Speaking About Writing…


I’m delighted to announce that The Beau Monde, the Regency chapter of the Romance Writers of America has asked me to be their keynote speaker at this year’s conference in July. This is not just a lovely honor–it feels to me like a continuity of writers. It’s been 25 years since The Beau Monde was started–that’s a generation. And my how the world has changed, particularly for writers. I think that’s actually one of the attractions to Regency England–it’s a world that is safely in the past, with all the changes done and over with, and a much easier world to navigate in many ways. (Of course, you still have wars, and you have a lack of penicillin, other bad medical care, and not much in the way of rights for women or anyone else other than a rich, white male, oh, and let’s not forget the desperately poor along with some other problems–but let’s not dwell on the negative.)

One of the advantages of writing about the good stuff in the Regency is that it is possible to provide an escape back to a world that’s a little less complicated, a whole lot slower, and a lot of style. But I’m jumping  ahead of myself–it’s off to New York (not my favorite place it the world, but I am looking forward to a cross-country drive to see a bit more of the US) for The Beau Monde conference.

In the meantime, I have a Regency romance novella to finish up!

Giving Critiques

sleepyrideIt’s sometimes as hard to give another writer the truth about the work as it is to take it. Let’s face it, we all love our own babies. Even if they are ugly squalling brats, we want to see the good side. The trouble is, if you don’t go looking for the faults you can’t fix ’em. Or to mix up the metaphor–if someone’s on a mule but asks you what do you think of their horse, it’s time to tell them that’s a fine mule but he’s never going to grow up into a horse. The truth has to come out then.

But I still struggle with it.

On one hand, I want to encourage other writers–it’s great to just be getting the words on the paper and who knows what kind of cool story could result. You may love taht mule you have! On the other, I can’t really encourage someone to head on down a rocky path without at least a warning–if someone really, really wants a horse, they should find out the differences between the two animals.

The warnings I give usually goes along the lines of you can do whatever you want, however…

It’s that ‘however’ that’s the kicker. The most common issue is that the story is going to disappoint readers or leave them utterly cold. I write for readers–I want folks to have fun with my stories. Yes, I’m the first reader I need to please, but I also figure if someone’s giving my work a few hours from their life, I owe them a good story. That means likeable characters, an entertaining tale well told, and a satisfying ending. I also figure other writers feel the same, but maybe they don’t. I do not think story telling is about me being really clever–it’s about me being true to my characters. I figure that’s enough to juggle without taking on major technical challenges, or trying to tackle epic themes with major point of view changes and a vast array of characters. I’ll leave that to the more ambitious and the more talented. But don’t all try to bite off too much at some point?

I’ve got several manuscripts locked away and a few more started and abandoned–stuff that I followed down that path to heartache because I was starting out and struggling and no one warned me. I thought I was riding horses every time, but turned out some of them were even donkeys. But I have to ask–would I have kept at it if someone had shot those ideas down? I think I would have–particularly if someone pointed out an easier or better way to get to a good story. Or had taught me how to look for the flaws. But I know we all have different levels of tolerance. What one person views as a challenge, another takes as a slapdown. We all have different skin thicknesses. But, ultimately, we also all have to find our own paths–a teacher can only point out different paths.

Which leaves me having to trust that truth is truth. Yes, it may be my truth–but you really have to be honest about the work. If I’m seeing a mule, and someone asks, I have to point out that’s a mule. If something is great, it’s time to give a thumbs up. But if that baby–or that mule–is going to give someone a world of misery, you have to point out the problems and hope to heck the writer has a thick enough hide to take the input and make something even more amazing.

After all, if you start telling lies to others, soon you may start telling them to yourself, too. And no writer can afford to do that.

Shutting the World Off

SunriseEvery now and then it all becomes too much–too much information, entertainment, and way too many to-dos. That’s the time to shut off the brain. My mum used to call it ‘brain in a wheelchair day’–you can still do stuff, but the idea is to stop thinking so much. In other words, turn off the news, set aside the bills and all the analytical stuff, go for a walk, weed the garden, but do stuff that doesn’t require the brain.

Washing dishes will work. Showers are great, or long soaks in a bath tub. You can also put on a movie you’ve seen before (nothing too demanding)–but make sure it’s nothing new. Keep the media to a minimum.

Darn socks, mend rips in table clothes, or just putter around dusting (again, it can’t be too demanding a project).

Go out and watch the sky, or stay in and watch rain drops, or play with a string and a kitten. Do mindless things.

For twenty-four hours, don’t read, don’t write, don’t pick up the phone to text someone. In fact, turn off the ringer if you can. If you have to go to work, just smile, nod and agree with everything–put all the thinking off for twenty-four hours.

