There’s Always Room for Improvement

There’s Always Room for Improvement

by Patricia Grady Cox

The annual Tucson Festival of Books is the greatest weekend of the year for readers and writers. With 130,000 attendees, it’s the perfect place to market your book. Except … 350 authors and presenters are selling their books in the book stores and UA tents. Then, countless booths filled with individual authors, small presses, and writing organizations, all promoting their books, compete for the attention of those attendees.

I had done this before, in 2015, and I sold one book.

I puzzled over how to stand out, to do better than the last time.

I picked a good time slot – 12:15 to 2:15 -p.m. – when people would be most likely taking a break, wandering around, looking for lunch and maybe a book to buy or an author to talk to. And then I gave my display and myself a makeover! As embarrassing as it is to share the 2015 photos, I offer them up for comparison’s sake.

This year, I sold my first book before I had finished setting up. After I started taking down my display, I made my last sale.

Besides the makeover, I believe two other factors added to my modest (but improved) success this year.

  • I displayed three books: my second edition Chasm Creek, my new release, Hellgate, and Ramblings, a chapbook of essays, flash fiction, and short stories.
  • I asked myself, “Who will be at this festival?” People who live in Tucson and people who’re visiting. Either would have an affinity for this state. By presenting my work as “Novels of the Arizona Territory,” I narrowed down the settings and the time frame.

It worked. I had a fairly steady stream of people stopping at my table. Some bought books, some took bookmarks and asked if they could get them on Kindle (yes), some just wanted to chat about Arizona and their love for the state. I added names to my email list.

I did not make a lot of money, but I met a lot of people. And I had a good time chatting with them (even the woman from central California who was “roasting” on the overcast, 70-degree day).

Now I feel confident I can attract people to my display, even with thousands of competitors at a venue like the Tucson Festival of Books. What would happen if I set up a booth at an arts and crafts fair, a farmer’s market, a local festival of some sort? What if I sold my books on one half of a table, and photo prints of Arizona landscapes on the other half? I’m ready to try it!

Have you analyzed your approach to selling from a booth? What changes could you make?

Patricia Grady Cox
is a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing Trish Coxthe West. Her nonfiction work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and ghost-written memoirs. Patricia has volunteered at the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum where she experienced, first-hand, the realities of life in the 1800s. Her love of the Southwest – the landscape, the history, the culture – infuses her work with authenticity. Originally from Rhode Island, she moved to Arizona 24 years ago and currently lives in Phoenix. Her novel, Chasm Creek, is available on Amazon or through her website. Patricia blogs weekly at Patricia Grady Cox, WriterHer second novel, HELLGATE, will be released by Five Star Publishing on April 15, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

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Working with Illustrators

Working with Illustrators

by Vaughn L. Treude

Treude illustrations

As a writer, I have lots of ideas, some of which get me into trouble. For example, when I joined a playwriting group a few years ago, I decided to write a musical comedy, which forced me to dust off my long-dormant musical skills. Even worse was my idea to augment the steampunk novels my wife and I write with illustrations at the start of each chapter. I’ve always been terrible at art, and Arlys isn’t much better. We knew we’d need to hire an illustrator.

Finding the appropriate illustrator and working with him/her was more difficult than we expected. In the beginning, we commissioned some really good work from family and friends, but they’re not always available. It’s also hard to get tough with them if they run late.  We had a tight deadline for our latest book, so we decided to try Fiverr, the freelance services website. I’d previously gone there to hire a woman from Ireland to proofread several manuscripts and was quite happy with her work.

Choosing an artist wasn’t nearly as easy. Fiverr has hundreds of them from all over the world. They post portfolios so you can see their work, and their customers rate them on promptness, quality, etc. What was difficult to judge was their creativity. Some artists with great technical skill need to work from detailed photographs and aren’t good at improvisation. Our ideal choice would be someone who could understand our requests and add their own creative touch.

The ideal would be to have the illustrator read the book before drawing, but that’s rarely practical. The writer can also do a written description or a rough sketch. The problem with that is (a) we’re very specific about what we want and (b) our sketches are mostly stick figures. For some of the illustrations, we’ve done photographs. Arlys has a real knack for creating period costumes and getting friends and family members to model them for us. Sadly, we can’t always get the settings or the models we need. For example, we set our latest novel in London’s Crystal Palace, which doesn’t even exist anymore. As for people, we could hire a professional, but we’re operating on a shoestring budget.

Technology came to our rescue. For scenes we couldn’t reproduce, I’d find stock art and photos on the Internet and use Photoshop to assemble them into collages. There’d be no issue with copyright because these collages were just examples; the artist would modify them according to our instructions.

