Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Optimal Use of Social Media for an Author

Pamela Fagan Hutchins appeared at the Wyoming Writers Inc. conference in June and got rave reviews for her sessions on indie publishing. We asked her to share some of her knowledge here on Writing Wyoming. 

By Pamela Fagan Hutchins
Adapted Excerpt from What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?
Reprinted with permission from SkipJack Publishing

Love it or hate it, social media is a critical part of marketing. It is a way of connecting, not only with potential readers, but also with people who can help you meet your goals—as long as you remember that it’s a two-way street. You need to be prepared to put as much or more energy (or money) into other people’s goals as you would like them to put towards yours.

Why is this important? You sell your book by getting people to tell other people to buy it, not by screaming “buy my book” over and over on Facebook.

Think of social media as a way to fill a bucket that has the potential to contain goodwill. You will need that goodwill to sell your book. You have to fill your bucket first, and you do that by helping others.

The good news is that it is really not very hard to fill your bucket. People are grateful to accept help. If you get out and establish an online presence and help people promote whatever it is they are trying to sell/distribute/raise for charity, they will be a hundred times more likely to do the same for you when the time comes.

The bad news is, the bucket has a leak. If you fill it up and then get busy doing other things for a few months, you will come back and find that the bucket drained dry while you were away. This is why everyone says that social media is hard. It’s not hard to get the bucket full, but it is hard to keep it that way while you are trying to do all the other things you have to do.

The other critical reason to be active in social media? To give people an easy way to learn about you and your books, to discover that they like you and care about what you have to say. Think about that every time you use Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. The people you meet in your social networks know you only by the snippets you give them, and they will likely only see a fraction of what you post. Make sure you show them the version of you that you want people to see. Be interesting, be funny, be smart, be scientific, be creepy, be yourself—with lots of colors and always with a photo. Bonus points if you include a link to something like a review of your book or a blog post you wrote. But be careful; don’t be reckless. If you write Christian-themed children’s stories, you probably don’t want to go off on an expletive-filled rant about how you want to kill everyone at your local grocery store, even if they are a bunch of morons.

Social media is public and permanent

A few words of caution: do not fool yourself into thinking you have any privacy online. You better be sure you want to put it out there, all the way out there, before you hit Enter. If you are taking cracks at your spouse on Facebook or if you want to post those great pictures of yourself doing tequila body shots during your Mexico vacation, just know that you will NEVER be able to pull them back, no matter what your privacy settings are. Be mindful of this even when you are leaving comments on blogs. Choose your user name wisely and your words carefully. If someone Googles you, your comments under your real name may all come up.

Also, if you are using social media to actively push a social, political, or religious agenda, this may work for you and fit your goals, but it also may narrow your list of potential readers. And that may be fine with you. I just want you to remain realistic. You may write romantic thrillers, which have a broad audience; however, if your social-media presence is over-the-top conservative (like a few of my family members’), you will probably cut your market in half. Do you really not want to sell your book to those crazy liberals, even when they use the same currency you do? People beyond your social network can and will see your posts, especially on Goodreads.

The long and the short of it

How does all this translate to book sales? It’s really impossible to quantify. But if you look at the Goodreads activity for titles that are selling on Amazon and in bookstores, you’ll see that it’s quite strong, which suggests correlation, at least, if not causation. Causation comes from you—your actions and your book.

If you were to pick only one social-media site for reader engagement, I’d recommend Goodreads. I believe that you’d be hard-pressed to find a site better focused on your target market. But experiment with Facebook and Twitter, too, and see what works for you. While these are, in my opinion, the top three sites for indie authors, many people find Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ useful as well. Google+ is becoming more important as it integrates with the Google search engine and increases your visibility the more you use it.

Social networking can be a little overwhelming, given that you have something approximating a real life to live and all. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job, though. Services like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite can save time by letting you manage all your social-media sites in one place. Once you get the hang of it, effective social networking should take only half an hour per day, less if you’re efficient.

