Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Pam Hillman


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

by Pam Hillman

Let’s talk about newsletters. Specifically, newsletter subscribers.

And… as usual, at the last minute, I figured out how to find the 0% Open and 0% Click throughs, so this post, as well as my time spent whittling my list down, could have been a LOT shorter. But a hard lesson learned is one well learned. So if you're strapped for time, just scroll to the bottom.

We've all heard the following mantras: “More than anything else, grow your newsletter list”. Or “Your newsletter subscribers are GOLDEN”. “You have control of the email addresses entrusted to you by your fans, not Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

You get the drift. All of that is true and we jump through hoops to be part of promotions and giveaways to grow our mailing list. Nothing wrong with that.

And newsletter services took note. As your subscriber base grows, you’ll have to pay for an account. Nothing wrong with that, either. But what isn’t said most of the time is that it’s just as important (more so!) to manage your subscribers after you get them as it is/was to get them in the first place.

First, there is a ton of information online about what to do and not do with newsletters, how to manage subscribers, and which service providers are best for you. But that’s the problem. There is SO much information that I could never figure out what I needed to know and what I didn’t. So it was easier to just keep building my list. 500 subscribers. 2k. 3k. Wow! How exciting!

Not exactly.

A few years ago, I had to go to a paid plan, and it’s been costing me about $500 a year. So this month I finally took the time to really dig into my newsletter service and the fees I've been paying. I’m not sure I’m providing any new information for your toolbox, but it was new to me, so here goes…

I wish someone had told me in simple language how important it is to review my lists on a regular basis, because if I had, without a doubt, I wouldn’t have had to upgrade to a paid service plan during the last 3-4 years. You do the math. 4 years x $500. Gulp.

So, it is a good idea to figure out how your service (Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Constant Contact, etc.) works and manage it effectively… before you get to the stage that you’re forced to pay handsomely for the service.

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

I have Mailchimp, so most of what I’m going to talk about is specific to that service provider, but (in general), it should apply to whatever service you’re using, depending on how many subscribers and email sends you’re allowed.

And, yes, I could switch from Mailchimp to a different provider, and I may at some point. But the bigger and more urgent problem was that I had a lot of contacts on my list who weren't engaged and were costing me money.

Things I wish I’d paid attention to for the last 10+ years:

  • Subscribed
  • Unsubscribed
  • Cleaned Email Addresses
  • Archived Email Addresses

While Subscribed, Unsubscribed, and Cleaned sounds self-explanatory, from what I’ve gathered, it is not. Or at least the gazillion posts I waded through made it seem that way. As best as I could tell, Subscribed AND Unsubscribed count toward your billing on Mailchimp with their current plans. Which makes no sense at all. Unsubscribed is unsubscribed, but whatever.

I could be wrong, though, since I was on a “Legacy” plan up until I started this “clean-up” journey. But I don’t think Mailchimp was charging me for the 870 unsubscribed emails on my list. Also, cleaned email addresses are those that pretty much are going into a dark hole, so according to Mailchimp, you shouldn’t be charged for those, but you can’t archive them either. As one article said, they’re just “dead in the water”.

Regardless, since I didn't want to see those 870 unsubscribes on my list, I archived them as Mailchimp was very clear that no matter what plan you were on, you would not be billed for ARCHIVED email addresses.

Now let’s talk about the following…

  • Ratings
  • Segments
  • Tags
  • Open Rate
  • Click Rate

Mailchimp gives each subscriber a Rating of 1-5, and it’s not very accurate, imo. But at least it’s a starting point.

Mailchimp makes it easy to Segment your lists in all sorts of ways, and Ratings is one of them. According to one of those “know everything” articles, if you’re going to archive a group of contacts, the #2 group is the one to archive.

Think of Ratings, Segments, and Tags as a big picture, little picture scenario, or using Segments and Tags to “drill down” on your subscribers. I’m currently using it to whittle down my inactive subscribers, but it’s a good way to BUILD UP your list as well. Hopefully, we'll talk about that in a later blog post in a month or two.

I segmented my lists this way for now:

#1 Rating - According to Mailchimp, these recipients have either unsubscribed and resubscribed, or soft bounced in the past.

#2 Rating - These rarely engage, but all new subscribers start out as #2 rating, so you can't just willy-nilly archive all of the #2 ratings.

#3-#5 Rating - These are supposed to be the most engaged. Later, I will segment these out in order to send targeted campaigns to my most engaged subscribers.

I’m in the process of going through 800 subscribers who have a #2 rating but signed up at least 2 years ago and as far back as 2011. These subscribers rarely engage according to MC. But #2 is weird, because some of these people have a 15-30% open rate, so that’s why I’m manually going through these. Granted, click rate is much more important than open rate, and I’ll talk about that a bit more below.

Where do Tags come in? You can do ANYTHING you want with tags. I had over 700 in my segment of #2 rating of subscribers who’d been with me 2 years or longer, but hadn’t opened anything in a long time, if ever. I needed a way to manage that group in small chunks as I only needed to reduce my subscriber base a couple hundred to downgrade to the free account. 

Now, here's where I wasted some time over the last few weeks. At night, while sitting around watching tv with hubby, I’d pull up the #2 rating segment, tag a group of 50 with a temporary tag of SMALL GROUP, then I’d manually check that group to see what their open/click rate was. Sometimes I’d even look at their history a bit. Once I decided to archive them, I added an ARCHIVE tag and removed the SMALL GROUP tag and they would immediately disappear from my “small group of 50” that I was working on. Every few hours or every couple of days, I’d look at the group I’d decided to archive (tagged appropriately as ARCHIVE), choose them all, and actually archive them. Clear as mud, yes? lol

Oh, and while I was at it, I added tags like “Do Not Archive”, “5%+ Click Rate” to those I was keeping. I’m nowhere near done, but I met my goal of whittling down below 2000. From now on, I’ll only archive subscribers that have a 0% Open Rate AND a 0% Click Rate and have been on my list for years.