After reviewing dozens of prospects on Fiverr, we finally found a good candidate, a fellow named Jose Cardeñas in Venezuela. His bids were quite reasonable. He was also very professional, returning the sketches before our deadlines and adding his own creative touch. The attached illustrations show two of our favorites. The first, from our book Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident, shows Chef MacTavish arriving with Angus, his bagpipe-playing culinary robot. The second is the cover illustration for the urban fantasy story “Love at Stake,” about a lonely vampire who tries online dating. We were more than satisfied with Jose’s work.

If you need artwork for a book project and lack the talent to do it yourself, the freelance website Fiverr is a great resource. Choose carefully, however, as the sellers have a broad range of styles and skill levels. You also need an effective way to convey your ideas to the artist. In my case, Photoshop turned out to be the magic bullet.


Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota where the isolation of his home made books a welcome escape. He has been reading sci-fi and fantasy as long as he can remember. In 2012, he published his first novel,  Centrifugal Force, a near-future sci-fi about a hacker rebellion. Since then he has concentrated on steampunk, writing Fidelio’s Automata and co-authoring the “Professor Ione D.” series with his wife Arlys Holloway. See Vaughn’s blog at



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What a Big, Wide World

What a Big, Wide World

by Beth Kozan

When I met Elliot in 1979, I soon realized how small my growing-up world was. The globe crossword tableworld that formed me was a small agricultural town on the West Texas Plains. The people in my town were mostly like me. Other ethnicities in our town were Mexican and Black. Sadly, in the ’40s and ’50s, we seldom interacted in a social way.

Our schools were segregated. The Blacks had their own schools; most of the Mexicans in our farming communities dropped out of our white schools before ninth grade, work being more important than staying in school. In 1960, my dad served on a Texas State Commission to evaluate (and defend) “Separate but Equal” schools. The first argument I remember having with my dad was over his attempts to justify segregation.

When my husband Doug (also from Floydada) was drafted, we moved to El Paso; he was stationed at Ft. Bliss. We would meet other young couples from other parts of the country and our first conversation would include: “What are you?” We didn’t know any other answer than “I’m a Texan.” But they meant: “What’s your ethnicity? Are you Jewish? Are you Gentile?” These were concepts of self-identity we had not yet formed.

Elliot was the first Jewish person I grew to know well. He hailed from the Bronx and spoke many languages well enough to greet people in Italian, Greek, Polish, Czech, Farsi, and Yiddish. After he moved to Arizona, he added Spanish and even some Navajo to his repertoire. We stopped at an Italian bakery soon after we moved to Phoenix, and I wandered off to the canned goods section. I heard him speaking Italian in a lively discussion with the woman at the register! That was a side of him I hadn’t known.

Along the way, Elliot took a job at a car lot in Phoenix owned by Muslims. Muslims do not charge interest on money they loan; it’s against their religion. He brought home a Koran. He read it in an effort to better understand the philosophy of his employers. I admired him for that.

Elliot passed away on October 12, 2017, from congestive heart failure. Over the 45 years I knew him, he held many different jobs, mostly in sales – shoes, insurance, clothes, and cars. He would approach an owner of a business when he was out of work and offer to work on commission only; he was that sure of his ability to achieve sales. Sometimes it worked out well, and other times it did not. In his later work years, he worked as a security officer, which paid an hourly wage and therefore built up a better resource of Social Security, which helped in his retirement.

He was self-taught in art and classical music, exposing both to me. I could not, however, learn to appreciate opera, especially the higher range. “You’d better get used to it,” he said. “That’s the voices of angels in Heaven.”

I replied, “Then I’ll go to hell, because I cannot stand to listen to that screeching for eternity!”

He was dynamite at working crossword puzzles, especially when it came to history and geography questions. He knew rivers and peninsulas and languages and shapes. He could stare at a book of maps for hours, and remember what he’d looked at.

Elliot opened my world.

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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The Effective Author: The Best Way to Spill Your Guts

The Effective Author: The Best Way to Spill Your Guts

© 2018 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

Bloomberg quote

As human beings, we all have passions and sometimes need to “spill our guts.” With anger or frustration, we occasionally urgently need to “get it all out,” even to erupt with emotions – to express emphatically, loudly, suddenly, and preferably to a person or two who will listen, right now. Maybe we look to our roommate, our spouse, our grown kid. Maybe we call Mom. But maybe, when we need to express that passion, no one is available, or no one is in the mood to be a listener right now. Some turn to Facebook and Twitter, but those are not the safest places to post something you might later wish had stayed private. As writers and authors, we have multiple satisfying options. Here are my top two favorites.

Option 1. Attempt to recruit a human listener. Try to lead a friend into a conversation on the thing that’s upsetting you. Start with “Hello!” or “Happy New Year!” (or Wednesday, or another context greeting). Follow up by asking how the friend is, or ask how their week is going. Try to really listen. They may have a bigger Hot Issue than you do, and you may want to offer to be their listener. If not, when they reply, “Well, and how are you?” say honestly that you have something on your mind or on your heart, and you would appreciate some feedback. Would the friend have a few minutes to listen and consider your Hot Topic?

