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Pam's Rocket-Launch into Children's Picture Books

Pam's Rocket-Launch into Children's Picture Books

I self-published my first children’s picture book on November 1st and am working on a second one. I never planned to write children’s books, but one thing rocketed to another and here I am. The story…

On October 8th, I was at a local festival selling my books. I’ve had a booth at Sebastopolooza every year since my first print novel released. I enjoy meeting new and existing fans, and even lots of friends and family who aren’t readers stop by to say hi. It’s like one big family reunion.

Pam's Rocket-Launch into Children's Picture Books


In the lull between chatting with friends and selling books, I watched shoppers as they visited other booths, wondering what made them gravitate to different things like homemade soaps, jewelry, clothes, wooden plaques, and the list goes on.

The thought meandered through my head that maybe I should add something to my booth that people could buy even if they aren’t avid readers. Nothing too drastic … like homemade goat’s soap! But maybe t-shirts with writerly sayings on them, or journals. It was just a passing thought, because just as quickly as I pondered the idea, I also realized that diversification without cohesion would only dilute my purpose: growing my fan base and my name recognition as an author.

Moving forward. Three days later, I took my granddaughter to gymnastics. It was a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, so I sat outside with her 18 month old brother and soon a homeschool mom and her son joined us. Her 9 yo son was using an old iPhone to turn quick recordings into fun little videos. It’s no secret that I enjoy a bit of digital graphics, so we started chatting about digital art, memes, apps that create cartoon-like characters, videos, podcasts, etc. Before we knew it, we were swapping ideas, and as we chatted, a lightbulb went on. Or rather a whole smorgasbord of strobe lights starting pinging.

Since I’m not an illustrator, could I use an “AI” app to turn photos into “cartoon-like” illustrations for a children’s book?

  • Could I write a children’s picture book?
  • What would it be about?
  • Could I self-publish it on kdp?
  • Could I do a print version on kdp?
  • Could I….

The thoughts ping-ponged around inside my head. I felt confident I could write rhyming prose, and I was pretty sure I could muddle through the publishing process since I’ve already published several ebooks through kdp. But the illustrations were the key, since … and I repeat … I’m not an illustrator. But I had a vision of what I wanted.

Two things happened simultaneously over the next three days: I played around with AI apps until I found one that would do exactly what I wanted: turn an existing photo into a cartoon look-alike. At the same time, My Cowboy took three of our grandchildren on a “big adventure” and came back with a ton of cute photos. I had my first idea for a children’s book.


The ebook version of Adventures with Cowpaw came out on November 1st. The print version released on November 6th, and that was only because I had to wait for a proof to arrive. Since this was my first attempt at self-publishing anything in print, I was a bit nervous about the print quality. Nothing to worry about. I was very pleased with the quality from Amazon's print department.

I went into this adventure with two goals in mind. I wanted to learn how to create and publish print books and starting with a children’s book seemed the perfect “small” project for that. I had no idea if people would want copies of my little book with its non-traditional illustrations, but since it was mainly for Cowpaw and the grandkids, I wasn’t worried about how it might sell, as long as I was pleased with the result. 

I ran out of copies at my first local book signing and had to order more! And Adventures with Cowpaw has been my top-selling book on Amazon since its release. Kind of a wow moment.

With what I’d learned about producing print books via kdp, I was then brave enough to self-publish my first adult print book on Amazon as well. Within the first two weeks of November, I moved forward with a project that I’d been too “chicken” to pursue until now. I formatted 3 existing novellas that were already published as ebooks, designed a cover, and published my Calico Trails Romance Collection in both ebook and print.

Pam's Rocket-Launch into Children's Picture Books
Amazon link to Calico Trails

Looking back, I’m amazed at the TWO-WEEK timeline of producing my first children’s book from start to finish. The entire process has been a fun rollercoaster ride and I’m thrilled to have some new skills in my writer’s toolkit as well as something new and different for readers and non-reader friends to share with their children and grandchildren.

What Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?

What Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?

We’re three days away from Christmas, and I don’t want to bog everyone down with a how-to post, a craft post, or lots of reading to wade through. Instead, I’m going to continue the thread of Christmas memories, traditions, favorite recipes, movies, and books.

When I was a kid, Christmas gift giving was fairly small at my house, but as far as I knew, it was that way for everyone, so I didn’t know any better. We got a gift or two at home, we exchanged gifts at school and at church, and I received gifts from both of my grandmothers. That was FIVE gifts spread out over five different events. That was enough to make any child … or at least THIS child … giddy with excitement!!

The rest of the Christmas season was spent waiting for the last day of school, practicing for Christmas plays at church and spending time with friends at the Christmas church potluck and cousins at grandma’s house.

I always find it interesting that we remember little snippets of things that happened in our childhood, but then nothing at all of many days and weeks. Maybe there was some little thing that really stuck with us about a certain event, a toy, or a person. One Christmas that I remember well was around 1970. Honestly, I don’t remember if we got to pick out our own presents every year, but I do know that year in particular, we did. So maybe that’s why it sticks out in my memory so much. I was six years old.

My older brothers wanted a race track from Sears-Roebuck. The race track costed over $75, which was way more than any one family member could spend for Christmas. We had $25 for Christmas. $25 in 1970 would buy a lot, at least in MY world. But it wouldn’t buy the coveted race track found in the Sears-Roebuck catalog. So my brothers talked my daddy into pooling “his” Christmas money with theirs and buying the race track. It was a huge affair, taking up the length and width of an 8 foot x 10 foot plywood table that was set up in the living room for several months. I’m sure Mama made sure I didn’t get roped into adding my Christmas money to the race track fund because I got a little wooden doll high chair and a doll.

What Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?

My family made the trip to Sears which was a good 50 miles away for our shopping trip which was a big deal for us during those days. I still remember walking around looking at all the toys, trying to decide what I wanted to buy. I finally settled on the high chair. But the problem was that Mama knew I didn’t have a doll at home that would fit in the chair. So, my poor mother used part of her Christmas money to buy a doll with bendable legs to fit in the chair. It’s been so long ago, and my memory is hazy, but I think that was the year I got a doll with retractable red hair. A search of the internet brings up the “Chrissy” dolls of the 60s and 70s, and mine was probably that doll.


What Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?

We also went to eat at a steakhouse, which was probably a bigger deal than going shopping in the “city”. All these years (and they are a LOT of years), I still remember the high-backed booths in the steakhouse. The doll and high chair, and the race track were wonderful, but the memories are what make me smile.

All these years later, I wonder what Mama and Daddy really wanted for Christmas for themselves. Did Mama have her eye on a pretty store-bought dress or new black patent-leather purse? Maybe Daddy need a new white shirt and black pants for church, or even a new pair of dress shoes.

What Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?

But they didn’t get those things. Instead they got a race track, a doll and a little wooden high chair. But I have a feeling they didn’t mind. They were making memories with us kids, much like I’m doing with my kids and grandkids these days. I really don’t need anything. My old purse suits me just fine. I have enough shoes to last a lifetime, and my closet is full.

As is my heart.


Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas

and a Very Happy New Year.

Ringing in Advent with Apple Dumplings and Family Memories

Ringing in Advent with Apple Dumplings and Family Memories

There's just something magical about the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. In some ways, we rush about in the hustle and bustle of shopping and preparations, but deep down we embrace the peace that the season brings.

As I was thinking about all of these things together, I was reminded how everything really boils down to faith and family. I was reminded of dinners with my grandparents and vacations with them, and then celebrating big Thanksgiving and Christmases at my paternal grandparent's house with all my cousins, then much smaller get-togethers at my other grandparents as my mother was an only child.

Even now, my husband's family get-togethers tend to be larger than my side of the family. His family all live close and mine are more wide-spread. But large or small, all are precious and create lasting memories.

