July 12th, 2017

Achieving Writing Life Balance — A Story of Balls

During those weeks when you’re juggling a lot of commitments, especially for writing parents whose kids are out of school, writing-life balance is freaking hard to achieve.

I got some perspective from a very unexpected source recently. I got my epiphany at work.

One of my day job hats is adult education with a group of accountants. You wouldn’t think an accounting firm would be a hotbed of sexy thought-provoking concepts… But in the seven years I’ve been working with them, I’ve learned more about writing and work-life balance than I ever expected to know.

This quote came up in a prep session for Not-For-Profit Corporations:

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends, and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.

~ Brian Dyson (b. 1935) CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises

I’ve had Dyson’s quote on my mind ever since.

I can’t tell you what a freeing concept “work as a rubber ball” was for me, after the many times I’ve gone far past my limits when it comes to work. So many of us have the notion that the “work” ball defines us more than the other four. It doesn’t! I know it doesn’t. But like the rest of you, I am still a work in progress.

James Patterson was also inspired and used this quote in his bestselling book, Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas. And if that isn’t enough magnificence about “the balls,” check out this video (watching this guy juggle mesmerized me and made me tired).

Incidentally, here’s the quote that headlined the Not-For-Profit workshop I mentioned above — it mirrors our philosophy here at WITS:

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. ~ John Wooden

Here are a few more gems on writing life balance, from other writers who know way more than I do: 

Now go forth, y’all, and enjoy all the parts of your life to the fullest this summer. You’ve got this.

What are your thoughts on the “five balls?” Do you have a quote that you live by? How are you at achieving a good work-life balance? We’d love to hear about it down in the comments!

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm


Juggling photo credit: By Backlit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

July 10th, 2017

Subterfuge in Dialogue

Becca Puglisi

Dialogue—good dialogue—is tricky. Mechanics can be learned; the rules are readily available and are hammered into us by teachers, editors, critique partners, and countless Facebook memes. The hard part of writing good dialogue is nailing the back-and-forth, the natural ebb and flow that turns dialogue into convincing conversation.

This is the part that will make or break you with readers. They’re intimately familiar with conversation; it’s how they communicate, how they connect with others. As a result, when a bit of dialogue falls flat or doesn’t ring true, it’s like an off-pitch violin sawing away in an otherwise harmonious orchestra.

So how do we make our characters’ discussions sound authentic? One way is to showcase what they’re hiding. In the real world, we’re rarely 100% honest in our communications with others.  It may not be conscious, but we’re always withholding something—hiding how we feel about a subject, suppressing information, agreeing with someone when in actuality we don’t agree with them at all…Much of the time, we’re only telling part of the truth.

This will be true of your character, too, and for his dialogue to resonate with readers, you need to be able to show what he’s repressing. To discover this, you first need to know what he’s hoping to get out of the discussion.

When a person engages in conversation, they do so with a certain objective in mind (even if it’s subconscious). When you identify that goal for your character, you’ll know what they’ll be likely to hold back. So ask yourself: Which of the following outcomes is my character trying to achieve with this conversation?

  • Connecting with others
  • Getting information
  • Giving information
  • Persuading someone to one’s way of thinking
  • Being affirmed or agreed with
  • Gaining an advantage
  • Being proven right
  • Getting attention
  • Gaining an ally or advantageous contact

Once you know what your character wants, it’s a matter of figuring out what they might be holding back during that exchange. Consider the usual suspects:


Feelings are largely what make us human. We connect emotionally with others, so being able to accurately communicate our feelings is important. But emotions also make us vulnerable, so in many scenarios, your character may think it’s in her best interest to mask what she’s feeling. If she’s attracted to someone, she may downplay that until she can see how the other person feels. Sadness is often perceived as weakness, so she might not be willing to put that on display. The same is true with fear. Personality also plays a part in how your character conveys emotion, so take all this into consideration when you’re determining which feelings your character is comfortable with and which ones she’s likely to whitewash.


We all have opinions about stuff, and we like to share them. But we’re also social creatures, wanting to be accepted by others. Sometimes, those two desires are at cross purposes, meaning we can’t both share our opinions and connect with people. This is why your character might not be entirely forthcoming about his true beliefs at a job interview, on a first date, when he’s meeting his future in-laws, at church, or in any other situation where doing so could undermine his goal in that moment.

