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5 Reasons to Do Audiobooks and 5 Tips to Do Audiobooks Right

Guest Post by Charlie Pulsipher.

Charlie Pulsipher is a were-hamster and lemur enthusiast who lives in Saint George, Utah with his lovely wife and neurotic dog. He writes sci-fi and fantasy or some mix of the two. He creates miniature cardboard sculptures. He plans on surviving the inevitable zombie-apocalypse that will surely start when dust bunnies rise up against their vacuum cleaner masters.image010-1

Find him online at charliepulsipher.com.

He spends his time away from the keyboard and the scalpel (for cardboard) hiking and camping stunning Southern Utah.

He neglects his twitter account. @charliepulse

Email him at raptorbark@hotmail.com (yes, that’s real)

Don’t be fooled by his shy, humble exterior. He does bite and his velociraptor impression is quite scary. It’s probably the coolest thing about him.

Also, pick up his books sooner than later. The dust bunnies are looking quite indignant.

Many of you may be toying with the idea of audiobooks. I’m here to help tip you into action.

Why Do Audiobooks?

Reach Nonreaders – There are a group of people out there who only listen to books. They don’t think they have time to sit down with a physical book, but they still love stories. About one in ten people listen to audiobooks. That’s a huge audience.

Reach Voracious Readers – People who consume a lot of books do so in multiple ways. I read hardback, paperback, ebooks, and I listen to audiobooks. The biggest readers may find you in one place and not the other.

Be Easier to Find – An audiobook is another searchable link to you and your work. Make yourself as accessible as possible.

Boost Other Sales – People who love your audiobook are more likely to pick up your book in print. Many people use ebooks and audiobooks as a test to see if they really want to invest in an author.

Up Professionalism – There’s nothing like mentioning your books are available as audiobooks to see people’s expressions change. There is a professionalism in having your books available in multiple formats. They may still buy it in print, but knowing you put in the effort to make an audiobook may have been what tipped them into the purchase.

Bonus: It’s Not Terribly Expensive – The shared royalty route through ACX is getting harder to do, but it is still there. That means it is free to begin with. You can also find narrators willing to work with you and your budget if you decide to pay them straight out for their time.

Tips to Do It Right

Get a Great Narrator – This is a time to be picky. You don’t want to jump on the first person to send you a sample. You have to really like their voice, the way they read, their accents, and their emotional responses to the words you typed out. ACX lets you search for narrators and pitch them yourself too. Take advantage of that.

I started on ACX and liked, but didn’t love the initial pitches I received. I almost pulled the trigger with one anyway but held back out of financial fears. I’m glad I did. I met my narrator on Facebook later after commenting on a post about audiobooks. I found out he lived in my area and arranged to meet him. He was on ACX, but I wouldn’t have found him without digging and being picky.

Stay Close to Said Narrator – You want to be in contact with your narrator through the entire process to make sure the voices, pronunciations, and emotions are correct and appropriate. You can email, text, or use a walkie-talkie app like we did. My narrator would send me a quick message asking for clarification and then he could hear me say the names of people, places, and magical items correctly. It worked out very well.

You’ll do the same thing while reviewing their work. I would send my narrator things that didn’t sound right, wrong words (which happens when you read out loud sometimes), and any other suggestions that came to mind.

Take Advantage of the Edits – Your narrator will uncover more problems in your book than you would think existed after all your polishing. Start your production of your audiobook before releasing all the other formats if possible. If they are already out, mop them up as soon as your narrator finishes sending you all the flaws and mistakes. Don’t feel bad about those mistakes. There really isn’t a better way to catch typos and mistakes than reading a book out loud, especially when it’s done by someone other than you. Fix them and move on.

Have Fun! – You and your narrator should enjoy this process. Don’t stress too much. You want the voice to come through as natural. Your narrator should sound like he or she is enjoying the story. This means you need to easy to work with. This doesn’t mean you can’t be firm when something needs to change or be redone, but it does mean you are tactful, professional, and easy going most of the time. Enjoy it.

Market it Well – Your audiobooks are going to need their own marketing. They reach a slightly different audience. This is where I can’t give the best advice. I’ve had some luck with Facebook ads, but I tend not to market myself as well as I should. If you have any ideas or suggestions about marketing, please share them in comments for everyone’s benefit.

Bonus: ACX is Your Friend – ACX makes audiobooks fairly painless. They have forums, FAQs, and a ton of resources available to make the entire process easy. They help you market by providing you with codes to get reviews. They answer questions quickly. Lean on them through it all.

My Audiobooks

The Crystal Bridge
Obsidian Threads
Shadowed Glass


Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

“What Scares You Most: Writing? Or NOT Writing?”*

I’m told fear itself is not good and it’s not bad. No more than a weather vane: it just lets us know if we’re ready to meet or anticipate the challenge before us. Fear is only problematic if we do — or sometimes, don’t do — something to avoid feeling what’s bothering us.

Scared to pitch to an editor in that crowded elevator? Watching floor numbers overhead won’t help. What’s the worst that can happen? The editor might say, “I’m thinking of my up‑coming speech to the group. Could we talk about this after the next meeting?” Or, “Sorry, I’m not looking to pick up any new clients just now.” So, what were you so afraid of? And why? Both answers are civil, straightforward, easily understood. And one of them contained an invitation for further congress.

