Intense and Marketable Novels? A Simple How-to – by Jennifer Slattery

Writing Intense and Marketable Novels
by Jennifer Slattery
Does the following make you cringe?
“Your story’s too heavy.”
“Too dark.”
“Readers are looking to escape reality, not read about tough issues.”
It was 2009, my first large writers’ conference, and quite a shock to my newbie ego. I came pumped and a bit over confident, one of those naïve storytellers who knew just enough craft to elevate my pride but not enough to justify such an elevation.
Needless to say, I left with a more accurate view of myself and my abilities. Unfortunately, I also began to question not only what I wrote, but who I am. Appointment after appointment, I heard that my writing was too intense. One solution was offered, again and again: Write something light, more humorous, to get your foot in the door.
Everything in me said, “No!” Because although I can enjoy light reading, I don’t feel called to write it. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t called to write or that I’d never be published.
It did mean I had a lot to learn about writing intense stories effectively.
You see, it’s not that there isn’t a market for the intense. I can think of numerous, very popular novels that deal with some very dark issues, such as Mary Connealy’s Calico Canyon, Kathi Macias’ Freedom Series, the Hunger Games, Maze Runner (all books I LOVED).
The issue was, I needed to learn HOW to write about intense or heavy issues without overloading or depressing my reader. Because here’s the deal—we all want real, and real can be tough; intense. But reality is handled best when it’s peppered with lots of humor and tact and sprinkled with a heavy dose of hope.
When writing about intense issues, consider:
  1. Adding humor at strategic points throughout the novel. Some novelists will create an eccentric character specifically for this purpose. I’ve done this, but more often, I like to bring out the goofy in my main characters. Because we all have silly, less-than-brilliant moments inherent to our personalities. Find ways to exploit and expose those quirky traits, most especially following tense or dark scenes.

  1. Know the whys behind the boundary lines, and when pushing them, your whys for doing so. Does your why have purpose enough to override the whys of the boundary lines? A dark or intense novel with graphic violence or vulgarity might be pushing things too far. To find the reader-gripping balance, one must constantly keep their reader and their emotions in mind.  

  1. Continually remind the reader of hope. The darker the scene, the more necessary this will be. This can be done numerous ways such as showing the determined inner strength of a character, by showing a possible solution, or the help and support of a community.

The more I write, the more I realize there aren’t very many set rules in the CBA market, and even those are changing. It really comes down to knowing the craft, writing with skill, and always considering the effect each scene and the story as a whole will have on your reader.

Jennifer Slattery writes intense, intensely funny, and heart-pattering sweet missional romance for New Hope Publishers. Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, will release in the fall of 2014. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, is part of a jibillion blogs (according to her handsome railroader) and has a slight obsession with Facebook. When she’s not writing or gabbing, she enjoys going for long, leisurely walks with her husband and giggly shopping dates with her hilariously sarcastic teenage daughter. You can visit her online at, on Facebook at or on Twitter at

Filling Your Well of Ideas

By Michael Ehret

Sometimes I think my idea well has run dry. The plots I dredge up are so spare they couldn’t even flesh out a flash fiction story.

What’s in your Well of Ideas?
Image courtesy of and cbenjasuwan

Can you relate?

Usually what this means is I need to switch from “creative” mode to “ingestion” mode—I need more raw material to draw from. Some writers can create a story idea from nothing except their own imagination.

That is not me. And if that’s not you, too, maybe this trick will help you fill your well.

Feed Me, Seymour!

Much like the carnivorous plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors,” I need constant feeding. Often I chow down on a great novel; less frequently nonfiction fills my gullet.

Maybe it’s my background as a newspaper reporter, but some of the best food for my imagination comes from the news—including quasi news sources like blogs. Because, as Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

When I read news, online or print (broadcast doesn’t work for me), invariably I read an article that sparks an idea or two. Now, I freely admit not all of them will produce even a flash fiction piece, let alone a full-blown novel, but the important thing is I’m filling my imagination. At the appropriate time, several of the ideas will likely congeal together and produce something workable.

But I can guarantee that nothing workable will be produced if raw material isn’t imported into the processor.

Is he talking about you?