Personality Traits

Strengths and weakness commingle to form our individual personalities: we’re patient but selfish, generous but impulsive, irresponsible but encouraging. Our strengths are easy to show off because they make us look good. But weaknesses? While we know that everyone has them, we don’t want people to know what they are. So we hide the traits we deem as being less valuable, the ones that could hurt our standing with others. Maybe it’s a flaw that isn’t appreciated in society, like cruelty or intolerance. Perhaps it’s something an important person in our life doesn’t value, like a father who can’t stand indecisiveness, or a grandparent who viewed generous people as being suckers. It may not be a conscious decision, but we all highlight our admirable traits and hide the ones that make us look bad. The same should be true of our characters.


Rarely do we reveal everything we know. Communication very often is about the give and take of information, so unlike some of the other things we might hide, this one is usually more purposeful. Our characters should play their cards close to the vest, not sharing information that could hurt them, make them feel uncomfortable, or impede their goals. They may choose to hold an important tidbit back until they have a better feel for how the conversation is going or where the other person stands. Information is always currency; in dialogue, it should be doled out carefully and thoughtfully.

Knowing what your character wants out of a conversation and what he’s going to hide while engaging in it will help you write dialogue that rings true, because readers will see themselves in those ambiguous moments. Granted, there’s a knack to writing the inconsistency between your character’s words and what they really think or feel. That’s a post in and of itself. For now, this tip sheet has some great advice on how to write subterfuge in dialogue. (HINT: There are more checklists like this at One Stop For Writers!)

What else might our characters hold back in their conversations? And what other common goals can we add to this list?

About Becca

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

July 7th, 2017

What Do You Want Readers to Wonder About?

By Janice Hardy

I’m working on a new novel, so I’ve been deep in the brainstorming and planning. In an effort to boost my productivity, I did something a little differently this time that could benefit other writers. I’ve added an extra “story clarification” line to my template. It’s a way to remind myself what I want my readers to wonder about in every scene that will make them want to read that scene—and turn the page to the next scene.

For you pantsers out there—this might not be a technique that fits your drafting process, but it would probably help in your revision process. It’s a handy way to double check if your story and plot are working to draw your reader into the novel.

I’m definitely Team Outliner, and like to have my plot worked out before I ever start writing. I used multiple templates at various stages of the process, and the final one is to summarize the entire book scene by scene. I usually write one or two paragraphs that cover what the scene is about and what happens in it.

At the end of those summaries, I’ve added this line:

Goal: x Motivation: x Conflict: x  Stakes: x Hand-off: x

Although this might seem like the classic plot structure, I skew the focus toward readers. It’s not so much, “what’s the protagonist’s goal,” but, “what is the protagonist doing that will pique a reader’s curiosity?” What about the goal will cause my reader to wonder what happens next.

It’s also a good reminder of what I want for the scene and helps keep me focused on the “behind the scenes” aspects of storytelling. If I want readers to wonder why my protagonist is acting nervous, I’ll need to give her reasons to be nervous—and then show that nervousness in the scene.

Let’s take a closer look at how this works:

Goal: What’s the protagonist doing that readers will be interested in? I’ve found this slightly different perspective on the “what’s the goal?” question allows me to clarify why a reader would want to read about whatever my protagonist is doing. I ask myself, “Am I just stating the goal and the outcome is obvious, or am I leaving enough mystery to pique a reader’s curiosity?” If the outcome of the goal is predictable, there’s little for readers to wonder about—or care about—to want to read on. If I can’t say why they’d want to read this scene, I know it needs more thought.

Motivation: Why would readers care that the protagonist is doing this? The reasons behind an action are usually far more interesting to readers than the action itself. They love the characters and want to know what’s going on in their heads. I like to clarify what about the protagonist’s motivations will capture reader interest and empathy. Will they feel for this character? Will they want to see if she gets what she needs or wants? It’s an answer to that harsh, but useful question: “So what?”

Conflict: What’s keeping the problem interesting and unpredictable for readers? This goes hand in hand with the goal—now that I have readers curious about what the protagonist is trying to do, and they’re curious as to why, then I determine if the problem preventing that action is interesting. Since conflict is such a key factor in keeping readers hooked, I like to know that whatever I’m throwing at my protagonist is a challenge worth reading about. Will readers worry that the protagonist might fail or it is obvious she won’t? Will they want to see how the protagonist resolves this conflict? Are there any ethical or moral questions in the conflict that will make readers think? Should there be?

