Few things in writing are definitive, and neither is this, but I do believe it’s true:

Your first book should be intensely personal.

My first novel was supposed to be a Dime-Store Novel, an imprint that published short stories as tiny novellas, somewhere around 6,000 words. It ended up being 150,000 words. It took three years, and while the concept was good, the novel wasn’t. It had powerful moments and is worth cleaning up someday, but it wasn’t a personal story. Sure, it was set partially in my old university, but that was about it.

My second novel, the published one, Do Angels Still Fall, I now consider my first novel. It was intensely personal because I wrote for my kids and what I want them to know about their creator.

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If that’s true for you, you have a story; if that’s not true for you, you have a stronger story.

Bonnie Manning Anderson’s book, Always Look for the Magic, was intensely personal–it tells the story of her dad, uncle, and mother. It was fiction, but it was based on her extended life story.

Debi Gray Walter’s first novel, Through the Eyes of Grace, was about her grandmother, also fictionalized, but the rugged story of her grandmother’s life is personal to her and her entire family.

Does a story have to be about your family? No, of course not, but what rich soil there is in your own history.  My second novel, Me and the Maniac in Outer Space, ended up being more personal than I was aware–the main characters were based on my own odd BFF in school (I didn’t even know it until I was finished with the book).

That first novel is the hardest to get through; it helps to have a personal connection. I think all your stories should be personal, of course, but that first one needs the muscle a deep personal connection provides. Maybe it’s a family story, maybe it’s a hometown story, or maybe it’s something else that is unique to you.

Where do you find your inspiration?


Happy Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day: You either love it or hate it.

Set aside the impact on single people for a moment, and let’s look at the couples. The romantic, energetic, and creative individuals love Valentine’s Day. It’s their moment to shine and have a great time. They plan ahead, set reservations, buy (or make) gifts in advance… if they had tails they’d be wagging.

The haters, though, have their metaphorical tails tucked between their legs, and that can be revealing. There are a few reasons to hate Valentine’s Day.

  • You’re single (but we’re ignoring that one for now).
  • You’re annoyed you’re being forced to be romantic.
  • You have no idea how to be romantic.
  • You, as a male, are expected to be the romantic one. Who made that rule?
  • You don’t want to be romantic. You don’t have the energy, drive or truthfully the love you had for your spouse. The spark is gone. You’ve lost your way.

I have a couple of resources for you to help turn all of that around.

Not naturally romantic? Want that spark back?  Cherishing Us by Tom and Debi Walter gives you 365 ways to energize your marriage. And what a great gift for Valentine’s Day!

But the other issues – your marriage isn’t what it’s supposed to be or could be, you don’t want to romance your spouse – or your marriage is in trouble, or just struggling, then we have another book for you. Imagine a small investment of $9.97 to put your marriage on a firm foundation.

Steve and Cindy Wright’s 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage is a book that helps you focus on what really matters.

I urge you to use your reaction to Valentine’s Day to diagnose your marriage. Just need a nudge and some great ideas (that can revitalize your marriage)?  Cherishing Us is your book.

Have bigger issues and need a new way to look at your marriage? 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage will make a HUGE difference.

Or double up and get both! You won’t regret it.

Single? We have other books that are great for curling up in front of your fireplace. Check them out on

Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!




The Importance of Editing

Listening to several millionaire novelists on, each talk about shipping their manuscript off to the publisher-assigned editor. Each values their editor. These are the most successful writers in the world. And they need editors.

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That pencil should be RED!

So do you. And I REALLY need them…

There are three levels of editing.

  1. Story structure – Does your story work? Is it structured effectively? Does it fit the genre? Are the stakes high enough? Is it believable?

To facilitate this edit, create an outline of your story. This is the after-it’s-written outline, not the dreaded before-you-write outline. Bullet points only, not description. This can help you find holes, determine where your reversals and story beats are. I use Outline 4D by the Writer Brothers, which is a combination outline/timeline program. It can also be done on paper, especially if your story is linear.

  1. Story edit – This is different than the structure edit in that it examines the writing within the structure. Are all questions raised and answered? Do they happen in the right order? Is there fluff unnecessary or burdensome to the story? Is the writing solid? This edit will often uncover a writer’s story weaknesses. Typically, the Structure and Story edit can be done by one editor.
  2. Copyedit – This is the monster of all edits (OK, that’s my opinion; I’m good at the first two, poor at the third).

I’ve met a few people who can edit their own work. Most struggle with it. We tend to see what’s supposed to be there, rather than what IS there.

Professional Editors aren’t cheap. It takes a long time to read and re-read, make notes, and do a good job. But there are some less expensive ways.

If you are involved in a decent-sized community, such as a church or civic group, chances are you have friends who are good at editing. The problem is, you have to determine which edit they’re good at. I have a lot of friends who love to copyedit. Their red pen is their favorite possession. I’ve only got a few who are good at the first and second level edits.

You can get around that with fierce beta-readers. Fierce because they must tell you the truth. You will have to interview them and ask questions.

  • Who did you like and who didn’t you like? Why?
  • What motivated this character? Why did he/she feel the way the felt, react the way the did?
  • What didn’t make sense? What wasn’t believable?
  • If 1/3 had to be cut, what would they cut?
  • More specific questions about your plot and character development.
  • What did you think about the ending?
  • What parts were dull or dragged?
  • What felt too fast? Too slow?

Provide the beta-reader with the questions before they read but ask them to read as they would any book. You’ll want at least six beta-readers.

Make your revisions and hand it off to ONE copyeditor. Then make those revisions, and hand it off to another. Repeat several times.

Typos are like cockroaches. You’ll never get rid of all of them. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

Grammarly is a decent machine editor. The free version may hang up on an entire document, so break it into chapters. While I haven’t invested in the paid premium edition, I’ve heard good things.

Parting thought: You are not a bad writer for needing an editor. We get deep into our story and need fresh eyes. Don’t be embarrassed when an editor catches something. You’ve written a BOOK! That’s accomplishment enough. Editors help you make it better.



Write What You Know

This is wonderful writing advice. Write what you know.

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The Lion in the Mirror

It may not mean what you think it means, though. It doesn’t mean you have to write about your school, your job, your family. It doesn’t have to be set in your town or your time period. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have science-fiction, time travel, fantasy, historical fiction or alternative history. Heck, we wouldn’t have interesting stories.

What it means is use your own experiences, your own relationships, your own understanding of the universe as templates within your story. It’s the only way for your story to be “true.”

What would you do, or your sister do, or your friend, enemy, teacher, uncle, do in that situation? How would they react?

There is a dance to most relationships, and that dance can be applied to paper heroes. Imagine the dance between you and your spouse, or a prickly sibling. What if a captain and commander echoed those dances?

People of the past in historical settings may have conditions pressing on the dance, but by including the modified dance, it feels true to us (or will to you, and therefore to us, because you write with understanding).

So write what you know about human interaction, and for everything else research, research, research!

Fiction vs Non-Fiction

As a habit, I ask people if A) They are readers, and B) Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Invariably, of the readers (about 33% claim to be) children are fiction readers, women are predominately fiction with a dose of non-fiction, and most men are non-fiction.

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What should you write?

Yet, demographically, married men don’t buy the books, their wives do. The thought is that women buy their men non-fiction to improve their husbands. There is a shift around Christmas time where women buy the men fiction, typically thriller, suspense and shoot-em-ups. Fiction makes good stocking-stuffers?

At the same time, of those I speak to, the men are the buyers. Amazon has a larger sampling than I do, however, by about 50,000%.

Now let’s look at age of buyers. Young adults buy sporadically, and solidify the habit as they grow older. 30- to 40-year-olds are the gravy train; they’re up and comers looking for solid non-fiction and escapist fiction (as well as books for their children. Readers beget readers. My parents were voracious readers). 50- to 60-year-old readers drop off a bit, then retirees pick it back up. Many of these join book clubs, though as the more tech-savvy people age up, this is expected to shift back to online sales, and book clubs to fall by the wayside.

Another Amazon statistic is that the authors who sell the most books year-over-year are those who sell non-fiction, the biggest areas are finance, business and writing-as-a-business.  Writers, of course, are readers.

I have always been a fiction guy. From age 4 to now-55, I’ve read all genres. I’ve always struggled with non-fiction. I start strong and then put it down somewhere mid-book. I have read many all the way through, but not most.

All that to ask, what should you write?

My answer: What you want to write.

Every author wants to make money writing. For some it’s a way to keep track of how many are reading their book, and for others it’s so they can quit their day job and focus on writing. Or retire to a beach sipping margaritas.

There are two kinds of writers though: Those who love to write, and those who write to make a buck. Of course there is cross-over. If you love to write, though, write what you want. Trying to write toward trends, toward what’s selling now, is a good way to miss the wave. Write what you love and you may start the next trend.

If you write non-fiction, write non-fiction.

If you’re a novelist, write novels. BUT. Some advice I don’t give to non-fiction writers… Keep the idea of writing a non-fiction book in the back of your head. Perhaps your research for your novel can be spun into a non-fiction book. Be on the lookout for this.

I have. My next book is non-fiction, and I think it’s an important book. I think I’ll sell more of that book than my others combined. I also hope it will help sell my other books. The key to selling more books is writing more books.

What’s your thoughts on this? I’d love to know.



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