Amanda McTigue: On Writing

September 5, 2015

Bloggers Note:  Amanda will be leading a workshop for the Mt. Diablo California Writers Club on the topic of writing emotion on Saturday October 10, 2015.   Sign-in begins at 8:30 am at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Full breakfast included   9-9:30. General meeting 9:30. Workshop 9:45 – 12:45. $40 members, $50 non-members. Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday Oct 8. Contact Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book Going to Solace.

My debut novel, Going to Solace, offers stories to live by—literally. It’s Thanksgiving week, 1989. We’re in the Pineys, two hollows just outside Garnet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life may be going along for some, but for others, somebody’s sick, real sick, dying sick. Through interwoven narratives, we track a handful of characters whose paths cross at a local hospice called Solace. Some are country people. Some are far-flung, fancy people. All are helpers—resourceful family members, improvising professionals—each one determined to beat back death, or hurry him on about his business. In the end, they must find a way to stand up from the bedside and walk back into life after the dying is done. Neither grim nor roseate, it’s a book whose tone is bracing: often funny, sometimes wrenching, ultimately comforting. 

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

What matters to me is that we all keep at it with gusto, with more joy than pain. I’m all for prying those two words apart, “aspiring” and “writer.” By saying, “I aspire to write,” I’m already telling the story of someone who’s not writing when, in fact, we can always choose to write. Hey, I’m someone who squeezed her writing in over decades of paying the rent and taking care of loved ones. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s simple. I don’t aspire to write, I write. It’s on my calendar. Fifteen minutes a week or fifteen hours a day. Two words on the page or two thousand or none, zero. Those days count too. I chalk that silence up to the percolating we need before words appear. Bottom line, writing is a Just-Do-It opportunity we all share. The great news? The astonishing news? Guaranteed, if we keep at it, the work accrues. It takes shape. Eventually, we get good at it.

And then there’s aspiration, but it’s usually not writing to which we aspire (even when—especially when—we’re avoiding it!). For most of us, aspiration has to do with other things. Publication or adoring readers. The imprimatur of a hot agent or a mega-bucks movie deal. Or maybe we dream of creating a classic that lives on for centuries. We need our aspirations. They provide jet-fuel to our daily practice of writing. But we mustn’t confuse putting gas in the tank with the adventure of travel itself. The writing is the point. For me, that’s both an accurate and sustaining truth. To keep going, I have to love keeping going, even through the wanderings-in-the-wilderness of hollow drafts and demoralized edits. I aspire on walks, in the shower, as I drift off to sleep. But when it’s time to write, I just write.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Oh, my goodness, the flood your question triggers. There are some writers whose work so slays me that I’ve found myself closing a book or finishing a story or poem with a deep conviction that there’s no reason for me to write another word. I’m a Southern gal. The deities to whom return are Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. I bow to Mark Twain and Anton Chekhov. And then there’s my man, Shakespeare. As Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall? Manhattan?), “Well, I’ve got to model myself on someone…” More recently, I’m knocked out by the work of all kinds of contemporary writers: Elizabeth McCracken, Frederick Busch, George Saunders, Michael Ondaatje, Karen Russell, to name way too few. I’m a slow reader. I like tale tellers. I also like writerly writers whose stories sing through exquisite language.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The only important challenge has been and continues to be writing work that is so damn good it makes your teeth hurt. The rest of it is dogged determination. I’m a thin-skinned person who taught herself to go for the long haul, to submit and submit, weathering the endless No’s for that eventual Yes. It’s also been hard for me to find my editor(s), that is to say, professional readers who both resonate to what I’m up to and have an ability to send me farther, faster. That’s an ongoing search.

  1. What is your writing routine?

Writing is my favorite thing to do, even on bad days. It took me years to realize this, to drop my fear of inadequacy enough to feel that pull toward the page. I write pretty much daily. I’m a morning person. My husband and I get up early and read the papers—you know, real newspapers that smell of ink and ink your hands—big photos, gorgeous, large type. Old-school stuff. Then he’s off to work and I’m upstairs “in harness.” These days I have to set a timer reminding me get out of the chair and onto the treadmill. That’s not to say it’s all one happy flow; it’s not. But here’s a tip: before I abandon the desk each night, I leave myself a task, written on a Post It. I set it right here on my keyboard for the morning, so I won’t have any blank-page paralysis. If I’m in the middle of drafting, I leave myself a prompt. If I’m editing, I leave a next step or focus for the coming session. That helps enormously.

