On Hold

Hey there, fellow book dragons! Happy August!

So… we’ve had a bit of an unexpected rearrangement of schedule. I do have a couple more Summer School posts coming, but they aren’t scheduled yet and due to unforeseen happenings, will be coming a bit later in August.

Also, the Silmaril Awards will be returning on September 2nd, so MARK YOUR CALENDARS for that!

~ jenelle

Biggest Differences Between Traditional and Self Publishing: Guest Post JM Stengl

Summer School Graphic 2019

Our summer school is winding down to a close and I’ve just got a few more posts for you before we wrap up. Today, I am delighted to introduce you to J.M. Stengl, who has authored multiple books both through a traditional publisher and more recently as an indie author. (Her Faraway Castle series is one of my recent favorites, which I highly recommend). She’s here to talk about some of the major differences she’s experienced between the two forms of publishing, so without further ado, I shall turn the mic over to her!

Biggest Differences Between Indie and Traditional Publishing


J.M. Stengl

Hi! I’m Jill, and I write family-friendly fairy-tale retellings.

Jenelle suggested I might share my experiences as a former traditionally-published author and current indie author, pointing out what I see as the pros and cons of each publishing path. So here you go. If any of this is useful to any of you, I’m happy!

My “beginner” story: My first published book was a 50K-word contemporary Christian romance for Heartsong Presents, a line of subscription books (which launched the careers of Tracie Peterson, DiAnn Mills, Kim Vogel Sawyer, and Colleen Coble, among others!). I wrote my story “to market,” sold the complete, un-agented manuscript outright in 1995, and readers were pleased! So, I continued writing for Barbour Publishing until 2008, and most of those subsequent books and novellas were under modest royalty contracts. Some earned out my advance, some didn’t. I never did bother to seek an agent. One of my short romance novels (a reimagining of The Scarlet Pimpernel set in NYC during the American Revolution) won two major awards . . . but soon after that success, I burned out. I finished my contracted stories, then mostly disappeared from the publishing world, considered myself a has-been, and focused on editing for other writers. Now, just so’s you know, I still receive royalty checks on reprints of my old stories, and I am forever grateful to the people at Barbour. Nothing I say in this post reflects badly on them in any possible way!

Fast-forward to January 2017: My daughter, planning to indie publish her own work under a pen name, needed a guinea pig to test the marketing techniques she had been learning. So, together we brainstormed a fairy-tale series idea, and the following year we launched the Faraway Castle series—her guinea pig. Although we publish my books through her Rooglewood Press, and sharing my daughter’s well-known surname gave me a marketing boost for that first launch, the majority of my core readers have discovered my series through advertising and word-of-mouth. Although it is not quite as market-targeted as it could be, the series is having steady success, and I am bringing in some nice supplemental income. I’m also making some good friends among my fellow indie fairy-tale authors!


Now you know my story, so onward to the question: What do I see as the advantages and disadvantages of indie and traditional publishing?

Biggest advantages of traditional publishing?

Ease and Prestige!

In an ideal circumstance, the publishing house provides professional editing to correct any and all writing errors, along with a gorgeous cover and beautiful interior design and formatting for ebook and print versions. It will also distribute print books to bookstores and plan a professional marketing campaign aimed at the book’s targeted reading audience. The author’s agent will negotiate a generous royalty percentage on sales with a sizable advance, along with a provision for return of rights in a reasonable time frame. The author gains the prestige and verification of signing a book contract with a “real” publishing house. If an author’s books connect with the market and sell big, a long and happy career will follow.

There are also smaller publishing houses willing to take on talented midlist authors, and many writers are pleased simply to have their stories published, satisfied with any advance and the hope of royalties in future, just as I was. Occasionally, a successful author from a small publishing house will be picked up by a major house, so the flow goes both ways.

Biggest disadvantages of traditional publishing? 

Loss of control, shrinking benefits.

