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When we learn to do anything, it is hard at first. When we learned to walk, we fell down a lot. Then we got good at walking and now we can get up and walk across a room without consciously thinking about what we do. We were walking in flow.

When you learned to drive, you had to think through each move you made. You thought out every move we had to make. Think about what it was like when you came up to your first traffic sign. You had to know when to let off the gas when to put on the brake, and when and how to put on the blinker. You needed to remind yourself to look both ways before crossing an intersection. You had to think about how to turn the steering wheel. After practicing those driving skills over several weeks and months, you no longer had to think about what you were doing. The actions became automatic. You were driving in flow.

When you learned to read, you had to learn the alphabet, the sounds the letters made, and the words that the sounds produced. You had to string the words together to make sentences and then those sentences to make paragraphs. Soon you were reading and not even thinking about the words that you were reading instead, you were picturing the scene and feeling the emotions of the characters. You read in a flow state.

The same thing can happen with writing. You can develop writing skills that make writing flow just as easy as walking. You can learn to write in such a way that all you need is an idea and a few subtopics, and you can write a scene or an article very quickly because you learned how to write in flow.

Here are a few skills that every writer needs to learn so that they can best write in flow.

Learning Spelling and Grammar

Knowing how to spell words and knowing how to put a sentence together is the backbone of writing in flow. If you don’t know how to spell or how to put words down into a meaningful pattern, it’s difficult to write anything that makes sense.

Reading and reading a lot of good contemporary literature can help you in this skill.

Making a game of learning “spelling words” that you are likely to use regularly is a good practice if spelling is difficult for you.

Writing and writing regularly will help you over time develop this skill as well.

Learn Touch Typing

Years ago, I was in school, I had to write a lot of essays about the subject matter. In one class we had to write something that was due every Friday. The assignments took me about an hour to write, however, another student complained that the assignment took her over five hours to complete.

It wasn’t that I was smarter than she was. It was that I could type faster than she could because I had learned touch typing. QUERTY touch typing is a skill that helps me think of a word that magically comes out of my fingers onto the screen. I hadn’t learned touch typing until after I was out of high school, but it really came in handy when I was in college and for me as a writer of both articles and fiction. I don’t have to think about the individual words because I learned the fingering on the keyboard to the point that it is automatic. Yes, it took time to learn but it saves me so much time now.

Learn to Compose on the Computer

Right along with learning QUERTY keyboard fingering, I learned to compose on the computer. This is probably a skill that younger people know because they grew up writing on screens, but we old folks had to learn after the fact. Back in the old days, I wrote things out on paper and then had to transpose them to the computer screen. Now it is as simple as thinking the word and letting my fingers do the rest.

Journaling

Getting into the practice of sitting down to write every day is another critical skill that writers should do. Not knowing what to write is probably more crippling to a writer than not knowing how to write. Therefore, journaling is the next skill I recommend developing for learning to get into the flow.

Journaling is simply sitting down and writing your thoughts on the screen. Unlike many people, I don’t journal on paper, but I journal on my computer as a document in Microsoft Word. I type the date and then start typing. If I don’t know what to write, I write I don’t know what to write but. . . and then write whatever comes into my mind next. Often, when I don’t know what to write,  I will set a timer for fifteen minutes before journalling and then just keep typing until the timer goes off. Sometimes nothing of any value comes out of the journalling experience, but most of the time I find something that I can use.

Gathering Ideas

Writer’s block happens when you don’t have any ideas or ideas that you think are good for moving forward in a project. Writing a list of ideas that you can go to when you need an idea is one of the ways that you can avoid writer’s block and find your way into the flow.

Creating an Outline

Some people seem to think that there’s something constricting about writing using an outline, but I find that I get into the flow better when I have an outline. Writing an article or a story without an outline is like driving a car to a place where there are no signs indicating where to go. It’s easy to get lost.

I remember one time a co-worker of mine invited me to his house. He lived down a dirt road where there were no signs. He told me that if I just kept bearing to the right, I would eventually find his place. Instead, I ended up coming out where I started. I never did find his place.

The same happens when writing. Without an outline, it’s easy to go down a lot of rabbit holes that end up needing to be deleted or where I realize that the storyline isn’t going anywhere, and I must start over.

Putting it All Together

Any one of these skills will help you improve the flow of your writing but putting them all together will exponentially help improve your ability to get into the writing flow.

If getting into the flow of writing is difficult for you, which skill do you think would help you the most?


I am making money selling articles online! I have been writing a lot on a platform called Medium lately. I wrote almost every day in June last year and now as of July 27, 2022, I have started my own publication on the platform!

Medium Reader Program

The Medium Reader Program is a paid reader-supported platform where readers support writers on the site by reading articles on subjects that they want to read.

The cost is five dollars per month or fifty dollars per year and you can read as much or as little as you like. You can allow yourself to be put on the email list of your favorite authors on Medium so that you are able to read what they wrote. Once an individual subscribes to Medium and has paid for their month or year, the individual becomes a Medium Member, and they get access to every article or story that Medium carries. Click this link to become a Medium member.

To find topics or stories that you’re interested in, you can type a subject into the search bar in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. A drop-down bar will bring up people, publications, and tags based on that topic. Click on a person, publication, or tag, and the articles will display on your screen.

Medium Partner Program

Medium offers an online money-making program to writers called Medium Partner Program. These authors write articles or stories on their own profiles and many also include their articles in publications. These publications include stories by other authors that are related to the author’s story that is included in that publication.

In your profile, you can write on any subject, niche, or genre you prefer. You can also request a publication to take you on as a writer so that your article has the exposure of that publication.

Getting Paid to Write

Authors start getting paid once they have 100 followers and getting 100 followers on Medium is easy. I even wrote an article on Medium about that subject. Here is a FREE friends’ link to an article How I got Over 100 Followers in a Month.

