9 Rules for Writers

Psst. Want to hear some of the secret rules for writing? Okay, so they're not really secret, but some people never learn these things.

Here are some things I learned about writing along the way, and from whom I learned them. I think you'll find them to be great tips and also rather entertaining.

(This article previously appeared in Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Click to subscribe today if you want to read articles like this as soon as they are published.)

9 Rules for Writers

1. Leave out the parts people skip over. ("I try to leave out the parts that people skip." ~ Elmore Leonard)

2. Write and finish what you write then put it out in the marketplace. ("You must write. You must finish what you write. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. You must put it on the market until sold." ~ Robert A. Heinlein)

3. Be enthusiastic about your writing and your career. ("Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson)

4. You work with words so make sure you have a great command of language. ("The difference between using the right word and the one that is almost right is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." ~ Mark Twain)

5. Novels are characterized by rising action. ("When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns." ~ Raymond Chandler)

6. A first draft should be written, not rewritten and revised until you're making no forward progress. ("Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft." ~ Stephen King)

7. Know what the market is doing, but write the story that's in your heart and head. ("It is more profitable to stay aware of trends generally, yet concentrate your energies on simply writing the best novel you know how to write. Don't chase the market. Write the novel that is in you. ~ Jack Bickham)

8. Make writing a daily habit because habit will put you in front of the computer even when you don't want to be there. ("Fortify yourself within an impregnable structure of writing habits." ~ Leonard Bishop)

9. When you think you can't write a certain thing, you need to make an all-out assault on that piece of writing and not back down. There is power in doing that which you think you can't do. ("The time to be relentless in completing a scene is when you are absolutely certain you cannot accomplish it." ~ Leonard Bishop)

Takeaway Truth

These nine rules are relatively easy to follow, and they'll make a huge difference in your writing career.

10 Ways to Get Your Website Known

Whether you primarily use a website or a blog, the goal is to get your website known and associated with your brand.

Here are 10 painless ways to do that.

1. Print business cards and other paper items i.e. promotional postcards, bookmarks, brochures, etc. with your URL along with a short tagline or blurb about what visitors will find on your site.

2. Print up adhesive labels to use as envelope seals. Design with the same info mentioned above. If you have a book coming out, put the title, your name, and release date. Slap one on every piece of correspondence you mail—bills and all.

3. You know all those inserts advertising this, that, and the other that arrive in the same envelope as your bill? Design your own mail insert with your website URL, etc. Make it simple and clean with no visual clutter. Drop one in everything you mail out.

4. Subscribe to websites that review other websites. Give good, honest, not hurtful though, reviews, and you'll get some in return.

5. Have a bumper sticker made with your website URL and the tagline.

6. Have a window cling sticker made with the website URL.

7. Order a license plate frame with your URL.

8. Get a magnetic sign made for your vehicle with your URL and tagline.

9. Of course, you already have the URL in your signature line on every email, but remember to add it to snail mail letterhead information.

10. Write articles for print or online newsletters and have the URL as part of your bio notes.

Takeaway Truth

Using your website to promote your brand isn't an overnight accomplishment. It takes time to build momentum so be patient and keep at it.

2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

Attention all you Contest lovers. The 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest (ABNA) entry period opened last week.


* For unpublished and self-published English-language novels.

* Entries accepted through March 2, 2014, or until 10,000 eligible entries are received.

* Entries can now be submitted through CreateSpace. To enter that way, log in and select ABNA Breakthrough Novel Award from the left side bar.

* 1 Grand Prize winner: Amazon Publishing contract with an advance of $50,000.

* 4 1st Prize winners: each receives a contract from Amazon Publishing with an advance of $15,000.

* Categories: general fiction, mystery/thriller, romance, science fiction/fantasy/horror, and young adult fiction.

If you have a specific question, read the Contest FAQ. Then visit Official Contest Rules to make sure you know all the details.

Takeaway Truth

The odds are great in this contest, but with no entry fee, what have you got to lose?

Update on Ebooks in Libraries

Back on June 27, 2012, Smashwords and Califa, a consortium of 220 California libraries, formed a partnership to distribute Smashwords eBooks in libraries. The agreement also called for giving the member libraries the ability to let their patrons publish eBooks through Smashwords.

At that time, Library Journal explained the self-publishing process this way: "A patron will be able to use the Califa interface, being built with VuFind, to upload their manuscripts to Smashwords, which then will make the books available to its retail partners." It also called for notifying Califa that a patron had uploaded the title and see if Califa wanted to purchase the title for its collection."

