The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers



How long does it take to write a book, including revisions?

“What?  You wrote a novel in one year?  That’s crazy, it takes years to write a novel.” This was a friend’s response when I gave her the news.  At the time, I thought she was really off base.  Years?  What was she thinking? 

eight lives to finish novelBut here we are, a century later, and I’m still revising, rewriting, and rethinking my manuscript. Well, it hasn’t been exactly a century, but it feels like it. It’s a little less than that—let’s make that seven years later. So I’m the unwitting proof of my friend’s hypothesis.    

Writing my novel has been a slow and steady labor of love. It must be the longest labor ever experienced by any woman who ever roamed this planet.  I’m hoping for the day when this baby is finished gestating! 

I’m wondering:

Fellow WRITERS, how about you?  How long have you been working on the same project?  If you’ve completed your book and its revisions, how long did it take?

Fellow READERS, when you’re deep into a great read, do you ever wonder how long it took the author to write that book?                                                                                           


Online and in magazines for writers, I’ve seen trillions of articles, businesses, books, and other opportunities that practically guarantee writing success in its many forms.  I started a search to find the remedy to my snail’s pace and lack of progress in snagging an agent.  Reading the titles, I became rapturously encouraged and giddy with hope that I had found my manuscript’s deliverance.  Yes, with these resources and a few months of installment payments, I could be published!  No doubt.  Can you say: SUCCESS

I’d like to share my findings with you, but to protect the innocent, I’m only offering titles in these lists.  (You’re welcome to Google, too. Remember, “God helps those who help themselves.”)  I’ll also share my comments and questions, FYI.  Have fun!

My List of Sure-Fire Paths to Publication

On writing a best seller…

best seller

How To Write A Bestseller In 40 Days Or Less

How To Write A Bestseller In A Weekend

Well, I’ll be…did I waste eight years of writing?  Dang.


On writing just plain successful novels…


How To Write A Successful Novel 

How To Write Successful Nonfiction

I get it now— successful books take longer to write than best sellers. 


On secrets…

Self-Publishing Secrets

The Secret To Writing A Bestselling Novel ~ Tell me!  Tell me!

Are they really SECRETS if they’re all over the internet?


On learning how to write…


The Best Writing Instruction On The Web – New Workshops Start Weekly 

How To Add Tension In Your Scenes  ~ Eh, I’ve got plenty of tension already. 

Top Ten Errors Writers Make That Editors Hate  ~ Yeah, but if writers didn’t make errors, would editors still have jobs? 


On getting started…

How To Hook Your Reader   hook In The First Sentence

Get An Agent With Your First 10 Pages

Eight Things First-Time Novelists Need To Avoid 

How about eight things first-time novelists need to DO?


On the subject of query letters…

killer whale

How To Write A Killer Query

How Not To Write A Killer Query

Huh? But I don’t want to KILL an agent!


The Holy Grail, better known as getting published…


Learn How To Write And Publish Your Memoir In 10 Painless Steps!  ~ Ibuprofen?

Write And Sell Your Mystery, Suspense, Or Thriller Novel For Any Market

How To Get Your Book Published In Six Painful Steps  — Ouch.

How To Get Your Nonfiction Book Published By A Mainstream Publisher

Step By Step Guide To Publishing Your Novel

How To Get Your Book Published – For Dummies  ~Yada yada, I want to know how THIS dummy gets published! 


On your writing career…


Get Paid For Your Writing     ~ Ya think?   

                                Write For Publication!  ~ Duh, what else would I do with it?  Stock the OUTHOUSE?

Enhance Your Writing Career In 3 Months

How To Be A Ghostwriter     ~ Do I have to be dead to be a ghostwriter?


Before you give up…

don't give up

It’s Time To Finally Get Published

Publish Your Book Today!

Piece of cake…eh?

