The Effective Author: Getting More Done by Changing the Way You Write Your List

The Effective Author: Getting More Done by Changing the Way You Write Your List

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

2018 To Do List

Sometimes the smallest changes have the largest impact, and changing the way you write your list of to-do’s is a place to see huge impact. With practice, you will notice massive energy and productivity results from this simple switch. Begin by making your list for today or the next several days, as you usually do.

Now think, or take to your heart, regarding how “heavy” each of these tasks is. There’s an old expression often used when one has taken care of a big thing: “Well, THAT’s a load off my mind!” So how much of a load is “on your mind” about each of the things on your to-do list for today and the next several days?

This is easy to see when you are getting ready for a huge talk, a conference, a trip, or all of these at once. The time frame is exact and will not change. You have a lot to do to prepare. It’s easy to make that list. And it would be great if all the tasks naturally fell in order. But it may seem that every task needs to be done first! Sound familiar? So how can you put them in order?

Which task stresses you out the most? Or, which task will you get the most relief from, when you get it completed? Recently, I used this question to sort my own tasks, before a big trip. It was close to the first of the month. Some deposits needed to be made, the mortgage and HELOC needed to be paid, and several smaller bills were due. A prescription needed to be filled. Clothes needed to be washed and travel grooming items checked/refilled/replaced. Weather predictions for my destination kept changing. I wanted to look through my tote bags and find one slightly larger than the one I used on my last trip. Oh, and the night before my flight, I had a huge meeting to help run.

All of these things were easy, and not one of them absolutely had to be done three days in advance of the trip. But I caught myself feeling stressed. So I asked myself, “Getting which thing done will give me the most relief?” The answer, oddly, was banking-plus-mortgage-payments, one of the quickest tasks on my whole list. I took care of that right away, and half my stress evaporated. Now I asked myself again, ““Getting which thing done will give me the most relief?” The answer quickly came: taking care of the prescription. Again, this was quickly done. And now, I had only a fraction of the stress. My energy was back, and I was zooming toward my trip.

Now to your stress relief: Write your list, and keep asking yourself, “Getting which thing done will give me the most relief?” Whack through, and you’ll be amazed at how much energy and time you have to be The Effective Authorsm!

Kebba Buckley Button
is a stress management expert. She also has a natural healing practice and is an ordained minister. She is the author of the award-winning book, Discover The Secret Energized You, plus Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, available through her office. Just email Kebba’s newest book is the full-color Inspirations for Peace Within: Quotes and Images to Uplift and Inspire, also available through her office. For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group:

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The Egg-Laying Wooly Milk-Pig

The Egg-Laying Wooly Milk-Pig

by Rita Goldner

My friend Eva is truly a Renaissance woman in every sense of the word. She is a farmegg laying milk pig girl, but also has a PhD. We used to work together, and in her spare time she was growing vegetables, tending goats and chickens, spinning wool, and sewing a fabulous summer wardrobe, all while concocting chemical formulas for homemade soap and lotions. In the course of our conversations while working, I gleaned a wealth of information. Topics ranged from “How do you ferment wine and beer?” to “What’s the difference between a virus and a bacteria?” Over the years, Eva taught me a cornucopia of unrelated things, but one bit of philosophy stands out.

She shared an interesting legend in German folklore, and it has served me well in negotiating with business clients and problem solving in a brainstorm session. German farmers tout the benefits of owning a mythical farm animal that would serve all their needs in one package. Its name is eierlegendewollmilchsau. It is literally translated thusly:

eierlegende (egg-laying) + woll (wool) + milch (milk) + sau (sow)

In English, we called it an “egg-laying wooly milk-pig”. You can see my interpretation of this fantasy beast in the illustration.

Eva and I often had to deal with clients who insisted on being able to buy one product that would solve all their problems, while also being beautiful, durable enough to last forever, easy to ship and store, unique, inexpensive, and available very quickly. Of course, we relegated those orders to the Egg-Laying Wooly Milk-Pig Department.