  1. Your range of writing is amazing – playwright, short stories, novels, and children books. What is your favorite form?

At the moment, prose fiction, long or short, feels wonderful in comparison to writing for performance. On stage, the rich world I’m imagining can only be hinted at through dialogue. What a pleasure to be free to capture any and everything running through me more fully. It’s daunting but liberating.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a children’s book character who would that be?

Aspirationally? Wilbur. I’d love for someone to weave over my head “SOME PIG.” More seriously—well, Scout lives in my mind. That’s an adult book about a girl, but her relationship with Atticus—I love the way she loves her daddy. Oh, and one more. This one for little kids. I really love Little Bear in A Kiss for Little Bear, a book that serves as my model for the perfect picaresque story.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

No question, it’s the weakness I can’t see yet. It’s the flaw in the writing I can’t recognize because I don’t know enough. I hate that moment (and it happens all the time) when I’m reading stuff back and I see a blunder, a hole, a stretch of boring or confusing or just plain unreadable junk. It’s suddenly so obvious. It’s been there all along. Why didn’t I see it before? Those are not good moments. But, of course, that’s the literal experience of learning.

  1. Tell us about your DreamTime series.

I haven’t thought about that in a while. Thanks for asking. The material for DreamTime grew out of a musical project. I had written the text for a children’s cantata with a composer I often work with, Jeff Langley. At the same time, I was considering migrating from the stage to the page. Going to Solace was in draft. So it occurred to me to adapt the cantata into a children’s book and self publish it in order to learn about publishing from the ground up. That’s so me. I come from DIY stock. It was one of the great decisions of my life. I taught myself book design. I studied the publishing business. I partnered with my niece; her childhood drawings became the illustrations (after much adjusting through Photoshop). Then I registered as a publisher with Lightning Source and learned the whole distribution and marketing routine. Phew.

I learned a lot in ways that have stood me in good stead with traditional publishers. Meanwhile, those books live in my heart. They present bedtime as an adventure—great for boys, for rambunctious kids and for children who are afraid of the dark. I published different read-out-loud versions customized for different kinds of caretakers, all with a sensitivity to the needs of same-sex parents, and an awareness that families come in all shapes and sizes.

    10. How do you balance writing with life?

You know what? I don’t. At this age, with my stepson all grown up and a husband who loves to work as much as I do, I get to go overboard. What a privilege. As long as I have a little brain power left and the sheer good fortune of relative health, it’s all about go-go-go on the page. I find that very happy-making.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Amanda McTigue. To learn more, visit her website at Ask your local bookstore to order Going to Solace for you or order it online at Amazon. It’s available in hardcover, paperback and all e-book formats.

Blogger’s Post Meeting Note:   Amanda also presented a workshop on what voice can do for your writing at the Mount Diablo California Writer’s Club meeting on October 11th 2014.  The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.  Here’s what one member had to say:

Amanda exceeded our greatest expectations – she was fabulous – vivacious, engaging, interesting, versatile, authentic  and prepared. She used lots of visuals to engage us in writing different voices.  Lyn Roberts


August 20, 2015

Bloggers Note: Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of the lit journal 100 Word Story, and cooperative co-founder of the Flash Fiction Collective, will be speaking on the topic of The Power of Writing with Abandon at the September 12th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests. Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required:  RSVP to  Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations by Wednesday 9/9/15. 

Here are some noteworthy quotes on topics ranging from National Novel Writing Month, to writing with brevity, to how writing can change the world. I hope these interview excerpts will inspire you to want to learn more on September 12th:


I think writers are generally taught to write more rather than less—from the first time a teacher tells a student in elementary school to add detail to a sentence, to include more supporting evidence, etc. That’s good to begin with, but at a certain point, a writer needs to realize how writing less, whether leaving things out or writing more succinctly, serves a story. A writer needs to learn how a story moves best through the whorls of mystery and suspense created by the gaps of a story.

