How to Prep for a Writer’s Conference

KATIE RED SHIRT (1 of 1)~ By Katie McCoach

Note: This post originally appeared here

Attending a writer’s conference is a whirlwind of activity; meeting wonderful people, learning new things, and growing your career. It’s amazing. It’s exhausting.

When I went to RWA in 2014 it was hands-down the best writer event I had ever been to. I’ve since been to a few more events, workshops, and conferences, and I still stand by this statement. RWA is the conference for romance-focused writers, but honestly, any writer would benefit from the conference. The workshops are wonderful and can be applied to any genre. If you do write romance, please go.

Let me put it another way: If a writer wanted to work with me for developmental editing and also wanted to attend RWA, but couldn’t afford both, you know what I’d say? GO TO RWA. HANDS-DOWN.

Attending a conference is a big step, and it’s a lot to take in at once.

Here are tips for BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER to get the most out of your next conference:


  1. Plan your outfits. Will it be hot outside? Cold in the AC? What does the FAQ site for the conference recommend for attire? Most conferences are business casual, with allowance for jeans – sometimes. Use your best judgement on an outfit.
  2. Pack your best, snazziest, most comfortable shoes. Shoes get noticed! Believe me. I read this before I went to RWA the first time and my shoes (they had cat ears) and the shoes of others were the beginning of a conversation starter many times. But keep in mind you’ll be walking back and forth between workshops all day.
  3. conferencePrepare your pitch. You never know who you’ll meet, and one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is, “What do you write?”
  4. Have an action plan. Use the time before the conference to determine which workshops you don’t want to miss and how to plan your day for them. If there are two you want to go to, go to the one that doesn’t offer a recording of the event later (many workshops have recordings you can purchase during or after the conference).
  5. Bring an extra suitcase. At RWA specifically, you’ll receive SO many books. No joke; tons. I had to ship about 10 to my friend and I still barely fit the rest in my suitcase, even though I prepared extra room.


  1. Talk to everyone you meet; smile, engage, be friendly. You’ll meet people when you’re in line at the bathroom. It could be an agent. It could be your next critique partner. A new friend. I know things like this seem daunting to many, especially to introverts, but keep in mind the more you talk to others, the easier it gets. And the more you’ll get out of the conference.
  2. Business cards are great for keeping in touch with people you meet. When you meet someone, jot down a couple notes on the back of their card to remember them. One thing I liked doing was connecting on Twitter immediately if their handle was on their business card. This way we could easily keep in touch and stay active in the writing community.
  3. Use the conference hashtag to Tweet while you are there. This is a great way for followers to learn new things, and to connect with other conference goers. For RWA this year, the hashtag is #RWA16. Those staying home, I encourage you to follow along!
  4. At the workshops, take notes! I like jotting down quotes the instructor says that I plan to tweet or share in a blog post later. Consider what type of note taking is best for you…do you better retain by hand or by computer?
  5. Set up downtime if you need it. These events are a flurry of activity. I’m an introvert, like many writers, and I gain energy by being alone and regrouping. If this is you too, be sure to work that time in. If there’s a period when you aren’t really feeling any of the classes, then take the time for yourself so you’ll be more energized for workshops later.
  6. Planning to see a specific author or speaker? Get there early!
  7. Volunteer! Help set up a luncheon or workshop, or awards ceremony.
  8. Drink responsibly. Do NOT overdo it on the alcohol. Yes, there is a hotel bar, and yes half the conference will be there every night including editors and agents, but it’s very important you stay alert and professional, no matter how much you want to let loose. Know your limit, pace yourself, drink tons of water.
  9. Remember that going to a conference isn’t writing, so write when you can. Staying in a hotel by the beach might be the perfect writing retreat for you. Exploring might get those creative juices flowing, so if you are in a new area, take time to see the sights.
  10. Remember at a writing conference you are surrounded by others who love writing and reading as much as you do. This is a place where you can be YOU. This is the time that writing doesn’t have to be lonely.
  11. Talk to your local or online chapter about events or opportunities to meet other chapter members. This can be a great opportunity to meet others before the conference is in full swing. My first trip to RWA, I met two ladies from the local LA chapter (that I was not yet apart of) on the plane. It was great to connect—and we’ve since kept in touch (and I’ve joined the chapter)—but it was even better for those ladies because they knew each other already ahead of time. They had others to talk to about the conference, to know how to prepare.
  12. Put yourself out there. When I arrived to RWA14 on the first day, I knew no one. So I literally walked up for four women and asked to join them for lunch. They accepted me and we ended up getting together a bunch throughout the event. Not only do I recommend you take risks, but also recognize when others are putting themselves out there.
  13. Things to keep on you: Band-Aids, mints, WATER. ALL the water. Over the counter pain meds. Notepad. Pens. Business cards.
  14. Wear your Fitbit/step tracker. OK, this is for all the fitness lovers out there, but I personally love when I look at my Fitbit steps and feel super BA. If you meet others wearing theirs, you could even set up a friendly competition to see who gets the most steps.


