May 2018 Newsletter

From the HSW President

Marketing 102

At a previous meeting, I explained push/pull marketing and promised to get back with more information on “pull” marketing, which can best be described as market research. Specifically, I want to show how market research can help find the right agent.
A lot of my editing clients are first-time novelists. They make two huge mistakes in trying to get signed by an agent. First, they give up their querying far too easily, when they don’t get a quick, positive response. The need for instant gratification causes problems. Realistically, even if a writer has cranked out fifty queries, that’s not unusual. It’s important to wait; agents usually take months to respond, if at all.
Let’s apply market research. Worst-case scenario, you send out twenty queries over a two-week span. Let’s say two months later, you’ve received zero responses. Not even rejections. The market is telling you something. You may have written a brilliant novel, but a crappy query letter. Is the letter short? Short is better.
Did you follow the agents’ instructions? If they ask for the first three pages, only send the first three pages. Don’t squeeze in a couple more with the belief that the more the agent sees, the more he’ll just love your work.
Change the focus of your letter. Try to capsulize the basic conflict of the book without trying to explain the whole plot. Three or four sentences should be enough. Agents usually say they only want a one-page letter. That doesn’t mean you cram every word possible into that page. Shorter is better. You’re trying to whet their appetites not force-feed them.
Maybe your writing is not up to par. Yes, your mother and your friends love your manuscript, but they’re not editors. If this is the problem, it may be why you haven’t received responses. More and more agents just ignore a query they’re not interested in rather than waste time to send out a form letter rejection.
Have you put your manuscript through a critique group? That’s a free exercise. Other writers will very quickly see the flaws in your work. Or hire an editor. Get feedback from people who are published instead of friends and family, who have no experience in publishing, editing, or writing.
I find that I get the best feedback from other writers who don’t like me, because they will find every last tiny molecule of imperfection in my work. You’ll find your enemies eager to help.
My point here is that if you’re not getting responses from agents, it’s not the agents’ faults. Something you’re doing has to change.
The second mistake new writers make is wasting time and effort contacting the wrong agents. Here again, market research is the key. I’ve heard tales of woe from many writers who have sent out skadey-eight zillion queries but can’t get an agent interested.

Before starting a new query campaign, it’s important to marshal good resources. Two I recommend are The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and QueryTracker.
AAR agents are the cream of the crop. AAR requires certain qualifications to become a member: ethical conduct, experience, and a minimum number of book sales, among others. These are usually the most established agents and those with the most thriving practices. You can use their agent search engine at You can use key words such as mystery or romance to find the agents who handle those genres.
Another search engine and great tool to track the queries you send out is QueryTracker. They currently have a database of about 2000 agents, which are searchable by all sorts of filters (more than AAR), such as genre, location, gender, and whether they’re closed or open to queries. As you send out queries, you can enter the contact info in QueryTracker and they will keep track for you, showing how long the query has been in play, rejections, requests for partial or full manuscripts, etc. The basic service is free.
So, what do you do with these tools? They are valuable sources of market research. Instead of sending out a mass of queries in a shotgun approach, chances for success are greatly increased if you send to the specific agents who would be most likely to want your work. This takes research. I suggest at least a half-hour for each query.
Let’s say you have a mystery. In QueryTracker, you click that genre. Maybe you want to first try for agents in New York City. Click that location. And so on. You make sure the agent is not closed to queries. If your book has a lot of violence, you might also winnow down the agents by gender. Male agents would probably be more interested than women. The reverse holds true for romances.
As you investigate an agent, click on the link for the agency website. If there are a half-dozen agents in the agency, read the information on each agent. One of the other agents might be a better match than the first one you read.
Many agents post links to their blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Check these out. I’ve seen a lot of blogs where agents say exactly what they’re looking for right now. This information is much fresher than what’s on the agency web site, which might not get updated for months or years.
Now, as you query from a short list, you’ll reach agents who have the greatest likelihood of signing you.
This process is ongoing. If you’re not getting results, evaluate your query letter, revise, try again. Same with your manuscript. It should be a feedback loop. The market is constantly giving you feedback, whether negative or positive.
Try something. Stir, rinse, repeat.
And most of all: Don’t give up. 


From Podcast to Best-selling Author

When you don’t know whether to use who or whom, or whose or who’s, where do you turn for answers? Grammar Girl, of course. Next meeting, we have the Grammar Girl herself as our guest speaker.
On May 12th, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips and The Grammar Devotional, Mignon Fogarty – aka Grammar Girl – will talk about how she went from doing a podcast in her bedroom closet to being featured on Oprah and becoming a New York Times bestselling author. Mignon will give tips and tricks on how she increased her audience, a few dos and don’ts about podcasts as well as her ever witty, practical and easy-to-remember advice on grammar. You don’t want to miss this meeting! Doors open at 10 a.m.

Mignon Fogarty was the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase “grammar nazi” and loves the word “kerfuffle.” She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University.Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. She strives to be a friendly guide in the writing world. Her archenemy is the evil Grammar Maven, who inspires terror in the untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful.

Find Mignon at her website:


We’ll also read First Pages, so bring in your material in hard copy. Please help Matt out by doing the following: Print in 14 point font; double space, use Times New Roman or Arial; put the book title on the top line with the book’s genre. Hand it to me at the beginning of the meeting. Matt has some from the last meeting and he promises to get through all of April and May’s at this meeting.

The May Meeting will be Saturday May 12 at the South Valley Libraries on Wedge Parkway. (The big yellow building next to the soccer fields.) It begins at 10:00 a.m.

Parking was at a premium last month with the game season now started, so come early to get a parking place.

Overcome Writer’s Block

HSW Member and writer Paula Riley is presenting a class on Tuesday, June 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. that explores techniques and tools for breaking through creative roadblocks.  The course fee includes handouts. 

To learn more about it, go to TMCC’s Workforce Development and Continuation Education website.

If you have questions, email Paula at or visit her web site

Annual HSW Contest Coming in June

Mark your calendars for the June meeting now.  Donna Stegman with be announcing all the particulars and the prize for the 2018 Writing Contest at our meeting on Saturday, June 9th. This will be one contest you want to enter ’cause it may change your life. Donna will also be critiquing blurbs at this meeting… only time this year, so get yours ready to go.

Is Your Mailing List a Potential Violation?

Many writers have a mailing list of fans and potential book-buyers. It’s a great, personal way to market books. You collect the mailing list from your website, Facebook, and other online sources then store in a database. If you’re actively promoting, you may be mailing out a newsletter a month or even more frequently with updates and general chat to entice your readers to look at your book.

However, if you have people on your mailing list who are in the European Union, a new law going into effect on May 25, could affect you. Called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), its purpose is to provide more security and moderation of online data gathering. In conjunction with this, the EU is requiring a double opt-in for email sign-ups and the opt-in must state the purpose of the mailing list, such as book information only, general newsletter, etc. The person opting in needs to have a confirmation response that they do, indeed, want to be on the list.

Failure to comply with this can lead to a significant fine from the EU. So, take a look at your mailing list opt-in. If it isn’t clearly stated what the data is used for, change it. Also, check to see if it is set to a double opt-in.

Learn more about this change at this web site:

Get A Professional Book Review and More Exposure

The LeRue Review-A Publisher’s “Three-Chapter View”

Writers! Get your book reviewed (with a thumbnail image of the book).
Review cost is $10. All you do is send 3 chapters to us with a cover image to our specs. We will post the review in What’s the Story, (2500 distribution plus online).

What kind of review? It’s brief and to the point from a publisher’s perspective. One of the features is a scale of the likelihood we would publish (if we were open to submissions in that genre/topic). This is not a solicitation for new manuscripts. We love to encourage authors and want to provide a review service that is unique and helpful to readers and to you.

You can use the review AFTER it is published in What’s the Story? as long as you give LeRue and WTS attribution. Deadline: 1st of the month. You will usually see your review in the following month’s issue. (Example: Received by May 1st, published in June issue). We will notify you of your anticipated publish date.

Why wait? Get your review now! Contact lrp@lrpnv.comInclude LRR-3 Chapter View in subject line.

Reprinted with permission from Janice Hermsen at LaRue Press.

From the Editor: To clarify the submission, it is the first three chapters of your book, double-spaced and 12 point Times New Roman. You can send either a WORD doc or PDF file.

