Nancy Nichols on Writing and Self-Publishing


Secrets of the Ultimate Husband Hunter (Copyright Nancy Nichols, 2008)

Motivational speaker and best-seller Nancy Nichols knows a thing or two about nearly everything in the writing business. She’s tried nearly everything on her road to publishing, and has a witty anecdote about each pitfall along the way (“Beware the Vanity presses. Vanity publishers are gonna stroke your creative feathers, and you’re going to cock-a-doodle-DO when really you shouldn’t.”). For her, self-publishing was the only way to keep hold of creative control, even if it meant learning every step of the business herself. Now she can do it all.

A native Memphian with the perfect list of links, the perfect book posters, and even the perfect hairstyle (seriously? How does she do it? When I write I wind my hair around my fingers or my pen and end up with Medusa-curls) manages to do it all by being hyper vigilant and perfectionist about the publishing process. Five minutes into the Nashville workshop on Self-Publishing, she got up and had to correct a crooked picture frame. As her students scratched their heads, she laughed, pointed to herself, and quipped “Anal!”

Nichols then asked how many of us had a book ready to publish. About half of us raised our hands. She then asked how many of us had a book in our heads, ready to write. Up went the other half.

She addressed them first. “I’m gonna call you wannabes until you start writing, because that’s what you are. Wannabes. You don’t wannabe a wannabe – you wanna do it!”

And that’s where her best advice came from – an unplanned motivational speech in the middle of our workshop. “Don’t worry about the writer’s block. Don’t worry if it’s going to be any good or if anyone is gonna read it. Just start writing.”

Nichols said that if writing a book is intimidating, to think about it as a journaling journey and just begin free-writing.  As you start, your ideas will come together and the next steps will be obvious. It takes a long time to get the process together and what you start now will look nothing like your finished project.

I know she’s right, because I’ve felt this sentiment myself. Writing is growing- you are growing in your mind and head. When you finish your book, you will not be the same person as you were when you began. People might write to inform others, but really the writer learns more than their reader ever will, and that goes for both fiction and non. That’s not something you can give up on, even if writing a book is intimidating.

Every time you say “I don’t believe in writer’s block,” someone’s writer’s block dies.

Say it with me.

I’d like to thank Nancy Nichols for sharing so many writing and publishing tips during her free workshop on self-publishing. If you live near Nashville and want to soak up some of her moxie and know-how, she is giving a 3-part extended self-publishing workshop at very reasonable prices (like $30 per person reasonable). You can sign up here.


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Do Writing Contests Really Help Launch Careers?

Do writing contests really help launch careers?

The Blood in the Snowflake Garden (Copyright D. Alan Lewis, 2012)

The Blood in the Snowflake Garden (Copyright D. Alan Lewis, 2012)

There are several articles out there which discuss the benefits and drawbacks of writing contests. During a workshop on Agent/Publisher pitches, I had the fortune to ask a D. Alan Lewis, 2010 finalist of  Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award, about his experiences with this competition for mystery novelists sponsored by the Killer Nashville Mystery Writer’s Conference.

Lewis said that although he did not win the competition and the publication prize, that being a Claymore Finalist was instrumental in securing his publishing contract for his first novel, The Blood in the Snowflake Garden.

He emphasized that you just have to know the worth of winning or being a finalist in order to make the most your position. It is very worth it to enter these competitions, because mentioning this to publishers and agents in your query letter or during your pitch, often can garner your novel some notice. Nothing is a guarantee, but if you let an agent/publisher know that your novel was a finalist in a competition with over 600 other novels, it tells them that yours has been pre-screened and vetted by the writing community.

Prior to the Claymore Dagger competition, Lewis had written to several agents with little interest in his first novel.  After he became a finalist and included this in his queries and pitches, agents and publishers started asking for his manuscript. The contest didn’t get him published, but it helped him to get into that next round/step where actual eyes were on the manuscript.

Think of mentioning the contest as that little red exclamation mark next to urgent emails- its puts you that much ahead of the other novels awaiting representation/publication.

