Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: Pam Hillman


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

Okay, ya’ll know me. My Seekerville blog posts are fast and furious and they usually deal with some issue that I’m trying to research for myself. And, unfortunately, the post itself tends to be quite messy, thrown together like most of my cooking. I’m sorry about that. I just came off a 4 week babysitting gig because the daycare lady was in the hospital. Thankfully, she’s on the mend and back at work, but I’m still a bit discombobulated.

But, anyway, tacked on to the end of my babysitting day, I’ve been involved in getting the ACFW Conference, ACFW Consignment bookstore, and ACFW Storyfest rolling the last few weeks. One thing led to another and my thoughts ended up on retractable vinyl banners.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? lol

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

ACFW Storyfest
Readers' Event

August 2023
Well, it happened like this. I’ve been meaning to get a retractable banner for awhile now. I just kept putting it on the back burner. I need one for when I go to local book signings close to home. And even further afield. Authors who plan to sell books at the ACFW Consignment bookstore in St. Louis can purchase advertising space and can use a retractable banner. So, I was thinking I might need to get a banner before then. In the meantime, ACFW staff designed some eye-catching banners for Storyfest, and well, I had a blog due and decided some of you might be as intrigued about what makes a good banner as I am.

I asked around and got some really eye-catching banners to share with ya’ll. I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve seen a BAD one yet.  And since there’s nothing new under the sun, I found this great article of 9 Tips on Creating a Unique Retractable Banner. I’m going to just hit the high points, but I’ll share the link to the full article for you to really dig into.  The author did such a good job of outlining everything and it’s worth a read.

I probably could have just sent ya’ll to his article, but there aren’t any examples, and since that’s the main focus of today’s blog, well, here we are.

One of the first questions he asked in his article was what do you want your banner to accomplish?

Well, for writers, most of the time we’re standing right there by our banner, right there with our books. We want people to come over and look at our books, engage with us, hopefully BUY a book or two, and last, but not least, sign up for our newsletter. Maybe even follow us on SM.

What do you want on your banner?

Top billing should be your author name, which is YOUR logo. Like Pam Hillman with Author underneath that. Or, even better, be more specific. If you have a tagline, use that. Mary would use “Romantic Comedy with Cowboys”. For my banner, I would probably put “Historical Christian Fiction.” Leaving the word “author” off completely. 

C.F.E. Black has “heart-stealing fantasy” and underneath that “fast-paced science fiction”. So perfect for her brand.

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

C. F. E. Black

Generally, most people will know that you’re an author by the piles of books around you, but sometimes at festivals and local events, they don’t always grasp that. They just think you’re selling books. More than once, they are surprised to find out that I AM the author. So spelling out on your banner that you’re an author is a good thing.


At the bottom, you’ll want to include your website address, maybe even a QR code. If you want to use your banner to point people to your presence on Social Media, the best way to do that would be with QR codes. If you plan on having a giveaway for people who sign up for your newsletter, follow you on FB, IG, Twitter, etc., having those QR codes right there would make it so easy for them to pop it in. However, you don’t want to get too crazy with these links and QR codes on a banner. It’s probably enough to just send include your website. For newsletter signup, you could provide a QR code right by your guestbook and those who are IT savvy could just sign up right there.

You want your banner to state who, what, and where (where being your presence on the internet). You’re not wanting to point people to your house or a storefront, so don’t put a physical address (unless you DO have a storefront), a phone number, or even your email address. If they need to get in contact with you, your website address is the best way. Or, through Facebook these days.


A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

Davalynn Spencer

We’ve covered who and where. Let’s talk about what… as in your brand. Decide what color schemes, fonts, and images go with your brand. All the author banners I've included in today's post do a good job of staying on brand. Davalynn Spencer writes 
Western romance set along the Front Range of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. Her banner reflects that. C.F.E. Black, and Linda Kozar's banners are perfect representations of the type of books these authors write.

A bit about Banner Size, Vendors, and Pricing. Retractable banners range from 2’ x 5’3” to 2.9” x 6’9” tall. Go as big as you can afford. Almost all venues can handle something as tall as 6’. Remember that you want to catch a reader’s eye from a distance, and you need your banner to stand out above the crowd.

VistaPrint and Banners on the Cheap are two vendors I’m familiar with. Prices can range from $50-$180 and most of these quotes include the retractable stand that comes with your banner. If you’re not in a hurry for a banner, get your design ready, keep an eye on prices and you can sometimes cash in on a great deal (as low as $50) with VistaPrint.