Here’s an important tip: If your list isn’t out of control like mine was, start learning how to manage it now. On the other hand, if you have THOUSANDS of (as in 20, 30, 80 THOUSAND) subscribers, I can’t help you! But maybe YOU can help the rest of us! Do tell your secrets for such a robust list. lol

Final Takeaways: 

  • DO learn how your provider works.
  • DO learn about segments and tags.
  • Don’t just blindly archive based on Mailchimp’s ratings. Many of my 2 star ratings have a 30-40% open rate.
  • DO review your list regularly. If you only have a few hundred subscribers, the time to start is now. If you don’t want (or need) to archive anyone yet, at least segment them so that you can manage them better when the time comes.
  • Do I WANT to be below 2000 subscribers just so I can have the free plan? No. But if 500-1000 subscribers haven’t opened or clicked anything in 3 or 4 years — if EVER — then there's no need to pay to send them an email that they aren't going to look at. At least for now.
  • Are these archived subscribers gone forever? Again… no. As I learn more about how to improve my open and click rates, I can test drive some of these guys. Maybe even unarchive in small groups and alert them to a new release and see how they respond.

Final, Final Takeaway

As I was finishing this up, I went back into my Mailchimp account and searched one last time for 0% open rate and 0% click rate and I found it. Sigh. The thing is, there are many different ways to search for your subscribers and determine if they haven’t been engaged at all, ever. I hated archiving ANY of mine, but it had to be done.

Here's an example of a segment with 3 parameters. It's before 12/31/2018, a 0% Open Rate, and 0% Click Rate, AND has not opened any of the last 50 Campaigns. Contact can match "Any" or "All" of the conditions you assign.

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

Here's the dropdown menu that you can choose to determine your segment. So many options!

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

And then this dropdown shows all the options for how the campaigns were opened or not opened. There are similar dropdowns regarding dates. You just have to think through what you're looking for.

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

This screenshot is a sampling of some of the tags I've been using. Again, tags are different to segments. Segments come directly from the FIELDS that Mailchimp has set up. There is ONE tag field, but you can tag a contact multiple times if need be. Tags will likely be unique to you and your needs at the time.

A Deep Dive into Newsletter Subscribers

Well, that's a lot to take in. But if you take anything away from this, just know that if you have a small list that's on the verge of having to move to paid or is already on a paid plan, you might have options if you look more closely at your subscribers.

If the Shoe Fits

In Cinderella, the glass slipper only fit Cinderella’s foot. As the story goes, of all the girls in all the castles in all the kingdom, the shoe fit her foot and hers alone. No matter how hard they tried, the other girls couldn’t wear the glass slipper.

If the Shoe Fits
Oliver Herford, Public Domain

Your synopsis is the shoe, your story is the foot. Stick with me now…

So, you’re working on your first (or next) Great American Novel. You’ve written the first few chapters, and you’re dipping your toes into contests and even getting brave and submitting to agents and editors. Or, you might even be selling on proposal, a short synopsis and a chapter or two.

If you’re at this stage of the writing game, then you’ve written the dreaded synopsis. There are great articles here in Seekerville and all over the ‘net to help you determine what goes into a synopsis and what doesn’t, so I’m not going to rehash that today.

If the Shoe Fits

But what I am going to address is whether your synopsis reflects the story you’re writing. Sometimes we writers—intentionally or maybe unintentionally— sensationalize our synopsis to the point that it doesn't even resemble the actual chapters, similar to the practice of padding a resume.

How many times have I dumped every conceivable plot device into my synopsis because a critique partner or contest judge suggested it, and I thought it would be cool? I wonder how many times I gave the "snake oil" sales pitch in the synopsis, but the story didn't live up to the synopsis and that's why contest judges and editors said no?

Some examples to make my point…

If I write a synopsis that sounds like a very dark 90K romance that deals with drunk driving, a family feud, long-lost love, and two main characters dealing with all this traumatic back story, but if my opening chapters feel and sound like a 20K novella, there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or, how about this…

If my synopsis describes the lives of Bonnie and Clyde, but my chapters are the light-hearted, knee-slapping antics of Lucy and Desi, I’ve got a problem.

The best example I can give of my own writing would be my debut novel, Stealing Jake. Stealing Jake started out as a light, sweet novella and went through several rewrites that kept upping the tension.

If I had sent the lighter novella version of the story in with a synopsis detailing shipping street kids across the country in crates, sweat shops, a coal mine explosion, the traumatic incidents from both the hero and the heroine’s pasts, it just wouldn't have really worked together. And I’m afraid it would have tanked in contests, as well as been rejected by industry professionals.

It’s important to make sure a contest judge, critique partner, agent or editor gets the same jolt from the chapters as they do from the synopsis. Either the tension in the chapters need to be ratcheted up, or the tension in the synopsis ratcheted down. And, you, as the author, are the only one who knows which direction you need to turn the ratchet.

If the Shoe Fits

So, how do you do that?

Is your manuscript in the early stages or is it completed? If it’s completed, then you’re ahead of the game. Write your synopsis to fit the story and you're good. If you’ve just started this story, determine the genre and the tone. Do you write light-hearted contemporary romance, or dark historicals, or women’s fiction with snarky leads?

Read books that are similar to what you write, then describe them in your own words, just like giving a book report. See if you can hit the tone of these books. And, as an additional exercise, maybe look at some good professional reviews of those books. Do some of them describe whether the book was light, or dark? Do you agree with the assessment?

If you have a critique partner, let them read both. If they’ve worked with you a long time, they might be able to tell you if the two pieces are simpatico.

And, lastly, trust yourself. If you got it wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep tinkering with it. Eventually, you’ll get it. Over the years, I've submitted multiple proposals for historical romance novellas to Barbour Publishing. The proposals were extremely short, but I’ve been writing historical romance for a long time, and I’ve written a lot of proposals for novellas, and read my fair share. 

I knew enough about the process to keep the synopsis sharp, clean, and free of secondary plots. I sold FOUR proposals to Barbour in one year because I nailed the synopsis. As expected, the novellas have a lighter tone than my full-length novels, and the one (Shanghaied by the Bride) even had a bit more of a humorous tone than is my norm, something that was clearly spelled out in the synopsis and was also clear in the title, which Barbour kept.

Bottom line, know the story you want to tell well enough to make the synopsis fit.

Otherwise, that shoe's really gonna pinch.

If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits
Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in
Mississippiand spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head.