So we need to swallow some lessons about fear. How do you know when fear’s got you by the throat? You pass out in the elevator? Run, screaming, from the confines of the sliding door. Some real signs of fear:

A. You consider giving up writing.

  1. You keep revising. And never finish.
  2. You write in a frenzy, for hours . . . and its still not “good enough”

B. You’re afraid . . . so what?

  1. Admit (even just to yourself) what you’re afraid of. Out loud. Then let it go if it sounds silly.
  2. It’s OK to let the fears have their say inside your head. In fact, if that’s where they are, learn to ignore them while they’re talking.
  3. Find a way to prevent that fear from taking over; stopping you from moving forward.

C. Change your focus from the doing to the results.

  1. You think your book isn’t going to be good enough? And you’re only on chapter 2? Start working on chapter 3, and forget about “The End” result.
  2. Check out what your intentions are with this book, all the commitment you’ve put into the first chapters, the love you’ve had for any part of the process, your ultimate goal. Your intent could become to follow through, whether the ending is what you wanted or not at the beginning.

D. Are you a Perfectionist?

  1. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Neither was J.K. Rowling when she started. I suppose she really isn’t now either. What she is, is dedicated to finishing what she starts.
  2. Acknowledge what, in the process, you are dedicated to — and keep that in mind.
  3. Study the genre or type of writing you’re attempting. What can you do which will bend your story to the will of that genre or type?
  4. Aim for “finished” rather than “perfection”.

E. It’s not that hard . . . so don’t make it harder!

  1. It’s not time to panic about how to self‑publish; or what to do for a “selling” cover, or where to find an agent.
  2. None of those things, and a myriad of others, matter until you type “The End”.
  3. Staying up all night to write chapter 4 probably won’t help. Pace yourself. Set achievable goals that are in reach from the way that you write — is being “driven” your style? Or a sign of your fear?

F. Examine your writing habits, and decide what they mean.

  1. Avoidance? You keep putting off getting back to chapter 7? Is it because you’re stuck? Or scared?
  2. Rewrites? Maybe you got to “The End” once. And now you’re on your 10th complete rewrite? You won’t reach ultimate perfection. If it’s good — and your critique friends say so — consider, that might be fear talking to you. Set limits. “3 times per scene, then move on.”
  3. Substituting housework for writing? Haven’t written for days because you had to sweep the back porch? Do last week’s laundry? Walk around the block, so you can “think”? Fix dinner for your sick hubby? Well, OK. Some of those things probably do need to happen. Can you give a “chore” 15 minutes, then give your writing 15? If you alternate, maybe you’ll be surprised at how much gets done, of each.
  4. Whatever you do should be done in the spirit of re‑training your bad habits, glorying in your good ones!

G. Does writing scare you? Good! Let it !

  1. Is the “scare” going to harm you? Scared of starting? Writing slowly? Going too fast? Letting anyone, even your trusted writing friends see it? If it won’t harm you, do as much of it as possible until the fear goes away.
  2. You’ve finished a book. Now someone in your women’s club has asked you to speak to them about writing. Just Do It.

H. Focus on the feat, not the fear.

  1. You write a column that’s accepted for a gardening tract in your town.
  2. Focus on the gardening you love and how to express the how to’s and the where and wherefore’s.
  3. Don’t focus on the fact that you’ll have to face this group, and talk. With coherence. You can do it!

I. Worst‑case scenarios should be faced.

  1. What’s wrong with my story? I’m a terrible writer. According to whom? My non‑writing neighbor. Or the magazine which turned it down.
  2. Why can’t I finish my story? Because it’s hopeless, it’s bad. If I never finish, I’ll never have to send it. I’ll never know — but I’ll be safer then.
  3. But if I finished, and got some feedback, I might improve. Wouldn’t that put me one step closer to reaching my goals?

J. Free your Fear

  1. Realize, fear isn’t the problem. “Fearing the fear” is the problem because it stops us in our tracks.
  2. Will getting rid of the fear mean that all my dreams will come true? No. But they may come one step closer to being realized.
  3. Your writing is important. Important to friends and family. Important to you! Your life is important, to all those same folks, including you!

Step it up. Identify the fear. Face the fear. It’s your fantasy. It’s your need to write things down. And it’s your Life. Make the most of them all.

*These 10 general ideas about challenging fears were garnered from The Writer’s Digest online from an article by Sage Cohen, entitled “10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing,” Jan. 3, 2012. If the above wasn’t enough, look it up and read his take on these ten challenges.

Keepin’ Stuff, and Keepin’ Goin’

I keep a lot of “stuff”. Some of it, I even keep on my computer: old writers magazines I didn’t make time to read when they hit my INBOX. Further, I admitted (all too recently) how many partial books I have written (and “kept” thinking “some day . . . ). And admitted how much I want to work on my longest, most researched, toughest book, an historical tale from Celtic Times in today’s England.

So I was deleting literally HUNDREDS of “saves” from some of my 1586 folders (that is an accurate, not an exaggerated, number). And I spotted an old Writer’s Digest article called “6 Simple Ways to Reboot Your Writing Routine,” by Brian A. Klems. Since my “writing routine” consists most of thinking about, but not necessarily DOING the writing, I thought maybe I’d better READ THE ARTICLE, this time, from January 10, 2012. And, yes, sometimes the “old” ideas are the really “good” ideas.