Less is More

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners

Linda Kozar

I think we’ve all heard the less is more mantra, and we take it to heart. 99% of the time, I agree. Notice the examples I’ve shared today. They DO follow this pattern. But Linda Kozar broke the mold and went with a collage of her books as the background on her banner. (Pay no attention to Linda and all her author friends photobombing her banner! I see you Kathleen Y’Barbo. And you, too, Janice Thompson!) And it totally works for Linda’s bright, fun, contemporary style. And if you visit her website, she’s staying on brand as well. You’ll notice that even though the background is busy, it doesn’t intrude. It enhances! While you don’t want to put too much text on a banner, the book cover collage doesn’t FEEL like text. It sort of blends into the background. Linda put a banner swatch across the middle with her name and headshot in her signature pink and the entire thing pops. (Now I want to do a banner swatch… Hmmm.)


Building on the paragraph above, a bit more about color. Look at Linda’s banner again. Bright pinks, reds anchoring the top corners of her banner, pastel blue. On brand. C.F.E. Black, again, staying on brand with black, brown, tan, a hint of fire. ACFW’s Storyfest banner which is not an author banner, but promotes the Storyfest Reader’s event is also on brand: black and gold.

Sometimes it takes a few books, a few years to reach a color scheme that really works for you, but once you do, use that to your advantage.

Final takeaway

We’ve covered a lot in today’s post, but there is so much more in the article referenced, so feel free to dig deeper into the topic there. Staying true to your brand is so important. 

Also, you want an evergreen banner that you can use over and over again. So I wouldn’t include dates, locations, or words like “new release” or “local author” on your banner.

A special thanks to authors C.F.E. Black, Davalynn Spencer, and Linda Kozar for coming to my rescue and providing their banners for this blog post.

Want to read more? Check out this article. Retractable Banner Design : 9 Ultimate Tips To Create an Attractive Display Banner

A Deep Dive into Retractable Vinyl Banners
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.

The Mechanics of Writing Picture Books

by Pam Hillman

Back in January, I shared a bit about my foray into writing children’s picture books, and this month I want to give an overview of the big picture. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to share some actual birds-eye posts about some of the steps outlined in this post.

Let’s start with a list of simple steps that are a good starting place if you want to write children’s picture books. Some of these might shift depending on how your mind works. I personally like to come up with a title long before step 5, and there are other things I switch up, so let’s get going.

1) Determine the goal of your book (age bracket, genre, theme, etc.).

2) Outline your story. Plan the basic page and illustrations you’ll want. Even if it’s just STICK FIGURES.

3) Write the story. For children’s books, there are few words, but they need to be powerful.

4) Illustrate your book, or hire an illustrator.

5) Come up with a catchy title.

6) Independently publish or pitch your book to publishers. An established author might pitch an idea before they do most of the work.

This short list leaves a lot to the imagination (pun intended), so here are some of my notes that resulted in my first children’s book. And I just realized that the above list is what I’d call the “software” part of writing. The “hardware” is the actual HOW do you illustrate a book or produce it? And how is that different from writing and publishing an adult novel?

None of what I’m going to talk about below is set in stone. It’s just the way I did it, after researching on the internet, watching some videos, and more than a little trial and error.

I decided on an 8” x 8” print and ebook size for my children’s book. The main reason was that it would be easy to remember that each page would be SQUARE and a 2-page spread would be 16” (not accounting for the spine on a print book). In addition, anything that is square is proportional, can be sized up or down, and it still fits. I just felt that 8” x 8” was the easiest route to go, and it’s pretty standard for children’s picture books.

Decide on the number of pages in your book. I settled on 32 pages, and since it was such a short children’s book, I didn’t put the page numbers on the pages. Some children’s books have page numbers, and others don’t. So I opted to leave them off.

If you’re going to publish your children’s book as an ebook and a print book, design the print cover first, then crop the front part of the image for the ebook cover. Since I was feeling my way through this one step at a time, I did the ebook cover first. A square image. Easy peasy, yes? It was, but later when I designed the print cover, there were a few minor issues that had to be dealt with. Like bleed. By the time I allowed for bleed on the print cover, my title was a little too close to the edge of the book. Not so close that it would be chopped off, but close enough that it was noticeable that it was off-center. And allowing space for the spine. So, design the print cover first. Since there is no bleed on the ebook cover, you can easily get what you need for that cover from the print cover.