       ©  Susanne Marie Poulette



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My Takeaways From The Unicorn Writers’ Conference

By Susanne Marie Poulette

unicorn 004

It was another great conference this year.  Kudos to Jan Kardys, and all the dedicated organizers and staff of the Unicorn Writers’ Conference!  Now, my takeaways, as promised:

♦ Stephanie Evanovich gave the keynote address. She’s as funny in person as she is in print, a first class comedian with a drama background, and what a hoot.  Stephanie told about her path to publication, much faster than the typical book launch, but nothing to do with the surname she shares with her aunt, Janet Evanovich.  Although she hasn’t suffered the throes of years of rejections like so many of us, Stephanie made it clear that she understands the frustrations of trying to snag a book deal. Her message was one of encouragement.  She urged writers to persevere, to have confidence in their writing and in their voices, and resist giving up in the face of rejection.  She cautioned against reading one’s own reviews.  Stephanie EStephanie cited an example of a criticism made to her about point-of-view, saying that it threw her for a loop (my words, not an exact quote, but that’s the idea).  I admit that I had the very same experience in a writing group, that sent me reeling, but also sent me researching extensively.  I learned that some comments can be well meaning and helpful, but they can also be incorrect and derail the writing process.

Stephanie said each reviewer has their own opinion, and we can’t please them all.  The important thing is to keep writing and growing as a writer.  She gave big girl pantiesa great example of a poor review when someone apparently got caught up in a Tangle of Names.  The confused reviewer wrote that “Evanovich” should stick to writing about her long-time protagonist, Stephanie Plum—who, by the way, is the star of her Aunt Janet’s series.  So much for reviews, eh?  I do want to add that I just picked up Stephanie’s latest book.  I have this annoying habit of laughing out loud while reading, (it annoys others, not me) and this book doesn’t help me break that pattern.  If you like a good laugh, you’ll enjoy Big Girl Panties.


♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

♦ Beena Kamlani is a senior editor at Penguin Viking, an award winning author, and professor.  Due to a review appointment, I attended only the first half of her workshop on editing. How I wish I could have heard more.  I’d love to pop downstate to Hunter College and take her editing course.  She speaks beautifully about the art of writing. I’ll share my snippets:

Memoir: Never overextend the readers, let the book reveal your story, bit by bit. Immediacy is important, let readers drink it in, in the present tense. Make them see what you saw, and let your feelings for what you saw speak to them.

Fiction: Drop breadcrumbs for the reader and follow through with a reason for everything. Don’t reveal too much all at once. Dramatize, don’t tell everything. All dialog has to have a reason, but what characters don’t say is as important as what they do say. It heightens interest when the reader doesn’t know. Think about what makes you turn the page. Don’t refresh the reader’s memory, trust the reader to remember, and continue on with your story.

Click on the book for a video of Beena Kamlani describing how a developmental editor works with an author on the path to publication:

♦ Lane Heymont, literary agent and author, presented “World Building,” that is, creating settings.  He described the infrastructure of a story, creating a consistent society with norms, culture, and rules.  Setting needs a history to give the sense of its existence.  It should be realistic, using the five senses to build a unique world, but it has to make sense.  Share the world of your setting throughout the book, not all at once, and get to the action right away.

Lane suggests making a setting sketch and provided a downloadable handout for those who attended his workshop.  Since it’s out there on the web, it may be fair game if you want to take a peek:


Reid Castle, Unicorn Writers' Conference, August, 2015

Reid Castle, Unicorn Writers’ Conference, August, 2015

♦ Eliza Shallcross, author, editor, and copywriter with 30 years of experience, presented “Book Copy as a Marketing Tool.”  Before this workshop, I didn’t have a clue about “book cover copy,” or any of its numerous components.  Apparently, book cover copy services ( good tongue twister?) are part of the traditional publishing process, but I wonder how many self-publishing authors are aware of all the marketing factors involved in cover copy.  So what is it?  It applies to all types of books, hardcover, mass market paperback, trade paperback, and eBook. It’s everything that goes on a book’s front and back covers, and flaps.  It’s the artwork, title, tag line (short teaser), author’s name with photo and biography, quotes from reviews, story description, and more, all within word count limitations.  The book cover itself is the marketing tool, appealing to the reader and growing the author’s readership. Eliza Shallcross provides individual editing and copywriting services. You can find her at:


Sorry, but I’m hoarding the pearls of wisdom from my two excellent one-to-one manuscript review sessions (first 40 pages).  All kidding aside, the reviews were invaluable, and I’m hard at work making revisions based on their suggestions. The Unicorn Writers’ Conference provides these affordable, 30-minute sessions with agents, editors, and speakers.  I hope you can attend this conference and the review session opportunities next year.