  1. Work in at least a day to spend time doing whatever gets you back in the groove. That might be spending time with your family, lounging in bed, cleaning, unpacking – but take the time for yourself (if you can). Writer’s conferences take tons of mental and physical energy, it’s OK to take a day off.
  2. Organize all of the business cards you gathered and reach out to those you want to stay connected to.
  3. Put together a blog post, or a personal list for yourself, on the things you learned. It’s important to realize what part of the conference or workshops helped you the most. What do you want to apply to your writing? Was there something that inspired you?
  4. If you received a request from an agent or editor, take a couple weeks and apply everything you learned to your current manuscript, and then send it off to those agents.
  5. Read all of the fun, wonderful books you received.
  6. Write.

* What are your conference tips? Any questions about your first conference? I’ll respond in the comments! 

KATIE McCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at and be sure to also follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.

Friday Writing Prompt -- The Bank Robber

jeff salter

~ By Jeff Salter

Happy Friday. :-)

Today, to kick off the weekend, we’ve got a writing prompt. Thank you to Jeff Salter for coming up with it!

Don’t be shy. Dive in and give this a shot. It’ll get you warmed up for a weekend of writing, and prompts are a great exercise in learning about your voice.

Have fun!


In NYC, you’ve just been taken hostage by a notorious bank robber from the 1930s.

Describe the robber.

He didn’t start out to involve you, but you were innocently standing behind his getaway car — so he improvised and pushed you into the rumble seat before speeding away.

pexels-photo-90601-largeWhat are you wearing?

The robber – let’s call him “Mike” – now has multiple offenses on his record (besides the theft itself). Now he’s also guilty of kidnapping and violation of the Mann Act… since he’s driving you all the way into Connecticut.

After a full hour’s ride in what’s basically a padded trunk (and even though he has not yet reached Connecticut), Mike finally stops to let you stretch your legs.

What’s the first thing you say to Mike?

Mike’s NOT really a bad guy. Now that the police are far behind, he takes the time to chat with you. He didn’t want to rob the bank, but when they foreclosed on his only property, he had nothing left… and no hope. During this stop (and after conversing with you), he has decided to keep going but is willing to let you go. Before you go, he has one question.

What is Mike’s question?

Leave your scene in the comments!

Find more writing prompts here.

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 12 titles released with three royalty publishers. Three more titles are due out this year. He has several works in progress.

Have Laptop, Will Travel [REPOST]

tanyaagler~ By Tanya Agler 

My son climbed into my minivan today, sniffed, and commented on how much the car smelled like Starbucks. I shrugged and told him that was where I wrote this morning. I’ve read with envy about writers who describe the closets they’ve converted to a great writing space. I’ve listened with envy to writers who talk about their children who know blood better be spouting out of multiple body parts if they disturb the parent who is wearing his or her writing hat. I’ve sighed with envy at writers who describe their writing space as located in their own house. My household consists of one husband, one rabbit, one Basset hound, one teenaged daughter, one tween son, and preschool twins. Whenever possible, I pile my copy of The Emotional Thesaurus, the latest RWR magazine, my binder with special craft class tips, my Kindle, my laptop charger, and my laptop into my trusty backpack and run to the car to go writing. In my case, my motto is “have

In my case, my motto is “have laptop, will travel.”

