Saturday, October 3, 2015

StoryCraft Winners

Congrats to Savanna Kaiser who won the StoryCrafting with Pepper!

Pepper decided to offer one more StoryCrafting Opportunity and the winner is... Jeanne T.

Please send a message to Pepper if you receive this, ladies, but she will also plan to email you in a few days.


                                                                                         The AlleyCats

Friday, October 2, 2015

Why a Virtual Assistant is Valuable

Virtual assistance is something that is not a new concept. It’s been around for some time, especially in the age of everything being tied in some way to electronics or gadgets, it has become easier and easier to farm out more of your work to those more experienced or qualified to do a task, or who just plain have the time you don’t.

But what exactly is a virtual assistant to an author and why is it valuable to consider hiring one? Doesn’t it just take more time to get them set up and tell them what to do, than to just do the work yourself?

If you hire the right VA, this should hardly ever be the case.

A virtual assistant’s main goal is to maximize what little time you have, so you can spend that time doing what you do best: creating story.

*In two weeks I’ll talk about how to be your own best virtual assistant if you’re in a season of inability to afford hiring one.*

For a broad overview:

A VA can help you:

·         Manage your calendar
·         Manage your social media output and interaction.
·         Help with research
·         Track sales numbers
·         Book mailings
·         Book and blog tour coordination
·         Communicate with bloggers for PR opportunities
·         Work with your influencers and team that heavily promote your book(s) (Also known as a dream or street team)
·         Brainstorm social media strategies with you
·         Purchase promotional materials and/or prizes in giveaways

This is really just the tip of what a VA might be able to do for you and each VA is going to have a better or stronger skill set than another, allowing you to give them free reign in projects you don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

But let’s look into these projects a bit further shall we? A broad paintbrush view doesn’t really tell you all that a VA could potentially do for you in one area or another.

Managing your calendar:

·         The first email will never take you a lot of time to answer. However, all of the follow up that result from that first email is a complete time suck. Let your VA set up these appointments and blog interview dates.

·         Keep your VA abreast of your time restrictions and deadlines so if something conflicts, they can cancel or reschedule for you.

·         Never miss another deadline again! Have your VA keep track of when posts due dates and submit your material promptly and on time.

So that’s your calendar.

If someone were to ask you what’s the #1 thing on your to-do list that you’d like to get rid of, what would you say? I think 85% of us would say social media. This is probably the #1 reason most authors hire a VA.

Social media management:

·         Give your VA access to all of your social media platforms.

·         Provide them with a list of blogs they can follow and tweet for you, keeping relevant content in your Twitter stream and also promoting other bloggers to build their platform. (A win-win)

·         Give your VA a baseline of content to share on Facebook. Questions, comments, pictures, etc. Brainstorm this with your VA as well. You’ll have to remain involved on social media to a point so the posts continue to sound like your voice, but most of the grunt work can be done by your VA.

·         Make sure your VA understands your brand and presence you want to convey on social media, but don’t baulk from talking through ideas and strategies with your VA either.

These are just two major areas that your VA can help you in. And trust me, if you think long about anything you do as a writer, I’m sure you’d find many other areas you could use a second set of arms.

Hiring a VA gives you the white space that you need to do what you do best: write. And the time you gain back is often worth the money you’ve spend.

But I realize that not everyone is able to hire a VA. So next time, I’ll be sharing about ways you can put white space back into your life by being your best VA.

What about you? Have you ever hired or considered hiring a VA?

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

You all know me.

I'm Krista. Miss Trendy and hip, right?

(For those of you laughing hysterically -- I will get you back!)

I'm actually a little behind the times on this trend--like most other trends, but I digress.

In the Indie world, box sets of ebooks are a huge "thing" right now. Have you see them? They are these fun sets of oodles of books for one super low price of usually like 99 cents.

And my FIRST indie box set, a collection of NEW Christmas novellas titled Love's Gift, is available TODAY for preorder!! My book is the last one, A (kinda) Country Christmas!