Missing an issue of our newsletter? The most recent issues can be found in the archive by clicking the View this in your browser link at the top of this email. From there, you can select the previous issues. this is a new feature at MailChimp and the archive will continue to grow to 20 previous issues over time. Issues for this year thorough August are also available on our website www.highsierrawriters,org
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February 2018 Newsletter

From the President:


“My mystery/thriller, JUMPING JACK, will be as big as any John Grisham. You’ll make a lot of money with my book.” Agents love queries that start this way.

My mother loved it. Check.

I worked hard for over four months to write it. Check.

This is my THIRD (!) draft. It’s ready. Check.

Yes, writers write these things. In our monthly meetings, we’ve talked a lot about how to write queries, but this topic can never be discussed too much.

It’s great to be enthusiastic about one’s work, but it’s impossible to predict how a book will sell. Making claims about sales only shows a lack of experience and professionalism. Giving a list of readers who “loved” the work is not impressive unless a reader is a bestselling author or some other famous person.

Stick to basics.
Paragraph 1: Why are you contacting the agent? Did you meet at a conference? Did you see in the agent’s blog or web page that he or she is looking for new works in your genre?

Paragraph 2: Brief back-of-the-cover synopsis of the manuscript. End with a hook; don’t tell the ending: Will Charlotte overcome her fears and do the right thing?

Paragraph 3: Brief bio. Give your writing credentials, but don’t exaggerate. You don’t need to have been published. If you write your employer’s monthly newsletter, mention it. In fiction, definitely tell if you have experience in some area that supports the genre and story. For example, if your book is a crime thriller, it’s helpful and appropriate to mention you were a police officer, or prosecutor, or private investigator.

The only other thing you can do is adhere to each agent’s requirements. Some want 10 pages included in the body of your email. Some want a 1-page synopsis; others want a 2-page synopsis. Some only want the query letter. Follow instructions and make sure you spell the agent’s name correctly. That’s all you can do.

Send and relax.

Matt Bayan

Next HSW Meeting

Join us at the February HSW Meeting on Saturday, 02-10-18, when best-selling author, Terri Farley will be our guest. Terri will be presenting an interactive workshop to help you build your character. For this meeting, she suggests you bring a photo, printout from the internet, or illustration that resembles your character. We hope to see you there and ready to begin building an unforgettable character.

    When: Saturday- February 10, 2018 at 10 a.m.
Where: South Valley Library on Wedge Parkway –
yellow building next to the ball park

Time to Pay Your Dues

That’s right! It’s time to pay the annual dues for HSW membership. If you have already paid, thank you. For the rest, you can pay Jay with a check made out to High Sierra Writers or cash at the next meeting or you can mail it to High Sierra Writers, PO Box 7825 Reno, NV 89510.

Critique Groups

If anyone is looking for a critique group to join or to start, please contact Nicole at the next meeting or email her at
She will help you get started or try to match you up with an existing critique group that may have an opening. 

TMCC Writers Conference

TMCC is hosting its annual Writers’ Conference on Saturday, April 21 at the college campus in the Sierra Building. The program includes authors and agents covering various topics plus three agents will be available for one on one ten-minute meetings for an additional fee. The agents this year are Jennifer March Soloway, Laurie McLean, and Sheree Bykofsky.

The fee for the conference is $149. For more information and to sign up, go to TMCC’s website at

In addition, Sheree Bykofsky, an East Coast agent, will be presenting a class on Friday, April 20 for $39 titled “Grab an Agent’s Attention” on writing query letters. You can sign up at the same page as the conference.

Hometown Reads

A fairly new community organization, the goal of Hometown Reads is to help local authors connect with readers in their hometown through what they describe as a Read Local movement. The site listings are free to authors who sign up and list their books. The authors are then grouped by city so local readers, who can also join the community, can find local authors. They are also encouraging book stores to use the site as a resource for contacting authors for live events.

Several HSW members are already signed up on the site and Reno is a listed city. It takes 10 authors for the city to be listed, so we are there already. If you have a book published, check it out and get your listing up. It is free so you have nothing to lose and maybe new readers to gain. The web site is:

5 Tips to Giving Critique

Many web sites offer advice for both giving and receiving critiques. The reality is that it varies depending on the type of critique and if you are covering a whole piece of writing versus a few pages or a chapter. If you’re in a critique group, how you handle it may vary based on the preference of the members of the group. These five tips pretty much apply to any situation.

1. Be courteous and start with a positive remark. Address the strengths of the writing and plotting. Look for those things the writer has done well.

2. Be objective and make suggestions.  Keep in mind that every writer is different and writers have their own style of writing. Don’t try to make them write to your style, but give them valid feedback when something doesn’t read smoothly or is unclear.

3. Critique the writing, not the writer. Don’t make this personal. Express how you feel about the writing and why something about it bothers you or feels awkward. Keep in mind the writer’s experience level and be kind.

4. Suggest solutions. Don’t be hesitant to point out problems in the piece and suggest ways to correct them, but don’t rewrite them. If the writer is to benefit from the critique, he must do the work to change it.

5. Invite questions. Don’t get defensive if the writer questions your feedback, but point out your reasoning why you felt the writing was weak in that area and remind them it is your opinion and they can accept or reject it.

In some critique groups, writers are expected to listen to the entire critique from all members before asking any questions. In others, the writer can jump in with a question at any time or after each person finishes his/her critique. It’s up to each group how this works.

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HSW News & Information for January 2018

From the HSW President 

No, I’m not going to talk about New Year’s writing resolutions or how to find the time to write. Instead, I want to talk about a coincidence that brought into focus an issue near and dear: showing vs. telling and how much detail is enough.

Last week I read two recently published books: Camino Island by John Grisham and A Legacy of Spies by John LeCarre’. The subject matter couldn’t be farther apart. The former is about the theft of valuable literary manuscripts and the latter is a spy novel.

I hated Camino Island and loved A Legacy of Spies. Why? The coincidence I mentioned is that both books have a substantial amount of telling. Why does one work and the other doesn’t? Le Carre’ provides detail that at first seems unconnected. Imagine a bowl of alphabet soup with letters randomly appearing. But at some point the letters begin to form into important information. With the Grisham book, we look at the same bowl of alphabet soup and realize we’re just looking at soup. Even when he appears to be showing, such as in dialogue, Grisham’s characters are still telling. And telling.

Apart from a lackluster plot, Camino Island has unimportant characters of which we learn too much. We get page after page of meaningless dialogue or summary or description. I got the sense that Grisham had a 50-page story, but he needed 300 pages, so he backed up the dump truck and dropped a lot of fill dirt.

The contrast with Le Carre’ is that each piece of dialogue, each backstory, slowly weaves into a tighter and tighter net and seemingly unrelated information begins to form a picture.

As an editor, I try to get my clients to avoid too much detail. But in these two contrasting books, we see Le Carre’ push beyond the limits of what I would normally feel comfortable with, yet he pulls it off with skill. Why? Because his details have meaning. Grisham, on the other hand, needs to get taken to the woodshed by his editor.

The lesson here is to make sure every detail drives toward a plot point. Details that do this will eventually satisfy the reader. Details that don’t will only aggravate. The former have purpose; the latter are bloat.

Matt Bayan

It’s a New Year!
Dues are Due!

It’s the new year and we all need to become members or renew memberships. The small membership fee of $25 per year goes toward renting our meeting space at the library, paying speakers to make presentations and hold workshops, buying supplies such as name tags and markers, keeping a post office box, and operating a bank account. Your membership fee is tax deductible; High Sierra Writers is a 501 (3) (c) non-profit corporation.

Critique Groups

Critiquing is critical to the development of any writer. Yes, receiving feedback will help you to see your work-in-progress more clearly. But giving feedback might be even more important. Developing good critique skills teaches your mind to analyze story elements. It teaches you to sift the beautiful from the mundane. And that training—sharpened in the process of helping someone else—will carry over into your own writing.   – Daniel Schwabauer,

Contact Nicole, your Critique Group Wrangler,  to join a Reno-based group in 2018!

1st Meeting of the Year is January 13. 2018

Our regular feature. Give your first pages to Matt at the beginning of the meeting. Please put the genre at the top of the page, use Times New Roman font at 12 pt., and double space. This makes it easier to read.