Since this was an old January 2012 piece, I thought it very fitting that I try to learn something from it now, at the end of January 2016. Here’s the short list:

  1. Your New Year artist statement: You do have one don’t you?
  2. Your Current regimen. Still working?
  3. Your hardware, software: Time for an upgrade?
  4. Writing extracurriculars: Are you missing out?
  5. Your support network: Is it in place?
  6. Day planners and deadlines: Have you mapped out a path to success?


  1. What do I write? Any fancy, new idea that pushes its way into my head. Why do I write it? Because sitting down to write something new is exhilarating! At this point, everything always looks POSSIBLE. OK, Brenda, but dig deeper. How much does this really matter to me? Why should I bother?


(If you wrote an artist statement LAST YEAR) drag it out, dust it off and find out whether any of it still applies. Make sure this statement for the new 2016 year fits you, fits your desires, fits your aims.

  1. Current regimen ‑‑‑ I HAVE one ? ? ? I usually set goals for the next day as I write my 750words on my journaling site. I know my most productive hours are in the morning. That said, those hours often collide with my “new” husband’s hours (haven’t quite reached our 4th anniversary, and this while we are in our 60’s and 70’s ‑ can you say “set in his/her ways”?), and I drop things from my agenda which are REALLY the things I want to get done. I need to start VERY early in the a.m. and get the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS done FIRST ‑‑‑ before our hours clash. SO:

6‑7 am: Get up, eat


I’m currently blogging for 3 different sites: A ‑ short, once a week; B ‑ full length, once a week; C ‑ two per week, but will need to increase as we get closer to May and June

Blogs can be written later and on specified days.

10:30‑noon: Household chores

And I MUST set my phone to buzz me when it’s time to move on ‑‑‑ for me, that’s a deadline and I’m pretty good at meeting (or even beating) deadlines!

  1. Hardware, software & upgrades: It’s good having a live‑in computer genius with magic hands around. Why, just tonight he reinstalled a program which may now prevent the SEVEN SHUT DOWNS I’ve been plagued with today! Hooray! for husbands ! ! !
  2.  Writing Extracurriculars: We’re both “retired” from Navy (him) and Teaching (moi). We’re just well enough off, normally, to be able to go to many writing workshops, conferences, as well as many theatrical venues: as a former drama director/debate coach, that’s Life’s Blood to me. We’ve already paid for two major workshops, and have our season’s tickets for this years plays and musical events which keep my blood flowing (AND ideas coming ! ! !).
  3. Support Network: I’ve been in one 40‑year‑old critique group for many years. I couldn’t go to their weekly sessions while I was teaching, but am now able to attend pretty regularly. My husband and I also started a small critique group (2 couples, with occasional visitors). Both families have been a bit bogged down since before the end of 2015 with holidays, illnesses, family “emergencies,” etc. We’re working at getting back on track. I’ve also found a neighbor and an “old” friend of many years who would be glad to act as Alpha or Beta readers. My Distractors/Discouragers? I have no one who discourages me from writing . . . other than myself. With this new plan (above, and last item below), I’m hopeful that will not be a problem now. Distractors? That’s something else again. The needs of extended family are occasionally almost over‑powering. I MUST learn to find good, gentle, kind ways to keep that from being a regular problem.
  4. Day Planners/Deadlines: I loved the quote the Writer’s Digest author of these main ideas gave: He’d had a college professor who would tell her graduate students, “A good paper is a done paper.” I’ve already set deadlines for myself from now until June 20, 2016. When I get close to that deadline, I’ll extend it through the next several months, and move from my historical novel (which takes precedence now) to one of the THREE non‑fiction tomes I’d like to pen. Or, actually, “compute.”


Use Settings to Challenge Characters

Last summer the Writer’s Dig (Writer’s Digest online, 7/21/15) ran a guest column by Kathleen Shoop which talked about ways to “Use Setting to Challenge Your Characters (& Make a Better Story). It happens that I am reworking an historical novel which I researched and wrote parts of (opening, a few chapters, a DREADFUL screenplay) some years ago. I’m hoping it’s finally time to finish the work. The story begins with the early Celtic tribes who rose against the Roman incursions (not to mention Vikings and other marauders) in the first Century, A.D.

So what do I know about the setting? This is 1st Century A.D. I’m talking about.

Shoop wisely noted that a romance, for instance, will be much different if set in today’s New York City, vs. 1905 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Attention to the differences in setting gives a means of character development which will ensure the author an original story, one that leaves readers “attached” to the characters long after the last page is turned. The key all in the infusion of details — meaningful and unexpected — that will help keep the reader turning those pages.

Shoop had several suggestions (each of which needs some explanation):

1. Inside Out

2. Dress Her Up and Make Her Run

3. A Good Night’s Rest

Details, explained:

1. Inside Out – who are your main characters on the inside? Whom do they “pretend” to be? If your Main Character (MC) tries to be something other than what s/he truly is, and that is made clear through the opening of your story, why the pretense? We may sense there is much more beyond the surface than s/he is showing. We may be puzzled by the way s/he acts, especially if we see some change or contradictions between what s/he says and what s/he does. What does s/he claim to dislike, yet allow to happen? Who IS this person? Really. And Deeply — inside. This is a good time to “play” with your reader’s early assumptions, give him/her a few surprises.

My Celtic heroine, a young girl only ten years old, has a twin of smaller build, and more timid demeanor. I could make them both a little reticent to begin with. Then, when my MC steps up to a challenge, she takes everyone (including the reader, I hope) by surprise. Now I have some serious purpose for this girl. What challenges will she accept? How will her demeanor change throughout the opening chapter or two? What about the sister, the twin? Is she also made of sterner stuff?