The deal called for Califa to buy 10,000 of Smashwords’ bestselling titles. Those works would be available for checkout from the writer’s local library, as well as for sale through the Smashwords distribution network.

Libraries and Ebooks

I wondered how that worked out. Although I couldn't find a report that gave statistics on any benefits to those Smashwords authors and any downstream effects of the ebooks being offered to the California Library system.

I did however find a blog post on Califa Products about the limitations that plague their vision. According to the January 6, 2014, post: "Despite the recognized benefits of and increasing patron demand for innovative library programs, limited connectivity often prevents librarians in the California State Library System from offering programs and services they perceive would be of value to their patrons."

The libraries just don't have the unlimited wireless access and bandwidth they need for live streaming and many other innovative programs they'd like to offer. Offering wide access to ebooks is just one part of what they'd like to do. In a state that's always in the news for their economic woes, this is hardly surprising. There is an effort underway to secure funding, but it remains to be seen if it will be successful.

Future Potential

Although the lofty goals of this library deal don't seem to have been realized, that doesn't mean that those goals won't one day be accomplished. Kindle books can be bought for library systems as can the aforesaid Smashwords. Overdrive says they have 600,000 totals available to libraries. The real question is where is the data that show how many library patrons are checking out these books?

As an author, of course I hope that sales to libraries nationwide will one day be commonplace, but many problems face libraries that want to offer ebooks. The ebook library market is split between vendors and devices. Costs of content and administrative fees are increasing which can make ebooks more expensive than print.

The jury is out on what the future may hold. One can read as many optimistic forecasts as pessimistic. For now, if you're interested in getting your ebooks into libraries, you have limited choices with distribution via Smashwords channels about the only direct one for indie authors.

Of course, there's Overdrive which some indie authors are trying to navigate, and you can always work with your local library system to get your ebooks offered.

Takeaway Truth

Library ebook sales can only grow, but I have to admit that I hope libraries never reach the point where print books disappear.

Relax and Unwind

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, and peace activist who has published more than 100 books, 40 of which are in English, said: "It's very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems."

What sensible advice. I decided to take that advice today because I--and darling hubby too--have worked hard for several weeks now.


First there was the townhouse remodeling and all it entailed. Then the moving, unpacking, arranging, setting up our offices, writing goals and business plans for the new year. My goodness, hubby and I have worked as if the fate of the planet depended on our efforts.

Back To Day Job

With all that done, we settled in to work. Hubby received a new out of town business project, and I started reviewing where I was on various writing projects. I'd been reading emails from too many authors that told of their discouragement because of declining book sales, inability to focus on a new manuscript, economic problems, etc. so I decided to finish the little book of encouragement that I had written.

I know how hard it is to keep going with little validation so my Little Book of Sunshine: For Readers and Writers was a project close to my heart. Why readers and writers? Because writers aren't the only ones who struggle with rejection, discouragement, and goal achievement. Everyone on the planet does.

So I finished that manuscript, sent it out for proofing, and with only a few detours for working with the landscaper on tearing out the old yard at the townhouse and putting in a new one, I published my little volume of encouragement and inspiration.

Now, Little Book of Sunshine: For Readers and Writers is published and available at most ebook sellers.

With that project mostly out of the way, it was time to relax. Today, hubby and I are doing nothing but reading and watching TV. Okay, I am on the laptop writing this, and, yes, that does go against my Weekend Disconnect policy. However, my blogging is usually fun for me, and fun is always allowed.

Weekend Disconnect

Last year I made the conscious decision to disconnect on the weekend. I was surprised by how difficult it was to follow through on that. No texts, calls, emails, Tweets, FB posts or other social networks, and no sitting at the computer hours on end.

I wanted to do this to focus in on the real world around me--family, friends, and my community. That real world connection is easy to lose in this wired in world. I also wanted to start participating in some of the activities I once enjoyed that I no longer could fit into my life--arts and crafts, gardening, and more reading.

Takeaway Truth

Tired? Stressed? Need to recharge? Like Lily Tomlin once said: "For fast-acting relief, try slowing down." At least on weekends.

New Book Helps When the Going Gets Tough

If you've been feeling dejected, rejected, and discouraged, then you're not alone. There are millions of people struggling to feel more optimistic, to persist because the going is tough--just to hang on until things get better.

On my Goal List for this year was a little book designed to give you a boost when you need something or someone outside yourself to lift you out of the doldrums.

So chase away those black clouds of dejection with my Little Book of Sunshine: For Readers and Writers. I created this to give you something to go to when you're feeling down and out. Like the title says, it's not just for writers, although most of the quotations in there are from writers. It's for anyone who's trying to achieve something special.