Writers naturally try to prove themselves through their words, through florid descriptions, curlicues of syntax. Our words can sometimes resemble a body builder’s muscles, which cover up the true person inside, so a writer has to find the balance of words and the textures that serve the story.


National Novel Writing Month is a rollicking rollercoaster ride of creativity that happens every November. By nature it’s excessive and extreme, encouraging people to aim higher, to write more, to accomplish bigger and bigger things. It also encourages people to dare to experiment and break all sorts of boundaries. So it can’t possibly be described in one sentence. At its simplest, though, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.


Writing is thinking. We discover our thoughts in all of their nuances and counterpoints through language. We also open up new pathways and new possibilities—we imagine new worlds—when we allow ourselves to channel language and riff through the concepts and images it delivers.
Stories also connect us with others, and help us see life through others’ viewpoints. Writing heightens your sense of the world around you and within yourself. You’ll notice things, you’ll notice yourself, you’ll seek new experiences, just by writing stories.


I posit that our stories connect us as humans like nothing else. We are all, at the most fundamental level, the stories we tell ourselves. The way we see other people and the world is a story. Every shift in a narrative, whether personal or cultural, changes us and how we interact with others.

I read that one of the things that truly changed our culture’s perception of women was the stories of women on TV shows. Think about the difference between June Cleaver in the 50s and Clare Huxtable in the 80s, and then all of the strong, dynamic, independent women on TV shows now. Those stories weren’t the symptoms, but the agents of cultural change.

Stories existed before societies formed themselves. Stories come soon after our first breath. They’re our first step out of the reptilian brain. I can write a million sentences on this subject, but I guess I’ll just ask how could creative expression not change the world?

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GRANT FAULKNER AND HIS BOOKS, Fissures: One Hundred 100-Word Stories and The Names of All Things –  Visit Grant’s Website:

An Interview with Eric Elfman

April 4, 2015

ericcoverBloggers Note: Eric Elfman will be speaking on the topic of How to Hook Them From The First Page  at the April 11th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required: Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, April 8. Contact Barbara Bentley at, or by phone at (925) 212-4727.

1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book: Edison Alley?

Neal Shusterman and I are having a lot of fun writing this series of novels about Nick and his friends trying to retrieve the last inventions of Nikola Tesla, which our protagonist inadvertently sold at a garage sale in Tesla’s Attic (the first book of our series). Each of Tesla’s objects has a power that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the world. And, as it happens, the wrong hands are trying to get ahold of the inventions: the Accelerati, a secret society of sinister scientists founded a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison.

Our goal was to fill the books with laughter along with the fantasy and fast-paced action. One of my favorite moments in the second novel, Edison’s Alley, is the scene illustrated on the cover. A small team of Accelerati agents, led by Dr. Jorgenson, raids Nick’s house to steal the objects he has recovered so far. To stop them, Nick grabs something that looks like an ordinary household fan—but actually has the power to generate an ice storm. Nick points the fan at Dr. Jorgenson and shouts “Freeze!” But the scientist doesn’t listen to him because he doesn’t know that Nick means it literally!

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a writing partner?

As every writer knows, writing can be a solitary pursuit—many hours spent alone in a room with nothing but the blank page (or screen) and your thoughts. So the first advantage: it’s simply more fun to write with a partner! (Of course, it has to be the right partner!) Neal and I have a similar sense of story, and a similar sense of humor, too. We will toss ideas and lines back and forth, trying to make each other laugh, and sometimes at the end of the day it feels like we’ve just spent six hours goofing off, then we look down and twelve pages have been written.

Another advantage is being able to find out right away if something is funny or not. When I’m working on a project alone and I write something that I think is funny, well, it might only be me who thinks it’s funny! But if I say something that makes Neal laugh, I can extrapolate outward that if one other person laughed then it’s likely many other people will find it funny too!