Create Your Own Publication

One thing I just started on Medium on July 27, 2022, was creating my own publication which I call Tightening the Belt. It is about how to save money every day. For a FREE taste of the articles on Tightening the Belt one of my articles is Eat Less Meat for a Healthier Body and a Healthier Wallet

 Once you’re a writer on Medium, If you would like to write for my publication, I would love to have you. Check out Submitting to Tightening the Belt.

I really enjoy writing for Medium. It is a great way to start writing to make money.

Would you consider supporting me and other writers on Medium? For $5 a month ($50 per year), you get unlimited access to all the fantastic articles by the writers on Medium. Click this link to become a Medium member. https://donnabrown-18232.medium.com/membership

To read my future posts on Medium, feel free to follow me. I look forward to keeping in touch with you there!


Starting your week on the previous Friday, your month during the last week of the previous month, your year in December will make your business more productive. (Public Domain Photo)

In my book The Ultimate Keystone Habit, I wrote about ways that I like to start the day the night before. On the days that I incorporate this habit, the following day goes so much better, and I am so much more productive. On the other hand, on those days that I don’t start my day the night before, things don’t go as well the following day.

I like starting my day the night before. I set out my clothes, set up the coffee maker, have the dishes done, make up my plan for the next day, and journal what I am grateful for. Then I go to bed and in the morning because I know what I need to do, there’s no room for procrastination. I begin my morning routine and then get to work doing what I planned for the day.

I recently realized that prepping for the next step isn’t limited to the next day. I can prep for the next week on the Friday before.  I can start then next month the last week of the previous month. I can even start the year at the end of the year before. It is something that no one talks about, but it is a surefire way to 10x a life or a business.

Setting up a plan for the next week would be something that any of us can do. What do you plan to do next week? What are your priorities? Prioritize your week so that you are doing things that move your goals forward and don’t just keep your wheels spinning. Even fifteen minutes working on your goals on Friday for the upcoming week move the “progress can down the road” in a good way.

Getting Ahead for the Week on Friday

As a writer, I like to go over the ideas that I gained during the week on Friday mornings. That’s what I am doing this morning. I am writing down this idea for a story for a publication on Medium called Tightening the Belt. I also have an idea for next Wednesday’s blog and several for my Medium stories.  I am trying to write a new article every day for the entire month of August. What’s amazing is that doing this also gives me time to work on my latest novel Two Rivers each day.

This doesn’t only apply to me as a writer either. Different people can use this system in different ways. If you’re a salesman, you could start your calls the Friday before-when you call if someone says, “Call me next week”, say ‘well, I have you on the phone right now, how about if we scheduled to meet up early next week. Which would you prefer Monday morning or afternoon?” If they say Monday morning works good for them, after your call give a ‘hallelujah’! If you normally have a boring Monday morning meeting, this might be your ‘get out of meeting’ free card because you have a potential sale in front of you. Ask to be excused and ask for minutes to the meeting so that you don’t miss out on any important information. Later in the week you can talk to a colleague about any questions you have about that meeting. You’re following up on a lead, missing a meeting that is a waste of your time, and you already have a great start to your week. You’ll also have a potential sale on a Monday morning where you would have had to use the morning and the afternoon setting up for future sales. Now, you can still do that in the afternoon, but you’ll also already have momentum for a good week ahead of you.

Getting a Head Start on Next Month

As a writer, I can get ahead for the next month first by setting up the plan for the month. I can do this the last week of the month. It only takes a few minutes each day.  The first thing to do during the week is to revisit my goals and determine what I have accomplished and what I want to accomplish toward my master goals that month. Once that’s done, I can assign a specific project for each week to accomplish thereby purposely scheduling those projects to take action on and make headway on my long-term goals.

In addition, I schedule in appointments and other activities that I already have planned for the month and plans. I can also brainstorm ideas that improve how I handle different aspects of my writing business.  

Getting Ahead for the Next Year

Many people start the new year in January and end up getting started with the new year either late in the month or in February and don’t really get the year in full swing until March. I have found that when I get started with the new year in December, I able to get more done in January and February than I would if I had started in the first week of January.

With everything else, it starts with revisiting the long-term goals and creating the annual plan. Every December, between the holiday festivities, I plan the next year. I determine what I would like to get done during each month of the year. I schedule and plan out launches for the year. I plan what January will look like. They don’t have to be detailed, and they will often change over the course of the year, but the plan is there because it is true that if I fail to plan, I plan to fail.

This system of organization can easily be adapted to a team or an organization. Fewer Fridays are wasted, and Mondays are less dreaded when people in your team or organization are encouraged to start at the end of the last period. It may seem like more work in the beginning, but soon you’ll realize that work gains momentum and you’re much more productive than you ever thought possible.


Hundreds of people going in different directions.
Many Americans said goodbye and good riddance to their jobs when the pandemic hit.

Twenty million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in the second half of 2021. This occurred because many Americans had time to get off the treadmill long enough to realize that they didn’t want to and didn’t have to work as slave labor to support someone else’s dream. They decided that they wanted to decide for themselves where they wanted to work or whether they wanted to work at all. I am a part of this great migration from working for “the man”.

I Am Part of the Great Resignation

Since March 2020, I have been away from the nine to five grind and living on our acre and half. At first, I was putting the house in order. While I lived in a travel trailer on our property, I had our trailer set up and painted it on the inside. I worked the garden area and canned what I could. I set up shelving to hold our home-canned jars and the store-bought items I bought in bulk. We picked blackberries.

In 2021, while continuing to garden, I started selling my books and several kinds of cookies at the local farmer’s market. I have also been working part-time as a substitute teacher and last September, I started collecting early social security. About the same time, I published another book about gardening and have had some decent success. In September I published my book The Survival Garden. I was surprised at how many sales I was able to make between September and December.

Coming Back from a Small Set Back

The forward motion slowed, however. This past winter, I have started cutting into my savings a little. Between the fact that I have had to spend more on our heating fuel (we heat with wood) and for groceries and gasoline, things have cost me more than I expected. In addition, my computer started falling apart. It happened first in November and then the screen fell apart again in December. I waited for the entire month of January for the repairman to let me know that it was ready, but that never happened. At the beginning of February, I decided to purchase a new computer which is what I am working on now. I probably shouldn’t have waited even that long.

