Category Archives: Uncategorized







by Kay DiBianca

In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.

The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.

Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.

There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic.  Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!

As writers, we can identify. I often start the day rarin’ to go with my to-do list propped up next to my laptop. I can hardly wait to start pouring my soul into the keyboard at hundreds of words per hour. But first I check my book’s sales rank, then I respond to emails and read my favorite blogs. Time to take a break, get a cup of coffee, and check my sales rank again. Oh yes, I better click over to Amazon, Goodreads, and Kobo to see if my book received any new reviews. And then there’s social media to catch up on. You get the picture. On those days, I become kinestatic — rushing through the day and getting nowhere.

* * *

In order to have the discipline to stay the course as a writer, you have to know the course. James Scott Bell’s book “How to Make a Living as a Writer” lays out practical steps to navigate the labyrinth of the publishing world and become successful.

This book is an entire library of writing information, from creativity to business acumen. Goal-setting, publishing, branding, marketing. It’s all here.

Whether you intend to make writing your primary source of income or not, get off the treadmill and pick up a copy of this book. It will enhance your writing life.

* * *

JSB Author Photo 2015

I am doubly thrilled to welcome James Scott Bell as my guest today. Mr. Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer.

* * *

Welcome, James Scott Bell. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me, Kay.

Why did you write How to Make a Living as a Writer?

For a couple of reasons. First off, I know there are many writers out there who dream of making this a full-time occupation. It’s not easy to do, but it’s especially hard if you don’t have a strategy. I wanted to lay out a strategic approach any writer can use.

Second, I wanted to give writers the basic business principles they need to succeed. This is, after all, a business, whether you publish with a traditional company or go out and publish on your own. This book helps on both counts.

What would you tell a novice writer is the most important attribute (s)he must have to be a successful author?

Production and growth. You have to be able to produce the words, the books. That’s why I’ve always been a quota guy. I tell people to figure out the number of words they can comfortably write in a week, then up that by 10%. Divide that into days. If you miss a daily goal, you can make it up on other days. I usually take one day off from writing every week, to recharge.

And keep growing in the craft. Read books and blogs (like, go to conferences, get feedback. Apply what you learn to your writing. Write practice scenes to try things out. Just like a golfer who goes to the range on his days off.

Do you recommend traditional publishing or self-publishing?

There are pros and cons to each, of course. Traditional publishers know how to design a book and get it into bookstores (those that remain, that is!). But in return a writer signs away rights to his work that can be difficult to get back should things go south. This is where a writer needs to be aware of contract terms so he can discuss things with his agent.

An indie writer keeps his rights and can publish more frequently, but also has to learn how to produce a good-looking product—formatting, cover design, and so forth.

Marketing is another skill a writer will have to work on, because most of that effort now falls upon their shoulders, whether they are traditional or indie.

Eventually, it always comes down to the books themselves. They have to be good, they have to please readers.

How important is it to have a professional editor?

A good, experienced editor can help a new writer. It’s expensive, but if you look at it as an investment in your career, it can make sense. Do some research, get a recommendation, see if the editor will do a sample edit with you before you sign up.

An alternative is a good group of beta readers. After all, you’re writing for readers, ultimately. Advice on this option can be found by going to and searching for “beta readers.”

Are audio books worth all the trouble and expense?

Audio is definitely the growth area in the book industry right now. Long term, it’s a good asset to have. ACX from Amazon offers writers the opportunity to team up with narrators and split the royalties 50/50. This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to go about audio. The alternative is to shell out the money up front to hire a narrator and keep all the royalties.

A new outfit called has come on the scene. I don’t know much about it, but it is worth checking out.

I purchased my own equipment and am doing my own audio versions. The big challenge is time. It takes a long time to record and edit an audio book. On the plus side, all royalties flow directly to me.

So each author needs to take an objective look at their time, ability, desire, and wallet to sort this through.

With so many resources available: podcasts, blogs, email loops, how does an aspiring author decide which ones to join?

Research and recommendations. Just make sure that none of these overtake your main priority: writing and producing the work.

I hear a lot about branding. How does a new author go about establishing a brand?

A brand is a set of reader expectations. You want to build a readership. You want that readership to become a fan base. That means giving them content they like, which is usually a specific genre. Stephen King specialized in horror. Grisham in legal thrillers. They only deviated from their brand when they were big enough that their publishers allowed a one-off. Then they got back on brand.

So I would advise finding the genre you love and specializing in it. If you’re an indie writer, you have some freedom to try new things, especially in short form. But for the most part, sticking to a brand makes building a fan base easier.

Do you have any other guidance for us that I haven’t asked here?

I like what a writer named Michael Bishop once said: “One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that.”

Where can we find out more about you and your work? and

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today!

My pleasure.






AllInImageThis month we’re adding a new element to the Craft of Writing blog series. Every other month I will feature an author whose first novel has been published within the last couple of years.

This month’s author is Lisa Simonds whose debut novel, All In, is a story of one young woman’s journey through a worldly life to redemption.


Link to book trailer video:

* * *

Lisa Simonds and I met in 2019 through a blog and have become friends through our shared experience with writing. I am thrilled to welcome her as the first debut novelist to the Craft of Writing blog. Writing as L.K. Simonds, Lisa’s novel All In was published and released in 2019.


L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

All In is her first novel.

* * *

Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! I’m thrilled to be with you and your audience today. It’s such an honor to be your first debut author interview.

First, give us a short synopsis of your book.

I’ll let you in on a secret—a synopsis readers won’t find on the back cover or Amazon. But if they read All In with this synopsis in mind, I’m sure by the time they finish they’ll agree it’s spot on.

All In is a love story about a Man’s pursuit of a young woman named Cami Taylor, whom He loves desperately. This Man is all in to capture Cami’s devotion, even though she is completely oblivious to His existence. Enter the Man’s agent, his go-between, Kate Davis, who comes on the scene in Chapter Two. Kate is all in too, even though Cami doesn’t make it easy for her. The entire story is about Kate’s undercover work, as directed by Cami’s ardent suitor. Who is this Mystery Man?

Some readers might not recognize the REAL story right away because they’re seeing events unfold through Cami’s unreliable POV. But there’s a BIG clue in the novel’s front matter: An epigraph from the prophet Isaiah, “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by My name.”

What one message do you want readers to take away from your book?

God loves you with an everlasting love.

What made you decide to write All In?

I was sitting in Trinity Writer’s Workshop in Hurst, Texas, on a Tuesday evening in the mid-1990s, when the idea occurred to me to write a story about a person who makes the journey from not believing God exists to falling in love with Jesus. At the time, I was writing unpublished children’s chapter books about a cat named Rodney, so this idea was quite a departure. I wasn’t sure how to even go about tackling such a book.

Around that same time, I vacationed in NYC with friends, and we got out the Manhattan phonebook in our hotel room to see if there were any people with our last names. We traveled together often and did this quirky thing on trips. There was one person, just one, whose listing had initials and a surname, as single women often listed their numbers in those days. We said we should call and see if she’s a long-lost relative who might show us around town. We laughed about it. Of course, we didn’t call.

But the idea stuck with me. What if you did call? What if a friendship formed? And what if the person you called was about to have a crisis and the friendship became a lifeline? All those “what ifs” became the basis of All In.

I chose to write the novel from the POV of the person who received the call, Cami Taylor. One reason was that I wanted to portray all the conflict happening inside Cami, even though she never tips her hand to the people around her, at least not until the end. For Christians who read the book, I wanted to show that our words and actions may have a lot more impact on people than they let us see, which is why it’s so important to say yes to those little prompts from the Holy Spirit. He knows everything about everyone.

What steps did you take to have your book published?

Kay, I may have taken almost every step a writer can take between completing the first draft in 1999 and the novel being published in 2019.