Unlike some writing partners who exchange and edit each other’s chapters, Neal and I usually try to get in the same room together to write. And that’s another advantage: it keeps us working! If one of us doesn’t feel like writing that day, but the other has made the effort to get there, we feel a powerful obligation to write.

As far as potential disadvantages, one thing I’m often asked is what happens when we disagree. This can be a major downside in a writing partnership, and is the reason many dissolve. Neal and I sidestep this problem because each of us has total veto power over any idea or element the other comes up with, and so we never argue. If I come up with an idea that I love and Neal hates it, or vice versa, we don’t argue. We simply let that idea go, and say, “Let’s come up with something better.” And we always do!

3. What are the biggest mistakes you see in an author’s first pages?

Many new authors don’t appreciate the importance of the first page. As a writing coach, I have read manuscripts by good writers that begin with lengthy scenic description, or obscure backstory, or a random conversation that leads nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that these writers are, in effect, treading water before their story begins.
By the bottom of the first page the reader should have a sense of where the story is going, and the tension that comes from knowing that something is about to happen or be revealed. Many first pages simply provide information when the opening page needs to be compelling. There has to be a reason for the reader to turn the page. Put another way, the author has one page to grab the reader by creating a living, breathing, three-dimensional character we care about, with a hint of the story to come, and a narrative voice the reader connects to. That’s all!

4. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

While a social media presence seems, increasingly, to be a requirement for an established writer (and I have to admit that my own is woefully inadequate!), I don’t feel it’s as important for writers at or near the beginning of their careers.
While a “platform” of some kind can’t hurt a writer hoping to sell their first book to a publisher (and having tens of thousands of followers will certainly help!), the one thing a new writer needs more than anything is an incredibly good, page-turner of a manuscript. The advice I heard an agent at a conference give to a room full of first time writers still rings true: instead of spending time on Twitter or Facebook or your website, devote that time to polishing your manuscript.

5. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

The thing I get the most joy from, on an on-going basis, is speaking at schools. When I appear in front of a group of youngsters—whether a small gathering or several classes in an auditorium—and I get to see their enthusiasm about reading and writing, and they get to see that writers are real people, it helps remind me why I am doing this. And kids are honest, too—they will ask you anything and really tell you what they think! I occasionally lead writing workshops for small groups of students at the schools I visit, and I feel privileged to see the passion and energy and talent they bring to their work.

But the single moment from my career that meant the most to me came shortly after my first book was published — The Very Scary Almanac, an offbeat almanac from Random House. I can still vividly remember the first time I walked into a bookstore and there it was, my book, on the shelf, where anyone could buy it. That’s a a feeling I will never forget.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Eric Elfman. To learn more visit his website:

An Interview with Jordan Rosenfeld

February 20, 2015

1. Can you give us some highlights from your book: Making a Scene?

I consider the scene the “essential DNA” of any good story—if you learn how to balance and wield the ingredients of a scene, you have the most fundamental pieces of story. My forthcoming book with Martha Alderson, Writing Deep Scenes” will go further and show you how to stack your scenes, and what kinds, to build a strong plot.

2. What do you think is the best technique to create tension?

The greatest technique may be uncertainty; creating a“push-pull” energy in every scene. That means nothing comes easy—dialogue is never flat or simple, the reader is always wondering what is coming next. You never “give” the reader exactly what s/he wants, but keep something up in the air, keep yearning alive. This also means paying attention to your language.

3. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I just wrote a piece about the “awkward female heroines” of my youth for DAME [] and I’d have to say that I was strongly influenced as a child by writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Louisa May Alcott, and when I grew up I gravitated to Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Donna Tartt. I like strong female writers with a propensity toward darkness.

4. Describe your path to publication.

I often call it my “stumble and bumble” path to success. I have a BA in Liberal Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing—not exactly highly employable degrees. I’ve always just thrown myself in the path of what I loved. Did a lot of volunteer gigs that put me close to writers: led a literary salon, hosted and recorded a literary radio show (in which I got to interview some of my literary heroes like Louise Erdrich and TC Boyle). I tend to ignore advice that says “you should” or “you can’t” and go my own way. When I sold Make a Scene to Writer’s Digest Books, I had no platform, not much name for myself and no agent. If I listened to the advice I should not have been able to do that. My motto is “practice, polish, persist.” And also: “Say yes to new opportunities even if they scare you.”