 Now that spring is in the air, I am hopeful about the future. We have already been getting ready for next year’s gardening season. Last fall I planted regular garlic and elephant garlic and it is up and growing. We have planted our potatoes in three different ways and have pepper and tomato plants growing nicely. Soon we’ll be planting onions, peas, and shortly after that corn.

My book sales have also started to grow again after just a few sales in January and February. I have started experimenting with marketing methods and have found some benefits to those methods. I will be giving more later as time goes on.

In March, I finished writing an eBook I call The Four-Seasons Vegetable Garden in which I tell about the various ways that I am developing a vegetable growing system in which I can grow all of my own vegetables throughout the year. Check it out! And while you’re at it, check out my other books-fiction as well as nonfiction at my Author Central Page.

Is Being Part of the Great Resignation Worth It?

It’s not like I couldn’t go back and do what I was doing before the pandemic hit. I still could, but I have decided that I don’t want to go back to the way things were. I like the fact that I don’t have to punch a time clock every day. I like the fact that I can greet the morning on my own terms. That’s not to say that I’m not working. I have probably worked harder over the past two years than any time in my life and I am happy with what I am doing. I love gardening and I love writing. I feel fulfilled and that is a great feeling.

Now It’s Your Turn!

How about you? Did the pandemic make you re-evaluate your life? If so, how has your life changed over the past two years? Feel free to comment below!


Over half a million people crossed the plains and the mountains toward the west coast in the mid-1800s.

Back in November, I was writing the first draft of my latest NaNoWriMo project. My working title is Little Africa. (for more about Little Africa, check out my article about this place) I know that there will be a better name for it, but in the process of writing that story, I decided at the end that my characters would go west with a wagon train.

Even though I know I will be ending the book with them going to the west coast by wagon train, I decided that I wasn’t going to write any book about the topic, but I am putting this information in the footnotes at the back of the book as some of the added material that I include. The reason I am not writing that story is that the story of people crossing the prairie to the west coast has already been done many times. However, that doesn’t stop me from writing about it at all.

The wagon train experience began In 1834 when a merchant from New England named Nathaniel Wyeth and an Episcopalian missionary named Jason Lee led the first eighty people to take the 2170 mile trip from Missouri to Oregon on what became the Oregon Trail.

By the end of the 1860s, half a million pioneers had traveled overland to the far West in search of new land, gold, and a new life. These pioneers gave up almost everything they possessed and left behind families that they might never see again. These people walked across half a continent through prairies, high deserts, and snow-covered mountains. They passed through territories that would later become Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

Approximately ten percent of the travelers died along the trail usually, not from Indian attacks but, from disease or accidents. The wagon train routes across the country were considered by many to be the longest cemetery in the world.

Why?

Why did they take this journey? Some were escaping frequent outbreaks of diseases like malaria and dysentery in the crowded Eastern states. Many were the children of pioneers who had homesteaded in Indiana, Illinois, and the Michigan territories. This younger generation was forced to move further west because all the best river-bottom land for farming had already been claimed, and the competition for even the less-desirable farmland was fierce due to immigration.

Seventy percent of the travelers were farmers. They knew that in order to get the best land, they had to get there first. In 1850 the U.S. Congress ceded land in the Western territories to settlers by granting a square mile of land to each married couple and their children would inherit it.

Gold discoveries in California also drew people to the West Coast. Congress gave actual settlers 640 acres in California. In 1849, many folks began the journey as “49ers,” heading for the newly discovered goldfields of the Sierra foothills of California.

Later in the 1860s, some went west to escape the looming Civil War. But no matter the reason, there was one underlying sentiment shared by nearly every pioneer. Manifest Destiny was a deep-seated belief that the growth of the United States was divinely preordained.

The Trail

With a few exceptions, all the major Western trails started near the frontier town of Independence, Missouri. From Independence or at various branches further to the west, the traveler could head southwest on the Santa Fe Trail, west to Sacramento on the California Trail, or continue northwest to Oregon. The Mormon Trail, which lead to Salt Lake City, began in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois, and crossed the Missouri River north of Independence at Council Bluff, eventually joining up with the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

They needed to leave late enough in the spring to provide grass for the livestock, so they did not leave any earlier than mid-April. However, they also didn’t want to leave in June because of the possibility of facing early snows in the mountains. They had to leave sometime between mid-April and during May. However, this meant facing swollen rivers, violent thunderstorms, and blistering mid-summer heat while crossing the deserts of southern Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon.

Preparing for the Trip

Before leaving, these pioneers acquired travel guidebooks like The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California, written by Lansford Hastings. All the travel guides provided commonly known details about travel distances, river crossings, the cost of food and equipment, and what dangerous situations they might face.

Oxen were much preferred over horses or mules by experienced travelers. These animals were more easily managed, were not likely to run away or die because of the hardships, cost less than horses or mules, and were worth more in Oregon. In addition, if the situation because necessary, they could always eat the oxen. Wagons with three yoke of oxen (two oxen per yoke) were required to make a successful journey.

Most of the wagons we see in movies are not the wagons that they used. Those wagons are Conestoga wagons, but these large freight-moving vessels were far too heavy to navigate open prairie, muddy river crossings, and mountain passes.

The wagon used by most pioneers was the “prairie schooner.”  This wagon was four feet wide and ten feet long. These light but strong wagons had vertical or slightly canted sides with waterproofed canvas covers supported by bent-wood ribbing. This wagon carried a maximum of 2,500 pounds of supplies. This made it necessary to walk rather than ride in a wagon.

Because of the weight limit, family members walked and guided the oxen. The only people to ride in the wagons were those too ill to walk. Some people set up their wagons so that they could sleep in them, but usually, these pioneers slept in tents or under the stars. They needed as much space as possible for storing their needed goods.