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

When the sun goes down on my side of town

That lonesome feeling comes to my door

And the whole world turns blue

Oh, wait, wrong topic, wrong song, wrong everything. Sigh.

Seriously, I heard that country-sad-song yesterday and when I looked out the window and saw the sun going down, and an empty screen staring back at me, it seemed to fit.

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day


What do you DO when all the ideas for your blog post just get up and walk out on you?

I really wanted to blog about the cool online class that Missy and I, along with THOUSANDS of others took, this past week: Bryan Cohen’s Author Ad Challenge, which is an introductory class to setting up advertising on Amazon. 

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

It’s INTENSE and takes about 1-2 hours a day to keep up. And, did I say that it was free, or at least the week-long challenge is. Bryan and his team offer a much more intense program of coaching, teaching and “hand-holding” for a fee called Amazon Ad School (I believe that’s the correct term), but the free training was more than enough to help me get started.

However, I didn’t want to give away information that Bryan and his team have done tons of leg-work on. And what’s the point of blogging about it if I can’t give Seekerville readers a small taste of how Amazon ads work? The good news is that the Amazon Ad Challenge will be offered again in April 13th, so if anyone wants to take the class, you’ll be able to then.

Now if you lose your one and only 

There's always room here for the lonely

So, one topic down. Then I planned to blog about past (as in LONG past) contest entries where I would find snippets of what judges had to say about what was wrong (or right) about a passage from a contest entry, then show the various stages those passages went through before they made it into publication, but that was also a no go. I couldn’t find much in what I kept from 10, 15, and, yes, TWENTY years ago, to be helpful.

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

And, let’s be honest. Do I really want to go back all those years and be reminded of how bad some passages were way back in the beginning? And, would I want to share them with you? Probably not.

To watch your broken dreams

Dance in and out of the beams

Of a neon moon

Yeah, let’s just say that it’s best that blog post left me, too! lol

So, here we are, singing a sad song and looking BACKWARDS at lost love (blog posts and horrible writing) and broken dreams … 


Wrong topic! Wrong Story!


Let’s turn this train around, folks. Right here… I mean RIGHT HERE, I stopped working on my blog post and read Cate’s post from Wednesday. Why would I feel the urge to do that? In some ways, she already said what I'm saying again today, but I think we're both trying to hammer a point home, without even knowing that the other one was on this same track. Go back and read Cate's post here! What an encouragement!

Seriously, that neon moon song is a catchy tune, but if that gal's gone, she’s gone. Right? Right!

She -- meaning a blog post, that idea for a short story or a novel that packed up and left a long time ago, an submission opportunity I missed in 2020 because my head was stuck in the sand... or even staring (figuratively) at a neon moon… -- ain’t coming back. Let’s stop whining about it. Let’s stop going to the dark, smoky places that aren’t doing us any favors. Stop moping around mooning over that particular story, that particular area of our lives that we can’t fix, that we can’t bring back, that just isn’t working anymore.

And before anyone gets all up in arms, I’m NOT talking about torn relationships, sick family, fractured lives, financial woes, and burning the candle at both ends until you're burned out. I’m talking about writing for those of us who write. I'm talking about just holding on.

Turn on ALL the lights, brighten things up and write something big, beautiful and new. Create a NEW thing. Draw bright, sunny pictures with the kids or the grandkids. And if you don't have any kids in your circle, borrow somebody's for a day or volunteer in Sunday School or at a preschool for a day.

Put some brightness in your life and that neon moon will pale in comparison to the big, beautiful new sunrise you’ll wake up to tomorrow!!

I’ll leave you with this…

It's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

It's gonna be a bright (bright)

Bright (bright) sunshiny day

It's gonna be a bright (bright)

Bright (bright) sunshiny day

Let's choose to live in a bright, sunshiny day, not under a "neon" moon.

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content

Occasionally the stars align and everything falls on the same day, which is TODAY. Now, we can boohoo and say poor, pitiful me. I'm so stressed and can't do everything I need to do today, or we can take one BIG IDEA and repurpose it to fit all the niches we're trying to fill at the same time.

For me, my BIG IDEA for this week is that Castaway with the Cowboy goes on sale for .99cents today!! Shameless plug? Not at all! The sale, my Seekerville blog post, getting a newsletter out to my subscribers, sharing the deets on SM, all dovetailing on TODAY is what prompted today's blog.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop where the speaker showed us how to take one idea and write many articles on the same topic. For instance, if I remember correctly, he was an outdoorsman, and wrote about hunting and fishing. An example might have been that he'd go on a hunting/fishing trip. While he loved the idea of just taking off and enjoying his trip, by planning his work (his writing life) ahead of time, he could gear one article toward a fishing magazine, and maybe another to a foodie mag on how to prepare a delicious fresh-caught meal in the field, and even another article on packing for a relaxing trip into the wild. 

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content

Another example for the cooks among us might be to cook a pack of boneless, skinless chicken in the crockpot, then make several meals out of the chicken: Chicken salad, Chicken and noodles, Chicken fajitas, etc. See what I mean?

It's truly an art to use this strategy to our advantage no matter what we're doing, and honestly, while I know how to do this in my head, I don't do it as often as I should, either in cooking, writing, or just day-to-day living and working.

So, how does it work?

First, either draw off a grid on a piece of paper or use a spreadsheet, which is what I did for these examples. Plan your strategy for whatever project you're working on. For me, this week's target date is/was TODAY and the one topic hinged on Castaway going on sale today.

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content

Unlike the example of creating 5 meals from our cooked chicken, my chart for this week has been a work-in-progress. It started out with a few boxes, then as new things popped up, I added them in.

Once a project was completed, I highlighted it green. As you can see at the writing of this, there are some yellow boxes that need to be completed. Hopefully, they'll be done by the time this blog post goes life. We can hope! :) But, the most important got marked off. Scheduling a newsletter to go out, and finishing up this Seekerville blog which had a hard deadline of today. Actually, Seekerville is still orange on the chart, or whatever color that is. So, it gets changed to green now. Yay!

No, I'm not usually this organized or detailed. Most of the time, I'd just pencil this stuff on a piece of paper, but when I remembered the workshop where we planned out how to use one topic to query periodicals in different areas with varied subscriber bases (not that I wrote much for magazines), I felt it was a good lesson for us to revisit.

