Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Expanding Possibility: A Writing Manifesto by Katie Stover Kelly

Susan here: In my online travels, I spotted the #TeachWrite Chat Blog, "a gathering place for thoughts about writing for teachers who write." It might be primarily for teachers, but there is plenty here for writers in all professions. I've been particularly enjoying their series of writing manifestos. This one, by Katie Stover Kelly particularly caught my eye, but they're all excellent. They were kind enough to let us repost it here.

Enjoy! And if you're on Twitter, join their #TeachWrite chat every Monday at 5:30 Mountain Time. 

Guest post by Katie Stover Kelly

The scratching of pencil on paper.
The tapping of the keyboard.
Voice memos on the phone.
Technology allows us to craft our writing in new ways.
Combining modalities and expanding our possibilities.

I believe choice is fundamental to writing. Not only choice of topics but choice of genres, formats, and tools are essential.

I believe our role as educators is to help all writers find their voices and their identities.

I believe we must create spaces in our classroom communities that value authentic meaningful writing experiences.

I believe that as teachers of writing, we must be writers ourselves.

I believe anyone can be a writer.
Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.
Just do it.
Why you might ask?

I believe writing allows us to find ourselves.
I believe writing expands our thinking.
I believe writing deepens our understanding.
I believe writing opens the world of possibility.
I believe writing helps us process, ponder, and be present.
I believe writing is a way to share our joys, sorrows, and journeys.

Writing is a unique and personal process.
Tinker on the page.
Tap on the keyboard.
Speak into your voice memo.

Breathe life to your own canvas and enjoy the journey.


Katie Stover Kelly is a former elementary teacher and literacy coach. She is currently an Associate Professor of Education at Furman University in Greenville, SC. She has written numerous articles and published two coauthored books: Smuggling Writing through Corwin Press, and From Pencilsto Podcasts with Solution Tree. Katie is writing a new (yet unnamed) book with Lester Laminack which is due out in 2018. You can connect with Katie on Twitter @ktkelly14.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


guest post by Chaurisse Anderson 

Lynn here -- This is the second blog post written for us by a student in Laramie County Community College's Poetry and Creative Nonfiction class. 

I think you're going to enjoy it--I sure did!

You would think writing would be easy and the words clearly understood. After all, it’s right there in black and white and I know what I’m trying to say, so others should understand too. But it’s not always that simple.

For example, when I went to the drive up window and ordered a burrito and a packet of salt, I spoke clearly and articulated well. That simple order should not have thrown the entire fast food restaurant into mayhem, but it did. After placing my order I waited at the window and waited and waited. I peeked through the window and it looked like no one was there. Finally a kid with a pudgy baby face came to the window. But, before he could give me my order he had to explain.

“We just had a quick meeting of our staff to see if we could give you what you requested,” he said.

My mind is racing…What on earth did I say that would require an entire restaurant to shut down and have an emergency meeting? 

“So, if you really want some soap I guess we can give you some, just this one time.”

“What do you mean soap?” I asked.

“You ordered a burrito with soap and I guess we can give you some this one time, but not any more.”

I repeated my order for a burrito and a packet of salt, and asked him to throw in some hot sauce too. He stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language and handed me my bag. I drove off with one burrito, no salt, no hot sauce and no soap.

So, the written word would have been perfect in my dealings with the baby-faced drive up window man. For I could have typed up my order and he could have read it clearly and there would be no misunderstanding.

I sometimes wish I had a spell check and grammar check on my mouth. Then when I say something really stupid something would be a beep and I could read what I just said and realize that perhaps I said the wrong word.

That would have come in handy the time my husband, a farmer, was working out in the quonset* and I was on the phone with one of my pesky sisters*. After chatting awhile I told her my husband was late coming in for dinner because he was out in the quonset. Since my sisters and I are essentially city girls (growing up in the metropolis of Dallas, Oregon) and we did not grow up on a farm I wanted to impress my sister with my vast farming vocabulary, like the word ‘quonset.’