Local libraries. I always know the hours and locations of several branches. Not only do they often provide a quiet writing place, but if it’s my county branch, I can also check out books and audiobooks. The people are usually respectful and quiet, and there are always several outlets on the floor. At the library I often frequent on Sunday afternoons, the librarians often wave and warn me before they use the laminate machine. It’s a great place to write, and knowing other writers persevered until they were published often provides a great push for me.

pexels-photo-largeRestaurants and coffeehouses. After I drop off my twins at preschool, the easiest thing for me to do is head to the nearby Panera for a couple of hours of solid writing. Bagels, a quiet atmosphere, and caffeine guide me through two whole hours of plotting, writing or editing. For me, not having the laundry nearby reminding me of its need to get folded or having a dishwasher calling out to empty and reload it is well worth a couple of dollars.

My local library also closes relatively early. If my husband comes home early enough where I can get a couple of hours of writing done in the evening, it’s off to Starbucks. I’ve tried writing at home at night. A stuffed animal invariably needs a bandage or a kiss. A board game needs an extra player. I have a hard time saying no to those requests. When my husband is working, I make sure I “babysit” the stuffed animals so my five-year-old daughter can go to work. I make sure I play a game of Life. I take time to listen to a story about school while I’m folding laundry. But when my husband is off, I usually head out to write, knowing my children are forming a strong bond with their father and knowing they are seeing their mom trying to turn her dream into reality.

This fall, my life will be undergoing changes. For the first time, all of my children will be in school for a full day. No longer will I drive ten miles each way to take my two youngest to preschool. For the first time, I’ll have the whole day to write. Between you and me, I’ll probably still end up sneaking to Panera every once in a while.

Have laptop, will travel.

Do you write in one place or do you write in a variety of places like I do? Do you write at one specific time of day or does it vary depending on your schedule? I’d love to hear from you.

Tanya Agler is a write-at-home mom who is often found at her local library, Starbucks or Panera. As yet unpublished, she is a member of RWA, CRW and Georgia Romance Writers. Her agent is Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. She has been a finalist in several chapter contests (2014 Maggie Contest, 2014 and 2015 Marlene Contest among others). You can friend her on Facebook (Tanya Agler) or follow her on Twitter (@TanyaAgler). Her blog is She will be attending RWA 2015 in July and would love to hear all about your writing space and routine. 

Self-Publishing or Traditional: Which One is Right for You?

KATIE RED SHIRT (1 of 1)~ By Katie McCoach

Note: This post originally appeared here

FOR THOSE THAT are planning to self-publish a book, you may have heard by now that self-publishing is a business. It’s your business, and treating your business with professionalism and enlisting in the required help will help your business (books) succeed.

For those seeking agent representation, this idea also holds true, however a publisher is in charge of many of the business decisions instead of you.

How do you decide which option is best for you?

Traditional Publishing—The Steps:

Seeking agent representation is your first step in hoping to land a publisher. Yes, there are some publishers that now will ferret through slush submissions without needing an agent, but there are many benefits to having an agent. One of them being that someone is investing their time in you—selling your product—and two, the right agent has your best interests at heart. They will help you with the contract and make sure you don’t get screwed.

But seeking representation is difficult! You must craft a query letter, a synopsis, and research agents to pitch the best ones suited for your work.  And still, it may not work out for numerous reasons (trends, timing, recently acquired books, etc.). This is part of the publishing game, and it’s what makes this self_publishing_katieprocess so tough. But, if you want the best chances of landing an agent, be sure to do your research—follow submission guidelines, craft a compelling query, edit your query and manuscript before sending, and be sure not to do any of the “don’ts” when pitching. For a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”: What NOT to Say to a Literary Agent (or Editor). 