5. What are the biggest mistakes you see in the manuscripts that you edit?

Lack of craft. People rush their stories out and don’t take the time to care about their sentences, their character development, grounding a reader in a scene, working on dialogue. To me, this is the one downside of the speed by which self-publishing moves—people have begun to sacrifice the work needed to revise and get feedback.

6. Do you think a social media presence is necessary to get a book deal?

In this day and age, it certainly helps. I don’t know if it’s necessary as much for fiction, but for non-fiction, yes.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a breed of cat what would it be?

Siamese. Because they are alternately graceful and annoying. They are the “snobs” of the cat world, but when you actually get to know them, they’re quite cuddly.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

Over-writing. I have to work on my own wordiness, over-use of adjectives, and imagery.

9. In this changing industry, do you think self-publication is a good career path for an author?

If by “career” you mean is self-publishing a good way to make money, the answer is: sometimes. But I can’t, in good faith say: quit your day job. Amazon, which is in many ways the overlord of self-publishing, no matter what service you use, since they do everything better, faster and cheaper, and ultimately control the price points, and the search algorithms, is making it harder for self-publishers to make as much money as they did when it all blew up several years ago. But like any aspect of publishing, if you find a niche and you’re good at it, sure, you can make some income off of it.

10. How do you handle rejection and what advice do you have for authors facing their 10th, 20th, 50th rejection?

The very basis of my forthcoming book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence is that you must find the joy and the meaning in your work so that you can weather the rejection and discouragement. It has to matter to you beyond approval, publication and praise or you will fall prey to discouragement. I also say that if you’re facing more rejection than anything else, it’s probably a good idea to revisit the work and go deeper into it. Otherwise, maybe look at the places you’re choosing to submit, and rethink them, as well. I’ve been pursuing a writing career for twenty years and most of my biggest success has come in the last year. There has been plenty of small success along the way, but this year, something shifted. So, above all: persist!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jordan Rosenfeld. To learn more visit her website):

An Interview with Mystery Writer Susan Shea

February 7, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, The King’s Jar.

When an anthropologist she had just met in San Francisco is killed in his lab and a priceless artifact he was studying is stolen, Dani O’Rourke is drawn into the hunt for the thief and killer. She is the chief fundraiser for the museum that was about to receive the King’s Jar, and an exhibit and black tie dinner in Manhattan to honor the billionaire donor are up in the air. As she juggles imperious donors, flustered volunteers, a charismatic TV host, a nervous boss, and her impulsive ex-husband who seems to show up everywhere, she edges closer – too close – to identifying the real villain.

2. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It’s the same advice we all get, but that doesn’t make it less important: Keep writing. Don’t give up the first time it doesn’t come easy or the first time you get feedback that says you have further to go. We all start at the beginning – all of us. It’s the ones who grit their teeth, chain themselves to the chair, and gut it through to “The End” who learn and grow into really good writers.

3. Who inspired your character Dani O’Rourke?

Dani’s a combination of real women I know or read about, with something of me in her voice, and a lot of the professional skills I have admired in my colleagues over the years. One big difference between me and Dani is her failed marriage to a charming but highly impulsive man with $450 million, two Porsches, and a pied a terre in Paris!

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The first one was finding the time, energy, and focus to finish a full length novel while holding down a demanding job that also required writing. The second was finding a publisher (I got lucky and found a great agent early on) in the dark days of 2008 after the market crash, when a lot of imprints were temporarily suspending their buying.

5. How did you find your agent?

Kimberley Cameron was on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference – a first-rate program, by the way – and was among the faculty willing to read our first 20 pages. By that time, Murder in the Abstract had gone through lots of revisions and a writing group’s crits, so it was pretty polished. She signed me on the spot. I was speechless!

6. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Start with Jane Austen, whose character portraits, romantic tensions, and funny bits delight me again and again. Anthony Trollope’s wicked satire, Agatha Christie’s devilish plots, Janet Evanovitch’s breezy first person prose, Sue Grafton’s modern woman… the list goes on and on.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a character in a murder mystery (e.g., sleuth, police investigator, etc.) who would that be?

Well, I guess it would be what I did with the series: I’d be a fundraiser who works with the uber rich (entitled), artists (also entitled) and fascinating, creative people, but whose slightly cynical interior commentary is best kept to herself.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

The discipline to do rewriting and to work every day even when the garden beckons.

9. What is your writing routine?

See above. Sketchy at best. I’m not a morning person, so the best time is usually from about 2 p.m. until 7 or 7:30. My study gets messier and messier until things begin slipping onto the floor when one of my cats marches across the desk, and then I have to set aside a day to get rid of paper.

10. What drew you to writing crime fiction?

I like crime fiction. I love series. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series delighted me and gave me an idea that I could at least try it. Mysteries have a format, a structure on which to build, and for me coming into fiction after a long career writing other kinds of prose, it was a real help and confidence builder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan Shea. To learn more visit her website ( or follow her on Criminal Minds ( Her print and e-books and the Audible version of The King’s Jar are available on Amazon and at some indie bookstores.

Self-Publishing Tips from Smashword’s Jim Azevedo

January 31, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize the services of Smashwords.

Smashwords provides free ebook publishing and distribution services for self-published authors. When you click “Publish” at the Smashwords site, you’ll be asked to upload your original document as either an epub file or a Microsoft Word .doc file (we recommend a Word .doc file). Once your book is uploaded, it’s converted into every important ebook file type (e.g. mobi, epub, pdf, etc.) and then checked for any formatting errors. This process takes about 5 minutes, after which your book is available for immediate sale and sampling at If no formatting errors are detected, the book is ready for distribution through our global retail network–including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster and more–as well as to libraries through our partnerships with OverDrive and Baker & Taylor. I should point out that Smashwords is free to join, free to publish, free to distribute, and the ebook conversion is also free. Authors can also make unlimited changes to their books at no charge. Smashwords only makes money if our authors’ books sell. We take a 10% commission, and the author earns 60-80% of their ebook’s list price as their royalty.

2. Besides writing a super awesome book, what is the most important thing a self-published author can do to promote their books?

Besides writing a super-awesome book, the most important thing an author can do to promote their books is to make their books as findable as possible. To make your books as findable as possible, distribute all of your books to all the places where readers go to find books. This means a reader should be able to find your books at any of the major online ebook retailers, subscription services and at libraries. On your website, blog or favorite social media platform, if you’re only providing a link to one retail store, you’re missing out on all the readers who prefer to shop elsewhere. So, don’t just link to one store where your book is for sale–link to all of them. Make your books as accessible and affordable as possible. Remember, within every ebook you have the opportunity to promote your other titles, link to your website, etc. Think of every book that you write and every hyperlink that you provide as paths that lead the reader back to you, the author, and to your other books.

3. What is the most important “lessons learned” that Smashwords has discovered since it started in 2008?

I’ll answer this from a Smashwords business perspective first, which I believe also applies to the business of being an author. The most important lesson learned is that everything is changing all the time. You can ill afford to rest on your laurels or stop innovating or stop learning. In the same vein, you also can’t afford to be paralyzed by fear, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your style or your marketing, and don’t be afraid to fail. From an author perspective, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that finding time to write must be your number one priority. This isn’t just my advice, but advice culled from dozens of bestselling authors I’ve either met or who I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak at conferences.

4. You trained to public speak through Toastmasters, what other advice would you give to writers faced with giving talks to promote their books?

Boy, this could be the topic of a completely separate interview. I’ll boil it down to three key pieces of advice. First, jump into the fire. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way and proactively seek out more. I know it’s scary, but nothing alleviates fear more than experience. When I started public speaking, I transitioned from 5-7 minute Toastmaster speeches to presentations that were at least 45 minutes long. But two years later, I’ve spoken at 40 different events and presented about 60 hours worth of material. To gain experience, seek out opportunities to speak at CWC meetings, at work, at school, at Toastmasters, and even at writers’ conferences. Consider submitting a speaking proposal for a panel session at a writers’ conference with some of your fellow author friends sitting on the panel with you. That way, you’re exposed to a live audience but you have backup if needed.