I knew she would be impressed.

She wasn’t.

“What’s he doing in the quonset?” she asked.

Aha! Here was another chance to impress her with farming lingo. “He’s out taking care of his concubines*.”

Dead silence, then a snicker. “How many concubines does your husband have?”

“I don’t know,” I said. ”Three or four maybe?”

By this time my sister was laughing hysterically, which I did not understand why.

“No wonder your husband is late for supper! The word is combine not concubine!”

That would have been a really, really good time to have written words coming out of my mouth so I could preview them before I spoke because I know my spell checker and grammar checker or stupidity checker surely would have raised a red flag.

There are, however, other times that even having something in writing will not help because, well, sometimes people just don’t get it.

When I first moved to the farm from the city, my husband would give me instructions like “Go to high point, then the old Henderson place….over the bluff and past the buffalo waller*.”

Now, even if he had written all of these words down for me I still would have stared and blinked. “Excuse me, what is a high point? The high point of what? Who is Henderson? Is a bluff a hill or a ridge? What is a buffalo waller? I know what a buffalo is, ummm, but we don’t have any here.”

So sometimes the written word does not help if the person reading it is lacking in….well, just plain lacking.

Kind of like when I went to the fabric - craft store to buy some string*.

Now, I grew up with string, I recognized it, I used it, my grandmother always kept a ball of string for whatever.

So I went to the store and asked the petite childlike clerk to direct me to the string. ”The what?” she asked.

“String.” I repeated.

“I don’t even know what you’re saying!” she said. I started thinking back about the soap - salt incident but pushed it out of my mind. She went and got the store manager.

The store manager who looked barely old enough to drive said, “How may I help you?”

I spoke clearly and concisely. “I want a ball of string.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Do you want thread?”

“No, I want string.”

“Do you want hemp twine?”

“No, I want string.”

She apparently determined I was drunk and said, “Look lady we don’t serve drinks here.” And with that she walked off.

So, I went to a bigger store.

I went up to a sales associate who was still wearing braces. “Could you please show me where the string is?”

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“Never mind.” I said. I went and found an employee with gray hair and said, “Could you show me where the string is?”

Without hesitating he said, “Sure thing, it’s right over here.”

So in that case even if I had written down my request it would not have helped because something was definitely lacking in the understanding department.

There are times when I would love to have someone’s thoughts in writing, just so I could see what they were really thinking. Such as the time I went to the high-priced underwear store at the mall (but I can’t say its name because it’s a Secret).

I marched in with a free underwear coupon and began digging through the bins of underwear like a cow at a feeding trough. There were others at this feeding trough and underwear was flying.

I picked up one pair of underwear and they looked huge. Surely they were mis-marked in the sizing division. I held them up in front of me when the size zero sales associate who looked about 12-years-old came up behind me.

She apparently saw me staring at the huge underwear and thought she knew what I was thinking. After she sized up the underwear and my back side she said, “Don’t worry, they’ll stretch.”

So, here I sit on my broad backside in a buffalo waller eating soap and playing with string and writing this blog. Perhaps my husband will come and rescue me, when he’s finished with his concubines.

*Quonset - A big metal building that concubines are kept in.
*Pesky Sister - If you don’t know what one is, I’ll give you mine. I have extras.
*Concubine- a mistress or an unmarried woman living with a man and his wife or wives.
*Buffalo Waller - Still no idea, I think it’s a hole in the ground.
*String - A string-like substance.

Chaurisse Anderson lives in Albin with her husband (and his concubines) and two dogs. She began writing four months ago in a Creative Writing class at LCCC. She finds joy in writing about farm life in Wyoming and especially about her experiences as a novice farmwife.

Chaurisse and her husband have raised four children and now have six grandchildren. She plans on continuing her writing and has a dream to someday work at a zoo.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Atlantic City's 150th Anniversary Book: Inspired by a Library Book

Susan here:  How do you best tell the history of a town and all its people? We asked Bob Townsend how the Atlantic City Historical Society did it.