Option 2. Skip the human listener and journal it. Spill your guts onto paper, or into your computer. Write it! If you are out and about, your smart phone will receive your passions in its Notes section or audio recorder. How fast can your thumbs move to key in your Hot Topics? Also, most smart phones have an app into which you can speak, and spilling your guts verbally to that app may be more satisfying. You may want to look into apps that will record your voice and turn your words into text. Regardless of the way you record your thoughts and feelings, you can use those notes later for essays, fiction plot lines, character development, quote posters, and even greeting cards. Plus, it’s wonderful free therapy.

Choose your time, place, and method to spill your guts. Over time, you’ll be happier and also have lots of rich material for future projects. That’s you: The Effective Authorsm!


Kebba Buckley Button is an ordained minister whose passion is helping people find 20180301 3-Book Collagetheir Peace Within. She is also a stress management expert with a natural healing practice. She is the author of the award-winning book, Discover The Secret Energized You, available on Amazon, plus Inspirations for Peace Within: Quotes and Images to Uplift and Inspire. IPW is available on Amazon in full-color glossy format. Her newest book is Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, soon to be on Amazon, also in full-color. For the full-color PDF versions, contact the office. For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group:

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The Pangolin

The Pangolin

by Rita Goldner

This past month we celebrated World Pangolin Day. For that reason, and because a Pangolincharacter from my newest work-in-progress picture book happens to be a pangolin getting a pedicure, I decided to dedicate this month’s blog to pangolins. Most people have never heard of them. They are sometimes called “scaly anteaters,” although they are more the size and shape of an armadillo. Pangolins are covered in a hard armor of scales, displayed in a beautiful pattern of diamond shapes. They’re the only mammal with scales. Their name comes from a Malay word that means “something that rolls up.” Quite apt, since almost every picture I’ve researched shows one rolled into a ball.

Their unusual appearance has not served them well. That, coupled with the fact that they’re nocturnal, thus rarely seen, has made them victims of the Chinese medicine market. Traditional Chinese Medicine (called TCM) uses the scales just like rhinoceros horns to cure a variety of health issues. Recently, pangolin farming businesses claimed that TCM using pangolin parts could cure cancer. This caused a sharp spike in their sales price, which was obviously the agenda. In the early 1990s, they sold for $20 to $40 apiece, depending on weight, but by 2011 the going rate was $400 to $600 apiece. Because of this black market demand, it’s estimated that between 41,000 and 60,000 were taken from the wild in 2011.

The pangolin is protected against trade by national and international laws, but it is still the most trafficked animal in the world. Research estimates that more than a million have been poached from the wild in the past decade.

I’m passionate about wild animals, especially endangered species, and love researching and using them as characters in my picture books. Since my audience comprises young children, I leave out the gloomy info about wild habitat destruction, poaching, and extinction. My hope for my adult readers is that they will use their buying power (avoiding products whose manufacture/growth impacts rainforests) and their voting power (voting with an awareness of world ecology) to help resolve these problems. My hope for my young readers is only that they learn to love these wonderful creatures.

Therefore, the pangolin in my latest book, Rhonda Rhino’s Big Flat Feet, goes on her merry way, giving her long nails a pedicure, and interacting with the other endangered animals in Sumatra. I expect to be finished and print-ready in a month or so, and you can share the fun illustrations as I make them by signing up for my newsletter.

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water CycleThe Flying Artist, and Rose ColoredTo view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.

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Musical Inspirations

Musical Inspirations

by Barbara Renner

Neil Diamond 2018

Last month, Neil Diamond announced he is retiring from touring after being recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He made the announcement during his 50th anniversary tour and canceled his concerts in Australia and New Zealand. I’m not embarrassed to say Neil Diamond has been my internal teenage soul heartthrob ever since I heard “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” on the radio 50 years ago. Lucky me; I saw him in concert last July when he was in Phoenix. Not that I consider myself a stalker, but I’ve attended almost all of his Phoenix concerts and one in Minneapolis, dragging along whomever I could cajole into going with me.

neil-diamond Hot August Night

Music inspires me with ideas for stories or musings. When I go for my walks, I make sure I have my ear buds plugged in so I can listen to my favorite tunes. Not only music by Neil Diamond, but music that stirs my soul or touches my heart. On many occasions, I hurry home to the computer to start writing about a seed that began germinating because of the lyrics I’ve enjoyed for the umpteenth time. Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” inspired me to write a short story, “The Revival,” about the dark side of evangelists and tent revivals. I submitted it to a literary contest, where it earned honorable mention; it was also published in the Arizona Authors’ Association 2015 Literary Magazine.