A complete wagon, three yokes of oxen, and the food needed for a five-member family cost a minimum of Six hundred dollars or equal to fifteen thousand dollars in today’s money. Poor farmers weren’t always able to come up with cash for these journeys so they did what they could like selling their land to a neighbor for what they could get or getting someone else to sponsor their trip cross country with the understanding that they would be paid back after they started making money from their new farm. Single young men and women were often hired on as “trail helpers” to wealthier individuals who were making the trip.

The food that was recommended for the trip for each adult was two hundred pounds of flour, thirty pounds of pilot bread, seventy-five pounds of bacon, ten pounds of rice, five pounds of coffee, two pounds of tea, twenty-five pounds of sugar, half a bushel of dried beans, one bushel of dried fruit, two pounds of saleratus, ten pounds of salt, half a bushel of corn meal; and a half-bushel of parched ground corn, as well as a small keg of vinegar.

Flour in the mid-1800s was not the bleached and enriched flour available today. Then, the pioneer had to choose between three types of flour: shorts, middlings, and superfine.

“Shorts” was a coarse-ground flour somewhere between wheat bran and whole wheat. It was poorly sifted and retained a high degree of impurities. Shorts flour was often the least-expensive option.“ Middlings”  was a remainder product formed during the separation of bran from white flour. High in gluten, “middlings” became a waste product for many mills and were often sold as an inexpensive flour without further refinement. “Superfine” flour was as close to modern white flour but was more like unbleached flour than what we have today.

They baked bread on the trail every day. They used small sheet-iron ovens, or dutch ovens, or they fried biscuits in a skillet.

Building fires on the trip was problematic because firewood was in short supply. Instead, on the prairies, they used small piles of “dried buffalo chips” or dried buffalo manure. These chips burned steadily and had little odor. When chips were in short supply, sagebrush was used.

Commercial yeast was not available at the time. Any yeast used had a short shelf life and was delivered from breweries as a by-product of beer making therefore could not be used on these cross-country endeavors. Sourdough starters were also problematic because it required a long time to make bread rise and rising bread or pastries required a place that wasn’t moving.

The answer to the problem was saleratus, a precursor to our modern baking soda. This was discovered by chemists in the late 1700s. It was a form of bicarbonate of soda that, when added to the dough, released carbon dioxide upon heating, causing the bread to rise. A natural source was found along the Oregon Trail near Independence Rock, Wyoming.

The other staple of trail life was bacon. Bacon then was any pig meat from the sides, hams, or shoulders that received a salt cure. This bacon rarely survived the entire journey and often became rancid or suffered insect infestation because of its fat content.

This was sometimes remedied by purchasing bacon at various forts along the way but at much higher prices.

Unlike salt pork or beef (which was kept barreled in a brine solution), bacon was stored dry in bug-proof bags or boxes. In hot climates, bacon was buried in bran,  supposedly this kept the fat from absorbing it.

Parched corn (corn whose kernels had been sun-dried or roasted in an oven) was very popular with the pioneers, if for no other reason than because it did not spoil easily. It was usually ground into rough flour and cooked as mush, which was served with milk from the traveler’s cows.

Dried fruits were a staple, not only amongst the pioneers but for practically everyone in 19th century America. Dried vegetables were less common with pioneers. This changed in 1859 with the publication of Randolph Marcy’s The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions in 1859. Where he suggested each traveler have desiccated vegetables, or dried vegetables,  a product used extensively in the Crimean War.

Coffee was not just a staple on the trail, it was often the only thing left near the end of the journey. Trail coffee was green (unroasted) beans because roasted or ground coffee traveled poorly and quickly lost flavor. They roasted the beans in a skillet over a fire, then ground them in a coffee grinder.

Medicinal Supplies

Disease was the big killer on the trail. In the mid-1800s, effective medical supplies were limited. A medical kit included “a little blue mass” which was mercury-based and used for many different diseases from constipation to tuberculosis. Opium and quinine were used for pain.

Weapons

They also carried a five-gallon drum of “medicinal spirits” a benign name for whiskey, brandy, or rum.

Everyone carried weapons for protection and to provide meat along the trail. Most travelers had a muzzle-loading long gun musket or rifle. Pistols were rare and expensive. Every wagon was equipped with gunpowder, shot molds, and lead for casting rifle balls.

Other Items

They also took clothing, camping supplies, day-to-day tools, livestock supplies, and a few keepsakes many of the family heirlooms were discarded along the route. Seed and plow blades were brought by farmers. Skilled craftsmen often brought additional wagons with the tools of their trades. Many family Bibles made the trip across the country along as did family cows.

The Trail’s End

While on the trail, couples married, gave birth, or broke up.  They suffered wagon mishaps. They developed a kinship with fellow travelers.

Many of the emigrants who arrived in Oregon or California were starving, with no provisions left. Others had some preserved food but had become sick and worn out from the journey. Many had also spent their last dollar.

The pioneers who had already made the journey were there to help the new arrivals. They helped stragglers in need.  Most of the new settlers arrived in the late fall or early winter, too late to put in a crop or do more than hastily construct winter quarters. Neighbors, churches, and civic committees worked together to keep the new arrivals alive, at least long enough to help them to get in a crop and “prove-up” their homesteads. Many of them considered that having thousands of new neighbors both armed and starving was a disaster waiting to happen. Anyone who wanted to work was offered employment even if their labors were rewarded in food rather than gold.

The Locket Saga

The research above was done for a future book in the Locket Saga series. In this series, a locket is passed from generation to generation of ordinary Americans who are a part of extraordinary events as family members are born, live, marry, and as they pass the torch and the locket to the next generation.


Tell a Story, Any Story

One of my favorite teachers in school was our POD teacher—Mr. Schwab. I did because he used to tell us stories about his military experience during WWII. He had been a prisoner of war in Italy and had escaped and spent a night in a haystack on an Italian farm as he made his way back to Allied lines. 