Some fiction authors make a good living with their writing. Some get rich and famous! For most, the income is purely supplemental. The major traditional publishing houses are feeling the financial squeeze from a changing market, and they must cut costs to survive. Several in the Christian-book market have dropped their fiction lines altogether; others have trimmed them way back. Authors are responsible for more and more of their own marketing and editing. A canny, experienced agent is a must for any author, but getting one is no easy task. Many aspiring authors spend heavily on conferences, contests, and professional editing just to get an agent, any agent, to look at their proposal.

Major publishing houses are always on the hunt for another Big-Name author, which is where they make essential profit. Mid-list authors are feeling the crunch. If an author is lucky and talented enough to sign with an agent and get a contract from a major publishing house (which really is a big deal!), this author may get a nice advance on royalties and a big market-push for the first few books . . . but if sales are not spectacular, either the advance will shrink and the publisher will switch the big marketing push to the next hopeful Big Name . . . or there won’t be another contract. The publisher will retain rights to the disappointed author’s published books according to contract, and if these books ever earn out the author’s advance, royalties will begin to trickle in a few years down the line. Many books take years to earn out the advance. Some books never do. 

Biggest advantages of independent publishing? 

Retained control and almost unlimited income potential.

The number of indie authors making six-figure annual incomes is staggering, and the market is still growing. Most indie authors won’t take on the research, investment, and labor needed to achieve that kind of success (I certainly haven’t!), yet many are making a steady living wage with their writing careers. Others make just enough to keep publishing books, working toward discovery and a possible breakout in the future (which I’ve seen happen!) Some successful indies even sign with major publishing houses.

Like the traditional market, the indie market is always changing, so what works for one author might flop for another. But the indie author can flex and try again! If something isn’t working, change it today! Do you have beautiful book covers but limp sales? Check out which books in your genre are selling hot, and hire one of their cover artists to create covers that will sell your books! Do your readers complain about your poor grammar or typos? Hire an editor. Your sales are dropping? Create a new ad or run a special sale! If a majority of readers pan your book, you can pull it off the market, do research and rewrites to fix the issues and appeal to your intended audience, maybe change the cover and title, and republish it. Or dump it and write something better. You, as author and publisher, can do what you like with your own books. And ideally you will always be growing, learning, and improving as a writer.

Indie books belong entirely to their author, who is free to manipulate them, repackage them, advertise them, and someday pass down the publishing rights to children . . . for perpetuity.

Biggest disadvantages of independent publishing?

Labor and cost.

In traditional publishing, the house invests the money and takes the risks. In independent publishing, the investment and the risk are on the author. To achieve major financial success in the indie-publishing world, an author must not only produce a steady stream of market-focused books but also become an entrepreneur. Launching a serious indie writing career requires intensive research and networking, financial-planning and marketing savvy, and a chunk of money to invest. Oh, and plenty of books written to market.


So, there you have it—one mildly successful author’s observations on the publishing business. Keep in mind, the pros and cons are always a jumble—no two authors will have quite the same experience with either Traditional or Independent publishing.

I’m sure you can tell where my future publishing plans are directed . . . but if any of you intend to pursue traditional publishing, I say go for it! Many authors do succeed in traditional publishing and go on to have rewarding careers. One of my former editing clients recently signed with a highly regarded agent, and I’m waiting eagerly to hear about her first contract . . .

Happy writing!

J.M. Stengl is a native of southern California who, after a whirlwind life as a military wife, now makes her home with her husband in North Carolina, where she serves at the beck and call of two purebred cats and one adorable granddaughter. Obsessions include all things animal rescue, fairy-tale romances, knowing the lyrics to the best songs from old musicals, and perfecting the perfect pastry crust.​

During her former career as a romance novelist, Stengl won both the Carol Award and RWA’s Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award. Now she prefers her novels to include a dash of magic along with the heart-melting romance.

Visit JM Stengl’s WEBSITE (and get a free novella by signing up for her newsletter!)