Sometimes it's the tradition of a certain food or a certain time. For instance, my mother-in-law has served a mid-morning breakfast for Christmas for the last several years. The time of day and the break from traditional foods has always been a wonderful respite on Christmas Eve. And who doesn't love biscuits, bacon, and eggs?

In keeping with this month's theme, I'm going to share a recipe, but it might not be one you'd want to serve with breakfast, but then again... lol

We had "Second" Thanksgiving at my house on Sunday since my youngest son had to work on Thanksgiving Day. I invited my in-laws and my mother-in-law came with Apple Dumplings since that's his favorite dessert. She didn't know that I also made Apple Dumplings because... well, it's my son's favorite dessert. So we had 32 apple dumplings between us!

This led to an in-depth discussion of how we made our dumplings, plus another long email discussion among the Seekers of who's made them, how, and what ingredients. I'm not sure if Apple Dumplings has ever has as much air time as they have this week.

So, without further ado, I'm going to share my mother-in-law's version of Apple Dumplings, since it's the easiest thing to remember by far.

Two-fer Apple Dumplings
(I'm calling these Two-fer, because you use TWO of everything)

2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 16 slices
2 cans of crescent rolls (8 per pack)
2 cups sugar (white or brown, or mixed works)
2 sticks of butter
10 ounces of either Sprite, orange juice, or Mountain Dew
Optional: Sprinkle of cinnamon

Spray a 9x16 glass casserole dish with Pam or a smear of butter
Wrap each apple slice in a crescent roll
Melt butter and mix with sugar and pour over the top
Pour the Sprite or orange juice around the edges

Bake on 340-350 until crescent roll tops are nice and brown. There will still be a good bit of liquid/juice, but this will soak up as the dish cools a bit. Eat warm or cold, and with vanilla ice cream if you like.


Hey, everyone, my newsletter went out last night, so if you didn't receive it in your inbox, you can click here to read it.

Celebrate TWO New Releases With Me!

Ringing in Advent with Apple Dumplings and Family Memories

Adventures with Cowpaw
is my first children's book.
I'm so excited to share it with you!
Buy it Here!

Ringing in Advent with Apple Dumplings and Family Memories

My Calico Trails Romance Collection brings three of my novellas
to PRINT for the very first time.
Buy it HERE!



Quirky People Make Quirky Characters

by Pam Hillman

You want your characters to be quirky, but not too quirky, right? You want them to have real flaws and believable habits, but not come across as a basket case of nervous energy, or just plain loopy. And you want people to identify with them, right.

So, how quirky is too quirky?

How about this: A housewife counts the plates as she puts them into the dishwasher, the spoons as she puts them in the drawer. She counts the towels as she folds them. A grandmother cannot bring herself to throw away a note of encouragement or anything of sentimental value.

A man who rubs his feet together to fall asleep. His wife has to be wearing socks to snooze.

What about a dirty napkin phobia? One woman said that she never crumples her used napkin. She folds it. If someone else crumples theirs, she can't keep from looking at it. And don’t expect her to touch someone else's crumpled up napkins when cleaning up. Now that’s a phobia.

Quirky People Make Quirky Characters

One of my own pet peeves: A crooked picture drives me insane. I will straighten them whenever I see them.

I can’t stand for a stack of stapled papers to be haphazard. I will take out the staple and re-staple them together all nice and neat. Completely oblivious to my little habit, I did this once while the guy who’d stapled them together was standing next to my desk chatting. It was kinda embarrassing when he pointed out what I’d done. Oops!

I’ve heard of someone saying it was impossible for them to fall asleep lying down. That one has me scratching my head, and I’d like to ask that person how they do fall asleep. Maybe they sleep in a recliner or something!

I'm a hand washer. I wash my hands all the time. The first thing I used to do when I got to work was to wash my hands. Of course this was a good habit to have to keep germs away.