Guest post by Bob Townsend

I perused Family Stories, Riverton, Wyoming, 1906-1981 in Riverton’s library. I recognized about half the folks in my childhood hometown’s 75th anniversary book.

The publisher – the Riverton Senior Citizens Center – apparently distributed a questionnaire (e.g., When did you arrive in Riverton? Where did you come from? What did you do for a living? Do you have family photos?). I enjoyed folks’ stories and the fond memories they spurred.

On the drive home that evening I realized my new hometown’s 150th birthday was nigh. Atlantic City had been my home for nine years, and I had immersed myself in its history.

My mind drew a sketch of the city’s sesquicentennial book. I pitched my idea to the others on the Atlantic City Historical Society’s board of directors in fall 2015. One asked, “Do you envision a 20-page pamphlet?”

“No, and I won’t use a questionnaire.”

The board backed my idea, and the president told me to put a book in her hands by Thanksgiving 2017. I sent a press release to the Fremont County Visitors Council. They shot gunned my invitation to storytellers – poets, songsters, artists and photographers – to 94 media outlets throughout Wyoming.

Contributors’ promises trickled in. I sought contributions from everyone I knew and for them to ask everyone they knew. Folks still remind me how I stopped them in the middle of the street to ask for their story. The trickle became 2016’s spring thaw.

The historical society’s rolls reckon 70-plus. Society members meet annually the last Saturday in August to tour some historic site near Atlantic City. About 50 folks attend. Our 2016 gathering offered the opportunity to extend my call for submissions.

I shared what I had in hand with the others at our October 2016 board meeting. Three members – LeAnn Woodhouse, Amy McClure and Marjane Ambler -- volunteered to form a committee to oversee our book’s publication. They wanted deadlines! I set Thanksgiving 2016 for folks to let me know they’d submit something and Valentine’s Day 2017 to submit it.

Duncan Gold Mine and Mill outside of Atlantic City.
Photo courtesy of  Atlantic City Historical Society.
The committee and I scoured the stories. We looked for holes. We weren’t trying to publish a definitive history, but we had a focus: who will want to read our book?

We needed gold mining stories. A gold boom spawned the Dakota Territory town those 15 decades ago. The U.S. Army established Camp Stambaugh nearby to protect the miners and others. Soon came the bust. Other gold booms and busts followed. Pam Spencer-Hockett, the society’s president, volunteered to write those stories.

An iron ore mine opened within a few miles of the city in 1960, bringing the biggest and longest lasting boom. That mine busted in 1983, but its imprint remains today in the people, businesses, buildings and memories. LeAnn stepped up to tell that tale.

Fincelius Burnett arrived in Atlantic City during the first gold boom. He stayed at a boarding house and grew fond of Eliza McCarthy, the woman who served his meals. Finn and Eliza married here on March 22, 1870. Finn and Eliza were U.S. Senator Alan Simpson’s great-grandparents. I invited Al to pen our introduction.

John Mionczynski – jade prospector and biologist – arrived a century after Finn. He and three other musicians formed The Buffalo Chips, and John agreed to write the band’s 40-year story. Why include the story of a band? That band attracted hundreds into the fold, and many shared their view of that family’s story.

Moo-rning rush hour in Atlantic City.
Cattle ranching grew up in the old mining district to supply inhabitants with beef. The cattle industry still plays a role in daily life from spring through fall. Cattle roam the city’s dirt streets, and cowboys frequent the local watering holes. They’re part of the family. LeAnn interviewed one of the local icons and wrote the rancher’s story.

A ranch gal on the Green River is heir to two families from the early years. She compiled both families’ histories and documented cattle brands that originated in the area.

A local author published her first book in 2013. She put together a book fest to launch her book and highlight seven other local writers’ books. The fest attracted 50 folks from five counties.

Two and a half score sent stories, poems and a song. Scads sent photographs and other loose threads that helped us stitch together the quilt that covers the town’s 150-years.

