Writers’ Mill Minutes 201706

Writers’ Mill Minutes June 18th Fathers’ Day 2017

Around 20 members attended Sarah Hall’s Fathers’ Day presentation of the DIY book launch and learned not only how to create a good book “product,” but also how to reach an audience, prepare that audience to receive and read the book, and how to use technology! Notes from Sarah’s talk will be included below.

The meeting started with details of our upcoming 2017 journal, included below (under the heading, JOURNAL—submit entries to the journal by email to journal2017@portlandwritersmill.org )

With the journal out of the way, we moved on to contest results.

Contests are a great way to get feedback on your writing, find out what did and didn’t work, practice writing to a prompt and sending in submissions promptly. We would love more participation, and we have a very special contest coming up in December – Judy, who runs fantastic contests and keeps amazing records, found out that December 2017 will be our 100th contest. Watch out for emails soon describing how you can submit a contest theme (usually only the winners get to pick the themes – this is a chance for everyone!), and how the December anniversary contest will be run.

June’s contest theme was Water, water everywhere. Entries were: Water water essay from Jessie Collins, Sheila’s mum, Water a mystery poem from Susan, the River from Robin, a Kitkit story and the Jetsam poem from Sheila, and in 3rd place: Judy Beaston for “Splashes of Childhood,” 2nd place Jean Harkin for “Undercurrent of the Pond, and 1st pace Karen Alexander-Brown for “Mirage.”

The winner of each contest gets to choose the theme for a later contest, so

  • July’s contest is For Art’s Sake, deadline July 2nd, max words 1200, Jean
  • August’s contest is What If, deadline August 6th, max words 1100, Karin
  • September’s contest is Unattainable, deadline September 3rd, max words 1200, Matthew
  • And Karen will choose a theme for October.
  • Don’t forget to send in suggestions for December’s anniversary theme

To make life simpler for everyone, Ron has created a NEW EMAIL ADDRESS contest@PortlandWritersMill.org Send all your contest entries and queries there!


Sheila begged for more critique leaders and passed the clipboard around again. A lively critique of Jim’s first chapter included discussions on:

  • Accurate historical detail draws in readers who know the details and creates authenticity for those who don’t.
  • Slow reveals of historical detail satisfy readers who know more and draw in readers who don’t.
  • Titles and first sentences can create a powerful sense for where a story is going.
  • Concrete details engage all the senses
  • Dialog – internal and external – can create a clear sense of character and what’s important to the character.
  • Small exchanges can be very powerful in conveying a sense of time and place – a well-mannered political society perhaps.
  • Dialog can be used to convey fact, but has to sound natural. Is the character giving a report or just being sociable?
  • Point of view might determine what words you use. If the point-of-view character will assume something to be true, it should be revealed in description rather than in statement.
  • Items (and smells?) should be introduced before the protagonist reacts to them.
  • The balance of fact and fiction is important in alternate history, in order to retain readers who know more and those who know less.

Delicious gluten-free snacks were provided by Karen and gave opportunity for members to continue their discussions. Thank you Karen. Then chairs and tables were reorganized for Sarah’s excellent talk on the D-I-Y book launch – notes included below under the heading D-I-Y BOOK LAUNCH BY SARAH

The meeting ended promptly thanks to Sarah’s amazing timing. Our next meeting is on Sunday July 16th. Author Tim Applegate will speak about fiction, genre, angles and voices. (Thank you Tim for visiting us today as well.) Jayne will provide snacks and LaVonna will lead a critique of Ria’s story.