Stakes: What will make readers worry that the protagonist might fail? Consequences raise the tension, which makes everything feel more immediate and gripping. Seeing what could be the protagonist’s downfall, or what might cause trouble is more interesting than just knowing “if she fails she dies.” It’s like watching the killer sneak up on the unsuspecting victim versus the killer jumping out of nowhere with no warning. One creates worry and tension, the other does not. I also like to find ways to slip in consequences for an action even if the protagonist succeeds—how will this scene change things for the protagonist? What will readers worry about because of the events in this scene?

Hand-off: What’s going to make readers want to keep reading? This is the biggest helper of the bunch, because this leads directly to the next scene in a way that should make readers want to turn the page. I like to know what will trigger the next scene. What happens at the end of the scene that will create a goal or conflict to drive the plot forward? What will readers want to see happen, or fear might happen, or want to see the resolution to?

Some of these piece will be stronger than others in any given scene based on what the scene’s purpose is. A highly charged emotional scene will likely make readers wonder more about motivations or stakes, while an action-packed scene will probably have stronger goal or conflict questions. Not every scene needs to have a strong “reader wonder” in every aspect, but if the scene is missing a lot of them, that’s a red flag there’s trouble with the scene.

I’m still in the experimental stages with this, but so far, it’s working well. I’ve caught holes I know would have tripped me up during the first-draft stage, and I’ve been able to add compelling hooks for readers right from the start. I suspect this draft will be much easier to write since every scene is leading the reader forward on multiple levels.

It’s easy to get lost in the plot mechanics of a story and lose sight of why readers would care in the first place, but wondering, “what happens next?” is the biggest reason readers stick with us. They care about what’s going on in our stories and want to see if their guesses or assumptions are true. Reminding ourselves to write in that “reader wonder” from the start can save us a lot of revision time and help us craft cleaner, more compelling first drafts.

Do you think about what readers will wonder about? Do you plan for it or does it happen naturally?

About Janice 

Janice HardyJanice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She’s also the author of multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It), Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft. She lives in Central Florida with her husband, one yard zombie, two cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more at Fiction University, where she shares advice to help writers improve their craft and navigate the crazy world of publishing.

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July 5th, 2017

Using Memories of Summers Past for This Summer’s Writing

Who doesn’t have fond memories of childhood summers? Sure, you may remember that time you got a blistering sunburn, but I bet you had fun getting it. 

I’m coming down to the last edits for my debut book. And I’m digging deep to make my characters memorable. I’ve discovered myself thinking a lot about the non-academic things I learned during those months away from school and, like any writer, my rumination ends up somewhere in my work.

I can tell you a character’s favorite color, in narrative or in answer to a dialogue question. Fine, you’ve got that piece of information that’s necessary at the end of the book. Or you can see the character discover her favorite color. 

True story: My favorite color is green. Okay, now you know. But here’s what’s several layers below that: Every year we bought a small box of fireworks, went out in the street with the neighbors, and the dads lit the fuses of the little cones, log cabins, and snakes. I really liked those fireworks. But when I was ten, we went to a real Fourth of July fireworks show. Out-of-state relatives were visiting, so we drove three cities away to have dinner in Chinatown and go to the big regional display.

We sat in a grandstand. Even though the adults were excited, I wasn’t impressed until the first rocket shrieked skyward. After the big boom, gold and silver glitter formed a huge ball. I fell in love with fireworks that night. Red, white and blue flares turned night into day. Ohs and ahs punctuated each rocket burst. The fireworks went on much longer than our little boxes on the street at home. 

Toward the end of the show, two rockets criss-crossed above us. There was no kaboom, but when the chemicals ignited, pink and green chrysanthemum images shimmered then slid toward the ground. When I saw the green sparkles in that firework, I knew I’d never seen a more beautiful color. Now, when someone asked my favorite color, instead of saying I didn’t have one, I would answer green.

See how much you learned about my family. About me? 

I could have told you this, also true, story: My college guy friends and I sat around the RISK board, building armies, rolling dice, and attacking each other. And talking about anything but the finals we’d start taking the next day. 

“What’s your favorite color?” one of the guys asked me.


Another guy, who’d gone to my high school said, “Nobody’s favorite color is green. That’s stupid.”

I thought about how many times I’d been singled out for admitting green was my favorite color. After all, race cars were never painted green because green cars were unlucky.