As editor of this patchwork collection I offer this. A few of our contributors are writers, but our storytellers come from all walks of life. Their passion for the city enabled them to share their heartening stories. There’s a message here: write what you know and love.

From memories of school-aged children to raucous goings on at the local tavern, to a summary of contemporary businesses, to a review of who lived here and how the demographics changed with each census, to images of public records, submissions began to paint a community image none of us had envisioned.

The spectrum spans humor and heartache, toil and hard work, fun and play and, yes, death. One researcher’s work documents Atlantic City burials. There are twenty marked plots, but the database now holds the names of more than 80 souls.

Atlantic City’s culture emerged. A contrary, self-reliant lot thrive here. They exhibit defiant independence and pride not found in places with modern conveniences. In fall 2016 Amy coined a phrase she felt described their stories: Voices from a Powerful Place.

Atlantic City Historical Society annual dues are $10. Our kitty isn’t flush, and we use the proceeds to print free walking tour maps. We needed an infusion to pay for the book’s design and printing. The committee applied for a Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund grant, and they got it! The committee mailed letters asking for donations from society members, neighbors and businesses. The quest netted a flood of support – and money. We heartily thank all our donors.

The publications committee hired Roger Carpenter, a professional graphics guru in Laramie, to design the book, and, wow, what a job Roger did!

After I completed editorial work on each story – coordinating back and forth with the author – I sent the stories to LeAnn and Amy, the photo editors. They read the stories, pulled imagery – from the 2,300 images they’d scanned into a computer – to support each story and forwarded the finished work to Roger.

As Roger worked his magic with imagery and text, and after completing each of the 12 sections, he forwarded proofs to us. Marjane and I scoured the pages, identified errors and sent corrections back to Roger.

The committee planned for pre-sales commencing at the society’s 2017 meeting.

Roger hired PBR Printing in Cheyenne to print our book. PBR sent a printer’s proof: a 280-page anthology spanning 150 years of a never-incorporated town with 30 fulltime inhabitants. Atlantic City, Wyoming, Voices from a Powerful Place was real. I cried.

The book's back cover.
PBR would print 400 soft covers and 100 hardbacks and promised a November 15th delivery. We sent a press release for a launch date of the 16th at the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander. With two weeks lead time we arranged catering and spread the word via every medium. I drove to Cheyenne, picked up the thousand pounds of books and staged them at the museum on the 15th.

Our launch drew 150 folks from three counties. The hardback books sold out, and so did half the soft covers. KTWO tv in Casper aired segments of our launch on its 5 and 10 o’clock news broadcasts, and the Lander Journal published our launch story on its front page. Folks from across Wyoming and beyond called with orders. Between November 17th and December 17th we sold out.

We ordered another hundred hardbacks. LeAnn picked those up in Cheyenne on December 15th, and before Christmas half of those were gone. We’ll reorder more soft covers in the spring to prepare for the town’s two-day 150th anniversary celebration on July 5th and 6th, 2018.

I’ve already begun traveling Wyoming to share our experience and our book. I’ll make presentations at historical society meetings, libraries, museums and more through 2018.

I acknowledge every member of the Atlantic City Historical Society board of directors. Each made significant contributions to our book by transcribing audio recordings, reviewing oral histories, writing stories, helping with grant applications, mailing postcards and letters and lots more. My sincere, huge thanks to each one.

Beyond the other board members’ labors, two years of work – thousands of hours – by four volunteers, Roger and PBR Printing went into this. We’ve heard many a call for volume II because our book, they tell us, has re-formed bonds and connected so many from the past and present. We beam with pride, but we’ll leave that next chapter for a future generation.

To join the Atlantic City Historical Society or to purchase the book, contact the society by mail at 15 South Dexter Ave. Atlantic City WY 82520, by phone at (307) 332-9402 (leave a message), or by email at ACWYHistoricalSociety@gmail.com.