It’s amazingly refreshing to have one of these ‘brain-dead’ days where you just let yourself (and the world coast). Trust me, if anything major happens, you’ll hear about it. If someone really needs to get hold of you, it’ll happen. But it’s amazing just how much can be put aside for a day.

Egg-Cerpt Exchange – Tina Gayle’s Book

The Executive Wives’ Club SeriesFour women…One fatal car wreck…Everyone’s lifes changes…

Blurb for “The Unwilling Widow”:Jennifer Larson, having lost her husband, friends and the perfect life she’d had plan, now faces the biggest challenge of her life, moving into an unplanned future. While the rest of the Executive Wife Club is still wallowing in the past, Jen is tempted into the future by a sexy chiropractor, Hagan Chaney.But does he really love her or is he only after her money like everyone else?Excerpt:Friday night sitting at a booth in a nice, romantic restaurant, Jen silently wished she could enjoy the subdued atmosphere, and order a rib eye steak. Instead, her hands shook and her stomach churned with doubt. The survival skills, she’d learned after becoming a real estate agent demanded a calm composed front, but she couldn’t pull it off.

Hell, who was she fooling?

After ten years without a date, what made her believe she could do this again? She stared at the menu. Could she even swallow a bite of beef? And if not, what should she order?

She lifted her gaze to the drop-dead gorgeous man on the other side of the table. Hagan Cheney, a Greek god incarnated, had strawberry blonde hair glowing like gold around his head. Wide shoulders and strong arms encased in a hunter-green cashmere sweater. Apollo, himself, wouldn’t look any better.

Why in heavens name did he ask her on a date?

And why did she care?

She had no plans other than a casual dinner for two.

He glanced up and a pretty-boy grin crossed his lips. The twinkle in his hazel eyes softened the square line of his jaw. “So have you decided what you want?”

Heat simmered low in her belly. Oh, yeah, answering that question the wrong way could get her into a world of trouble.
Find out more on

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The Balancing Act

Adobe Walls Going UpWe’re building a house–it’s a passive solar adobe straw bale hybrid, meaning we’re inventing some things as we go and learning a lot. And we’re working damn hard. As in laying actual adobe bricks. Which also means my life’s out of balance. Again. This happens with obsessive-compulsive types, but I can’t moan too much about being that type since it also helps with the writing. But…a little more balance is needed. As in I need to carve out my writing time again.

I was doing great with this. Up an hour or so early. Get my coffee, sit down and write. Even a few pages is great, and I could often do five or ten before the day got cooking. Then it got cold. And dark. A warm bed is now too much of an invitation to lounge. It’s not going to get warm again for more than a few months–meaning I need to adjust my schedule, or I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get out of bed. Since the latter is not too likely, I’m going to try other things. Such as making sure I have my priorities sorted out. And pulling out the pages to mess with them every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes here and there.

It’s all part of the balancing act–one I have to go through every few months (or sometimes every few weeks). Get enough sleep, enough food, enough solitude–too much company and my brain gets too busy.  A little bit of “bored” time is a good thing. So is a little bit of daydreaming time. But there always seems to be other things making demands on my time. Which is when I have to remember what’s important. And, yes, house done before winter would be a very, very good thing — warm place to write…mmmmmm. But I’ve got a book that’s begging to be finished. For a writer, you’ve got to write.

Twelve Steps to a Digital Format

There’s lots of information out there about eBook format. But in converting my print books, I’ve streamlined this to a simple twelve steps. You can get fancier if you know what you’re doing. My choice is go to for a clean format. So, here’s the twelve easy steps.

Twelve Steps to a Digital Format

STEP 1 – Put your book into a single file in Microsoft Word. I had my chapters split into multiple files, so the first step was a lot of cut and paste. I did have electronic versions of my work, but not the same ones as in print. This meant either scanning the books or manually inputting my edits. I went with the latter and made this part of my editing process.

Other ways you can do this might include a search the Internet to see if someone’s done the work for you and you can grab an electronic version (yes, those pirate sites have a use). You can invest in a scanner and OCR software that converts the scanned image into text—the cost will be about $300 – $400 for a full setup. Or you can pay for a print book to electronic conversion: about two to three dollars a page to get all the work done for you. If you’re still going it on your own….

STEP 2 – With your book file open, use the SELECT function. Select ALL and set the font to Ariel or Times Roman. Electronic readers like consistency and these are about the most Web-safe fonts around. I use Times Roman for the bulk of the book, but I put the title and front copy into Ariel.

