Thursday, July 25, 2019

How to Ensure Readers Won't Throw Your Book Across the Room

At our last meeting, my local writing group (shout out to my CityInk storytellers!!) and I were talking about what makes a story unputdownable vs. what makes us not want to finish a book.  And let me tell y'all one thing:

There are some REAL FEELINGS on this subject.

So here's what we came up with. We will DNF (Did Not Finish) a book if:
  • The writing and sentence structure are choppy and don't read well.
  • There are too many plot points and the story gets too complicated.
  • There's an overindulgent death, decision, action, or overuse of language that feels manipulative--like the author is just going for shock value.
  • Characters have no redeeming qualities or do not evolve (their story arc is flat).
  • There's a lack of plot progression, characters stay in their own heads, or there's too much description.
  • Characters do something out of the ordinary and behave in a way that's inconsistent with the person they've been the entire story. 
  • On a high level, if it's not an interesting concept or the concept is executed poorly.
  • Stories that blatantly copy an existing storyline (such as a fairytale retelling) or common trope but don't do it well. 
  • Too much repetition: a piece of dialogue, a character's thought/feeling, or even a description is overused after the author has already driven that point home.

So let's make a pact together as writers.

I, ________________, solemnly swear that I will:

  • Be diligent about re-reading my own work (and especially reading other books in my genre) to make sure my writing not only flows well but reads well. I will even try reading it out loud, as some writers find this to be a good indicator. 
  • As I'm writing or plotting, I will ask myself if each plot point moves the central storyline forward and chop it if it's unnecessary.
  • I will be a good steward of my readers and make sure any character deaths, decisions, and actions are executed (no pun intended) tastefully and won't make them want to stop reading.
  • If my characters are baddies, I will show WHY they are the way that they are and then give them some measure of redemption and growth. 
  • I will make sure each scene serves a purpose to the central storyline and that a good portion of each scene moves that story forward with meaningful action and not too much description or reflection.
  • My characters will remain consistent with the traits I've developed throughout the story. (Unless they have a real-live lobotomy in the middle of the book. Real lobotomies change everything.)
  • Before I start writing, I will make sure my concept/trope is fresh, original, interesting, and that my story does justice to the original if I'm doing a retelling. 
  • As I read through my manuscript, I will ensure I don't repeat the same bit of dialogue, emotion, description, character reaction, or reflection when I've already well established that information. I will trust that my readers are smart and I don't need to tell them again.
Signed, _____________________________

What are some deal-breakers for you in a story? Have you ever walked out of a movie theater or thrown a book across the room in the middle of reading? Our comments are open to allll your thoughts and feelings! 


Laurie Tomlinson is the award-winning contemporary romance author of That’s When I KnewWith No Reservations, and The Long Game, currently featured in the Once Upon a Laugh novella collection. She believes that God’s love is unfailing, anything can be accomplished with a good to-do list, and that life should be celebrated with cupcakes and extra sprinkles.
You can connect with her on her WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

#TipfulTuesday The Key Ingredient to Publication: A Stellar Proposal

The Conference season is in full swing. Some have ended, some are yet to come. THIS TOPIC is crucial for writers hoping to land an agent or book contract while there.

After many years of attending writing conferences, classes, and reading books on writing, I have learned the key ingredient to publication, second only to a magnificent manuscript, is a stellar proposal.

Not the number of followers.

A stellar proposal is the answer.

The first instructor I heard give this advice said, "You spend months maybe years crafting a good manuscript. The proposal should have as much attention." Write To Publish Conference Instructor, Wheaton Illinois 2002.

Devote Time to Crafting a Stellar Proposal

What did he mean by that? A proposal is simply a collection of facts about your book and you, right? 

Not really. The hours spent collecting that data and splashing them on a page is only a tiny portion. We are writers and must convey the information in a compelling manner.

Perfect the Writing and Formatting

While at the Blue Ridge Conference, a Books and Such agent scanned through my proposal and pointed out several phrases. "I don't need that. Or that." Without her guidance I wouldn't have notice.

Agents and publishers receive numerous submissions daily. They will scan your proposal like a reader scans a new book. They are first looking for something that interests them. If their eyes fall on wordy phrases, superfluous information, or poor writing, the proposal will be rejected in the same way a reader will put the new book back on the shelf and walk away. 

