Friday, April 28, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Barbara Nickless

Pikes Peak Writers member, Barbara Nickless, has been nominated for for two outstanding awards.

"The Colorado Book Awards is an annual program that celebrates the accomplishments of Colorado's outstanding authors, editors, illustrators and photographers.Barbara's debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, is a finalist in the mystery category. She and her fellow mystery finalists (along with finalists in the thriller and genre fiction categories--including PPW member Kevin Ikenberry) will be reading at Denver Bookbar at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 14th.

In addition, Barbara is thrilled to announce she is a finalist for the Colorado Authors' League Writing Award in the genre fiction category. She will be doing a reading with her fellow finalists at Tattered Cover (Colfax) on Saturday, April 29th at 6 p.m.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Let’s Talk About Your Book -- Your Audio Book

By: KL Cooper

Ever thought about making your book available as an Audiobook? If not, you should! It’s easier than you think and can increase your readership significantly. After all, not everyone can read, and not everyone has the time to sit down with a good book. Most importantly, this market is not yet saturated, and since 2012, audiobook sales have increased by 33%.

The Basics

There are a few places you can go to produce an audio book but the place you should start is Audiobook Creation Exchange is the distributor that pushes audiobooks out to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. There are lots of helpful articles on their website to help you. And you have a few options for getting this accomplished.

Option 1 – Hire a narrator outright

The Upside This requires the lowest time investment, professional quality work, and you can keep more of the royalties. In this scenario, you will audition different narrators and pick one by sending them a short sample. They will send you back the audiobook. You listen to it and proof it. You pay them up front, and you get to keep the book.

The downside This is expensive. A 50k book could be about $1,300. That’s a reasonable rate with 2.5 cents per word representing the industry standard. Shop around. Some are going to me more, some will be less. If you are not a native speaker, you’re going to want to hire a narrator. If you have books that are already successful, this could also be a good option, because the chances are higher that you’ll see a return on your investment. This might also work for newer writers with less inventory if you don’t mind waiting a while to see that return.

To find a narrator you have two options.

1)You can hire ACX.
The simple process is to claim your book from Amazon on ACX. Then submit to have narrators bid on your project.

2)You can go directly to a producer or narrator.
Sometimes, by doing this, you can get more competitive rates. Research can lead you to some good narrators for your genre and possibly better than that 2.5 cents per word rate. I would not recommend, but you could go to other freelance sites to shop around.

Option 2 – Do a royalty-split via ACX

The Upside
 There is no out of pocket investment up front.

The Downside
You cut your royalty rates in half, and you CANNOT distribute outside of ACX, which also means, you can’t give your audiobook away in a promotion like an email opt-in or as a bonus. You might be able to do a few free coupons through audible, but that’s it.
Also, your book must be selected by a narrator. So, you don’t get free pick of who does the narrating. But just as in the first option, the narrator handles the audio editing, which is helpful.

You will lose more in the long run, potentially, with this approach, and you will be locked into a contract with ACX.

This is only a good option if you have no budget and if you don’t speak English natively. Apply this advice to whatever native language your book is written in, of course.

Option 3 – Record them yourself

The Upside
You can save a lot of money this way, and you’ll have full control of the rights and distribution. This method is also quicker, reducing your production time from weeks to possibly days. The biggest reason you might want to do this, not just the money and the speed of implementation, is to create a deeper connection with your audience. ACX encourages authors to narrate their own books. This is especially true with non-fiction or memoirs. But this works with fiction, too. You’ll be able to offer it as a bonus or for sale on your own website.

Recording your own audiobook is a form of proofreading! How many of you read your book aloud before or after you send it to an editor? It’s a great way to catch spelling mistakes, awkward wordings, and bad dialogue. You can also catch things an editor might miss. Since you’re probably going through this proofreading process anyway, why not get the audio done at the same time?

The Downside
I know that many of you would rather jump into a hot river of snot than record your own Audiobook, but if you do decide to do this, you’ll need to learn a few skills and buy a few pieces of equipment.

It will take some time to record it yourself at a ratio of 3:1 – 1 hour of audiobook takes about 3 hours of production time. Hiring out audio book production is usually $350 per finished hour. You can definitely go higher than that with an in-demand narrator.