~ jenelle

Writing Unstuck: Produce Novels More Quickly Guest Grace Bridges

Summer School Graphic 2019

Please join me in welcoming Grace Bridges to the blog! If you’re a realmie, you’ll recognize Grace as someone who tends to jump at the chance to help out the authors around her. A mentor and author of numerous published works (seriously, she has three pages of published books on amazon… so I gave up trying to count them!) Grace is here today to talk a little bit more about the “before you publish” stage of the process… namely, some tips and tricks on getting through your rough drafts more quickly so that you can get to the actual business of publishing!

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WRITING UNSTUCK: How to produce novels more quickly


Grace Bridges

As a self-publisher, it’s clear that publishing more often will gain more readers just from the momentum of the series and hopefully your growing notoriety. And yet many of us find it hard to knuckle down and produce the words. Well, listen up, because I’m going to tell you how I cracked it for myself. It’s probably going to be different for every person, but I’ve seen wildly different kinds of writers succeed by using even a part of this method.


Outlining has always been important to me (to a certain degree), knowing roughly what has to happen in a scene (but not necessarily how). For many years I have written all my stories from one-sentence scene summaries that I create as part of going through the Snowflake Method invented by the wonderful Randy Ingermanson. Now admittedly my pantsing side doesn’t like to do all of the work Randy recommends. He says you can spend up to a hundred hours on preparation before you ever start writing for real, but I’ve done it in two. I focus on about half of his ten steps, dropping the ones that deal with characters (sorry Randy! I’ve found that characters tend to develop as I get to know them, and yes I do go back and deepen them later during edits!)—instead making sure my plot is solid and that I know the basics of what is going to happen. And in a hundred hours of work, my draft is finished.

By the way, all props to Randy! Please go and read up on the Snowflake Method at https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ – and read his books, too. They’re very sophisticated.

Specifically, the steps I use from the Snowflake are as follows:

Step 1: A One Sentence Idea, keeping in mind 3 disasters and an ending if you want to follow the Three Act Structure.

Step 2: Expand that sentence to four sentences, one for each disaster and the ending.

Step 4: Expand each sentence to its own paragraph. That’s a page length synopsis.

Step 6: Make each paragraph into a page by adding more detail.

Step 8: Break it into scenes (by location, event, or point of view changes) and write one sentence for each. If too much planning spoils your fun, be vague.

If you’re a total pantser and can’t imagine writing out all of your scenes as single sentences, perhaps you can still make use of the benefits by very briefly jotting down what might come next, before you start your day’s writing, one scene at a time. One sentence should do it. I always do my planning in handwriting. It seems to activate the right corners of my brain to prime me for full-on creating.

That sentence describing my next scene becomes the most important tool in my progress because it means I know what happens next—and that’s my single best weapon against the blank page.

scene list

Scene list for Earthcore Book 1: RotoVegas (Green numbers are days)


So the Scene List has often rescued me from writer’s block. I’ve worked that way for many years. But in when I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time (under protest at the “National” part—on my winner’s certificate I took my best ink pen and amended it to “International”), this required a very specific writing goal of 1667 words every day, and that required discipline and strategy like I’ve never had to do before. I was all prepared with my scene list. However, I would sit down to write and the words weren’t coming fast enough. I found myself staring at a blank screen far too often, struggling to translate that one-sentence scene summary into almost 2000 words,  and the leap was too large to make quickly.

Desperate for a solution, I began to plan out my scenes in more detail. Not in a technical way at all, not with action-reaction bites or scene/sequel combinations, etc. And totally not specific. All I did was take my one-sentence summary and spend a couple of minutes expanding it into several sub-points. Specifically, I aimed to have at least eight points. Why eight? Because in aiming for over 1600 words per day and scene, if I have eight points, each one needs only a little more than 200 words. It’s like a daily goal, except smaller. If I get interrupted and have to come back to it later, I can still feel good that the sub-points I’ve covered so far have got the necessary wordcount.

