JPC Allen

Welcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this website is to offer writing tips, prompts, and inspiration to writers, no matter what their genre or skill level. You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing prompts to fan your creative flame.

Thursdays – Writing tips based on a monthly theme

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Featured post

Authors, What Surprised You the Most About Publishing?

Publishing is a whole different world from writing, a world I find fascinating. And sometimes frustrating, if we start talking about marketing. Authors, what surprised you the most about publishing?

What surprised met the most was how much I enjoyed working on the cover design for my mystery, A Shadow on the Snow. First, it’s a privilege for an author to have input on the cover. At big publishing houses, authors have no say in what cover goes on their book. Mt.Zion Ridge Press is a small publishing house and wants authors to give their opinions.

I loved working with Tamera Lynn Kraft on the cover. I filled out a detailed questionnaire on what I thought the cover should look like. Then Tamera sent me pictures, and we seesawed with emails, exchanging ideas until we created the cover below. The challenge of designing a cover that accurately reflected my novel was so interesting. I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

A Shadow on the Snow

So I’d love to hear from authors what you surprised you the most about publishing.

Second Key to Publishing

Last week, I wrote about what I see as the first key to publishing, researching the industry. This week, I’m discussing the second key to publishing, networking. I don’t really like the tern “networking”. Although it refers to professional relationships, it still sounds cold and a bit predatory. So when networking, not only should we get to know people who can help us in our publishing journey, we should look for people we can help as well. Networking should be a two way street.

Getting to Know People

I would have published nothing if I hadn’t crept out of my introverted shell and began talking to people in the publishing industry. My first step was to join the Ohio chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. Writers with different sorts of successes were in the group and welcomed me as a rookie. Two years after I joined the chapter, two authors, Tamera Lynn Kraft and Michelle L. Levigne, proposed our chapter publish a collection of Christian fiction short stories set in Ohio. I jumped at the chance.

Tamera and Michelle decided the anthology would be the first book published by their new press, Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Because I worked hard to write a decent story and acted professional as I met deadlines and helped to promote the anthology, I established some credibility with them. When they asked for submissions for a Christmas anthology, I wrote “A Rose from the Ashes”. Tamera and Michelle like that so much that they wanted to see what I wrote next, which led to A Shadow on the Snow.

All of these stories saw the light of print because I got to know writers in my writing group.

Helping People You Know

As I’ve blogged and attended writing conferences, I’ve met writers I can help. When author Philip Rivera, who writes funny family stories, asked for critiques, I was able to give him my opinion. When YA author M. Liz Boyle asked for information on doing audiobooks as an independent author, I asked Michelle Levigne, who provided detailed advice. Author Therese Van Meter and I phone each other regularly to offer encouragement on our writing journeys.

I feel better if I can help someone, especially if I can offer help that I wished I’d had when I first looked into writing and publishing.

What’s your opinion on the best way to network?

What Writing Conferences Do You Recommend?

Although writing conferences can be expensive, you can’t beat them for education in the craft of writing and access to agents and editors. What writing conferences do you recommend?

In-Person Conferences

If you write Christian fiction, I recommend American Christian Fiction Writers national conference. I’ve attended 3 times and learned a lot both about writing and marketing. I also signed up for 15 minute appointments with agents and editors to pitch my novel. Those appointments make the price of the conference worth it because agents and editors take a writer, who has invest time and money in a conference more seriously, than someone who just sends a query letter.

If you write Christian fiction or nonfiction, try the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I’ve attended once, in 2020. Then the conference was much smaller, which I liked. So I don’t know if a fully attended conference would feel overwhelming. Again, they had great sessions and opportunities to talk to industry professionals and successful authors one on one.

If you write anything in the mystery genre, check out Killer Nashville International Writers Conference. I attended in 2019. I liked the smaller conference and the sessions are what any mystery writer would love. There were sessions on writing, marketing, and with law enforcement professionals talking about what they do.

Online Conference

The biggest problem with conferences is the cost. But if you want to stay at home and save money, you should try the conference hosted by Mt. Zion Ridge Press. They offer sessions for both fiction and nonfiction Christian writers. The appointments with editors are not only for Mt. Zion Ridge Press but other small Christian presses. I’ve attended and taught at the conference and enjoyed being on both a teacher and student.