Want to learn more from Pamela? Check out her website. She's offering a coupon code for her online courses to readers of this blog. Take the online webinar How to Sell a Ton of Books in 5 Simple Ways free, and receive 1/3 off any of the other online courses by redeeming the coupon WYOWRI.

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes overly long e-mails, hilarious nonfiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?), and series mysteries, like What Doesn’t Kill You, which includes the bestselling Saving Grace and the 2015 WINNER of the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction, Heaven to Betsy, which you can get free in ebook, anywhere. She teaches writing, publishing, and promotion at the SkipJack Publishing Online School and writes about it on the SkipJack Publishing blog.

Pamela resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Snowheresville, Wyoming. She has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes with her hunky husband and pack of rescue dogs, traveling in the Bookmobile, and experimenting with her Keurig. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound (if she gets a good running start).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


post by Lynn

Our mission as writers, should we choose to accept it, is to put pen in hand or fingers on keyboard and craft fully-formed stories, poems and essays.

Our sub-mission, should we choose to accept it, is to submit these pieces of writing for publication.

Can you tell I like the old-school version of Mission Impossible? :-)

I always thought the mission would be more challenging that the sub-mission, but lately I am wondering. I’ve recently had several people approach me, all of them good writers, and ask where they should submit their work. I’m not sure what to tell them, except that I have this instinct that says: submission can’t really be outsourced.

Learning where and how to submit is an integral part of the writing life.

I remember seeing somewhere that there is a group who will do all your submitting for you: find the most appropriate journals to target, write your cover letters for you, submit and track your acceptances/rejections--at a substantial cost.

To tweak a popular phrase: Ain’t nobody got money for that! Not me anyway.

I confess I have been too lazy/busy/clueless to do much submitting lately. So, I am challenging myself to take on the Sub-mission Mission, and to be less haphazard about it. I am going to treat it like the core component of my writing life that it is.

If you are in this phase of your writing life, join me in learning about submission. If you are ahead of me in this process, well, share your wisdom and experience with me/us, please!

Note: I have some experience and interest in publishing my work in literary magazines and journals, so that’s the kind of submission I’m talking about. Somebody else (guest posts to come) will talk about book publishing, self-publishing, finding agents, etc. I’m waaaay out of my league on that.


I know myself well enough that in order to be successful in a project, I have to be motivated. So, what motivates me to publish my writing?

Why #1: I write to be read. It’s that simple. I’ve been working for a decade now to learn the art and craft of creative writing in order to reach readers. I love to journal, but I want my writing to move beyond those pages.

And also, I just think that if I want the writing to flow, it has to go somewhere. It’s like a pipeline. Creativity goes in one end and the finished piece of writing comes out the other end.

Not to publish--well, that would clog up the pipe, wouldn’t it?

Why #2: I want to build a writing resume.

If I want the job of writer, I have to gain experience and develop a track record.

In my previous professional life I built my resume by performing different jobs, volunteering, getting an education. I’m going about it in a similar way for my writing career. I have a writing resume and on it I list the publications where my short stories, essays and poems have appeared.

Why #3: I want an outside opinion about the quality of my writing. 

Feedback is one way I improve as a writer.

I get feedback from my writing buddies and the members of my writing group, and their comments mean a lot to me. But I also want feedback from people who don’t know me--people who only see the words on the page.

By submitting, I get feedback. Acceptance says I have reached a certain level of quality in my writing. Rejection is a little more ambiguous: either the writing isn’t good enough, or the editor doesn’t find this particular piece to be a good match for their publication.

Occasionally, I get even more—a note or two—that explains why the piece wasn’t accepted. Once, I got accepted and then the editor worked with me on revisions. The essay improved and I learned a lot. Bonus!

Why #4: I want to have a focus, a deadline, a target.

When I hear that Parabola is doing an edition with the theme of “Generosity and Service,” I think that maybe I should finish that essay about my friendship with Aisha when I was in the Peace Corps. I check the deadline: September 1st.

Voila! I now have a target and a target date. Which works much better for me than a general, I-ought-to-write-that-piece-and-send-it-somewhere approach. 

Those are my top reasons. Yours may differ.