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“My Novel is Actually Three Genres”

Pretend I’m an agent/publisher. You want to sell your novel. We’re in an elevator together during your favorite writer’s conference. You’re giving me your 1-minute pitch, and it’s going well. I’m nodding and smiling, not looking at my watch. Then I ask: “What Genre is your novel?”


Writing Conference Elevator Pitch

The elevator at the conference will probably not look like this one. (Elevator in Abandoned Military Base on Teufelsberg, in Berlin. Copyleft Avery Oslo, 2012.)



So quick, tell me. Which genre?



Tell me now. Talk to your computer screen. Pretend I can hear you. Do it. Do it now.



Did you say something like “Well, it’s a Sci-Fi Thriller with a Romance, so kind of three genres?” 

(It’s okay, you can admit it. I’ve done it too.)


But no. Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Even if it’s true, don’t say that.


Kimberly Richardson, an author and an editor with Kerlak Publishing, has heard this at conferences and conventions more times than she’d like to recall. During a workshop with author Alan D. Lewis about Agent/Publisher Pitches at the Nashville Writer’s Meetup, Richardson revealed that being unable to decide on the genre of your book  shows a certain amateurism, and a lack of understanding of the industry. In a time when money is tight and competition fierce, agents and publishers are hesitant to take on an author who isn’t informed about the publishing process. That author is seen as a liability.


Of course your book includes a little bit from several different genres; most good books do.  You shouldn’t cut down on the intergenrenality (is that a word? I’m making it a word) of your work. The best books borrow devices from several genres. Look at the Harry Potter books – they are YA fantasy, but also have the makings of a good thriller, romance, and even horror.  That is how it should be.


But if an agent or publisher asks: “Which genre is your book?” You should have an answer. AN answer. One.


But how do you know which one?


It’s easier than you think – the one the agent/publisher you are speaking with represents/publishes.


Obviously lying will get you nowhere, but if your book is genuinely a  “sci-fi thriller with a romance,” then you have the opportunity to cast a wide net. When you approach agents who represent sci-fi, then that is the genre of your book. When you approach a publisher who really only puts out romance novels, then pitch your book as you would a romance novel. And so forth.  So approach the right people. Look for agents/publishers who represent and publish sci-fi with thriller or romance subplots. Or for agents/publishers who are looking for thrillers in a sci-fi setting or with a romance subplot. Or for romance publishers who like to branch out into romance on other worlds or romance in the midst of a situation resembling a thriller.  


If you are fortunate enough to have written a book that spans three genres of which you can take advantage, make your novel of three genres work for you, instead of letting it trip you up. Come up with three separate pitches, and know to whom you are pitching. It’s just one more thing that can separate you from the rest.


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New on Zolder Writers: Gone, But Not Forgotten: Vintage Books For Hipsters and The Rest Of Us

Read Bride of Pendorich, a Victoria Holt Classic Gothic ThrillerThe good authors over at Zolder Writers, my former Critique Group in Amsterdam have allowed me to rant and rave about books near and dear to my heart: those old cheap vintage paperback Gothic romance/mystery/thriller/horror books from the mid-to-late 20th century you can get for under a dollar at most used book stores.

These books with their perfect endings, poetic justice, and supernatural insanity tell us so much about gender, colonialism, and how people my grandparents’ age viewed the world and their place within it.

Read the post here, for book recommendations and the wannabe-punchy hyperbole with which I deliver them, and some musings and links on antagonists/villains and how to write the perfect ending.

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Coming Soon: a Literary Fantasy Short Story “The Bridge of Organic Mortar” in Fantastique Unfettered

Fantastique Unfettered is a beautiful thing. They publish some of the best character-driven fantasy in all of its glorious sub-genres. They’ve got New Weird, Old Weird, Magic Realism, Slipstream, Alt Western, Planetary Romance, Surrealism, Mystery, Urban Fantasy, Literary Horror, Post Lovecraft, Aether Age, Interstitial, Steampunk and more. When I picked up my first issue from Barnes & Noble (Issue #2, bursting with short stories behind a cloud-shrouded Mayan temple on the cover), I knew I wanted more than anything for a story of mine to be good enough to be read alongside those the editors chose for FU.