Once you land an agent, it doesn’t mean everything is suddenly a cake walk. The agent may ask you to make changes to your manuscript, then once they feel it’s ready they will start pitching to acquisition editors of the publishing houses to get you the best deal possible.

Once you get a deal (with a publisher), you must be sure the contract is agreeable on both ends, and then the publisher will begin working on the book. They will hire the editors, the book designer, and they determine the release date. Books take a while to release. The publishers handle all the decisions, they get the book on the shelves and distributed, but it is still your job to market/promote the book. Marketing is minimal from publishers these days, so no matter what path you take as an author, you are in control of the promotion of your book. Having a publisher might just open a couple more doors for you.

Self-Publishing—The Steps:

Self-publishing is becoming a very popular option these days, even with previously traditionally published authors. And why not? In self-publishing, every decision for the book is yours. You hire the editors, the formatters, the book designers, the printing company . . . you are in complete control. This is liberating for some authors because they know the product they put out is everything they want it to be. However, this also means you foot the bill. As I mentioned at the start: self-publishing is a business. You are now a business owner.

If you’re not willing to invest in your book, who will?

Finding the best team to help you create your book is on you, and as a self-published author it’s very important you do your research and are constantly learning about the business and changes in the industry.

But the ultimate benefit: the earnings go directly to you. Minus what retailers take, the rest is yours. An agent or publisher isn’t taking a portion of your earnings. You’re in charge of your book’s fate.

It’s a lot to decide which path to take! What feels right for you?

Either way, you want to publish the best possible version of your work. And either way, you will feel amazing when your book hits the shelves.

KATIE McCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at and be sure to also follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.


Susan-Meier~ By Susan Meier

Note: This post originally appeared here

Anybody can write a book. All you’ve got to do is think up a plot, give your characters some arcs, divide it into scenes and get it into your computer, and eventually onto paper.

But how many people do you know who really know how to tell a story?

In my younger days, I had a friend who was a joke teller. It didn’t matter where we were, fifteen minutes into any party or wedding or even funeral, my friend would have a crowd around her.

Laughter would spill out into the room and her crowd would grow. Because her jokes were good? Some were. But, really, her jokes were good because she made them good.

She knew set up. She knew how to deliver a punch line.

In thirty seconds, she could draw you in and then hit you with something that would cause you to belly laugh.

red-love-heart-typography-largeThat’s storytelling.

I talk about this a lot…especially after I judge contest entries…published or unpublished…because I think a lot of us “get it” that we have to be craftspeople, but few of us realize that, somewhere along the way, our process has to involve that magical part of us that knows how to lift the mundane into the sublime.

Is there something about your story, the way you tell your story, or your characters that lifts all those words on the page from the expected? Is there magic in your story?

Is there magic in your story?

Have you every really tried to write beautifully? To create characters so real you expect them to show up for Christmas Eve supper?

If you’ve only ever crafted, if you’ve never let yourself look for the magic…give yourself that gift.

Don’t just be a writer.

Be a storyteller.

Happy Reading!

Susan Meier is the author of over 60 books for Harlequin and Silhouette, Entangled Indulgence, Red Hot Bliss and Bliss and one of Guideposts’ Grace Chapel Inn series books, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. In 2013 she lived one of her career-long dreams. Her book, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHER was a finalist for RWA’s highest honor, the Rita. The same year NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE’S TWINS was a National Reader’s Choice finalist and won the Book Buyer’s Best Award.Susan is married with three children and is one of eleven children, which is why love and family are always part of her stories.

Critique Partners - Worth Their Weight in Five Star Reviews [REPOST]

debraelise_headshot2~ By Debra Elise

Finding the right critique partner (cp) can be an odyssey, but sometimes you get lucky. For me I’m in the second group. As a newbie writer a few years ago, I was indeed lucky when it came to connecting with a few key people already established in the business. I met the inspiring Rebecca Zanetti (read my blog on that here) and I joined my local RWA chapter where I found a group, small yet mighty, of accomplished women who were at varying stages of their careers. They embraced me from the very first meeting and more importantly shared their knowledge, the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the publishing world.