STEP 3 – Set the font to 12 or 14 point, no smaller and no larger.  I like to set the title and chapter headings to 14 point and use 12 point for everything else.

STEP 4 – Remove all TAB marks. To do this, use the REPLACE function, select MORE and SPECIAL CHARACTERS. Put the tab mark in the field to “find” and nothing in the replace area and that will remove them all.

STEP 5 – Use the REPLACE function to search and replace all double spaces with single spaces (do this a couple of times to catch all of them).

STEP 6 – Set your paragraph indents with the PARAGRAPH function. Set INDENTATION to SPECIAL, FIRST LINE, with LEFT set to .2″ or .3″ (you can go up to .5″ but I think the smaller option looks better in the electronic readers).

STEP 7 – Use the PARAGRAPH function to set spacing to single space.

STEP 8 – Remove all headers and footers—deleted them.

SEPT 9 – Remove any page breaks between chapters.

STEP 10 – Center your chapter headings and number chapters as in “Chapter One” – that’ll help to automatically generate a table of contents. Put only a single blank line space between chapter headings and the text – that’s both before and after.

STEP 11 – For breaks within a chapter, use a simple mark such as the asterisk (*) which electronic readers can handle.  Center this and put a single blank line space before and after.

STEP 12 – Put dedications and reviews up front since this is free preview content.

Your format should look something like this (without the blue text which is just here to make the book text stand out)…

Opening Page:


Shannon Donnelly

For Marsha —
may you always find the courage to choose happiness

Bookseller’s Best Finalist, Golden Quill Finalist, Orange Rose Finalist

“With its excellent characterization, polished prose, and humor, Donnelly’s latest Regency is a supremely satisfying, deftly plotted delight.” – Booklist, American Library Association, John Charles

“…delightfully offbeat romp with an engaging set of young lovers and a good cast of supporting players…highly enjoyable” — Romantic Times Top Pick – 4½ Stars

“I highly recommend A PROPER MISTRESS, and can’t wait for Ms. Donnelly’s next book….” — Five Roses – Escape To Romance, Marlene Breakfield



“Beauty ain’t required, but she’s got to catch the eye,” Theodore Winslow said, striding across the small salon, one hand fisted behind his back and the other gesturing in the air. “I mean, I’m supposed to be smitten. But she can’t be at all acceptable—only she can’t be too coarse, either,


A chapter break will look similar to this:

“Why, you’re hardly more than a boy yourself! Why ever do you want to go hiring a woman from this house to act as your bride?”


At the sight of a short, curvaceous redhead being thrust into the room, Theo started to smile. But those tempting, full lips parted and her words cut into him like a butcher’s knife. Hardly more than a boy!

And a scene break will look something like this:

“Well, you want to make sure you ain’t a trout with your mouth gapping open to be hooked by this flash gent, or any other. Remember that, or you’ll be agreeing to more than you think you will now. And just you remember, too, every woman may have her price, but every man has his limits. Most of ’em start with his purse. Now, let’s see how those dresses look. You’re going to have to be dazzlin’, ’cause it’s going to take us longer than a quarter hour to turn you out in style.”


By the time Sallie finished, Molly no longer recognized herself. Nell and Harriet, seeing the door open to Jane’s forsaken room, had poked their heads in—eyes sleepy and hair tumbled and still in their night wrappers. Sallie’s house kept late hours and late mornings. Sallie bustled them out, saying to Molly afterwards, “Never does to stir up jealousy, and you don’t want them thinking you’re stealing their trade.”


If you know what you’re doing, you can get fancier about the formatting. Or if you pay someone to do this for you, they can do the fancy stuff.

While this may sound like a lot of work, I found it to be not all that difficult, it just takes some time. I’m averaging two to three weeks to get a book formatted and that’s working only weekends and evenings and doing all the edits. It’s going faster the more I do this (I’m getting a process down). Basically, this requires patience and persistence, something every writer needs in buckets.

Save your file as both a standard word .DOC or .DOCX.  Also save the file as a PDF version (this will allow you to give away free PDF copies to readers, and you’ll need this format, too, if you set up an ISBN).

NOTE: Smashwords also requires specific text at the front of your book about being published at Smashwords, so you want to set up a separate file with this info:

Published by Shannon Donnelly at

Copyright 2010 Shannon Donnelly

Discover other works by Shannon Donnelly at


That’s it. Twelve steps. The part that really takes the work is getting the writing done in the first place.