Now it’s your turn. What writing conferences do you recommend?

First Key to Publishing

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be highlighting what I think are the three keys to getting a book published. The first key to publishing is research. I’d like to tell you that there’s a book or website with directions or blueprints on how your book can become traditionally published. But no such resource exists. Understanding publishing comes down to research. But how?

Publishers Weekly and other Book Review Journals

Publishers Weekly is the bible for the publishing industry. It has articles about what’s going on in the industry as well as book reviews. Reading book reviews for the genre you write is critical to learning how your manuscript fits into today’s market. After you’ve read them for awhile, you’ll know who are the bestsellers in your genre and be able to spot trends. I always pick up Book Page, a free book review magazine with author interviews, at my library, and I read book reviews in my local paper. I’m also a member of Goodreads, and when they send out their monthly email, listing new books, I look at mysteries and YA books.

Once you begin reading review journals, you start to see what genres different publishing houses specialize in. You can visit their sites to learn what their rules are for submitting manuscripts. All big houses require you to have an agent, who will submit the manuscript for you. Smaller houses may not have that requirement. That’s when you dig in and research.

Books Published in the Last 5 Years

Check out the acknowledgment section in books published within the last five years that are similar to your manuscript. Often in the acknowledgements, the author will thank his or her agent and editor and mention their agency and publishing house. Go to the sites for those businesses and see what the submission rules are. More well-established agents may not be taking on new clients. But younger agents in a respected agency are eager for new authors, and you may be able to approach them.

Writing Conferences

Writing conferences are a wonderful way to meet other writers and provide access to agents and editors that you might not otherwise have. But not all conferences are created equal. You should ask yourself these questions as you research a writing conference:

  • How long has it been around?
  • Is it national or local?
  • Who are the faculty? Are they well-known writers, respected editors, and seasoned agents?
  • Who sponsors the conference? A national organization? A publishing house? A couple of friends?

Writing Groups

Writing groups are another great way to meet writers in a mutually beneficial exchange of support, expertise, and advice. But again, not all writing groups are created equal. When I first started writing, I joined several groups in which the members each read a portion of their work in progress at each meeting. Some people would comment, but really, the groups existed just to let the members show off.

When I joined the Ohio chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, a national organization that had 15 years of history, I met writers of various skill levels and publishing success. They took writing seriously and offered serious advice on how I could advance in my writing and marketing.

Why All the Research?

First, you only have so much time. It’s better to spend it in research than going to worthless conferences and writing groups until you happen to hit on a good one.

Second, there are way, way, WAY too many people just waiting to take your money and give you little or nothing in return. If a publishing house requires any money from an author to publish her book, that publishing house is not a traditional publisher. It’s either a vanity press, which will publish anything as long as you pay them, or a hybrid publisher, which charge authors for certain services. But some hybrid publishers are vanity publishers with a new name. Again, research is key.

I don’t mind repeating the most important point: If you want to be traditionally published, then you don’t pay any publishing house a dime. They don’t get paid until you sell books.

Authors, what do you think are a key to publishing?

Authors, What’s Your Best Publishing Advice to New Writers?

Since this month’s theme is publishing, I decided to have questions to prompt discussions rather than photos to prompt stories. So, authors, what’s your best publishing advice to new writers?

My best advice is to dream small. It’s fine to work on a novel that you hope will become a national bestseller. But don’t pass up other writing opportunities because they don’t fit in with your dream as a novelist.

I joined my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers because I was working on a Christian novel. When the opportunity came for me to contribute to an anthology of Christian fiction, I jumped at the chance. Although I wanted my novel published, I recognized that this might be the only story of mine to see the light of print.

So I published my first mystery short story in 2018. I heard about a Christmas anthology and submitted “A Rose from the Ashes”. It was published. The publishers liked my mystery short story so much that they wanted to see the next story I wrote. That was A Shadow on the Snow, which became my first published novel.

No, it wasn’t the one I’d been working on for years and years. Shadow was much better. But I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop this new novel if I’d been stubborn about clinging to my original dream of becoming published.

So I’d love to hear from you, authors, what’s your best publishing advice for new writers?

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