That very first summer, the chapter held a group critique of our current WIPs. And let me tell you it was the first time in my life I enjoyed someone telling me what I did wrong…LOL. It was constructive, enlightening and empowering. I’d never felt more validated in my choice to become a writer than I did that day.

It didn’t take me long before I found myself clicking with one woman in particular. She’d been traditionally published, but had just recently began self-pubbing. She was warm, funny and I fell in love with her writing and her straight forward approach to critiquing my work.

Now, we aren’t traditional CPs by any means. We don’t swap every chapter we write, or connect daily. But when we need to bounce off ideas, or complain about this or that, we know the other is there. And when we’re ready, we share our work knowing that we can rely on the other to point out the weaknesses without making the other cower under her bedcovers for days. We prop each other up and we believe each other Startup Stock Photoswhen we say, ‘this is great stuff’ not worrying that the words are being said to soothe an artist’s fragile ego. We provide each other well thought out suggestions which don’t take away from our story or our voice. Instead we’re able to shine a light on items we’ve each gone blind to in our own stories. And that is a mark of a good CP—never mess with the voice!

You may or may not currently have a CP, some authors are more comfortable working on their own and still others with their agents or editors when in the first, second or third draft of their book. However, for me, my critique partner is more than just someone I can call on to read a passage, scan for dropped threads or offer advice. She is someone I can trust to have my back and just as important to call friend.

With my debut book hitting the virtual shelves soon, I am grateful to this woman who took the time, and saved my bacon when I really needed another content edit before I felt the book was ready to publish. Having built a level of trust with her, it was easy for me to set aside the emotions that invariably rise up when someone critiques our work and points out the weak areas.  To have someone, another author, who wants me to be the best writer I can be, well that’s worth its weight in five-star reviews.

I truly believe my book would not be what it is without my awesome critique partner, writer and friend, Cathryn Cade. My first sip of celebratory drink on release day will be in her honor.


ps -If you’ve been thinking you might like to have a critique partner and don’t know how to begin, where to find one or maybe you’ve tried in the past and he/she just didn’t click, check out the CRITIQUE PARTNER MATCHING PROGRAM on your myRWA profile.

Debra Elise lives with her husband and their two sons in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves to read, nap, write, watches too much TV, and daydreams how to make her characters come alive for her readers. She also enjoys hanging out with other author-type individuals and teasing her three ‘boys’ into displaying their killer smiles.

Most days find her carpooling, avoiding laundry and spending too much time on Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest, and Instagram and Tumblr *sigh*. She will soon be starting a self-help group for social media addicts-maybe. Visit Debra at 

Her debut sports romance, SAVING MAVERICK, was released April 4th with Bloomsbury Spark.

My Five Gifts to Aspiring Writers

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant 

Note: This post originally appeared here

Dear Aspiring Writer:

A recent conversation I had with a multi-published novelist friend made me think of you…and how difficult, stressful and frequently frustrating it is to break into this “challenging” (read: “OMG, it’s so chaotic and insane…why do we DO this to ourselves?!”) industry. How we need so much emotional bolstering and moral support (and, also, boxes of chocolate truffles and pitchers of margaritas…) from friends and family to see beyond the soul-crushing rejections or reviews, the steep learning curves, the unpredictable publishing changes and the banquet of fear/insecurity/self-doubt that this particular calling creates.

I know what you’re dealing with out there. Really. I do.

My author friend and I were aspiring writers together a decade ago, and we still help each other remember that long, arduous climb toward getting any kind of professional feedback, agent interest, editor requests and — eventually — publishing contracts. And, yes, the industry has changed, and we all have digital opportunities that didn’t exist just a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean the roadblocks and the aggravations have all disappeared.

They haven’t. Not even when you’re published by a New York house. Or the winner of a big literary award. Or the #1 placeholder on some kind of coveted list.

But, while I could devote a lengthy, meandering post to how hard it is to get published and stay that way (or to self publish and gain discoverability), I will, instead, pull out my magical fairy wand — just a little trinket I picked up over spring break — and bestow upon you what I think are the FIVE GREATEST GIFTS a writer could ever have. None can be purchased, lost or stolen. And none require anyone else’s consent to possess them.