What You’ll Need

Microphone – I recommend the Audio Technica ATR2100- $79 (this one comes with a pop filter) or Samson Q2U $59 (comes with headphones)-  You don’t want a terribly GOOD one, because those pick up more noise than is needed or wanted for audiobook recording. These do a great job of blocking out the sound that is not coming from right in front of the mic.

Pop Filter - $7
Microphone stand - $10 for a Neewer desk stand
Monitor Headphones - $24 if you already have some good ones, you can use those
Music Stand (optional) - $15 if you prefer to read from sheets of paper
Blanket, pillows, thick clothes from around the house

Studio Set-up Tips

Record in a small room. Don’t use a bathroom because they are reflective and will echo the sound back.

Hang clothes on a rack behind you, or take a patio umbrella and hang blankets over the top of it. Orient the mic away from noise sources.

Final Note

There are other ways to get an audio book made, but since this is a blog post, I wanted to keep the topic short and relevant to ACX. If there is interest, I could do a part 2 that covers other options another time, or cover the process of making your own recording in further depth. Just let me know in the comments section. I hope you got something useful out of this information.

About the Author: KL Cooper is currently on the Board of Directors for Pikes Peak Writers where she functions mainly as their Social Media Director. She is the owner of UnderCover Press, an independent small press. If you found this article informative and would like to learn more, KL will be presenting workshops, Today's Marketing for Yesterday's Author; DIY Book Covers, and Anti-Social Media Marketing as well as the latest book marketing techniques at #PPWC2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Adventures in Beta Reading

By: Shannon Lawrence

Successful authors have a multitude of tools to aid in their writing. One of those tools is the beta reader. Not to be confused with critique partners, beta readers read the entire manuscript at once, preferably after it's been significantly edited and is in the final stages. The feedback you get from them depends upon what you ask for, but should be more thorough than what you'll get from the typical critique group.

We all know that it can be tricky to find the right critique group, but it can also be hard to find a beta reader who can provide what you're looking for. There are various pitfalls that come along with asking someone to put in so much effort for you, and it's hard to deal with it on your end, because you have to keep in mind that this is a big favor. Unfortunately, this can tie your hands when it comes to dealing with someone not delivering.

Recently, I put out a call for beta readers on Facebook. I got six responses, four authors (two published, two not published) and two non-authors. I felt this was a good mix, so went ahead and contacted them with information. Ultimately, two people got it to me by the deadline, one got it to me slightly after the deadline, and one got it to me a couple months past the deadline. That leaves two who never got back to me at all, though one did apologize and explain what had happened. What I got back from people varied significantly, as well. From what I've heard, this was all to be expected.

To be expected, sure, but frustrating on my end. In order to help out those of you approaching a beta reading situation for the first time, I'm going to lay out the process from the beginning, in hopes that you can take what I learned and improve on it, possibly avoiding some unnecessary frustration and heartache.

1. Gather Data - Look at what others have done. Ask them what worked and what didn't work, and if they have any recommendations going forward. Figure out how you want to go about it in advance.

2. The Ask - Do you want to post on your social media for volunteers or contact specific people and request their help? I've done both, and I doubt either one works any better than the other, so it comes down to your preferences and your circle. If you don't have people you'd think would be good for this, consider asking in a writer's group or related entity or posting in their social media. You can ask friends to put out a call, as well. Decide in advance how many readers you want. Provide yourself a cushion by asking for more beta readers than you need. This way, if some don't deliver, you still get a good amount of feedback.

Having said that, remember that you don't have to accept everyone who offers. Choose people you believe will be honest and reliable. Don't ask family or your best friend unless you know they can and will be honest with you. Otherwise, you'll get back a "good job," which, while nice to hear, isn't helpful. Be clear on the genre of your story, providing them an elevator pitch of sorts about it, so they accept knowing what they're getting into. Try to have both writers and non-writers in order to get different sorts of feedback. Often, writers will pay more attention to the writing dynamics and logistics, while non-writers will pay closer attention to the story and characters.