When I finished the manuscript twenty years ago, I queried agents and publishers like crazy. No one was interested. After a couple of years of rejection, I decided to go indie. Only indie wasn’t indie back then; it was vanity publishing. But I believed in the book enough to brush aside the stigma. With the help of Xlibris Publishing, the book released in 2002 in paperback and hard cover—no eBooks back then—under the title A Lifetime Ago. The self-published book was a sort of test ship to see how readers responded. “Test ship” is slang we used in air traffic for the first aircraft to go out and find a passable route through weather.

The book got some good reviews and feedback, including the attention of a senior editor at Harvest House. He pitched it to the pub board there—unsuccessfully, but still he pitched it. That was so validating. An author named James Baldwin once said a writer needs someone early on to let them know the effort is real. Nick Harrison, who is an agent with WordServe Literary now, was that person for me.

But writing is time-consuming work, and I was very busy with my FAA career. Alas, writing slipped away for quite a few years, but I still imagined I’d return to it one day.

But when I retired in 2012, it wasn’t writing I thought about. I was into flying and had every intention of becoming a flight instructor. I have a natural bent toward teaching, so instructing seemed like a great way to scratch the flying itch without spending an arm and a leg on airplane rentals. But then I really thought it through. How fun does it sound to sweat out hot Texas days crammed in a Cessna with a student pilot who’s trying to kill us both? Not very. Plus I needed to relearn a whole bunch of technical stuff that I’d forgotten and had no interest in anymore. No thank you.

What to do now? Hello, writing! Long time no see.

I dug into craft again and started writing a historical novel inspired by my aunt’s life. I even made half-hearted revisions to A Lifetime Ago and published an Amazon Kindle edition through Create Space. It got a very nice review from a judge in a Writer’s Digest contest, even though I didn’t feel the novel represented my writing style anymore.

By 2016, I had a complete—though rough—manuscript of the historical novel, and I had learned a heck of a lot more about writing. You know who my best teachers were and continue to be? Other authors. I truly believe reading a variety of novels by other authors has done more for my craft than any other single thing. Reading others’ work is like flying with other pilots—you pick up all kinds of new tips and tricks.

I believed the historical novel I had just written would be my debut. My real-live-I-am-not-fooling-around-anymore debut. I began querying agents.

Then one day in 2017, without thinking too much about it, I walked into the garage and looked at the half-dozen copies of A Lifetime Ago stacked on a shelf. “This is a good story, a God story,” I thought, “but it will never go anywhere if I don’t rewrite it.” And that’s exactly what I did. I took everything I had learned and spent six months cleaning up the manuscript, slashing almost 20,00 words, strengthening the characters, and sharpening the prose. The novel as it exists today represents the best craft I can offer readers at this time in my writing career.

When I finished, I found a freelance editor in my writers’ group, Leslie Lutz of Elliott Bay Editing. Leslie gave the manuscript a beautiful line edit, offering suggestions that focused the story even more.

I very much wanted a traditional publisher for the newly minted, newly titled All In, but the book was problematic. The narrative departed from accepted conventions for the Christian Fiction genre. But it was way too evangelical—and I admit “Charismatic”—for general market publishers. I knew this. I could have changed the novel to fit either of these markets, but I felt the story would lose too much.

I was not looking forward to indie publishing, believe me, and I prayed earnestly for help and guidance.

By then it was 2018. I’m in an online group called the Writers View forum. One week, in response to a “Writing Journey” topic thread, I talked about All In. The next thing I knew, an acquisitions editor named Terry Whalin contacted me about submitting the manuscript to Morgan James Publishing. MJP partners with entrepreneurial authors to get their work to the marketplace, pairing the benefits of traditional publishing with the author control of indie publishing. It was a match made in heaven, and by June 2018, I had a contract.

My debut novel, All In, released in August 2019.

Twenty years from first draft to debut.

What lessons learned (positive or negative) would you like to pass on to other new writers?

Respect your readers.

If you’re writing for yourself, buy a journal.

If you’re writing for readers, please, please, please consider their valuable time before asking them to invest 6-8 hours in your flight of fancy. A good place to start is Elmore Leonard’s Tenth Rule for Good Writing: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

And be sure to let readers know up front what they are getting into. I’ve discovered readers like surprises, as long as the surprise isn’t the kind of book they’re investing their time in.

What is the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

Unequivocally, getting started. Everything about beginning a new novel is challenging: Finding the story. Finding the voice. Finding the characters.

I believe a novel has its own voice, which is unique to that particular story. Music influenced the voice of All In. I was deep in a personal revival—listening to worship music all the time—when I wrote the first draft. There’s one particular song that I think of as Cami’s theme song: “Sing of Your Great Love” by Hillsong Worship. Particularly the lyrics, “It’s You alone Lord Jesus Who can cause the coldest heart to find Your love and everlasting peace.” To this day, I’m overwhelmed by those lyrics. They really are the “elevator pitch” for the book, but this is the first time I’ve shared that pitch. Coming up with an elevator pitch is the worst, isn’t it?!? The pitch I came up with for All In was, “This is the novel you give to your friend, your sister, your daughter, who needs to know God loves her.”

I have a playlist on my phone for my second novel too. When I listen to that music, much of which is Bluesy, I’m immediately transported to the times and places in the story.

I never listen to music while I’m writing, only when I’m ruminating.

Another hard part about getting started is finding the characters. I’m still such a rookie, even after thirty years of practice, practice, practice. Finding the characters takes me a LONG time, months even. I had several false starts when I began to write All In, but when Cami finally clicked, she was there in totality. I knew what she would think, say, and do in every situation and with every person.

The same was true for my second novel, Stork Bite, which is in the revision phase. I wrote all over the place before finding those characters—in this case, five characters. But when I finally found them, they were as real as living people, or more accurately, they are as real as memories of living people.

And finding the story? That happens over writing the first draft, at least for me. It happened with All In about halfway through writing the first draft. In Stork Bite, one of the characters had been waiting in the wings as little more than an extra. But when he walked on stage, he immediately shouldered the others out of the way. He created a story from what I realize now was only an idea when I began to write.

What are you working on now?

Stork Bite. I’m scheduled to have the manuscript to that wonderful editor, Leslie Lutz, by the end of March. I really need to hit that deadline because Leslie has her own debut YA novel, Fractured Tide, coming out in May and she’ll be very busy then.

What are your favorite craft books?

My all-time favorite craft book is Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy Here’s an example of the practical wisdom Mr. Percy offers:

“When a reader first picks up a story, they are like a coma patient – fluttering open their eyes in an unfamiliar world, wondering, where am I, when am I, who am I? The writer has an obligation to quickly and efficiently place the reader in the story.”

I’m currently in an intermediate novel writing class at Writing Workshops Dallas that uses Thrill Me as the textbook.

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

I have a full-time job, so writing usually feels more like an escape than work. My manager, a friend of twenty-five years, occasionally asks me how my “other job” is going. I answer, “Are you talking about my nonprofit?” and we both laugh. For me, writing is not profitable work, money-wise. At least not yet.

This is a really good spot to bring up a book I recommend for writers and Christians. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. Mr. Hyde explores the differences between gift economies and barter economies. God’s kingdom is a gift economy in which a few fish and loaves of bread can feed thousands. God’s kingdom is an economy in which a writer may not be able to measure her success in profits and reviews. Success may be measured by a book’s effect on individual readers, which the author only learns of anecdotally, or not at all.

But I digress. I’m not one to kill myself with work—paid or unpaid—and I do like to have fun. Fun for me is hanging out with friends and family, which almost always involves eating. Okay, I admit it. I’m a foodie from a long line of foodies.

I’m a reader too, more so with each passing year. I’m active on GoodReads, and anyone can see my reading lists and reviews there. I like to swap books with other authors. I have enjoyed some beautiful books from writers I’ve met, including The Watch on the Fencepost by Kay DiBianca.