What are the costs of living together?
Image courtesy of and Ambro

For instance, I read this commentary from Regis Nicoll the other day called “The High Costs of Living Together.” It included this gem:

In 1969, although the vast majority of people, 82 percent, reported having had sex before marriage by age 30, only 21 percent felt that was morally acceptable.
… Over the next 40 years, as public acceptance grew three-fold (to 63 percent) and (more) people (94 percent) admitted to having “done it,” there was far less social pressure to restrain it or keep quiet about it.
This sea change in attitudes and practices can be attributed to two things: “no-consequence” sex and a morally-compromised Church.
… With roughly 80 percent of the U.S. populace Christian and 94 percent admitting to pre-marital sex, that means that a lot of Christians—very likely the majority—are guilty of sexual sin.

Woah … right? I know a lot of people who will take offense at a study like this. But that’s what makes great fiction!

Is that giving you ideas? (Story ideas, guys, story ideas.) It sure did me. My oeuvre, the framework within which I write, includes marriage, fidelity, trust—and all the antonyms of those, of course. I took the entirety of Nicoll’s piece and fed my imagination with it. Who knows where it may lead, but now that information has been uploaded and is available. (And also stored electronically.)

Fill your well

The point is there are ideas for fiction everywhere if you open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to them. If you read something that sticks with you—good or bad—file that away in your Well of Ideas. Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t. But you for sure won’t use it if you don’t have it stored away.

Obviously our world is ever in need of the transformative power of story—and of Story. What ideas have you picked up from news sources and used in your stories?

Want to play?

Screenshot from Jan. 25 home page

Go to the front page of your local paper (or to the home page of CNN or Fox News or your favorite online news source) and read the main story—no cherry picking. Choose one fact or one quote or one idea from that story as your idea seed and freewrite a paragraph or two in the comments.

Here’s my example. I wrote this on Jan. 25 based on this story, but the story has changed since that day and my idea seed is no longer in it.

My idea seed from that story: The scene was “believed to be secure” police said in a tweet issued at about 12:36 p.m.

Ethan was dead. True. He’d been an effective triggerman. Also true. But there were others. Many others.

Captain White’s tweet that the mall was “secure” made Gaston—almost—laugh out loud, but he did not “LOL.” When he laughed, and it was rare, it was real not some fake social construct. But that “out loud” part was a luxury he couldn’t allow himself right now. Later? Most definitely.

Stupid twerkers. Ethan got a few, but they’d be back prancing through the mall in their tight clothes and loose morals soon enough. It was “secure,” after all. White said so. Truth. 

So not true.

And then he did chuckle—but quietly. After all, the shoppers trapped in his store from the lockdown were still shook up and hyper aware—no sense in giving them something odd to remember if the police did questioned them.

They’d soon enough embrace again the fragile cloak of security they thought protected them. True, always true.

So, if you want to play leave a comment. Or, if you want to talk about where you get your ideas from—how you fill your Well of Ideas—leave a comment.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words as a Marketing Communications Writer for CHEFS Catalog and as a freelance editor at Ehret is the former editor of the ACFW Journal and has edited several nonfiction books, proofedited for Abingdon Press, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.