Just Beachy

Guest blogging over at

The sand is as dazzling white as promised, the ocean as blue, and while there is much discussion of futures and publishing and brave new digital worlds, the refrain I hear echoed time and again is, “Write a good book.”  That is the one unchanging mantra from both traditional publishers and ‘digital first’ (a new buzz word and way more sexy than e-published, which is a mouthful, but does that imply ‘print last’?). 

Write a good book.  Easy words.  Hard task.

Which, of course, is why all of us are sitting here, trying to figure out how good is good?  And what do you do next these days?  The paths are many to get a good book out there and into a reader’s hands.

Print’s still around, of course, and going to be here for a bit, and it still has more allure, despite the cool new moniker of ‘digital first’ (and I do like the name ‘the Big Six’ for the NY publishing house, but the concensus is that that number’s going to be all over the map very soon).  Anyway, print is still a way to go if you don’t want to fuss with your own covers and you do have an idea that could kick into high gear with the right marketing machine.  And it’s got that lottery ticket allure that maybe you’ll hit the best seller list.

Then we have the ‘digital first’ publishers, our modern small publishers, who still have good things to offer, and Kindle is kicking these folks into high gear and Nook looks to do more, and this will be the Christmas for e-readers.

Beyond that is the world of self-publishing, which has good points (as in pocketing the money direct), but it also has its hard work — editing and covers and cover copy are all now in the author’s hands, a double-edged sword if ever, since it’s all your fault, too, if done badly.  But there are possibilities, and the stigma, while still there, is probably going to go away as more really good books actually come out of this area.

Which brings us back to the mantra–“Write a good book.”

Self-pub, digital first, print–they all demand the same thing.  A strong story, compelling characters, writing with a certain flow and flair.  You need a story worth telling, a tale that captures the imagination, something, as Kurt Vonnegut once put it, that doesn’t waste the reader’s time.  Oh, and a fair price point doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s comforting that some things never change–like the desire to have a good story.  And it reminds me what’s really important–which is to get the words on the page, and to keep working on improving my skills at doing so.  Conferences are always fun, but not as much fun as getting the words right on the page.


There’s a reason disaster movies are so popular–it’s just damn fun to watch stuff blow up and or fall to pieces.  Entropy is fascinating.  But it’s highly distracting if what you’re trying to do is create something (and, yes, that takes making a mess to start, but then it means you have to make the mess take some kind of shape).  So the latest distraction is the buzz on the Internet over the future of publishing, and the looming disaster of publishers wanting a slice of self-publishing by offering deals for authors to pay to publish while the authors still share their profits with the publisher.

Now, don’t get me wrong–this is not anti self-pub, or traditional pub, or even a bitch session on vanity press.  Any choice is up to the creator of the work, and one has to hope the creator is able to make an informed choice.  And if not, well, no one said this world is fair, and frankly global warming is a helluva bigger issue.  I do think it’s nice that if the author takes the risk, the author gets the reward.  Just as big bad publishers who take on the risk, and the distribution, well, they’re not in this for world peace.  And vanity press–hey, they serve a need, too.  I can see why publishers are looking to experiment–not a bad thing in a world that changes faster than anyone can track.  Bottom line, too, I’m not sure this is a model that works. As in, in this economy, it’s a business that expects folks to shell out money?  Hello–has anyone looked at current wages, or the shrinking middle class in this country?  Publishers don’t even have money for risk, so why the hell would an individual?

Which leaves this a distraction that’s not quite as visually cool as 2012.  And here’s why I say distraction.

A lot of folks look at books, and think media, which means a connection to music.  Nice logial connection, and they are the same in the digial sense in that canned peas are like canned pears.  Which are nothing alike.  A digial container does not make the stuff inside the bytes the same.  So…movies, music, books.  All may be digital, but we’ve got canned pears, peas, and sausage here.  They’re consumed in different fashions, for different reasons.  And I can only look at how I consume such things.

I buy music online.  I love that I can buy the songs I love, not the whole record or CD.  And I use lots of services to find songs I like, including the referrals of friends (iTunes is my friend).  I buy songs and do not pirate because I don’t want to a virus, and karma will bite your ass eventually.  I read online, but prefer books–my hardback purchases are actually up, and I love trade paper.  I can’t afford as many books as I once bought, but I do buy.  And online is a great way to sample before I get the book.  And for movies–totally different consumption methods and patterns there, too.  A lot of it is digital, but I want big movies, and my new laptop is smaller (and lighter) than my old.