My favorite hobby has been flying, but I had to give it up when I made a serious commitment to writing. There simply wasn’t enough time for both, and a pilot who isn’t proficient is dangerous. I haven’t flown in several years, but maybe I’ll return to it someday. My dream aircraft is the Citabria 7ECA. It’s a friendly, nimble pleasure plane.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Do. Not. Stop.

Keep going through the rejections and disappointments. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Thus you’ll encourage yourself. If you must fall back to regroup or to lick your wounds, give yourself some time and then get back in there.

Terry Whalin, my acquisitions editor at Morgan James, sends me little notes from time to time. “You’re doing great, Lisa. Keep going!”

Keep going. Keep going. KEEP GOING!

In due season, you will reap the benefits of your endurance.

Hey, Kay, that sounds like a marathon metaphor!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have an author website where you can find a link to Leaves of Grace. Leaves of Grace are essays I write monthly (theoretically) about spiritual topics that are on my mind. Sometimes the essays are about writing.

All my social media links are on the author website. I’m most active on Facebook.

I do want to share a video about the experience of sharing All In with women who are incarcerated in Texas prisons. It’s under 5 minutes long. Here’s the link:

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Kay. It was my sincere pleasure, and I look forward to responding to questions and comments from your readers.






by Kay DiBianca

January 13, 2020

If you want to learn something about story stakes, run a marathon. Anyone who’s trained for a marathon will tell you that you commit your life to the race. For months, everything else – your job, meals, sleep – becomes secondary. A good performance equals success. A slow finishing time means disappointment. And having to drop out of the race amounts to devastation.

When I secured a place in the 2010 London Marathon, I was thrilled. Frank and I were celebrating a significant anniversary that year, and I intended to honor our marriage by running my fastest marathon ever. I put together a 4-month training plan to guarantee success.

Obstacles popped up like adventure-killing jack-in-the-boxes. Our treadmill broke. Then I suffered a knee injury and had to lay off training for a while. No problem. Get healthy. Work harder.

Then disaster! Our flight to London was canceled when a volcano in Iceland erupted and sent a cloud of ash over Western Europe. It looked like I wouldn’t make it to the starting line, much less the finish!

After a few days, the skies cleared, and we caught another flight. But we were days behind schedule, and there was little time to prepare. After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up on race day exhausted and jet-lagged. I hauled myself to the starting area and felt a tired sense of relief when the gun sounded.

Everything went wrong. My GPS watch malfunctioned, and I couldn’t rely on it to pace myself. I got a side-stitch and had to stop occasionally to stretch. When I finally reached the 20-mile marker, way behind my scheduled pace, my back hurt and a blister was forming on my left heel. I was so hungry I would have snatched a sandwich from a spectator if I could have, but all I had were a couple of Gu gels.

But nothing hurt as much as my pride. I decided to drop out. Maybe I could save a little face by telling people I had to quit because of injury.

But give up? This was the race to honor our commitment to our marriage, and the marathon is an excellent metaphor for that very thing. With six miles to go, I made up my mind to cross the finish line even if I had to crawl. Even if I was the last person to get there. Even if the organizers had rolled up the mats and gone home, I knew one person would be waiting. And no matter how bedraggled I looked, Frank would smile and say, “Great job, honey!”

I trudged on, fantasizing about hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes, until I reached the finish line. It was my slowest marathon ever. A volunteer handed me a medal and a T-shirt, and I walked into the finishers’ area and saw Frank. He smiled, jogged over, and hugged me. “Great job, honey!”

It was my best marathon ever.


When I read H.R. D’Costa’s book “Story Stakes,” I immediately thought of my London Marathon experience.  D’Costa includes eleven types of story stakes in her book and shows how to use them to increase tension and reader engagement.

I zeroed in on Stake Type #11: Hero Happiness. D’Costa defines it this way: “If he succeeds at the climax, and wins this prize, then his future happiness is ensured. If he fails, he will be devastated.” In reflecting on this definition, I began to see how we (and our characters) can easily set up a stake for ourselves that isn’t the real key to happiness, but we can use the resulting journey to shine a light on our own misconceptions.

No matter what genre we write in, the ability to keep our readers interested is fundamental to our success. Check out “Story Stakes” for yourself. It’s much more informative (and a lot easier) than running a marathon!


I’m excited to welcome H.R. D’Costa, author of Story Stakes, to this blog series.



A graduate of Brown University, H. R. D’Costa is an author and writing coach specializing in story structure and story stakes.

Through her website, her “deep dive” writing guides, and online course Smarter Story Structure, she provides novelists and screenwriters with practical tools to create stories that readers can’t put down.

Her popular resource, the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet, has been downloaded over 37,000 times by writers from around the world.


Welcome, HRD, and thank you for joining us!

Hi Kay, first let me say thanks for inviting me to participate in your Craft of Writing series. I’m excited to be here!

How did you get interested in writing?

My interest in writing stems from all the reading I did as a kid. I loved the days when my dad would take me to the library. He’d hunker down at a table with a newspaper, while I would amass a stack of books. I’d gather so many that it was an adventure to get them to the checkout desk (and then to the car) without dropping any.

From all of that reading came a love for storytelling—and a desire to create my own stories to share with the world.

What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

That’s a long story!

Here’s the short version: I gave up an incredible opportunity and took a low-paying job with flexible hours so I would have enough time to write. However, I did anything but.

At the time, it was terrifying to face the blank page, so I kept putting it off.

Years later, I realized that to overcome my fear, I needed to (1) work on my inner critic and (2) improve my plotting skills.

Writing craft books emerged from item #2. Although I had read several writing guides, there were still some missing pieces. For example, I knew that a strong midpoint and “all is lost” moment would prevent the middle of my story from sagging…but when it came time to plot, I didn’t know exactly what to put in those places.

So I analyzed novels, screenplays, and films to look for answers, and to discover why some stories were so gripping—while others were easy to walk away from.

It seemed only natural to share what I had learned, whether that was through my blog at or through the more organized format of a writing guide.

What prompted you to write Story Stakes?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t initially set out to write a book on stakes at all.

I was actually working on a writing guide about how to craft a killer climax. When conducting my research, it became clear that stakes—the negative consequences of failure—were pivotal to creating a story climax that would thrill and delight readers.

As a result, I started to explore them more deeply. Frankly, I was startled by what I found. A lot of ink has been dedicated to plot, character, and theme…but hardly anyone talks about the stakes.

And yet, without them, readers won’t be emotionally invested in your story. You can have the most intriguing premise in the world, but without stakes, no one will feel like finishing your book. Along with structure, they’re the key to creating reader “glue.”

If your story feels flat or your beta-readers’ reaction to your book is lukewarm (but your character and plot seem solid), there’s a good chance it’s a stakes issue. Check to see whether you’ve:

  • included stakes (they’re omitted more often than you might think!)
  • formed a connection between readers and the stakes
  • periodically reminded readers about the stakes
  • raised the stakes

If you don’t know what to use for stakes in your story, and you’d like a convenient list of options, you can download this cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes from my website.

What is the most difficult concept to get across to new authors?

I’m going to interpret difficult as meaning something new authors don’t want to hear, which is this: your readers come first, before even you.

If you do a quick search for speechwriting tips, you’ll come across advice to think about the big takeaway that you want your audience to have.

If you do a quick search for copywriting tips, you’ll encounter similar advice. The sales pages with the highest conversions focus on the pain points of the customer, and how your product will solve them.

The way I see it, novel writing is no different. If you want readers to buy your books, you need to take their expectations into account at some point—if not when you’re writing, then at least afterward.

To sum up the above three paragraphs: audience before speaker; customer before product; reader before author.

By putting readers first, it doesn’t mean that you write by committee or cater to the lowest common denominator. It just means that before you send your story out into the world, you ask yourself, Okay this was fun for me…but will it be fun for my readers?