Until then, don’t forget to



      1. Why do we produce a journal?
        1. To showcase members’ writing
        2. To encourage good submission practices
        3. To create a cheap Christmas gift (we make a bulk order, which keeps down postage and allows access to author discounts)
        4. To support the library (profits from online sales go directly to the library)
        5. Also, this year is a very special year. As Jean explained, the Writers’ Mill – originally just a nameless group of writers meeting at Cedar Mill library under the leadership of Beky Lovejoy – celebrates its 10-year birthday in October of this year. Apparently Jean, Joe, Sheila and Walt have been members since that very first year!
      2. When will we produce it? We plan to deliver print journals at November’s meeting, which means taking orders in October, which gives us (based on past experience) a deadline for submissions at the end of July.
      3. How do you submit entries? Send your submission to journal2017@portlandwritersmill.org. Include
        1. Your name
        2. Title of piece
        3. Section to which you are submitting piece
        4. Text in the body of the email, or readable in Word. NOT pdf.
      4. What are the sections?
        1. Basically same as this last year’s contests, not including Fred and Joe or Carl and June.
            1. Inspired by…
              1. Memories of Minnie, Roseanne and others
              2. Two chairs on a beach
              3. Swans
              4. A piece of art
            2. People and places
              1. The last time I saw…
              2. Unspoken Bonds
              3. Wonder
              4. Point of view
            3. Times and Seasons
              1. Ring
              2. Dark and Stormy
              3. Full Moon
              4. Water water everywhere
            4. Just for Kids
              1. Kid-friendly animal stories, poems and essays (but note,Fred and Joe stories have already been published in Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co)
              2. Other kid-friendly pieces (but note,Carl and June stories may be published separately)
          1. If you entered or wrote for a contest, you already have something ready to submit
            1. If you wrote for Fred and Joe, your pieces have already been published.
            2. Matthew announced that he is moving forward with the Carl and June collection. Those who submitted stories last February should have received emails by now about this.
          2. If you didn’t write for a contest, you surely have something
            1. Inspired by something or someone
            2. Or that involves something or someone’s point of view. Yes, you can write something.
      5. Who should submit?
        1. Everyone in the group. After all, we’re all writers! But specifically…
        2. We need writing submissions from at least 15 people by the end of July to make it worthwhile, so tell your friends to enter something too or this won’t happen.
          1. Ron pointed out that we should be expanding, not contracting, so
          2. Next year we’ll need submissions from 20 members!
        3. Just for information, previous journals had submissions from 15, 19, 20, 25, and 22 members
      6. How much to submit?
        1. If 15 people submit 3,000 words each, that will give us a 50,000 word journal (including bios, contents etc).
          1. Previous journals had 34,000, 40,000, 80,000 and 50,000 words.
        2. Yes you can submit more than 3,000 words. Yes, you can submit less. But
        3. We want to create a well-balanced, well-edited, well-written journal, representing work form as many members as possible.
          1. Ron explained the wonders of statistics as applied to publishing journals.
          2. We won’t know the average number of pages until we receive all the entries.
          3. Likewise we won’t know the standard deviation from the average.
          4. However, we will use both these to help create a balanced journal –
            1. balanced by topic, and
            2. balanced by number of pages per author
            3. with each person’s submissions falling within 1.5 standard deviations of the norm.
      7. Will we reject anything? Maybe. We are producing a real journal, and real journals don’t accept everything, however hard they try.
        1. Judy described the submission process she went through recently, sending poems to a journal
        2. She sent six poems
        3. The journal accepted three of them, presumably using a method much like that described by Ron.
      8. So how much can you submit?
        1. As much as you like, but I’d suggest no more 10,000 words please – bear in mind your editors have to read everything!
        2. Please don’t submit your 10,000 word novella of staggering genius. If you have such a novella, it deserves to be published on its own. Contact Sheila to learn more about how if you wish.
        3. We debated how many words per page. Let’s settle on 500, so, say, around 20 pages – which sounds like more than enough – except…
          1. One poem is around one page, even if it doesn’t have lots of words!
          2. Remember, if you want control over which entries get accepted, choose your best work to submit. Otherwise we will choose for you.
      9. What about pictures?
        1. Send them to the same place, including the same information. If the picture belongs with a particular story, include that information too.
        2. We love pictures, but picture submissions don’t count towards the 15 members contributing.
        3. We will probably beg for more pictures after the submission deadline – it’s just part of creating a visually appealing journal. If you’re willing to help but don’t want to choose images before the deadline, send an email to journal2017@portlandwritersmill.org and let us know.
        4. If you want us to include your book cover, you MUST send something written as well. (For anyone worrying about this, it doesn’t count as advertising. The distribution of the journal is too small.)