I love this one… One woman reported that she has a thing with even and odd. She doesn't like odd numbers so she only deals with things that are even. She can't just have one cookie, she has to have two, and if she gets three, she’ll need another one to make it even.

So, how about three Krispy Kreme donuts, please? Using her phobia, I’d have to have four!

I’ve got pages and pages of these quirks I’ve saved over the years, and I imagine your particular quirk is on the list. Dollars to donuts, your quirk is also somebody else’s quirk, and even more importantly, can become one of your character’s quirks.

Three more, because I can’t resist….

Quirky People Make Quirky Characters


M&M’s are a popular quirk, from eating them before a flight, to before a doctor’s appointment, to sorting them into piles and eating certain colors. One man said that the more blue M&M’s, the better his flight. A former co-worker of mine sorted her M&M’s before she ate them. She ate all of one color, then the next color, and so on. Any of you have a M&M quirk?

Another plane quirk: One woman said she has to tap the outside of the plane ten times. Someone else said he sleeps with a window open—even in the dead of winter, and will not sleep with his head pointed toward a door. Now, this I can understand. I wouldn’t want my head pointed toward a door while sleeping. Makes perfect sense to me!

Anybody feel up to sharing their quirks, or even better quirks you've given your characters? Or quirks you've discovered while reading other's books that you found interesting, funny, or really odd? Quirks in movies? I can think of a few. :)


Quirky People Make Quirky Characters

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. www.pamhillman.com



First Chapter Dropout

First Chapter Dropout

Once long ago I jokingly said to a friend who finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart, like, 10 times and won 3 or 4 times, that I aspired to be her when I grew up. She replied, very sadly, that no, I did NOT want to be her. Yeah, put that way, I could see her point.


Here in Seekerville we’ve talked about getting up the nerve just to ENTER a contest, entering simply for feedback, then getting to the stage of entering because we’ve been consistently finaling and we’re pretty sure our current WIP can make the cut and land in front of an agent or editor.


All of that is well and good, but what’s the ultimate POINT of entering contests geared toward unpublished authors? I mean, past the point of getting your work in front of an editor or an agent? The point is to become ineligible to enter those contests. Right? Right!


And, we don’t get to that point by working and reworking chapter one of a manuscript (or even multiple manuscripts) just for the sake of entering contests. I could have easily become a first chapter dropout because I was a contest junk … uh … queen, as many of the Seekers were. They were more like princesses; I was fanatical!


I know of more than one aspiring author who fell by the wayside because they could never stop tweaking that first chapter and entering it in the next contest to see if it would final. I distinctly remember the first aspiring author I ever met. It was so much fun to have a like-minded person to brainstorm with, to ride to chapter meetings together and talk writing nonstop.  And the fact that she lived fairly close to me at the time made it all the more sweeter!


After two or three years of rewriting the first chapter of her story and getting more and varied feedback from contests, she lost her zeal and couldn’t even remember where she was headed with it in the first place. It was a hodgepodge of contest feedback and she completely gave up writing. And here’s the kicker: She was a good writer and had great ideas!


I’ve had my share of doing the same thing, so I know what I’m talking about! But I saw what happened to a few of my friends, and I didn’t want to be a first chapter dropout. I made myself finish a manuscript, then another, and another.



Don’t be a first chapter dropout: Finish the manuscript.



First Chapter Dropout

And you know what? If you’ve never actually finished a manuscript, you’ll be surprised at all the things that will happen during the course of writing the story that will change the opening scene or make the goals and motivations of your characters that much clearer as you write the closing scenes. It can be a real eye-opener, even if you had a detailed synopsis to go by.


At some point you’ll know you need to “retire” your current award winning manuscript from the contest circuit. Only you can decide when to do this, but I would say that if it’s been in front of most of the editors and agents who are judging, and if it’s won every major contest running, then it’s probably time to retire it. If you spot an editor or agent who’s judging that has never seen the manuscript, by all means enter it in that particular contest, but don’t just keep sending the first same chapter to the same final round judges over and over and over. After an editor has seen it in contests 2 or 3 times, unless there’s a major overhaul, that’s probably enough. That’s not to say that they won’t buy it later on. Far from it. They just might. And… for the record, that manuscript might not be your first sale. But with work, it might become a sale.