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

The advice I’d give is to make sure that you work on cultivating the right mindset. In fact, I’d put that above even developing plotting and marketing skills.

With a healthy mindset, when you run into a thorny plot problem, you won’t give up on the manuscript (or perhaps on writing itself). Instead, you’ll persevere. You’ll power through.

Do that enough, and eventually you’ll become so good that your work can’t be ignored. Literary agents will reply to your query letters; the Amazon algorithms will show your books some love.

Put another way: they say overnight success is 10 years in the making. You need grit to make it through those 10 years.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

I really like Write Away by mystery novelist Elizabeth George. It emphasizes the importance of connecting your scenes through cause and effect, which is a good lesson to learn early on. Also, her book will train you to avoid writing scenes that are heavy on dialogue, but low on concrete details, so it just feels like two heads are talking to each other.

I’d also like to recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book to help you learn how to overcome the inner critic and enjoy the process of creating art. (I know you said one craft book, but because mindset is so important, I wanted to add it to the mix.)

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

My all-time favorite book is Pride and Prejudice.

In terms of genre, currently I’m into YA romances like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

I’m also a fan of mysteries, especially Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series (which is another reason why I love her writing guide—it explains how she plotted the books in the series).

What do you do when you want to get away from work?

When I want to take a break, I like to watch Graham Norton clips on YouTube.

The best episode is the one with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and Hugh Bonneville. Search for it now; thank me later *wink*

I also like to bake, but since I’m trying to reduce my sugar consumption, I bake a lot less than I used to. I need to find a new hobby…green smoothies perhaps?

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find more about me and my writing guides on my website

If you want to develop your structure skills, check out my article on the 8 essential plot points in a script outline (don’t worry, the essential plot points are the same for novels).

After that, download the Ultimate Story Structure Worksheet. At 18 pages, it’s comprehensive, but not overwhelming. And it’s free 🙂

If you want to explore story stakes, read this article on what stakes are and how to raise them. You can also download the cheat sheet with 11 types of story stakes that I mentioned earlier in the interview.

Thank you, HRD, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thanks again, Kay, for having me today. I wish you and your readers lots of luck with all your writing endeavors!



alpsCropped CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN IN 2020!

Kay DiBianca

December 30, 2019


People occasionally ask why I have a banner with a photograph of mountains on my website and on my personal Facebook page. Am I a mountain-climber? No. But there’s something about that picture that symbolizes for me the challenge of writing.

After all, we authors know what it’s like to look up at a goal that seems unrealistically far away and wonder if we’re up to the task. We share the doubts and fears climbers have when taking on a major quest. Am I willing to push myself beyond my shortcomings? Suppose I don’t have the talent to succeed? I’m not sure I can make it to the top. What if I fail? With so many things in common, maybe we can learn something from the way our mountaineering friends prepare to start their adventure.

So, what do you think? Ready for a literary workout in 2020? You don’t even have to buy an expensive plane ticket and travel to the other side of the world. Just grab your laptop and join the expedition.

  • Decide which mountain you want to climb. Whether It’s a short story, a novel, mystery or romance, choose your goal. Read books in the same genre to get an idea of what’s selling in today’s marketplace.
  • Get a guide. There are tons of books and blogs that address the “how to” of writing. I’m running a series on my own blog entitled “The Craft of Writing” to equip and encourage new authors. Make use of all of the expert guidance available.
  • Gather your gear. Fortunately, we don’t need backpacks, climbing boots, ropes and picks! A good laptop and word processor are enough. But there are plenty of other tools to help the aspiring writer along the way. Scrivener, Grammarly, and Reedsy are just a few. Research and grab the equipment you feel will help you in your climb.
  • Train. Many of the experts I’ve interviewed say the same thing: if you want to write, you have to spend time writing. Give yourself a daily or weekly word quota. If you don’t practice climbing the small hills, you won’t be able to take on a full mountain.
  • Join an expedition. Attend a writer’s conference and meet editors, publishers, and other writers who can help you up the mountain. Network through email groups, comment on blogs, and post to social media.

Most of all, let’s accept the challenge in 2020 to go beyond our comfort zones. And let’s support our fellow climbers through the ups and downs of trekking to the mountaintop.

I’m setting up my tent at base camp now with a continuation of my website blog series “The Craft of Writing”, where I plan to alternate monthly blog posts between craft experts and new authors. Be sure to join the discussion on January 13 when H.R. D’Costa will be my guest, and we’ll take a look at her craft book “Story Stakes.” In February, my guest will be L.K. Simonds whose first novel, ALL IN, was released in 2019. Don’t miss the opportunity to interact with these two. They have a lot of good information to share.

2020 is almost here. Come on over, and let’s climb that mountain together.

Do you have a writing goal you’re targeting for 2020?

What new challenge are you taking on in the new year?

What advice do you have for fellow writers?



Kay DiBianca

November 18, 2019

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” – Proverbs 13:20a

Six times in 2019 we had the opportunity to walk with the wise, experts in various areas of writing and publication. It was a great pleasure and privilege to have welcomed these folks to my blog: James Scott Bell, Kathy Ide, Steve Laube, Randy Ingermanson, Renni Browne, Dave King, and K.M. Weiland.

I encourage you to read or re-read the complete interviews and their comments.  Here’s a sample of the responses each person gave when I asked what single piece of advice they would give to new authors.

James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure) “It’s the same answer every time: write to a quota. Get in the habit of writing a certain number of words every week, week in and week out. You have to practice what you learn in craft books and classes. You have to exercise your imagination. You have to produce the pages if you want to make it in this game.”

Kathy Ide (Proofreading Secrets of Best-selling Authors) “View what God has called you to write as a calling—every bit as important as if He had called you to be a pastor or serve on the mission field.”

Steve Laube (The Christian Writers Market Guide) “To quote a line from the movie “Galaxy Quest”: Never give up. Never Surrender. Seriously. This is an industry that demands excellence. Few writers are born as a perfect writer. Instead, most writers are marked by a dogged determination to improve their craft, learn the industry, build relationships, and create great ideas.”

Randy Ingermanson (How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method) “Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality. So write every day. Every single day.”

Renni Browne (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later.”

Dave King (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Writing is hard.  It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT).  But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.”

K.M. Weiland (Creating Character Arcs) “Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.”

That’s a lot of great information! And there’s so much more in each of the interviews.

Now it’s your turn.

What did you enjoy about these interviews and comments?

Would you like to see more Craft of Writing blog posts in 2020?

Would you like to hear from new authors as well as experts?

Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for the blog for the coming year?


I look forward to hearing from you and continuing this blog as we grow together to become great writers!


The Craft of Writing – Part 6

Creating Character Arcs


What My Horse Taught Me About Character Arcs

 by Kay DiBianca



It was a day for speed. A wind-at-your-back, smile-on-your-face day when a youthful gallop overruled frumpy caution, so we barreled down the dirt trail into the park and around a blind turn. As the bushes on our right gave way and the road ahead came into view, a terrifying specter suddenly loomed up in the middle of the trail, no more than fifty yards in front of us.

Dixie, my high-strung, prone-to-panic filly, slammed on the brakes. I had no idea a horse could stop like that. Two stiff-legged hops – thump, thump — to a dead halt.

I went straight over her head. Turns out an English forward seat saddle is particularly ill-suited to sudden deer sightings.

As I was flying through the air, anticipating an unpleasant reacquaintance with the earth, Dixie began some kind of crazy cha-cha in reverse, trying to flee the tiny deer creature. I was still holding on to the reins, however, so she couldn’t turn and run. Instead, she made a determined dart backward, dragging me along in her wake.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just let go of the reins and save myself from a mouthful of dirt and a painful awareness of my sudden change in circumstances. I’ll be honest with you. I would have let my horse drag me into the next county before I allowed her to return riderless to the barn. I have my pride, you know.