So, Aspiring Writer, these are for you:

1. Persistence

Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. You can pout for a day or two (want some Belgian chocolate? a grande margarita?), but then you need to revise your manuscript if there’s room for improvement — and, let’s face it, there usually is — and submit the damn thing again. How many times? Well, IMO, until you get the answer you want to hear.

2. A Killer Work Ethic

Be responsible. Get done what you say you’re going to do. Or, to quote the wisdom of one of my favorite fortune cookies: “Always over-deliver & under-promise. (Lucky Numbers: 28, 29, christmas-xmas-gifts-presents-large16, 52, 38, 14)” It’s stunning how often people don’t follow through. Unless a family or health crisis prevents you — because, on rare occasion, there ARE legitimate reasons for not finishing a project on time — show how incredible you are by not being a slacker.

3. Creative Thinking

There will be moments when readers won’t get your story’s humor (trust me on this) or like your “unusual premise” or relate to your offbeat characters/plot/narrative style. Still, don’t play it safe and write something that doesn’t have a shread of risk in it. Use your imagination. You’re special. It’strue, you REALLY are. Show us your unique vision in some way.

4. Optimism

Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. (Do you hear an echo?) I’m not advocating rampant Pollyanna-ism. It’s useful to see the world as realistically as you’re able…BUT, there’s no need to be the Loudest and Most Insistent Voice of Doom in the Tri-State either. You’re allowed to grumble sometimes. (Though, if at all possible, try to avoid tactless ranting on social-media sites, okay?) But then, if there’s any kind of a bright side or silver lining to be found, please try to find it. It’ll most likely make you feel better, and it’ll most certainly make other people more inclined to want to lend you a hand.

5. Curiosity

What do you care about? What are your passions? What makes life worth living, in your opinion? If you can’t answer these questions, for heaven’s sake, don’t work on a manuscript right now. Go out into the world and experience some of life until you DO know. Ask yourself, “What if?” Ask other people, “Why?” and “How?” and “Then what happened?” When you’re bursting with something you just have to try to express, THEN go home and write about those sensations, thoughts, emotions, situations and complications… Attempt to write what you care about so passionately that it inspires curiosity in others.

And above all, Aspiring Writer, hang in there. It’s a long road, this journey of ours, but you can do it.

Here’s wishing you the fulfillment of your every literary dream~

p.s. I don’t think my list of gifts is an exhaustive one. What qualities would YOU give to other writers?

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

The Lies Characters Tell [REPOST]

MelB_authorpic~ By Melissa Blue

I’m happy with my life.

I wasn’t that hurt by my ex.

My parents did the best the could and I don’t hold any grudges against them.

I just want to have a sexual relationship with the heroine/hero.

Lies. Every single last one them. Except most writers fall for those statements. Here’s how it usually happens for me. I’m writing like the wind. It’s all banter and conflict and charm. The beginning is solid and great. Sometime around chapter 4 there’s a clap of thunder. I can barely hear it over typing so hard and furious on my keyboard.

And then the typing slows to a halt.

Why? Because the character has lied and the conflict falls apart. Or their character just doesn’t make sense once the new and shiny wears off. Or I’m looking at the GMC and there just seems to be something missing. No matter how you slice it, there’s not enough meat to last a full book. You simply cannot sustain anything over 30k if you’re working on the emotional premise your hero is over his ex when actually, he’s not. Because then what is his arc? What are you writing toward?  In the scheme of things, the ex is the surface level problem to begin with. Right beneath it is the heart of the hero’s conflict—he can’t trust anyone.

What’s the solution?

First, I usually end up staring into the ether, despairing that I’m stuck in chapter four. The biggest hurdle is figuring out that you’ve been lied to. The second is trying to suss out which “truth” the character has told that is the bold-faced lie. So…I cheat. I look at the GMC because it involves the plot, the character and the story as a whole.


I’m sure many of you have heard of this but I’ll spell it out: Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Every character has one. I tend to write out both the external and internal GMC.