It goes without saying that this is a simple grid that would have been quicker and easier to just pencil on a piece of paper, but knowing I was going to blog about it made the spreadsheet (and screenshots) a better choice. And, we won't even talk about using flowcharts for this. Let's not get TOO crazy. Simple is better.

What are you currently working on where this strategy could help you? This week's meal planning? Promoting your latest novel? Or maybe even just starting a new project? Cleaning house? Decorating for fall? Or maybe just running errands this week, yes? Grab a piece of paper, draw a 6-8 block grid, and get to work.

And just in case you MISSED it, Castaway with the Cowboy

is on sale for .99cents!! Whoot!

>>>>   BUY HERE!   <<<<

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content

Repurposing One Idea to Create More Content
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Checklist for Entering Contests


Checklist for Entering Contests

Hey kids! Do you know what time it is?

It's contest time!

One thing almost all published authors have in common is that we got our feet wet in the publishing industry by entering contests. 

What does that mean? I believe that learning to navigate the writing contest world is great training for becoming a successful author!
Opportunities abound for entering contests! One reason for the timing of this post is because the deadline for ACFW's First Impressions Contest is THIS FRIDAY! OCTOBER 15th!

So this post is your head's up!

This is a rewrite of a post Pam Hillman did *way too many* years ago – but contest time is here again, so I thought it was time to bring Pam’s fabulous post out of the archives, dust it off, update it, and bring it out again!

So with Pam’s permission, here’s her updated post:

Checklist for Entering Contests
by Pam Hillman/Jan Drexler

My former boss always said that my attention to detail was what made me good at my job. And just for the record, I quit my former job a few years ago to write, work in the Christian publishing world, and manage the books on the family farm. It wasn't like I was fired from that day job! Just sayin' :)

So, this slightly OCD trait also comes in handy when preparing manuscripts to send out, whether to contests, agents, or editors. But if you’re not detail-oriented, not to worry. Here are some tips to help keep you on track.

Checklist for Entering Contests

Keep in mind that some of the tips below do not apply to all contests. This list of tips is to help you get in the habit of doing all the steps every time you enter a contest, so that you can whip out an entry in a matter of hours. If something doesn't apply, you just mark it off your list.

Once you’ve got the content of your manuscript and your synopsis polished to a shine and the deadline is approaching, then:

1) Review the big picture rules

a. Does your manuscript fit neatly into one of the categories?
b. Do you know who the finalist judges are?

c. Have you looked at a sample score sheet if available?

d. When is the deadline?

2) Review the rules specific to your manuscript and your synopsis

a. Check the margins

b. Check font and font size

c. Check to see if there is a title page. A lot of online contests have moved away from title pages, but it never hurts to check the rules, just in case.

d. Check header. What exactly does the contest require in the header? What does the contest forbid in the header (like your name or pseudonym)?

e. Double-check the contest's formatting rules. Do they have a formatting example? Check it out!  

3) There are few contests, agents, or editors that require you to mail in your entry but keep these things in mind in case you hit one of those.

a. Did you include enough books or copies of your manuscript? If books for a published contest, did you sign them?

b. Did you double-TRIPLE-check the mailing address?

c. Pay a bit extra for Delivery Confirmation. You'll be glad you did. 

d. And especially if you are mailing in your entry, you might want to print out the mailing address for one last check when you get to the post office. In your excitement, it’s much too easy to get to the post office and seal that sucker up, forgetting all about the return postage and/or your check.

Checklist for Entering Contests

Entering unpublished contests have changed a lot over the years as the bulk of them have gone online. On one hand, the process is much, much easier and cheaper, especially since you don't have to print or mail anything. Isn't that a blessing? Contests with 3-5 print copies of a 20-25 page manuscript added a chunk of change to someone's contest budget. Also, for you young whippersnappers, us oldies had to pay for printing, postage to mail our entries, and a SASE envelope with enough postage for the contest to return all our judged entries. I like online much better.

But online contests don't come without problems. Slow internet, incompatible software, corrupted files, and failure to confirm your entry or payment can knock you out of a contest.

Checklist for Entering Contests

A year or so before I sold, I found out about a contest that was low on inspirational entries, so with hours before the deadline, I entered two manuscripts. One went through fine, but for some reason the other one kept converting from 35 pages on my computer to 39 on the coordinator's computer. Same two computers and the same coordinator as the other manuscript, minutes apart. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen and neither of us could fix it. The coordinator bent over backwards to help, but in the end, I had to make a decision. In desperation, I chopped 5 pages off the end, and sent it in with 2 minutes to spare. The manuscript was within the page count at that point and wasn't disqualified. (It finaled and actually won the contest. Go figure...)

Once a contest lost my digital entry. Just literally lost it. I can't remember if they gave me a refund or if they had someone read for me. In the course of writing this post, I found another one that I'm still not sure I ever got the results on. Let it go! Let it go! It never bothered me anyway....

Always, always, always make sure you use an email address that you check regularly and especially check your email after the fact if you end up entering a contest with mere hours to spare. Contest coordinators are amazing at bending over backwards to let people fix issues, but in fairness to other entrants, once the deadline has passed, there's nothing they can do. Stay on top of your entry and don't be disqualified for something that could be prevented just by being aware of your email trail.

Generally when you enter a contest, you will receive at least two emails. Possibly more.

1) Payment confirmation. Most of the time, this email will come from PayPal as that's the go-to for most online payments these days. PayPal allows non-users to pay with a debit or credit card, but the email will still come from PayPal.
2) Entry confirmation receipt. This receipt will be from group/chapter hosting the contest OR the contest coordinator's private email, depending on the software the contest is using. It confirms that the contest coordinator received your entry. Again, generally speaking, #1 and #2 go hand in hand and are automated responses when you complete your entry. This email will usually let you know if you need to look for additional emails.
3) Additional emails might land in your inbox once contest coordinators have laid eyes on your manuscript pages and made sure they meet the guidelines.