Body-surfing down a dirt trail at the whim of a frightened animal is an excellent way to focus one’s mind.  I’m older now, but sometimes I still get that urge to gallop furiously into the next adventure, no matter what form it takes. But when I recall that day in the park, the awful taste of grit in my mouth, the look of terror in Dixie’s eyes, and the acrid scent of fear in the air, I pull back the reins on my emotions and proceed at a deliberate trot.


Whether dramatic or not, we each have a set of experiences that have transformed the way we view the world. We all know the characters we write about must change from the beginning of the story to the end, and the change must be meaningful. But how do we accomplish this metamorphosis in a way that will grab our readers?

This is the essence of K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs. Ms. Weiland argues that structure, plot, and character development are dependent on each other and must work together as an integrated whole to create the novel. She goes on to describe different character arcs and how to create them.

In the “Craft of Writing” blog series, we’ve talked about plot & structure, editing techniques, aids to finding publishing information, and overall outlining techniques. This conversation with K.M. Weiland is an excellent way to gain insight into another part of the writing and publishing world: character development.


K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally published author of acclaimed writing guides, as well as the Gaslamp fantasy Wayfarer, the historical/dieselpunk adventure Stormingthe portal fantasy Dreamlander, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the western A Man Called OutlawWhen she’s not making things up, she’s busy mentoring other authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors. She makes her home in western Nebraska.


Welcome, K.M, and thank you for joining us!

How did you get interested in writing?

Stories have always been my mode of interpreting and communicating with the world around me. I made up characters and told myself stories from a very young age, but I didn’t start writing them down until I was about twelve. During high school, I edited and published a small newsletter that featured short stories and informative articles. From there, it was a natural progression to novels.

Stories are like breathing. Life without a story in my head is one-dimensional, stagnant, vapid. I love the life God has given me, but I think I love it better because I’m able to live out so many other lives on the page. I’m more content to be who I am because I’m not trapped in that identity. When I sit down at my computer and put my fingers on the keys, I can be anyone or anything, at any time in history. I write because it’s freedom.

What made you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

I kind of stumbled into it. I was just publishing my first novel and all the marketing gurus were telling writers we needed to have a blog if we were going to build a readership. Like so many other writers, the only thing I felt qualified to blog about was writing. I started chronicling my writing journey as an effort to sell fiction, and it ended up becoming an adventure all its own.

What prompted you to write Creating Character Arcs?

For me, the crystallization of the thematic dichotomy between the Truth and the Lie the Character Believes is what suddenly made the concept of character arc click on an applicable level.

It was while working on Jane Eyre: A Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic and charting Jane’s Positive Change Arc—which is just so perfect and so powerful—that I gelled my own understanding of how inextricable plot and character are from one another. Character arcs and plot structure are intertwined at every beat of the story.

I can’t say it was unexpected, but it was explosively eye-opening. Creating Character Arcs grew out of that experience.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.

Besides your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend?

Hmm. It’s hard to narrow them down. I’m going to have to go with three:

  • The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.
  • Write Away by Elizabeth George
  • Story by Robert McKee

The first and the third are aimed more at screenwriters, but their take on structure and story theory are insane. Absolutely insane. (In all the most awesome ways.)

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I’d love to have you visit me at


Thank you, K.M., for sharing your expertise with us!


The Craft of Writing – Part 5




What the Book of Proverbs taught me about SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS.

 by Kay DiBianca

Every morning I sit down with my bowl of oatmeal and cup of coffee and read a chapter in the Book of Proverbs. I can’t remember when I started doing this. Maybe somebody recommended it to me, or maybe I just came up with the idea on my own.

Now, I’m all about doing things the easy way, so since there are thirty-one chapters in Proverbs, I read the chapter whose number corresponds with the date. Therefore, I go through the entire book each month. (Okay, chapter 31 doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s still a pretty good system.)

The thing about the Book of Proverbs that interests me is the wealth of wisdom found in its pages. Practical wisdom. A soul-searching, character-changing experience in less than five minutes every morning.

 “Good sense makes one slow to anger,
    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11

 “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” – Proverbs 22:1a

 “Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18

 “A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.” – Proverbs 16:28

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Book of Proverbs is surely self-editing for the soul.


I may not remember exactly when I started reading the Proverbs every morning, but I remember precisely where I was when I first heard about Self-editing for Fiction Writers. I was attending a panel discussion for new authors at my first writers conference. The subject was how to improve your writing, and one of the speakers said the book Self-editing for Fiction Writers was an essential addition to any writer’s library. So I bought a copy and started reading.

Talk about practical wisdom!

“To write exposition at length … is to engage your readers’ intellects. What you want to do is to engage their emotions.” – Chapter One, “Show and Tell”

“When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.” – Chapter Three, “Point of View”

“Don’t open a paragraph of dialogue with the speaker attribution. Instead, start a paragraph with dialogue and place the speaker attribution at the first natural break in the first sentence.” — Chapter Five, “Dialogue Mechanics”

“The greatest advantage of self-editing … is the kind of attention you have to pay to your own work while you’re doing the self-editing. It demands that you revise again and again until what you’ve written rings true. Until you can believe it.” – Chapter Twelve, “Voice”

This was the kind of advice I needed to self-edit my manuscript before I sent it off to a professional editor. If you’re reviewing your work, take the time to get familiar with the lessons in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. You’ll be glad you did.


Renni Browne

Renni Browne has been editing fiction and nonfiction for over 50 years. Before she became an editor for Scribner’s in 1966, she was a copyeditor for Time-Life Books, co-author of a novel, and assistant fiction editor for Woman’s Day. When she left Scribner’s, she worked part-time for a paperback publisher and a literary agent while reviewing books for Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.

In 1968 she became senior editor at Stein & Day, where a number of books she acquired and edited over her seven years there landed on the New York Times bestseller list. She next became a senior editor at William Morrow, where she was encouraged to spend a great deal of time helping market her titles and cultivating relationships with literary agents but very little time editing the manuscripts she acquired—a trend, she realized, that was beginning to pervade the industry.

She left mainstream publishing in 1978 and in 1980 founded The Editorial Department, so named because it provided the services publishers had once routinely provided. In 1991 she and Dave King wrote Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, still the bestselling title on editing, now in its fifth printing and second edition from HarperCollins.




In addition to having co-authored Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Dave King enjoys editing everything from YA to harrowing memoirs, with romance, mysteries, and historicals in between. An independent editor since 1987, Dave is a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest. Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and in The Writer’s Digest Writing Clinic.

He’s also the organist at a local church, which gives him the chance to explore the connections between writing and baroque music. The independent musical voices of a fugue act in much the same way as the characters in a novel — intertwining to produce an artistic whole. Being able to hold several musical threads in his head at the same time has helped him untangle more than one complicated plot.


Welcome, Renni and Dave, and thank you for joining us!

DAVE:  Thank you for having us.  And for your introduction.  It’s not often I get compared to Solomon.

How did you get interested in book editing and publishing?

RENNI:  I started editing in college. I typed students’ papers for extra money and if I saw a phrase or word that could easily be made far more effective if it was already good or good if it wasn’t, I put a suggested change in the margin. I didn’t do this often and I did it only on papers where I felt the student was a good writer to begin with. I loved doing it.

DAVE:  From the time I was about twelve, I developed the habit of rereading favorite books several times.  I was also a habitual tinkerer from an early age, taking apart model trains and lawnmowers to see how they worked.  I found that, on my third or fourth pass through a book, I started taking apart the story to understand how the writer created the moments I loved so much.

Then I rented an apartment in Renni’s home.  At the time, I was writing science fiction short stories, which she was editing in return for yard work and repairs to the washing machine.  (I was still a tinkerer.)  She handed me a science fiction novel to read to see if it was worth working on.  I wrote three single-spaced pages on how the writer could improve his plot.  That’s when she began training me as an editor. 

