I have been using Grammarly for a full five months now. For the most part, I have found it useful. I’ve used it the most as the Chrome extension when editing short articles for my local school district’s e-newsletter and social media. It has helped me to catch many, many mistakes I likely would’ve otherwise missed. I also used the Word add-on to do the last check of my book, Versed in Nature: Hiking Northwest Illinois and East Iowa State Parks. This helped me to produce a totally clean manuscript (I believe).

I also have used the Outlook Add-in, but find myself disabling it quite a bit because it slows down the program. I haven’t used the feature where you upload your file to Grammarly.

I have the premium version of Grammarly which cost me $6.56 per month billed annually. As a premium user, I not only get grammar errors flagged with a red dot with the number of errors (or a green “refresh” icon if everything is fine), but I also get notification of lesser errors, denoted by a small yellow dot. When I have expanded the menu and clicked to see the “yellow dot” errors, I have almost never (if ever) chosen to accept those suggestions. Though I agree those suggestions would make my writing technically immaculate, it seems like they would also take my voice and interest out of my writing.

In summary, I recommend the Chrome Extension and Word Add-in but would disable the Outlook Add-in except on the most important emails just because of how it slows Outlook. I will also consider dropping my premium subscription when my period ends because I simply don’t use the expanded grammar suggestions.

Have you used Grammarly? What do you think? Any hints or tips you’d like to offer. If so, please comment.

Writing Craft Book Review – SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder

Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder has been on my to-read list for quite a while. I don’t have any particular aspirations to write screenplays, but I know learning about writing from all different viewpoints is helpful, and this one had been recommended to me as a particularly good book.

Save the Cat is entertaining and enlightening. Spoiler Alert: The title comes from the part of the movie where unsympathetic protagonists do something to endear themselves to the audience, such as saving a cat.

What resonated with me the most about this book and that I can most closely apply to my own writing is the idea that I must know what my book is about, including the who, what, when, where, why, and how. It also reinforced the importance of the elevator pitch or very short summary you can spit out in a breath or two when someone asks you what your book is about. 

Save the Cat essentially gives a formula for writing screenplays that may make it to the mainstream movie theaters. I enjoyed reading about the author’s movie genres and found the discussion of beats instructive, though the beats of what I write are different than what you’d find in a movie screenplay.

I would agree with those that recommended Save the Cat as a good book to read regardless of what you’re writing and encourage you to do the same.

Start Planning Your Book Marketing Today

When I surveyed a group of authors late last year, the number one thing respondents said was holding them back (a full third) was getting started in planning their book marketing. So I’ve created a mini-course guiding you through three simple things you can do to start planning your book marketing.

Here’s a video with more information:

Ready to take the course? Go here to sign up.

Save Cash with Beta Readers

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I can read their work and “tell them what I think.” Though I love writers and readers, unfortunately, I don’t have time to read everything that’s put in front of me. Plus, I realize that what they are usually asking for is a developmental edit (well, sometimes they’re just after validation that their work has value). 

This is a whole different request, but it is a service I offer. However, I think developmental “editing” is a misnomer. I think developmental “consulting” is more accurate. On the few developmental projects I’ve done for hire (you’ll see why just a “few” shortly), I’m essentially asking questions, pointing out areas that may need clarification, suggesting areas where they could show instead of tell, or directing them to resources that might help them (such as The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson), along with my thoughts about the characters, plot, setting, etc. I don’t actually make any changes.

What I usually suggest (and the reason I’ve only had a few developmental projects) is to save their money for copy/line editing and instead get beta/test readers. The more beta readers, the merrier, but I think at least six to eight is a good number. They need to be people you trust, who are thoughtful readers, and who will be honest with you (albeit kind) in their feedback. Give them the manuscript as a PDF (or print if you can afford it and they insist) and at least one to two months to read. You can receive the feedback in written form, during one-on-one meetings, or in a focus group format.

People seem to have the most trouble finding beta readers. First, look to your family and friends; you are bound to have a couple who don’t mind providing honest feedback. This is also where networking comes in (maybe you thought you didn’t have to worry about networking as an author – sorry). Attend writer gatherings, workshops, and conferences to meet and develop relationships with other writers with whom you may be able to trade beta reading in the future. You can also participate in Facebook groups and get to know people on other social media sites so that you may get responses when you post to ask for beta readers. If you really can’t find any beta readers, this is where paying for a developmental edit (or consult) might be worth it.

When you get beta readers and they are helpful, treat them right. Make sure to thank them personally and in your book acknowledgments. Sending them a finished copy of the book is also a good practice, and they are likely to share about how they helped to shape it, which will help sales.

Do you have any tips for getting or working with beta readers? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Planting Evidence in Mysteries

I touched on this topic when writing about storyboarding a long time ago, but I thought it might be helpful to add more detail, hence this post.

When writing mysteries, you are likely going to have lots of evidence you need to bring into your story. There will likely be evidence that points to the actual criminal, to the someone whom you want readers to wonder about (the decoy), and perhaps to others unrelated to the crime. To keep track of this evidence and make sure they got into my story, I developed a system.

First, I drafted one- or two-line summaries of each of my planned chapters. I then printed them out, cut them apart, and pasted them to a piece of foam core board with enough space to insert small sticky notes between them.

Next, I wrote my bits of evidence on different colored small sticky notes, using one color for the real killer, one color for the decoy, and one for others. Then, I stuck the notes underneath the chapter descriptions into which I wanted to include the evidence.

As I wrote the chapters, I kept the board in front of me to keep on track and make sure I included the evidence I needed. Using the sticky notes allowed me to rearrange them if I changed my mind.

Do you have any tricks for keeping crime evidence (or other facts you need to incorporate) organized and ensuring you include them in your story? If so, please share them in the comments below.

Author Spotlight: Mary Davidsaver – In Her Own Words

Thank you to Mary Davidsaver for this guest blog post about how she’s approached marketing her first book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

Mary Davidsaver, in her own words:

Mary DavidsaverMy book came out last summer and I had the opportunity to schedule its launch over the two days of Bishop Hill’s Ag Days weekend. I was the fortunate beneficiary of all the publicity that came with a major event weekend for a town that’s been promoting itself as a tourist destination for decades. It has suffered through a downturn in visitation, but it still was a great boost for me. Having my book available in Bishop Hill shops was always in the marketing plan, and I have my book placed in two.

I was also fortunate in that I had another well-publicized book release at the Midwest Writing Center in Davenport, [Iowa,] before its move to Rock Island[, Illinois].

Those events and sales through Amazon pretty much took me through the end of 2016 in pretty good shape for sales numbers.

“Sticky notes are my life – photo of the virtual ones I’m using to try and organize myself.”

Marketing is necessary, but it’s definitely out of my comfort zone. I have to be in it for the long game, and it’s an ongoing effort to stay focused. But the New Year has begun and this is where the heavy lifting of my marketing plan begins.

My marketing plan began as a one-page proposal I drafted for my 2015 pitch to MWC Press. It was basically a brainstorming session of everything I’d learned from having my own craft-based business, from marketing workshops I’d attended through the Midwest Writing Center, and a lot of “Why not try this?” ideas.

Out of the 17 items I had on my original list, I can check off ten as used in one way or another. I have: made personal appearances, published press releases, networked with the QC Convention & Visitors Bureau, consigned books in Bishop Hill shops, created a Facebook author page, created a Goodreads author page, created a Kindle book, updated my mailing list, entered contests, and followed what other authors have done. Can I do more with these? Yes, of course.

I’ve had the best results with press coverage with my old hometown newspaper. I haven’t paid for any advertising yet. My major expenses so far have been for travel, my Davenport release, and giving away books for review and goodwill.

The surprise income has been from a couple of panels I’ve been on. It was nice to get paid and the exposure to public speaking was very beneficial. I think the timing of the panels was perfect for my interview for Scribble on WVIK. I had intended to send out a query for that radio show, but a sudden cancellation and a friendly referral came through for me. I was prepared and able to help Don Wooten and Roald Tweet make it a good show.

I’m following one piece of advice about not overextending my personal resources. I’m focusing my social media use with the Facebook author page first—Goodreads, second. Those will be ongoing projects that entail growing visitation by using contests.

And speaking of contests, one of my New Year’s resolutions has been to make an effort to enter as many writing contests as I can find that seem appropriate for me. The costs will be spread out over monthly budgets. The Total Funds for Writers website, the paid version of Funds for Writers, has been a major asset.

I feel that I’m still in the early stages of implementing my marketing plan. I need to work with what I have and be on the lookout for anything new that might help me.

Next year at this time I’ll have a better sense of what worked for me and what didn’t. Right now I have to be open to all opportunities.

My best advice about marketing is to be open to anything that will promote your book and you as an author. Look for local resources and workshops. Remain flexible. New things and ideas will open up. Try to push yourself outside the usual comfort zone.

Clouds Over Bishop HillClouds Over Bishop Hill was published by MWC Press, an imprint of the Midwest Writing Center, in August, 2016. It is my first book.

Brief synopsis: A reckless driver sends recent college grad, Shelley Anderson, off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into searching for Krans’s last portrait, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. How dangerous will it be to find a lost treasure?

I’ve kept my website simple, only one page, for now.  I found Weebly.com easy to use and I haven’t begun paying for any extras yet.


Facebook author page:


I haven’t begun paying for anything extra here either. I imagine that will change soon.

I’ve used my blog as a tool for writing about the progress of the novel and for helping out other writers when I can.






Scribble interview:

Mary Davidsaver is a retired jewelry designer who has written for local newspapers since 2007. She is a member of the Midwest Writing Center who has won two Iron Pen first place awards. In 2013, she was the first local writer to win the Great River Writer’s Retreat Contest. She has published her first novel with MWC Press.


Some of my editing clients have loved starting sentences with gerunds, or words ending in “ing.” This is not terrible in itself, but as it is in writing as in everything else, balance is important.  And sometimes starting a sentence with a gerund phrase just doesn’t make sense. Consider these two examples:

  • Walking out the door, she spat expletives about his behavior.
  • Driving into the garage, I pressed the button to close the garage door.

A good way to test if a sentence is beginning with a gerund well is to think about the word “while.” If you can put “while” in front of the sentence and it’s logical, the gerund is fine. If, instead, the sentence becomes nonsensical because whatever is in the second clause would have logically taken place before, after, or separate from the first clause, the gerund needs to go.

In our above examples, the first gerund works because it’s logical for someone to be swearing while walking. In the second example, if you push the button to close the garage while driving into the garage, you’re likely to damage your garage door, vehicle, or both.

Let me reiterate, though, that balance is important. Even if your gerund-beginning sentences make sense, your reader is still going to be bothered with repeating them too much. Balance.

If you have any examples of bad gerund-beginning sentences you’ve come across, I’d love to see them. Just put them in the comments section (anonymously, please – no naming names.)

Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreats

Nahant Marsh
Nahant Marsh, Davenport, Iowa

This post originally appeared on the Book Marketing Tools Blog on October 20, 2016. Go here to read it.

If you’re anything like me, when you read the latest writing magazine edition, you look longingly at the ads promoting retreats to write in beautiful places with beautiful views, wishing you could find the time and money to take one. And if you’re anything like me, you have other obligations monopolizing your time and money, preventing you from enjoying such a retreat.

In August, 2016, I decided to take matters into my own hands to create my own writing retreat. I live in the Quad Cities, a metro consisting of four larger and several small cities and town situated on opposite sides of the Mississippi River in Iowa and Illinois. I cleared my calendar and set aside two days to get out of my house and write. Granted, you may not live in an area like I do where there is an abundance of inspirational destinations readily available, but I bet if you get creative, you can create your own writing retreat, too.

Look No Further Than Your Own Backyard

Literally. Take your notebook or computer and sit outside in your backyard. It’s great if the weather is pleasant, but huddled under an umbrella in the rain or snow could give you some interesting material, too.

After your backyard (or if you don’t have a backyard), look to your town and region for places to write. Visit museums or historical attractions and write what you observe. I went to the local art museum and plan to take a one-day retreat soon to write at Buffalo Bill Cody’s home and a pioneer village. Even if you don’t have a museum nearby, most locations have some sort of public art or historical marker you can visit.

Most every town also has some sort of park or natural area where you can sit quietly to write. I visited a marsh area on the Mississippi River and took a water taxi to different places along the river (this also gave me a great perspective of Iowa and Illinois from the river). Coffee shops and book stores are also great places to write. You can learn a lot about dialogue and human interaction by eavesdropping at these locations. If you already frequent certain coffee or book shops, look around to try to find new ones to visit.

You can use your writing retreat to work on a certain project or to just be inspired in general. If your latest project takes place in a real setting, go there (it may take more planning if it’s further away), walk the ground, and write what you see, smell, feel, and touch. Even if you haven’t worked out your plot yet, you can put your character in a space and write about how he or she would navigate it.

If you absolutely cannot get out of your home to do a writer’s retreat, you can still create one in your own home. The key is setting aside the time and giving yourself permission to focus only on your writing. Treat it like an actual trip; tell your family your plans (even if they roll their eyes), and make it clear you aren’t to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.

The Rules

Whether you take your retreat at home or away, do your best to minimize or eliminate distractions. Hide your phone, turn it off, or at least put it on “do not disturb” mode. If you enjoy television or playing video games, set a time for your retreat day to be over (I chose 8 p.m.) and stay away from the programs and games until then. If you are not actively writing, use the time to read instead.

Be Ready For Resistance

Each morning when I set out on my do-it-yourself writing retreat, I had to overcome resistance. I felt strange and somewhat guilty for stealing the time away to only focus on my writing, reading, and thoughts. The weather wasn’t ideal when I took my retreat either, though the warm, muggy air was typical for Iowa summer days, so I was really tempted to stay at home where it was cool. Going to the art museum helped me here because I couldn’t use air conditioning as an excuse not to go. Once I got started, I was glad I forced myself to follow my plans. Write down your itinerary and the rules you plan to follow, and if you need to, make a bargain with yourself that you’ll only go for an hour or two; then, if you really want to, you will let yourself quit. It’s your retreat so you can do what you want, but chances are, you’ll want to finish the day.

What tricks or tips do you have for making time for your writing? Please share as a comment below.

Trouble with Book Marketing? You may be standing in your own way.

rhino-road-blockThis post originally appeared on the Book Marketing Tools blog with the title, “Get Out of Your Own Way To Market Your Books.”

I have something controversial to tell you. You are not required to market your books. Book marketing is a choice, and you are entitled to choose to not do it. You most likely won’t sell a lot of books, but if that’s not what you’re after as a writer, that’s okay.

When you think about marketing your books or yourself as a “marketer,” what thoughts come into your mind, and what feelings come into your body? Do you feel like a sleazy used car salesperson (and no, not everyone in used car sales is sleazy)? Do you think only already rich and famous people can sell books? Do you have doubts about whether or not your book is even good enough to deserve to be sold?

These thoughts and feelings are called limiting beliefs.

And they work against you by giving you an excuse to resist starting or continuing to market your books.

It’s just your ego’s way of protecting you.

From feeling threatened, or unloved, or out of control. It’s okay to have these feelings. Anyone who’s being honest with themselves and others has had limiting beliefs surrounding marketing their books.

The difference between the ones who market their books and the ones that let these thoughts and feelings cripple them is a matter of releasing. Laura Leigh Clarke of Prosperity QM (prosperityqm.com) can teach you, in detail, about releasing limiting beliefs (and all kinds of other emotional baggage), but for you as a book marketer, it’s essentially a matter of acknowledging you have those beliefs, visualizing letting them go (or symbolically by writing them on a piece of paper and destroying it), and then doing what you need to do to market your books anyway.

Of course, like I said, this is all assuming that you want to market your books. So first, it’s best to examine your goals for your books and define what success looks like for you as an author. If it’s to win a certain award or simply to just keep writing, you may actually need to do very little marketing. If your definition of success is to be listed as a New York Times bestseller or sell a million books, you’re likely going to need to do some book marketing. Unless your book marketing plan is to rely on luck, and maybe fate, which is entirely your choice.

Limiting beliefs are just one aspect of mindset.

Keeping other things in mind and developing a healthy attitude toward book marketing are also part of it.

So remember…

You are not like a sleazy used car salesperson; you are simply an author letting readers know about a book in which they might be interested in reading. There is no one-size-fits-all, magic formula, silver bullet, or other get-rich-quick cliché in book marketing. It all needs to be tailored to what makes sense for your author goals, success definition, readers, book, and available time and finances. You can never know for sure if a certain marketing tactic is going to work until you try it, but if you believe it’s not going to work, it won’t.

Give up any sense of entitlement.

Forget about whining that you shouldn’t have to market your books. The truth is that everyone has to market their books. Even those celebrities had to become celebrities before they had an audience scrambling to buy their books. Rid your vocabulary of “if only”; if only I could do this, then I could sell a million books (or accomplish your definition of success).

Marketing a book is not easy. But it can be less painful, and dare I say it, even fun and satisfying, if you develop a healthy book marketing mindset. So let go of those limiting beliefs and tell your fears and doubts, “Thank you, but I think I’ll try it anyway.”

To learn a specific technique for releasing your limiting beliefs around book marketing, check out my YouTube video here.

Editing Advice Update – Get New Eyes for Each Level

blue-eyeA while back I wrote a blog post about the different levels of editing: developmental, copy or line, and proofreading. I would now like to refine that advice a bit.

I serve as the official editor for the selective subsidized publishing company, 918studio press, that I run with my business partner, Lori Perkins. We are in the process of finalizing our first two publications. I copy/line edited one of the books, submitted it to the author, who reviewed it, and sent it back for proofreading. I proofread it, returned it, and then he and a friend he had review it found additional changes. This has led me to the conclusion that I am a good editor, I am a good proofreader, but I’m not good at doing both.

It seems that after copy/line editing a piece, my brain is trained just as if it was my own work (for which I know I can neither completely edit or proofread myself). My brain remembers what I read before and causes me to see what should be there instead of what actually is there, so I miss a lot.

So, to refine my advice about the three editing/revision levels, I’m now recommending that you get different people to do each of the three levels. If that’s not possible, at the very least, make sure the person’s eyes have a significant break between the first and next editing levels.

and everywhere in between.