Four things I Learned from a Writing Retreat

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first writing retreat. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is exactly, it’s a chance to get away with other writers for a short period of time and simply write without the concerns of home and job.

But it’s more than that. During my week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned so much, it was almost like a mini writing conference! Here are four things I learned from my retreat:

  • 1 – Be Prepared

One of the great things about a writing retreat is actually getting to write! No dirty clothes calling to you from the laundry room, no boss peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. You just get to write!

But if you don’t know what you’re going to work on, you can waste valuable time. Before each of us left home, we’d each made our goals for the week and set our writing schedule. Some of us planned to get down as many words as possible, some did edits while still others needed to brainstorm scenes. The great thing about planning is we could lay out our goals to each other. For a week, we had live-in accountability partners to cheer and encourage when needed!

Being prepared also means bring those things that make your writing day easier. Need your office chair to be comfortable? Throw it in the back of your SUV! Can’t write without your favorite coffee cup? Pack it in your suitcase! This week is about getting down words, and if you need your Keurig to do that, then do it!

  • 2 – Be Ready to Learn

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the world’s most unorganized writer. It’s not unusual to find little piles of books, articles and notebooks laying around our family room on end tables or the floor. The worst part is digging through material takes away from the time I could be blogging or marketing my books.

When I noticed that one of my housemates had a whiz-bang way of organizing her materials, I asked if she could show me more. For the next hour, she walked me through her system, even sending me templates to use that would make my writing go faster. Just a week later, I can tell a huge difference!

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. Because we had such a wide variety of experience in our group, we shared about writing programs (I’m finally sold on Scrivener! And OneNote—WOW!) and marketing tools that work over dinner or during a break in writing. And because we were together for a week, we could get together one-on-one and talk about what works and doesn’t work, be it in our stories or our writing world, then brainstorm ideas to fix the problem.

  • 3- Be Aware of Other’s Writing Styles

We had two distant groups in our house—the early morning crowd and those who wrote late into the night. The early morning group was generally up by seven and at their computers by eight. It wasn’t unusual that these guys were half-way through their word count by the time the night owls came out of their rooms.

Same thing goes for the night crew. There were many nights I’d peek out of my room to find one of the girls working out in the living room. These differences are reminders of how uniquely and wonderfully made we are. Be respectful of these differences and remember—just because someone goes to bed at nine doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means they’ve got to be up at seven to go to work!

  • 4 – Be Open-minded to New Ideas

One of the things I loved about the retreat was the location itself. The Outer Banks plays a part in the next book I’m writing so I had the chance to visit various areas where scenes might take place. But the more I learned about its rich history(did you know there’s a British cemetery there?)the more I found myself brainstorming ideas for other books that could be set there.

So get out and explore for a little while each day. Visit the nearby towns and villages. Talk to the locals. Tell them you’re a writer. You’ll be surprised what you might learn or who might be interested in helping you. I met a lovely lady who owned a small independent bookstore in a village not far from where we stayed who offered to host a book signing for me. A local historian gave me a list of names of people who might be helpful with the research on my next book. Put yourself out there. If you don’t feel comfortable going on your own, see if one of your housemates will go with you. Just think of all the brainstorming you can do in the car on your way!

By the end of the week, everyone had signed up for next year’s retreat. We’d worked, made friends, even been silly at times(ask me about the Russian in the Sound.)I’d barely pulled out of the driveway before I was looking forward to next October!


Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

Four Mistakes New Writers Make

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

Recently, a group of writers sat around a kitchen, talking about all the mistakes they’d made in their journey to publication over the years. Some were outdated—one author had an agent track her down when she forgot to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope, but others were a common thread though most of our writing careers.

Here are the four most common mistakes writers make:

1 – Writing the same book over and over.

When I started writing my first book, I loved the idea so much, I was certain publishers would be lining up for the opportunity to buy it. Only that didn’t happen. Instead of putting that manuscript in a desk drawer and moving on, I reworked it into a romantic suspense which didn’t fare much better. I tinkered with it, changing a POV, adding a plot thread, sure that my next finished version would be THE ONE.

Only, it wasn’t.

I wasted eight frustrating years on that book(though in all honesty, I learned quite a bit about writing from the experience.) Know when it’s time to move to the next project.

2 – Finish the book.

I heard another author say that one percent of people think they’ve got a book in them; out of that number, one percent will start it; out of that number, one percent will finish; out of that number, one percent will send it to a publisher; and out of that number, one percent will actually be published. Those are staggering odds, but they don’t matter much if you don’t finish the book. During our round table talk, most of us confessed to having unfinished books saved to our computers; some had more than five; a couple of people had over ten! No one can expect to get published without a completed manuscript. There’s a line in the movie, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves that says it all—“Finish what you started, brother!”

3 – Watch what you say online.