What made you decide to write Self-Editing for Fiction Writers?

RENNI:  Literary agent Carol Abel saw me give a self-editing workshop in Manhattan and said, “Renni. That’s a book!”  I was eager to do it once Dave King agreed to coauthor. He was a brilliant editor for The Editorial Department, he had the kind of mind that could turn SELF-EDITING into a self-help book (which I couldn’t have done in a zillion years), and he was a fine writer. Dave made massive creative contributions to every chapter in a voice so like mine I don’t think the writing style would help anybody (including me) figure out who wrote what.

DAVE:  Self-Editing started life as a two-page workshop handout, covering the twelve most common stylistic mistakes that beginning writers make.  I was actually brought into the project after the decision was made.

What was the most difficult thing about developing the book?

RENNI:  Making fresh what would be obvious to many of our readers. Take our first chapter: Showing and Telling.  I doubt there are many fiction writers who haven’t read show-don’t-tell hundreds of times. We had to write the chapter, even start off with it, because it’s so important. Of course, we were going to begin by showing. Dave backwards-edited a scene from Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, showed it to the reader, then showed the scene the way Fitzgerald wrote it. Point made. Brilliantly, in my opinion.

DAVE:  There really wasn’t anything really difficult about developing the book.  It just came together nicely.

You’ve both been in the editing / publishing business for a long time. How has it changed over the years?

RENNI:  The most obvious change was the invention of the computer, which made the physical process of writing a novel easier. Writers could move a scene from chapter seven to chapter three, or make all sorts of changes without having to do a little retyping—or a whole lot of retyping if this was the final draft. But the biggest change to me is more interesting. The first big publisher to hire me was Scribner’s, where authors had editors because Scribner’s (like most publishers) had an editorial department. That was fifty-plus years ago. Over many decades I saw the withering of editorial departments at publishing houses, followed by their virtual disappearance. There are exceptions, like Farrar, Strauss, but most publishers do very little if any editing. Yet writers need editing just as much now as they ever did, and many fine editors had left publishers. And so, in 1980, I founded a book-editing company and named it The Editorial Department.

DAVE:  The most obvious answer is the rise of e-publishing, but I suspect that’s just a symptom of something deeper.  Major publishers used to maintain a solid midlist – writers who weren’t blockbusters, but who sold enough books to turn a comfortable profit.  The search for good midlisters meant acquisitions editors were willing to take a risk on a new voice.  It also made them the gatekeepers, who stopped books that weren’t yet ready for print.

Then the big publishers decided that there was more money in buying a book from an established writer for a million dollars, putting another million into promotion, and making five million in sales.   It’s not bad as a business model, but it leaves midlist and beginning writers with no good platforms to launch their careers.  There are still respectable smaller presses looking for the midlist guys, but they’re often understaffed and underfunded.  Then there’s e-publishers, who are drawing in beginning writers with the promise of an instant book, for just a couple of hundred dollars down.

I understand the temptation e-publishing offers – your book is out in the world!  The problem is, there are no gatekeepers.  So the market is flooded with books that aren’t yet at their best.  So a lot of writers e-publish, then spend immense amounts of time and money promoting their books and only selling a couple of hundred copies.  It’s a frustrating system.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

RENNI:  Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later. 

DAVE:  Writing is hard.  It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT).  But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.  It’s probably not going to happen with your first manuscript, and maybe not with your second or third.  Again, a professional editor can help, but it still involves a lot of work.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?


DAVE:  Actually, I don’t read other writers on the craft of writing fiction.  I’m a little concerned about getting into an echo chamber, where what I write reflects what other writers on writing think is important.  (I think there’s currently too much emphasis placed on the first five pages, for instance.)  So the writing books I draw the most inspiration from are about non-fiction, starting with The Elements of Style.   I rely on my work with clients to understand what writers need most.

What are some of your favorite works of fiction?

RENNI:  Oh dear. I love murder mysteries and so many of them nowadays are well written and have terrific characters–I read so many I can’t remember their names. I also read a lot of southern literature–I’m particularly fond of Lee Smith. And last year I reread Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

DAVE:  The Nero Wolfe books, if only for the dialogue.  (“You’re Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin.”  “No, I’m my Archie Goodwin.  I work for Mr. Wolfe.”)  C. J. Cherryh is brilliant at dropping readers into the middle of a complicated world, explaining nothing, and yet making things clear.  And Sue Grafton is always fun.

I’ve read some of your blog posts. Which one would you recommend to readers of this blog?

RENNI:  Can’t help you here. I don’t remember my blog posts.

DAVE:  Just one?  Hmmm.

I still find this one the most fun to read.  And to write.  Incidentally, that Poul Anderson example is going to show up in the next edition of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Okay, just one more.  This one was also fun to do.  And the Stephen King example is going into the book I’m currently working on.

What do you do when you want to get away from writing and editing?

RENNI:  Take walks, play with my cats, or—most often—read a novel I picked up somewhere that looked appealing.

DAVE:  Garden.  We’ve got a 50’ by 50’ kitchen garden, where I grow most of the vegetables we use during the year.  I’ve also put a gallon of wild blueberries in the freezer so far.

My pleasure reading is also a little offbeat.  C. S. Lewis once said that, if you want to understand humanity, read great writers.  If you want to understand a particular era, read the second-rate guys, especially those who were popular at the time and are now forgotten.  The idea is that second-tier writers were popular because they fit their times perfectly.

Years ago, I found that you can purchase seventeenth and eighteenth century collections of essays or sermons fairly cheaply – I picked up six volumes of The Spectator, published in 1756, for about $5 each.  Reading one of these books is like time travel, taking you back to an era when people thought very differently than we do today.  And the second-tier writers are often interesting people.  So when I want to relax, I pick up one of these books and settle back into Stewart or Queen Anne England for a while.  My current reading is a collection by Jeremy Taylor, once chaplain to Charles I, who was known in his day as “The Shakespeare of preachers.”  This when there were still people alive who could remember the Shakespeare of theater.

Actually, I’ve written a blog post on this, as well.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?


DAVE:  My website,  I also write a column the third Tuesday of every month for Writer Unboxed.  (

Thank you, Renni and Dave, for sharing your expertise with us!


The Craft of Writing – Part 4





How I worked my way up to THE SNOWFLAKE METHOD

by Kay DiBianca



When our son was a pre-schooler, he and I would make weekly visits to the local library where he would pick out a bunch of books to take home. Many of my fondest memories of those years were of the two of us reading together before his naptime.

I suggested one day that our son write a book of his own even though he was only three years old. His job was to make up the story and my job was to write it down and illustrate it. This led to a short series of “books” written on packing paper, illustrated with crayons, and taped together with scotch tape about a main character named Andy.

Over the years, and several major moves later, most of those books have gone missing, but I recently found a couple of them stashed away in a chest of drawers. Although I didn’t find the first Andy book, this is my best recollection of that story:

Page 1 — “Andy went outside to play.”

Page 2 — “He fell in a puddle.”

Page 3 — “Then he went home and took a nap.”

Brilliant! A perfect three-act plot. Part One introduces the main character and shows him in action. Part two suggests tension and conflict. Part three is the resolution with a peaceful ending. If only I could write like that!


I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to produce a novel with such an elegant structure. But I have learned a lot about the methodology of novel-writing from an entertaining and informative book entitled How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson.

Randy has come up with a way to produce a novel in ten steps. It’s a logical progression from a one-sentence description of the story to a full-blown novel. This process keeps the author focused on the next step to add detail to the plot and create believable characters.

Combining the Snowflake Method with what we’ve learned about plot and structure will give us an advantage in constructing interesting stories that can be delivered in a reasonable time frame.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is a book you’ll want to consider.