We have several ways that we can hook a reader into our stories. You could write a quote from someone you know or from a famous person. You could write a joke or a riddle or pose a question. You could set a scene. You could use an interesting fact or definition. My favorite way is to tell a story.

Stories in one form or another make what’s being written or what’s being said more interesting. All civilizations since the beginning of time have loved hearing stories. Aesop’s Fables wouldn’t have been as interesting if they had been written like the Ten Commandments.

The story of the tortoise and the hare wouldn’t have been as interesting if he had simply said: “Listen kids, you need to take your time and do your best to take one step at a time if you want to complete your tasks in a timely fashion.”

The same goes for writing nonfiction. People love stories. They want to hear your story and they want to hear your struggle. They don’t want to think that you were able to do everything perfectly the first time. They want to know that you are human, not super-human.

They want to hear stories from your experience that demonstrate what you are telling them.

When you tell a story, they remember what you said better than if you just give them the information.

Where to Find Great Story Ideas

One place you can find great story ideas could be from your own experience. Take some time to think about events that have occurred during your life. Is there a story that you can make relate to this part of your book?

Think about great stories that you have heard others tell. When I was a kid, I used to listen to what everyone was saying. One of my aunts used to say that I was the one to watch because I was always quiet and always listening.

Think about story lines that you have heard on television, seen in a movie, read in a book, or read in social media. Is there a way you can create a fictionalized story that you can make relate to your book?

Think about story lines that you have incorporated into fiction. There are also the story lines that you have already incorporated into your fiction. No one says that your stories have to be true stories. They just have to be interesting stories.  

When you determine that you have a noteworthy story, but don’t have a place to put it in your writing, write these story ideas down in a document or notebook. Keep track of as many stories as you can think of. When you hear new stories, write them down in this same notebook. If it’s interesting to you, write down as many words as you can so that you will remember what the story was about.

Find a way to organize the stories so that you can retrieve a specific story at will. Perhaps you can organize them in order as it relates to the subject matter, but whatever way you use, make sure that it works for you. There’s nothing worse than knowing that you have the answer, but don’t know where to find it.

Start your notebook of stories today. Incorporate what you can into your nonfiction as well as your fiction.


When I started writing this blog at the beginning of the year, I also started writing my nonfiction book Beyond the First Draft—Editing Your Novel. I first decided that I was going to write a book and the blog about editing a novel. I knew that the book would include everything from the time I finished the first draft on to the finished product. I started the process with an outline.

I refined the topic down from editing any type of book down to refining a novel. I decided that with the material that I would use, I could edit any type of novel, not just historical fiction like I write.

Every nonfiction book benefits from the creation of an outline. By outlining your ideas before you start the writing process, a nonfiction book can have its facts laid out in a logical way before the narrative ever begins. The outline will make the work go faster because you won’t meander from one topic to another. Later, as you’re writing,  If you have an idea for a certain part of your book, but you’re not to that part of the book yet, you can plug in that information exactly where it will go in the book thereby avoiding wasting time in a part of the book your mind has not processed yet.

Determine Your Book’s Specific Theme

In order for a nonfiction book outline to make sense, you must determine one central theme for the entire book. This theme must be developed into a refined thesis that can be stated in one sentence.  Instead of looking at general topics (building a house), look for specific topics that can be covered (Plumbing for the average Joe).  By having a specific thesis, you’ll be able to gather the necessary facts to make the key points you’ll want to make in your book.

Setup a Logical Content Progression

Some writers prefer to staple their pants to a chair and just write whatever comes to mind. I believe that those writers are heading for burnout and writer’s block. Not every writer can do that and I personally think doing so makes the work far more difficult than it needs to be, so a nonfiction outline should also involve a content plan. This will let you know where you intend to take your book before you begin the narrative. I think it helps to create a Table of Contents which will contain the various structures you wish to include in your book.

Imagine that you are looking at the finished book and you are looking at the table of contents. Think about what you will put in each chapter and in what order. Arrange it in the most logical order, if you realize something needs to be earlier or later in the book, rearrange the table of contents to reflect that change.

Using the Table of Contents as your basic outline, determine some of the information you will want to write about. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be much more prepared to begin writing.

Under each chapter heading, include topics that fit within that heading. Again rearrange subjects as necessary.

Jot Down Any Research

Once you have your Table of Contents in place, you’re ready to determine what kind of research you’ll need for your nonfiction book. You can write down this research next to each outline item. You may even wish to note where you want to do this specific research:  online, at the library, or wherever.

If you need to do personal interviews for certain topics, write down some experts on this subject as well. You also may want to color code your research types onto your calendar using different colors for each type of research so that you can visually reference it quickly.  

Create Writing Plan into Your Schedule

At this point, you’ll have a general sense of what needs to be done to complete your nonfiction book, so you can now plug this plan into your schedule. How many words per day are you going to need to write to reach your goals? How much time will you need to gather information for your book?

If you need to interview others, block out specific time during the week so you don’t have to rearrange your schedule. If you have no interviews during that time, use that as extra research or writing time.

Complete Your Outline

The writing process is much smoother when the nonfiction book outline and schedule include plans to research. Instead of hunting down the various documents, media, and recordings that you need for your book, you’ll have it all together in one specific place. Arrange your research materials into folders that are in the same order as the headlines in your table of contents.

This helps to improve your writing speed. The average writer types about 750 words per hour. With materials gathered, if you know how to touch type, you should able to reach 1,500-2,000 words per hour. If you’re forced to hunt down materials as you write, then you might be lucky to type 500 words per hour.

Staying Committed to the Process

Once you know how much you can write every day, you’ll have a ballpark idea about how long it will take you to write it.  Schedule your day in such a way so that you can write your word count habitually. Make writing a habit. Sit down and write your book instead of watching television or chatting with your friends on Facebook.

If you write 1,500-2,000 words per day, using nonfiction book outline as your guide, you could have the first draft of your narrative completed in just 30 days. That’s why knowing how to write a nonfiction book outline is such a valuable skill.