© S M Poulette




Does Oops! Have a Plural?

By Susanne Marie Poulette

The writers’ conference was great, and I’ll have takeaways for you in my next post.  But first I want to share my Genre Dinner experience.  It was a new event this year, on the Friday evening before Saturday’s conference.  What a wonderful idea, dining with other attendees who also write in my genre.  There were two snags, however, and they’re kind of funny, at least nowThey were definitely not funny at the time.

First, my book doesn’t really fit into any one, neat, specific genre. Since I grumbled about this in my last post, I’ll spare you the details this time.  So, there I was, in Rye, NY, thinking my biggest hurdle was to find the appropriate genre table once I arrived at the hotel dining room.  I was wrong.  Finding the hotel was the problem.  road-signs-confusionHey, I’m just a country girl from Saratoga County, foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, and apparently, completely incompetent at driving in Westchester County.  It’s a beautiful place, but I wouldn’t want to drive there…again.  Let me put it this way, Charlie had a better chance of getting off the MTA at the Scully Square Station, than I ever had of getting off the Hutchinson River Parkway.  I thought that  I’d be the one who’d never return. Suburban-looking roads suddenly transformed into parkways that launched me on a continuous loop, orbiting around several towns—I lost count—and a couple of counties, and the state of Connecticut.  I have a lovely Connecticut police officer to thank for excellent directions to get back to New York, and also a fabulous bellman from the hotel where dessert was being served at my genre dinner. After a few panicked calls to the hotel, the concierge sent their bellman to lead me back on the straight and narrow.  I wasn’t too embarrassed, after all, I’m from the foothills of the Adirondacks.  (Please imagine a shoulder shrug.)

Part Two.  Oh yes, there’s more.  When I finally arrived at the hotel, about two weeks late for dinner, I learned that there were two dinners going on: one for writer-attendees like me, and the other, for faculty, including agents, editors, well-published authors, and let’s just say, some big names in publishing. banquet-large

I found the dining room, but the tables weren’t marked by genre.  I figured the writers must have grouped themselves in some other way. I spotted an empty place at a table and thought, what the heck, I could fit in with romance or sci-fi writers, or whatever they turned out to be. After my hour-long expedition of circling the county map with my blood pressure ready to blow its fuse, some gory werewolf talk would be relaxing.  I laid claim to the open seat and found my way to the buffet to scavenge through the leftovers. The conversation at the table was wonderful!  These were some truly erudite people, and a bit over my head some of the time.  Okay, most of the time.  In speaking with the man seated next to me, I asked if he was published yet.  That’s why writers go to these conferences, to relocate their manuscripts to a publisher’s desk.  So I thought it was a fair question, until I coaxed the answer out of this nice, unpretentious man, who had published six novels and teaches writing courses. Oops. th (2) I focused intently on buttering my roll, thinking that something didn’t feel right.  Then someone from across the table asked me which workshop I was going to present on the next day. Oops again. Wrong table?  It gets better.  After dessert and coffee, and an organizer’s speech with instructions to the faculty, I hit me. I wasn’t at the wrong table. I was in the wrong room.



I sat for that dinner with three well-published authors and one very accomplished editor.  I thoroughly enjoyed their conversation, and their company.  They were most casual and gracious and understanding when I explained that the only thing I would present the next day was me!  I think I even got a chuckle out of them.

Westchester County really is a beautiful area, and I’m sure that if required, I could learn to drive there and like it. The local folks I met there were friendly and helpful, and made my visit a pleasant one.  

So after all this kicking and screaming all the way into the techno age, I will finally relent and give up the ghost, er, I mean—that last bastion of navigation independence—my MAPS.  I’ll activate my GPS app.  Yup, I’m giving up my maps for apps.  

sign over

                      I WAS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS!


Please watch for my Unicorn Writers’ Conference takeaways in the next post.