A short discussion on how to target your queries with a demo of a helpful tool to do it efficiently.

High Sierra Writers meeting is at 10:00 a.m. at the South Valleys Library, 15650 Wedge Parkway.

February Meeting Preview


Special Guest: TERRI FARLEY


Editors and readers will follow great characters anywhere. In this interactive workshop, you’ll explore your character’s heart and head, walk in their shoes, examine their pasts, and chart what makes them tick. Besides bonding with your character, you’ll acquire techniques to humanize book people who’ll create excitement and intensify your themes.

This workshop works best if writers arrive with a picture – ripped from a magazine, printed from the Internet – that resembles their character.

Our guest, Terri Farley, is the best-selling author of the Phantom Stallion series for young readers. She was honored by the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and her HarperCollins books have sold more than two million copies in 28 countries.
Farley is an advocate for the West’s wild horses and works with young people learning to make their voices heard. Wild at Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them is her first work of non-fiction. Chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection, Wild at Heart was published by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt in September 2015.
Missing an issue of our newsletter? The most recent issues can be found in the archive by clicking the View this in your browser link at the top of this email. From there, you can select the previous issues. this is a new feature at MailChimp and the archive will continue to grow to 20 previous issues over time. Issues for this year thorough August are also available on our website www.highsierrawriters,org

Newsletter layout and editing by Rene Averett. Images used are from Graphics Factory or Stencil and are used with permission.
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December 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President 

Particularly because of looking at entries for the short story contest, I think it would be helpful to contrast two key elements of a story: setting and immediate scene. I’ve talked about immediate scene before; it’s writing that occurs in the moment. It’s a close POV where the reader is experiencing what is happening as it happens. Dialogue is usually immediate scene, unless the dialogue is recounting something that occurred off-stage, out of the sight of the reader. Usually something in the past.

Setting is that element that tells the reader when and where the story is taking place. It creates an atmosphere or context for the story.

Here’s the conflict. Traditionally, stories started out with a description of setting. In both movies and books this was called “exposition.” However, in recent years, exposition has shrunk more and more. We have shorter attention spans. We want things to get moving. We don’t want a long explanation of background.

That’s why “immediate scene” has become more important to readers and moviegoers. Audiences want to get right into the story, be immersed in it. The challenge for writers is to plunge in, yet introduce the details of setting without bogging down the scene.

Think of TV shows such as, Law and Order, CSI, Gray’s Anatomy. The show usually starts with some kind of emergency or a murder or some other crime. The audience doesn’t know the context at the start. The pieces start to get revealed as the show progresses.

How do James Bond movies start? With an action scene. In Casino Royal, the first ten minutes – the teaser – involves Bond chasing some operative in the most spectacular footrace I have ever seen. It looks like they’re in the tropics, but we don’t know where. We don’t know who the guy is who’s running from Bond. We don’t know why Bond is chasing him. This is a far cry from Dickens who would have given the dates of birth of pursued and pursuer, walked us through their grammar school days, and given the shoe size of everyone in the scene.

The teaser that launches immediate scene is now expected by audiences. When we send queries to agents, they expect immediate scene too. The slow burn is something bestselling writers can afford because they’ve already captured an audience who is more willing to give them some leeway. But if you’re starting out, stay in immediate scene as much as possible.

Matt Bayan

December Meeting

Literary Tour Highlights

As some of you know, Donna Stegman spent a month touring literarily significant sites in Europe. She slept in William Shakespeare’s pajamas, drew graffiti on Dante’s birthplace, and knocked over one of the stones at Stonehenge. That was just in the first week. For your edification, she will regale us with a brief presentation of her literary journey.

Contest Results

At our December 9th meeting, we’ll announce the winner of our short story contest. This will lead into a discussion of the consistent issues that we found in just about every entry. Think of it as expanded first pages, but we’ll be taking examples of Dos and Don’ts from beginnings, middles, and ends and reviewing them with the perspective of an editor or agent. Since the contest was anonymous, the items for discussion and feedback will remain anonymous.

First Pages 

Matt will be doing First Pages at this month’s meeting. If you’d like to participate in this month’s first pages critique with Matt Bayan, please bring in your first page. Please print the page in at least 12-point font and double-spaced. If you have more than one manuscript, feel free to bring in more than one sample. It helps if you identify the genre at the top of your page. This is anonymous, so don’t include your name.

Book Blurb Critiques

Our Communications Director, Donna Stegman will be critiquing Book Blurbs at this meeting. She will read aloud back-cover synopses submitted by members. She will give a verbal critique and get feedback from the group. Please bring a printed copy, 12-point minimum font, to hand to Donna at the beginning of the meeting. All blurbs are kept anonymous to keep biases from interfering with the critique.


A back cover synopsis/blurb is a three paragraph summary of the novel that does not tell the end of the story. It’s simple, direct, and needs to have a hook.  Whether you’ve finished your novel or are still plotting, writing an effective synopsis for your story is key to selling your novel.

Membership Renewal is Coming Up!

Your HSW membership runs from January to December of each year, no matter when you joined.  So, come January, it is due for renewal. For $25, you can enjoy all the benefits of HSW membership, including the newsletter in your inbox, critique groups, discounts or free entry to special workshops throughout the year, contest options, and more. You can submit your payment to Jay Leavitt at the December or January meetings or you can mail   check or money order to  High Sierra Writers at PO Box 7825 Reno, NV 89510.

 One benefit to being a member of the High Sierra Writer’s group is your access to join or start a critique group. So far this year 27 people have taken us up on this offer, and six new groups (some temporary) were formed.  So if you’re feeling the itch to jump on the critique bandwagon and help give your project a giant push forward, contact Critique Group Wrangler Nicole and join in on the fun!  And if you’re waiting for a group, go ahead and refresh your intent to join a group (meaning…remind me in case you fell through the proverbial crack!).  cgwrangler@highsierrawriters. org  – Nicole

As some of you already know, I recently returned from Europe…28 days, 14 TSA screenings, 5 trains, 4 tour cars, 4 water taxis, and at least a million cabs, and I watched an episode of Outlander being filmed. It was epic. Now that I’ve been home a few weeks, I’ve had a bit of time to digest what I saw and experienced.

In a freakishly fortunate turn of events, I ran into an old buddy while in Edinburgh, who just happens to own the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dacre Stoker was in the U.K doing a tour on all things Dracula, Bram was born in Ireland where he started his famous novel but honed his craft in Scotland. Lucky for us, the people of Scotland have preserved his house as a museum, so I asked for a guided tour of where he wrote, From a Stoker! Yes, I was a gushing fangirl for 3 hours.

With everything I saw, smelled, and touched, you know what I found most fascinating? Next to his desk was a pile of papers under glass, all covered in doodles, yes doodles. Dogs, birds, trees, and bugs were doodled on scratch paper all over this brilliant writer’s desk. He had lists of items he needed to pick up at the market, lists of bills he needed to pay, and dates for dinner scrawled on the back of a receipt. It made me think, no matter where you are in your writing career, we daydream, we find anything to do that isn’t writing, and we doodle.

It should give us all hope that we’re not alone, even the most successful of writers can’t buckle down and get to work sometimes. Dacre thinks that it’s all part of the process, that our creative minds must wander in order to gather tidbits that make-up our imagination.

Donna Stegman

Congratulations to NaNo Writers

Several of our HSW members participated in NaNoWriMo this year. Whether you wrote 10,000 words or 100,000 words, you are a winner because you have that many more words toward your writing project. NaNo isn’t completely about the winning, but for the participation and effort. If you follow the plan, you’re writing every day and you will form the daily habit. Now continue to do it. Congratulations to each of you. Good job!

Please Update Your Information

When you change email addresses, our newsletter can’t find its way to your inbox if you don’t update your information. We use MailChimp to handle our mailing so it is easy to update from your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Simply click on “update your preferences” at the bottom of the email and edit your email address. If you don’t have access, you can always see Rene Averett at an HSW meeting and give her your updated information. Thank you.

