 4: Submitting and publishing

The last step in the production is uploading your Kindle book to Amazon.

  1. Sign in to your Amazon KDP account or create a new one.
  2. Complete your author profile and register your tax info (for the first time).
  3. Click on “Bookshelf” and then “Add new title”.
  4. Entering your title information such as book name, description, categories, searching keywords.
  5. Upload your flat cover image.
  6. Upload your book file.
  7. Before clicking the “Save and continue” to the next page, make sure you view your ebook using Kindle Previewer for final checking.
  8. Choose “Worldwide Rights” so your book is published on Amazon Store in all countries.
  9. Choose 70% royalty rate and price your book between $2.99 to $9.99. Let the international prices set based on the US price.
  10. Click “Save and publish”.

There you go! For most books, Amazon takes 24 to 48 hours to review and make them live in the store. Once it’s ready, you will receive an email notification.

Tip: everything that you’ve filled in for the book details is changeable later, except the enable or disable digital rights management function when uploading your book file. You’re free to re-upload and re-submit a newly edited version, a different cover, or set a different pricing!

What’s next?

Now you understand what you need to get started, it’s your turn to make things happen.

If you like to learn and do everything your own, be sure to read the Amazon KDP Guide. It has everything you need to know about publishing on Kindle.

Otherwise, I highly recommend hiring professionals to take care of this process, regardless what kind of author you are. It doesn’t cost you a fortune, but will free up your time so you play to your strength (writing) and do more of what’s important (selling).

Your turn: What questions do you have about publishing on Amazon?


me_circleAbout the Author. Hazel Lau, founder of KindleStation.com, is a Kindle publishing specialist. She helps authors to get past the technical stages by transforming their manuscripts into ready-to-sell Kindle ebooks, so that they get right into the next step of self-publishing.

Special Gift For Rochelle’s Readers

I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article through to the end.

If you are looking to publish your own Kindle ebook and want it to be professionally handled, I want to give you something special. Over on this page, I’m offering 10% discount on all services at Kindle Station.

All you have to do is head over to this page, drop in your email address and I’ll send the coupon code straight to you.


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Reading and Writing The Stories of Our Lives by Scott Stoner

22618864Dear Writers,

I’m delighted to welcome my colleague and friend Scott Stoner to the blog. He’s here to talk about the value of reading and writing stories. Scott’s new book, Your Living Compass: Living Well in Thought, Word, and Deed was just released this fall. Scott will be speaking and signing books at Boswell Book Company tomorrow night, December 4, 2014, at 7:00 PM. If you can come, you’re in for a treat!

Happy story-making!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


Credit: Black Duke Art


Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel included one of my favorite stories as a preface to his novel, The Gates of the Forest.

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

We are indeed story loving people. Our identity is formed and shared in and through our own stories and those of others. Three times in the last few weeks I have met with friends I had not seen for quite a while. How did we choose to reconnect? We reconnected by sharing coffee and stories. We shared stories about what we’ve been up to since we talked last. We shared stories about what people we love have been up to as well. “Tell me one more story” is not just the request of a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep, it is the request we all make of one another when we get together.

If you need evidence of the power of stories in our lives, look to the important role that movies and and books play in our modern culture. They inspire us and get us talking with one another. They entertain us and distract us from the stresses of everyday life. They bring couples, families, and friends together to create a shared experience not just in viewing the movie or reading a book together, but also in discussing and replaying the experience hours and days later.

All families, cultures, and religions tell stories to both entertain, teach and to pass on essential truths. In our modern culture, movies and books are two primary forms of story telling. Like stories, movies and books come in every genre: comedy, historical, religious, drama, family, and mystery to name just a few. Some are simply for entertainment, while others embody and teach important values about character, relationships, and meaning. While each of these forms of telling a story involves many different creative talents, the whole process starts with the writer. Without a writer without a story to tell, without a script, there would be no movie or book.

While each of us has been formed by the stories of our families, culture, and faith, we have also each been given the freedom to be the authors or scriptwriters of our own lives. We get to write the stories that define our lives and our relationships. We get to decide if the relationships between the lead actor or actress, ourselves, and the other cast members will be marked by compassion or conflict. We get to decide what values and belief systems will influence the choices we make. We get to create the story line, as this is our life.

So how is the story of your life going these days? Are you excited or bored by it? Are you content or frustrated? Whatever you may be feeling, the good news is that the story of your life is not finished yet as it is still being written. Are you unhappy in an important relationship in your life? Are you unhappy in your work? Have you lost a sense of purpose or meaning in your life? If so, there is time to expand and rewrite your script rather than continue to write a story you are not happy with or that is not fulfilling. We cannot change what has already been written, but we are free to begin writing a new ending today.