I imagine at that point they’re ready to see something else from you, so write something else. Write the first chapter and a clear synopsis of the sequel to your first book or something totally new and enter that in a contest and get back to FINISHING your first award winning manuscript.


So, the goal is to start your manuscript, enter a few contests, FINISH the manuscript, and start something new. All this time keep entering contests, making connections, submitting to agents and editors, and somewhere down the road, something will click, and you’ll move one more step up the publishing ladder.


Keep working, keep moving forward to the goal, and publishing will happen.


Now, having said ALL that, I’m a BIG believer in writing contests. I love them all, from the first line ones, to the synopsis ones, to the first chapter ones, and the ones that require a full manuscript. As a published author, I sort of MISS being able to enter those contests anonymously. So, don’t take today’s post as reason NOT to enter contests. Take it as a reason to enter them all (like someone who shall remain nameless… ahem), but always remember the goal….



Don’t be a first chapter dropout. Finish the manuscript!



But while you're writing toward the finish line, check out ACFW's First Impressions Contest. It's for unpublished authors, and all you need to enter is the first 5 pages of your manuscript and a 200 word blurb. Deadline to enter is October 15th!



First Chapter Dropout




Job #1: They Got Books

Job #1: They Got Books


by Pam Hillman

I participated in a book fair this past weekend, and a good time was had by all. I hope to share more next month about my experience at A Page Away Book Fair, hopefully with thoughts from some of the other vendors who participated.

But there is one small snippet that fits today’s topic. Wifi and phone service in the venue was practically non-existent. So it was either cash, check, or accept credit/debit card payments offline and hope the payments went through later.

I chose to accept payments offline and took a few like that and they went through later when I was able to get reception. I took a chance, but I went in with my eyes wide open. If the cards were declined, I was prepared to just pray the books blessed the recipients.

It was a situation of THEY GOT BOOKS. I GOT MONEY. (I hoped.)

But where am I going with this? Let me back up for a minute.

The idea for this blog post came from setting up the software for the ACFW Bookstore to be held onsite at the ACFW Conference in St. Louis like IMMEDIATELY! (Seriously, it’s September 8-11th).

Job #1: They Got Books

As most of you are aware, I’m the ACFW Treasurer. This year when the bookstore ACFW partners with couldn’t make it due to other commitments, ACFW decided to go ahead with the bookstore anyway. I was slightly familiar with some software that caters exclusively to consignment sales, so started the learning curve for that software months ago.

My training for the bookstore staff has been intensive and one step at a time. The main thing in my view is to get to the point of scanning and selling books during the online book sale which spans a three-day weekend. It is imperative that the bookstore get that part RIGHT, making it seamless and a perfect experience for our customers.

In other words, THEY GET BOOKS. WE GET MONEY. (We hope.)

Everything that happens after that… reconciling remaining inventory, paying consignors, paying sales tax, etc. will come all in good time.

Going even farther BACK in time... Where did this “They Got Books…” mantra come from?

A LONG time ago, I was a fresh-faced kid out of college and working my new job at a furnace/heater manufacturer, a company I worked at for 28 years. It was small family run business that was just getting started and they were still preparing invoices by hand. Computer generated inventory, invoices, and bookkeeping was in the infant stages, but with a computer science degree under my belt, my dream was to take the company into the computer-driven age. (Which did happen eventually, btw.)

But when I started, everything was done by hand. Remember I said SMALL company, as in ONE other lady in the office. Her name was Yvette, and she became my mentor for many years. Not long after I started work, during the busiest season of the company, Yvette’s husband suddenly became very ill and had to be hospitalized. There was nothing for it but for her to go be by his side. I can’t remember how long she was out of the office, a few days, a week or so. Not more than that. Thankfully, her husband recovered and all was well on that front.