Write Using the Outline

Creating an outline, but not using it is definitely a waste of time, but using it will save tons of it.

Use headings and subheadings for each chapter when formatting. Assign names to each chapter and be clear in the names of each subheading. Be sure to save the document.

Within each chapter and subheading, include several sentences to summarize that chapter or subheading. Include the main points of the chapter and each subheading. Be as detailed as possible in as few sentences as possible. Don’t worry that it changes as you create your outlines. You’ll find it easier to edit this outline now rather than having to edit out huge sections of material later if you realize that what you’re planning to write doesn’t fit.

Now that you know that you’ve got your summaries organized within each chapter, write a heading for introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then write main point 1, 2 and so on. If your nonfiction book is a how-to book, consider adding a call-to-action at the end of each chapter.

Use research material focused on the topic being written about as guidance through the outlining process. Let your outline act as a guide throughout the entire project to keep you from going down research rabbit holes.

If you think of a story that relates to your book, plug in a few words to remind you the story’s content. These often makes a good introduction to chapters and keeps the reader interested and more importantly reading.


Many authors are now hybrids, using both traditional and indie forms of publishing for different projects. Whether you go with traditional publishing or indie publishing or a combination of the two, you have more options than ever when it comes to publishing your novel.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is the established system of getting a book deal. This system requires that the writer submit their manuscripts through their agent to publishers and receive numerous rejections and then if they are lucky, are eventually accepted and a contract is signed. The book will then go through more edits and is eventually be published.

Why Traditionally Publish?

Almost every author I ever met (including me!)  suffer from self-doubt and wonder if their work is any good. By making it through the process of getting an agent and then a publisher, the approval of these gatekeepers validates your work as good enough for publication. Even if the book doesn’t sell well, somebody thought it had value. If your definition of success requires a traditional deal, Indie publishing is not for you!

Print distribution in bookstores is easier. Traditional publishing excels at this and  their model is primarily designed to facilitate print distribution to bookstores and even libraries. Salespeople go around the stores and make it very easy for book buyers to choose books and the publisher minus any returns. Books are usually in the store for a month and only remain if they are perennial sellers. (Few books reach this perennial status.)

Authors expect traditional publishing to include editors, cover designers, formatters and marketing to help provide as part of the contract. Marketing effort is usually related to how much is invested in the project, and marketing for publishing companies is usually to booksellers rather than to individual consumers. You should receive a sales team to take books to bookstores. If you’re one of those authors who say you “only want to write,” and let the publisher handle the rest, traditional publishing would be your best option.

If you are asked for money, then it is NOT a traditional publishing deal. It’s likely to be a vanity publisher and you should be very careful. With traditional publishing, you have no upfront financial costs, and you’ll usually get some kind of advance against royalties. The typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500. Having an agent at any point increases your advance. If you get an advance of $5,000, you then have to earn more than $5,000 out of your royalty rate on book sales before you get any more money.

Literary prizes and critical acclaim are more likely through traditional publishing, and many literary prizes aren’t even open to indie authors

You’re more likely to become a brand-name author if you go with traditional publishing.

The Downside of Traditional Publishing

Writing and editing will be the same regardless of how you want to publish. After that, you will need about a year or two to find your agent. After that, it might take you another year or two to get a publishing deal. Once you have a publishing deal it might take another two years or more to get your book launched. (If you self-publish, once your book is edited, your book will be up on Amazon within a few hours and you can get your first check 60 days later.)

Once you sign a contract with your publisher, you’ll loss of creative control. I have heard horror stories about authors whose books have titles, covers and marketing angles that aren’t to their liking. You may disagree with an editor, and not be able to do anything about those changes that you dislike.

You’ll find that you have low royalty rates. Royalty rates are a percentage of the sale of the book. They’re likely to be net, so all the discounts, returns, marketing costs and overheads are taken off the total before your percentage can calculated. Royalty rates for traditional publishing will usually range between 7% and 25%, with the latter on the unusually generous end. The rates will also differ per format (e-book, hardcover, paperback, audio). Royalty reports may come every six months for a specific period of sales and many authors say those reports are difficult to understand. What you get in your bank account may not agree with those reports, so you won’t know until you see the money in your account what you’re actually getting.  

More often than not, authors have to do their own marketing and agents will often seek out authors who have a ‘platform’ or at least an email list of readers. If you do want a traditional publishing deal, make sure you ask them what is included for marketing and that your book is not just a part of their bookstore catalog.

Potentially prohibitive contract clauses are also a problem. You might find an agent who is willing to represent you, but their contract might insist that they get a percentage of everything you write even if they didn’t negotiate the contract (including self-published work). If you come across that keep looking until you find an agency who really will help you build your brand and not just skim off the top of your earnings.

Don’t agree to ever allow the publisher to take World English rights in all formats.  Your agent’s job is to keep as many rights as possible when you’re doing a deal so you can exploit them in other ways. For example, you could just sell the US and Canada rights and then self-publish in the rest of the world. Be careful with formats as well, especially audio books. Many publishers take audio rights as part of a contract and then they don’t actually end up recording it. You don’t want that to happen. Either keep audio rights or specify a length of time the publisher can keep rights before they revert back to you.

Look at the term of the contract and the rights reversion clause. It used to be that there was an out of print clause. However, because of print on demand and e-books, a book never goes out of print. You have to consider when you want to get your rights back.

Once you sign a contract for your book, the book may legally belong to the publisher for the life of copyright which is the life of the author plus 70 years after you die. You should also look at the do not compete clause, because this may stop you publishing during the term of the contract under the same name, in the same world, or with the same characters.

