How to Earn Short-Term Rewards During the Long Haul

Author Debbie Burke and Buffy

No, this picture is not Photoshopped clickbait. It’s me and a real bear. Details below. 


By Debbie Burke



In your real-world job, would you be willing to work for two or more years before receiving a paycheck? Probably not.

Yet, as authors writing books, that’s exactly what we do.

Writing a novel is often likened to a marathon. It takes months, if not years, to complete a book. Traditional publishing tacks on another one or two years before you see your book for sale. Indie-pubbing speeds up the process but it still doesn’t happen overnight.

Thirty-plus years ago, I was stuck in the endless loop of writing novels, submitting them, and being rejected. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Because fiction was my passion, I didn’t really consider writing nonfiction until a couple of journalist friends offered their help and encouragement. I dipped my toe into article writing and made the happy discovery that nonfiction was much easier to publish than fiction (not to mention it paid better).

At last, I had the satisfaction of seeing my words in print.

One magazine gig led to another. As my file of published clips expanded, editors began to call me. Article assignments took a little sting out of the rejections that my novels continued to collect.

Many more years would pass before I reached the ultimate reward of a published novel but, along the way, articles were small consolation prizes. They encouraged me to keep moving toward my goal.

My journalist friends taught me another neat trick—take the same article but re-slant it for different markets. Do research once and get paid several times.

For instance, a story about how to run a successful garage sale could be pitched to community newsletters, antique/collectible magazines, and senior-interest markets as tips for retirees to earn extra money.

An article about gold mines might fit in a travel magazine, a state historic journal, and a niche publication for hobbyist prospectors.

Often, during research, I ran across interesting people and wrote personality profiles about them.

One in particular led to a number of offshoot articles plus a memorable experience with the stunning bear in the above photo.

At the Flathead River Writers Conference in the 1990s, I met Ben Mikaelsen, a kid-lit author who had his own bear. Buffy had been a research cub that couldn’t survive in the wild. To save him from being euthanized, Ben adopted him. Life with Buffy inspired Ben’s award-winning novel Rescue Josh McGuire and several other books.

Side note: Ben does not advocate keeping wild animals as pets. He went to great effort and expense to build a suitable home for Buffy that was approved by state and federal authorities.

The unique friendship between an author and a bear was a story idea that begged to be written. Ben graciously invited me to his home near Bozeman, Montana, for an interview and to meet Buffy

Yes, that really is me feeding Wheat Thins to the 700-pound black bear. Fun fact: He didn’t use his teeth or tongue to take the treat but rather his prehensile lower lip, similar to an elephant’s trunk. I watched in awe as his bottom lip gently folded around the cracker in my hand.

The amazing encounter resulted in multiple articles that were published in Writer’s Digest (including a reprint in their annual children’s writing guide), several Montana general interest magazines, and international nature and wildlife magazines.

This experience was definitely not a consolation prize but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’ll always be grateful.

Back to the marathon. While I wondered if I’d EVER have a novel accepted, articles were like short sprints where the rewards of publication and payment were only months away rather than years. Those helped sustain me through decades of discouragement.

In addition, writing nonfiction helped hone my craft.

Here are a few things I learned:

Write concisely and clearly. If an editor said 500 words, that’s what has to be turned in.

Choose what’s necessary and what should be cut. No matter how fascinating the research might be, it can’t all be crammed into the allotted space.

Always meet deadlines.  

Most important, I learned about storytelling and pacing to keep the reader engaged.

The 21st century changed the market for short nonfiction from print to online. As the internet expanded, magazines went out of business.

Nowadays my articles are mostly digital content. Fewer trees give their lives. I no longer have to buy sample print copies to study magazines’ style and focus. Finding outlets to write for is as easy as asking Mr. Google.

The downside is online markets often pay little to nothing because there is so much free content on the net. To make significant money, one needs to find particular niches that pay for specialized content.

However, there’s a different kind of reward: Publication is fast. As soon as authors hit submit, their writing is available to an audience of millions. 

On top of that comes the gratification of immediate feedback. I really enjoy reader comments on my posts for TKZ.

Steve Hooley recently asked me if research for an article had even sparked an idea for a novel. Not yet. But the research I do for articles often finds its way into my plots.

The second book in my series, Stalking Midas, concerns elder fraud. I attended seminars presented by local and state watchdogs to learn about that growing, insidious crime. Unfortunately, research turned personal when my adopted mother was victimized by a caregiver. Her experience became a True Crime Thursday post.

Several newspapers published my elder fraud article. It also formed the basis for a talk that I give to senior groups. Additionally, I revamped parts of Stalking Midas to incorporate what I’d learned.

I started writing articles to counteract discouragement during the long marathon of trying to get novels published. Articles became short sprints refreshed by water breaks of publication. They helped keep me going toward the ultimate finish line.