2. Dress Her Up and Make Her Run – “clothing and accouterments” take on the role of setting just as much as the countryside, the skyscrapers, cars in the street, hidden minuscule gardens in a city setting, etc. Clothing can reveal character traits, hamper (or help) the MC toward her goal. Clothing may impede a walk down the street, make noise in a quiet place, break down in some way: heels can break, straps break or tangle, reveal more than the MC wants during an altercation or accident, etc. Maybe you can choose clothing that is outlandish or which may fail her in a pivotal moment. Shoop suggests you “make the clothes matter in a way that helps change your characters in unique and unforgettable ways.”

My MC will be somewhat hampered on this step. It’s not as if she can step into the nearest boutique and buy something new to impress a handsome warrior. But she can do something different to it: wear a particular flower, tucked into her hair. Keep trinkets attached at the belt which no one else has. What are they? Where did she get them? Why are they always with her? and so on.

3. A Good Night’s Rest – authors put their characters into particular settings to accomplish specific tasks in the story. These places can “confirm their personalities, or challenge them to evolve.” How and where will your characters find respite? Where s/he sleeps “will help to illustrate how s/he has been shaped, destroyed . . . or possibly reborn.” Does your character prefer to sleep in a sheltered place: room, home, lean-to? Or is s/he more comfortable out of doors, where s/he is possibly more free and in control of his/her own destiny? What if that place of respite takes on a dramatic change? How will s/he cope with the change? Is it for the better or worse?

My MC comes from a family of note within one part of their clan, but they are not wealthy. And they are on the move. They will help build the typical Celtic shelter, but it will be a “permanent” building (permanent enough that they are still finding evidences of these circular “huts” in the British Isles). She will be at home in the outdoors, waking or sleeping. But when she marries a man who will become a noted warrior and leader of his Tribe, how will she cotton to being indoors so often, adjust to spending more time indoors than out, maintaining the home and “servants,” constantly having to prepare for guests — welcome or un?

Shoop’s last word of advice: “Play with your manuscript Analyze how you are using [these] aspects of setting to challenge and change your characters. You will love the results as you watch your words come alive on the page, surprising you at every turn.”

Just the thoughts which have come into my head while writing this piece have warped away from some of the things I’ve thought before. Hope it opens your eyes as well, to wider horizons and ways to use these kinds of details to rope your reader into your story and make him/her want to stay!

A Middle-Grade Reading List by Brenda Bensch

Writers are wonderful people. They are compassionate, helpful, sharing kinds of people. And I have the proof:

I was actually looking through my online files for old copies of The Writer’s Digest or The Writer for ideas for a new writers’ blog, when I happened across a years’ old message where someone calling herself the “Provo granny” had asked for mystery series suggestions for a grandson who read at a 4th to 5th grade level. The suggested readings intrigued me too. I’d kept all the suggestions so I could make a reading list of MG books “some day” for myself. These were all posted five or so years ago, so I know this “list” needs to be expanded, but these suggestions still have their merits.

Isn’t it great how so many kids books can live on, and on, and on? Think of some of your old “favorites” ‑‑‑ how many of them are still on the shelves at your local library? Or, better still, on your shelves at home?


  • Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians ‑ Brandon Sanderson
  • Box Car Children
  • Chasing Vermeer ‑ Blue Balliett (& The Wright House, The Calder Game
  • The Edge Chronicles
  • Freddie the Pig ‑ Walter Brooks
  • The Gravity Keeper ‑ Micael Reisman
  • The Great Brain ‑ John D. Fitzgerald
  • Hardy Boys
  • The Lucky Series ‑ Dean Hughes
  • Mysteries in our National Parks ‑ Gloria Skurzinski & Alane Ferguson (Wolf Stalker & others)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society ‑ Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Pendragon series ‑ D. J. MacHale
  • Secret Series ‑ Pseudonymous Bosch (The Name of This Book is Secret, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, This Book is Not Good for You)
  • The Seems ‑ John Hulme & Michael Wexler
  • Shadow Children series ‑ Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School ‑ Loouis Sachar
  • Skullduggery Pleasant ‑ Derek Landry AKA: The Scepter of the Ancients
  • The 39 Clues (starting with The Maze of Bones)
  • The Three Investigators ‑ Robert Arther
  • The Time Warp Trio ‑ (John Scalzi ‑ U.S. Ambassador of Children’s Lit 2009 ?)
  • The Warriors
  • Whales on Stilts ‑ M. T. Anderson
  • Wolves of Willoughby Chase ‑ Joan Aikin

Thanks to all who sent these to “Provo granny,” and to each other, way back when. In case you lost track of the list, here it is again. This is an interesting, though not necessarily definitive, list. What books would you add to it now? Since I’m not the particular “granny” mentioned, I won’t even restrict you to mysteries. Or to series. How about some of your cherished single-title MG books? What were/are some of your favorites of any MG genre? Which ones have you read over again as an adult. How did they stand up now. PLEASE answer in the comments: we’ll ALL benefit from your suggestions.

Happy Reading ! ! !

Love, LuAnn

I’ve always had Three Loves: teaching, theatre, and writing (the order changes from time to time). Before I began kindergarten, I “knew” I wanted to be a teacher. (It’s probably always been a control issue.) When I played “school” with my little pre‑kindergarten friends, I was always the teacher. How did I even know what a teacher would do?