In all of this, as a buyer, I do not care who published the stuff.  Imprint on the spine–could not care less.  Not for any of it.  Now maybe I’m different, but I’m looking for an author’s name, or a musician’s, or an actor’s.  Big level of caring there.  And the issue for me is how to find stuff I like–the stuff from those particular people.  So I browse.  I read reviews. I follow word of mouth recommendations.  And I don’t really care if a book is self-published, or whatever published.  But I do care if I can find it on an online bookstore, with good reviews and recommendations, or find it in a local bookstore where I can browse it. And I damn well want to own it and not have it deleted (or erased when my hard drive crashes–and that’s happened).

Which leads me back to distraction.  Because I don’t care if an author paid to publish a book, or if a publisher paid the author.    I’m also not going to plough through a TON of work that’s posted online to get to the good stuff.  I’m going to keep relying on others (reviews, and bookstores both online and in malls) to find the stuff I like.  And I’m going to follow authors whose work I like. Period.  And, as an author, well, if the world changes, not a lot I can do.  But I can keep buying the books I like.  Voting with dollars does help (yeah, I buy organic, too, and do my Carbon Net contributions–doing what you can do is not a distraction, but a creative step to make the world that you want).

So, end of western lit as we know it?  Don’t think so.  Will it be harder to find more good stuff out there if the canned section becomes the entire store?  Sure will.  Is it going to become harder for a writer to become published–darling, that’s been going on since the baby boomer got computers.  But I expect I’ll still find the stuff I like based on an author who has done great, amazing work. Based on friends who point me to that great, amazing work.  And at the end of the day I’m not going to care how the stuff is published, as long as it is.

And if the world does end in 2012, or with the changing of the publishing world to some new deal, well, I think we have enough time in there yet to sit down and write a few good stories.  Or in the words of a programmer friend of mine, cut the crap and hand me the keyboard.

Form or Content?

Interesting article by Paul Graham on “Post-Medium Publishing, and it comes with the idea that we pay for form, not content.

This actually brings up the idea of buying first editions, or special edition books.  And how books were once purchased separate from the binding — you’d then have your books bound as you wished, paying for more expensive leather covering if you could afford such a thing.  It could be that we’re moving back to that.

I’ve often thought that authors now need to offer various editions.  The free download, the printed paperback, the signed special edition, the complete collectable version which includes audio, and then of course the edition for a few thousand dollars which includes dinner out with the author.  This could be a much better way for authors to actually make money and still deal with the world of downloads and free.  And, frankly, there are books that I’ve read where afterwards I almost wish I had a more special edition — I loved them that much.

And perhaps we’ll get back to more speaking tours–Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, they made their money more from their tours, and not so much from the printed page.  But, of course, the tours will be virtual ones, held online at the computer, streaming video and mixing in questions.

And, of course, this means a stronger after-market for an author’s work. Collectables will go up in value.  Or perhaps an author can actually regulate that by releasing more forms of the work–a newer edition, the illustrated edition, or even revised editions with additional scenes (heck, TV shows and movies do that, so why shouldn’t books?).

But writers are generally more interested in the content.  And I suspect readers are as well (I am–it’s why I’ll read cereal boxes…I want the story, and the form takes second place).

On the other hand, there are forms that make the story more accessible.  Form does matter.  Now the question is — just what forms am I willing to pay for?

Buying and Selling Words

The Green Apple Core (bookish tidbits as noted in the blog subhead from the folks at Green Apple Bookstore) has a somewhat amusing vid on the buying and selling of used books as compared with digital books. As in, with a physical book, you have something with inherent resale value–I’ve got a few at home that are worth a bit. They’ve a point I hadn’t thought about–mostly, I suspect because while I’ll go hunting for some out of print books, I don’t do a lot of used book selling or buying. But it got me thinking about is it better or worse for an author to have that second, after market sale?

Used bookstores can help an author reach readers who might come across those said out of print books–and hopefully the readers then go looking for newer, in print books. But there’s also the school of thought that says used books eat into an author’s income, as in, that’s a sale stolen away. Either argument also applies to libraries who loan books.

Now, I’m not really sure that used book stores (or libraries) really hurt an author all that much. I’m a library user (not as much as I used to be, but still trained that way as a reader). And I’m a book store junkie. I do pass around authors I like–and I’ll try out new authors from the library, and if I like, I go shopping for my own copy. I like having books around. It would be harder to keep these habits if/when books go digital (much harder to pass around a copy, and digital can make things very hard to find, and very easy to lose). Would the loss of a second/used market work to an author’s advantage?

As in you have to buy a copy? And what about sharing your copy then? When I think of how often I do share, pass along a book (usually with a stern warning that it must be returned), then digital seems to have a big disadvantage — unless you’re talking open source and not DRM. And maybe that’s the key.

Books need to be free to move around as they will. Words often need the same thing.