By checking your email, you ensure that you've completed the process, sent in your manuscript and received payment. The best laid plans can go awry even after you do everything perfectly, hit submit, but then go off to celebrate your achievement... only to find out that there was a glitch with your PayPal account. 99% of the time, you will receive an email confirmation immediately from PayPal. If you have time to wait 24 hours, do so. If the deadline is looming, it wouldn't hurt to check on the status of your entry.

It never hurts to check and double check everything. You’ll feel better, your package will be neat and tidy, and the coordinator will be forever grateful.

Jan here – I’ll add one more thing to Pam’s great advice at this point. Don’t…please, just don’t…make sending in your contest submission the last item on your to-do list before you head out on a week-long break from the internet! If the contest coordinator needs to get in contact with you, you need to be reachable. (You wouldn’t believe how often that happens!)

Then you sit back and wait for the results...or...

better yet, write another book!!!

Checklist for Entering Contests

Jan here again - I mentioned the First Impressions contest above. You can find out all the details of that contest for newbie, pre-published authors HERE! And that deadline is THIS FRIDAY! 

Another ACFW contest for unpublished/pre-published authors is the Genesis. You have a little while to get ready for this contest, but you MUST have a completed manuscript to enter. The contest opens in early January 2022, and the deadline will be in March. Details for the 2021 contest are here.

And if you're itching to learn about more contests, be sure to sign up for Tina Radcliffe's newsletter. She scours the interwebs to bring us the details! Here's all the info you need: Inside Edition

So, let's talk contests!

Any contest war wounds? Lost submissions? You sent in your fee, but forgot to send in the manuscript/books? You sent in everything except your fee? You entered your manuscript in the least likely category that it could ever possibly final in? 'fess up! :)

Or are you brand new to contests? Would you...could you...take the plunge into the contest waters?

Just remember - contests are how many of the original Seekers sailed off Unpubbed Island!


The Mystery of Publishing Ebooks and NEW RELEASE

The Mystery of Publishing Ebooks and NEW RELEASE

I just re-released another novella last week on Amazon. Whoo-hoo! Deets below!

As always, new projects lead to deep, deep rabbit holes. I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so I’ve been digging for resources on the best strategy to price my indie published ebooks, plus strategies to get them into readers hands, and even the best way to put them on sale.

I’ve scoured the internet. I’ve asked in groups. I’ve read articles, and….

I’m still confused. Confused, but not undaunted!

There just doesn’t seem to be ONE answer to these age-old question. For someone that works well with step-by-step instructions, the “shotgun” approach makes me twitchy. But, apparently, the shotgun approach is the only way to go when trying to set prices on ebooks.

To date, I’ve published five novellas in Amazon’s KDP program, and they’re also available for free in the Kindle Unlimited program. I set the price at $2.99 to receive the 70% royalty rate. However, every 90 days I can either put each ebook on sale (referred to as a Kindle Countdown deal) for up to 7 days, or offer them for free for up to 5 days, but I can’t do both within a 90 day period.

Before I became a hybrid (the term that describes a traditionally published as well as independently-published) author, my mind spun when authors talked about all the different options available for indie authors. Okay, it still spins A LOT, but not as much as it did a year ago, which leads me to lots of questions like … what’s the difference in Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited? 

Ebooks enrolled in Kindle Select (the author side) are available to download for readers who have the Kindle Unlimited program (the reader side). You’re probably familiar with the Kindle Unlimited program, but for those who might not be, Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 a month and allows a reader to download as many ebooks that are enrolled in the program as she wants for free. Oh, and, to make it even more complicated, an ebook isn’t eligible for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program if it’s available for sale elsewhere like for Nook or iBooks, etc. Listing for sale in multiple venues is the same as “Going Wide”. (Hmmm, I think my head is starting to spin again.)

All that’s well and good, but it still doesn’t really help me when trying to decide when, why, and how to put a novella on sale. The jury’s still out on that, but I’m learning and researching and trying to figure it all out. I’d love to hear your thoughts on ebooks, either as a reader, writer, or even a blogger or reviewer. Anything goes, from price points, to whether you enjoy novellas or fulls, to whether you’re a fan of Kindle Unlimited, or you buy based on sales or your favorite author or enjoy picking up ebooks based on Amazon recommendations. Let’s hear it!

But, in the meantime, I'm so excited to unveil the latest novella!

The Mystery of Publishing Ebooks and NEW RELEASE
Silver Lining: A Calico Trails Romance

A weary and bedraggled wagon train rolls into Silver Lining, KS only to find a ghost town. The party moves on, leaving a handful of settlers behind. Can Maggie O’Toole and the others find their silver lining in the abandoned town? And can Maggie depend on cowboy Rafe Alonzo to stick around long enough to see them through the coming winter—and beyond—in order to find her own silver lining? (Originally published as Love's Silver Lining (With this Kiss Historical Romance Collection)

Available on Amazon for $2.99 AND as a free download for Kindle Unlimited members.

Click HERE to buy

Give Me Blue Plate, or Give Me Nothing at All

by Pam Hillman

The other day, I bought these off-brand BBQ potato chips. (Yes, this is writing related.) The chips were pretty tasty, and as someone who hasn’t eaten too many chips the last few years, I probably enjoyed them more than they deserved. The description on the bag stated “Zesty BBQ” and the flavor certainly lived up to that. Too much, actually. They were a bit too zesty to enjoy. Basically, I tasted bbq and not much of the potato chips.

As I consumed the last of the zesty bbq flavor, I was thinking about this blog post. (Let’s just say that I needed the chips for inspiration. Yeah, we’ll go with that.) I tend to create analogies out of thin air, or in this case, out of potato chips. But it occurred to me that just like we all have foods we like or dislike, or even really have no preference one way or another because we’ve never tried them, it’s the same way as writers and even as readers.