I'd (sorta) LOVE for you to go check it out! It's only 99 cents and will also be available for FREE on Kindle Unlimited on its release date, October 19th, so if you're a subscriber of that, mark you calendar!

Since indie box sets are a newish thing, I thought I'd take a second to explain a little how it works.


There are a ton of options when it comes to the set. You can do a LIMITED TIME set or a forever set. You can do a set with your own books, or one with fellow authors. You can box together new books or previously published books. You can do novels, novellas, or eshorts.

For the purpose of this post, we're talking about sets with fellow authors, because that's where the biggest benefit comes from (in my humble opinion.)


The MAIN purpose of the box set is PROMOTION.

Yes, it'd be fabulous to make some money on the set. And many indie sets ARE making a decent chunk of change off them, even with splitting it many different ways. (In Love's Gift, there are 8 authors. For each 99 cent sale. The profit off that sale is about .35 cents. Split 8 ways.... that's a lot of books to sell!)

BUT!! We'll have EIGHT authors promoting with vengeance the same book. Eight authors with different platforms and reaches. That is 7 times the number of people, theoretically, that we could have reached on our own. (Obviously some have bigger platforms than other so that will vary.)

The exposure and platform building potential for this is quite big! A LOT of indie authors are reaping in the benefits of boxed sets, and many traditional authors are also joining the bandwagon as well!


So how does it all work? Each set of authors will set it up a little differently. But basically, one author usually serves as the "publisher" of the book for the agreed upon timeframe. We use Amazon's KDP program to publish the book. I'm serving as the publisher for Love's Gift, so will be our accountant and will disburse funds as I receive them from Amazon. Expenses are split and/or paid out of profits. All authors are listed as authors in Amazon.


Again, lots of leeway here. Our set decided to make each author in charge of having their own work edited, then before the set was finalized, each book was proofread by another member of the team to add another layer of quality assurance to our product!

We did the same with covers. Each author was responsible for their individual cover (because will also will be able to publish our works individually as well!) and then we worked on the overall cover design together! Many sets elect to hire an outside designer. Since there were quite a few cover-savvy people in our group, we did it ourselves to help keep costs down.

Want some other examples of some AMAZING indie author sets available?

Here are just a few!!!

Krista is a follower of Jesus, a wife, a mother, and author of  
A (kinda) Country Christmas -- Part of the Love's Gift Collection

She blogs about finding JOY in the journey of LIFE at She is represented by Sarah Freese of Wordserve Literary.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Market Without Imposing or Nagging

Confession-I have unsubscribed from some email mailings.

*Not because one appeared weekly in my box. If I didn't feel like reading it, I could save it for later or the delete key was there.
*Not because the subject line said something like, "24 hours left..." I'd glance and if the opportunity or sale didn't pertain to 
           me, I deleted it.
*Not because I was "informed of the blog post every writer needs, or the book I should read." Somedays I did want to read it. 
          Then again, if I was too busy, I deleted it.

I unsubscribed because the site or person imposed their ideas, tried to push me into their ad, or belittled me.

I want to have a choice and not feel guilty about my decision. 

Recently, I unsubscribed from a very well known writing marketer because the subject line alone felt threatening to me....AND it included my name. I felt like the person was yelling at me.

I wasn't asked to check out their product. I was .... nagged.


In today's publishing world, writers are asked to market their own product. The reasoning isn't bad. Who better knows the product than the writer? 

The problem is: to be a great writer one needs to spend time alone--writing. This hermit, of sort, is asked to make friends, network, put a face "out there" and tell a world about their book.

A difficult task. 

When should we ask more? When is asking nagging?

The word "ad" will be used below to include: email subject lines, newsletter text, blog posts, announcements, book sales, any marketing we as writers do.