Another example is my husband Dave, who designs and builds small boats (for himself, just for fun). He’s gotten quite proficient with wood, fiberglass, epoxy, and the design process, but his skill set is both a blessing and curse. Now that he can pretty much design anything he wants, he’s plagued with indecision. It has to be long enough to track straight as an arrow through the water, but short enough to turn on a dime. Narrow enough to be fast, but wide-beamed for stability. Light enough for easy portability, but heavyweight enough to withstand scraping along the beach and bumping into a random rock or log. Small enough for solo fishing, yet big enough to include the occasional friend. The surface paint should be perfectly suited for fresh water – and the ocean. Throw in some oarlocks for rowing, a motor mount on the transom, and a back-up sail. Don’t forget storage space for the kayak paddle, just in case. While eight different boats would cover all the bases, he is doggedly pursuing the elusive egg-laying wooly milk-pig.

I notice this mythical quadruped sneaking into the decision-making processes of many of my friends, not only when they are designing some panacea to solve everyone’s problems at once, but also when they are mapping out the itinerary for a business trip or vacation. The suggestions pour in:

“While you’re there, make sure you …”

“Since you’ll be in town anyway, be sure to visit Aunt …”

“Could you make a small side trip and help me with …”

“We’ll all join you on your peaceful getaway and party ’til dawn!”

We’ve all known people who are unwavering in their plans. They will not be diverted from a simple goal, and make no compromises. They caution the less steadfast among us to stop dashing off in several directions at once, and to focus our attentions and efforts.

The protest from my pal Eva and me would be “What’s the fun in that?”

So if you’ve become a bit buttoned up lately, gallop off with the four winds, spread yourself thin, fracture your focus, and nurture your inner eierlegendewollmilchsau!

Comments welcome!

Rita signature

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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“Gee, I wish I could write a book”

“Gee, I wish I could write a book”

by Marcus A. Nannini


How many times have you heard that? Naturally you follow up with a question along the line of “So why don’t you?”

The responses run the usual gamut of:

“I don’t have time.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“I don’t really know what to write about.”

“I don’t think I have enough ideas to fill a book.”

“I don’t have the education.”

“I lack the necessary…” and on and on.

In reality, the publishing industry today is broader and easier to enter than at any time in history. With a little money, anyone can publish a book of any length or type: romance, sci-fi, nonfiction, textbook, coffee table book, YA, children’s picture books. There are no longer limits on seeing any type of book through to publication in a short period of time. Consequently, legitimate excuses for a person not fulfilling their dream to write a book are becoming fewer and further between. The burgeoning self-publishing industry has opened doors.

I believe the rapid transformation of the entire publishing industry has given a huge shot in the arm to the “how to write” industry. Regardless of the genre you desire to engage in, there is a seminar out there to address your perceived shortcomings as an author. All you need is time and money. Money can get you a grammatically correct book, but it cannot make the book engaging. Neither can Grammarly. But if earning money from your book sales is not a priority for you, you can publish whatever you write without regard as to whether you will find a paying audience.

The transformation of the publishing industry has caused many side effects. One of them is the consolidation of the major publishing houses to the point where there are now only five of them: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Shuster.

Last time I checked, the so-called “Big 5” were paying a minimum advance of about $10,000 to new authors. A handful of larger publishing houses, one tier below the Big 5, pays advances ranging from $500 to a few thousand dollars, but the overwhelming majority of publishers pay no advance whatsoever. Worse yet, many of them place the journeyman’s portion of the marketing on the shoulders of their authors.

Then there are self-publishing houses. Authors pay them to publish their writing. The payments can include cover design, editing, and limited marketing packages. The self-publishing companies take no risk. They only take your money. Taking money while assuming no risk brings me to the topic of literary agents.

As the publishing industry merged its way to the Big 5, it also became necessary for a new author to acquire a literary agent just to enjoy the potential opportunity of placing a given book proposal in front one of the Big 5’s acquisition editors.

A significant number of literary agents now spend substantial time partaking in writers’ conferences across the country. Don’t for a minute let yourself labor under the impression that they appear at conferences for free. Ostensibly they attend the conferences for the purpose of seeking out new clients. But why would they take a week out of their lives to attend a conference to do what they can do far more efficiently on their laptop? Ever hear of a writer’s conference being held in Anchorage, Alaska, in February? Of course not. San Diego, however, is pretty nice that time of year. Conferences use literary agents to as selling tools (aka bait) – nothing more and nothing less. If you spend the money to attend a conference under the belief that your elevator pitch will net you a fat contract, I would think twice about how else you could invest the same money to further your writing career.