Newsletter layout and editing by Rene Averett. Images used are from Graphics Factory or Stencil and are used with permission.
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November 2017 Newsletter

From the President


So you’ve done your research, created a list (or a spreadsheet if you’re a paragon of efficiency and organization) of agents you want to query, and think you have everything you need. Your query letter looks great; your pitch is enticing and you’re confident. Use this checklist before you hit send.
__ My manuscript is complete (and edited, and proofread).
__ I’ve done my best to come up with a great opening line.
__ I’ve described the plot in a clear and concise way.
__ I’ve included the genre and word count of my manuscript (or projected word count for a nonfiction title with a proposal) in my query.
__ This agent represents that genre.
__ I want to work with this agent because something in her bio or credentials (or blog post or interview) resonates with me.
__ If I’ve met the agent at a conference, I’ve included the conference name in the email subject line (and somewhere in the query itself).
__ I have checked this agent’s submission guidelines.
__ I have included all the materials that this agent requires.
__ The materials are included in the desired format, i.e. in the body, not attached (if that’s what the submission guidelines call for.)
__ I greet the agent by name, not as a generic Dear Agent.
__ I’ve checked that the agent I’m addressing is the same one I’m emailing.
__ I’ve spelled the agent’s name correctly.
__ If unsure of the agent’s gender, I’ve used the agent’s full name or first name.
__ I’ve spelled the agency’s name right and named the correct one (if I’m mentioning it).
__ I’ve included my contact information.
__ My subject line includes the working title of the book.
__ My query can be read without a magnifying glass.
__ My formatting is consistent throughout the query.
__My email address shows my name—not my spouse’s, or mine and my spouse’s, or a random string of letters and numbers, or a quirky nickname, or my main character’s name.

-Matt Bayan


If you are entering a short story in the “Poker Pot” competition, your submission(s) and $10 entry fee per story are due at the November meeting. You will need to pay your fee and get a receipt from our treasurer, Jay Leavitt, then hand the submission to Linda Enos (Bailey). She is the contest coordinator.


Linda will tear off the cover page, then give the stories to Donna and Matt. This will ensure completely blind and unbiased evaluation of the entries. Be sure to include all the required information—name, title, genre, and contact – on the cover page.

IMPORTANT: The story title, genre, and page number must be in the header of each page of the story. All pages must be stapled together in correct sequence with the cover page on top. Do NOT include your name or contact information on the story pages. If any story pages have your name and/or contact information, the submission will be disqualified.

Election Results for HSW Board 2018

The slate was unanimously passed by voice vote at the October meeting…plus two emailed “yay” votes.

Matt Bayan – President
Nicole Frens – Secretary
Jay Leavitt – Treasurer
Donna Stegman – Director of Communication
Rene Averett – Director of Membership
A HUGE thank-you to our incoming board!

From the Treasurer

Jay will be taking the story fees, $10 per story, two-story maximum per writer, at the November meeting. He will also begin taking membership renewals, $25, for 2018 at this meeting. He reminds everyone that HSW has already contributed $100 to the pot so the winner is guaranteed to get at least $110 dollars. Winner will be announced at the December meeting.

Jay also needs any outstanding reimbursement requests with a receipt in order to close out the December and 2017 books at the end of the year.

Planning for Success

Last month, Gina Decker presented a program on planning to achieve your goals. It was suggested that those who want to do it can plan and bring their goal-setting to discuss with other members. Gina will be at the meeting to answer any questions or help clarify the use.

For those who don’t recall the technique or weren’t there, Gina suggested a sheet of paper folded in half lengthwise, then folded into thirds to make six boxes when unfolded. Label each box as Goals: Educational, Big Projects, Personal and the bottom first two are things that might distract from the goals: Organizations and Work, then add in Helpers to get you to your goals. Under those headers, you then list what you plan to achieve in 2018 and the things that will help and distract you from your goals.


Next Meeting is November 18, 2017 at 10 a.m. at the South Valleys Library on Wedge Parkway. We will have first pages and blurbs.

7 Tips to Break Writer’s Block

From the experiences of Rene Averett

As I’m starting my 4th year of NaNoWriMo, I’m planning to complete the first draft of my next novel. I have “won” every year so far and have every expectation of completing 50,000 words plus quite a few more in November. Even while doing NaNo, writer’s block can set in. I have a few techniques I use to get past them so I will share my top 7 tips for anyone else to try.

1. Change writing mediums: If you’ve been typing on a keyboard, try writing with paper and pen. I find that it triggers my mind into using my creative side and words tend to flow more easily as my mind shifts modes. After a page or so of writing longhand, I can usually get back into the flow of the story and to the computer.

2. Move around: Get up, take a walk, or do something physical for about 15 minutes. Your brain may just need a break. Put on some music and dance or exercise.

3. Refresh and ask questions: Get a cup of coffee or a glass of water and allow your mind to think about the scene. Ask yourself questions about it. Maybe you haven’t planned it well enough. Ask the basic reporter’s questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? If you can answer them, then you might trigger the next part of your story or you can write a character back-story scene that gets you going again.

4. Take time for play: Play a game or do something creative, such as sketching, drawing, or cooking. Once again, this provides a break and allows your brain to work on the next part of your book.

5. Skip over the scene and go to one that is clearer in your mind: This works well if you’re a plotter. Often when plotting, you add scenes that you’re looking forward to writing while others are part of the necessary lead-up to that great scene. If the lead-up isn’t coming together, jump to the scene you’re really wanting to write. This often sorts out the troublesome scene in the process.

6. Turn off your inner editor. Easier said than done, but seriously, editing uses a different part of the brain and stifles creativity. Let your creative side go and just write.

7. Dream on it: If you’re having trouble with a scene, think about it before you go to sleep. Your brain will work on it while you’re sleeping and you’ll probably have the solution in the morning.

Hope these tips help you if you find yourself staring at the same line of your computer screen for a long time.

Newsletter layout and editing by Rene Averett. Incidental images from Graphics Factory are used with permission.
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October 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President


Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year. The next three months will suck you away from whatever writing routine you may have. Don’t lament, don’t cry, don’t panic.

Accept the fact that you will be distracted. Downshift your expectations and take a detour.

Take the slowdown as an opportunity to stop writing new material and use it to improve what you’ve already written. Here’s how. Mark up the first three pages based on which of the three types of writing each sentence falls under: description, summary, or immediate scene. Use different colored highlighters or underline or circle. Whatever works for you.

Then look at those pages and assess which type of writing dominates. If description or summary come out on top, you have a serious problem. Go through the rest of your manuscript and mark it up. When you finish, you now have a road map of what you need to do. The good thing is that you can work on small segments at a time.

Have a half hour? Rewrite a few pages. Convert description to compact images. Get rid of long summary. Upgrade your chapters into immediate scene. Increase dialogue. Look for other ways to better say what you wrote before.

Whether you get done during the holidays doesn’t matter. If you do this mark-up, you’ve set an inventory of work to get done over whatever time frame works for you. Doing this exercise will make a significant improvement in your novel.

When you’re done, go back to page one of your manuscript and read through to see if it is “a dramatic story told dramatically.”

Matt Bayan

HSW Board Ballot is at the bottom of this newsletter. Please read.

November Meeting Changed

Due to scheduling conflicts with the library, the November meeting is rescheduled to the third Saturday of the month, November 18th. It will still be at 10 a.m. at the South Valleys Library on Wedge Parkway.

The program for this meeting is undetermined for this time. Details next issue.

Short Story Contest Entries

Since the November meeting has changed to November 18th, the deadline for the Short Story contest entries has moved to the 18th meeting when they can be handed over. Only current HSW Members may enter the contest.

Things to note:

  • All entries must be submitted by the NEW November date; Nov. 18 th.
  • The entry fee per each story submitted is $10.00 with a maximum of two entries.
  • Jay will be accepting fees starting at the October meeting if you will not be at the November meeting or wish to pay early.
  • If you can’t make the November meeting, you may hand your short story to Lynda Bailey (Enos) at the October meeting.

In case you forgot the criteria for the short story entry, your story must have:
A.  A romantic element
B.  A fight scene
C.  A plot twist
D.  Dialog as the first sentence
E.  A cover page with name, title, genre, and contact.

Winning story will be announced at the December meeting. Judges decisions are final and not subject to negotiation.

Next HSW Meeting Will Feature Planning
The meeting is October 14th at 10 a.m at the South Valleys Library. We will not be doing blurbs at this meeting, but we will be doing first pages, so bring those along. During our October meeting, we’ll have two programs.