There is an intriguing blog post on this topic by the founding editor of The Review Review, titled "What’s So Great About Submitting to Literary Magazines?"


Speaking of targets, I’ve been told by numerous writers and teachers to come up with a three-tiered system for submissions. Once you have your three tiers, you submit to three publications (what is it about threes?) from the top tier first and wait for responses. (Note: the Sub-mission Mission involves a lot of waiting.)  If I get rejected by all three, I choose three from the second tier and submit, and so on.

In the top tier are the Big Dog journals and magazines. Submitting to them is a long shot, perhaps, but if I feel like my piece is ready for prime time, then I can submit to this tier first.

When the rejections roll in, I’ll keep track in my records and then move to the second tier.

Or, if I get the magical message: ACCEPTED, I’ll invite you to the party and we’ll eat cake.

The second tier should include journals/lit mags that aren’t quite so prestigious.

The third tier is made up of journals I would feel good about seeing my work printed in, but that are not quite as competitive as the second and top tier.

I’ve decided to tweak this format (I never follow directions completely, just ask my family) and change the third tier to include publications that are not well-known but that have an intriguing format or I simply love the magazine’s title. Cease, Cows anyone?

Also in this tier I'll put opportunities that pop up unexpectedly, like the one recently, where poet and UW professor Lori Howe sent out the call for writing on Wyoming, to be published in an anthology through Sastrugi Press. (Sorry, the deadline has passed on that one.)


How do we know where journals fit in each level of this tier system?

Research, my friend.

I know, you’re always being told that cruising the net is bad for your writing. But this is one case when we get permission.

It is time consuming, yes. But not wasted time. I’ve spent many hours perusing journal websites, and even if I don’t put them on my list, I always learn something and—as a extra benefit—I often find some amazing writing.

A new tool I’ve found, and am really excited about, is a website called The Review Review.

These kind folks have done a lot of the research for us. They post reviews with titles like “Online Lit Mag is a Cozy Place Full of Winners” and “Short Stories Front and Center in This Online Magazine” and “Esteemed Long-standing Lit Mag Runs the Gamut of Genres.” The reviews give me plenty of information to decide whether the publication should make my target list, and which tier it would belong to.

Here’s an example of how my random cruising works for me: I read a Brevity blog post and the editor there mentions that Slice is a literary journal he admires. I go to The Review Review website and find their review of Slice. I find out that Slice has been around since 2007, is based out of Brooklyn and it is touted by Pulitzer prize-winning author Junot Diaz as being “Beautiful, compelling, irresistible. Slice will knock you right out. In the best way possible.” Slice publishes emerging and established authors side-by-side and has a different theme for every issue.

Hmmm… I like that approach. I visit Slice's website, check out upcoming themes. Make note of their reading period. While I’m there I read a thought-provoking interview with Jeffrey Thomson, about memoir writing. I put Slice on my first-tier list.

And so on. The tier system will always be a work in progress, because the literary world is always in flux.


We need to get to know our targets. We would be wise to read a copy of the journal before submitting. Wander their website. Subscribe to their blog.

I have subscribed to The Sun, One Story and Creative Nonfiction. My husband takes Orion. My writing group buddies lend me copies of River Teeth and Glimmer Train. I picked up a copy of Ruminate at City News bookstore in Cheyenne. I read a copy of Parabola at the library.

I have, on more than one occasion, looked through a journal and thought: I’m not edgy enough for this one. That’s important information, because I want to find a target that is a good fit for my writing. I don’t want to waste my time or the editor’s time.

There are more tips on the submission process in this Writer’s Digest article: How to Submit to Literary Journals.


We need to let ourselves try and fail, and give ourselves time to learn new tools, techniques and technology. We need to be brave beginners, no matter what our age is.

For example, many journals are now using something called Submittable to receive submissions. (The Wyoming Arts Council is using it for the 2017 Creative Writing Fellowships.)

Never used it? Learn about Submittable here.