I believe most literary agents are content with the business they have. Their main source of new clients is by referral. Personally, I consider soliciting literary agents a colossal waste of time. YOU could feasibly spend as much time seeking an agent as you could have re-editing your entire book six times, resulting in a better book. Time cannot be replaced, so consider where and how you spend it. And speaking of spending…

Literary agents will cost you anywhere from 10 to 20 percent off the top of any earnings coming your way. I understand 15 percent is the current standard. OK, everyone is entitled to earn a living. But who literally pays the agent? You might think the answer is that the author pays the agent. Guess again.

The publisher pays the agent the full amounts due the author and leaves it to the agent to turn around and pay the author their net after commissions and costs. You read that correctly. When you sign a contract with an agent, you are placing someone between you and your money. Is that smart? Is it safe? You tell me. I intend no offense regarding the integrity of literary agents. I am simply pointing out the facts of life.

Let’s say you have agreed to a $10,000 advance from one of the Big 5, payable in three installments, each triggered by an event, such as the signing of a publishing contract, sometimes called an Author’s Agreement. The triggering event for the first installment results in either the author or the agent sending an invoice to the publisher for the amount then due. Assuming the agent acts as quickly as the author would act and sends the invoice off ASAP, there is at least a 30-day gap before the payment might be received – payment to the agent, that is. Not the payment to the author.

The author, meanwhile, sits around and waits, not knowing if or when the publishing house has sent the first installment payment. Frankly, I was taught never to surrender control of my money, yet such a surrender is exactly what an author is expected to do. Apparently, in the land of literary agency, trust is a one way street; don’t trust the author to pay the agent in a timely manner and expect the agent will always pay the author the correct amount and in a timely manner. I don’t know about you, but trust must be a two-way street in all my relationships.

So how does a writer get in front of the Big 5 – and keep control of the finances? It is not easy, but there are avenues out there. First, you need to establish a track record of writing books that get picked up by legit publishers. The goal is for the first book to net you a larger publisher for your second book.

The second book nets you either a still-larger publisher or a more generous advance with your existing publisher. You are then in a position to catch the attention of the Big 5, either directly or through one of the back channels sometimes made available. Back channels are discovered through meticulous research; when you find them, make certain you grant them an exclusive and be clear as to the period of time the exclusivity runs; for example, three months.


If your book is good enough you can find yourself with a $10,000 advance without paying $1,500 plus costs to an agent, not to mention the agent fees which continue into the future. Of course, a key to gaining access to the Big 5 is writing a book that is “good enough.”

Once you have a finished product, it takes only a matter of a few minutes’ research to locate several extensive listings of publishers seeking to publish books in your genre. You need to pitch them, but first be sure to examine each publisher’s website to confirm they routinely publish books in your genre. And make certain they do not require you to pay them for anything.

Write a good pitch, and you will receive requests for more information, perhaps even for the manuscript. It will happen, and within a few months you can find yourself with an executed contract for the publication of your book. I tend to use a variety of pitches rather than rely on just one. Do your research and, as for your pitches, run them past friends. If they want to read the book after reading your pitch, there is a reasonable expectation you will catch the attention of an acquisitions editor.

If you fail to engage a publisher after scouring the country for one, take a step back. Reconsider your project and maybe work through another edit. Then start the research again and send out another round of pitches. Or go the self-publishing route if you are thoroughly convinced you have exhausted all potential publishers and your book is the best you can make it. I have listened to many authors read from their books-in-progress and often wondered why they were not going all-out for a publisher rather than self-publishing. Never sell your writing short.

Time and money. If you self-publish, you will burn time and money on a larger scale than if you were with an indie publisher who picked up 100 percent of the publishing expenses. I include vanity presses among the self-publishers.

Indie publishers will usually participate in the marketing with you, which will be a big help in terms of both time and money expended. Larger publishing houses may take on a larger share of the marketing, as they have their own sales, marketing, and distribution teams in-house. I must also stress a book published by a genuine publishing house can and will open critically important doors that self-publishing cannot, but that’s for another post.