3. Be Specific - Write up a set of questions that specifically address your concerns. Are you wondering if your character is too much of a wimp or whether the love interest will read as sexy? Perhaps you're concerned about the slow spots, pacing, tension, setting, descriptions, etc. Be honest and ask the questions you want answers to. Point out details you want them to focus on. Ask them to jot down reactions anywhere they feel strongly. Did they especially like this action scene? Was this scene too slow? Did they laugh here? Cry? State whether you want grammar notes or if you'd prefer they avoid them.

Just because you send questions and suggestions on where to focus does not mean your readers will address them. Three of my readers (including one who jumped in to help when the others failed to follow through on their promise) both answered my questions and put feedback throughout the manuscript. The others were a mix of either answering the questions, putting feedback throughout, or doing a write up with their notes. You can give suggestions and try to lead where you'd like it to go, but people will ultimately do what they're comfortable with.

4. Time Frame - Pick a deadline. It should be reasonable. One to two months is fine, depending upon your needs. It's a good idea to state your time frame up front so only those who feel they can get it done in that time volunteer. If it's vital you have it before a certain date, build in a buffer of a week or two to better your chances.

5. Niceties - Keep in mind that you're asking a lot of your beta readers. Consider what you might do in return. Be friendly. Write them a nice letter with your expectations and thanking them for their help. I offered to beta read in return should they need someone. For the non-authors, I asked them to let me know in the future if I could return the favor in some way. I also thanked them once I got the feedback. No matter what, they volunteered to do this in order to help me better my manuscript.

6. The Send - After getting their email address (since I'd put the call out on Facebook), I sent an email with the manuscript in .doc as an attachment, as well as the letter and questions in .doc, and expressed my willingness to send it in a different format upon request. I forgot to initially include the deadline, even though I had one in mind, so that came later. When I gave it, I asked them to let me know if they had issues with that time frame. I actually recommend you give the deadline with The Ask, then remind them of the deadline in The Send.

7. Follow Up - When the deadline arrived, I sent out an email to those who had not returned any feedback. I stated that the deadline had arrived, and asked them to let me know if they felt they could finish it and when I could expect it. I assured them that I would not be upset if they could not finish, and that their honesty would allow me to find someone else to read for me instead. Everyone remaining assured me they would still get it done. I now know this not to be true, so here's where you can learn from my mistake. If people do not finish, feel free to reach out to them, but also consider opening your call back up if you don't feel you got sufficient feedback from the others. I don't recommend continuing to bug them about it. If they haven't done it by the deadline, chances are they won't. If life is busy, it will continue to be busy. While your manuscript may be your life's focus right now, it won't be theirs. Find someone else.

A beta reader can be a huge help. Looking at your story in one big chunk, rather than the piecemeal way of critique groups, allows them to see the big picture and find story mistakes someone reading a chapter each month might not. It lets them look at the finer details, check character and story arc, etc. However, you're opening yourself up to a possible let down when someone doesn't deliver. Learn from my mistakes. Choose your beta readers carefully and, if they don't respond in time, pursue other beta readers instead of waiting on the ones you already secured. After all, beta readers are human, and they'll have all too human issues that might eclipse doing you a favor. Hopefully, the feedback you do get will more than makeup for what you don't get, and your beta readers will have provided this valuable service.

Have you had beta readers? How did it go? What did you learn from the experience? What tips might you offer a first timer?

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Once Upon a Scream, Dark Moon Digest, and The Deep Dark Woods. When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. ~ Herman Melville

Source Wikipedia

Herman Melville (Aug. 1, 1819 – Sept. 28, 1891) was born in New York. He was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. His best known works include Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences in Polynesian life, and his whaling novel Moby-Dick (1851). His work was almost forgotten during his last thirty years. His writing draws on his experience at sea as a common sailor, exploration of literature and philosophy, and engagement in the contradictions of American society in a period of rapid change. He developed a complex, baroque style: the vocabulary is rich and original, a strong sense of rhythm infuses the elaborate sentences, the imagery is often mystical or ironic, and the abundance of allusion extends to Scripture, myth, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts.