1.    Goal Setting for Writers
Our October guest will be Gina Decker,, who will give a presentation on goal setting and then lead the group in a personal goal setting exercise. Gina Decker holds an MA in Educational Leadership and BAs in Music and English from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the owner of Tech Done For You, Writing and Editing Today and offers consulting services to authors and small business owners who need websites, blogs, and social media management. Gina works full time from home doing tech for business owners, has published 5 books with a 6th in the works, and is here to talk to you about how to organize your creative writing projects so you can focus on what you love. Bring a blank sheet of paper.

2.    Craft Workshop
Bring a few pages of your manuscript. We’re going to work on them and show some simple ways to make your writing more powerful and engaging. This workshop will be anonymous, so don’t freak out about having your work publicly analyzed (unless you want it).

Gina Decker did an interview with Barbara Ingrassia, a certified copyright manager, speaker, and trainer, regarding copyright mistakes small business owners make. HSW members may view the interview at this link.

Ms. Ingrassia offered a free booklet, which Gina passed on to us: The Top 10 Copyright Mistakes Small Businesses Make (that could land them in court) and How to Avoid Them: gift.

Romance Times Convention Comes to Reno

Yes, this is a big deal in the romance genre. Romance Times is a reader/writer convention of epic proportions, almost as big as the RWA Convention.

Come May 15 through May 20, the Peppermill Hotel will be overflowing with romance, or at least a slew of writers and readers. Featuring an array of authors and numerous panels available to both readers and writers, this is a convention to consider. Although the price is also a little on the epic side, it does offer more than 100 workshops, parties, and reader events. As with any convention of this type, it’s a great place to network and make important contacts.

If you’re interested, check out their web site soon as they are accepting registrations NOW!

High Sierra Writers
Election Ballot

President – Matt Bayan
Secretary – Nicole Frens
Treasurer – Jay Leavitt
Director of Communication – Donna Stegman
Director of Membership – Rene Averett
Director of Education – NA


  • Voting is open until the end of October.
  • Since none of the positions are being challenged, you can email Linda Enos at with either a *Yay* or *Nay* vote.
  • We will also do a *voice* vote at the October meeting.
  • Results will be announced at the November meeting.
  • A challenge period will last until 11/20 with the final, official results announced at the December meeting.

Any questions or concerns, contact Linda Enos…

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September 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President

There’s no THERE there. How to engage readers with active verbs.

Whenever you see “there” you usually have a passive verb, except when “there” is a place, as in “over there.” Word search for “there” and you can cut a lot of passive verbs and make your writing more engaging for readers.

Example 1: There are storm clouds on the horizon.

This sentence doesn’t convey much.

Example 2: Storm clouds loom on the horizon.

Better? Sense of foreboding?

Example 3: Black storm clouds boil over the horizon.

Compare Example 3 to Example 1.

Which is stronger? Why? Which is active rather than passive? Which one is easier for a reader to visualize?

‘Nuff said.


September Meeting Reminder

At our September meeting, we will have two speakers, Harlequin authors Anna J. Steward and Melinda Curtis, who will be presenting an all day workshop on Building Your Characters from the Ground Up. The morning session, beginning at 10 a.m. with Anna is free. We’ll break from noon to 1:30, then the afternoon session with Melinda will be $10 for HSW members and $15 for non-members. Feel free to invite others to join us for this exciting session.

The meeting is Saturday, September 9th at the South Valleys Library on Wedge Parkway. The meeting will begin as soon as possible after the library opens at 10 a.m.

As authors, we know writing is hard. Real hard. Brutal even. It’s beyond tough to get the story points right, create compelling characters and avoid the dreaded “mushy middle.” But as the saying goes, if writing was easy, everybody would do it.

Still, it’s in our nature as humans to try to find ways to turn what’s difficult into something less so. In short, we’re looking for a Golden Ticket – a way to make the arduous task of writing easy. That’s why we buy books on characterizations and attend workshops on plotting. But news flash…such a golden ticket doesn’t exist. Why? Because, as with so many things in writing, an author’s process is subjective.

That’s right. Subjective. The concept we all love to hate. A writing method which works for Author A, probably won’t work for Author B. Or for you. Does this mean you should stop trying to better your craft? Absolutely not!! It just means you can’t take everything that anyone says as gospel. You need to glean the tidbits which work for you because – and here’s the kicker –you have a writing process too. One unique to you, and you alone. So read those books and attend those workshops on writing, but remember…there’s no golden ticket. Just a lot of hard work.

Lynda Bailey

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is November. The objective of the event is for participants to write a 50,000-word novel during the month in order to encourage writers to focus on writing. It is an attainable goal and the organization provides many motivators to help writers achieve it.

To assist on the local level, the national organization appoints a volunteer Municipal Liaison (ML) for each region or city who helps to organize writing events and provide general encouragement throughout the month. This year, our region has two ML’s handling the tasks, Rene Averett and Jennifer Baumer, listed as Lily Wolfe and Jenna Stone on the regional page. Since they both live in Reno, they will be looking for people in Carson, Minden, Fallon, and Tahoe to assist with physical write-ins.

If you are interested, you are invited to join the NaNo Reno Facebook page. Go to  You can also contact Rene at for more information. For more about the program, visit

Agent Jen Hunt with HSW President Matt Bayan at the July HSW meeting. Jen talked about submitting to an agent and things to avoid saying in your query letters.

Reno Comic Con Booth Opportunity

The Reno Sands Comic Con is returning on September 23rd & 24th.  It is not on a par with the bigger Comic Cons, but it is more affordable for vendors. Along with another Reno writer, Rene Averett will have a booth under Pynhavyn Press in the Dealer’s Room.  If you are a science fiction or fantasy writer, this is a good opportunity to get your book on display and possibly sell a few copies. The booths run $110 for the weekend. For more information, go to

Critique Group Happenings

Critique Group Wrangler Nicole is now putting together groups for writers of non-fiction, short stories, and  novels. If you’d like to start or join one of these groups, contact her today!

Short Story Reminder

Don’t forget the Short Story Contest entry deadline is coming up in two months. If you haven’t written it yet, stop procrastinating and do it! Write in September. Edit and polish in October. Submit in November. Did we mention you could win a CASH prize plus bragging rights?

Editing Lingo 101

 Bringing in the Experts

If you’re publishing your work in the traditional fashion, or if you’re an indie author, you’ll need to understand the world of editing. I’ve had many questions at our meetings on editing and in what order it needs to be done.  Today, I’m introducing a Development Editor.

Developmental Editing
The first stage after you write a book is developmental editing. Better yet, have this person in place as you write.

What Do They Do?
A developmental editor’s job is to pick apart all the pieces of your manuscript and help you put them back together better and stronger.

A great developmental editor is more of a guide than a collaborator, although you’ll need someone that you get along well with and who can nudge you in the right ways. This editor should always specialize in your genre.

Basically, you want someone who can point out the flaws in your writing, as well as the things you’re doing well, and help you figure out ways to fix the things that aren’t working and amp up the things that are.
Developmental edits focus on the big picture: does your book make sense? Is it missing anything? Does it contain too much?

In fiction, that means looking for plot holes, undeveloped characters, weird pacing, strange jumps in point of view, characters who appear and disappear out of nowhere, inconsistencies, and so on.

What Don’t They Do?
In a lot of cases, developmental editors don’t provide copyedits or proofreading. They’re just there to help you whip the structure and function of your book into shape, going over matters of plot, pacing, characterization, and more.

Granted, some aspects of mechanical writing will come into play—if you struggle with certain grammatical rules or spelling issues, that will get addressed—but developmental editors mostly focus on the big picture.

When you’re hiring a developmental editor, be sure that you’re both clear on what exact services the editor provides and how many rounds of revision you’re going to get.

This will be a lengthy relationship, treat picking a developmental editor like picking out a roommate. You’re going to love them, hate them, cry to them, and they’ll see you at your worst, and at your best.

Donna Stegman
Continuity Editor (we’ll get to my specialty next month)

Layouts and edits for the HSW Newsletter are done by Rene Averett. All written content is the property of the authors and HSW. Graphics licensed from Graphics Factory or are public domain.
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August 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President

Happy August,

Well, unfortunately, August is the month that New York editors and agents go on vacation and the publishing industry takes a deep breath and rests. If you have a place in the Hamptons, you might run into them, but barring that, it’s best to hunker down, polish your manuscript, and get ready for the post-Labor Day return to business.