Get your first book done and published by a publishing company to whom you do not pay any money. Garner good reviews from independent third parties. Write your next book and piggyback that book onto the critical successes of book number one. Your first book need not be a big volume seller to garner the requisite credentials critical to climbing the publication ladder and earning better “advances” with your next books.

Marcus Nannini
began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the Marcus Nanninisixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.

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A Writers’ Trio

A Writers’ Trio

by C.K. Thomas

I’m writing a novella called The Muse with two friends. We’ve decided on 15,000 words, and we meet once a month at our local Panera Bread restaurant and online, as needed. Each of us has assumed the identity of a character in our story. Here’s how it all began.

Way back in about 2003 or so, I was working at a large Methodist church as their publications editor. My artist friend was also working there as, well, an artist doing projection screens for the Sunday worship. Of course, as workers will do, we spent some time on the job NOT working.

Fishing silhouette.jpg

One day I sent an email to the artist: “A story in two sentences: There were once two friends . . . a writer and an artist . . . and what they created bound them together in endless conversations about art and craft and growing old. Their names were Cheryl and Suzanne, and they lived quite happily, the artist in her sun-drenched studio, brushes in hand, and the writer in her book-lined room, pen at the ready.”

So, instead of “Ha, ha, very funny,” Suzanne emailed a paragraph that read: “One afternoon, Cheryl quietly entered Suzanne’s studio and settled into an overstuffed, paisley-covered chair, breathing a heavy sigh as she kicked off her shoes. Unable to ignore the hint of Cheryl’s distress, Suzanne turned from her latest painting of a lily, set her brush aside, and inquired about Cheryl’s problem.”

Thus, began a collaboration that would flare and then go to embers over several years until Suzanne and I retired and began seeing each other once a month over coffee. Then, “enter Diane,” a friend of Suzanne’s. By this time the two of us has been writing haphazardly on “our story” and had invented a character named Linda. When our artist/writer friend Diane took an interest in “our story,” we changed Linda to Diane, so we could add another writer to our scheme.

So far, we have about 8,000 words or so in “our story,” and Diane has started to contribute to our insanity. We’re stumbling now over how to collaborate using a “master copy,” but we can’t figure out how to use the Cloud for this purpose. We’ve got the story in Dropbox, but the user can only work on the document if they download it. Technology is getting in the way, so we’re struggling along, simply using “cut and paste” each time we meet to compare notes. I’m sure eventually we’ll figure out the Cloud.”

What the three of us treasure most about our adventure in story writing is the laughter and the tears we’ve shared over coffee, pastries, and sandwiches. Our trio reminds me of a fish story.

When I used to go fishing with my dad on Lake Webster in Indiana, we wanted to catch fish, of course, but going out in the boat was more about going out in the boat. It meant sitting back and feeling the sun on our backs, hearing the gentle lake waves lapping against the side of the boat, and breathing the fresh air across our bow. The trip out across the water, the floating around finding just the perfect spot to cast our lines, and the trip home feeling satisfied, relaxed and embraced by a day on the water gave meaning to a sport we called “fishing.”

Our writing trio has rediscovered a universal fishing truth. It’s not the story, dummy, it’s us.

C.K. Thomas
lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.

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Author Branding

Author Branding

by Barbara Renner

Plain-mcdonalds-logoThe golden arches. When you see them, you know exactly what they mean; they mean you are going to enjoy a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder at McDonalds. Personally, I’d stop for their fresh French fries every time. Similarly, the image of an apple with a bite taken out of it can appear in a rainbow of colors or black or white, and we know right away it is the logo for an Apple/Mac product. In Western states where cattle roam on open ranges, ranchers poke a hot iron onto the haunches of their cows to determine ownership. All these examples describe branding. According to the American Marketing Association, “A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” It’s important for authors to brand themselves, as well, so readers will recognize their name and automatically know what they write, but probably not with a glowing poker.