Here are some marketing tips for asking:

1. Ask once. If someone misses the first ad, don't worry. Thanks to word of mouth and Internet sharing, any news about a good products will spread to those who didn't see it the first time.
       NOTE: each social media, place you go, email subscriber, etc. can be asked. There may be an overlap of audience, but 
       this is acceptable. The same ad on FB and on Twitter is not a problem. 

2. Word the subject line and the ad with kind words. No demands. No guilt trips. How would you say the words to your grandmother? But don't beg. Pretty, pretty please?

3. Fun subject lines and text are enticing. Add humor, or a bit of casual wording to show you are a human and not a computer generating the ad.

4. When referring to holidays, news, events, etc., be considerate of all. Refrain from disrespecting others.

5. The hammer approach. Repeating information several times, even if only rewording to get the audience's attention and help them remember can cause readers to simply close out the site. The same happens for unnecessary fonts, bold, and neon colors. Readers have precious few minutes to read an ad and will only read as far as he or she enjoys.

6. If you held an open house, consider how you would speak to guests you don't know. How would you dress? What would you offer them for refreshment? These are the exact same skills needed when posting about our work on FB, Twitter, email, newsletters, in any text, etc.

We need to ask. 
It's the only way to market. 

I know it's hard. Sometimes it's worse than going to the dentist and having a root canal. BUT if we don't ask, no one will know about our work. 

God wants us to be strong and tell others about the writing ministry He gave us. So many people have been drawn to the name of Jesus through fiction stories. If only one person learned about Jesus through your story, wouldn't it be worth climbing out of a hermit world and asking/inviting a person to read your story?

I hope you ask me. :)

To practice this lesson, I'm going to ask you for something. 

If The Writers Alley has helped you on your journey to publication, consider nominating us for the 18th Annual Writer's Digest 101 Best Website for Writers Award. 

All you have to do is send an email to with "101 Websites" in the subject line. Then include our URL in the body ( with a brief explanation that we have helped.

Thank you so much!


What questions do you have?
How can we help you?

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

Photo Courtesy: - modified for this use.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary writes young adult mystery/suspense Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has finaled in several writing contests.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let's Talk Niche Marketing: Part 1

Pre-published authors, I'm looking at you. Before you navigate away from this post, this topic applies to you, too! Right now, it's important for you to be building your platform. And you need to be strengthening your marketing muscle, because someday when your book sells, you're going to need to do a lot of legwork whether you choose the indie route or sign with a top-five publisher.

So let's get ready. Let's talk niche marketing, my very favorite part of my job. Do you know what it entails? Those with a basic understanding of book marketing know the traditional routes: retail, print and broadcast media, email subscription lists, social media. But have you explored your niche audiences for selling your book or building your platform? 

Though it may not seem as lucrative as traditional routes, chiseling away at niche marketing could strike unexpected gold. 

Identifying potential niches for your book/platform

First, it's important to know your niche and be consistent with it. It might make sense for you to have a few different niches, as long as they have significant and intentional ties with your book. But if you find they're polar opposite groups, then it's best to pick one to focus on. Otherwise it will be hard to benefit your readers, engage them, and keep them coming back for more of your story. That's the most important thing!

1. Ask yourself about your probable target audience -- beyond the typical "18-35-year-old woman" answer. What magazines does he/she read? What groups do he/she belong to on Facebook? How would this person spend his/her Saturday night? 

For example, my second manuscript's heroine is a food blogger, so a lot of the plot revolves around food. When my book sells, I'd like to reach out to groups of food and lifestyle bloggers who also post book reviews on their websites. I might ask if I can send review copies to people I've researched well that seem like a good fit for my ideal audience. { Let me repeat this: people I've asked and researched well. } If niche marketing is a Venn diagram, I'm looking for people who exist in the heart area below with as many intersecting qualities as possible.

In the meantime, as I build my platform, I can post occasional recipes on my social media platforms and engage with food and lifestyle bloggers because I know that represents my brand well and will be sustainable throughout the life of my writing career.