You have to really consider whether the money for the contract is worth it. This is where many authors think, “Perhaps this will be the only contract I’ll ever be offered and might just lose out.” These authors will sign deals because they’re grateful to be offered anything. They don’t value their own work. They don’t realize that publishers are there to make a profit. They are not doing you a favor by publishing your book. They are businesses and they want to make money. What they are offering you is simply that an offer. You have to determine for yourself what you’re worth. Don’t under-value yourself. If they don’t offer you a better contract, take your manuscript to someone who will or go out on your own.  Your publishing choice is more a question of the outcome that you want to achieve and your definition of success. Don’t let the publisher think they have the upper hand. You have more control over the situation than you realize.

The difference Between a Self-publisher and an Indie Author

Some people like to differentiate between a self-publisher and an Indie Author. They believe that self-publishing implies that you do everything yourself and you do it as a hobby. On the other hand, they believe that being an indie author or Independent author is a person who has decided that he or she was in charge of the process and that the indie author is a freelance professional who creates a quality product for their business.

I personally don’t create a distinction between self-publishing and being an indie author. I see myself as a publisher who determines how my book is published. I determine who edits, who designs the cover, I determine my bio and my book description, I even determine how my book will be formatted. However, that doesn’t mean that I do all of the work myself.

I didn’t become an Indie author or self-publisher as a last resort because I couldn’t find a publisher either. I chose to be an Indie author because I like the control that I have over my own creative process and the end product.

Pros and Cons of Being an Indie Author

As I mentioned before, I personally am an Indie author because I have complete creative control over content and design of my book. Many authors who were in traditional publishing and are now in self-publishing talk about how painful it was to have a cover or title they hated, or to have editorial choices imposed on them whether they liked them or not. As an indie, you can work with freelancers of your choice and you can choose the ultimate look and feel of your product. If you don’t like a freelancer’s work, you can choose to go with someone else. If you title a book or get a cover design that you decide you don’t like, you can retitle or redesign the cover. Just upload another file. The start-up mentality that mistakes are how we learn. Failure is just a step along the way makes this easier for us indies. Print on demand and e-books make it so we don’t even have to have a warehouse of books lying around.

Being an Indie Author gives us a sense of power that traditionally published authors don’t have.  Many traditionally published authors feel insecure and downtrodden by the publishing process. They feel they can’t make a decision alone or take action to improve their situation. It doesn’t matter that they are the creative individuals who created the stories in the first place.

After signing a contract, traditionally published authors have no control over anything about their books from the creative process to how the book is marketed. Indies, on the other hand, have a locus of control making them happier and empowered. The Indie Author can learn new skills, work with other professionals, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. You don’t have to ask for permission, you’re the one in charge.

As an Indie author you are able to get your book to market much more quickly.  Once the writing time and editing are finished, you are ready to publish your novel to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Draft2Digital, Smashwords and any other stores. Your e-book is usually for sale within 4-72 hours. You’re paid 60 days after the end of the month of sale. If you’re doing print on demand, you can get that up within 24 hours if you approve the formatting online. Next you get a copy of it and look it over to be sure that the book is as perfect as you think it is and then you can order books to sell or give away to reviewers

Indie authors get higher royalties. If you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 (on Amazon), you can get a 70% royalty. Traditional royalty rates usually fit in the 7-25% bracket, averaging 10%. It’s clear that you need to sell far fewer books in order to make the same amount of money with self-publishing. However, don’t think that you’ll get rich overnight.  You can’t guarantee that you’re going to make as many sales as you would’ve done with a traditional publisher, or indeed, any sales. That is more to do with genre, investment in marketing and sometimes pure luck. An author doesn’t build a business on luck. You have to learn about marketing. However, you have to learn that anyway no matter if you do it independently or if you’re working with a traditional publisher.

You can sell in any format, in any global market because you own the rights. You could even sell movie rights. Many traditionally published authors have sold World English rights for all formats and yet have barely sold outside the usual country markets because their books aren’t even available in most places in the world. Many have also sold audiobook rights. but the books have not been produced. If you’re in this situation, revisit your contract. What do you have the rights for? You can self-publish in countries where you haven’t sold the rights.

Indie authors can reach significant audiences with their niche books that traditional companies will never take. Publishing houses expect a certain number of sales so if you’re writing a niche book on a particular style of business, for example, then you might find the market is too small for a major publisher. However, the market size may well be enough for you to satisfy your own definition of success with smaller sales and lower income. You can also price as you like because your book will appeal to a very particular reader who might pay higher prices for this rare information.

You can use indie publishing to get you into publishing in general. If you self-publish and do well, agents and publishers will come to you. You don’t have to beg and plead for attention. The power balance is reversed, and as an empowered indie you’ll get much better deals than a first-time author with no book sales history.

Those the Positives, but What are the Negatives?

One problem is that you need to do it all yourself or find suitable professionals to help. As with any new skill, it’s a steep learning curve. You still obviously have to do the writing and marketing, but you also have to do the publishing. You have to find an editor (or two would be better! One for content and the other for proofreading) and a cover designer. Then you need to work with them, determine the title, get your work formatted into e-book, print and any other format you want. It does pay to find suitable professionals to help. If being in control is your definition of success and you need to run all aspects of the business isn’t something that you want to do, then going the indie route might not be your best route. You have to love all aspects of the writing business. You have to love everything from idea generation to creating words on the page, to the technical side of things and everything in between.

You’ll get no prestige, kudos or validation by the industry. Though the stigma lessens every day, success is still connected with traditional publishing. If it hurts your feelings to be considered inferior, then maybe you should not consider going indie.  

For professional results, you’ll need to pay for supporting services upfront. If you’re any kind of writer, you’ll need to spend some money on professional money anyway before submitting to an agent and spend money on writing books and courses.  So even if you intend to go with a traditional company, you will need a budget upfront.

It’s difficult for a self-published book to get print distribution in bookstores. It’s certainly not impossible and if you care about print distribution then take a look at Ingram Spark. However, you’re much more likely to get bookstore distribution with a traditional publisher, as that’s essentially their business model, has been, and probably will be for a long time. They are the experts for printing and distributing physical products. My personal choice is to use Print on Demand through Lulu.com so my print books are available on most online bookstores.