Bob Townsend, born in Thermopolis and reared in Shoshoni and Riverton, told pilots where to go from U.S. Air Force control towers and retired as a Chief Master Sergeant. In 2005 he edited the University of Wyoming's literary and arts magazine, Owen Wister Review, and earned a B.A. in journalism with a minor in English. You’ll find Bob year-round near his cabin in the Atlantic City suburbs. He writes and edits friends’ works. He collects, and actually reads, oddball dictionaries.

Photo credit: Robert Hall 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


post by Lynn

I’m not normally one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I decided this year that I will—resolutions for my writing life.

I hereby resolve to fail more 

“Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.”
- Jon Sinclair 
In 2018 I want to accumulate failure because then I’ll know I’m stretching my abilities. In order to fail I must put my writing out there (submit!) and in order to do that I must complete poems, essays, stories and blog posts and in order to do that I must write, write and write!

So if you see me on December 31st, 2018 with bruises all over, you’ll understand why I have that big smile on my face.

I hereby resolve to cut down on my screen time 

To get my face into a book instead of Facebook.

Next up: A Wrinkle in Time. by Madeleine L'Engle. I’ve never read it and I want to before I go and see the movie.

I hereby resolve to stick to my writing rituals 

“The pleasure of doing a thing in the same way at the same time every day, and savoring it, should be noted.” 
- Arnold Bennett 

It’s such a soothing thing to wake up (5:30 am-ish) and know exactly what I’ll be doing as soon as I get my cup of coffee ready. I’ll be crawling onto my chaise, pulling the quilted throw over my lap, extracting my journal from the bookcase and writing.

Unless I’m traveling (and often when I am) I know this is how I’ll start my day. No equivocation. No “what should I do first today?”

I have a system, a process, and I stick to it. (See what James Clear has to say about system vs. goals here.)

Here’s what I know for a fact: 99% of what I produce as a writer has its genesis in those early morning hours.

Why would I want to mess with that?

I hereby resolve to treasure my time with my writing group 

I need the instruction, distraction, the traction and writerly interaction, and even more than needing it, I derive a lot of pleasure from it.

Here’s looking at you Judy, Mike, Beth, Susan and Thesanica!

I hereby resolve to trust my intuition more when it comes to feedback on my writing 

“He who builds according to every man’s advice will have a crooked house.” 
- Danish proverb 

I also resolve to offer feedback to other writers with less fervor—as if I know exactly how the writing should be changed. Hubris!

I want to remember that the best gift to a writer is the gift of a close reading. I can point out where I get confused, or stuck, or bored, but it’s up to the author to decide what to do with that information. 

There you have it—5 resolutions. I’ll print them off and revisit them frequently.

So what do you hereby resolve to do for your writing life in 2018?

And by the way...

Susan and are grateful that you visit the Writing Wyoming blog, and wish you a happy, healthy and writing-filled 2018!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


guest post by Michael Shay

Lynn here: The following was originally posted in October on Mike's blog: Hummingbird Minds 

I follow Mike's blog and enjoyed his insights here on the rambling route many of us take into the writing life. 

When we speak about books, we often speak in the singular case: the writer's vision, the poet's voice.

We talk very little of writing communities.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Beginning in childhood, we are influenced by our family and friends and teachers. The media, too, of course, a factor that surrounds us in 2017.

But what turns this interest into a passion?

The rewards can be substantial. Fame and riches await. Pause here for laughs. There are easier ways to get rich. So why do writers persevere?

My parents were readers but not writers. My father was an accountant, my mother a nurse. They read books. They bought books and took us to the local library.

My mother often joked about writing a book. She had subjects: nine kids, plenty of pets, a profession that put her in contact with suffering and transcendence, skill and ineptitude.

She was sociable. She had friends. She had a career, unusual for that generation.

My father read books and hung out with his kids. He had few friends, typical of his generation of men. War chums, college friends, a few relatives. He only had one sibling and they didn't get along.

On occasion, my Catholic parents made babies. How and why they did this remains a mystery. They left it to the nuns and priests to explain it to us. They were no help. I grew up surrounded by mysteries. I remember things forgotten by my siblings. Or they remember things differently.