2. Ask yourself what theme or message in your book you're most passionate or knowledgeable about. Why did you write this book? How did you as the author come away a better person as your characters grew and the story unfolded in your writing? That theme or message.

In my first book, the heroine is a new college graduate facing some pretty tough questions about her future. I know that one niche of readers who would relate to her are college students or not far removed from that stage of life. So I might seek out speaking engagements at colleges and conferences geared toward that demographic. I might ask myself how buying my book or following me on Twitter would be beneficial for them and offer supplemental content. I might write articles about that topic and submit them to relevant media outlets.

The goal is to streamline your message or theme and establish yourself as an authority on that topic, to let your passion shine through, even if only to your own platform. But hopefully you can figure out appropriate avenues where individuals congregate to hear that message -- individuals who will identify with your book. 

3. Ask yourself what stands out about your book. Hopefully you have a decent idea of the hook that makes your story unique in the marketplace, whether you're published or not. Is it a unique setting? Age group? Historical event? Character occupation? A lovable minor character? 

A friend of mine had a faithful pit bull that played a prominent role in her manuscript, so she reached out to a Facebook group with thousands of followers and was taken under their wings immediately. These people are loyal to pit bulls and adored that she had featured one in her book.

I also had a client whose book centered around a unique locale during World War II. With a little research, we discovered a large virtual book club network focused on World War II fiction that ended up generating a lot of sales.

The moral of the story? Common loyalty can forge a powerful alliance.


I was going to talk about reaching your niche audience, but I'm making the executive decision to continue the fun next time! So until then, chime in! Who is your ideal reader? What are some niche audiences that would be interested in reading your books? 


Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is passionate about intentional living, all things color-coded, and stories of grace in the beautiful mess. Previously a full-time book publicist, she owns a freelance copywriting, editing, and PR consulting business called 1624 Communications

She's a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and received the Genesis Award in 2013 (Contemporary) and 2014 (Romance). 

Her work is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie here:
Twitter - @LaurieTomlinson

Monday, September 28, 2015


During the recent ACFW Conference in Dallas, TX, a few other writers and I started chatting about our strengths and weaknesses in writing. Usually it’s pretty easy to point out weaknesses in ourselves, but strengths? I think for most of us that is a little more difficult.

Which got me thinking….

One of my strengths is ‘storytelling’. You probably don’t want me for a line-edit (grammar is NOT my strength), but as far as seeing the big picture, the story concept, I’m pretty good at that. In fact, one of my favorite things to do with writer friends is brainstorm!

Let’s step back and take a look at S.T.O.R.Y.

Yes, I’m a big fan of acronyms (give me a break, I work as an SLP by day so I’m always trying to think of memory-helps J

The hallmarks of a good story can be summed up into some basic components:

S – Solid characters

                At the heart of every good story is either one…or usually more, strong or powerful characters. The best stories take us on a journey with believable characters who are flawed, wounded, and determined in some way or other. Do you know your main characters? Are they engaging? Does the reader have a reason to like them? To cheer for them? Or at the very least, are your characters interesting enough (even if they’re not good) to draw the reader in a make them want to come along on the journey.

T – Tale

                Is there a story? The best books aren’t about people being thrown together with nothing to do (okay, unless we’re talking about The Great Gatsby ;-) Seriously, what is happening in your story? Have you created a world? Do you have something to tell to bring the reader along? A journey to make with these amazing characters? The next one will help us out with this problem.

O – Objectives

                What are the goals of your characters? What does he want? What drives her? The Bible says ‘without a vision the people perish’, well in many ways the same can happen to your story if your characters don’t have a goal. Many times there is both an internal and external goal.

R – Real Conflict

                What’s going to stop your excellent characters on this amazing journey from reaching their goals? Conflict! And more importantly, conflict takes on many hues. In the best books, there is both internal and external conflict, keeping the tension high and moving the story along at a solid pace.