For a couple of years now I have been using a submission tool called Duotrope to find targets and track my submissions. They have great search features that allow me to find publications that meet certain parameters. (According to Duotrope, there are around 5000 current markets for nonfiction, fiction and poetry submissions—that makes my head spin!) With Duotrope, I can narrow the field, and learn a lot about each publication along the way.

Note: I’m not trying to sell you on Duotrope, just explaining why I fork over the $50 a year for it.

Let's say I want to target publications that print essays, allow simultaneous submissions and accept reprints. Using the drop down menus, I do a search on Duotrope with those parameters.

115 publications meet that criteria. Now I can start looking through them for more information.

Duotrope also has a calendar of upcoming themes. So, for example, I could check to see if any journal is looking for nonfiction stories on mountain climbing (if I just happened to have such a story, which I don’t, because I am terrified of heights).

Learn more about Duotrope here.


These are just a couple that I know of. I’m sure there are more and I’m hoping you’ll share with us if you know of others:

If you're a member of Wyoming Writer's Inc. you'll find submission info in each newsletter.

Poets and Writers magazine has an online "Literary Journals and Magazines" section with over 800 lit mags and journals listed, along with tons of information. It’s free.

New Pages has a free guide to literary magazines as well.


Okay, that’s enough for now. Submission is a huge topic and an even bigger mission, and we don’t want to get freaked out.

My immediate goal is to refine my three tiers so when I finish my next essay, I can choose several targets. That’s manageable.

I’ll be sharing the progress I make on my Sub-mission Mission in future blog posts. Feel free to share your progress and experiences with us here at Writing Wyoming.

Together, we can learn and write and, yes, publish.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Apply by August 22 for Wyoming Arts Council Creative Writing Fellowships

The Wyoming Arts Council is accepting applications for the 2017 Creative Writing Fellowships. One fellowship will be awarded in each category of Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fiction.

The annual Creative Writing fellowships are awards of merit, based on a writer’s body of work, and honoring Wyoming’s literary artists whose work reflects serious and exceptional writing. Recipients will receive a $3,000 fellowship. Winners will receive a travel stipend to read their work at one of the statewide literary conferences.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and Wyoming residents, living within the state’s borders for at least ten months of the year since July 1, 2014. Applicants must not be a full-time student pursuing high school, college, or university art-related degrees.

Applications are accepted online via Submittable. Deadline is midnight, August 22, 2016. More information is available on the Wyoming Arts Council website. Questions may be directed to Rachel Clifton at 307-777-5305 or rachel.clifton@wyo.gov.

NOW, for the gory details from Submittable...

  • You may submit up to 10 pages of poetry, typed, single-spaced using a 12-point standard font.
  • Submit only one poem per page.
  • Writing may have been previously published, but must be submitted in manuscript form – please don’t submit/attach reprints.
  • Pages must be numbered; include title of work and page number on each page.
  • Your name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript.
  • If you submit more than the allowable page limits, extra pages will be removed.
  • Do not send supplementary materials (letters, resumes, etc.)
  • You may submit up to 25 printed pages of fiction, typed, double-spaced using a 12-point standard font.
  • For a book excerpt, you may provide a synopsis, but it will be included in the 25-page limit.
  • You may submit more than one piece, as long as you don’t exceed the 25-page limit.
  • Writing may have been previously published, but don’t submit reprints.
  • Pages must be numbered; include title of work and page number on each page.
  • Your name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript.
  • If you submit more than the allowable page limits, extra pages will be removed.
  • Do not send supplementary materials (letters, resumes, etc.)
  • You may submit up to 25 printed pages of nonfiction, typed, double-spaced using a 12-point standard font.
  • For a book excerpt, you may provide a synopsis, but it will be included in the 25-page limit.
  • You may submit more than one piece, as long as you don’t exceed the 25-page limit.
  • Writing may have been previously published, but don’t submit reprints.
  • Pages must be numbered; include title of work and page number on each page.
  • Your name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript.
  • If you submit more than the allowable page limits, extra pages will be removed.
  • Do not send supplementary materials (letters, resumes, etc.)
The manuscripts – identified by number only – are opened up for the fellowship judge to review after August 22, 2016. Judging is anonymous; your name is not available to the judges. Winners will be notified after September 6, 2016. Fellowship judges to be announced.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