What is memory and why does it play such strange tricks on us?

I thought about this [on October 7th, 2017] as writer Sharman Apt Russell explored the reasons that writers write. She presented the morning talk at Literary Connection, the annual literary gathering at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne.

Russell and fellow writer Craig Johnson were part of a long line of writers who have appeared at this conference.

I've attended every one going back at least a decade. Annie Proulx, Tim O'Brien, Kent Haruf, Laura Pritchett, Pam Houston, Mark Spragg. Those are some of the names you might recognize. There are so many others. Ernest Cline attended one year to talk about his best-seller "Ready Player One," now being turned into a film by Stephen Spielberg. Connie May Fowler talked about her southern heritage and her work. Her 2005 novel, "The Problem with Murmur Lee," is one of the best books I've read with a Central Florida setting. It's simply a great book. I had a hard time finishing her memoir because the pain and the person it was happening to were so real.

I blogged about Poe Ballantine's 2013 appearance at the Literary Connection. I read his true-crime book "Love and Terror on the High Plains of Nowhere" and was dazzled by it.

One of the book's subjects did not appreciate my commentary. The book world is sometimes a very small place.

Russell began to write when she was eight years old. Not unusual for writers. Her father, a test pilot, died when she was two. People write, Russell said, for many reasons. "We love to read, particularly when we were children," she said. "Those who fell in love with reading as children, it's entered your bones. You want to be part of something that's given you so much."

So true. My parents read to me. They taught me, and I read as soon as I could. I have fallen out of love with books and reading and writing on many occasions. I keep coming back to it, probably because it's in my bones.

Writers like to play. We make up stories to learn how to survive as a human and to try on other roles, as actors trying out different characters. We are storytelling animals. It's part of our engagement with the world. "When you write, you find your thoughts being clarified," Russell said. "It's your conversation with the world." Writing is discovery. It helps you to be vulnerable and honest. Russell thinks you not only should write a book but publish it.

Technology has never made it easier to publish, whether it be with a small press or one we call our own. You can publish online. You can publish here. You can publish there. You can publish anywhere. This gave me hope. Most writers worry too much about publishing. I do.

It's the goal of our writers' critique group. We want to be better writers. But we also want readers. "Getting readers is the follow-through for writers." She half-jokingly wrapped up her talk with this: "If you are spending a lot of money on therapy, just write books." And it got a big laugh.

I thought to myself: "I spend my treasure on therapy and also write books."

Michael Shay is the author of the short story collection, “The Weight of a Body.” He retired recently as communications and literary arts specialist at the Wyoming Arts Council. 

For insights on writing dialogue, read Mike's post, "Writing Realistic Dialogue"--first published in May, 2016. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Get Your Books into Libraries

Guest post by Steve Rzasa
Reposted from his blog

The title’s misleading. Any author can get his or her books into a library. Simply walk through the door, offer them a free copy, and say, “I’d like to donate this to your collection.”

Librarians like free books. Especially good ones.

What I want to talk about, though, is what indie authors have a greater concern for—convincing libraries to buy their books. There’s several factors to take into account. As a guy who’s both a published author—traditionally and indie—as well as a librarian, I’ll lay them out.

This is the biggest issue. Libraries are mostly public funded. When times get tough, and they have to make budget cuts, acquisition for collections suffers first. Most libraries I know of (in the state of Wyoming, where I work, anyway) don’t want to cut staff. If you can determine whether or not your library is fiscally stable, then you’ve already got a better chance than offering your book for purchase by a library facing tight financial times.

This one’s trickier, and it helps if you have a relationship with a librarian who has a good handle on what the patrons of that institution like to read. Granted, sci-fi and fantasy have small readership, generally speaking. But does your local library have a core of readers who like one or the other? If so, that gives you an in. Librarians are more likely to spend money on a book and put it on their shelves if they know of people who want to read what you’ve written.