The oldest friend, who’d served in the Army to pay for college, chimed in. “Actually, it’s a great favorite color. It’s the color of money.”

I’ve never hesitated answering that question since.

You can see how easily those two stories could be incorporated into my WIP. 

Your past can be yesterday or an hour ago, it doesn’t have to be some memory you’ve dredged from the depths of forgotten years. But it does need to have a hook into your life. Those small, subtle ways to share how your character grew up, how they learned to think and believe what they do, are what makes your characters memorable. They’re what makes you memorable.

I’ve blown up a lot of space ships—remember, I write science fiction adventure romance. No matter how spectacular the destruction is, what counts is how it affects my character and why it affects them. You’ve read books that tell you all the information you need to know. Maybe you didn’t finish them because they lacked that heart connection. 

Hooking into a significant small event in your past is a way to open your heart and connect with your readers. The subtle nuances of your character building can let the reader discover things organically. The actual event in my story doesn’t have anything to do with the character’s favorite color, but those memories served as the springboard for a moment in time that impacted my character.

I bet you’ve thought of at least one summer memory that you could use some form in your WIP. Come on, share it with us. 


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

Look for P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, this summer.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen

July 3rd, 2017

What you NEED to know for successful Amazon Ads!

Penny Sansevieri

The Amazon ad system (AMS), new to many authors, is creating quite a buzz in the community.  And though it’s a pretty easy set-up, the heart of the ads – and getting them right, can be tricky. This guide built out of many tests I’ve done with the ad system is pretty comprehensive and, I hope, helpful.

First things first – what kind of ads can you create? There are actually two types of ads that that the Amazon ad system offers for books – Sponsored Product Ads and Product Display ads.  

Sponsored Product Ads appear in searches, or on the book’s sales page, in a row at the bottom

Product Display Ads appear on the right side of a book’s sales page.

Creating Your Ads

Before you start

If you’re not sure which ad to choose, I can tell you that based on my research, I’m seeing better results in the Sponsored Ads. Why is this? Most likely due to the way they show up as readers search.

When it comes to creating your ads, before you get too far down the path let’s talk things to do versus things to avoid. If you’ve ever used the Google AdWords system you probably know that their keyword suggestions are generally pretty accurate. I also consider the Google system to be stronger than Amazon’s suggestions – enough so that you can ignore Amazon’s suggested keywords in their entirety. BUT, unlike Google’s ad system, where you can get by with having 50 or so keywords, you’ll need more to make the Amazon system work, a lot more. Generally, I recommend 300 to 400 keywords.

300 to 400? Yes, but it’s not as hard as you might think. One of the biggest issues authors face, when finding keywords to market their book, is that they pick words that really have very little search momentum or, conversely, are far too competitive (for example –  “contemporary romance”). Also, it’s worth considering your potential reader’s point of view – it may be worthwhile to use “wheat allergies” as a keyword for your book on gluten intolerance because your readers will often search based on their pain points, instead of your expertise.

Finding the right keywords

Before you even log into AMS, you’ll first want to start with your preliminary list of search terms (things that immediately come to mind when you think about your book). Two tips before you start: first, remember to use the Kindle store in Amazon; second, use a private search mode (on Chrome it’s called going “incognito”) so that your prior purchases/searches don’t affect your results. 

So first, start by typing in one of your keywords – and although you’ll ultimately want to use search strings rather than single words, you can start with a single word. In the example below, you can see what pops up when you type “paranormal.” Jot down these phrases to add to your list of keywords, but only use terms that are relevant to your book.

Once you’ve exhausted these search terms, you can start using your terms plus the word “and” or start digging through the alphabet, one letter at a time. So, “romance a”, “romance b”, “romance c” and so on.  The terms that pop up are actual searches people have done, so it’s a great way to expand your reach and find new keywords for both fiction and non-fiction.

Keep in mind that readers looking for fiction typically search based on book type, so “mystery thriller” “sci-fi fantasy” or “paranormal romance,” but for non-fiction, consumers will always search on their specific need, like “small business.”

Related book titles and author Names

Although I mentioned you’ll want to consider 300 to 400 search terms, once you have a good 25-50, it’s time to put the plan into action and actually search on them. Plug them up and see what comes up in the first page (and even second page) of Amazon’s search results, taking note of the author, book title and series title, if any. Also note that you can’t use special characters in AMS ads, so save yourself some time by not using hyphens, colons, or quotes because the ads system won’t accept it.