When she returned to the office and anxiously asked how things went, I plopped two stacks in front of her.

A stack of handwritten invoices.

A stack of deposit slips.

Then I said, “They got heaters and I got money. That’s all I know.”

(Anybody who knows me knows I got the money! lol)

But the thing is, I was pretty much telling the truth! I hadn’t been there long enough to be 100% sure that I had charged the customers for the right widget, gadget, or gidget. And since this was before the time of computers and you-can’t-mess-this-up item numbers where the customer could turn in a list (with the aforementioned you-can’t-mess-this-up item numbers) of what he wanted or the parts guy (there was no department… there was a guy named Jim) could give me a specific item number, sometimes I was left guessing.

But I knew our customers got what they wanted (always Job #1), and they gave me checks, which I promptly deposited in the bank (always Job #2). The rest would fall into place, and if it didn’t, we could figure it out and fix it later. Most of the sales I made were to distributors and dealers for the company so I was confident that any minor errors I made in invoicing could be corrected later. But some of them had driven hundreds of miles to pick up full truck loads of heaters and parts to take back to IL, TN, KY, ME (wherever) as winter approached. Job #1 (give the customer what he wants) had to be done, no matter what.

With the ACFW Bookstore, the Storyfest readers will get the books they love, and that’s Job #1. A happy customer is a repeat customer. The consignors will receive payment for their books they brought on consignment. (That’s Job #2). Everything else will fall into place, with good planning and a healthy dose of prayer.

Job #1: They Got Books

So what does this have to do with Seekerville? With writing? With reading? With life?

Sometimes you have a hill to climb. You know where the peak is. You have to know what JOB #1 is. In writing, that might be your deadline. Or it might be writing THE END (as the deadline goes swooshing by). With marketing, it might be getting your next newsletter out or writing you Seekerville blog on time. (Ahem.) There are multiple answers to this question, depending on how big or small your project is.

In my “other” life as a grandmother, Job #1 might be to be at my son and DIL’s house no later than 7:30 am on my days to keep their kids so that they can be out the door on time for work and to get the oldest to school on time. Nothing short of the stomach bug or the flu will interfere with THAT Job #1. Trust me!

There are millions of Job #1’s in our lives. Some are as simple as Be There at Seven! Some are much more complicated and involve many moving parts … as I’m finding with learning new software and training others … remotely, even!

So, for whatever project or life event you’re working on, whether it be short-term or long-term, find the Job #1 for that and work toward it with a vengeance, and everything else will fall into place.

What’s your Job #1 for today? Or even for a bigger project that’s looming?

Who's Your #1 Fan?

Who's Your #1 Fan?

For the last couple of months I’ve been focused on newsletters, not so much the content, but how to manage your subscribers as well as how to keep costs down with the your software service.

Today, let’s talk a bit about figuring out what makes someone engage with your newsletter and what keeps them engaged.

I have more thoughts on this and we’ll get to them next month, but today’s topic is going to be VERY narrow, maybe because the remnants of a summer cold has my ears stopped up and I have tunnel vision …. uh … hearing, but a nice, simple, detailed topic seems to fit the bill today.


Who's Your #1 Fan?
Reader "A"

I bought this little ebook a few months ago called Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque. It’s an interesting read and the more I dig into managing my own list, the more some of what she says in the book makes sense, like segments and tags, and autoresponders and all that stuff. I’m slowly learning, but trying not to become so focused on the nuts and bolts of my newsletter list that I forget the purpose of my newsletter.

Which brings me to Tammi’s mailing list philosophy. She says, “First, you are not selling what you think you are. Second, if all you’re using your list for is selling, you’re doing everything wrong.”

Okay, that makes sense. For those of us who’ve been around the marketing block a few times, we understand what she’s saying, but if not books, what are we selling?


Who's Your #1 Fan?
Reader "B"

Tammi declares that we are selling ourselves. But I’ll go one better. We’re selling relationships. Or, more accurately, we’re creating relationships.