Yes, librarians read reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, especially younger staff. However, if you can get into a journal like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal, you’ve got an even better chance of being considered for purchase.

(Susan here: Speaking of reviews, go check out the one on Steve's book, Man Behind the Wheel, on the Wyoming State Library blog.)

Patron Recommendation
This is one of the best ways. If you have even one or two people ask the library to buy your book to stock on your shelves, they will likely do it—especially if it’s people who put their name on a list to check out the book once it is processed into the collection.

Of course, it’s better to have a librarian ask the bosses to buy one of your books.

Year of Publication
This one was mentioned in one of the comments in the Realm Makers Consortium, as one library only takes books published within the last six months. Why? Well, without speaking to the staff at that library, I can only guess, but I’ll make a few educated ones.

It is likely a simple space issue. Our building has about 40,000 items in it. Every year, I process between 900 and 1,000 novels, both YA and adult fiction. The vast majority were published that year. Our bookshelves fit 20 to 25 books on each one, and there’s six shelves per unit. Math that one out: 120 books per shelf unit means we add nearly ten shelf units to the building each year. Have you tried to add ten bookcases to your house? You’d run out of space quick. So libraries weed older books, damaged books, and those that don’t circulate in order to find room.

Bottom line, a newer book is more likely to get onto the shelves—unless you’re local, then convincing the library to buy your book is easier. Our library in particular loves to have local authors added. It’s part of our mission, and our director even waives room rental fees when writers have book signings.

Silver Lining
I don’t mean this to sound hopeless or hard. Your best bet is to aim local. If you can find champions of your book among hometown librarians, they’ll recommend your book to readers – and better yet, to other librarians. I’d also suggest banding together to do a vendor table at library conferences. Those tables aren’t cheap, but if a bunch of people can do something like the Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore at library conferences, that gets you seen by the people who decide purchasing.

I’m an author, and a librarian. Feel free to ask me questions anytime about what goes on behind those bookshelves!


By day, Steve Rzasa works as your local technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming. By night, he dons his spacesuit and authors speculative fiction. (We asked, but he wouldn't send a spacesuit author photo.) Steve has written eleven novels, including Broken Sight, which won in American Christian Fiction Writers’ Best Speculative Fiction award in 2012. He’s a fan of all things sci-fi and superhero, and a student of history. His most recent book is Man Behind the Wheel. Find him online at www.steverzasa.com.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Making the Most of Your Manuscript Analysis

Guest post by Dallas Jones

To formally start the assessment and revision process for my first novel, Meet the Boys of Casper, I hired a professional to perform a manuscript analysis. The insights gained from this effort not only provided tangible suggestions to improve the quality of my writing—which I was expecting, but they also unexpectedly forced me to consider why and to whom I was writing my book.

A manuscript analysis is a high-level review of a prospective book. Rather than addressing detailed considerations such as sentence structure, its purpose is to assess the general flow of the story. Does the plot make sense, and is it well executed? Are the characters developed? In my mind, the manuscript analysis is an advance critique prior to starting the back and forth interaction with an editor. In fact, adjustments in your story as a result of feedback from a manuscript analysis might make the difference between being accepted or rejected by a publisher.

In my case, I had already decided to self-publish; however, I had reached the point where I needed some other eyes to review my work. After taking a few passes at my manuscript and bringing it to what I believed was a semi-polished state, I solicited feedback. Earlier in the effort, I ran my work by family, friends and some independent publishers. Their reactions tended to be positive, but no one offered any substantial type of constructive analysis, so I searched online for some help and ran across an indie publisher/author who offered a manuscript analysis for $125. I thought her price was reasonable, so I pursued an engagement. Within two weeks after submitting my work, my reviewer delivered a thorough and candid analysis.

She carefully described my writing style and assessed the story’s content. Specifically, she observed that I wrote from an omniscient point of view in an expository manner. Having never taken a creative writing course, these terms were new to me. I’d never really thought about my particular style—only that if felt natural to me—and appreciated the fact it had a formal definition. She also accurately described my book as a set of character studies. Finally, she provided a sample edit for the first few pages of my manuscript and pointed out some weaknesses.