Y – Your voice

                This is what makes your story….your story. The YOU factor! Your voice, your style, your turn of phrase, and personal storytelling skills. The call you have on your heart for this story. Your humor or drama. Your personal experience and imagination. All of these things are special pieces of your STORY that only YOU can bring! Do you know why you want to write this story? If you don’t know….your characters might not either, and it will show.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new info and would like some help, I have a special treat!!

Today I’m going to offer a brainstorming session on StoryCraft to one commenter. Please indicate whether you want to be a part of the drawing or not (and leave your email address).
What it will entail is:
A form you complete on your story
A 15-30 minute chat related to information on the form
And a follow-up email reviewing what was discussed

Share your thoughts! How have you used the elements of STORY to write your own?


Friday, September 25, 2015

Do You Vlog?

Nope. No typo. You read that correctly. Vlogging. It’s all the rage, apparently.

Vlog: (n.) a blog in which the postings are presented via video.
Now, I’m not exactly a shy person. There are very few topics I feel skittish about and little to nothing about my personal life that I view as taboo. I’m an open book. I’m outgoing. I have a certain ease that allows me to converse with virtual strangers without much awkwardness (that is, unless my filter flees the scene and I start oversharing, which has been known to happen and is usually amusing, if not slightly embarrassing. But I digress.)
We’re talking about vlogging. To vlog. (To blave…. Sorry, having a Princess Bride, Miracle Max moment!) And yet, even given all that I just said about my certain lack of social inhibition, vlogging terrifies me! And not just the nervousness that churns a sea of nausea in my stomach at the thought of filming myself talking inanely on camera… but of having to WATCH said video when I’m done babbling and stammering on and on, waving my hands around like a charades enthusiast, tripping over the words that are supposed to (and usually would) flow free and easy.
If scripted, even though I’ve acted on stage for years, I sound like a robot and the weirdness plays in high definition on my face making my lips move unnaturally, my head tilt like a confused puppy, and my voice sound like a stranger's. If I wing it, I end up repeating myself or constructing sentences that don’t even make sense in the playback.
What the heck is wrong with me? If I’m acting and I’m pretending to be someone else, I’m fine. If I’m talking to a small group of people in the flesh, I’m solid. Charismatic and engaging. I’ve been told I have a nice voice, a pleasant look. The cogs should be lining up here, right?
Wrong. It’s inexplicable. I cringe just thinking about it. But sometimes we suck it up for the greater good. We may look like idiots, but oh the things we crazy writers will do for the love of story.
So here I am, sucking it up. Making video clips of myself talking about my book. Gag! It’s a special brand of torture but I think I’ve made a few observations that can help others with the same type of predicament.
Don’t do a million takes. Do a couple. Give yourself some slack and know that it won’t be perfect. The more you film, more often the more frustrated you become… and THAT will translate into your body language and your tone.
Make notes but don’t script. You’re better off having some talking points and practicing a bit first than trying to memorize something that will come across stifled and unnatural. Remember, if you biff it, you can always take two and start fresh.
Leave your notes propped up so you don’t have to look down. It’s more natural to shift your gaze to one side of the camera. That way you don’t have to smooth the hair out of your eyes and it’s less jarring to watch.
Don’t rush. Sometimes when we’re nervous our words start to snowball. The faster they go the more easily they trip over each other. Make a conscious effort to pace yourself. The delivery will feel more natural and your confidence will grow.
Be you! Remember to let your personality shine through. It’s not about producing something studio quality with poise and polish. You want people to see YOU. Throw in a quirky smile, don’t hold your face so rigid. Laugh a little. And try to think of the camera as a person to converse with.
And maybe, if it’s still too painful, just don’t keep watching it.
Any other advice you would add? Come on now, someone has got to be better at this than me! ;)

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is a member of ACFW, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 
Look for her debut novel due out this fall with WildBlue Press!