Then I began school, and was learning to read. I remember The Day I “got it!” I was looking at a very long word, which I didn’t know. As I sounded it out in my mind, I realized I DID know the first part of it: “may”. Then I realized I knew the second part of it too: “be”! May Be. Maybe. It was like a bolt of lightning zapped through my head. Neither of the two words means the same thing as the combination means ‑‑‑ it was a word I didn’t recognize, as written, but once I’d puzzled it out, I was beyond thrilled that I knew THAT word too! At least, when hearing or saying it. It was MAGIC ! That had to be when my love affair with words began.

Many, many years later, when I’d already been teaching for a few decades, I met a like soul: LuAnn Brobst Staheli: the consummate teacher and wordsmith. I think we “recognized” each other upon our first meeting. She always had wise words, and that broad, welcoming smile! (How I miss her now.) I ran across an old blog of hers, and would like to pass along a few nuggets. She had become discouraged, at one point, and feeling that ‑‑‑ in spite of “small” successes with a couple of books through “niche presses” and what could only have been the beginnings of writing awards she received, she was ready to give up: too many “No, thank you,” “not right for our list,” “We’ll have to pass on this,” and “Good luck finding a house for your work” rejections.

Was she writing the wrong things? What would be the next Big Thing? Editors and others could only answer, “We’ll know it when we see it.” She was asking the questions most prolific, but unpublished, writers ask themselves. Then she made a decision and set a goal: “

LuAnn tried to look at her writing ‑‑‑realistically ‑‑‑she loved to write, knew how to tell a good story (that could have been from all those years of capturing the attention of her hundreds of junior high school students!). She knew she could write for a broad audience: middle grade, YA, adult, fiction and non‑fiction with topics just as wide ranging from memoir, education, history and all kinds of swirling, yet‑unrealized topics and subjects.

“So in December, I made a decision,” she wrote. “If publishers didn’t want to buy my books, then I’d need to move on without them. I had readers who were tired of waiting and I was too. . . . I made a list of all the books I had already written that were sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a home. I added the manuscripts that were nearly done as well, and found, that even with not yet counting the two manuscripts

I had out waiting for a response from traditional publishers, that I had enough books close enough to completion to meet my goal. (Since then, both of those books have been formally rejected, so they are now a part of my master list of books that will be lining up on Amazon, ready for an instant download to the readers who want them.)”

And so her 2013 goal came into being: she would publish a book‑a‑month, even if she had to do it on Kindle. She began with Leona & Me, Helen Marie, based on her mother’s stories of childhood, growing up in southern Indiana, which she’d written shortly after her mother passed away. The cover showed her mom, Helen Marie, and her aunt, Leona Mae.

LuAnn’s February release was A Note Worth Taking, with a cover which “placed it into the Small Town U.S.A. series. She noted that “[a]lthough some readers have tried to read themselves into this novel . . . it’s a story I made up in my mind . . . some of the events are based on truth, but the conflict and resolution, and the characters who play key roles are purely fiction. . . . when it comes to girl drama, there is nothing new under the sun, so you could change the names a million times and people would still wonder, ‘Is this about ME?’“

Having gone through this process herself, Luann wrote on her blog May 16, 2013, “Thinking of giving up your writing career? Time to get energized and take a new direction. Read my story here: T.he Book of the Month Club.”

LuAnn Brobst Staheli was NOT a quitter. She was more likely to follow Winston Churchill’s wise words: “Never give up. Never, never, never give up!”

And so should we all.

(Thanks, LuAnn, and “Winnie” ‑‑‑ I needed that!)

Some other books by LuAnn Brobst Staheli:

  • When Hearts Conjoin (Utah’s Best of State Medal for Non‑fiction Literary Arts)
  • Tides Across the Sea
  • Just Like Elizabeth Taylor
  • Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith
  • Living in an Osmond World
  • Been There, Done That, Bought the T‑Shirt
  • Books, Books, and More Books, vol. 2; A Parent and Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Literature
  • Temporary Bridesmaid
  • Carny
  • Ebenezer

“Caring” for Our Goals

A dear friend, and former writing student of mine, Barbara Wilson, momprofilepicruns a marvelous blog called “Uniting Caregivers”. She and her husband were in a horrific auto accident over 20 years ago. She felt a necessity to bring caregivers together in some way to learn from (and lean on) each other during the challenging times of being a caregiver.

Last Tuesday, the post was written by her grown daughter, Katie Wilson Ferguson, who was very young when her parents were in that crash. She talked about the “Power in the Positive.” She was talking, of course, about caregiving. But I think it all applied beautifully to writing as well.

Her five main points were:

  1. Only set goals you truly desire.
  2. Write your goals down
  3. Focus on the positive outcome.
  4. Attach emotions to the goals.
  5. Reward yourself.

A. What do you REALLY want out of your writing? To be published? That’s not always within the control of the author — unless you’re willing to do the incredible work of self‑publishing. Maybe what you REALLY want is to leave something to your family. Or you want to explore answers to problems you’ve experienced in your life and how you handled them. Or you want the “fame” and the “money”. Are these realistic expectations for your writing? They are if you’re willing to put in the work to make them so.

B. While writing your goals down, Katie suggests that you do so in the present tense. What do you know about present tense from your writing? It is more immediate. It brings the “reader” (you, once you finish writing it down; possibly family or friends who will help you stay on target) closer to the action. Therefore it’s a powerful way of stating what you wish, hope and strive to bring about.