Before we talk about how these two things are related, I’d like to share another food-related incident. I’m not a mayonnaise snob, but I was raised on Blue Plate mayonnaise. I’ll eat a different brand if I’m at someone’s house, but I buy Blue Plate exclusively, unless it’s an absolute emergency. However, several years ago, we took a long road trip when my oldest graduated from high school. After eating fast food for almost a week, I decided that a picnic on the rim of the Grand Canyon would be a nice change of pace. We found a grocery store and stocked up on all the fixings for some sandwiches and a few bags of chips (I’m sure we bought Ruffles or Lays, not the off-brand Zesty BBQ ones!) But the mayonnaise… there was not one brand of mayo on the shelves in that store that I was familiar with, so I picked the one squeeze jar that seemed to be the best. Maybe squeeze mayo isn’t made to keep in an ice chest, but regardless, let’s just say it left a lot to be desired. I still remember that it wasn’t Blue Plate well over 10 years later. It’s also a blessing that I don’t remember the brand since I’m sure it would be somebody’s favorite. :)

So, back to reading and writing. As a kid, I was enamored with horses and books, so naturally I read a lot of books about horses, which led to Louis L’Amour westerns, then to historical romance books as I grew older. Besides reading, television/movies I enjoyed were John Wayne, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. Naturally, even my early attempts at writing consisted of westerns and prairie romance type stories. I liked my “Blue Plate” and wasn’t interested in trying another brand.

Fast forward a few years and I was asked to head up the ACFW Book Club. Part of the duties (and a perk) of the book club coordinator back then was to receive a copy of the book club pick, read it and facilitate the discussion. During my tenure, I read Women’s Fiction, Suspense, Science fiction, Lad Lit, Chick Lit, Dystopian, Biblical, Historical, Contemporary, Amish romance, and enjoyed every single book club pick in the 3-4 years that was coordinator. I specifically remember loving Kathryn Mackel’s Outriders (Fantasy/Science Fiction, Thomas Nelson, 2005), and ended up buying Trackers, read them both, then passed them on to my teenage son, who also loved the books.

Now, one more food-related story. I had the grandkids yesterday and we had some leftover fried rice from their favorite Japanese restaurant. Ella (5 yo) likes Yum Yum sauce with her fried rice, but I didn’t have any. I was throwing together a quick lunch with the rice, some chicken nuggets, and my special homemade honey mustard sauce (mayo, honey mustard, and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ). I also whipped up a bit of white country gravy (from a packet) to put on my own rice. Ella and I taste-tested a bit of the rice with Pammy’s honey mustard sauce AND the white gravy and we decided the combo was just as good, if not better than the real store-bought Yum Yum sauce. Well, maybe that’s stretching it, but when the grand-doll declares it, it is so, yes?

I guess I’ve gone around the world to try to tie all this together, but as I munched on those zesty bbq chips that weren’t bad, but they weren’t Lays, then when my granddaughter and I figured out how to make a sauce that tasted enough like Yum Yum sauce that she ate her lunch quite happily, I realized that there are times that I try something totally new and love it even more than what I thought was my “favorite” thing.

As a reader, I would probably have never tried Science Fiction/Fantasy if I hadn’t been the ACFW Book Club coordinator. But I’m glad I was willing to branch out. I’ve enjoyed many genres since then. Do I still have my favorites? Yes. But I know that there is more out there than just one genre.

And as a writer, even though all of my published fiction to date has been historical in nature, I’ve worked on some contemporary romances and some romantic suspense. I suppose I might try my hand at any number of genres, but it would be a stretch for me to attempt to write a sci-fi, and I’m pretty sure that I’d draw the line at reading or writing horror. (The fact that my sister-in-law and I were both huddled in the floorboard of my brother’s car at the drive-in trying to NOT watch a slasher flick over forty years ago scarred me for life!)

Other than that, who knows what the future may hold writing and reading-wise. 

But I’ll stick to Blue Plate, thank you very much.

Give Me Blue Plate, or Give Me Nothing at All

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

By request, today's post focuses on how to use the programs and resources covered in Parts I, II, and III to create DIY book covers by merging two or more photos to create attractive covers.

First, it takes a professional graphics artist with high grade software to mash, smash, mix, and combine multiple photos of landscapes and people and make it all look as if it was all taken together. I'm not a professional. I'm a rank amateur and a DIY guru. The covers I've created aren't meant to look as if they were photos taken that way. But there are techniques to get around that obstacle.

So, let's get started...

The untouched photos of the woman and the landscape below were chosen to compliment each other. Ideally the photo of the woman would have had a bluer sky to make it easier to "merge" the two photos, but I decided to work with this one as is. I actually made this "mockup" cover a couple of months ago in preparation for this blog post, but realized I didn't have enough screenshots of the process to show you much of what I'd done. So I created another one yesterday, and decided to show both as they each employ some different techniques.

And, as I was going to "press", a friend shared a great FREE resource that you're going to love! I'll share it at the end.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

As you can see from the photos above, neither look like they'd lend themselves to a book cover as in being the appropriate size, although the landscape would make a great wraparound cover for a print book. You'd just have to add more blue sky and clouds to the image.

But never fear. All I did was crop both photos until I got the look I wanted. I added a blue sky background behind the woman and then used a blue sky/cloud-looking swath across the middle to blend the two images. This created the perfect spot to add a title.

Now... you can still see a bit of white around the woman, but I liked the way it lended an airbrushed look, so, all in all, for a sample book cover, I was pleased with it.

I used Picmonkey to create this covers, and the Basic Graphics tool to create the faded edges and cloud effect on the cover below. I'm sorry that I didn't save more steps to show you how I did this. (That's why I created two covers for this project, so I could show you some of the specific steps.)

And... I notice I use the words "layers" and "flattened" a lot in this post. This might not be necessary to explain, but each piece (every photo, every grouping of words, every graphic) of a graphics arts piece is a different "layer", that is, until you "flatten" the pieces. Flattening in digital design software is kind of like ... covering something with scraps of cloth, paint, newsprint, letters, words, stamps, (whatever), then painting over everything with Mod Podge. lol You're welcome for the analogy!

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)

Now on to a cover I created for today's blog post called One Summer in Tuscany. When I realized I didn't have very much step-by-step screenshots to show how to create the above cover, I went to Unsplash and started looking for a landscape that I liked. Any landscape would do, since I didn't have a story idea slot to fill. My "mock" cover could be anything I wanted. If that seems backwards, it is. So, if you're thinking you need something VERY specific for the story you've already written, then read Part I of this blog series. In Part I, I cover how important it is to search for and save photo ideas for future projects. 