In her summary, she identified the problems she perceived with my manuscript. First, she indicated though my prose was good, my type of writing style is out of date and would not grab/maintain readers’ attention (especially young adult readers). Then, she noted my work was long on detailed character descriptions and devoid of plot. Again, she stated I would lose the readers’ attention because the story lacked tension that is created from a conventional protagonist/antagonist conflict. Further, she indicated my characters had no connection with one another and their existence and events were haphazard. She concluded by saying the manuscript needed a major amount of rework before it would be attractive to a publisher. Then to her credit, she provided some constructive tips and resources for novel writing.

After roughly a year’s worth of sweat, this was not the analysis I was hoping to hear. I stepped away for a few days and then began thinking about her comments. Finally, I decided to perform my own analysis of her review, and in doing so used this feedback vehicle as more than just mere guidance on writing mechanics. This exercise forced me to revisit the most basic questions in my effort—How did I write this story, why did I write this story, and for whom did I write this story?

In one of her summary statements, my reviewer noted while I might enjoy writing character studies readers wouldn’t enjoy reading them. Her observation consisted of two parts: 1) I enjoy writing character studies, but 2) readers wouldn’t. She was spot on regarding the first part. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but I do enjoy writing character studies. It’s my style and my voice. Instead of changing to a different style, I decided to own it and move forward.

When I thought about part 2, readers’ reactions to my story, I was conflicted. It was apparent from her detailed comments that she did not enjoy the story; however, when I had previously run my material by others, several liked it including another indie publisher. The thought of readers rejecting your book is terrifying, but that image of rejection forced me to honestly address why I was writing it in the first place. And then I realized my “Eureka” moment. I wrote my story because I wanted to create a tribute to my teenage friends that said, “Once upon a time, we roamed this land, and this is how we rolled.”

Along with this realization, came clarity about my target audience. I decided my primary audience consisted of my old classmates. I would declare my effort a success if my peers concurred my novel accurately captured the spirit of our teenage years (and I could put a few smiles on their faces). However, that cluster of friends represented a tiny audience. Was my novel commercially viable as written? The reviewer didn’t think so, and she was a publisher. I believed her take on the young adult market was accurate. This story was too slow for them, but still I believed my potential audience was greater than just my friends. The key was to identify readers with whom I shared something in common.

I had tried to write a story I would enjoy reading, so I speculated that people with similar experiences or reading tastes to mine could fit into my potential audience category. I am a male who grew up in Wyoming during the ‘70s, and the following novels influenced me: The World According to Garp, Catch 22, and Lamb. Perhaps my novel might resonate with the following subcategories: men, anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, someone having familiarity with Wyoming, or readers who enjoy literary fiction with a splash of humor.

Having considered my own traits, I thought again about my reviewer and what, if anything, we shared in common. The answer was not much. She was female and a citizen of another country who liked stories packed with conflict and tension. At best, she represented a tangential member of my target market. At this point, I realized not everyone will enjoy my book, and I had better mentally prepare for those instances when someone does not.

Now at peace with my purpose for writing and an understanding of my target audience, I read through the reviewer’s analysis again. She had made two excellent points that I wanted to incorporate into my revision. First, I had established little, if any, connection among my characters early in my narration. This absence left readers confused throughout the story. I would address this issue by adding a chapter to the beginning of the book. Second, the narration was too passive in too many places. I would revisit each chapter and look for opportunities to apply a “showing” vs. “telling” technique.

In summary, the small investment I made in a manuscript analysis paid off handsomely. It not only identified areas in need of improvement but also forced me to understand my purpose and expectations in writing a novel.


Dallas Jones was born and raised in Casper and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Though currently residing in Colorado, he still loves everything about Wyoming except the wind. Dallas has written professionally about travel, education, and fantasy baseball. MEET THE BOYS OF CASPER is his first novel. Find him on Facebook.