                                                                                            ©  SM Poulette


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Pulitzer Prize Winner Jane Smiley Visits Northshire Bookstore

By Peggy Morehouse

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley visited Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY to discuss her new trilogy about the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America. IMG_0648 Smiley walked in wearing a Saratoga Racing Hall of Fame cap that she purchased earlier that day, rainbow colored high tops, and of course, a smile. She then answered questions about her books and her life.


Jane Smiley is on the left.

She explained that each volume of her new trilogy spans 33-to-34 years of the Langdon family, five wildly different children who got their start on an Iowa farm. Smiley wanted to explore how characters transform throughout their lives and how they stay the same. From the time they were born until they died, she focused on a component of Langdons’ psyche that never changed. As intriguing as that sounds, the story doesn’t start on page one. It begins in the dedication:

This trilogy is dedicated to John Whiston, Bill Silag, Steve Mortensen, and Jack Canning, with many thanks for decades of patience, laughter, insight, information, and assistance.

Ike Pulver, Director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library, who interviewed Ms. Smiley asked, “Are those four men your husbands?” Jane Smiley grinned and nodded with a glint in her eye, then relayed that she has been divorced three times and married four. Proving that she could have a second career as a comedian, Smiley mused about her marriages and how these four men not only influenced her personally, but helped with her writing. She conveyed that her current husband is a great listener. When Smiley finishes her writing for the day, she reads to him hoping for a critique. “If he falls asleep, I know I need to add more sex.” IMG_0661Besides writing and romance, Smiley likes to wear caps that she collects, and she loves horses. She has written books with her favorite animal as the main character including Horse Heaven and True Blue, and stated that there is at least one in all sixteen of her novels. She described her relationship with horses by saying, “They’re like having a friend that you can ride.”

When asked about what books influenced her, she said that The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew were the first characters who kept her eyes glued to a book when she was a young girl. However, reading Giants of the Earth by Ole Edvart Rolvaag  in ninth grade had a profound impact on her life. “What you read when you’re 13, shapes your consciousness.”

After her interview, Smiley welcomed questions from the audience, and signed books while conversing with her Saratoga fans. IMG_0677 To learn more about Jane Smiley visit her website:

Stop by her Facebook Page at:

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Take a Fascinating Australian Adventure with J.R. Rogers’s Magical Novel, “The Gift of Sunderland”

By Peggy Morehouse

A novel has the power to take its readers to a whole new world where they’ll meet enchanting characters and embark on thrilling journeys. Author J.R. Rogers has created a trip worth taking with her Australian Fantasy Adventure series. She just released her second book in the series and is here to tell us all about it:

  1. The Gift of Sunderland is the second in a series? Tell us where you came up with the idea for this magical story and what audience would enjoy it most?

J.R.: I have enjoyed reading and writing for many years. It’s just one of my passions. My other passion is animals. Fascinated with all creatures as a child, (I had an iguana, a snake, mice, a dog, and a cat, several birds, and an occasional gold fish). The unusual animals that can only be found in Australia captivated me. One day I realized that I could combine these two loves, thus the Australian Fantasy Adventure series was born. My aim was to entertain while educating young readers, not just about some weird marsupial down under, but about the plight of threatened animals all around the world. I wrote it for the middle grade crowd, ages 8-12, but I am finding that everyone loves a great character. It doesn’t matter if that character happens to be a numbat or a quoll. Oh, don’t recognize those animals? Check out the book—the glossary at the back has the info.


The next book is entitled, The Last Ayer, and it’s on the drawing board now. This is the exciting time, the creative and imaginative time, and I love every minute.

  1. The setting for your novel series is Australia. How much is based on fact and how much is based on fiction?

J.R.: Yes, the fantasy is loosely based on the Australian landscape. In this fantasy world, called Sunderland, there is mention of actual places in Australia. So the only factual information is the animals themselves and some particular places that were made a part of the story. Anything real has been placed in the glossary so that my readers can obtain more information about those animals and places.

For example, the final battle in The Gift of Sunderland, takes place beneath a mountain called Mt. Olga. The Olgas are a geological formation at the red center of Australia. While I was in Australia I took some pictures of the Olgas from a helicopter.