This book is an attitude adjustment that's priced low at only 99cents. I believe in the power of words to help you persist and keep going when you have little validation. I hope this book will help you and inspire you to persevere. If nothing else, it should make you smile. If it's raining on your parade, grab a copy today.

So far, it's live only on Amazon, but it should be available at all ebook sellers by Monday.

Takeaway Truth

What do you have to lose? Only that pessimistic attitude that plagues you.

Love Letters From the Heart

Hot Romance--Cool Valentine Story
Do you still write letters by hand? Once, letter writing was not only a form of communication but also an art. People took care in composing letters to make them an effective means of communication, and to also make them worth keeping because most people saved letters.

Old Letters

I have a box of letters dating back to the late 1800's. Some are love letters written by past generations, some are business correspondence. All are beautifully written with penmanship so lovely that the letter deserves to be framed like a piece of art.

As an author of romantic comedy, it's the old love letters that I cherish the most. I have the letter in which my grandmother, a spinster of forty, proposed to my grandfather, a bachelor in his forties. They married in the Roaring Twenties, and my mother, needless to say, an only child, was born a few years later.

Love Letters Are Handwritten

My grandmother's love letter and all the other old correspondence, treasured by my mother, and now by me, make me realize how lacking our modern world is in the art of letter writing. Do you have a bundle of love letters, tied with a satin ribbon and tucked away in a private place? Most women don't. Today, just about everyone get texts and emails that proclaim affection. You can't exactly bundle those up with a ribbon. Sure, you can print the emails, but how many of you actually do?

Make Love Connection

Since February is Cupid's month, I have a radical suggestion. Write a love letter to your beloved. Put your heart in it. Tell him or her how precious they are to you, how they changed your world, how much you look forward to spending time with them each day. Don't just settle for a Valentine card to which you sign your name. Express with words the love that you feel.

Handwritten notes and letters stand the test of time. It takes but a moment to dash off an email or text. Maybe handwritten letters are treasured because they represent a gift of time. That makes it even more of a luxury in today's busy world. When writing a letter by hand, one must gather paper, envelope, pen, and one's thoughts.

Takeaway Truth

In The Bible, Jeremiah 31:33 says: "I have written you in my heart." If you've written your beloved in your heart, then why not put it on paper too?

Post Script

Every Valentine's Day, I show appreciation to all who follow this blog. This year is no exception. If you are a SlingWords Follower, I have a present for you.

To claim your present, please email me: JoanReeves at Outlook dot com (new email addy I'm trying). In your email, give me your Smashwords registered email address. I'll send you a coupon good for a copy of my new nonfiction book, Little Book of Sunshine: For Readers and Writers (available at all ebook sellers by Feb. 22.)

By the way, today, I'm appearing on a couple of other blogs. Visit me at Authors of Main Street where I'm talking about Love at First Sight and an interview on Sarah Cass's Blog.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Cover Art Contest Winners

Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America announced the Winners of the 2013 Judge A Book By Its Cover (JABBIC) Contest.


First Place: RESCUED BY A HIGHLANDER by Keira Montclair
Second Place: WHEN SHE WAS NAKED by Anne Barton
Third Place: SURPRISING LORD JACK by Sally MacKenzie


First Place: LAST BLOOD by Kristen Painter
Second Place: DARK WOLF by Kate Douglas
Third Place: IMMORTALLY EMBRACED by Angie Fox


First Place: AGAINST THE ROPES by Sarah Castillo
Second Place: DO YOU TAKE by Jackie Ivie
Third Place: UNDER THE MISTLETOE by A C Arthur


First Place: ONCE TEMPTED by Laura Moore
Second Place: HOW TO TAME A WILD FIREMAN by Jennifer Bernard
Third Place: SEX AND THE SINGLE FIREMAN by Jennifer Bernard


First Place: SCORCHED by Mari Mancusi
Second Place: SPARK by Anthea Sharp
Third Place: WORDS ONCE SPOKEN by Carly Drake


First Place: PICTURE ME NAKED by Lisa Olech
Second Place: IF THE SHOE FITS by Laurie LeClair
Third Place: WORTH THE TROUBLE by Betsy McGraw


First Place: FORGOTTEN SINS by Rebecca Zanetti
Second Place: BURIED by Kendra Elliot
Third Place: HARD AS IT GETS by Laura Kaye


First Place: A LADY MOST LOVELY by Jennifer Delamere
Second Place: IT HAPPENED AT THE FAIR by Deeanne Gist
Third Place: THE GOVERNESS OF HIGHLAND HALL by Carrie Turansky

To view all the winning covers, visit Houston Bay Area Romance Writers of America. The Readers' Choice winners are also viewable there. Watch for the Grand Prize Winners in a full-page color ad on the inside front cover of the April 2014 Romance Writers Report!