Build your author brand around one genre. If you enjoy writing romance novels, build your brand around that. If children’s picture books are your passion, think of a way to set yourself apart from all the other picture book authors. What if you have been writing in one genre, and now want to publish a book in another genre? This may involve either using a pen name or re-branding yourself. Of course, when you become famous like James Patterson, it will be easy to switch genres like he did because his name is already recognizable.

Create an author website and logo around your genre. Before you spend money and time on creating a website, research the websites of other authors in your genre. Take notes on what you like and what you don’t like. What message do you want to impart to the readers who land on your site? It should be consistent with your author brand. Take a look at Bobbie Hinman’s website, and you’ll know exactly what her genre is. The banner on Michael Connelly’s website has you riding as a passenger in Detective Harry Bosch’s car speeding through the streets of Los Angeles. Take a look at Cynthia Port’s website to discover what she writes about.

Choose a color or color scheme when creating your website, marketing materials, and social media sites, and then be consistent. The chart below shows that colors can inflict certain emotions. Researchers have found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products are based on color alone. My website, business cards, and marketing materials are in red, simply because I happen to like red, and I chose the color for my website and business cards before I became an author. However, I wouldn’t say that my children’s picture books are bold and exciting. If I were to rebrand myself, I probably would choose blue or green.


Once you’ve created your website and logo, find the best social media sites for your genre and point your new social media friends to your website, then ask your friends to share your posts. For every platform you use, such as Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, make sure you are consistent in promoting yourself. This includes your logo, bio information, headshot, website, and social media links.

I completed a profile for a website that connects authors and speakers with schools and the media. One of the questions was “What do you want your listing headline to read?” After inspecting what some of the other authors wrote, I determined they were asking for a tagline. We recognize companies from their taglines all the time: “Just Do It”; “Because You’re Worth It”; “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands.” In creating a brand for yourself, consider a tagline, or catchphrase, that conveys a feeling for what you write. Ideally, it should be short, catchy, and easy to remember. The one I decided on for mine is “Author of picture books that are entertaining as well as educational.” The tagline for Katherine V. Stevens, poet, photographer, and novelist, is “Promoter of People, Poetry, and Prose.” Published author and journalist, Alexis Bloomer’s tagline is “Teaching Kindness.” “Guardian of Memories, Preserver of Family History” is the tagline for Jackie Madden Haugh, author and professional speaker.


I don’t profess to be an expert on author branding, and I still have a lot to learn about marketing my brand. The information I’ve provided in this blog is from my research. What about you? Do you have an author brand? Is it working for you? I’d love to hear what others are doing to brand themselves. I would also love to eat something “finger lickin’ good” right about now.

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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You Want Me to Talk?

You Want Me to Talk?

by Patricia Grady Cox

Jimmy Carter at Changing HandsSelf-promotion sometimes requires giving presentations at book signings. This is not my favorite thing to do, but I can be cajoled into it. On May 12, I will give a talk at a book signing in Providence, Rhode Island, my home state. This is kind of fun to anticipate because it is the first event for my novel Hellgate (released in April by Five Star Publishing), and I’ll get to spend time visiting friends and family.

But then there’s that talk I must give. What is my topic? What does anybody want to hear? I’ve been to many book signings, conference panels, and 10 years of the Tucson Book Festival, where I’ve listened to other authors talk about their work. I must have learned something from watching all those authors speak.

What I don’t like:

Long readings from the book
My thinking is that one should read as short a passage as possible to make your point or illustrate your character/story/setting. Something enticing. Why read so much that (1) the audience gets sick of hearing it or (even worse) (2) you read so much you convince them they’re not interested in reading anymore? When I was promoting my first novel, Chasm Creek, I read the last five paragraphs of the first chapter. Less than a page. For my current novel, Hellgate, I have two main characters, both women. I plan to read a little in Rose’s point of view, and a little in Aunt Mary Alice’s point of view. Maybe a half page each, maybe less. They are the two protagonists and the only POV characters. My hope is to illustrate the difference in voice and setting and perhaps explain why I chose to alternate between the two.