Editor, Novelist, Liars Club ~ Meet Kathryn Craft

by Ane Mulligan
Kathryn Craft was a developmental editor at, following a career as
a dance critic. Having served on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley
Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, she hosts writing
retreats and is a speaker. She is a contributing editor at The
Blood-Red Pencil
blog and a monthly guest at Writers in the Storm
with her series “Turning Whine into Gold.” She is a proud member of the Liars
Club, a Philadelphia-based group of novelists supporting independent
bookstores, literacy, and other forms of paying it forward. She lives with her
husband in Bucks County, PA.
Kathryn, you’ve written memoir
essays, articles on the craft of writing for blogs and Writers Digest, and hundreds
of articles on dance and other arts. How and when did you decide to turn your
hand to fiction?
I was a
confirmed nonfiction writer—with so many fascinating true stories in the world,
I posed, why make anything up? Then tragedy upended all reason when my husband
committed suicide after a daylong standoff at our farm. As story slowly brought
order to chaos, I learned that sometimes fiction can feel more “true” than
reported facts.
How was the process different to
your non-fiction, and what is your process? Are you a plotter, a pantster, or
somewhere in between?
With a
strong anecdotal hook I could often rely upon intuition, interesting quotes,
and flow to structure a cohesive feature. Not so for a novel. I drafted both my
first and second novels by the seat of my pants, reaching toward perhaps a
dozen predetermined emotional turning points as touchstones—then spent years
undoing the damage. I needed to find a better way.
Have you discovered some secret
that has helped your process for writing?
yes! I recently employed a process touted by novelist Molly Cochran—writing an
extended synopsis. She says hers end up about 75 pages; mine ended up being 100.
Writing “about” the story really helped me get to the heart of it and stay on
track. When I was really feeling the heat in a scene I did allow myself to take
down dialogue notes as well, so I wouldn’t lose them. This really worked for
me, and boiling it down to 7 single-spaced pages gave me the multi-layered
depth needed to try to sell on proposal.
Was there a specific ‘what if’
moment that sparked The Art of Falling?
were several. First, I needed empathy for the kind of despair my husband experienced,
even though I’m an optimist. What if a woman felt that way? I create a woman
who had always wanted to be a dancer but was at war with her body, then started
taking away career, lover, and support systems until I thought she might just
give up—then, rather pulling her back from the edge, I let her fall right over
fall was the result of the second “What if.” I read in the newspaper that a
woman had fallen fourteen stories and walked away with only a broken arm—and
this was the second time she’d failed to kill herself! I thought, “What if this
happened to my protagonist—would she get the message it wasn’t yet her time to
third was what if a woman whose body is unstoppable but her spirit is flagging
befriends a woman whose body is failing but whose spirit is enduring—what could
these women give one another?
those layers in place I was ready to write.
Do you consider yourself a
visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?
envision my characters and places, certainly, but I don’t look at pictures.
That feels too limiting. I also can’t listen to music! I need as much quiet as
Some say a writer is born and
others say anyone can learn. What do you say?
sure biological birth has anything to do with it. I believe a writer is born of
her desire to order her thoughts through the written word, in whatever form
that takes. As for fiction, I think most novelists have been influenced from an
early age by older storytellers in their lives.
What are your thoughts on critique
role of critique partners cannot be underestimated while you are acquiring the early
skills of a creative writer. Writing for publication assumes a public, and you
need a sample public to see how your work adds up in a new reader’s mind. But
at some point you need to commit to writing the book, and have it evaluated as
a whole. Because no novel can suspend disbelief over a one-chapter-per-month
reading, I now only use full manuscript swaps with trusted readers.
Do you prefer the creating or
editing aspect of writing?
For me, that’s where I fully orchestrate what was once a simple melody.
What’s the most difficult part
of writing for you ~ plotting, setting, characterization?
I don’t
think any of these things are particularly difficult on their own. The real
trick is in interweaving them to tell an effective story.
What’s your strength in writing?
early attempts as a pantser failed because I did not yet understand classic
storytelling structure. So I brought teachers into my life—Juilene
Osborne-McKnight, James N. Frey, Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, Nancy
Kress—and over many years of concerted effort I turned my weakness into my
strength. For the past seven years working as a developmental editor my specialty
has been in assessing story structure.
Did you have any surprising
discoveries while writing this book?
this novel reflected my own healing journey, from acceptance through empathy to
forgiveness, my protagonist evolved as well. Let’s just say she was once a much
angrier, less empathetic character! I knew I’d be done once I’d created a woman
who could be pushed to the brink, fall off, and then find new heights—in other
words, someone whom I’d admire.
When you’re not writing at your
summer home in northern New York, where do you write? Do you have a favorite
chair at Starbucks or hole up in a cozy attic nook?
usually in my lovely, light-filled loft office at home—a real change for me,
because before moving four years ago, my office was in a basement walled with
exposed stone—also lovely, but much darker. At least once a week I can be found
among other women with open laptops in the second floor café of a Wegman’s
grocery store, adding a social element to our solitary work.
What’s the best writing advice
you’ve heard?
I love
this quote from Virginia Woolf: “Each sentence must have, at its heart, a
little spark of fire, and this, whatever the risk, the novelist must pluck with
his own hands from the blaze.” Not a spark on each page—a spark in each sentence.
And when writing fails, I think it’s because the writer did not dare to get
close enough to the fire.
Do you have any parting words of
organizations. Go to conferences and workshops. Network with writers further
down the path. Only you can set the words on the page, but a writer’s life does
not have to be lonely. Drink in the support that surrounds you and then pass it
on to someone else. We are all mentors.
The Art of Falling
One wrong step could send her over the edge.
All Penny ever wanted to do was dance—and when that chance is
taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might
never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered
but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her
for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered
Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of
a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that
has repeatedly rejected her. The Art Of Falling expresses the beauty of
movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with
a new beginning. 