C. Be sure you are focusing on what you do want, not those things you don’t want. Focus and think about your feelings once those goals have been accomplished. Is that a wonderful “warm‑fuzzy” or what? This focus will help you to concentrate on the good outcome, rather than the pain, trouble, travail — and the occasional disappointments — which assail all of us.

D. Think about how the emotions felt the first time you finished a piece of writing. Maybe it was a poem in 2nd grade. An essay for your high school English class. The first time you read something aloud to a writing critique group — and they liked it! Keep that emotion close to your heart. One of my favorite experiences was when my English teacher got a kick out of an essay I’d written about the fear of going down into the dark, isolated basement in my grandmother’s house. Of course, I’d exaggerated everything — the cobwebs through the back enclosed porch, the steep stairs, the dark of the furnace room, all just to grab a bottle of my grandma’s peaches to take to her upstairs — “Oh, No! She wanted apricots”. How I ran back through that path to get out of the scary basement. My teacher, a well‑known local writing teacher and poet, asked if she could use my essay to share “what can come out of an ordinary English class assignment.” My mother was so proud — made me read it aloud to the whole family! (But my grandmother was mortified: “Our basement isn’t that dirty!”) I didn’t make much headway trying to explain “poetic license.”) I still get a kick out of thinking about that incident, and remembering my poor grandmother’s worry about “what people would think.” I can still feel all the emotions I felt then. So add emotion.

E. Rewards: when you finish that set of three poems, give yourself time to read another chapter of a book you love. When your critique group thinks “Now it’s ready to send out” to that contest, or agent, or editor, celebrate with your critiquers. Include them in your joy, your reward. When you finally write THE END on p. 317, go out to dinner with the whole family ‑‑‑ they had a lot to do with your making that goal as well.

F. And now step SIX: write down your NEXT goal, remembering all the above steps.

Some of you may be caregivers as well as writers ‑‑‑ I’d like to encourage you to take a look at the Uniting Caregivers blog. It a wonderful source of information and encouragement about this difficult but rewarding service. Especially take a look at Barbara’s “About Author” section to see what she’s about.



Start Where You Are

I’ve recently started a weight-loss program provided by my day-job as a health benefit. The program, Naturally Slim, consists of a series of weekly video lessons that cover topics of nutrition, weight loss, exercise, stress reduction, and general mental and physical well-being. In one segment on exercise, the speaker pointed out that people, especially men in their forties and fifties, tend to hurt themselves by overdoing exercise when they first try to get back in shape. He further elaborated that our society seems to cling to the unhealthy expectation that to “be fit” is a destination, not a process. If you haven’t worked out in twenty years, you can’t reasonably expect to get up off the couch and power through the workouts that were difficult in your teens and twenties.

With this attitude, most people who try to get into shape to quit before giving themselves a chance to achieve their goals. Most often, they either injure themselves or are overwhelmed by their perceived lack of progress. It is better to be honest with oneself, accept your limitations and “start where you are,” even if all you can manage is a ten-minute walk. Soon enough, ten-minute walks turn into twenty-minute walks. With persistence, you’ll be able to walk for an hour or more, incorporate some weight training and more high-intensity cardio. It just makes sense, right?

At that point, I took a moment to pause the video and figure out why the point seemed bigger to me than simple fitness advice. It didn’t take very long for my mind to wander back to my writing, as it tends to do. I had been struggling with putting words on the page that week and was getting frustrated with my lack of progress. “His arguments about fitness make perfect sense to me,” I thought, “and yet, I also am frustrated when I have writing sessions that result in a lower than desired word count. I’m disappointed when my first drafts fail to live up to the awesome thing I had pictured in my head. It’s as if I’ve convinced myself that small steps means that I’ve somehow failed as a writer.” See how that logic, or shall I say “illogic,” works? It sneaks into your every day life if you’re not careful to watch for it!

As a society, we’ve bought into the fallacy that if we don’t see instant perfection we have some how failed. As such, we are unreasonably hard on ourselves and become frustrated from “lack of progress.” It is unreasonable to insist that we can go from an inactive lifestyle to sprinting without conditioning ourselves with the steps in between. Likewise, it’s unreasonable to insist that we go from a blank page to a polished work without taking the time to draft and redraft.

I, like many of y’all, have been raised and molded in a culture of instant gratification. Personally, I blame marketing. We’ve been told so often that we deserve to be a fit/healthy/sexy person and for all our dreams to come true, instantly. Why are you sitting? After all, you were meant to be up and running! The capital “T” truth is that’s not how real life works. Frankly, those sorts of expectations are unhealthy, counter productive, and only work for the people who are trying to sell you something. Real progress, real accomplishment, takes the expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears. In the end, it is the struggle that makes what we accomplish meaningful.

For creative people, this truth is particularly difficult to shake. As the legendary radio personality, Ira Glass put it, we often get into creative endeavors because we have exceptional taste. We want to make the things we love, and when our initial attempts fall short of the standards set by our own good taste, we’re disheartened.

So, the first step to becoming a better author is to realize that our early attempts aren’t going to live up to our full potential. Certainly, we won’t be able to compare to the heroes that inspired us to write in the first place. Truth be told, they weren’t born perfect either, but rather earned their skill. Don’t believe me? Find your favorite author who has published more than ten books. Read their debut novel and then their most recent work. Notice the difference?