John Denver

My brother, Rick, enjoyed listening to blue grass, folk, and old country on his Bose machine. Music touched his soul in a way that would sometimes move him to tears. He would share with me music trivia and told me about the day John Denver died in a plane crash. Rick fancied himself a writer and penned many musings in spiral notebooks as he deteriorated away in his bedroom. I promised him on his deathbed that I would publish his work. Here is his tribute to John Denver: “Sometimes when I allow myself to indulge in a mild spate of melancholy, I think to myself, oh, you have left us with so much, but still it was way too little, not enough, oh, John, why did you do it . . . for we cry enough already . . .”

When I taught financial services in high school, sometimes my students would come to me for suggestions on how to complete an English assignment because they knew I used to teach English. One young man was worried about an assignment in which he had to write his personal interpretation of the lyrics to a song of his choice. Even though it was way before his time, I played “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and suggested he write about that.

In the literature class I taught adults at a community college, I always began a new unit alanis ironicby playing music and providing the lyrics for discussion. This was to stimulate their cognitive thinking skills as they tackled abstract stories that held no meaning to their lives. Most of my students had struggled in high school and were trying to catch up in order to graduate with an A.A. degree. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” was an excellent choice for one of my lessons about irony in a story.

What is your music of choice? Are you moved by the lyrics, the beat, or the artist? How can you combine music with your writing muse? Writing seems to be a solitary man kind of activity, and sometimes it helps to drink a little cracklin’ rosie to get the muse excited, but the nice thing about being an author is you can sit at your desk all day in sweatpants or forever in blue jeans.

Barbara Renner
and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Barbara RennerBirds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at, as well as on TwitterFacebook, and GoodReads.

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Why I like the Tucson Festival of Books

Why I like the Tucson Festival of Books

by Katrina Shawver

TFOB KS 2015

I first attended the Tucson Festival of Books four years ago. I now count it as an annual “don’t miss” event. Everything about it is a winner. Last year, attendance reached 135,000 people over the two-day event, so I am in good company.

The Festival exists as a community-wide celebration of the written word. All proceeds raised are used to sustain the event and support local literacy programs. Through 2017, the Festival has raised more than $1.6 million for literacy causes.

I firmly believe writers should be regulars at book festivals, regardless of whether you have a published book to market, are attending as a reader, or both. As an attendee, there are workshops, author presentations, events, and enough vendor booths to peruse for a few hours.

The Tucson Festival of Books takes place every March, on the campus of the University of Arizona. In the spirit of supporting a great event, here are my top 10 reasons for attending. Most should apply to many other books festivals as well, but I am most familiar with the Tucson event.

10. The entire weekend is free, except for a minor parking fee and personal travel costs. All proceeds raised support local literacy programs.

9. Festivals are a great opportunity to meet your favorite authors. The bigger the event, the bigger the names. Some authors choose to launch their newest books there. Attendees can meet favorite, and famous, authors who live across the country.

8. You can discover new authors. I have not met an author who does not love to talk about their book. I have attended sessions of authors I did not know, but who intrigued me. A few became new favorites I would not have discovered otherwise.

7. Network. Network. Network. Fellow writers and authors attend these events. Readers attend. When you sit next to someone you do not know, strike up a conversation. Are they writing? What genre? Or are they primarily readers? Promote your blog and books to new readers. I have met some interesting people I would not otherwise have met.

6. Be prepared to take notes. In almost every presentation, I discovered new websites, Facebook pages, and other helpful references I had not previously known about. Festivals and conferences are part of my perpetual learning curve as a writer.

5. There are usually one or more sessions on finding an agent, or an agent panel discussing their likes and dislikes. Sometimes you can pitch your book. Some agents only accept queries from people they have met at events, so ask for their cards.

4. The weather is usually perfect and makes for a great day to be outside. The TFOB is a two-day event, with five free sessions each day. Each year I try to attend nine and pick a time slot just to browse the hundreds of booths. I stay all day, both days, and go home re-energized about writing.

3. It’s an ideal place to have fun, and enjoy the festive spirit. At the TFOB, there is something for everyone, beyond just books. Past festivals have featured a science pavilion, national parks area, culinary stage, children’s area, food vendors, performers, and more. I got to see one of Shakespeare’s first folios, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Very cool.

2. You have the chance to learn the business of writing. Attend panels on how to publish, working with an editor, how to get your book reviewed, marketing, building a social media platform, or whatever other topic is of interest.

1. Support other authors. Meet them, ask them questions, and buy their books.

TFOB KS 2015-2

Katrina ShawverKatrina Shawver  is the author of Henry, A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, officially released on November 1, 2017. The book is published through Koehler Books and is available in hardback, paperback, and ebook formats on most book sites worldwide. Visit KatrinaShawver.comwhere she blogs regularly.

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