Talking about “My Process”
Over time I’ve learned that I really don’t get much value out of listening to someone else P Grady Cox at book signingtalk about their writing process. It’s not like I’m going to change the way I approach my own work. Believe me, even if they say something that resonates and I think, “What a great idea! I should do that!” I will not do it. I’ll continue to write the way I always have, in spurts and stops, when the spirit moves me unless I have a deadline. I think this process thing might be a topic of more interest to readers—who may find the whole creative thing mysterious—or maybe to writers just starting out and struggling to find their own “process.”  Really, if someone wants to hear about my process, they can ask during the Q&A session or send me an email. I’m happy to talk about it, but would prefer to limit it to people who are actually interested.

Standing behind a lectern
I know the venue sometimes expects this, but I’d rather stand right in front of the first row of attendees and be less formal. I don’t want to feel like I’m lecturing them, and I want them to feel like we’re having a conversation.

What I like:

Why did the author write this book?
I like to hear about what compelled them to start and actually complete this particular story. What made this story so important to them? And how did they come up with the story and characters and setting? Do they have a funny anecdote about somebody P Grady Cox at book launchinspiring them? Did they stumble upon a topic, piece of research, or place that started their imaginations firing?

What effect did research have on the story?
Did they come across a particularly interesting bit of history that their audience probably hasn’t heard? I’d like to hear about that. Did they themselves learn something new in the course of doing research that changed the direction of the story? Any fun stories about visiting out-of-the-way places?

What do they want the reader to get out of the book?
I like to hear this toward the conclusion of their remarks. Surely there is something in particular the author would like the reader to remember, to think about, something that perhaps will change their perspective in some way.

So these are the areas I will aim for in my current promotional activities. I certainly could miss the target. But maybe I’ll hit the bullseye and whatever I say will resonate with somebody and they will buy my book!

By the time you read this on the 14th, it will be two days after my first book signing for Hellgate. Let’s hope I hit a bullseye.

What do you like/dislike about book signings? If you’re a reader, what do you want to hear about? If you’re a writer, what do you include in your own talks?

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, is now on sale.

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The Challenge of Pacing

The Challenge of Pacing

by Vaughn Treude

good pacing

To many outsiders, writing looks easy. As with most worthwhile pursuits, the challenges aren’t obvious to beginners. You can be good at spelling and grammar and even be able to craft a coherent narrative. Your characters could be interesting and engaging. Yet your story still might not be engaging to readers. One of the most important factors in getting this right – and one of the most difficult to master – is pacing. 

Pacing is the rate at which the story unfolds. This depends on the ratio between description, dialog, and action. It’s a matter of personal style, of course, and it varies between genres. Going too slowly may bore your readers, but go too quickly and you could lose them. In modern times, the trend has been toward faster paced fiction. That may be, in part, because there’s so much competition for peoples’ attention. If you’ve read classics such as Don Quixote or Moby Dick, you know that narratives written in those times moved much more slowly. Today, people are accustomed to watching television shows and movies with non-stop action, like a J.J. Abrams sci-fi adventure. It makes writing an engaging story much more challenging. 

Fiction is, by its nature, a compromise between description and action. Getting a feel for the setting is an important part of the reader’s experience, especially if the story is set back in history or on an future alien world. Too much atmosphere, however, can test your reader’s patience. On the other hand, a story that is all action reads like an outline or a play where actors duke it out on a bare stage.

Are there any rules of thumb a writer can use to ensure good pacing? It’s difficult to formulate one that will work for everyone. Genres and writing styles differ. Even “action” can be difficult to define. It’s not necessarily violence, danger, and mayhem. It can be the struggle of an athlete to score that winning goal, or an emotional argument between friends. 

One approach some writers take is to highlight the portions of their prose with different colors for action, description, and dialog, to try to ensure a proper balance between these. I haven’t tried this yet, because my beta reader (my ever-patient wife, Arlys) catches me when I do this. 

Other authors have offered more specific advice. Sci-fi master A.E. van Vogt made sure all his stories had a plot twist every few pages. I kept this in mind when working on a recent short story and found that it really helped keep things moving. 

The notion that writing fiction is easy is a popular misconception. Even after one masters the basics of grammar, plot, and dialog, it’s still necessary to hold the reader’s attention. In order to achieve that, the writer must master the art of pacing. 


Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at and look for his exciting new website,, coming soon!

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