In 2017, my thriller Instrument of the Devil was published.

Seven novels later, I’m writing more articles than ever because…

A funny thing happened during that decades-long marathon. I discovered I like writing nonfiction as much as fiction.

Especially when I get to meet a bear.


TKZers: Do you write fiction, nonfiction, or both? How important is getting published to you? What sustains you during the long haul of writing a book?




DNA is supposed to prove guilt or innocence. Instead, it reveals deception and betrayal in my new thriller, UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. Please check it out at these online booksellers.

Extracurricular Passion

by Steve Hooley

March is National Reading Month. Since we are writers, and readers are vital to our success, I thought it would be appropriate to “share” our national month with the rest of the world and rename it “World Reading Month.”

Reading month was established in March to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss (3/2/1904) and his contribution to increasing the interest of reading in children.

We’ve discussed ways to get young people interested in reading.

We’ve discussed our favorite writers’ style and the Rushmore authors.

If you thought “extracurricular” in the title of this post is being used with the connotation of “extramarital,” I’m sorry. It’s not. I did use the phrase to draw you in, and please don’t stop reading now. We have a three-course meal, plus dessert and drinks, so stay with us.

Our “extracurricular” activity today is “outside our normal curriculum” of writing fiction and the craft of writing fiction, specifically reading nonfiction.

Now we’re getting into hobbies and special interests. And this is where your passion for your special interest kicks in and you can’t wait to tell the rest of us how exciting it is to study entomology and the Giant Weta.

Therefore, we will dispense with any pretense of an academic prelude, and move directly to the discussion where each of you can lecture on the importance of your beloved subject.

But, on second thought, I better provide some “meat” for our meal, or I’ll lose my job here as a cook. So, here are three dishes for our main course: (Remember, it’s World Reading Month.)


Benefits of Reading

This is a short list of the many benefits of reading.

  1. Improves brain connectivity and memory
  2. Increases vocabulary and comprehension
  3. Empowers ability to empathize with other people (note this was listed under reading fiction)
  4. Aids in sleep readiness
  5. Reduces stress
  6. Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  7. Helps fight depression
  8. Helps prevent cognitive decline with aging
  9. Can help increase IQ in children
  10. Improves concentration and ability to focus
  11. Improves analytical thinking skills
  12. Improves writing skills and communication skills


Reading Disorders

  1. Dyslexia – occurs on children with normal vision and intelligence. Symptoms are late talking, learning new words slowly, and delay in learning to read. Common with 3 million cases/year in the U.S. Treatment can help, but doesn’t cure.
  2. Phonological Dyslexia (auditory dyslexia) – difficulty processing the sounds of individual letters and syllables, and cannot match them with the written form
  3. Surface Dyslexia (visual dyslexia) – difficulty recognizing whole words, from probable vision issues or processing
  4. Rapid Name Deficit – difficulty with naming a letter, number, color, or object quickly and automatically
  5. Double Deficit Dyslexia – combination of both phonological and rapid naming deficit, and is the cause for the majority of the weakest readers
  6. Alexia – occurs after stroke or brain injury
  7. Hyperlexia – have advanced reading skills, but have problems understanding what is read or spoken out loud
  8. Specific Skills
  9. Word decoding – similar to phonological dyslexia with difficulty sounding out words
  10. Fluency – difficulty with reading quickly and accurately
  11. Poor reading comprehension – difficulty understanding what is read
  12. (My addition) – Sine Tempore Legere – Without Time to Read – children and adults who are too busy with work, hobbies, school activities, TV, and social media – currently undecided whether there is a cure, or whether this is terminal


Early History of Reading


  • 4th millennium BC – Mesopotamia – picture symbols on clay used to keep track of business transactions
  • 2600 BC – beginning of cuneiform script – used to document laws, record deeds of kings, and keep records of transactions – each syllable had a different sign – number of characters ran into the hundreds – learning to write and read was an enormous achievement
  • 2300 BC – earliest author named, woman, Akkadian princess and High Priestess, Enheduanna – wrote temple hymns, signed her name

 Reading as Performance

  • 200 BC – punctuation was added – erratic into the Middle Ages – written material reached the illiterate masses through public readings
  • 5th century BC – Greek historian Herodotus read his latest works at the Olympics
  • 1st century AD – author readings became a social convention in Rome
  • Being read to became an avenue for entertainment and acquiring knowledge, especially for women, well into the 19th century
  • Texts were meant to be heard rather than seen – reading silently remained a curiosity

 Reading Silently

  • 330 BC – Alexander the Great’s troops were awestruck when he read a letter silently in front of them
  • 9th century AD – first regulations requiring scholars to work in silence in monastic libraries
  • As better punctuation was added, books became more accessible, and pictures were included, silent reading became the norm, with more and more readers
  • 14th century – Chaucer recommended reading in bed