Heroine wants to renovate her house so she hires the hero.


The heroine wants to make a home.



The roof is falling in, the baseboards are antiques and need to be fixed.


The heroine can’t make a home when it’s falling down around her.



She can’t date the man who is renovating her house. She won’t get what she wants because relationships always implode for her.


After a string of bad relationships, heroine wants to focus on something that will stand the test of time, like a house.

Seems legit. Feels like the truth. I can definitely write a book about a heroine who falls for her handy man. Except, what happened in those bad relationships? Everyone who has dated has come across some toads. They get back out there. They don’t buy a house as stand in boyfriend to keep them warm at night. At this point I become good cop/bad cop and I poke the bear. (Yeah, I know.)

What relationships turned her off dating?

Why did they end?

Did she love them?

Why this house?

What is it about the hero that sends up red flags?

In short, I interrogate my character until I get the truth. And I will get it this time around. It never fails because my characters always lie. When I did an impromptu poll, my writerly friends suffered from the same problem. They all had various solutions, but the first step was always despairing and staring into the ether.

What lies have your characters told you? How do you get to the truth?

Mel Blue is the risque pen name for Melissa Blue. Her writing career started on a typewriter one month after her son was born. This would have been an idyllic situation for a writer if it had been 1985, not 2004. She penned that first contemporary romance, upgraded to a computer and hasn’t looked back since.

Outside of writing, Blue works as a mail clerk for the federal government, has a paralegal certificate (that she has more use for as a dust pan) and is a mother of two rambunctious children. She lives in California where the wine is good and, despite popular belief, is not always sunny.

You can find her camped out on Facebook or Twitter. Check out her website to sign up for her newsletter and get updates on new releases.


Writing Novellas and Novels in the Same Series [REPOST]

Deb author photo~ By Deborah Blake 

Someone asked me in an interview recently what the difference was between writing novellas and novels in the same series, and if one was easier than the other. The answer, of course, is that they are both hard. But that each one has its own challenges and its own rewards.

So far in my Baba Yaga series, I have written two novellas and four novels (the third one just came out February second, and the next one will be out in October) and it has been interesting to play with the different forms.

Unlike some of my author friends, I haven’t written very much short fiction. Other than a couple of short stories (including the one published in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction), I’ve almost exclusively written in the long form. In fact, when Berkley asked me to write a prequel novella for the Baba Yaga series, I’d never written a novella before.

It’s harder than you’d think.

With a novel, the challenge is mostly in coming up with enough story to fill the pages—about 90,000 to 100,000 words worth. You need to build complicated characters and intricate intertwined plotlines and create enough tension to keep people reading chapter after chapter. Of course, in a series, you may have some of the same characters showing up over and over, but since an author can never assume that his or her readers have actually read the previous books in the series, each book also need to recap the necessary information from the other books without using the dreaded “info dump.”

In a novella, on the other hand, you don’t have time to explore either the characters or the plot in such depth, so you need to be able to get across much of the same feeling in a lot fewer words. On the other other hand, it is a lot shorter, so it is way faster to write!

I had two different goals with the two novellas, in part because they fell at different places in the series. The prequel novella, Wickedly Magical, came out before the first novel and was intended to introduce the reader to all three of the Baba Yaga characters who would be featured in the first three books, but most especially to Barbara, the protagonist from WICKEDLY DANGEROUS. My hope was that the story would intrigue people enough that they would go on to read the longer novel. (Side note: as far as I can tell, it worked! Yay!)

The second novella, which fell after books one and two, and before three, was more of a fun piece that allowed me to follow up on what happened with Barbara after her main “story” was wrapped up at the end of her book. (She does show up in book three and book four. Very pushy, our Barbara.) It was, in some ways, a gift for my readers, who wanted to know what happened next. Wickedly Ever After is a glimpse into what happened after the fairy tale ending. Did she live happily ever after or didn’t she? The novella got to answer that question.

