Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Pam Hillman


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

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All of that is well and good, but what’s the ultimate POINT of entering contests geared toward unpublished authors?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.

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

First 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 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 RELEASE

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