So, let's pretend I'm writing a book set in Tuscany. :)

First, I found the beautiful Tuscany landscape below and could just picture it was working for a book cover. Then I searched for couples, but didn't find anything that jumped out at me. Ideally, I was looking for a couple or a woman outdoors and with a muted background that would work well with the landscape. I found the blonde woman wearing the hat, but she didn't really work for the look I wanted, even though the muted background would make working with her image fairly easy. I kept looking and found the beautiful woman with dark hair. The background was going to be a bit harder to work with, but the look of the woman fit the Tuscany landscape SO much better, and I was excited to work on the project.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Unedited Photos Downloaded from Unsplash

Originally, I planned to create a cover on the same lines as the Western-style cover above (titled When Comes the Spring for lack of a more appropriate title): a landscape on the bottom with the woman on the top half, separated by a banner of some sort. But as soon as I uploaded the Tuscany landscape to PicMonkey, my plans changed. I could see that this cover idea could be so much more...
DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #1

Screenshot #1, above, shows the landscape image uploaded to my book cover template (templates are covered in Part II of this blog series), cropped to the size I wanted for the cover, then FLATTENED. Flattened anchors or "glues" (like that mod podge we talked about) that image as the background. It's your first layer. You don't have to do this step, but it helps if you're pretty sure you've got that layer just as you want it.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #2
Screenshot #2 shows where I uploaded the dark-haired woman before I had edited it at all. It's a new layer on top of the landscape layer. It's obviously way too big, but I wanted to leave it that way so that I could see enough to erase the parts I didn't want. The old eyes aren't what they used to be!

Also, I'm explaining ALL about erasing, but wait until the end when I share the cool new website I just learned after I did all this work. :)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #3

When you click on any layer/image in Picmonkey, a toolbox called IMAGE appears on the screen. To erase parts of the image, choose erase and adjust the parameters to fit your needs. I wanted to erase all the hard edges around the photo, as well as ALL of the background around her.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #4

As a matter of fact, when I started, I planned to just keep her face, but she looked really funny with that hand on her chin. lol (And I liked her longer hair). Also, the "dangling" hand as well as her left arm with the wet shirt-sleeve looked totally out of place. Erase. Erase. I just slowly edited out until I hit just the right balance.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #5

With a few more tweaks, I knew I was really close to a decent mix of these two photos that (to me) would make a gorgeous cover. Screenshot #5, above, is the landscape background and the cover model with NO filters applied to either.
DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #6, "Tuscany Screen"

Now, let's play with filters. Sometimes, an author (or her editorial team), will decide to fade the model (or some other portion of a cover) for whatever reason. It might be a play on something in the novel... say, the heroine has amnesia and her memory is foggy. Or the title was something like "When Love Fades" or "Memories of You". You get the drift. To achieve these effects, use the Image Tool and play with the BLEND MODES. Screenshot #6 shows the results of using the SCREEN mode. Screen mode achieves a slightly different effect than just FADING, which is also an option on the Image tool. The more you play with Blend Modes, the more uses you'll find for each and learn the best times to employ them on different projects.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Screenshot #5 again. NO filters applied. I called this "Tuscany Normal"

At this point, I was very happy with Screenshot #5, aka "Tuscany Normal", and after I let the images settle, if I was truly ready to publish this book, with this title, I'd probably go with that nice, sharp image above. 

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
"Tuscany Faded"

But sometimes you have to play with the options to see what works and what doesn't. The photo of the girl above is faded just a tiny bit from Tuscany Normal. Just enough to let a tiny bit of the background to show through. If you look closely, you can see it in the duller look of her lips, and the way the horizon cuts through her hair toward her eyes. Using fade works in some situations and not in others. It's just a matter of preference.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany Screen

Here's Tuscany Screen again with the actual filter applied, which shows a LOT of blending of the model into the background. It's not a technique I'd use on a cover unless I had a really good reason. 

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany Smudge

To achieve Tuscany Smudge I used the Textures filter, which shows up on left of the screen. There are tons of options under this from Wood, Water, Marble, Papyrus, Ice, and on and on. Again, Tuscany Smudge is a bit over the top, not an option I'd chose, but it might work if the filter wasn't applied with such a heavy hand. Maybe just a tiny bit might be okay.

Oh, and BIG TIP. For Tuscany Smudge above, I FLATTENED both the landscape background and the cover model before I applied the Smudge filter. Otherwise, the filter would have only been applied to whichever image (layer) I'd selected. And, it's possible to apply different filters to different layers if you find you need to do that. Just know as you're working which layer you're working on and/or if the layers have been flattened first. (Sorry, that's getting a bit complicated, and I promised to keep it simple. :)

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
One Summer in Tuscany MOCK Cover

Tada! We have a cover. I used Tuscany Faded to create this cover, but again, if I really had a novel set in Tuscany, I'd probably go with the original no-filtered photo of the model.

Now, for the cool new software that I just found out about. And, it's FREE! While babysitting two of my grands just today (well, yesterday by the time you read this), my daughter-in-law's mom came by and we started talking about fun projects. She enjoys creating all the stuff you can do with a Cricut: mugs, t-shirts, etc. She told me about this cool site that removes the background of a photo and you can save your photo with a transparent background. While I manually edited out the backgrounds of both of my models for today's projects, there are lots of times I could have used this site. So I definitely plan to add it to my toolbox for later. Pretty cool, huh?

>>>>> <<<<<

"Download" is free. "Download HD" will accrue a charge. I used Download for the following image.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
Tuscany model with background removed using

Okay, I think I've covered everything, and since it's nearly midnight and I'm out of time, we're going LIVE! Hope y'all enjoyed today's post and learned more tricks and techniques to create amazing graphics, whether for book covers, memes, or even t-shirts for your next family reunion.

DIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

by Pam Hillman

Hello Seekerville. This is a repost from six years ago. But I have a good reason. My 5th grandbaby was born this week and I've been taking care of his two older sisters. Okay, it's a full-time job! Oh, and next month I'll return to my series of posts about DIY Graphics Design focusing on book covers.

I might not be around much today, at least early in the day. Mom, Dad, and baby brother should be home today, so I should be available later in the day to comment.

So, let's dive in to today's post. Some of the Seekers mentioned have retired from Seekerville, but not necessarily from writing.

Have you discovered the natural ebb and flow to your writing? Your rhythm? Your pacing? I’m not talking about the story you tell and how you tell it, but how long your scenes are. The mechanics, if you will.