Fantastique Unfettered Issue 2 (short stories, writing,readers)

Now that’s what I call a Mayan Temple! Fantastique Unfettered, Issue 2, bursting at the seams with fantastical short stories and other gems for writers and readers.

It took me a while before I had anything I could send off. I write all kinds of stories and can’t really choose what I write when. Like many writers, I sit down somewhere and I write, and what comes out is what comes out. I’m not sure it’s possible for me to determine something like “Today I am going to write a steampunk short story.” I’ve tried, and very rarely does the story come out steampunk, or whatever it was I intended to write. So with Fantastique Unfettered on the brain, I spent nearly a year writing very realistic short stories. Short stories about bad-ass protesters, train-pirates and West Africa  and murderous hobos, young tumultuous love, losing and re-gaining faith, eating disorders, and going through the fire, but realistic nonetheless.

Then when I finally wrote a bit of magical realism, I sent it off with fingers crossed. But it didn’t fit with what the editors of FU wanted to do with their next issue, and so it got rejected. (I won’t tell you which story it was, as it is now happily sitting in a journal collecting wonderful emails from fans who enjoyed it. It just goes to show that rejections are every bit as much about fit as they are about the quality of the story).

The second time was the charm, however, and my latest bit of fantasy, “The Bridge of Organic Mortar,” will make an appearance in Fantastique Unfettered, issue 5.

I’m not going to lie- I did a little dance. I may do a little  more dancing before this issue makes it to my hands. Making it into FU means that a few people who know a lot about writing think what I write is as good as what the people who get published in FU write. And these people who know a lot and who select some of the stories I love best think my short story is so good that I should be paid to put it there.  Anyone can tell you your story is good, but someone who gives you something valuable in exchange for your story really means it.

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The 7-minute short story, Rogue’s Coat, is here. Listen for free!

Click here to listen to Rogue’s Coat, my latest audio-story! It is the feature-piece in the current issue of Scissors & Spackle. Editor-in-chief Jenny Catlin had this to say about it:

What it means to be a reader may be shifting along with the methods of delivery but the passion is alive and coursing. I don’t think anything exemplifies this more than our featured piece for Issue Six. Avery Oslo has crafted a story that is beautiful standing alone but it only comes to fruition when read by Tobias Paramore; together they have created a masterpiece of storytelling.

My sincerest thanks to Jenny for her words, as well as to musician Tobias Paramore who did such a beautiful job reading and voice-acting, and songwriter/instrumentalist Robert Stapleton of Nashville, TN, for remastering the audio. Rogue’s Coat was a truly collaborative piece, and I hope you enjoy it!

Scissors & Spackle, Issue VI

Should you want a CD/MP3 of Rogue’s Coat for yourself or friends, you also have the option to purchase Issue VI of Scissors & Spackle directly from their website.

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Coming Soon – An Audio-Story by Avery Oslo

I haven’t forgotten about you, dear readers. Thank you so much for nudging me in my email and on twitter.

Amsterdam, Writing

Writing is a breeze when you're looking at this every day. (Copyleft Avery Oslo)

2012 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for me as a writer. I rang in the new year celebrating with my friends in the Netherlands. My Dutch critique group have started their own official blog about reading. Check out the Zolder Writers and what we are all reading for writing inspiration.  If it weren’t for their good tastes, I might still be reading drivel. 🙂

Now I’m back in Nashville, TN with some exciting news: Scissors & Spackle, a literary journal of the written world, have agreed to give my audio-story, Rogue’s Coat, a home. The story was written in the Netherlands about a character in Scotland who has been given a voice by the English-Australian musician (and voice-actor!)  Tobias Paramore. Toby’s beautiful voice and accent have made this story easy on the ears and a true joy to hear.

Stay tuned!


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