Last month, I started a blog dedicated to providing writers with information about editing, publishing, and links to articles that I find informative for the writing craft. Just go to my web site ( and click on the top menu item that says, BLOG ME. I post something every few days, so check back often.

At our last meeting, one of our members asked me how I carve out time to write. The member was having difficulty because of other priorities that had recently come up.

I don’t know an easy answer for how to get time to write. I’m a bad example because I go against the widely held idea that you need to write every day. The member who raised this question, I’m sure, feels guilty not to be writing every day. Personally, I don’t think feeling guilty about this is productive.

I DON’T WRITE EVERY DAY. Sometimes I don’t write anything for a month. I see no point in sitting in front of a keyboard and trying to pull something out of my head until I have something to commit to the page. Instead I use tiny unplanned moments to load the imagination gun.Imagination at work

What are these tiny unplanned moments? Let’s say I’m driving. Instead of listening to the radio, I think about a character or several characters and let them start talking. Yes, I talk to myself while driving. People used to think I was nuts, but now because of speaker phones, I blend right in. Still crazy after all these years, but not as noticeably so.

What do these characters say? I might be thinking about a scene and have several directions in which I can take it. I’ll have the characters talk it out. If I don’t like the direction, I’ll stop, reboot, and try a different approach. This conversation may last the ten minutes it takes me to get to Costco, or the five it takes to get to the bank. This doesn’t require hours of work. But it may span several days with me using numerous tiny moments to work out the scene.

All writing isn’t in front of a keyboard or behind a pen. Thinking is writing. If I spend several days thinking about a scene or a story arc, my brain is organizing. Isn’t that what writing is? Organizing events into a logical order to tell a story? When I finally do get in front of that keyboard, my imagination gun is loaded and when it fires, I’ll blast out 1,000, or 2,000, or maybe 5,000 words in a day. And this might go on for several days.

When our kids were little, I found it best to write at night after everyone else went to bed. Find what works for you. And stop feeling guilty. Guilt makes humans NOT want to do something because we naturally avoid the cause of guilt.

Maybe that’s what writer’s block is. Too much guilt about something we really should be enjoying more.



At the next HSW Meeting, our program will be:Agent Jen Hunt from the Booker Albert Agency

When do you know your manuscript is ready for the next big step? How can you tell if it sounds like a newbie wrote it?

Please join agent Jen Hunt for a discussion and Q&A on what can be some of a novelist’s biggest worries. She’ll share her professional insight on determining when it’s time to stop editing and move on to start the query process or on to self-publishing if that’s your path. She’ll also point out mistakes she sees that writers make that scream, “hey, I’m a newbie!”

Saturday, August 12th at 10 A.M. at the South Valleys Library (15650 Wedge Pkwy, Reno, NV 89511)

As time allows, first pages brought to the meeting will also be read. If you’d like to participate in this month’s first pages critique with Jen and Matt,  please send them in advance to 
About Jen Hunt:
Jen Hunt graduated from the University of Reno, Nevada with an English Literature degree and a minor in European history. She became a literary agent at the Booker Albert Agency in 2015 where she reps: Historical (Nothing post the 1940s), Science Fiction/Space Opera, Military Sci-Fi *Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Steampunk/Gaslight/Diesel-punk/Cyberpunk. In all these genres, she likes a hint of romance. Her first sale, Not Quite Snow White, by Ashley Franklin, will be published by Harper Collins Children’s in 2018.
Critique Group Happenings
Do you write short stories?  Do you write non-fiction?  We have a growing need for new critique groups for both categories, in addition to a few people waiting for full novel groups. So if you’re waiting for a good time to jump  in and join a group – now is it!  Contact Wrangler Nicole ( to get hooked up with the perfect group for you. 
Dennis Stoddard has been in touch with the Veterans Home in Las Vegas and the Veterans Hospital Guest House in Reno, both of which have libraries of a sort. Dennis is taking book donations on their behalf.
Please bring book donations to the August meeting. These can be books you’ve written as well as books you’ve read.

Writing and Editing Tools

By Rene Averett
I often read and edit for other writers and the problems I see often are that many writers just don’t know how to spell, use proper grammar, or good sentence structure. What surprises me most is that they also don’t know what tools are built into their word processor or available on the internet to help correct these errors before they send their work to a beta reader or an editor. Some of these programs are valuable aids to improve writing. Most focus on clarity and business writing where extraneous words are in the way of communicating the information. Nonetheless, they can be very helpful to the creative writer in looking for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

I’ve listed a few of the ones available on the web for you to consider. This list comes from the NY Book Editors website. You can view the full list and information about each by clicking here. I’ve listed the ones I find most appealing and I use two of them on a regular basis.


          Analysis screen of the first chapter of my book shows the paragraph lengths
and slow-paced paragraphs as a chart.

This is a subscription service costing almost $30 per month to use but it is designed specifically for Fiction Writers.  (When the NY Book Editors article was written, the author quoted $5, which would have been a bargain, but this higher price tag makes it harder for struggling writers to afford.) With the focus on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition, and strong writing, it can be a valuable tool worth the cost. It also finds instances of passive voice, adverbs, clichés, and filler words. Designed to help you tighten up your story, it makes strong suggestions for change, but the option to accept is always up to you. Just from what I saw, this looks like it might have a pretty steep learning curve.


Same chapter analyzed in editMinion. This shows the number of times I used certain words
and helps me to see where I have problems. Plus it also shows a graph of sentence length.

A FREE, easy to use, and quick tool, this program gives you a comprehensive overview. It shows the most often used words, average sentence length, and the longest sentence by words. It also highlights adverbs, weak words, passive phrases, and clichés. While it may not be the best editor on their list, it does a good job of isolating grammar errors and it is free.


               A typical information box from Grammarly to help you decide correct
               use of the word.
I use this program all the time. It is a comprehensive grammar, spelling, and punctuation checker. It makes suggestions for changes and displays the rules behind the suggested change. The program isolates hundreds of error types that are missed by word processors. It also offers synonym suggestions to improve your writing. The free version is available on line and you can also purchase a more robust version. The features in that include over 400 checks and features to improve your writing, plus 30 specific document types. You can purchase monthly or at a big discount on an annual payment.
Grammarly offers a downloadable app for Chrome, Office, and Windows that works with your word processor program, email, or other online writing programs as you are typing. For my purposes, I use the free one. Given that it is a general editor, I believe some of the advanced errors it finds might relate more to business writing than creative writing.


Another program I use, this one addresses readability. Based on the concept that Hemingway wrote to a sixth-grade reading level, the application analyzes your writing and provides statistics on reading time, the number of paragraphs, and the word count. Using color coding in your text, it highlights problem areas, such as passive voice, adverbs, and difficulty to read. While I enjoy the analysis, I do find it contradictory when it tells me I write at grade 4 level but my sentences are too long and complex. For the other features in it, I think it is a useful program. You can use it online or pay $19.99 to download the desktop application.

Left: A sample of Hemmingway’s analysis of the chapter.

Word Processor Tools

Don’t forget your word processor has a built-in spell checker and grammar checker. Turn it on when you’re writing. If you misspell a word or make a grammatical error, the program will put a red line under it. Right click on your mouse and it will display spelling or grammar options for what it thinks you are trying to type. With WORD, this is a reasonably good, but not as robust as some of the editing programs offered on line.

Are you at a loss for alternate words? Chances are your word processing program has a thesaurus in it. Highlight the word you want to replace and click on the thesaurus and a list of additional words will display. If you’re not quite sure if the word you want to select has the same meaning, then look it up in a dictionary. Many are online. Not all synonyms have the same definition.

Analyze the Corrections

With all programs, you need to be able to evaluate the suggested changes and make them based on how the word or phrase is used. No program is able to analyze the context of your sentence, but it will suggest a change based on the words around what it perceives as an error. If you write a complex sentence, it may be grammatically correct, but the program cannot necessarily find the subject, verb, and attached modifiers accurately. That is where you need to apply your brain and analyze the sentence. If you can’t identify it either, you may need to revise it.
Are you writing your short story?