This week on Writing from the Peak:

April 24  Adventures in Beta Reading by Shannon Lawrence

April 26  Let’s Talk about your AUDIO Book by KL Cooper

April 28  Sweet Success Celebrates Barbara Nickless

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Catherine Dilts

The Chemistry of Heroes, a short story by PPW member Catherine Dilts, is a Derringer finalist in the Novelette category. The Derringer is awarded annually for the best short story in four categories - Flash, Short, Long, and Novelette. Catherine's story was published in the May 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The winners will be announced May 1st.

Catherine's sixth story for Alfred Hitchcock, Unrepentant Sinner, appears in the May /June 2017 issue. She is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Improve Your Writing: Critique Someone Else's

By: Bowen Gillings
Even if you are not part of a critique group, you want people to critique your work. You want it for the most basic reason: to show that someone read what you wrote. You want reviews from your readers. You want reactions from critics. Having your diligent typing efforts scrutinized by others is a big part of the whole, “I am an author” package.
Now let’s flip this notion. You want to critique others, not so that they have proof someone read their stuff, but to improve your own work.
The how of this concept is elegantly simple. By conducting a thorough critique of another’s work, you improve your own.
For starters, you need to grasp how to conduct a good critique. Becky Levine, in her article Critique Your Way to Better Writing (Writer’s Digest Yearbook, Fall 2013) sets up three principles to focus on when critiquing:

  • Identify Trouble Spots – Read deeply looking for what works, what catches you, and what leaves you flat. Do you want to keep reading? If you find yourself tempted to skim a section, go back and discern why.
  • Root Out the Problem – Are the characters uninteresting? Perhaps they all speak the same or behave so indistinctly that none are unique. Does the plot lack tension? This may be because problems are solved too easily or the stakes are not high enough. Perhaps dialogue is unnatural or the author’s voice is flat.
  • Present Options – Focus on the big elements that need work. First, thoroughly explain the issue(s). Then cite an example from the piece that illustrates that issue. Finally, offer possible solutions. This is not writing the story for her. This is opening her eyes to possibilities she may not have been aware of.

Conducting a critique in this way will reap rewards for you as much as it will for the author you read.

When you read deeply, looking for those trouble spots, your mind searches for anything to enhance your own work. You find a metaphor you can tweak for that love scene. You discover an undercurrent in the dialogue that you can adapt for your villain, achieving the subtle wickedness that’s eluded you.

When you identify problems, you start recognizing the same in your writing. You realize you, too, tend to start paragraphs with character names. You also use lists or groupings of ideas too much when a single phrase could convey the same concept and spice up the flow.
Finally, by offering suggestions, your creativity engine revs up. You find offering ideas to the author opens new paths to your own characters, adds flavor to your voice, and streamlines your plot. Your writing becomes Steve Austin—stronger, faster, better.
So, even if you are not part of a regular critique group, dig deep into those works that you like to read. Really look at them as Becky Levine suggests, and your writing skills will grow exponentially.

About the Author: Bowen Gillings lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, daughter, and dog.  He became a member of Pikes Peak Writers in 2015 and sits on the PPW Board as a Member at Large. You can catch him climbing the Manitou Incline or at Garden of the Gods Park, where he heads the school programs for area elementary and high school students. Or come listen to his overbearing voice as the emcee of Write Brain the third Tuesday of each month at Library 21C. He is screaming along the roller coaster ride of his first novel.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

So How Did You Get Your Book Published? Margo Catts List of 20

By: Margo Catts
We’ve all met them—the people, who upon hearing you’re a writer, say, “I’ve thought of writing a book, too!” They’re adorable. Precious. But you can tell that they (like most people) have no clue what happens between “I have an idea” and “Come buy my book.” Even to active writers, the process can be a bit like sausage making. Pig goes in the front door. Sausage comes out the back. Things happen in between.

Turns out that a lot happens in between that idea and the published book. A lot of work, sure, but also a lot of life. And that’s what makes every process—and every book—different. I compiled this list of twenty steps for everybody who’s asked me, “So how did you get your book published?” But it’s also for everybody who’s ready to give up at step 2:
1.     Have an idea. It's a breathtaking idea. Behind your children, it's the most exquisite, perfect, extraordinary thing that's ever come from you. Your idea is the sun, radiating blinding perfection in every direction. In fact, the radiance is so bright that you can't make out any details. Who cares? They don't matter. The whole gleaming, finished thing is distant and beautiful and just so, so, brilliantly perfect.