I am delighted to welcome Randy Ingermanson as our guest for this article on the craft of writing. Randy earned a PhD in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley, but left that field after a few years to follow his dream of writing. Along with his books of instruction on writing fiction, he is himself the author of award-winning novels including the City of God series, Oxygen, The Fifth Man, and Double Vision.



Welcome, Randy, and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me on your blog!


What made you want to become an author of fiction?

I’ve been a voracious reader since I was four years old. At some point along the way, I fell into the delusion that writing a novel must be easy, since it’s so easy to read one. So I decided I was going to write a novel someday. About the same time, I got interested in the world of first-century Jerusalem and did a lot of research to learn what that world was like. I decided that I wanted to write novels set in first-century Jerusalem. After I actually started writing fiction, I realized it wasn’t so easy, but that just made it a challenge. And I like to tackle tough challenges.


Does your background in physics help you in your fiction writing?

It certainly helps me write novels about physicists. But it’s not all that helpful in any other aspect of fiction writing.


How and when did you come up with the idea for the Snowflake Method?

I got the core of the idea in seventh grade when our English teacher taught us how to write “one good paragraph.” The key idea is what problem-solvers everywhere call “divide and conquer.” You break the problem down into smaller pieces and then solve each piece separately.

When it came time to write my PhD thesis, I used this idea to write my thesis very quickly. I wrote out the key idea of the thesis, expanded that to a few parts, expanded each of those to a few chapters, expanded each of those to a few paragraphs, and then used that skeleton to write the thesis.

At the time, it seemed like the obvious way to get the job done. Years later when I had learned all the skills to write fiction, I used a similar process to design my novel before I wrote it. And that process is just the Snowflake Method.

To my utter astonishment, the Snowflake Method has become wildly popular all around the world. Tens of thousands of novelists have used it to design their novels. I hear from writers all the time whose brains are wired to love the Snowflake. Of course, it’s not for everybody. But I am thrilled that it works so well for so many people.


I understand you still have a regular job. How do you find time to work and write?

I make time to work because I have to eat. Then I make time to write because I want to create. Then with whatever time is left over, I deal with everything else in my life, and of course there’s never enough time to do it all. Every writer who ever published a book has had to solve this problem, and they all solve it in pretty much the same way. It usually means that something else in your life doesn’t get done. I know there are plenty of things in my life that don’t get done, but I don’t see a simple solution.


Of all your fiction books, which is your favorite?

Tough question. That’s like asking which of my kids I love best. I love them all.

Every time I finish a book, it’s the best work I’m capable of doing at that time. Looking back on my books, I can see things I would do differently if I were publishing them today. But I did the best I could at the time, and the book I’m working on right now is the best I can do today.


What one piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality.

So write every day. Every single day.


Do you have any books coming out soon?

Yes, I’m planning to release a novel soon on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve been working on this book for a long time and it’s the best I can do. My perfectionist nature keeps whispering in my ear that the book would be even better if I wait another year, but I think it’s time to launch this book and move on to the next.


Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

I learned how to write fiction from Dwight Swain’s classic book Techniques of the Selling Writer. Chapters 3 and 4 were especially crucial for me in learning how to make fiction work.


What do you do when you want to get away from writing?

I go out in the yard and work. I’m not particularly good at yard work, but my wife tells me what needs doing, and I do it. We have about 2.5 acres of land in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains a lot and things grow like crazy. So I spend a lot of time every summer fighting a hopeless battle against weeds and entropy. It keeps me somewhat fit, and it puts my mind in a completely different gear, and I come back to the house ready to create.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

If you’re interested in learning how to write fiction, I have a website dedicated to teaching that at

If you’re interested in the novels I’ve written, I have a website that tells all about them at


Thank you, Randy, for sharing your expertise with us!






IT TAKES A NEIGHBORHOOD or What my neighbors taught me about The Christian Writers Market Guide

 by Kay DiBianca

Do you remember the neighborhood you grew up in? My family lived on an unpaved street with only eight houses on the block. There was little traffic to worry about, so we children were free to roam about, and all the neighbors watched out for us.

The Grays lived next door. When I played with their children, Mrs. Gray would always invite me in and treat me to a slice of toast lathered with apple butter. She said she wanted us to have plenty of energy.

Across the street lived the Poolers. Mrs. Pooler spent a lot of time tending her flowers in front of the house. One day when there was no one around to play with, I decided to see how many times I could run up and down the street until I wore myself out. After a few circuits on a hot, dusty afternoon, Mrs. Pooler noticed my huffing, red-faced effort as I passed her, and she invited me in for a cool glass of lemonade and a little advice on pacing.

On down the block lived the Stanfields. I used to babysit their daughter when she was small. The Stanfields were very organized and always left me a thorough list with all the information I would need while they were out: where they were going, how to reach them, what time Debbie should be in bed, etc. They were never late returning home, and they always paid me well.

Judge and Mrs. Tomasson lived on the corner. They didn’t have children, but their backyard was filled with trees, and they let us play there whenever we wanted. We became Robin Hoods or Tarzans and lived out our exciting adventures in their woods.

This semi-fictionalized account of my neighborhood is pretty accurate. The kind people who lived there nourished me, advised me, provided a safe environment for me to play in, and became role models without knowing it. I understand now how fortunate I was to have grown up there.


I was also fortunate when I finished the draft of my novel, The Watch on the Fencepost, to have picked up a copy of The Christian Writers Market Guide. I found myself in the midst of a neighborhood of publishers, agents, editors, and other services, all in support of Christian authors. The book overflows with useful information.

For example, I was looking for an editor/mentor. The Market Guide lists each editor’s name, address, contact information, services provided, types of manuscripts, charges, and credentials / experience. That was just the information I needed to narrow my search. After phone conversations with seven or eight possible choices, I found the person who would provide the kind of leadership and editorial services I was looking for.

The section on book publishers likewise has subsections to outline the publisher’s name, contact information, submissions guidelines, and other critical data. I found my publisher within the pages of The Christian Writers Market Guide also.

If you’re looking for services within the Christian writing community, check out The Christian Writers Market Guide. You’re in the right neighborhood!



I am honored to welcome Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, a veteran of the bookselling industry with nearly 40 years of experience.

Steve is the President of The Christian Writers Institute and  publishes the annual Christian Writers Market Guide (also available online) and Book Proposal Tips and Tricks.

In addition, he is the owner and President of Enclave Publishing one of the premier publishers of Christian fantasy and science fiction.

Welcome, Steve, and thank you for joining us!

When did you get interested in the publishing industry?

I began as a part-time shelf duster at a local Christian bookstore located next to the campus where I was in college. Very quickly I was bitten by the “retail bug.” I loved working among the books and Bibles and helping customers find the right one for their needs.

When did you decide to publish the Christian Writers Market Guide?

The Guide has been around for a long time. First created by Sally Stuart. Then in 2012 Jerry Jenkins took over. In 2016 I heard that Jerry was looking to sell the rights to it. I stepped in and took over. In 2017 we released our first annual edition, completely redesigned. Plus we put the contents online so that it could be accessible year-round with current information (updated every couple weeks throughout the year).

Can you describe some of the sections in the Christian Writers Market Guide?

The main sections include Book Publishers, Independent Publishers, Periodical Publishers, Specialty Markets, and Support for Writers.

What benefits can a writer gain from using the guide?

Many writers make the mistake that the only worthy writing is writing a book. They miss the golden opportunity to write for magazines, both online and print. The reach of a periodical is significant compared to the reach of a book. For example, writing for The Upper Room means your devotional will be distributed to five million people around the world. 

The support for writers section is chock full of listings for freelance editors, writers conferences (by location), writers groups, publicity firms, and literary agents.

Sure, one can dig around the internet and find similar information….if you know what you are looking for. The difference is our material is curated. The internet is not necessarily curated but is driven by “search engine optmization” which means a smart programmer can get their company in front of you, whether or not it is the best one for your needs.