Second, rehearse as early and as often as you can. Most of our nervousness derives from some internal lack of confidence. However, the more prepared you are the more confident you’ll be. While different speakers have developed different techniques to help prepare, what works for me is reading through my slides several times out loud, so I can get used to the sound of my voice. I’ll also project the slides onto a wall and pretend like I’m speaking to an audience. Audiences appreciate a prepared and knowledgeable speaker. Remember that your presentation isn’t about perfection. It’s about providing information to an audience that’s on your side and eager to hear what you have to say.

Third, show up early and chat with the attendees and the other presenters. When I first started publicly speaking, I convinced myself that everyone in the audience was smarter than me and that I would be exposed as a fraud. Talk about pressure! However, whenever I found the time to meet the other presenters or members of the audience, I learned that they were normal, very friendly people who weren’t out to get me. Another advantage you’ll have by chatting with others before you start, is that you’ll find you have friends in the audience when you begin. They will be the people who are smiling brightly at you as you cover your key points.

5. What is the most common formatting error that you see?

The most common formatting error continues to be a hodgepodge of different paragraph styles within the same document, prior to ebook conversion. If writing in Microsoft Word, the author might have Normal Style for one paragraph, Body Text in another paragraph, and possibly even multiple Heading styles. Often, in Microsoft Word, the author may not even realize they have multiple conflicting paragraph styles. Once converted into an ebook, this formatting error can cause the ebook to have inconsistent font sizes from one paragraph to the next. As you can imagine, this can make for an annoying read. Fortunately, the fix is easy. Simply by unifying the entire document under a single paragraph style (e.g. Normal) can take care of the issue. The author can still create custom sections to enhance the appearance of their book. For more detailed advice, be sure to download our free formatting guide, the Smashwords Style Guide, here:

6. When not working at Smashwords, you are a drummer in a band called Rivals, if you were to describe yourself as a famous musician who would that be?

I don’t know that I can describe myself as Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, but I’ve admired his career for years. Dave reached celebrity status as the drummer for Nirvana, the gritty punk rock band widely credited for launching the so-called “grunge” movement of the 1990s while simultaneously destroying the “hair metal” scene of the 1980s. Nirvana’s raw, authentic sound was refreshing to music fans that had grown tired of a manufactured look and sound. After the demise of Nirvana, Dave founded the Foo Fighters, now recognized as one of the most successful bands in history. More recently, his passion for music led to his producing and directing of two critically acclaimed films, Sound City in 2013 and the HBO series Sonic Highways in 2014. My drumming style is similar to Dave’s, but what I admire about the man is how he’s stayed true to his passion throughout his life. I think there’s a lesson there, whether you’re a musician, an author or a bricklayer. If you love what you do, keep doing it no matter what.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jim Azevedo. To learn more about Smashwords visit or follow their blog at

Winning and Not Winning During NaNoWriMo

December 2, 2014

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is over. I did not “win,” because I did not write 50,000 words, but I won is so many other ways and I did write 41,314 words! In truth, I hadn’t really set out to “win,” My goal was to finish my YA novel project – but sadly, I didn’t achieve that goal either. I had 23 chapters under my belt with what I thought was only 8 more to go, but my muse had other ideas. I am currently writing Chapter 39 and while there is an end on the horizon, I’m not going to predict how many more chapters it will take to get there.

Here’s a few things I learned so much from the NaNoWriMo process:

1). It takes me about 2 hours to write about 1600 words.
2). It doesn’t work for me to focus only on word count when I am writing historical fiction. I need to spend the time on research. (Maybe next year I will choose a different sort of project).
3). My pre-made muse board was a huge help to keep me on track.
4). My story has more depth and I think is more cohesive because of the discipline of writing something on a daily basis, even if I skipped a day now and then or didn’t get a chance to write down the words that I’d conjured. I was more grounded in the world I created.
5). I love, love, love to write.


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