Mt. Olga was named after Grand Duchess Olga of Russia (daughter of Czar Nicholas).  In 1993, in recognition of the Aborigines, who actually ‘owned’ the land first, and consider it sacred, Mt. Olga was returned to the Aborigine and is now called Kata Tjuta (Kata Joota), the original Aboriginal name. In my story, I made Kata Tjuta a volcano. It is not a volcano. That’s called poetic license, and I sometimes go over the speed limit. ☺

I also took some liberties with the animals. Most of the animals in the story are native to Australia. However, there are a few that are not, and I make this clear in the glossary.

  1. Your characters are intriguing and original. Can you tell us just a little about techniques you use when developing characters? 

J.R.: I have to admit that I don’t see my characters as animals. I see them as people. They speak to me and I envision them in conversations, interacting with one another and having all the traits that you might see in a human. I just simply don’t distinguish between a creature and a person. The fact that they are talking and walking upright is natural to me. As a result of this mindset, I can easily build individual characters based on habits and traits that can be attributed to people.

For example, in The Gift of Sunderland, there is a bilby named, Simkin. He’s a wonderful little guy, but he’s insecure and nervous. I gave him a human quality by having him constantly biting his ‘claws.’ In the picture below, Waylond, one of the main characters, is holding Simkin, while Simkin does what comes naturally, frets.


I also rely heavily on my illustrator, Guy Atherfold. Typically, when I begin putting together my ideas for a book, I will write to him and ask him for what I call, ‘an inspiration sketch.’ I provide him with a few paragraphs of what I am envisioning in prose, and he creates a picture for me. You’d be surprised how much this helps to light a fire in my belly, and drive my story and its characters forward. It’s all imagination and fun!

  1. How long did it take you to write The Gift of Sunderland? Did you travel to Australia as part of your research?

The Gift of Sunderland took about a year and a half to write. Yes, I did have the opportunity to go to Australia and I was able to see many of the animals that roam the book, and even some that don’t. It was the culmination of a dream come true, and the research and information I accumulated when I was there is invaluable. I am still reeling from the experience. It is something I will never forget. Given the opportunity (and the funds!), I would go back in a NY second.



5. Please tell us about when you first decided that writing was a vocation you wanted to pursue?

J.R.: I spent more than thirty years working in the private sector. It is amazing what one will do when they are raising a family and have bills to pay. But all the while, in my spare time, I read, read and read some more. Then I wrote and wrote again. I also spent much time reaching out to fellow writers to learn more about the publishing business and what I needed to do to become the best writer I could be. I believe the desire to write is something that springs from deep within. I just can’t bear to see a pen and a blank piece of paper standing idle. ☺ I retired in 2013 and I haven’t looked back. I don’t see writing as a job; it’s a wonderful opportunity. Needless to say, I have done and seen some exciting things while pursuing a writing career, and I have made some fabulous new friends along the way. As Fergal, the quoll would say in The Gift of Sunderland, ‘the journey has been worth the walk.’

              6.   What frustrations did you encounter on your novel writing journey? How did you move past them? Do you have any words of wisdom for people considering writing a novel or a memoir?

J.R.: When I started my first book, The Sword of Demelza, I was still working full time. That was a frustration that has absolutely no description. I would sit at my desk in the office and envision a scene that I wanted to put in my story. I would find myself writing notes on scraps of paper and trying to organize myself when I got home. When I finally got home, I spent real time writing. It took me four years of work to put together The Sword of Demelza.

Writing The Sword of Demelza, was a learning experience and I drained every last drop from it, and poured it into book two, The Gift of Sunderland.

My advice to writers, who are planning on leaping into the publishing fray, is do your homework first. Once you’ve decided what genre you’re going to write, research your competition, and read as many books as you can in your chosen genre. Then establish a platform from which you will introduce your work to the world. Establish a focus, a passion that’s yours. Have the courage to be daring and different. Leave the vampires and the werewolves behind and trek into a strange new land that only you can own, but are willing to share.