All of us has seen it, that one person who gets on Facebook and makes a complete idiot out of themselves, spouting off about any number of subjects. Or maybe you’re on a writing email group when someone decides to vent about an agent or editor they just received a rejection from. And you’re like Wow!

First and foremost, remember that any social media you use publicly influences readers in positive/negative ways, and should be guarded with your life. It isn’t about you—it’s about your potential reader. They don’t want to read about your political or religious leanings—they want to know about your books.

Do not under any circumstances disparage an editor or agent online. The publishing world is small enough as it is—don’t make yours smaller by venting your frustrations over a rejection.

4 – Take any correspondence from an agent/editor seriously, but remember—they’re people too.

Years ago, I sent my worked-over manuscript(see point #1) off to a large publisher who had requested it at a conference. I waited the usual eight weeks, expecting another rejection letter but quietly hoped for the best. When their answer finally arrived, I glanced over the three-page letter but didn’t understand the full gravity of the letter until years later.

You see, it wasn’t a rejection letter but an editorial letter with suggestions on how to make my story stronger! In other words, I’d filed away my opportunity to be published! Over the years, I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who’s done this. Editors/agents don’t waste time writing a personal letter about how to improve your work if they’re not interested in it!

On the flipside of this, remember that editors and agents are people too. They have bad days like the rest of us. One writer shared with me that the agent she met with at her first conference told her to stick with her day job. Now, she’s a multi-published, award-winning author with a major publishing house.

What an editor doesn’t like now may be just what she needs in six months. Take what you can use from their comments and forget the rest. That’s the earmark of a seasoned writer.


Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Paid Ad

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

Whether traditional or self-published, every author is looking for the best way to market his/her book. Specifically, how do we attract new readers? One way that has grown in popularity are websites like Bookbub, E-Reader Café and My Book Cave who send out email blast with information on sale books.

Here’s how it works: When a reader registers on one of these sites, they are sent to a page with a list of genres they like to read. This is no short list—every genre you can think of is listed, all the way down to sub-genres. The reader is given anywhere from one to five choices that they can follow. Then every day like clockwork, a selection of books on sale from their chosen genre is emailed to the reader with links to the sale sites.
Continue reading “3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Paid Ad”

How to Grow Your Email List with Ryan Zee

by Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

One of my goals for 2017 has been to develop a quality newsletter that I could release each quarter. A nice goal, but with only 32 names on my list–I’ve got to remember to put out those sign-up sheets–it almost seemed like a waste of time.

Enter Ryan Zee.

For those unfamiliar with this marketing website, Ryan Zee works with authors to grow their social media presence through 1) building email lists for author newsletters and 2) growing your following on Amazon and Bookbub. For our purpose today, we’re only going to focus on email lists.

Here’s how it works: each week, Ryan Zee opens, a new genre focused contest. One week, it could be historical romance; the next small-town romance. The genres vary widely from erotic to Christian fiction so finding a contest with your genre is relatively easy. Sometimes, they even break them down according to publishers like the one they ran for Harlequin authors last December. Each contest generally has ten to twenty-five authors participating.

Once you chose the contest you’d like to participate in, you submit your book and pay a small fee—usually around $50. You will also be asked to give 2 copies of your novel or novella, e-book or hard copy to the winners of the drawing. When your application is accepted, the site provides you with a custom-made graphic to post on your Facebook and web page as well as a contest landing page made specifically for your contest. There are also tips on how to increase your social media presence as well as updates on the contest progression.

Once the contest is over, you’re receive the names of the two winners. In every contest, the first-place winner receives an e-reader as well as a copy of every book advertised while the second-place winner receives books.

A week to ten days after the contest is completed, you’ll receive a file with readers’ email addys. To clarify, the reader has a choice as to which author newsletter they will receive. In other words, if there are 2400 readers who enter the contest and you receive 900 of those email addys, it is because those readers chose your mailing list. They’re interested in your work.

So what kind of results did I have using Ryan Zee? My email list grew from an anemic 32 to well over 900 after my first contest. I added another 700 with the Harlequin contest previously mentioned. While the site offers a 50% open rate, I saw an open rate of 60.5% as compared to the industry standard of 14.9%. The click-through rate was steady at 6.9(industry standard—1.5) A little over a hundred unsubscribed after the second newsletter. From this list, I organized a street team of 15 dedicated readers.

The only downside I found in using Ryan Zee is availability. Slots fill up quickly so it’s best to check the website each week for updates on future contest. Another way to work around this is to organize with other author who are looking to expand their email list. Ryan Zee will set up a contest for your group.

TWEETABLES
 How to Grow Your Email List with Ryan Zee by Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)

Ryan Zee works with authors to grow their social media presence~ Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)

My email list grew from an anemic 32 to over 900 after my first contest.~ Patty Smith Hall (Click to Tweet)

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Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.