Most literary prizes don’t accept indie books and most literary critics for mainstream media won’t review them. If your definition of success is literary acclaim, the traditional route is your best option.


Now that your story is ready to put out there, if you are still planning to get your book into a traditional publishing company, the only way you are going to get your book in front of one is through your query letter.

What is the Difference Between a Query Letter and a Book Proposal?

A query letter is a request for a publisher to read your proposal for reading your fiction book and a book proposal is a proposal for reading your nonfiction book. A query letter is usually written after a fiction book is written and a book proposal is often written before the book is written.

The Novel Query

According to the NY Book Editors Website, This one page document of about three hundred words is most important, and in some ways even more important to than the actual book This letter is sent to literary agents (and some publishers directly) to woo them into checking out your book.

Don’t put your query on pastel paper with stamped roses, it won’t get you further than the trash can. Instead, follow this tried and trusted formula.

Format with your address at the top of the page, right justified. Next, type the agent’s address, this time left justified.

Use a personalized greeting where you acknowledge the agent by name.

Keep the body of your query letter from three to five paragraphs.

In paragraph one, you hook the literary agent. Share any connection you have with the agent. Did you meet this person at a conference or know someone in common? At least be able to mention that you’re a fan of specific authors that this person represents. The job of this first paragraph is to get the agent reading.

After you hook the agent, share the title and genre of your book and your book’s word count.

Now that you’ve hooked the agent, summarize your story in paragraph two. Discuss your main characters, what happens, and what choice they must make now. But don’t give away the entire plot. Leave the agent wanting more by structuring this paragraph in a cliffhanger.

In the next paragraph, add your bio, but make sure it’s relevant to writing. Impress your agent with writing awards and credibility or related writing experience. Limit your bio to no more than two sentences.

Use short paragraphs and short sentences, when possible. Imagine this: your letter is one of hundreds that your potential agent must read through this week. (It probably is). Make it as easy as possible for them to skim through your letter.

Write in a tone similar to your novel’s narrative. Your query letter should evoke the same tone as your novel. If your book is funny, make your query letter funny. Is it ornate? Use elegant but not remember not to be wordy.

Always Follow Submission Guidelines

Before sending any letter, be sure to follow any submission guidelines. Not every agent wants the same information, so don’t think one form of query fits all. Some may only accept email submissions while others accept both.

Address each agent specifically. Never use “to whom it may concern” if you want anyone to actually request your novel.

If possible, let the agent know why you are pitching your book to him/her. Again, if you love a specific author that this agent represents in a related genre yours, let the agent know that you would love to have the same agent as THAT author.  

Give Credit Where Credit is Due 

Mention that your book has been edited by a professional editor. Agents love a polished manuscript. They notice writers who’ve taken the extra step of getting their manuscript edited by a professional. By doing this, you as the writer appear more professional and serious. This will add more weight to your query letter.

Remember that querying agents is a hit or miss proposition even when you have done your homework on the agent. To find the right agent at the right time, you often need to send out numerous query letters. If you follow these recommendations, you still may not be picked up by a specific agent. There are many reasons why an agent doesn’t pick you up and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with you personally so don’t take it personally. Just keep sending out either written or emailed queries and soon someone will ask to see your novel.


The Difference Between a Query Letter and a Book Proposal

Before you write to either a publisher or to an agent, it is important to know the difference between a query letter and a book proposal.

A query letter is a request for a publisher to read your proposal for a request for reading your fiction book and a book proposal is a proposal for a request for reading your nonfiction book. A query letter is usually written after a fiction book is written and a book proposal is often written before the book is written. Since you have written a book of fiction, if you are going the traditional publishing route, you will be writing a query letter.

Of course, you no longer have to go the traditional publishing route. Many people are self-publishing or going through small press publishers or even doing what is called hybrid publishing which is a cross between traditional publishing or self-publishing. This post, however, is about how to contact a publisher or agent.

What is the difference between a publisher, an editor, and an agent?

A publisher can refer to an organization or the individual in charge of an organization which releases books. However, an editor is an individual who works with authors directly. In cases where the publisher refers to an organization, it simply means the publishing company as a whole which employs many editors. Editors are the people who work to adapt your book to the publisher’s audiences.

A literary agent (also known as book agents or publishing agents) act as authors’ representatives for the sale and/or licensing of their books with large domestic publishers. As well as smaller domestic publishers. These individuals work to connect you with the publisher and then help negotiate the contract between you and the publisher.

To secure either the services of a publisher or an agent, you can’t just call them up and ask them if you if they will accept you and your book. You have to write a query and send it to them.

It used to be that in order to send a query letter, you had to mail it in and wait weeks for a reply. Now days, contacting literary agents and publishers are usually done via e-mail. You send the query letter and then they let you know whether they want you to submit your manuscript. They may also want to do it some other way. The best way to find out how they want you to submit your manuscript would be by reading their submission guidelines.

Look at a publisher or agent’s website before submitting a query letter or your manuscript.

Study the publisher or agent’s website and learn everything you can about what this person accepts and doesn’t accept. If this agent focuses on selling science fiction, don’t try to get this agent to represent you if you write historical romances. If a publisher doesn’t publish horror, don’t think that that publisher is going to change for you!

The better you’re known by the publisher or agent, the more likely they are to represent you. However, even if they do represent your genre, don’t think that harassing them is going to make them represent you. Calling them on the phone and asking to speak to someone in charge could be a nail in your authorship coffin.

So how do you meet a publisher or an agent? You might go to an event where publishers or agents are present and get to know them at a writer’s conference.

It is also possible that you could get to know them through someone you already know. If you know another author who has published through a specific publisher or has been represented by a specific agent, that person might just be the connection you need.

Whether you’re contacting a publisher or an agent, your query letter should be perfectly written, but that will be a message for another blog post.  First, before writing the query letter, you’ll need to work on dressing up your bio. That will be the topic of next week’s post.

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