Don’t forget the High Sierra Writers Short Story contest submission date is coming up in November. If you haven’t got it plotted or a draft written, now is the time to really get on it. If you need a refresher on the details, go to the HSW web site at

Layouts and edits for the HSW Newsletter are done by Rene Averett. All written content is the property of the authors and HSW. Graphics licensed from Graphics Factory or are public domain.
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July 2017 Newsletter

From the HSW President:

Traditional Publishing Versus Self-Publishing

Since I’ve done both, Donna suggested I talk about the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. A lot depends on your resources, both physical and financial, your stamina, and why you want to get published in the first place.

Traditional starts with an agent…

Traditional publishing requires that you first get an agent. Small publishers don’t require agents, but they don’t pay much of an advance, if any. From my own experience, I’ll cut through a lot of discussion and say that you should be prepared to spend a year finding a good agent. You should be prepared to send out at least 100 queries. You need to screen agent directories and lists to weed out those who would not be interested in your work. For instance, don’t send an adult mystery query to an agent who is looking for young adult urban fantasy.
You also don’t want to send out all your queries at once. Send out maybe ten over a week or two and give a little time for responses. You might get a personalized comment that alerts you to something you should change in your query letter, your blurb, or the book itself.
Even if you sign with an agent, it’s no guarantee the agent can sell your work. I had a manuscript that a topnotch agent “loved.” After 18 months of her beating up over 36 editors, she couldn’t sell it.

Plan B… self-publishing

You spent a year looking for an agent (and you spent that year polishing your manuscript, maybe getting professional editing) and you just can’t go on. You’re not going to live forever, so you decide to self-publish.
        I describe traditional publishing as pushing one very big boulder up a mountain. Once you get there, you get an advance, your book will get exposure and support, and it will appear in bookstores nationwide. I describe self-publishing as herding cats up that same mountain. One big effort vs. a jillion smaller efforts.

In self-publishing you have to do everything a publisher does.
You write the book, design the layout and the typeface, design and produce cover art, put it on Amazon, then mount a sales campaign that includes social media, blogging, guerrilla marketing; you name it. Anything that costs money comes out of your pocket, not the Big-Daddy publishing house. You can pay people to do all of the above, but prepare to spend thousands or tens of thousands.
Is your book an eBook only or do you want to launch a paperback?
You can save money by setting up print-on-demand instead of buying boxes of books from a printer and having that money tied up in your garage. Also, if you find typos or decide to make minor changes to the book that’s posted on Amazon, you can go back into the cover and text and make the changes and re-upload the book.
        If you hire a printer to produce hard copies, you’ll have to live with those mistakes until your next printing. Then you’ll also have new set-up fees because the book has changed. Also, expect to print a minimum of 500 books or it’s not worth it. So, until they’re gone, your typos live on.
Tired yet?

The benefit of self-publishing
…particularly with Amazon, is they give you many tools to prepare your book. They have excellent cover design software which works unless you want something complex or exotic. For a super-customized cover, you’ll need to hire a graphics designer; prepare to pay anywhere from $200 on up. You can proofread every page of the formatted book online to check for spacing errors, blank pages, etc. Plus, you can get a 70% royalty on Amazon vs. a traditional publisher’s royalty of maybe 15%.
Marketing via both has common points
The big issue becomes how many books can you sell? If a traditional publisher gives you a $50,000 advance, it doesn’t matter if you only sell 5 books. The money’s in your pocket (though good luck trying to get them to publish a second book). However, publishers today expect their authors to market themselves, to show an effort to make a book successful.
        If you self-publish, yes, you can get 70% royalty, but 70% of zero is zero. You have to work for every sale and success won’t be overnight. If you actually want to make money on a book, you have no choice: you must attack as many marketing venues as you can handle. That means a killer web site, Facebook, Twitter, and others, plus getting the word out to alumni organizations, clubs, or other professional groups. It means blogging and guesting on blogs. It means Google ads. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you will have to spend a lot of time. Are you up for it?
        Referring above to what I said about traditional publishers, they expect you to do all the same: blogging, Facebook, website, Twitter, etc.
        One strategy you might employ is to set a timeframe within which you’ll bust ass sending queries to agents. At the end of that period, if you don’t sign with an agent, you self-publish.
        A lot of would-be authors have dreams of quitting their day jobs and writing in their PJs until noon. Unless you become a mega-hit, it just ain’t so, whether you go traditional or self-publish.

Bottom line: Whether you intend to publish traditionally or self-publish, you’ll have to do the same amount of work. In the former, you swing for the fence, spend a lot of time biting your nails, and pray you get the big break. In reality, the odds against it are about 50,000 to 1.
        In self-publishing, you get the instant gratification of having your book “out there” much sooner.

What are your goals?

Are you writing a book just to be able to tell family and friends you did it or do you want a serious writing career? Are you looking for big bucks? Is this a hobby or what you want to do to make a living? How much time do you have? How can you squeeze writing into your daily life and, more importantly, how will you squeeze at least as much time for marketing as for writing?
Only you know what you want and what you can handle. If the distance between the two is large, prepare for pain. I measure pain as the difference between what we want and what we have. Accomplishing anything in life is measured by how much pain we’re willing to endure to achieve it.

Happy summer!
Matt Bayan

At our last meeting, I asked how many of you used a pre-set playlist for writing; I can’t tell you how shocked I was when only one person raised their hand.

Allow me to introduce the writer’s playlist concept to all of you-
A playlist is a grouping of songs you’ve handpicked and stored on a phone, iPod, Pandora, etc. These songs mentally set the mood for the book you’re writing.

Writers don’t sit down and type out 80,000 words in one sitting, we have a life to live at the same time, ripping us from our mental zone each and every time. But listening to our playlist can dump us right back into a scene after the dinner dishes are washed.

Music evokes emotion- joy, excitement, sadness, triumph, love, regret… And emotion drives dialogue. A song can represent a portrait of a character or give you a mental image of a setting in your book instantly. Some big authors say they’re able to avoid most writer’s block, keep motivated, and jump back on scene with the help of a carefully planned out playlist playing softly (or not so softly) in the background of their writing space.

Think how dull a movie would be without a soundtrack, now imagine your story is a movie, what would the soundtrack be for each scene? Find songs that speak to you and tap into the emotions that song conjures up for you. It may take a while to produce a good working playlist of 10-20 songs, so start a small list on a piece of paper. Once you prime the pump with 3 or 4 songs that speak to you, the rest will come.

Try it, you’ll thank me for it.

Donna Stegman

September 9 HSW Meeting Program

Building Your Characters from the Ground Up 

Join Harlequin authors, Anna J. Steward and Melinda Curtis, on September 9th for an all-day workshop which will help you to flesh out fresh, dynamic, and realistic characters. Doors open at 10 a.m. and Anna will take the morning session for an archaeological dig into discovering what your character wants and why. As always, the morning meeting is free and open to the public. After lunch, at 1:30 p.m., Melinda will delve deeper into your character’s flaws and wounds.
     This afternoon session will cost $10 for HSW members and $15 for non-members.


USA Today and Amazon Bestselling Author, Melinda Curtis is the award-winning author of contemporary romance that spans the sexy scale – from sweet romance for Harlequin Heartwarming to sweet romantic comedy. To date, she’s published more than 30 novels and novellas, stories that NY Times bestselling author Jayne Anne Krentz calls “wonderfully entertaining.” Visit her online at

Since selling her first novella, A Christmas Wish, to Harlequin Heartwarming in 2014, former Golden Heart finalist and USA Today bestselling author Anna J Stewart has published more than a dozen contemporary romance novels and novellas ranging from sweet to spicy. RT Book reviews says Anna’s romances are “refreshingly unique, quietly humorous, and profoundly moving.” You can find her online at

Bring your dish to share. We will split into groups and play “Literary PIctionary”. The meeting is Saturday, July 8 at the South Valleys Library on Wedge Parkway from 10 a.m. to noon. See you there!

Have you plotted your short story yet?


A reminder that you now have 5 months and 10 days to November 11th and the deadline to enter the HSW Short Story Writing Contest. Don’t remember the details? Didn’t get a handout at the last meeting? All the information is in the June HSW newsletter or you can scope it out on the High Sierra Writers blog.

If you’re like me, you might have three possible ideas and no plot outlined yet. It may be only 3000 to 4000 words, but they have to be good, meet the criteria set for the story, and be completely original. Those words don’t write themselves, so get to work. And use your critique groups to help you with this.