I wouldn’t say that I prefer writing one form over the other. Each has its plusses and minuses. What I really love is being able to tell the stories of the Baba Yagas (and now, their companions The Riders) and share them with my readers. Hopefully my modern take on the traditional Russian fairy tale witches has pleased my readers, no matter what the length of the story.

Have you written a series? What tips to you have? Please share in the comments! 

Deborah Blake is the author of the Baba Yaga paranormal romance series, including Wickedly Magical, Wickedly Dangerous and Wickedly Wonderful (Berkley) as well as eight books on modern witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide. She has an ongoing column in Witches & Pagans Magazine and was featured in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction. She can be found at

Romancing the Jerk [REPOST]

Phyllis Towzey 2015~ By Jane Peden

Writing a hero readers will fall in love with is always challenging – but never more so than in category romance.  Especially if you are writing about presumptuous arrogant billionaires whose cold hearts and rash judgments are in dire need of redeeming.  You know the type.  The CEO who seduces his secretary, then fires her when she’s falsely accused of being a corporate spy.  The heir to the throne who shows up on his discarded girlfriend’s doorstep and demands that she leave her job and her country behind and go with him to a distant land, or else he’ll take their child away from her forever.  The corporate raider who forces an old rival’s daughter to marry him under threat of destroying her father’s business.

See?  You already don’t like him . . .

But the author knows that by the end of the book, this man will be totally worthy of the heroine’s love.

In my debut novel, The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal, I struggled with making my heroine likeable.  I wrote a secret baby story, where the heroine shows up five years after a Las Vegas fling, with the hero’s child in tow.   Not only did she never tell him she was pregnant – she also married another man she didn’t love for money, and passed the child off as her husband’s.  Only now, when she’s a widow facing an ugly custody suit by her former in-laws, does she run to the hero for help.

Did she have good reasons for her choices?  Of course.  But I worried that readers wouldn’t be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Well, readers liked my heroine just fine.  They had much less tolerance for my hero, whose anger and lack of trust in the heroine seemed to me to be completely justified.  More than one reader-reviewer lamented Sam is such a jerk.  And a few even went so far as to say that by the time he groveled at the end of the book it was just too late.

Looking back on those reactions, I’ve concluded that category romance readers – the vast majority of whom are women – come to the book hard-wired to identify with the heroine.  So it’s easier for them to accept her motivation as genuine.  The hero, on the other hard, better prove himself worthy of both the heroine’s and the reader’s love.

And you have to lay the groundwork early on, or readers – and agents and editors – may never read past the first chapter.

Here are some ways to romance the jerk hero, and keep readers from giving up on him, regardless of whether you are writing category or single title:

  • Give the reader some insight into his motivation as soon as possible. You don’t have to tell all in the first few chapters, but drop a few hints about why he’s so closed off emotionally.
  • Show us one little vulnerability.  Maybe he has a soft spot for stray dogs. Or he can’t resist jelly doughnuts.
  • Give him a backstory that parallels a point of conflict in your story.
  • Have him admire – even fleetingly – some trait of the heroine’s.
  • Give him a touch of self-awareness.  He knows he’s being a jerk, but believe he has no alternative.
  • Have a likeable secondary character find him worthy of admiration or trust.  If they like him, there must be something more beneath the surface, right?

By including one or more of these ingredients, you humanize your hero and make the reader want to dig deeper to discover why he behaves the way he does – and they’ll be invested in his struggle to overcome the obstacles he’s put in his own path.

Because what good is an HEA if no one is rooting for it?

* What are the characteristics of your favorite heroes? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. 

Jane Peden is a Florida trial attorney who writes sexy contemporary romances set in the exciting South Florida city of Miami, where millionaire lawyers live extravagant lifestyles and find love when they least expect it. When Jane isn’t in court, you can find her at the beach with her laptop, dreaming up stories about successful, confident men who know what they want and how to get it, and smart, sexy women who demand love on their own terms.  Jane lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with her husband, two kids, two dogs, and a fish.  Jane’s debut novel, The Millionaires’ Unexpected Proposal – the first in her Miami Lawyers series – was released through Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line in March 2015.  

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