Takeaway Truth

This is a great contest. Watch SlingWords for an announcement when the contest opens for 2014.

Congratulations, winners.

The Winners Are

West Houston Romance Writers of America announced the winners of the 2014 Emily Contest. Once again, they had 9 editor/agent requests among the finalists.

Contemporary Single Title Romance

First Place: THE HOUSE OF D'INNOCENZI by Susan J. Bickford (Full request by the agent)

Honorable Mention: SAIL AWAY by Chris Campillo

Honorable Mention: SECOND CHANCE IN SWEETGRASS by Megan Coakley

Fantasy, Futuristic &Paranormal Romance

First Place: ON THE SQUEEZE by Vivien Jackson (Full request by the agent)

Honorable Mention: THE DARK MAN by Buffy M. Armstrong

Honorable Mention: UNCAGED by Crystal Stone w/a Jade O'Dunne. (Full request by agent)

Historical Romance

First Place: WICKED IN HIS ARMS by Louisa Cornell (Full request by agent and full request by editor)

Honorable Mention: A WILD AND WICKED WIND by Laura Trentham (Partial request with revision by agent)

Honorable Mention: CHICAGO & WESTERN by J. Wachowski (Partial request with revision by agent)

Romantic Suspense

First Place: THE KISSING STONES by Natalie Meg Evans (Full request - agent)

Honorable Mention: JAWS OF A TRAP by Susan Dunn w/a Susan Drake (Full request - editor)

Honorable Mention: HAUNTING SECRETS by Kate Freiman

Young Adult/New Adult Romance

First Place: THE QUEEN'S GIFT by T.R. Allardice

Honorable Mention: ALIEN AND THE BEAST by Amy Paulshock

Honorable Mention: PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND PUSH-UP BRAS by Mary Strand

Best of the Best: To be announced shortly

Takeaway Truth

Congratulations to all.

Pulled In Different Directions?

Do you feel that you're pulled in a dozen different directions? I do. Of course, I think I spent the last 12 months in the Land of Overwhelm, but that's mostly over. Mostly.

Maybe all you lovely readers live an organized and orderly life wherein you have to deal with only one thing at a time. Me? I'm working as fast as I can in order to get a couple of books published before the next catastrophe comes down the pike.

Seems there's constantly an emergency on the horizon. How do you accomplish anything amidst constant interruptions -- large and small.

The acerbic Dorothy Parker put it perfectly one day when she was constantly being interrupted while trying to write. "What fresh hell can this be?"

In case you're looking for advice, here are a few suggestions.

1. Breathe. Everytime you find yourself ready to blow a gasket, just take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

2. Say very calmly, "This too shall pass."

3. Take another breath.

4. Say, "I have all the time I need to do all the things I want."

Takeaway Truth

If you do this often enough, you may find yourself believing it!

7 Tips: How To Get Paperwork Organized

Are there some jobs you just hate to do? I have a list. At the top of the list is filing. I just hate having to file because I'm stuck with my paperwork, darling hubby's, and our jointly owned paperwork. So the filing tends to pile up.


Of course, I've had an excuse for not keeping up with it since I was "camping out" since July at our weekend home with only my essential file folders.

Although we moved into our house on Nov. 21, it was being remodeled so the paperwork kept growing. With 99% of the remodeling completed and the unpacking finished, I ran out of excuses. So I tackled the monstrous job of organizing and filing everything this week. (That's why I haven't been blogging.)

7 Tips to Help You

Now, you may not have as much stuff to keep track of as I do, but if you own property, run a business, or have any extra pages to your tax return, then you're in the same boat as I am. Here are some ways to cut down on the mess.

1. Lay it all out. Get a folding table or use the top of a bed -- assuming it doesn't have to be slept in that night -- or  a dining table. On this large flat surface, organize all the various stacks of papers. Bills in one pile, receipts in another, tax documents in another pile, warranty papers, property papers, etc.

We had sold a house and bought a house so we had lots of legal papers to corral. Also, we had masses of receipts, estimates, and bills for the remodeling. You get the picture. Just organize your stacks of paper so they make sense.

2. Get a container. Get an adequately-sized file cabinet or two if you've got that much stuff. I've got one for my business. Hubby has one, and we have another for joint or household. Heck even a cardboard box or two will work.

3. Make it easy with the right tools. Get a box or two of file folders or hanging folders -- whatever is easiest for you.