Include Only Relevant Information

Think of a resume. If you applied for a medical position, you wouldn't note the art class you teach. 

However, say my story had homeless characters, I could include my Masters in Guidance and Counseling, my work as a caseworker for the homeless, or my volunteer work at the homeless mission because this shows credibility.

Vigilance not stagnation

Also, Agent Cyle Young, whom I spoke with at an American Christian Fiction Writers' Conference  (ACFW) state chapter meeting, showed me a few items to delete because, although they were relevant, the numbers generated did not create a positive impression. What did he mean? All information should reflect your efforts to get your message out. It should demonstrate your vigilance not stagnation.

Writing a proposal takes much more than looking at a sample from online and tailoring the style/formatting to suit your manuscript.

Bob Hostetler, agent with Steve Laube Agency, finds the proposal a key tool in selling his client's books to publishers. His 2019 BRMCWC class had a great focus on this topic. Articles on proposals are available on the Steve Laube Agency website:

*Set aside some time each week to research how to write a proposal. 
*Read in-depth blog posts, watch You Tube videos, read several books, and take classes on-line. 
*Have Your Proposal Critiqued by one or more persons who have mastered the art of proposal writing.

Without a stellar Book Proposal, a magnificent manuscript may never be read

And we want you to be successful!

~Mary Vee
Photo Credit: Mary Vee

In my newsletter, readers take a virtual trip to various places. No bug spray. No packing. No passport. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ten Ways Writers Can Utilize Their Time

Time for a writer is elusive. As I was thinking about a post for today, I remembered a post I did a couple of years ago. It was such a good reminder for me, I thought I'd share some of it again.

From July 2017:

Putting your behind in the chair and doing the work of writing is difficult. Whether you are putting new words on the page, editing a rough draft, or learning more about the craft, it takes time. It takes sacrifice. It takes discipline.

Life gets in the way. Your car breaks down. There's a funeral, a lunch date, FAFSA to fill out (can I just say UGH?), hair cuts, and...dare I say it?...toilets to clean.

So what do you do to make the most of your time, and feed your writerly self? Everyone has to decide for themselves. No one can do it for you, because only YOU knows what will work for YOU.

We all have to find the "thing" that helps us - that motivates us - into writing when it's hard.

Here is what I came up with - in no particular order.

Top 10 Ways to Utilize Your Time

1. Use a diction app and dictate a scene on your way to work, or while doing dishes, ironing, etc.

2. Listen to a craft book or podcast in the car while going to work or hauling kids to school.

3. Carry a Moleskin notebook in your purse to write down ideas for your story, prompts for short stories, or blog post ideas.

4. If you get stuck in your story, move on to another project. (I stole this from Tina because it is so helpful.)

5. Stay up 30 minutes later to write. (I get up at 5 am already....can't go earlier!)

6. Read a chapter of a craft book at lunch.

7. Email a chapter to your Kindle so that it is there when you are in a waiting room, carpool line, etc. Highlight things that you need to change.

8. Alternate cooking nights with your husband so you have more time to write.

9. Make a date with yourself once a week and go to the library, coffee shop, or park to write free from responsibilities at home.

10. Purchase a cute timer or use the one on your phone to write in 30 - 60 minute increments. Then set the timer for 15 minutes and clean a toilet or make the bed or do a load of laundry. Then get back to writing.

Nothing on my list is new. Many have already figured out the best way to get the most out of their day. But some of us need reminders that we can carve out extra time, and every minute we garner gets more words on the page.

What things have you found to help you carve out time and up your word count? 

Sherrinda Ketchersid is a born and bred Texan, preacher’s wife, mother of 4 children, and works part-time as a bookseller at Amazon. With the children grown and out of the house, she weaves tales of fierce knights and their ladies in a time where men were warriors and women had to be strong enough to keep them in check.

After taking time off from writing, she has returned with a new motto in place to spur her on. “Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.” ~Jack Bickham.  No excuses this time. She is weaving her love of romance with history to bring joy and the hope of love to those who may one day read her stories. Her first book, Lord of Her Heart, released in May 2019.