2.     Write the words. Agh. Words are NOT perfect. They're ordinary and clumsy and don't radiate much at all. Little flickers from time to time, but mostly not. You keep pushing them together, though, until you get to end. And it's okay that it's not completely perfect yet because you're not finished. It'll come.

3.     Get an agent. Remember that scene in Little Women where Jo ties her handwritten manuscript up with a bow and sends it to a big-city publisher in New York? Yeah, that doesn't happen anymore. Publishers don't read manuscripts that wash in with the daily post. No, you have to scrape and hustle and pitch and plead and get an agent to like your work, agree to represent you, and then the agent is going to scrape and hustle and pitch and plead to get a publisher to read it. Because efficiency. Anyway, I got lucky at a writer’s conference, and found a terrific agent who loved pages that aren't even in the book anymore and was willing to wait for me to finish it up.

4.     Admit defeat and hand it over. At some point, you have to stop revising. Even though you can tell it is NOT the sun, radiating perfection in every direction. Right now, it's just...a work product. And a pretty lumpy one, at that. Maybe if you just...oh, never mind. Write the email. Hit send. Put your head down on your desk and cry. Let your husband take you out for sushi because he's super excited and congratulatory, and then mope your way through dinner like a put-upon teenager because you feel...defeated. Like you're admitting that the best you can do is not that good after all, and the perfect thing you’ve been laboring for all this time doesn’t even exist. So right here I'm just going give a shout-out to every artist who's slashed a painting or broken a sculpture. I feel you.

5.     Have the agent say, "I love it!" (Bless her heart.) "Now revise."

6.     Revise.

7.     Revise.

8.     Move to Saudi Arabia. This will turn out to be time-consuming. And content-rich. Planned Novel #2 will slide to the #3 slot and material from this experience will take over #2. (You can also call this step “life happens,” plug it into your own set of steps, and plunge both hands into whatever it is.)

9.     Start a blog. This will take up fully half of your time. But it will also get you into an expat anthology book. (Once Upon an Expat, on HuffPo’s list of Top 10 Expat Books and available on Amazon!)

10.  Keep revising. Also start work on newly numbered novel #2. Carefully archive all thoughts and work done on the former novel #2.

11.  Move home. Also time-consuming. Less content-rich. More life happens.

12.  Receive email from agent saying the book is SOLD. More sushi. The check for the first half of the advance almost covers the sushi. Be afraid if you do the arithmetic you'll discover that you've earned about 3 cents an hour. Well, given that's it's only half the advance, 1.5 cents might be more accurate. For your sanity, you're basing your assumptions on the full amount. If you’re lucky, you’ll earn back the advance and maybe even get an adorable li'l check two years from now.

13.  Have the purchasing editor say, "I love it!" (Bless her heart.) "Now revise."

14.  Revise.

15.  Approve cover art, back cover copy, interior design.

16.  Get a picture when the author review copy arrives.

17.  Proofread; make minor revisions.


19.  Make peace with imperfection. So it turns out that the only perfect things are imaginary. The future family or career you only dream of. The child who hasn't been born. The book you haven't written yet. Or do we just have the wrong idea of what perfection looks like? Maybe "perfect" just means "longed for, sacrificed for, and real."
20.  Sell this sucker. Because nobody’s going to do it for you. 

     My mom likes the book. My husband, my friends. My agent, publisher, early reviewers. Many readers will, I’m sure. But others won’t. I’m acutely aware of its flaws, as I am of my own. But my imperfections, and the fact that some people don’t like me, doesn’t keep me from going outside. It’s the lessons of Step 19 that will get me through Step 20. And back to Steps 1 and 2 on the next one, and the one after that. So I gotta go now. I’ve got a lot of work to do. 

     About the Author: Margo Catts is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, and passionate traveler based in Denver because she can’t be everywhere at once. Her debut novel, AMONG THE LESSER GODS, will be released on May 9 by Skyhorse Publishing. She is recently repatriated after living in Saudi Arabia, and one chapter from her life can be found in the anthology, ONCE UPON AN EXPAT. You can find her expat blog and learn more about the books at