Here’s a little tip from me: Create a cover for your story that helps you visualize your theme and characters. I do it for my novels and I look at it every time I start to write. I usually move it into my screen background so it’s there when I turn my computer on. The folks at NaNoWriMo say that authors who have created a cover for their books and short stories are more likely to finish them.

Coincidentally, Camp NaNoWriMo starts July 1st and it’s not too late to sign up for it if you’d like to set your short story project for July. Check it out at

Rene Averett

Congratulations to these High Sierra Writers who recently published books:

FindingHomeCoverPatti Dotti published her book, Finding Home. Now available in eBook and paperback on







TimeJumperCoverMatthew Bayan released his latest novel, a time travel tale, Time Jumper. It’s available n Kindle and paperback on






BrokenTrustCoverLinda A. Hill is releasing the first book in her Silicon Valley Secrets series, Broken Trust, and it is available at






From your Treasurer, aka “Off Shore”.
Please remember we take cash…
I mean, please send in your 2017 dues.

Note: Now that we have reached the middle of the year, HSW dues for the balance of the year are reduced to $12.50.

Jay Leavitt

Critique Group Happenings

Are you in need of a group of fellow writers who are willing to read and critique your writing? Are you willing to do the same for them? Then you need to be in a critique group! Contact Nicole for more information on how to connect with one.


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June 2017 Newsletter

From the President

Happy June! I can’t attend the June meeting, but I’d like to share recent experiences that relate to this month’s topic.

Kindle Scout

You can go to their website for all the details, but essentially this is Amazon’s toe in the water to see if they can bypass agents and publishers and buy content directly from writers. It’s an experiment in crowd-sourcing. People vote on whether a book should be published. If published, the author gets a $1500 advance, 50% commission, and most importantly, Amazon’s marketing muscle.

So, here’s what I experienced. I filled out a questionnaire, then uploaded a complete manuscript titled, TIME JUMPER, along with a complete cover. It took Kindle a couple days to decide that the book was acceptable to put on their site.

How they screen manuscripts is the first mystery in a series of mysteries. I seriously doubt they read the submissions. I suspect they run the manuscript through software to check for profanity because one of the items in the questionnaire was whether the book was acceptable to younger readers.

30-Day Campaign

Then the book started a 30-day campaign where it was featured on the Kindle Scout website. Here’s where a well-written blurb is important because that’s what appears along with the cover of the book and a short tag-line. People who visit the page can hit a button to “nominate” the book for publication.

Kindle provides daily reports showing how many people visit the book’s page and where they come from (Facebook, websites, etc.). One drawback is that you have to wait until the next day to see the previous day’s results. The data is general and really doesn’t give much in the way of knowing what your efforts are yielding.

The site is broken into major categories: romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. Each day, two or three books are added in each category. You get a good pop in visitors on the first and second day because the listings are chronological. When someone looks at the postings, they automatically see today’s releases first. Each day, your posting drops further down and requires more digging to be seen by visitors.

The book gets another big pop on the last couple days because it’s featured in the category, “Ending Soon.” The rest of the time, the writer is responsible for using social networking to drive readers to the book’s page. Each hour, the books getting the most traffic appear in the category, “Hot and Trending.

It’s essential to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to get traffic to a book.

How Are Books Chosen?

How does Kindle choose what books to publish? More mystery. I researched other writers who have and have not been published by Kindle Scout. One fellow’s book stayed in Hot and Trending every single day, in all days well over 12 hours, and in many days for 24 hours. His book was not selected.

My own perusal of other entries showed a wide variation of quality. My guess is that crowd-sourcing winnows down to the most popular entries, then somebody actually reads the entries.

What were my results? Kindle did not select TIME JUMPER. I posted numerous times to social media. (I have over 1,934 Twitter followers and over 600 friends on Facebook.) Did I see any correlation between postings and results? Only once. My biggest day followed a massive Facebook and Twitter campaign. I also paid for Google AdWords and I paid for Facebook boosts of postings. Other days, I saw no correlation between my efforts and the limited result information Kindle provided. Being in the category of Ending Soon seemed to show better results than almost anything else.

After the campaign, I immediately loaded TIME JUMPER to Amazon as a Kindle book and a paperback. I notified Kindle Scout and they sent out an email to all the people who nominated my book. This free marketing is a very beneficial feature of participating in Kindle Scout. For the next couple weeks, TIME JUMPER sold well on Amazon.

 Is This Worthwhile?

It doesn’t cost anything to participate. If you have a good online social presence, take a shot. But don’t invest a lot of money in marketing because even if you get traffic to your book, the selection process after that point is a mystery. I’ll discuss this further at the July meeting and answer your questions.
Have a great June meeting,



High Sierra Writers is proud to announce the 2017 writing contest. Our chosen format this year is Short Story.  After much consideration, we thought this would allow more members to participate.

You may submit a maximum of 2 entries and the cost is $10.00 per entry. HSW is providing $100 seed money to start the pot, and ALL entry monies collected will be added to the pot. So, the more entries, the larger the pot will grow!

There will only be one winner and that winner will receive the entire cash pot!

June Meeting Program


A killer blurb convinces readers to buy your book, editors to read your book, and agents to buy into you.

Please join Donna Stegman for a discussion, workshop and Q&A on Blurbs and Social Media. This is an expanded version of the regular monthly blurb session.

Saturday, June 10th at 10 A.M. at the South Valleys Library
15650 Wedge Pkwy Reno, NV 89511

Donna will give tips and do a Q&A on how to condense your manuscript into a powerful blurb for your book cover and query letter. She will also give you examples to condense into blurbs. And be forewarned; we will have a pop quiz at the end with the winner receiving a prize!

Come prepared with your own blurb to work on in breakout groups.


The last half hour of our June meeting, will be dedicated to the importance of Social Media. It’s a new world for publishing and, like it or not, you just got promoted to head publicist. Let’s learn the trade with tips and a flowchart.

Donna will provide a handout and do a Q&A session, so come with your questions.

Elections are Coming!!

Mark your calendar…July 1st is the beginning of election season for HSW board members. If you want to serve, or have any questions about the process, please email HSW secretary, Linda Enos at

Critique Group Happenings

No matter what genre you write in, or where in the process of writing/editing you are, you need your work critiqued!  And we’ve got just the thing you need – critique groups!  Whether you’re looking to join or start a new group, give Critique Group Wrangler Nicole a shout and get plugged in. New groups, both on-going and finished novel groups are starting regularly.

On Saturday, July 8th, HSW will host a potluck luncheon in lieu of a regular meeting. The time and place are the same, so no need to stress about going anywhere different.

  • If your last name starts with A-L, please bring a salad of your choosing – remember a serving utensil.
  • If your last name starts with M-Z, please bring a dessert of your choosing – remember a serving utensil.

HSW will provide:  deli sandwiches, plates, cups, eating utensils, ice and garage bags for cleanup.

Also bring your own beverage to drink – NO alcohol.

Please RSVP to secretary, Linda Enos, no later than June 30th. You can also contact Linda with any questions.

 Oh…and the HSW may even entertain you with a game or two… 😉

A Few Conventions and Conferences For 2017

Some are smaller, more intimate affairs, offering up workshops with opportunity for some face time. Some are huge cons that allow you to see the publishing world roll out all their tricks.
But if you’re a serious writer, I recommend you attend at least one for perspective on the business end of writing.

In no specific order-
BOUCHER CON– World Mystery Convention Oct 12-15th, 2017 – Toronto, Ontario
This is HUGE and has everything any mystery/thriller writer could ever ask for. * This convention moves around every year, I believe it’s scheduled to be in Sacramento Ca. in 2020.

DRAGON CON– Multi Genre Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Convention Sep 1-4th, 2017- Atlanta Ga.
This con is massive, too. Only Comic-Con can beats its numbers. Don’t forget your costume for the parade.

RWA CONFERENCE– July 26-29th, 2017 – Orlando Fl.
Romance Writers of America is the Holy Grail for romance and HEA writers. This con moves also; in 2020, it’s scheduled for San Francisco.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WRITERS’ CON– Sep 22-24th, 2017 – Irvine Ca.
This is more a workshop/educational conference, but agents abound. A great place for one-on-one advice.

Next HSW Meeting is Saturday, June 10, 2017 at the South Valley Library.
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