From this list, you can go down further into the funnel by checking out “also bought” lists for each book; it might take you a few hours, but it’s most likely a one-time effort, and well worth your time. Ultimately, you want to find books in your genre that are selling well and use that author and book title as part of your keywords. Note: while the KDP dashboard doesn’t allow this, it’s permissible in the AMS ads system.

Additionally, you can use the Amazon Bestsellers list, but it’s not always an accurate representation of where you want your book to be. For example, I was setting up ads for a contemporary, fairy tale romance and the books I found were often sitting in bestseller sections that were listed as “Christian,” or “mythology,” which didn’t suit the book. Bottom line, be cognizant of any categories listed in book details.

Don’t forget to look at Kindle books too – this gives you the opportunity to find any titles that didn’t come up in your original keyword search. I will sometimes go as deep as the top 60 books, because that’s some pretty good momentum. Next, take a look at the sidebar that reads “best sellers” and click on that list, too, since you may find some in the new release list that haven’t otherwise appeared yet.

Current Topics

Is there anything new or up-and-coming in the news or popular culture? Use these as keywords to tie into your book, too! Whether movies, things in the news, celebrities, politicians, or world events these all can have a long (or short) term effect on performance depending on how they trend.

Writing a Great Book Ad

Like many ads, your Amazon ad should be short and sweet. And consider grouping the ad by keywords if at all possible (that is, if you were able to get more than 200-300 keywords). What this means is that you can customize ads to specific topics, specialties, or areas of focus, especially if your book fits into a few areas. For example, you might have a book on growing a new business, or gluten intolerance, food allergies, or even a genre fiction book. Each of these titles has a subset of interests that you probably found in your book research, which in turn have their own strings of keywords, book titles and authors

Setting up Your Ads

To get started on AMS ads, head on over to the AMS dashboard here: https://ams.amazon.com/. You’ll log in with your Amazon account details and it’ll take you through the Amazon ad set up.  Select new campaign, and the type of campaign you want (in this case Sponsored Products).

Once there, it’ll give you the option to grab one of your books, then you can set a campaign name, daily budget and whether you want to end the ad campaign at a certain date, or within a date range. And here is where you select manual targeting, again, because Amazon’s selections aren’t going to be as strong as what you’ve come up with in your research. Enter your keywords in the system, hit save, and start writing your ad!

If you’re doing ads based on keyword segments, you’ll want to use those keywords in the ad itself. If not and need a starting point, search your genre on Amazon to see what kinds of Sponsored Posts are getting your attention. You can also do A/B testing (that is set up two otherwise identical campaigns with different ad copy) to see what nets you more impressions.

Boosting your AMS campaigns

In testing I’ve done, I’ve found that doing ads on books that aren’t included in the Kindle Unlimited program don’t do as well as those books that are KDP Select and therefore, part of this program. Why? Because a lot of readers in Kindle Unlimited are getting book recommendations from these ads and, though you may not see it in direct book sales, you’ll definitely see it in page reads in Kindle Unlimited.

Additionally, having a print version can increase your visibility, and even if you don’t sell many print books, your ads will do better. I’ve tested both fiction and non-fiction books with and without print and, hands down, print always helps boost your ad exposure. And if you have multiple books in a theme or genre (or even a series), can increase your exposure and overall sales.  Even if you only run an ad on one of them, by having more options, you increase visibility of all of your books on Amazon and drive potential readers to your offerings.

Finally, you can add the keywords from your ad to your book page, either via your book description, or any enhanced content you can include via Amazon Author Central. If you can include a keyword or two in your subtitle, even better. Keep in mind that your Amazon page is spidered, much like your website, so having ad keywords there is not only a great idea, but mandatory to get good bounce from your ads.

Ultimately, Amazon’s ad system is filled with great potential for your book sales, if you do it right! I’d love to hear about any successes you have!


Author MarkketingPenny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert and an Adjunct Professor with NYU. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. She is the author of fourteen books, including How to Sell Books by the Truckload. AME is the first marketing and publicity firm to use Internet promotion to its full impact through online promotion and their signature program called: The Virtual Author Tour™

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at http://www.amarketingexpert.com. To subscribe to her free newsletter, send a blank email to: mailto:subscribe@amarketingexpert.com

Copyright @2016 Penny C. Sansevieri