 Print Revolution

  • Earliest print technology originated in China, Japan, and Korea by rubbing pages against inked woodblocks
  • 13th century – print technology reached the western world – woodblock printing widespread by the 15th century
  • 1430s – Gutenberg – first mechanical printing press in Strasbourg, Germany
  • 1450 – press was operational and printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible
  • Churches began to educate the masses
  • Village schools and literacy grew
  • Book sellers began printing copies of popular ballads and folklore
  • Early 18th century – periodicals began to be published
  • Novel as a literary form took root in France and England
  • 1849 – Dickens – Pickwick Papers – serialized in a magazine, combining the attraction of the novel and the affordability of the magazine


  • 7th century BC – Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, put together the first library – collection of clay tablets
  • 331 BC – Alexander the Great’s successor, Ptolemy I, founded a library in Alexandria, Egypt
  • 2nd century BC – library in Alexandria is catalogued
  • 18th century – proliferation of lending/circulation libraries in Europe and N. America


Okay, enough of the main course. It’s time for dessert and the after-dinner drinks and entertainment. It’s time for you to share your extracurricular passion, your nonfiction passions and interests.


Our Questions:

  • Do you read any nonfiction beyond craft-of-writing? What topics do you like to read or study? And why do you think they are important.
  • Have you written any nonfiction books (excluding craft-of-writing)? Tell us about them, and why we should buy and read them.
  • Are there any nonfiction projects you are considering, planning, researching, or currently writing? Is there anything you can tell us about them without revealing your trade secrets?

4 Giant Steps to Self-Publishing

Nancy J. Cohen

Recently I have released my first nonfiction title. This came about because numerous aspiring authors kept asking me how to write a mystery. So I compiled my teachings into an easy-to-read booklet with concise instructions on Writing the Cozy Mystery. Here is a distillation of the steps I followed to produce this work.


Please note that today I am en route to Orlando for SleuthFest, and I may not be able to reply to comments in a prompt manner. I will look at them later and do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

Hire a story development editor and a copy editor. Polish your work to perfection.
Insert front and back material into manuscript.
Write back cover copy.

Create a publisher name and register with your State as “Doing Business As” title. Or create an LLC if you prefer. Check with your accountant for more info.
Put a Legal Notice in your local newspaper if required by the State.
Apply for a county business license/tax receipt. Note: if you’re 65, you may be exempt from fees but you still have to apply. Renewal is annual.
Open a business bank account under DBA title. As sole proprietor, you don’t need an EIN number. Use your own SS number.
Order checks for new account.
Buy ten ISBNs from

Hire a cover designer for ebook cover and trade paperback cover.
Determine book price for digital edition.
Assign an ISBN number to the digital edition at (if you’ve bought them from Bowker). You will need to upload the cover and give the price.
Hire a formatter after inserting the ISBN into your copyright page. Note that the print edition will have a separate ISBN from the ebook edition so you’ll need to send the formatter two different files or pay for a correction later.
Upload your e-book to Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Smashwords, AllRomanceEbooks/OmniLit. It may be easier to hire your formatter to upload to iBooks since I believe you need to own an Apple device to do this step.
*File for copyright now so you don’t have to send two print books to the copyright office.
Upload to Createspace for a print edition. If you use their ISBN, you can sell your CS book to libraries. If not, librarians will have to get your book through another source or buy it through normal channels. Consider Lightning Source and Espresso Machine as other print options.
Consider an audio edition via ACX with another ISBN assignment and a cover resized to this format.

Order print materials to promote your work, i.e. bookmarks, postcards, etc.
Consider doing a virtual blog tour.
If you set a particular release date, hold an online launch party.
Post your release news and book cover on all your sites.
Solicit Customer Reviews.
Run a Rafflecopter Contest.
Consider if you want to give away free copies or promote a bargain/sale price.
Join indie author forums online for more tips.

Obviously, marketing could be a whole other topic as could each one of these sections. I do plan to blog about this process in more detail at a later date on my personal blog. Meanwhile, these steps will get you started in the right direction. Those of you who have been through this journey might have more to add.


Writing the Cozy Mystery is a valuable guide on how to write a traditional whodunit. This concise tool will show you step-by-step how to develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and sustain your series. You’ll find everything you need to know in an easy-to-read, clear manner to write your own whodunit.

An Indie Author’s Checklist – A Look Behind the Curtain of OZ (Post #1)

This is post #1 in a blog post series that I hope you will find interesting—things that I have learned on my indie author journey. Since I’ve been fortunate enough to be published by HarperCollins and Harlequin Teen, I can see and appreciate the differences in what I will be doing as I self-publish. I’m discovering what my houses do behind the scenes for authors on the e-book front and realize that when I become an indie author, I will have to make choices on how to expand my distribution and retail visibility—ways my traditional publishers did for me without me knowing it.