Make Money Promoting Your Books

by Ane Mulligan
Vandermeulen: Google Play App & Twitter Developer & Publisher |
International Nonfiction & Fiction Author | Radio – TRN – Talk Radio
Network | AOP – Appy Our Publishing | PPS – Premium Promotional Services |
eMerce Content-Read Listen & View Marketing Tips |

Another door is opening. All I have to do is walk through and enter the foreign room.

I’m never alone. Messages of encouraging words filter through daily dialogue, newspaper articles, blogs, social media network discussions, and personal interaction with others. God speaks to me in ALL ways.

I have a goal – I need an income…I have to earn money.

In order for me to meet my goal, I must market and sell my books—make money promoting books.

How would you like to earn money while your book sells in bulk?

What opportunity awaits?

Professional speaking. An effective tactic to sell your books. Now, before you click off this page and venture to another because your palms are beginning to slip with sweat, just hear me out…

Let’s chuck the phrase Professional Speaker, and replace it with something a tad less threatening (for those whom may consider themselves as ‘introverts’)….let’s replace Professional Speaker with Discussing Your Passion.

For example: when mothers come together, they talk for hours about their children; sport fans can spend an entire afternoon exchanging dialogue and cheering for their favorite team. Time flies. Nothing is forced. No one is threatening, judging, or setting up unrealistic expectations.

Can you just imagine speaking from pure adrenalin?

You’ve done it before…and did it quite well. Pure enjoyment from all.

Okay, let’s exchange the word audience with listener.

How do I gain confidence?

I keep new ventures in proper perspectives. I keep a positive frame of mind. I replace those scary words with friendly phrases – Now my heart is beating normal.

Discussing my passion to receptive listeners is a way I can PROMOTE MYSELF, SELL MY BOOKS; thus, MAKE MONEY.


So here’s the plan—what can YOU do?

1.) Volunteer to lead a discussion group. Choose a group with the subject/topic of your book.

2.) Volunteer to join a reading group. Offer your services to present a short ‘question/answer’ period about authorship or around the topic of your book.

3.) Encourage book groups to use your book. Hand members your business card, give a short pitch, and offer your time. Be their next featured guest. Create a draw for a free personalized autograph book.

4.) Approach non-profitable organizations and offer your time to speak. For example, if you have a:

– Christian book – there are bible study groups, congregations.

– Self healing book – support groups, hospitals, wards, centers

– Teen mystery book – schools, libraries

*For ideas, check out your local paper under UPCOMING EVENTS*.

ALWAYS have your books handy to sell before and after your discussion. Set up a display table in the back – show pictures of your Author’s Journey. Fan-out your business cards. Stack in many piles, dozens of your books. Pen in hand, be ready to add a favorite encouraging message and personally autograph the next customer’s purchased book. Be prepared to talk—make suggestions as to ‘the targeting audience’—really pitch your book (short ‘elevator’ pitch). Smile and greet…relax. KISS (Keep It Simple Silly).

As you do more speaking (like writing) you’ll become more comfortable. As my mother use to say, “The more you do it, the easier it will become and the better you’ll be”.

Discussing your passion to listeners CAN EARN YOU MONEY, PROMOTE YOURSELF, AND SELL YOUR BOOKS!

· Expect nothing. Volunteer, volunteer, and volunteer your services.

· Speak to entertain, NOT to sell.

After time and experience more doors may open—opportunities to earn money while speaking PLUS selling lots of books. Can you imagine answering the phone from those administrators of organizations and corporations, calling, asking YOU to be as their next Key Speaker? Can you imagine fans coming to your display table wanting to order more and more books for each of their employees, customers, or board members?

YOU can *conquer all obstacles* – make money promoting books – by taking one step at a time, and gaining confidence, knowing…YOU CAN DO IT!

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