And now, this next tip is going to (seemingly) contradict Tip #2. It stands to reason that a square book will have 2000x2000px (8” x 8”) pages. But what you and readers see when you look at a book is a two-page spread of 4000x 2000px (16”x8”). So design 2 page spreads that will be used in the ebook first, then you’ll just use the left part for the image for the left page, and the right for the right page. Not only will be able to create your illustrations for both print and ebook by doing it this way, you’ll also be able to see as you go what the reader will see on a 2-page spread.

More on this…

~ On 2-page spreads, try not to put bodies, and never faces in the center (called the gutter) of the spread. Muted images from nature (like clouds, grass, and trees) work better in the gutter than anything with hard, straight lines. If you’re having trouble picturing this in your head, think of the ebb and flow of nature scenes vs. the hard, straight lines of manmade things like cars, tractors, and buildings. The gutter won’t be a problem with your ebook, but can cause real problems in the print version.

~ Study children’s picture books. Authors who design 2-page spreads publish their ebook with a two-page spread just like they do their print books. Because an illustration that covers two pages would needs to be viewed at the same time, yes? But I have seen the ebook version of a children’s picture book that was published “1-up”. I like both ways, so just be aware that if you plan to publish it 1-up, you could design each page separately if you like.

~ Don’t use bleed (this is where the image goes off the edge of the page) for two different style illustrations on opposite pages. This will look really weird in the gutter.

Since I was providing my own photos for the book, I started on my illustrations first, then I worked on the story, rearranged the order of the illustrations as the rhyming of the story progressed, then finally got to the end. If you’ll be hiring an illustrator, then this process will look different for you.

Software. I had to learn some new software techniques for this project. I researched several different programs and apps to turn photos into “cartoon-like” illustrations. Since I wasn’t expecting to make a ton of money off this endeavor, I ended up using the free version of an app called Prequel to turn my photos into illustrations that have a watercolor feeling. There’s a limit to how many images you can make per day with the free version, but it was enough to get me what I needed while I learned the ropes.

Once I had the illustrations, my outline of how I wanted it laid out, and the story written, I switched to Picmonkey to design the 4000x2000px spreads so that I could see what the reader would see on each page as I went. I added all my text and decided which font I wanted to use in Picmonkey.

I don’t know if there are proper names for the different ways to layout the pages, but I wanted to use a variety of pages. I didn’t want the entire project to consist of two-page spreads, and at the time I felt those would be harder to create. So I came up with 4 different design styles for the pages. I ended up using more of the two-page spreads than intended, but still used some of the styles listed below.

2-page spreads with full bleed to the edge of the page 1 full page and 1 Spot treatment on facing page

1 full page w/ NO illustrations on facing page

Spot treatment on facing pages

Once you are ready to publish your children’s book, there are two different “paths”, at least if you’re going to publish through KDP. One for ebooks, and one for print books.


1) Use Kindle Kids Book Creator (this creates a mobi file).

2) Everything (including cover, but I uploaded my cover separately) can be in this ONE file that’s saved as a mobi.

3) Upload the cover (jpg for ebook) and the mobi file for the ebook to kdp.

4) Test your files.

5) Publish and order a copy of your ebook. :)

For the interior pages of your PRINT version:

1) Use Powerpoint to create a “slides” for the interior pages of your print book. This was a tip I learned through watching videos. It works great.

2) Design your slides, making sure to include space for the gutters and bleed.

3) Upload the 4000x2000px spreads and then use the left portion of the image for the left page and the right portion of the image for the right page.

4) Once you get everything laid out, save to a pdf.

5) Upload the pdf to kdp and you have a print book.

For the wraparound cover of your PRINT version:

1) KDP has a template to help get the bleed, spine, and a spot for the ISBN that goes on the back cover.

2) Create your wraparound cover in whatever software you prefer. I used Prequel, then Picmonkey. Save as a jpg.

3) Unlike the ebook cover, which lets you upload a jpg, the print version requires a pdf. I can’t remember WHY I didn’t just save my jpg as a pdf, but there was a reason. I think it lost quality. But something didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

4) So, Powerpoint to the rescue again. Design the Powerpoint “slide” to be the exact size that you need for your full wraparound cover, then upload your jpg and save as a pdf. Once you have this Powerpoint template set up, and know it’s works, your good to go for all your children’s books that are 8”x8”.