What does this look like in practice? Here’s an example from a novel I wrote just before last year’s NaNo. It’s the second to last scene in the book, where the heroes are preparing for an epic battle, and in my scene list it was described only as “Battle Prep.” To power up, they have to visit several hot springs in the area, including one on an island in the lake. My sub-points for this scene are:

  • Launch the boat
  • Land on island
  • Walk to stream, fill up (you’ll have to read the story to discover what exactly that means!)
  • Return to mainland
  • Anira gets in stream with elder praying
  • What she experiences
  • Heading to lakeside park (location of final battle)

Now of course as I wrote it turned out different and didn’t exactly match 200 words per point. But once I describe what is happening in each sub-point, add some scenery description and ambience, plus dialogue, it is much easier to get one of these tiny points close to 200 or beyond than it is to get “Battle Prep” to 2000 all by itself.

Jotting the sub-points can be done immediately before you write, or after you finish the previous day’s scene, or last thing at night so it’s ready for the morning. It’s something like the best feeling in the world to return to the task on a new day and discover you’ve already ensured you’re not going to get stuck.

And did you notice the sub-points are kind of vague? They can be even more vague than this. I’m currently working on Earthcore Book 5, and I have a scene currently titled “They do the thing.” Now, I’m not even really certain what the thing is, but I’ll allow myself to come up with that when I scribble down some sub-points for that scene. I do know that to serve the story at this point, they have to fail at least partially, a certain person has to show up, others leave, and there has to be a geyser. That’s all I know. If you know my books you’ll recall there are almost always geysers, so that part really isn’t hard to come up with.

So: plan small sections, be vague, and pants the rest. Yes, it is totally a numbers game. And it’s kind of like magic, once I push through the thirty seconds of “don’t-wanna” and start in on my sub-points: words just kind of roll on out without much of a pause except for where I actually have to make up something specific. Surprisingly, that’s often the easiest part of all, and hey folks, it feels like pantsing.

prelim sub points

(Preliminary sub-points)


I don’t know about you, but I can’t write with an Internet connection.

Of course there are other distractions in life, such as eating, sleeping, and caring for the other souls in my house (mostly furred and feathered babies in my case). But once I sit down to write—at a computer, funnily enough—if it is connected to the Internet, I don’t tend to write much. If at all.

So I have to kill the connection. Flipping the WiFi button is a good start, though it’s way too easy to flip back on if something occurs to me that I must absolutely look up right now. Unplugging the router is more effective, if no one else in the house currently needs to be connected. Of course this means there can be absolutely no research while writing. I often insert notes such as [CHECK THIS] or [NAME OF STREET NEAR LAKE] which I can find later by searching for square brackets. The same applies to figuring out names for new minor characters—I tag them as ABC, XYZ, just to be able to continue without pause.

Writing by hand also works well, but then I have to re-type it—although that means I get a first edit in too. I am sure there are other solutions out there, and you may be able to think of something you have on hand—for example writing on your phone if it has no data connection. There are also apps like Write or Die, Self Control, or the full-screen setting on Scrivener. Whatever works for you.

My personal secret weapon is the Neo Alphasmart. This little device is equipped with a full-size keyboard and a six-line screen. Its memory holds eight 50-page documents which can be transferred to your computer using Bluetooth or a printer cable. Of course, it has no Internet connection. Now, sadly it’s not being made any more, but there are a fair few floating around the secondhand marketplaces online. This, along with the sub-points I detailed in my previous post, has been a crucial factor in being able to finish my last five novel drafts in about a month each. 

Get disconnected—and get writing!


When I’m in the middle of writing a first draft, my mornings are the same from day to day.

I get up and feed all the animals—over 10 at times, depending on the number of foster cats—then prepare my enormous cup of tea that holds as much as three regular cups. I set it on the windowsill next to the couch, and make sure my lap desk is in place together with my Alphasmart, my scene list and hastily jotted sub-points, extra paper and a pen and pencil, and maybe some nuts in case the old stomach starts to growl (but getting up would disturb the flow). It can also be useful to have a couple of craft books on hand for reference, provided I’m not tempted to read long sections of them.