You can connect with her through:
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Twitter: @sherrinda

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Five Lies Writers Believe

The past few weeks, I've had several discussions with writer friends that seem to come back to the same thing-- feelings we all share but think we experience in isolation. Today I want to talk about some lies we often believe about ourselves as writers as well as the writing life. I hope it encourages you to realize your story and your purpose are far greater than the discouragement whispering in your ear. Write on, friends.

  • I don't have time for writing. If God has given you a passion for stories, you can't afford not to write. He has designed writing as a means of communion and worship with him. After all, God is the ultimate creator! Be open to the fact that writing may look untraditional in certain seasons. For example, Pepper often dictates scenes to her phone whenever she doesn't have the time to write at her computer. You may even find these different methods free up some creativity!
  • This next manuscript is going to be "the one." I literally said this to my husband tonight at dinner. But you know what? There is no such thing as the one. There. I said it. Even after the contract, you'll want the one that hits a bestseller list. The one that wins awards. And so on and so on. There is no magical finish line, folks, and thank God for that-- can you imagine how disappointed we'd feel otherwise? Find contentment in what you have right where you are.
  • No one else understands the despair of rejection because I'm so sensitive, I feel it more deeply. Um, no. Just no. Rejection, isolation, and self-doubt are the rule rather than the exception. Even--dare I say especially--authors who we'd consider wildly successful feel these same emotions regularly. It's all part of being a writer.
  • God must not want me to write anymore because I asked him for a sign, and I haven't seen a baby alpaca commercial while lightning strikes and rainbows fill the skies. Sometimes, we get so excited about that-gave-me-chills moments of storytelling that we forget the vast majority of it is walking in faithful obedience to the calling we have received. Feel like God isn't speaking to you anymore? What is the last thing you're sure he told you to write/say/do? Have you moved on from that prematurely? Or, conversely, is it possible you have a seed for a new story idea that you haven't yet acknowledged? Do not despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10).
  • I need to change __________ and write something different, because what I'm doing is not selling. Friends, I've been writing for a long time, and I have personally seen trends come and go again and again and again. It's amazing how industry professionals absolutely insist a trend is dead one year, only to find in another year or two that those books are suddenly on trend once more. If you write to the trends, you will never hit your creative potential. Write to your story, not to the market, and avoid the temptation to people-please what you imagine an editor wants to see.

Have you ever found yourself caught in one of these traps? What lies do you have to add to the list?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's also an active member of ACFW. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her website - and while you're there, be sure to sign up for her newsletter!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

#TipfulTuesday The Heart or Business of Writing

Several of us gathered on the Alley and had a chat about the heart or business of writing. Oddly, I happened to listen to a conference recording about the same basic topic this week. Many great points were raised that I thought might interest you.

No matter the writer, there seems to be a crossroad that causes us to wonder. We have a story that is very dear to us. The story is pitched to editors and/or agents. We might receive no response or a rejection. Naturally, whether we admit it or not, we feel wounded. This story came from our heart and could help so many readers.

The editors/agents see our story and seem to know within seconds that this particular story would not fit the current need. Perhaps they signed a similar novel an hour before. Perhaps the quota for year had been met. There are many reasons that we don't always know.

From the business side, writers can attend conferences to learn what publishers need or are looking for. Writers could write stories for these needs and have a better chance to get published. But it isn’t the heart story.

The conclusion in this discussion so far has been: write the story on your heart, AND write stories to establish/grow a writing business, AND do both.

We are writers. We can choose to delve into that heart story OR write stories as a business. We could alternate. I know a few writers who do precisely this. There is no shame in either because God gave you the gift of writing.

So, feel the freedom to follow your calling.

write. Write. WRite. WRIte. WRITe. WRITE.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to have you join us in this discussion.

#TipfulTuesdasy #TheWritersAlleyBlog #Writing #writingbusiness #writingfromtheheart @MaryVeeWriter

~Mary Vee
Photo credit:

In my newsletter, readers take a virtual trip to various places. No bug spray. No packing. No passport. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

One Easy Step to Improve Your Writing This Summer

With summer in full swing, the Independence Day celebration days away, there is a way to keep your writing skills sharp while having a BLAST.

Family gatherings. Beach trips. Fireworks. Laughing. Sand in toes. Barbecue. Great food. Sticky fingers. Messy little faces. Giggles. Sandcastles. Bike rides. AND MORE.