So You've Been Asked to Make a Presentation on Writing

NEWS ALERT: We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to give a big shout out to Eugene M. Gagliano, the newest Poet Laureate for Wyoming. You can go read about it on Governor Matt Mead's website. We've had Gene on the blog before and hope to bring him back for another post to learn more from him. He's a talented writer and a sweet soul. Congratulations, Gene!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program:

by Susan

Writers regularly share knowledge with each other, and it's entirely possible you might end up standing in front of a crowd sharing yours. Perhaps you are asked to sit on a panel at a conference. Maybe you volunteer to do a free workshop at your local library.

If you're not used to public speaking, have your panic attack, and then get to work preparing. I'll blog about readings another day, but for now, let's talk about what to do when you are a featured expert.

Iron-clad rule: Deliver what's promised
Ever trotted into a writing workshop, excited because the description sounded like exactly what you wanted to learn, only to have the session veer off-track? Maybe the presenter was more interested in telling stories and making people laugh than imparting knowledge. Maybe the panel bogged down in lengthy self-introductions that took up a huge chunk of the time. Maybe you walked into a point of view workshop where the panelists inexplicably started talking about sex scenes for half of it. When someone makes the time or pays the money to see you speak, you have an obligation to them to give them value for their investment. Keep the focus on the topic at hand.

Limit the introduction
Your audience needs to know why you are standing up there with the microphone, but they do not need a blow by blow description of your entire writing career. Save the extended story for if you ever are asked to do a “meet the author” type of event.

Don't rely on the moderator
If you're on a panel, you may have a moderator to guide discussion. Hopefully, they will steer things back on track if they go off course, but not all moderators will do this. Be prepared to gently nudge the session back on topic.

A little humility* goes a long way
You bring a piece of knowledge to the table, which is why they handed you the microphone, but beware of thinking of yourself as THE expert.** Every other person in the audience brings their own piece of knowledge. This can stem from insecurity: when uncertain, it's easy to either puff yourself up or deflate. Remember that when you are asked to speak to fellow writers, you are speaking to colleagues.

Two or three main points
Your audience will not likely remember more than two or three concepts. Decide what are the two or three most important nuggets of knowledge you want them to walk away with and build your entire presentation around them.

Focus on the writing, not the writer
Yes, your writing life informs your knowledge, but it should not take center stage. Be brief when talking about how you learned something and lengthier when you share what you've learned. Someone attending a workshop wants solid knowledge they can use in their own work. If you're spending more than a third of your time talking about yourself, reel it in.

Make them laugh... maybe
No matter what you might have been taught about public speaking, you are not required to be funny. You don't need to open with a joke, especially if it's an old or inappropriate one. If you are good at making an audience laugh, by all means go for it only if you can keep on-topic. The temptation is to tell funny stories instead of imparting knowledge.

Technology can be friend or foe
Google “bad PowerPoint” and you get 25 million results. If you are going to use a visual presentation, do some research on how to do it right. (Short version: don't read straight from slides with microscopic bullet point lists.) Only use it if it truly enhances your presentation. Be aware, too, that technology will betray you. Be prepared to go without it if the computer craters.

Handouts are awesome
Even the fastest note-takers won't catch everything. Handouts allow your audience to go back over what they learned at home and apply it to their writing.

Your audience might not want to interact
Icebreakers and group work are increasingly popular in training, but they can make some people (ahem: INTROVERTS) uncomfortable. If you use icebreakers or group projects, make sure they are relevant. Your audience will be more willing to interact if you give them good reason to. Don't include these items just for the sake of doing so.

Your audience wants you to succeed***
They don't want to sit through a bad presentation any more than you want to give one. They're on your side. Remember that if you're feeling intimidated. Deep breaths. You can do this!

*But beware the “humblebrag” – ostensible complaints that aren't. Example: “I couldn't believe how stupid I was. When I got my book contract, I spilled coffee all over it. Good thing they still gave me my five-figure advance!” Don't pretend your writing successes were some kind of trial you endured.