For me it must be the same seat on the same couch every time. Just like Sheldon watching Doctor Who. I can look up and stare into the distance while thinking—between my camellia trees where the blackbirds are nesting, across the suburbs and the sea to the looming volcanic peaks of Rangitoto Island, where the final climax took place in my novel Volcano City.

When I complete my scene for the day, that’s when I turn on the computer, transfer the text from the Alphasmart to Scrivener, and take note of my overall statistics. 

Not touching the computer until I’m done is a key to success. In older times I used to drink my first cup of tea while perusing Facebook and the news sites. Hours would vanish into a black hole. But now, at least when I have a project going, my mornings are isolated from outside influences and thus much more gentle—and productive. It’s all about establishing the ritual.


Don’t stress out about following any of these suggestions. Even if one of them speaks to you, try it out and see what happens. Find the method that works for you. I found this method when I got desperate due to that self-imposed competitive NaNo deadline, and I hope you’ll find something here that helps you, too.

writing set up 

Mountain Segue


About the Author

Geyser hunter. Cat herder. Editor and translator. Kiwi. 

Grace is the current president of writers’ association www.SpecFic.NZ, and the Chair of www.GeyserCon.NZ. She’s often found poking around geothermal sites, wandering beaches, or under a pile of rescued kittens. Her work includes cyberpunk and space opera as well as the Earthcore urban fantasy series based in New Zealand. The Earthcore short story “Initiation” is free on the front page at www.gracebridges.kiwi.

For a free copy of the novel Earthcore 1, head to www.gracebridges.kiwi/signup, or check out the series on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B07HM9P3N8/

~ jenelle

Christmas in July – Cover Reveal Help Wanted!

I’ve been a bit quiet about my big publishing goal for 2019. Partially because I’m trying a different strategy with this book, and partially because I wasn’t sure it would actually happen on schedule, and partially because it’s a little “off brand” for me.

However, the time has now come to start announcing that… actually… I AM going to be releasing a new book this calendar year!!!

Cue Excitement!

Two years ago, the worship director at our church asked me to write a poem for our Christmas service. She wanted something in the style of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but felt like everything she’d been finding was either depressing or not the right cadence. So she asked if I might be interested in writing something original for her.

I was honored to do so and had a lot of fun with the project. The worship director found an artist in the church to create a couple of original paintings for what I’d written, put it together into a slide-show and also got it bound into book format. When I saw it in that form factor, the wheels started turning! I thought, “Wow… I think… I think I just wrote a children’s book!”

I then continued to work with the artist to get a few more paintings done, and then I’ve been working with a fantastic graphic artist to pull everything together and design the actual book.

I got the proof copy on Wednesday and it is SOOOO gorgeous! I can’t wait to share this little project with you!

(Of course, I immediately spotted a typo on the copyright page, and for some reason the proof copy had the story printed TWICE within the covers… no idea why that happened. So… we do need to do a bit of tweaking, still. But that’s why you don’t trust the e-proof and order a physical proof copy!)

So it’s about time to start putting together a cover reveal for this little story. This is where it gets tricky. Like I said, it’s a little off-brand for me. This is not an epic fantasy novel. It’s not even fantasy-themed. It’s a Christmas-themed children’s picture book. So I totally understand if members of my “tribe” don’t feel like they can participate. Keeping to a brand is important. I just can’t juggle… so I’m not going to create a pen-name for this story.

However, I have put together a sign-up form for anyone who feels they might be able to help out with a cover reveal or is interested in a digital advance reader copy for review. My plan is to release this book on October 1st – and the Silmaril Awards start September 2nd – so in order to avoid colliding with that and still be a bit in advance of the release date the cover reveal is going to be on August 21st.

Thank you in advance to anyone who is willing to help out!

~ jenelle