Generally, people signed up for our newsletter either because they found us through a blog tour or giveaway, as a direct contact at a festival or event, or they read one of our books.

I think about those people that I’ve met at events and we had time to chat and get to know each other a bit, and they signed up for my newsletter. I feel really good about our relationship as an author and an engaged subscriber and reader.

One lady I met at a book fair several years ago stands out. In her 70s, petite, short permed hair, twinkling blue eyes, Margaret emails me almost every time a newsletter goes out. We’ve only met that once, but I’ve never forgotten her because SHE keeps he lines of communication open. Now, isn’t that cool?

Who's Your #1 Fan?
Reader "C"

Another one of my #1 fans is Clent. Clent and his wife had a booth across the way the first year I had a print book out. It was Claiming Mariah. I was so nervous selling my ONE book that year. I had a few minutes to spare once I got my booth set up, so I chatted with Clent and his wife Reba. Clint was there for moral support for his wife who was selling homemade soaps, lotion, jewelry, etc. About the time the festival got under way, Clent walked over and bought a copy of my book. Then he spent the rest of the day reading. And he’s been reading ever since. He always makes sure to seek me out and buy a copy of my latest novel. Clent’s a truck driver, if I’m not mistaken.

Then there’s Caroline (18) and her aunt Anitrel (40s)….

Margaret: Female. In her 70s, petite, owns a printing and frame shop.

Clent: Male. Early 60s. Truck driver.

Caroline: Female. 18. Just graduated high school. Wanted ALL my books for Christmas.

Anitrel. Female. Guessing she’s in her 40s, and refuses to share he copies with her niece and vice versa.


Who's Your #1 Fan?
Reader "D"

So back to Tammi’s advice in her book Newsletter Ninja. Tammi suggests creating the ideal subscriber and write to that person. She declares it works. How do you create a relationship with 2000 or 10,000 subscribers when they’re all SO different? I just listed four who I’ve met personally and on the surface none of them (other than the aunt and her niece) have much in common with each other. 

I’ll call my perfect subscriber Tammi (fitting, since the author of Newsletter Ninja called hers Pamela!). Tammi is 39 years old and is a school teacher in rural Tennessee. Her husband works for the electric company. He works a M-F shift, but is on call during storms and bad weather, so reading keeps her mind off the danger her husband is in while working during storms. Tammi reads historical romance, and she enjoys long weekends out of school, winter breaks and the long summer break so she can relax and read as much as she wants to.

This is such a fresh concept for me that I’m not sure I can really picture my fictitious Tammi when I’m putting together my newsletter, but I sure can picture Margaret, Clint, Caroline, and Anitrel. So that might work for me.

Who's Your #1 Fan?
Reader "E"

What about you? Do you have a newsletter subscriber or a #1 fan that you picture in your head when your writing or putting together your newsletter.

For fun, pick one or more of the people in today’s post and develop a reader/newsletter subscriber around them. Give them a name, age, occupation, family (or not), where they live. The whole works. 

Make them somebody who’d be YOUR #1 FAN.



And... celebrate with me! Love is a Puzzle is here! 

Originally part of Barbour's California Gold Rush Romance Collection, it's now been re-published as part of my Calico Trails Collection.



Who's Your #1 Fan?


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. www.pamhillman.com

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


Sigh.

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 … 


Whoa!!!!!

Wrong topic! Wrong Story!

WRONG EVERYTHING AGAIN!!


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.

Pam's Rocket-Launch into Children's Picture BooksWhat Did Mama Really Want for Christmas in 1970?Ringing in Advent with Apple Dumplings and Family MemoriesQuirky People Make Quirky CharactersFirst Chapter DropoutJob #1: They Got BooksWho's Your #1 Fan?A Deep Dive into Newsletter SubscribersIf the Shoe FitsIt's Gonna be a Bright (Bright) Sunshiny Day

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