Memoirs are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. They are difficult in that if you are hoping to land an agent or editor and head toward the traditional publishing route, you’ll encounter problems. If you’re not someone famous like Stephen King, or Napoleon Bonaparte, you won’t get much consideration. The agents will, more than likely want to know who you are and will the reading public really want to know about your life. I have read some stunning memoirs recently. They are impeccably written and, in my opinion, worthy of attention. However, the authors are not famous people and cannot seem to capture the spotlight.

However, there are other reasons to write a memoir that include passing on to your family something of importance to them. It may be an incident that will memorialize a person or a family’s experience. One never knows, if it is written well, and has some universal message, it may catch fire.

Writers need tenacity and passion. They have something to share and should do so. It’s like exposing one’s heart and soul to the world, and there are readers out there who want to experience it. WRITE ON!

About the Author


J.E. Rogers is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University. Infused with a reverence for life, she loves animals and has always been especially intrigued by the unusual animals that can only be found in Australia. In avid student of every facet of the country, Rogers’ love all things Australian has flowed into her books. She hopes to spark an interest in young readers to the flora and fauna of Australia while engaging them in a wildly imaginative tale of adventure.

She spends much of her time blogging and speaking to youngsters, at libraries, schools, and museums, about endangered and threatened animals around the globe. She wants children to understand that we are connected with all life on this planet, and that animals are our fellow creatures and we share this world with them. It is our responsibility to protect them.

Jeanne lives in Connecticut with her family, which includes two dogs, and two cats.

You can reach her at:




Write the First Line of Your Novel Like a Country Song

By Peggy Morehouse

Why is Snoopy working so hard on the first line of his book? Is it really that important?

Here’s how literary agent, Michelle L. Johnson answers that question in an interview on Chasing the Crazies blog, “I can’t stress enough how important it is to give a great first line. A good first line should catch the reader off guard and set up the tone of the book.”

Like Snoopy, writers trying to break into the publishing industry are acutely aware about the significance of an extraordinary beginning to their story. Literary agents receive between 100-to-200 query letters per week from debut authors seeking their representation. Most agents sign-on between two and ten new clients each year, and the vast majority of publishers won’t look at an author’s book without that agent.

Yup! It’s competitive in  the book world. That’s why a writer has to grab an agent’s attention with the first line. Talk about pressure. You could have written the next Gone with the Wind, but without a sizzling opening a potential bestseller could be tossed in a slush pile.

What makes a great first line? Lucy told Snoopy to use, “Once upon a time.”

What does Michelle Johnson say? “The most important thing to me is to connect with the main character. If I care about the character quickly and deeply and that character feels real to me, I will want to read the entire book. If the character is intriguing but the writing not polished, it will quickly eliminate my desire to read on.”

Let’s see how some recent bestsellers from my bookshelf start:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:   “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.”

Wild by Cheryl Strayed:   “My solo three month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings.”

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline:   “Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce:   “The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.”

The first thing that came to mind about these beginnings is originality. I haven’t read lines like this before, so I’m assuming the author is creative. The second thing is I find myself asking why.

  • Why does the man (Nick) in Gone Girl think of his wife’s head when he first looks at her?
  • Why did Cheryl Strayed’s trek have many beginnings?
  • Why is Molly in foster care and what are her foster parents saying?
  • Why did the letter change everything for Harold Fry?

These authors have enticed me to move on to line two. Hopefully, the intrigue will continue to the end (and it did for me in all of the above books).

Some of the best beginnings I’ve come across haven’t been in books, however. They’re hiding in country songs. Check out these opening lines:

“In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot, on a bar stool she took off her ring.” from Lucille by Kenny Rogers.

“Fifteen minutes left to throw me together for Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Forever.” from Settlin’ by Surgarland.

“I’m on the side of the road with a car that won’t go and the night won’t even give me a moon.” Brokedown Cadillac by Brokedown Cadillac.

If those lines were written at the start of a book, I’d be instantly hooked. Instead of Lucy telling Snoopy to begin with Once upon a time, she should have advised him to turn on the radio. Lots of powerful examples are just a song away.

What are some of your favorite opening lines from either a book or a song? Did the remainder of the story live up to the expectation?