Do you tend to write all your scenes the exact same length or do your scene lengths vary, coming in and out, long and short, like the tide?

I realized several years ago that I write 800 words between scene breaks. Don’t confuse a scene with a scene break. A scene break (SB) usually occurs when I change POV, not necessarily when I get to the end of a scene. It’s just how I plot. But that doesn’t mean that all my scenes are anywhere near 800 words. Some of them are far, far from that, ranging from 260 words to a whopping 1888 on my latest manuscript. I wondered if that was normal for all authors or not.

After reviewing several of my own manuscripts and getting feedback from some of my Seeker friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that varying scene length is the norm, and actually, a good thing. (Whew, glad to know I’m normal in at least one way!) But, honestly, I imagine most of you already knew that scenes varied greatly in the stories you write and those you read, yes?

But what I hope to share with you today might help you in the planning stages of your current novel…or the next one.

So, let’s get started!

If you’ve written two or three manuscripts, you probably have discovered your rhythm already. Being a spreadsheet junky, I already had my manuscripts logged in as words per scene and chapter. I knew going into my latest full-length manuscript, The Promise of Breeze Hill, that I write 800 word scene breaks (SBs). I knew the total word count needed to be about 90K. That comes out to about 112 scenes. This kind of information helps me plan where my major turning points will be.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
The Promise of Breeze Hill
After I charted the scenes for The Promise, I wondered if my last full-length manuscript had a similar rhythm. So I charted Claiming Mariah, and sure enough, the average words per SBs in Claiming Mariah was 798.22 words. The Promise of Breeze Hill was 799.75 before the rewrite. Hard to believe that the word count between SBs was so close.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Claiming Mariah

So I wondered if other authors have similar rhythms? Even if they don’t chart their word count, if they’ve written very many books, they probably have figured out their rhythm. So, I went to the group I always go to when I have a question like this. My Seeker Sisters, of course.

Tina Radcliffe said that she tends to write two scenes per chapter for her category romance, with those chapters averaging 3500 words. Mary Connealy and Missy Tippens also said their chapters average about 3500 words. Depending on how many scenes they write per chapter, their SBs could occur every 900-1750 words or so. In spite of my spreadsheet tendencies, even my chapter lengths run the gamut of 1500 to 3500 words. Julie Lessman also mentioned that she’s writing shorter chapters these days, trying to keep her chapters to 2000 words.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

Having the above information from these ladies was gold, but it didn’t tell me what I wanted to know. This only gave me averages. I wanted to see the ebb and flow of someone else’s work. Was I the only one whose charts looked like the tide rolling in and out? What really made me sit up and take notice was when fellow spreadsheet queen Myra Johnson send me some REAL LIVE DATA from two of her manuscripts. Remember up above that I mentioned that my average words between Scene Breaks (SBs) was 800 words and how knowing that helps me determine from the get-go how many scenes I need to plan on? It also helps during writing if I’m halfway through the manuscript and only have 30% of my words. I’m either not digging deep enough — or — let’s face it…. I’m not digging deep enough.

Well, turns out Myra’s average word count between SBs is right at 1050. Myra sent me the word counts per scene for Castles in the Clouds and Rancher for the Holidays. Castles is a much longer book that Rancher, but regardless, Myra’s natural “rhythm” held true.

And, her charts look like a tide rolling in and out. Just like mine!


Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Castles in the Clouds by Myra Johnson
Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Rancher for the Holidays by Myra Johnson

Now, if you’ve read this far, and you’re frantically counting and comparing words in your manuscripts, DON’T.

Knowing your natural rhythm might be good for some, and others might not care at all. I like knowing that I need to shoot for 800 word scenes. And since I write in Scrivener, I can see at a glance which scenes are low on the word count. Even though I ended up with several scenes under my goal, I strive to up the word count on those to at least 600, but at some point, some of those scenes just felt done, you know? There wasn’t a single thing I felt I could add to them to make them better. They were short, to the point, and didn’t need “padding” just to make them longer. Sometimes, you just gotta say what you need to say, and get out of there.

And that might be MY cue to wrap this up. So, a few final thoughts and tips.

Don’t force yourself to write like someone else. Don’t take one of my charts or Myra’s charts and try to write scenes to that length. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t force yourself to write long/short/long or short/short/long just because you read a piece about it here. Do what comes naturally to YOU. However, if somewhere along the way in your writing, you find that something isn’t quite right or the pacing seems off, then checking your scenes for ebb and flow might be the ticket to unlocking a tsunami of great writing.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

If you’re new to writing, don’t take this as gospel. Don’t even try to grasp this technique or emulate it. Tuck it away and after you’ve organically written three or four manuscripts, then compare your own work against itself to see if you see a pattern starting to emerge. I didn’t have time to chart some of my earlier manuscripts that weren’t written in Scrivener, but I glanced over a few scenes and noticed that my scenes tended to be more uniform in my earlier completed manuscripts. I think that was my way of writing to the market and what I’d analyzed in my own reading more than to my own rhythm.

It’s also important to point out that in the charts above, there is usually one scene that stands out above all the rest. While I can’t speak for Myra’s work, I will tell you that in my own, those scenes are major turning points in the story — watershed moments, if you will. Those tend to write themselves.

And, finally, one other thought. I checked a couple of my novellas and my scenes average about 575 words between SBs. Mary also mentioned that her chapters and scenes tend to be shorter in novellas. So instinctively, our rhythm for novellas is different to our rhythm for book-length fiction. More than likely yours will be too.

Did I leave anything out? Did I confuse anyone? The floor is open for discussion! :)

If you know your natural rhythm for scene length, we’d love to hear it. And, if you know the range of your scenes, even better!

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of.

A Deep Dive into Newsletter SubscribersIf the Shoe FitsIt's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny DayUtilizing Amazon’s Buying and Gifting eBooks for Others FeatureRepurposing One Idea to Create More ContentChecklist for Entering ContestsThe Mystery of Publishing Ebooks and NEW RELEASEGive Me Blue Plate, or Give Me Nothing at AllDIY Graphics Design Tutorial: Blending Photos to Create Book Covers (Part Four)Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

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