**As my late father Orville Vittitow used to say about “experts,” an “ex” is a has-been, and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure.

***I've heard the advice to visualize your audience naked. Sadly, I did that once, and I've never been able to unsee it. Try imagining that they're all big, friendly dogs instead.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


guest post by Vickie Goodwin

photo by Vickie Goodwin
Imagine five days with no TV, radio, very limited cell and Internet service. Let someone else do the cooking and clean up the dishes.

Feel the wind-constant, pasting your shirt to your body, tangling your hair, pulling at your hat. Feel surprise when you realize it stopped sometime while you were taking pictures, watching the sun set over the Red Wall or listening to oral historian Clay Gibbons paint mind pictures of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang and the Johnson County War.

Ride five hours on horse back, walk as the sun and wind vie for the privilege of turning unprotected body parts fiery red, feel the ache in your shoulders from the large quantity of water you must pack to stay hydrated. Or you could just share a four wheel drive vehicle with a guide who knows the stories of the 57,000 acre Willow Creek Ranch and the inhabitants who set up teepee rings, hunted the antelope, deer and rabbits, ate the plants or used them to heal the body. What made this inhospitable location feel so much like home that they returned year and after year? Perhaps it is the same sense of place that makes me believe I could easily spend a week or two in the isolated cabin, alone with my paper and pen.
photo by Vickie Goodwin
Visualize the rustlers and train robbers who slipped down through the elusive hole in the red wall to safety as posses halted in frustration, fearing the very real possibility of ambush.

Write as the ghosts of the past whisper stories in your ear at the site of the original Hole-In-The-Wall ranch.

Smell the sage and taste the red dirt.

Craig Johnson reads from The Highwayman
photo by Vickie Goodwin
Walt Longmire, Sheriff of Absaroka County, disguised as his creator Craig Johnson, drives his pick up in and tickles your imagination with only the beginning of his latest adventure in the Wind River Canyon between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.

In addition, spend four hours a day honing your craft with Tina Wells, author of Crybaby Ranch and Writing Wild and Janet Hubbard, author of twenty-four nonfiction books and three mystery novels set in France: Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Share your work. Get honest critiques.

Then sit on the porch of one of the cabins, enjoying wine or beer with your fellow writers, all strangers before this week, talking and sharing as you gather fodder for stories yet to be told.

Find yourself picking up pen and paper and writing, a quick paragraph here, a story prompt there, a complete short story or the beginning of your next novel, memoir or short story. A story wakes you up in the middle of the night insisting it needs to be told and you write it before breakfast.

Of course this is all imagination. Nothing could be that perfect.

Or could it?

photo by Vickie Goodwin
Lynn chimes in…

Vickie was surfing through Facebook in early March of this year when she happened upon a post that Susan Vittitow Mark had shared...all about the Willow Creek Ranch Writing Workshop: June 12 – 18, 2016 at the infamous Hole in the Wall, near Kaycee, Wyoming.

Turns out the Hole in the Wall holds a special place in Vickie’s heart so she knew she had to go. As is obvious from her post, the workshop was a pretty charmed experience for her. She plans on doing it again next year.

I was talking with Vickie at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference (we were in the nonfiction critique session together) and she told me a little bit about this workshop. I tinged green, but kept smiling and tried not to show it.

Then I said, “Boy, I’m sure our blog readers would like to hear about that.”

And now you have.

For more information on upcoming Willow Creek Ranch Writing Workshops, visit Janet Hubbard at www.janethubbard.com or Tina Welling at www.tinawelling.com/.

Vickie Goodwin writes both fiction and nonfiction. She earned 1st place for her nonfiction stories "Dateline Wyoming" (2012) and "Visiting the Prison" (2013) in the Wyoming Writers, Inc. contest. "Goodbye" earned 1st place in the 2014 Short and Sweet category. 

She lives in Douglas, Wyoming with her favorite husband and their cat Smokey. She has two pretty good kids and two fantastic granddaughters.