Our freedom to write and rewrite the scripts and stories of our lives is one of the greatest gifts we have been given. This gift is at the heart of our Living Compass Wellness Initiative. Living Compass invites us to study the sacred texts of our lives. Then as we become better readers of the texts of our lives, we also become better writers of our new texts. And if there is one thing more satisfying than “tell me one more story,” it is “write me one more story.” In the end, it’s not that some of us are writers and some are not. We are all writers. It is simply a matter of how conscious and intentional we are willing to be in writing the stories of our lives. Sometimes all we can do is work to have a meaningful story to tell. And that will be sufficient.


Stoner Coat and Shirt no tie_032About the Author.  The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner, director of the Samaritan Family Wellness Foundation, is the founder of the Living Compass Wellness Initiative. As an Episcopal priest, pastoral counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist, spiritual director, and retreat leader for thirty-three years, he has led more than 45,000 hours of individual and family wellness conversations, plus hundreds of retreats. He lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin.



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Factors to Consider When Designing Your Book Cover By Simone Collins

Dear Writers,

Welcome to December. I hope that in between the turkey, pie, and shopping sprees, you’ve been taking time to write. If not, there’s no better time to start than right now!

Today we continue our Indie publishing series with a tip by the wonderful Simone Collins on what to consider when designing your book cover.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach


I run ArtCorgi.com, an online marketplace that makes it easy to commission made-to-order art from up-and-coming artists. Through one of our targeted storefronts, ArtforAuthors.com, I work with authors to have book covers (as well as author portraits, illustrations, and marketing graphics) designed.

Designing a book cover is a challenging process, even when you are working with an experienced and talented artist. No matter how talented your artist, photographer, or designer is, it is up to you what ultimately appears on the cover of your book. Here are key factors to consider when providing direction to those helping you craft your cover.

What Subjects and Designs Work for Books in my Genre? Before committing to any particular concept or layout, peruse the competition. Have a look at the covers of other books in your genre that are vying for readers’ attention. Find trends and determine common factors that appear to drive interest.

For example, a quick glance at books categorized as romantic comedies on Amazon.com suggests that optimal book covers feature photographs of couples’ faces (in the midst of various romantic acts), legs, feet next to each other, and headless bodies in various states of undress.

On the other hand, a look at science fiction books reveals more illustration, with a heavy emphasis on space, post-apocalyptic landscapes, and space ships.

What Will Make My Book Stand Out? I do not recommend simply going along with whatever seems to be popular in terms of book cover design for your genre. Though it can help to know what sort of imagery readers are attracted to, you should also think carefully about how you can stand out. After all, how will you break through as a romance novelist if your book cover shows yet another pair of nicely-shaven female legs placed alongside a pleasant setting?

Consider ways in which you can play up popular book cover themes while also inserting surprising elements and twists. Maybe your romance novel cover will feature legs, but perhaps they will be hanging out of a ship’s porthole or covered in tattoos.

What Will Make My Book Alluring? In addition to making your book cover design different from its competition, think carefully about how you can work in an element of mystery or pose an unanswered question. People are more likely to click through links to articles, books, and videos that pique their curiosity.

You may, for example, have the ‘token spaceship’ of your science fiction novel’s cover floundering on the floor of a public bathroom, tipped on its side like a discarded toy. Wouldn’t you be drawn to that cover after seeing a page full of space ship illustrations in which every single ship is floating through space or a post-apocalyptic / futuristic world?

Obviously you would want any burning questions elicited by your book’s cover to be tied to its story, but you catch my drift.

Will My Design Be Visible in Thumbnail Form? While considering how your book might stand out and be alluring in online listings, you should also contemplate how it will come across in thumbnail form. With mobile browsing on the rise, people are seeing smaller and smaller versions of links and products. If your book cover isn’t easy to discern in a small format, it is less likely to catch potential readers’ attention.

Make sure your design is simple and bold enough to be recognizable even when it is shrunk down to the size of a quarter.

What Represents Me as an Author? Do not forget that versions of your cover art will probably be adapted into marketing materials, social media cover photos and images, and promotional posters. People will use your cover design in reviews and promotional posts. People will judge your character and personality as an author by your book’s cover more than they will by its actual content (think about it- far more people will ultimately see a book’s cover than go so far as to read its first paragraph).

It is imperative that your book cover therefore be something that you are proud of. Something that represents your personal aesthetic and values. Something you would be happy to stand next to and smile with in countless photos. Sure, you can always change your cover art down the line, but it pays to get it right the first time.


Simone CollinsAbout the author. Simone Collins is the co-founder and CEO of ArtCorgi.com, an online marketplace that makes it easy to commission made-to-order art from up-and-coming artists. Before kicking off her own company, Simone worked as Director of Marketing at HubPages, one of the world’s largest publishing platforms for authors and freelance writers.







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