Have you finished your heart-breaking work of staggering genius? Or nearly finished it? Or think you maybe at least know where it’s going? Then now’s the time to prepare your d-i-y book launch. Here’s how Sarah suggests we do it:

    1. It might cost money, say around $500. Things you might need to purchase include:
      1. Cover graphics
      2. A website
      3. A blog tour with payed publicity spots
      4. Advertising to grow your audience and your email list…
      5. And an editor – your words deserve good editing!
    2. If you don’t have a good-looking product (book) it won’t sell, so take your book out for a coffee
      1. $25 might buy you a completed cover online
      2. $5 might buy you a great cover image (but you still need a cover designer to create good graphics)
      3. Try using FIVER to get more help for $5, but make sure what you pay for is good quality.
      4. $25 might buy you an expert head-shot (the audience wants to know you’re real)
    3. If you don’t advertise, no one will know your book is out there
      1. Maybe pay to put your book cover advertisement on a books site or blog
        1. Advertising might include more than the book cover.
        2. Try to evoke emotion with a good advertising image.
      2. $10 might place your ad on your facebook page or on twitter.
    4. If people can’t find you, they won’t look for you
      1. Get a website – your name, not your book’s name
      2. Include newsletter signup on your web page (e.g. mailchimp, which is free if your list isn’t too long)
      3. Include a schedule of upcoming releases
      4. Include information “about the author” (and that headshot)
    5. Communicate!
      1. Use the newsletter to communicate with readers. Encourage more people to sign up for it.
      2. Get a newsletter ready to send out on launch day.
      3. While you’re doing that, write some blog posts ready for a blog tour.
      4. Try joining in kindle contests with other authors to get more newsletter signups
      5. More isn’t always better. Target where you get those signups from.
    6. Do a blog tour, but don’t d-i-y – it’s a huge amount of work.
      1. Choose someone who runs tours in your genre. Find them by looking at other book tours to see who’s running them.
        1. Make sure they have hosts that support your genre
        2. Make sure they’re in your price range – low cost is $50-$75, high end could be $100-$300!
        3. Check just what services they will offer
        4. Check which authors they represent
      2. Don’t give away your book before it launches. Maybe give away previous books or short stories during the tour
      3. Do give away ARC copies to people who might post reviews on the release date
        1. Bloggers who like your kind of book
        2. Authors who might give you advertising quotes
      4. Netgalley costs around $300 a year of $75 a book. It can help you get reviews and generate buzz.
    7. Get some publicity spots
      1. Might pay per click, $40 for 65 clicks in a month. Not all clicks turn into sales of course,
      2. Don’t forget traditional media. NPR might do a spot. You have to contact them
      3. Don’t forget to have and use those good graphics to advertise on your site, other sites, facebook, twitter….
    8. Use social Media!
      1. Meet other people. Follow other people. Find your niche.
      2. Facebook ads are around $10 per day
        1. Can be very targeted, e.g. aim at people who read X, listen to Y, go to Z…
      3. Put a quote, a link to your Amazon page, maybe part of the blurb in your ad.
      4. Pay per click might be 14¢ per click, $35 for 261 clicks.
      5. Twitter – retweet every mention of you. Generate followers by retweeting other people too.
    9. Use Amazon
      1. Use that headshot again on your author page.
      2. Find good keywords to go with your title
      3. Repeat the keywords in your blurb and back cover copy
      4. List the keywords with your book, and look for different keywords (e.g. biker as well as motorcycle)
      5. Choose small (<1,000 books) categories so you can be top in your category – moves you up Amazon’s lists. But choose relevant categories too. No good being a top-selling cookbook if you’re trying to sell a novel.
      6. Use https://www.yasiv.com/ to see what books are like your book (but you need some sales first)… or what books are like the book you’ve decided is like your book. (Try typing in something famous – you’ll be intrigued by the result.)
      7. Use https://www.novelrank.com/ to track your sales.
    10. Launch day tips!
      1. Take the day off work
      2. Retweet everything
      3. Thank everyone who tweets for you
      4. Share everything to your facebook page
      5. Remember to send out your newsletter
      6. Anxiously check your sales ranking every five minutes.
    11. Then maintain your sales
      1. Send more newsletters
      2. Build your email list through contests and giveaways
      3. Stay active in your facebook and twitter communities
      4. Create a great team of supporters


Someone asked if it was possible for an author to make a profit after paying for all these resources. Sarah suggested three books might be a break-even point; maybe five would be the point where you’re making a profit. So WRITE MORE and get to the magic five!

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