My first recommendation for any indie author is to do your research on what’s involved. It’s not simply writing a story, editing it well, spending some coin to format and cover it, and uploading it onto Amazon and expect readers to find you. You first have to put out the best book you can, because quality will help you build a readership. Secondly, there is a business side that detracts from your writing time and you must be aware of how time consuming this can be. You won’t be able to load your book up and have readers flock to find you. It takes time to build a virtual shelf of quality work and expand your distribution. That’s why I wanted to share my experiences so you can research what will work for you and not spin your wheels, trying to gain traction.

This series of posts are intended to jumpstart your research, but for the purposes of discussion, I will lay out the decisions I had to make as I began. I’d spent time researching and building service provider contacts. I already had an infrastructure in place where I had an online presence, blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and many other sites that I have grown my online presence. A new indie author would not start where I did. They’d have to catch up and that takes time and money to set up your promotional foundation. This post is not intended to start from scratch. I’m sharing my experiences, starting from a spot where I already had insights into the industry. I hope what follows will help any author build on their expertise.

For me, the process started with me making decisions on which service to upload my books into after I’d done my initial due diligence into self-publishing. I knew I would upload to Amazon and B&N. They provide comprehensive systems that make the process easy and their reach encompasses most of the e-books being sold today. So realize that if you upload to Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook, you are probably reaching 60-70% of the digital books being sold. In a quickly changing world, however, the shift in technology could change this dynamic, but for now I’m comfortable with my digital offerings being on these two sites. For many established authors, who want to step foot into the indie world, this might be enough. But it’s not enough for an indie author with dreams of finding another way to make a living and who might be starting from scratch.

A traditional publisher uses its name to aggregate digital books to retailers and provides the latest offerings in a bundle. They support and build an infrastructure to get their books into as many viable venues as possible, to get books into the hands of today’s online readers. An indie author is on their own to figure out how to expand their reach and what to promote, but traditional houses have resources en masse with staff to support that effort. For an indie author to learn what works—and to grow what they know— they must navigate uncharted waters of Distributors and Retailers that are willing to allow self-published authors or small houses to have the same access as larger publishing houses.

I thought it would be interesting to break down what I’ve learned into five posts and create a future page of resource links on my FRINGE DWELLER blog for indie authors that I will maintain for myself and to share. My hope is to demystify the process of self-publishing so authors can make informed business decisions on how to get their work in the hands of readers directly. Ultimately, this will become a comprehensive “how to” book on author promotion that will cover various topics from branding and online presence, to press kits and resources, with practical tips on distribution. This indie process has educated me and will continue to do so.

But in doing this, I’m also realizing what my traditional houses have been doing for me and appreciate their efforts. I’m hoping to maintain a balance that works for me where I can still have projects through traditional publishers, but reap the benefits and gain experience with being an indie author for certain projects. Sustaining my online presence and growing my name recognition will hopefully be a benefit and a WIN-WIN for any house I work with as I self-publish. By expanding my reach, I can also give my agent more to represent.

Even authors who have no plans to self-publish can gain an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes beyond your desk, your publisher, and your friendly retailer—because today’s readers have many ways to discover books outside the brick and mortar stores.

Here are the bullet point topics I will cover in this blog post series:

1.) Introduction (Post #1)

2.) E-Book Retailers – A Checklist Place to Start (Post #2)

3.) Distributors & Library Sales (Post #3)

4.) Retailers with Volume Restrictions or Limited Access (Post #4)

5.) Conclusions & Introduction to My Resource Page (including review sites receptive to indie author books by genre) (Post #5)

Please share your questions and topic suggestions that you hope I will cover so I can target the focus of my series. I’d appreciate your input.

In the mean time, I hope you will indulge me in a little blatant self-promotion for my first ever self-published offerings.

120429 One Authors Aha Moments - Jordan Dane - FinalONE AUTHOR’S AHA MOMENTS (92-page POD, e-book) is geared toward aspiring authors and has an emphasis on the Young Adult genre. These writing tips may also be helpful to experienced authors and those who write other genres. My advice comes from my personal experiences on writing fiction for adult and teen markets and what has worked for me. Topics include: Young Adult fiction themes, voice, and characteristics; how to create characters editors look for & give them a unique voice; plot structure that even a non-plotter can love; how to hook your book; the writer’s life, goal setting, editing, book promotion and more.

My first anthology of short stories—SEX, DEATH & MOIST TOWELETTES (e-book)—is now available. It’s a mix of stories from crime fiction noir to paranormal, with my brand of dark humor. As a teaser for anyone not familiar with my adult paranormal writing, I’m releasing DARK KISS (e-book) as a single short story from the anthology for a discounted price.