THIS is a moment to savor. Remember last years?

If you can spare five minutes you can follow this easy step to improve your writing.

Some time during the day, even if it is at night before you sleep, or morning with coffee, turn to the next blank sheet of paper or blank screen. In the spirit of summer, treat this moment as fun. No editing. All fun. No due date. Think about one isolated moment from the day. Something that brought a smile inside. Something that made you giggle. Something that touched your heart. Brought a tear. Write down what happened. Five minutes.

If nothing from the day stands out, dig back to your youth. Here is mine:

My parents took my sisters and I to the county fair. I was eight years old. One booth had balloons attached to a wall. The man shouted out to the crowds, "Break four in a row and win a prize!" Stuffed animals of all sizes sat on a high shelf above the balloons. I begged my mom to let me try to win a prize. Dad handed money to the man.

The man set four darts on the counter in front of me then called out to others passing by. "Come everyone. Break four in a row and win a prize." 

I picked up one dart. Behind me, music played from the carousel. I eyed the bear on the top shelf then the red balloon wagging in the breeze with fifty others and threw the dart. POP.

"The little lady broke a balloon. Come see. Come win a prize." The man shouted to the crowd.

I picked up the second dart, aimed at the blue balloon, and threw. POP.

"The little lady broke a second balloon. She can't possibly break a third. Step right up. Get four darts and try your luck. Win a prize!"

My mom leaned close. "See that pink duck?" She pointed. You could win that. Wouldn't that be nice?"

The pink duck was for babies. I wanted the bear. I picked up the third dart, aimed at the yellow balloon, and threw. POP.

"Honey, the pink duck is almost yours." 

"She broke a third balloon! She's broken three. Don't worry, little lady, you'll win a small prize even if you don't break the fourth. Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen, and get your darts. Try to win a prize."

"The pink duck would be nice, honey."

"She won't break the fourth balloon." The man said to my mom.

I rarely ever caught a ball. I rarely ever tossed anything where it belonged. My eyes couldn't see like most people's eyes. An eye surgery at age five didn't fix the problem. If that fourth balloon broke, well, it wouldn't be because of my aim.

I looked up at that bear then picked up the fourth dart.

"She's broken three balloons. Can she break the fourth? I don't think so. Step right up. Come see the little lady try to break the fourth balloon. Get your darts and try to win a prize."

The green balloon wobbled in the breeze. I drew my arm back. The carousel's music blared behind me. Kids laughed. 

"Hurry. Hurry. Get your ice cream. Get your ice cold ice cream."

The dart flew away from my hand. The green balloon shifted to the left.

"Get your four darts. Win a prize."


My five minutes ended.

While cleaning the house for family visitors yesterday, I listened to recordings of this year's Blue Ridge Writer's Conference. The tip I shared today is from the session taught by Bob Hostetler's class on writing well.

It's your turn. Take five minutes.

Perhaps you are asking why? What are the benefits to these five minutes.

These five minutes are a source of great ideas. Thoughts. Expressions. Descriptions. Feelings. True senses from every aspect. Invaluable tools for your future stories and WIP.

Would you like to know what happened next at the balloon stand? Okay. Here it is.

"You won the pink duck, honey!" said my mom.

The man left his perch and walked to me. "The little lady won a prize!" He leaned closer. "What would you like?"

Mom put her arm around me and pointed to the pink duck. "Tell him you want that one."

The man didn't look at my mom. "You can pick the prize you want, little lady. What will it be?"

"I....want....the bear."

That bear visited school for show and tell the next day. Sat in my bedroom for years. Moved to my new home when I married. And became the favorite stuffed animal for my children. 

Yup. This was a true story.

~Mary Vee
Photo taken in Venice, by Mary Vee

In my newsletter, readers take a virtual trip to various places. No bug spray. No packing. No passport. Explore something new in each letter! Sign up today at

Link to Mary's books:

Mary Vee -Rock climbing, white-water rafting, and hiking top Mary’s list of ways to enjoy a day. She was homeless for a time, was a teacher, a missionary, and married an Air Force vet. Mary has been a finalist in several writing contests and writes for her King.
Visit Mary at her WebsiteBlog, and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter