Questions for First-Time Authors

Now that I’ve written my first novel, I think back to a few of the questions I wish I had asked myself before I started; questions every new writer should ask before typing the first word.

Why am I writing this book?Why am I writing this book? To fulfill a lifelong dream? To leave a legacy for my children or grand children? Or do I want other people to read it. If the latter is the case, you need a plan.

First, you need a budget. Just because you can upload your book to an digital publisher like CreateSpace for free doesn’t mean there aren’t other potential costs involved in publishing a book. Will you want a professional to design your cover? Are you good and formatting the interior or will you pay someone to do it? Will you want help in designing and hosting your website? (And in today’s world, you must have a website.) Will you hire someone to write and distribute a dynamite press release? Will you print advance copies to send to reviewers?  All of these services cost money. Ask yourself upfront how much you are willing to spend to get your book out and write that figure down, preferably in an Excel spreadsheet where you can keep track of all your expenses (helps around tax time).

Next comes marketing. Who is your target audience and where do they hang out. How will you let them know about your book? How much time do you have to spend on social media marketing? Will you need to pay someone to help you? Will you plan a book launch? Where will it be? Will you serve food or drink? How will you get people to come? How many books will you order for sales?  How much will the entire event cost?

Many writers hate the idea of marketing. If you’re one of them, you may want to outsource the entire project – another potentially big expense.  Whether you market yourself or hire someone, just remember as P.T. Barnum once said, “Without promotion something terrible will happen—nothing!




Guest Author Interview with Alfred J. Garrotto

Al GarrottoAl Garrotto is an example of a prolific writer who has experienced both traditional and self-publishing. His genres are as varied as his publishing experiences.

What inspired you to write your first book? I had just changed careers in midlife when the writing bug bit me. They say, “Write what you know,” so I did. For twenty years, I had been a teacher of adult learners and had amassed a pile of workshop and retreat materials aimed at guiding adults on a path of personal/spiritual growth. By the time I finished assembling all the pieces, I had a three-volume set under the series title, Adult-to-Adult. It wasn’t long before Winston Press in Minneapolis purchased the publishing rights. It was almost too easy for a first-time author. There was no looking back. I turned my focus to fiction and over the next few years sold five novels that enjoyed modest success (not enough to quit my day job). To date, I have seven novels and four nonfiction books in varying degrees of “in print.” I’m not counting two e-books for five-and-unders, My Very Own Star and 1 White Horse, available free on Smashwords.

There's MoreHow did you come up with the title of your most recent novel, There’s More? For the sake of truth in advertising, it’s a novella (about 40,000 words). Fr. Brian T. Joyce, retired pastor of my parish church, is wonderful at conducting funerals (and a whole lot more). At the end of every funeral, he would place his hand on the casket or gesture toward the deceased’s cremains and say, “We believe that there’s more, there’s more.” I’ve heard those words so many times that they’re branded on my spirit. There’s More is about a young pitcher, Jack Thorne, who, fresh off winning the College World Series, was a first round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs. Instead, he followed a calling to enter the seminary and become a Catholic priest. Following a traumatic event—the suicide of a coed in his confessional room—Jack takes a sabbatical from the ministry and signs a pro contract with a big league team. During the final game of that season’s World Series, he’s struck by a batted ball and dies instantly. What follows is my imagining of what might happen in that instant of death and crossing over from Life to Afterlife.

How much is realistic? Are the experiences based on someone you know or events of your own life? I strive for realism, in the sense that I want the reader to accept the plausibility of my premise and the various twists and turns in the story. Did I mention that Jack is both accidentally killed and murdered at the same instant? (Gotta read the book to check that one out.) This story is semi-inspired by a true story. My good friend, Fr. John Thom was only thirty-two when he was murdered in Los Angeles. John had been a star pitcher at St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach. He could have played pro ball, but chose instead to become a priest. I always had it in the back of my mind to write his story. Protagonist Jack Thorne is John Thom reincarnated in fiction.

Which writer would you consider a mentor? What is it that strikes you about that author’s work? It may seem pretentious, but the answer to that question is Victor Hugo. His masterpiece, Les Miserables, gave the literary world a set of bigger-than-life characters—especially Jean Valjean, Bishop Charles Francois Myriel, and the infamous Inspector Javert. What I’ve learned from Hugo is to write with passion while making my characters believable to the reader. There’s also a poetic quality to the great master’s use of language that I do my best to infuse into my writing. Here’s another angle. Hugo was a man like the rest of us—deeply flawed and scratching to figure out the meaning of life and how to live it. In Les Miserables, he dug into his psyche in search of the saintly man (Jean Valjean) that he himself wanted to be, but wasn’t. At the same time, he soared beyond his limits to create a world populated by timeless characters who cannot die because they are humanity itself.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your novella? The biggest challenge was finding a way to make it “work.” I was writing two books at the time. One was a novel about a baseball player (Jack Thorne). The other was an effort to fictionalize the compassionate Les Mis character, Bishop Charles Myriel. Neither book was working toward a satisfactory conclusion. One day I got a crazy idea. What might happen if I introduced Jack and Bishop Charles to each other? I did and they hit it off right away. Their combined stories took off. I decided not to worry about the length of the book. I wrote the story and typed The End when it was finished.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Don’t let the reader get to the bottom of page one and say, “This is the work of an amateur.” To avoid that embarrassing result, learn the English language; pay close attention to correct punctuation and grammar; know the difference between weak verb forms and power verbs. Also, read your manuscript aloud to yourself as a kind of out-of-body experience: you the reader vs. you the author. Make that author create a product that satisfies you.

Name one entity that supported you, outside of your family. When my first novel, A Love Forbidden (now a free e-book on Amazon), was published in 1996, I joined the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club. Membership in the club has been my support, my educator, my inspiration for these past 19 years. Nowhere else in my life am I with people who understand the highs and lows of the writing life. They are my “homies.”

Where can we find you on the Web? You can begin at my primary site, but I invite you also to check out my blog, The Wisdom of Les Miserables.


Guest Author Interview with B. Lynn Goodwin, Managing Editor of Writer Advice and Book Reviewer

B.Lynn GoodwinTell us your latest news? My new YA book, TALENT, will be available on November 1, 2015. Fifteen-and-half-year-old Sandee Mason wants to find her talent, get her driver’s license, and stop living in the shadow of her big brother, Bri, who disappeared while serving in Afghanistan. You can read the first chapter at Check it out and leave a comment if you’d like to.

As editor of Writer Advice, I’m happy to announce that the Fourth SCINTILLATING STARTS Contest is accepting submissions until November 10. Details and the Submittable Link are in the gray box at We’re also opening a Blog Tour page on the TALENT website, found at For a few months I’d like to focus on YA, NA, and MG books.

I’m currently working on a memoir. Can a 62-year-old who’s never been married find happiness with a two-time widower who she met on … gulp … Craigslist?

How did you come up with the title for your YA book? Sandee equates talent with singing, dancing, and acting. She can’t see that she has a talent for problem solving. It will serve her well for years to come.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Everybody has a talent. Some are more obvious than others. It important to remember everybody matters, and each of us has something unique to share with our family and the community. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good you do and get perspective on the problems you face when you are in the midst of coping with everything.

How much of the book is realistic? TALENT is quite realistic. I used to be a high school drama teacher and I’ve directed Oklahoma! That said, my stage manager didn’t (oops! SPOILER ALERT)—She did not have Rob’s issues…). Nor did my stage manager have an assistant. We were not engaged in a war when we did the show. There are no zombies in this book, although Sandee seeks help from a (oops! SPOILER ALERT)—You’re going to have to read the book to find this one out.

What book(s) are you reading now? I just finished Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and am reading Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter Sisters. Next on my shelf is The Girl on the Train. Did I mention that I review books for Writer Advice and Story Circle Network and have shelves and tables full of books sent for review?

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Debut author David Arnold captured my interest with his YA, Mosquitoland. You can read my interview with him on Writer Advice, It’s on the home page right now and will move to the archives at the beginning of January.

Any other current projects? In addition to running contests for Writer Advice, working on my memoir, teaching Independent Study for Writers through Story Circle Network,, doing Manuscript Consultations for Writer Advice, I am planning on writing a second book using the characters in TALENT. I don’t think I mentioned that several of these characters originally appeared in a series I wrote for Dramatics Magazine. It was called “Dear Diary” and included excerpts from Sandee’s diary describing fun activities in drama class.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? My advice is to keep writing, keep digging, keep sharing your stories. Who will tell your stories, from your point of view, if you do not?

Do you have any suggestions to help existing writers to be better? Revise, wait, and revise again. When you know it’s the best it can be, submit it. Know who you’ll submit to next if it is rejected.

TALENTYou can learn more about Lynn at


Guest Author Interview with Prolific Writer, Camille Minichino

Camille Minichino

I am pleased to have author Camille Minichino as my guest interview today. Camille has not only written more than twenty novels, but is also an avid reader and writing teacher.

Where are you from? Here I am doing just what I tell my writing students not to do: starting at the beginning! My excuse is that Revere, Massachusetts is special—site of the first public beach in the country. At one time a 2-mile boardwalk of amusements and games stretched along the ocean; and inland every street corner had its own group of bookies. Numbers? Check. Dog-racing? Check. Horse racing? Check. All at your fingertips, only a few blocks from 2 roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, frozen custard, fried clams. That’s where I’m from—what’s not to like?

Tell us your latest news. I’m in the middle of writing my 25th mystery novel, under my fourth pen name. I feel like I should do something silver. Or that I’m in hiding with WitSec.

When and why did you begin writing? As early as I can remember, I put out a newsletter for my family, only one or two of whom could read English. I wish I could remember more about it, like how I made copies. I have a feeling I just handed the handwritten sheets over whenever Aunt Evelyn or Uncle Johnny stopped in for coffee. I do remember that the “news” consisted of things like Cousin Richard made a base hit at Friday’s game or Grandpa Minichino was caught making moonshine in the cellar.

What inspired you to write your first book? I wanted to capture the Revere experience, the Italian-American culture I grew up with. I also wanted to present science in a good light and offer a female scientist protagonist who was fun to be with. Too many agenda items! Another thing I warn my students against, but I did it in my first 8 books, the Periodic Table Mysteries.

How much of the book is realistic? Everything but the murder.

What books have most influenced your life? I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid—no one in my family read English very well, and I thought of books simply as required for school. The first book I read for my own pleasure was a biography of Marie Curie, by her daughter Eve. After that, I couldn’t be stopped.

What book are you reading now? I’m always reading about 5 books at the same time: a couple of mysteries for book clubs; a science/technology book to stay current for my science classes; a nonfiction book for another club; books on writing for my writing classes; a mainstream novel for the pleasure of the language. Currently, I’m into a Nevada Barr mystery for a book club; Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology is my nonfiction; an old Peter Robinson mystery in my purse; a gruesome Mo Hayder on my Kindle.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? As a result of being chair of the Edgar® award for best novel last year, I was introduced to many new authors. Karin Fossum has my attention, as well as Todd Goldberg. Also new to me is Malcolm Mackay, a Scottish writer with a great hit man trilogy.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. Three writing organizations: the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club; NorCal Sisters in Crime, and NorCal Mystery Writers of America. All of these groups were welcoming and encouraging at the beginning stages of my writing and are largely responsible for any success I’ve had.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Take advice cautiously! Find your own voice and your own rhythm. For a long time, I thought there were rules: write every day; write what you know; keep a journal. None of those worked for me. I realized that as long as I made writing a priority in my life, I’d find my voice. And I did.

To find out more about Camille, go to

Camille’s latest book Happy Homicides is HappyHomicidesdue out October 15, 2015. Some of Camille’s other books are Manhattan in Miniature, The Cyclone, and Six Scattered Stories. All are available on Amazon.



Guest Author Interview – Sherri Rabinowitz

Entering My Second HalfToday, I’m excited to share my interview with author Sherri Rabinowitz who has written her memoir, Entering My Second Half – the story of the first fifty years of her life.

Where are you from? I was born and raised in Southern California, primarily in Los Angeles. I have lived in both the Midwest and East Coast but I consider myself a Westerner. I am a native Californian and spent 90 percent of my life in Southern California.

What’s your latest news? My new baby has been born – it’s my book, Entering My Second Half. This is a memoir about the first half of my life and how it all led to my life now. All roads lead to Rome, and in my life one thing was for certain, I am in one way or another an entertainer.

When did you start writing? I have always written. In elementary school, my teacher asked us to write a paragraph and for some reason I was so inspired I wrote a 5 page story that was a Greek Myth.

But professionally I began writing for local newspapers and newsletters when I was in College to make some extra money. I didn’t start writing fiction, other than fan fiction till I was in my 30’s, I wrote a few stories for Anthologies and was paid for the first time. I started to write original stories based on my fan fiction, and then I expanded, changed, and re-wrote till I created my first book, Murder Inc.

Who’s your favorite author and why? It really depends on genre’ and if you’re asking for an author who is still with us or passed on. I guess my favorite living author is J. K. Rowling and my favorite author who passed on….well there are two, they both had such an influence in my life I can’t write one. Agatha Christie and Jane Austen.

It is hard to say why an author is your favorite; you obviously feel a connection with the prose, and the style they use. But there is more than that. These three women fascinate me on more levels than that they write books. Obviously they are all English. I think the real reason is they are all artists with their pens and they touch my soul.

What’s your writing process? I come up with my idea and write it down. That is important, because inspiration can come from anywhere. Then I always write the first draft long hand. People are shocked by that, but for me it’s the way I feel connected with my characters. There is coldness to the computer that creates a distance which is not beneficial to me as a writer. Then the second draft I put in the computer – I edit it, I add and subtract text. I believe stories take on a life of their own and you have to allow that so you can bring out the best in characters.

My memoir took longer and was a difficult process that took four years. The difficult part was deciding what would go in, and what wouldn’t. I made the choice that I would not put in any names of people from my life unless they had a direct effect on what I was talking about. I decide to put some of the most painful parts of my life in the book in the hopes it would help others who were going through the same kind of experience.

What inspired you to write this particular book? I had a panic attack at reaching 50 years old. I wrote up all the things I did worth anything in my life, and I was a bit surprised at how much I had accomplished and just who I had met that made my life worth a read.

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp? Yes, try new things, even if you’re scared. You never know, you might not only be good at it, but it might change your life.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Yes, write, no matter who says not to or how little money there is in it, if you’re driven to write, write.

For more information about Sherri, go to

Her new memoir is available on Amazon –


Quirky Book Promotion Idea

book promotionHave you written a book about relaxation, senior citizens or dogs? Why not link your book in a Facebook post or tweet to one of these fun or quirky August holidays?

  • August 1 National Mustard Day
  • August 2 Friendship Day
  • August 2 International Forgiveness Day
  • August 2 Sisters Day
  • August 3 National Watermelon Day
  • August 4 U.S. Coast Guard Day
  • August 5 Work Like a Dog Day
  • August 6 Wiggle Your Toes Day
  • August 7 National Lighthouse Day
  • August 9 Book Lover’s Day
  • August 10 Lazy Day
  • August 10 National S’mores Day
  • August 12 Middle Child’s Day
  • August 13 Left Hander’s Day
  • August 15 Relaxation Day
  • August 16 National Tell a Joke Day
  • August 17 National Thriftshop Day
  • August 18 Bad Poetry Day
  • August 19 Aviation Day
  • August 21 Senior Citizen’s Day
  • August 25 Kiss and Make Up Day
  • August 26 National Dog Day
  • August 26 Women’s Equality Day
  • August 27 Global Forgiveness Day


California Writers Club Author Panel

California Writers Club Event - May 14th, 6:30 p.m.

California Writers Club Event – May 14th, 6:30 p.m.

“So You Want to be a Writer” is scheduled at the Walnut Creek Library, 1644 Broadway, Walnut Creek, CA at 6:30 p.m. on May 14th. A panel of three successful authors will discuss their writing process, how they got published and what their marketing strategies are.  Q&A to follow.

Presenters include:

Dina Colman, MA, MBA (Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life). An author and health coach, Dina devotes her time helping others around the world to live healthier, happier lives. Her book is an Amazon Top 100 and has won 10 awards.

Melanie Denman (Visiting the Sins) An eighth-generation Texan and former cattle rancher and commercial banker, Melanie’s book was awarded the bronze IPPY for Regional Southern Fiction by the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

Susan McClurg Berman (Maracaibo Oil Brat–Book One) Susan’s coming-of-age memoir depicts her eleven-year-old self as she struggles to make friends in Spanish-speaking, always hot, politically unsettled, oil rich Maracaibo, Venezuela during the late 1950’s. In Maracaibo Oil Brat-Book Two, Susan learns not all boys are cootie infested morons. Book two is expected to be released in October 2015.

The public is welcome.


It’s Official. Authors are History!

Kindle's New ServiceNow, you can write a book by simply clicking through a series of questions on Kindle Author and poof – an ebook!  Think of it as Build-a-Bear for ebooks. Is this the future of those of us who write? Egads!

You can read about it in this Smashwords Newsletter.


Your Local Library is Your Best Friend

Our local library celebrated with an Art Festival last weekend and four authors from the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club were invited to display and sell their books. Have you contacted your library to ask what they are doing to support local authors?

Clayton Library Art Festival

Clayton Library Art Festival


Release Your Next Ebook as a Preorder

eReaderBefore you hit that “publish” button on your next ebook, consider the advantages of preorder. The obvious benefit is time to do advance marketing. You can begin building an audience by revealing one chapter at a time on your Facebook page or on your website. Tweet an interesting line or plot hint.  During the preorder period, your sales will accumulate. Then when your book goes on sale, the retailer charges the customer’s credit card and makes the book available for download.  Having all sales hit on at the same time makes your book more visible.

Smashwords distributes preorders to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. There is lots of information on the Smashwords blog on how to set up a preorder.

You can also make your ebook available for preorder on Kindle.