How do you manage to juggle a busy schedule of heading up an agency with attending conferences and advising writers?

I’m not afraid of hard work. Been doing this a long time. 

What one piece of advice would you give to new authors?

To quote a line from the movie “Galaxy Quest”: Never give up. Never Surrender. Seriously. This is an industry that demands excellence. Few writers are born as a perfect writer. Instead most writers are marked by a dogged determination to improve their craft, learn the industry, build relationships, and create great ideas.

Other than The Christian Writers Market Guide, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

For fiction, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King is a go-to book for all novelists.

For all writing Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer is tremendous book on style, grammar, and all the little things that can make writing communicate clearly.

What do you do when you want to get away from all your responsibilities in the publishing world?

I read. <grin>

I’m serious. It is how I relax. We don’t have a TV plugged in inside our home. My wife and I prefer to read as our relaxation.

Where can we find out more about you and your agency?

We can be found at Please subscribe to our blog. We post every day of the week. I take Monday. We have a podcast “The Christian Publishing Show” on Tuesday. Bob Hostetler is Wednesday. Tamela Hancock Murray is Thursday. And we do something fun each Friday. There are over 2,000 posts in our archives available to anyone at anytime.

In addition don’t forget to check out The Christian Writers Institute ( which is designed as resource for every writer to expand their learning opportunities…at a reasonable price (some classes are only $4).

Thank you, Steve, for sharing your expertise with us.

Thank you for having me.




The Valley of Elah or The little things that make Proofreading Secrets of  Best-Selling Authors valuable to writers 

by Kay DiBianca

I bent down to pick up the little stone. It was round and flat and smooth in my hand. Such a small thing, hardly important among the thousands of similar stones that lay in the dry creek bed.

I stood and our guide led my husband and me through the valley where gentle hills shielded us on either side. Alone in that idyllic place, we were captivated by the peace, the shalom, of our surroundings, and I found it hard to believe we were standing on the site of one of the most famous battles in history, the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath.

We’re all familiar with the story: “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:40

I’m not sure I appreciated the magnitude of David’s task until I picked up that stone and realized how small it was. And yet one of those stones, slung more than three thousand years ago, saved the young nation of Israel and changed the world.

The lesson is clear: little things can make a big difference.


When I sent my manuscript of The Watch on the Fencepost to my newly acquired editor, I was pretty confident I had found all the obvious errors. But when she sent the corrected copy back to me, there was so much red ink I thought I should offer to buy her a new printer cartridge! The errors were small, but they added up to a manuscript that looked amateurish.

Since my editor was Kathy Ide, I figured it might be wise to pick up a copy of her book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-selling Authors and skip the embarrassment of sending her an updated document with a bunch of errors again.

Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors is a concise reference guide to issues of punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling (which she calls “PUGS”), using The Chicago Manual of Style as its basis. It explains, for example, when to use “blond” vs. “blonde.” And when to spell out a number instead of using a numeral. And when you should use an apostrophe and an s or just an apostrophe when forming a possessive. These may be small things, but a knowledgeable reader may toss your book aside if she sees too many of these errors.

Like those little stones we found in the Valley of Elah, Kathy’s book provides lots of ammunition to help writers conquer the “PUGS” giant. Little things really do make a big difference.


kathyideI am delighted to welcome Kathy Ide as the guest for my second article on the craft of writing. Along with her numerous activities in writing, editing, and mentoring, Kathy serves as director of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. She is also owner of the Christian Editor Network LLC, the parent company of four divisions for aspiring and established freelance editors and proofreaders. In addition to Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, Kathy has written the Capitalization Dictionary. She is also the compiler and editor of a four-book series of Fiction Lovers Devotional books, including 21 Days of Grace, 21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, and 21 Days of Christmas.


Welcome, Kathy, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay!

What made you want to become an author?

I’ve been an avid book lover since I was a little girl—reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. In my thirties, a friend from church asked me to help her prepare for a writers’ conference she was directing, then invited me to attend. I went mainly to meet people whose names were on the covers of books I had at home—celebrities in my eyes! At that conference, I discovered that authors are “real people” and that most write in their spare time. I decided to give it a try. I scooped up one of everything on the freebie table, including sample magazines and writers’ guidelines. I wrote an article for a magazine I’d never heard of. When they sent me a check for $100, I was hooked!

Why did you decide to write Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors?

After I’d been writing for a few years, I started doing some proofreading book manuscripts for Moody Publishers. If I thought a word was misspelled or a punctuation mark was wrong, I had to write the dictionary page number or the Chicago Manual of Style rule in the margin to prove it. When I realized I was looking up the same words and rules over and over, I began a “cheat sheet.” Over time, it grew long enough that I put it in a three-ring folder. When my fellow authors, editors, and proofreaders saw it, they wanted it a copy. And they asked me to add other issues they struggled with. I eventually self-published it as Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. That caught on, and I kept adding more sections that my colleagues requested. When I was offered a contract with a traditional publisher, they wanted to change the title—so people wouldn’t think the book was about dog grooming! When a colleague came up with Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, I loved it. So I gathered tips from the authors I’d met through years of writers’ conferences to add to the book.

How do you manage to juggle a busy schedule of writing, editing, mentoring and all your other responsibilities?

Good question! It truly is a “one day at a time” thing. I start each morning asking God what He wants me to do that day. And I seek His direction throughout the day as well. At the end of the day, I choose to trust that whatever I didn’t manage to accomplish must not have been what God wanted me to get done that day.

In addition to daily guidance, I regularly ask God if there’s anything I’m doing that I need to either stop doing, find someone else to do, or get more help with. When I feel stretched too thin, unable to accomplish well all the things God has called me to do, I consider my priority list. What items on that list are things that only I can do—being a good wife to my husband, a good mom to my boys (even though they’re adults now), a good godmother to my sweet little girl? Which things can I get more help with (even if I already have an excellent team working with me)? Are there things that God called me to do at one time that He wants someone else to take over now?

What one piece of advice would you give to new authors?

View what God has called you to write as a calling—every bit as important as if He had called you to be a pastor or serve on the mission field. He knows who He wants to reach with what He’s put a passion in your heart to write. And He knows the exact moment when that person is going to need to read it. So pursue this vital calling by learning the craft of writing, polishing your work through critique partners and professional editors, make connections with fellow writers and other industry professionals at writers’ conferences. When “life happens” and you get distracted from your writing goals, or when you get rejected by the agent or publisher you were sure was the right choice for you, don’t get discouraged. God knows about the circuitous journey from idea to publication. Trust His timing. And don’t give up.

Do you have any books coming out soon?

In 2020, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas will be releasing the long-awaited sequel to Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. I’ve combined the information in the flyers I give to my editing clients with tips from multi-published writers I know to create Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?

Most of my favorite craft books are about writing fiction—not just because that’s what I enjoy reading most, but because nonfiction books can be so much better if they include anecdotes that use fiction-writing techniques. And narrative nonfiction (especially memoirs) can truly come to life when written with these techniques.

I’ve most enjoyed Story by Robert McKee, The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas, Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins, and Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

What do you do when you want to get away from all your responsibilities in the publishing world?

Vacation with my husband! Rick is exceptionally patient, understanding, and supportive with my crazy schedule. So I make a point of spending focused time with him when I can. A few years ago, we bought an RV and jet skis (used, but new to us!). One of our favorite vacations involves getting together with family members and renting a houseboat for a week on Lake Powell. Rick and I are out on the jet skis all day, exploring the many coves and inlets of the lake with their massive rock walls so similar to the Grand Canyon, then spend relaxing evenings chatting with the rest of the group, hearing how they enjoyed the motorboat, kayak, or traveling slowly down the lake and enjoying the scenery.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My website,

Mount Hermon writers conference,

SoCal writers conference,

Christian Editor Network LLC,

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your expertise with us!

Thank you, Kay!

« Older Entries Recent Entries »