There is no such thing as the perfect novel. Writing is too subjective for that to be possible. Rather, we must struggle to be better than we were. Most of the writers I know are too self-critical to be able to help themselves improve in the long run. Certainly, I’ve reached plateaus in my skill that I could only overcome with the help of a new craft book, or the advice and observations of a trusted friend. Not all advice should be treated equally. Instead, we have to find those with the experience to give us an accurate view of our work and who aren’t afraid of hurting our feelings in the process. This is why editors and writing groups are critical to an author’s growth. They help remind us where we are today and show us what we need to do to get better.

I recently experienced this first hand when a writing friend of mine sent me a guest post for the Fictorians. However, the first draft was less than I had hoped from her, less than I knew she could accomplish. It was full of language that hinted at depth and emotional power, but fell short of the mark. I had asked her for the post because I knew she had something to share with the wider world of the blogosphere. I told her just that in my feedback, highlighting my observations with specific examples. Sure, I was reluctant to hurting her feelings, but at that point I was her editor, not her friend. A few days later, I received a note back from her. She had taken my feedback and redrafted the post. When I read it, I found that she had delivered even more than I had initially hoped for! In the end, she ended up thanking me for the push. My honesty had helped her do her best work.

To become a master at any activity, you must start where you are, and start today. You’ll never finish a paragraph if you don’t finish a sentence. If you don’t finish a first draft, you’ll never have the opportunity to practice your revision skills. If you read interviews and biographies of the world’s greatest minds, you’ll find one thing to hold true. Becoming an expert or a professional is a process, not a destination. They were obsessed. They consumed, learned, and practiced voraciously until they reached the end of what others could teach them. Only then could they push further than anyone had achieved before. Sure, there have been a few sparks of brilliance over the course of human history, but more often than not it was persistence that allowed them to reach those unprecedented heights.

Nathan Barra

About Nathan Barra

Though Nathan Barra is an engineer by profession, training and temperament, he is a storyteller by nature and at heart. Fascinated with the byplay of magic and technology, Nathan is drawn to science fantasy in both his reading and writing. He has been known, however, to wander off into other genres for “funzies.” He is an active blogger, not only on his own site, NathanBarra.com, but also with a group blog called the Fictorians (www.Fictorians.com). Nathan is always up for a good conversation, so please drop him a line through his contact page, or write on his Facebook wall (www.facebook.com/WriterNathanBarra).

Blinkers and Signals


By Ted Finch

I was driving to work the other day when a car in the lane to my right veered across three lanes of traffic in order to get into the left hand lane to make a turn.  The reason I say veered is because they didn’t use the blinker to let me or the other cars know that they needed to move over.  I would have gladly given them room to move over.  That is my biggest driving pet peeve, not using your blinker.

This got me thinking about using signals in writing.  I love a good plot twist. And when I go back and look at the story again, I start to see where the writer had placed little signals that indicated that the story would be changing lanes at some point. That is a good thing.  It is important to make sure that your story follows a structure or convention that readers are used to.

Have you ever watched a movie that had a plot twist that came out of nowhere?  Did it leave you wondering what just happened? I know that those kinds of movies leave me shaking my head.  There was a TV show called Life on Mars. I love the show.  It was well written.  The characters were great.  The more the story unfolded, the more I was pulled into the story.

But then the show ended.  It was only one season, so I realize that the ending may have had to be rewritten, but wow!  It was probably the worst ending ever.  SPOILER!  Everything had been a dream for the main character while his body was in sleep mode on a spaceship that was headed to Mars.  I was really disappointed. I felt robbed as a viewer. I really hated that I had spent time getting invested into the story.  They didn’t use their blinkers.  There were no signals at all.

Remember in your writing that it’s great to keep your reader guessing.  Keep the plot twists coming, even unexpected ones are fine. I love the unexpected ones.  Just make sure that you put signals, hidden or in plain sight, along the way.
Ted is a devoted husband and the father of two wonderful daughters.  He loves them, and he loves writing! Learn more about him and read his blogs here.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn wrote her first book, about a talking grandfather clock, when she was six – and hasn’t stopped writing since. In fact, she can’t “not write,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t missed a day of writing in her journal for the past four years!

As a winner in this year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge, Bonnie produced her latest dystopian novel, "Escaping Safety," and is now working on its sequel. She is also close to completing a fantasy romance series, "The Legends of Elldamorae," whose characters have captured her heart and can’t wait to have their stories revealed.

Bonnie’s mantra is, “I write because I believe every story deserves to be told.”

You can learn more about Bonnie, and read her inspirational blog posts, on Where Legends Begin at http://www.bonniegwyn.blogspot.com/

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.

What’s Voice Got to Do With It?

By Rebecca Blevins

I’ve been enjoying literary agent Sara Megibow’s #10queriesIn10tweets Thursday afternoons on Twitter. In real time, Sara shares why she rejects queries or why she asks for samples.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend.

Besides factors like a cool premise, strong and likeable main characters, a well-edited manuscript, etc, there is one thing which keeps standing out as to whether a query works or not—voice.

What is voice?

I love how Julie Wright described it a few months ago on Twitter. “Every writer has a cadence, the beat they use to express life. Word choice, sentence length, pet phrases . . . all make us the writers we are.”

So, every writer has an innate voice. Is that it? Do you just have what you’re born with, and either you’ve got it or you don’t? I believe that whether we have voice that sells millions of books or voice which makes our blog followers feel connected with us, we can always improve in some form.