4. Start clean. If you have existing files, clean them out. The first of the year is a great time to do this. Toss all that medical and prescription stuff, old papers that are no longer valid, and anything you don't need into a box or bag to shred -- unless the paperwork is being used as validation for your tax return.

5. Take stock. With a black Sharpie or a label maker, look over the organized piles of paper and see how you need to label the folders and do that.

6. Allot time. Now that all the organization is out of the way, set aside an hour each morning while your energy is high to put those papers in their respective folders and into the file drawer. An hour may be all you need. If you need more time, then schedule it.

7. Work at it until you're finished.

When you're organized this way, you can immediately find that warranty for your color laser printer or your title insurance on your home or that article you clipped from a magazine that sparked an idea for a book.

The bed in my guest room can actually be used now because all my filing is done. I am basking in the glow of accomplishment, and it's a warm glow because I really hate filing.

Takeaway Truth

A little organization goes a long way.

Ah, February

Ah, February. In many parts of the world, January was brutally cold. Even here in Houston we had ice, snow, and a morning of continuous sleet. Of course, that's nothing compared to the colder climates.

There seem to be two schools of thought about this month. Some view it as dismal. Shirley Jackson, in Raising Demons, wrote: "February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer."

Others view it more optimistically. William C. Bryant wrote: "The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within."

I guess both opinions are valid. The earth does warm, and trees bud and prepare to burst forth into blossom in March. It's also a month that can seem long, cold, gray, and dreary.

Takeaway Truth

In the end, February is a transitional month. How you view is usually based on your attitude du jour. Ultimately, February will be what you make of it.

5 Secrets Set The Stage for Success

A young writer emailed me the other day. In answering her, I offered a bit of advice that I think is worth passing on to you. So here it is:

5 Secrets Set The Stage for Success.

Be Smart

When writers, or other small entrepreneurs first start, they set up a website and a blog because that's what they've been told they need to do. Writers probably have a book -- usually one one -- to sell and a small retailer may have only one or two handcrafted products to sell.

In just about every case, the small entrepreneur sets up their website and/or blog to promote the product, not their name. They think their brand is the product or the book, but what they don't yet realize is that they're selling their name.

An author needs to establish their brand as quickly as possible, and so does an artisan selling knitted caps or whatever. What does a book by this writer give the reader? What does a knitted scarf by this artisan give the consumer? In both cases, the reader, or consumer, wants to know what they get in terms of  design, convenience and ease of sale, satisfaction, and some other esoteric elements.

Begin the Right Way

If you expect to have a long career in writing or in producing widgets for sale online or whatever, start right. Set up your website and blog to brand you, not a book or other product. The website/blog URL should be your name, not the name of a book or series or product. The website/blog title should be your name.

The banner image should represent you and your brand not your first book because, hopefully, there will be other books to follow this one. Your website and blog should always reflect you, the brand you are establishing, and should promote you.

Every time someone visits your site, they should focus on your name and brand -- not the title of a single book or product.

My banner image here on SlingWords is a picture of a woman on a chaise, drinking coffee, and writing on a laptop. That is so me! My banner image on my website is a graphic that appears to be the luxurious folds of white satin. That's a subtle reference to romance.

Create Great Content

Use the sidebars for your book images, review quotes, etc. Make the majority of your blog content about other things, not just one constant advertisement for "buy my book." Web visitors won't return to a site that's only a long infomercial.

Maybe once a week write something with a link to your book, but make it fascinating. For example, 9 Facts About Black Wool with a picture and buy link for the black wool shawl you knitted. Or, Does Cinderella Myth Fuel Shoe Envy? which I'm writing to promote my new book Cinderella Blue.

Always create content that pulls readers in. Choose carefully what you put on your sites.

Blog, Blog, Blog

Be generous and offer to Guest Blog for others. Most blogs, including mine, host writers for either a guest post or interview. Don't be shy. You need to get your brand out, and one way is to be a guest on another blog. Remember, don't make your guest post nothing but "buy my book" because that's a sure way to turn readers and your host off.

Learn From Others

Take advantage of the wealth of information online. I offer hundreds of articles in the Archives of SlingWords about Internet Success, eBook Success, the Writing Biz, etc. Read widely -- how to articles as well as in your chosen genres and in other genres.

Learn from authors who have spent years in the trenches. Chances are they've made lots of mistakes because, face it, that's where wisdom comes from. Learn from their mistakes. Learn from the things they've done right. Always be a sponge, soaking up knowledge.

Takeaway Truth

Most successes don't happen overnight. It takes years of persistence and hard work. Be patient. Work hard. Work effectively. You'll get there.