There’s more to all this than time allows here, but this is a pretty good overview of the method to my madness. It sounds like a ton of work, but once you go through the process once and create your templates, the next time is so much easier. And, honestly, I went from idea to published in 2 weeks, so explaining it seems to take longer than actually doing it.

Happy creating!!

Five Ways Writing is Like Dieting

Five Ways Writing is Like Dieting

Pam here. How many of us have set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight at some point or another? Or simply started a new health plan just to feel better in general? It’s amazing how much writing can be like dieting. And I’ve come up with FIVE ways the two are similar. Let’s compare…

1) Make Healthy Choices - We know that certain foods are more healthy than others, and even some healthy choices don’t agree with everyone. Find out what works for your writing. Are you a pantster or a plotter? Do you prefer writing all the way through or polishing as you go? Do you write one thousand words a day or throw everything but the contents of your fridge on the page in a month-long marathon writing session? Once you figure out the plan that works for you and the writing plan that you can see yourself sticking to for life, you’re on your way to a healthy writing career.

Five Ways Writing is Like Dieting

2) Start Over Every Three Hours - One of the selling points of a healthy lifestyle is not to beat yourself up if you cheat or go off your eating plan once or twice. The problem comes when you throw in the towel and one or two slip-ups become a month-long binge of unhealthy eating. It’s the same with writing. You slip up. You get behind. The story isn’t working. It happens to all of us. But don’t beat yourself up and let that slip-up turn in to long-term failure. Start over. I don’t necessarily mean start your project over, but start your PLAN over. Tired? Discouraged? The writing is like slogging through quicksand? You’ve hit a brick wall? Everything will look better in three hours, or after a good night’s sleep. Sometimes all it takes is a quick power walk to reset everything. Don’t give up. Take a deep breath and put Tip #1 into action.

And this leads directly into comparison #3….

3) Plan Ahead - The biggest mistake and what usually leads to going off-track is not keeping on-plan staples to prepare healthy meals and snacks on hand. I confess that I put off grocery shopping as long as possible, and this has sabotaged my healthy eating kick more than once. Eventually, with not a single fresh vegetable in the house, I’ll give in and do the marathon 3-5 hour shopping trip to restock the fridge, freezer, and pantry. The same is true in our writing. The more prepared we are, the better our writing sessions will flow. For some, this might mean a 20 page synopsis, detailed character charts complete with photos; for others, just reading what you wrote the day before and honing in on the emotions and moving forward works. Regardless, there is some planning taking place, whether it’s in your head or on paper. Stick to the plan.

4) Exercise - A bit of exercise is healthy for our bodies and our brain. It gets the heart pumping, increases our metabolism, and clears the brain. My exercise the last few years has been bending and lifting weights (grand babies), as well as sweeping, moping, and vacuuming twice a week since we had a crawler much of that time. Now that all the grands are walking, so I spend my time keeping up with them three times a week. I call that a win-win. As far as writing, we get a two-fer here. Physical exercise is good for both our health and to get our brain cells pumping. No brainer there! So take a break from the computer and chase some kids, or just take a brisk walk to recharge.

5) Seasons of Stress - One of the biggest pitfalls of any diet plan seems to be stress. A dedicated stress-eater can devour an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream in one sitting. Me? Give me a large (the biggest they make, baby!) bag of Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream chips and a container of French Onion dip and I can kick stress to the curb big time. This is the reason chips and dip are banned at my house. Sigh.

Five Ways Writing is Like Dieting

Recognize that there will be seasons that stress your writing plan to the max. Just like the “Calgon Take Me Away” commercials from yesteryear, we’re bombarded with life on a daily basis. Kids, spouses, elder care, day jobs in addition to writing, housework, shopping, cooking, (should I dare mention that April 15th is looming?). Add in a winter cold or flu that lingers for six weeks, or a sick child, an audit, a wedding, or car wreck, or any number of life-altering but totally unexpected stress inducing events and suddenly your well-planned writing schedule has gone the way of the empty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream container.

Don’t let a season of stress completely do you in. Deal with what you have to deal with even if you have to put writing on the back burner for a while. But when the dust settles, when the sick child is all better, when the audit is done, take a deep breath and start over.

Make healthy choices. Start over. Plan ahead. Exercise. Don't Stress.

And that, my Seeker friends, is a recipe for success whether you're writing or dieting.

Visit Pam at

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.

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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.

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 Retractable Vinyl BannersFive Ways Writing is Like DietingPam'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?

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