How can you develop your writing voice? I have discovered two ways thus far:

1)      Read.

Last month here at the Think Tank Blog, Mikey Brooks wrote a great piece on why writers need to read. In this post, I’ll focus on how reading helps us find our literary voice. Stephen King had definite opinions on the subject in his book On Writing:

“Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing—of being flattened, in fact—is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

This next example—from the same chapter—is something I have personally experienced. Something about reading someone else’s prose gets those creative neurons firing in my brain, even when I’m not aware of it:

“You may find yourself adopting a style you find particularly exciting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I read Ray Bradbury as a kid, I wrote like Ray Bradbury—everything green and wondrous and seen through a lens smeared with the grease of nostalgia. When I read James M. Cain, everything I wrote came out clipped and stripped and hard-boiled. When I read Lovecraft, my prose became luxurious and Byzantine. I wrote stories in my teenage years where all these styles merged, creating a kind of hilarious stew. This sort of stylistic blending is a necessary part of developing one’s own style, but it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so.  . . .  If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So, thanks to Mr. King, we see that in order to help find our style, our own personal voice, we need to experience as many other authors’ voices as we can.

Ready for the second tip?

2)      Write.

“Why, thanks, Captain Obvious!” But really, we can use our own writing to help us discover our style of voice.

Here’s how:

Write about Harry Styles. Uh, I meant write in different styles. (Got your attention though, if you are a teen girl or know one, right?)

If I’m only writing first-person picture books about an octopus named Sal who has a thriving medical practice in the ocean, am I going to venture very far in developing my voice? I guess Sal could escape from a fishmonger or live in someone’s aquarium for a while, but he’s pretty much going to have his tale centered on his doctoring and the sea where he lives. (Can you tell I write for children?) However, if I then write a third- person suspenseful romance—told from two points of view—about a hunk o’ burnin’ love wilderness- survivalist who’s sent to the Alps to rescue an emperor’s daughter being held for ransom, I’ll develop a whole new set of storytelling skills. In turn, those new survivalist and future empress-saving skills will have expanded and deepened my voice, and when I go back to writing about Dr. Sal, who knows what new depths of the ocean I can plumb?

“Well,” you might say, “I write epic fantasy but have been secretly inspired by Dan Wells and am tempted to write a twisty murder mystery. But I don’t really want to write a full-length novel about it, or a novella, or even a two-thousand-word short story, so should I forget the idea?”

Here’s the answer: flash fiction.

Say what?

From Jason Gurley at writing-world.com:  “If you’re anything like me—the traditional short story writer—then perhaps you’ve had the same reaction I exhibited when I first heard of something called ‘flash fiction.’ I stopped, stared, then turned to a writer friend of mine and said, ‘What?’”

Further on, Jason explains, “In brief, flash fiction is a short form of storytelling. Defining it by the number of words or sentences or even pages required to tell a story, however, is impossible, for it differs from writer to writer, editor to editor. Some purists insist that it is a complete story told in less than 75 words; others claim 100 should be the maximum. For less-rigid flashers, anything under 1,000 words can be considered flash-worthy. And there are even a few who stretch their limits to 1,500 words.”

I was introduced to flash fiction a few years ago by my friend, Karen Hoover. We wrote from prompts and utilized specific rules—1000 word maximum, written in one hour, all editing included.

I quickly found I had to shut down my internal editor and write from the hip. Not gonna lie; some of my stories were awful. Yet there were good points here and there, and I grew as a writer. Then life happened and the weekly contributions fizzled out.

Fast forward to this January. Each Friday Suzanne Warr hosts a flash fiction link-up on her blog, Tales from the Raven, so I joined in. When I wrote a story about a boy breaking his New Year’s Resolution, which involved Winnie-the-Pooh, a brown bag, and a lighter, I remembered how fun it was to experiment with a short project.

Flash fiction is a fantastic way to try on different styles of voice, genre, characterization, etc. You’re only committed to that one story, so what’s the worst that can happen? You could—and likely will—figuratively fall on your face, but who’s watching? Even if you don’t share your story, the experience will help you develop and expand the richness of your writer voice.

So, in summary: How do you develop voice? The short answer is to 1) read widely and 2) write with courageous profusion.

Also, eat chocolate during either exercise. Somehow, I think that helps.


Rebecca Blevins lives in the Midwest, land of tornadoes and cows. (Hopefully not mixed together.) Her first book at age four was a huge hit, with a cover made out of a cut-up diaper box and pages of stick figure drawings. The title? Mommy and Rebecca Go to the Store. Now, Rebecca creates stories for several age groups, but she has a special fondness for writing middle grade humor.

You can find Rebecca on her blog at http://www.rebeccablevinswrites.blogspot.com/

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn wrote her first book, about a talking grandfather clock, when she was six – and hasn’t stopped writing since. In fact, she can’t “not write,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She hasn’t missed a day of writing in her journal for the past four years!

As a winner in this year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge, Bonnie produced her latest dystopian novel, "Escaping Safety," and is now working on its sequel. She is also close to completing a fantasy romance series, "The Legends of Elldamorae," whose characters have captured her heart and can’t wait to have their stories revealed.

Bonnie’s mantra is, “I write because I believe every story deserves to be told.”

You can learn more about Bonnie, and read her inspirational blog posts, on Where Legends Begin at http://www.bonniegwyn.blogspot.com/

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.