Sunday, December 31, 2017

Liz Schulte: Taking your self-publishing career to the next level

Article by Jennifer Stolzer
Photos by Steven Langhorst

“I never wanted to be a writer,” Schulte began on October 7th, 2017. “I thought, 'I don't want to jump through hoops to find an agent or publisher, but if I could take control of this ship, I would.'” Liz Schulte has written and self-published over 26 novels since 2012. Going from a $2,000 loss at the start to surpassing her work income and making independent publishing her full time job. It took a lot of hard work and experience, some of which she had time to share with the St. Louis Writer's Guild, including how to manage time, find readers, and strategize marketing.

Step 1 is always putting words to the page. Schulte has a goal of 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. “Some days it's harder than others,” she said. “One book a year doesn't count. You need to be publishing constantly. It doesn't matter how many words you write in a day as long as you write. Even at 50 words a day you will finish your book.” Quality is not sacrificed for speed. Schulte does two to three drafts per book and hires an editor to make sure the final draft is top-notch. Although, she's tried all sorts of methods of plotting, experience has taught her to follow her characters and plot a couple chapters at a time. When she encounters writer's block, she turns to flash fiction. “I find a sentence or a prompt or picture and set a timer and write a little fiction about it and that gets me writing and then the words are there and I write.”

Schulte writes paranormal romance, mystery, and fantasy. She recommends writers who are writing series to write all entries in the series at once so that they can be released together. Readers want a complete series, and it allows the first book to be reduced to free as a marketing strategy to catch new readers. Free books distributed through sites like Smashwords and Instafreebee are one of many strategies for broadening an audience.

Another path to readers is through social media websites like facebook, instagram, snapchat, and twitter. “Social media is not the be all and end all,” Schulte said. “People can pick up when you don't want to be there. When you go on social media, be prepared to be their friend.” Readers want to know about the authors they read, and sharing about personal topics can help foster a community among writers and their readers. “I like to talk about my dogs, scary movies, and Jane Austin because that's what I like,” Schulte shared as an example, “and readers tend to have a lot in common with me because they like my books.” She also leads an online fan book club that has grown to four-hundred members. Schulte also fields her readers for ideas, often in the form of contests. One of her series has a clever motif for titles, so she invited her readers to suggest options in exchange for prizes like early access to books or naming a character. “We have fun,” she said. “It's a community. And forming that community is very important.”

Advertising is another way to attract new readers. Plastering ads on social media is not a good strategy. “Social media is a great place to build community, but not all readers want to talk to the authors they read,” Schulte said. Ads through portals like Bookbub can reach lots of readers at once, but can be very expensive. For this reason, advertisements and promotions like free book giveaways are best utilized by authors with many books under their belt, so that new readers have a wide library to sample from when they click through. New authors with only a couple books should instead focus on community and building a newsletter list.

Every writer should start building an email list for newsletters. “Open rates aren't extremely great,” Schulte admitted, “but if you build the list naturally you'll have a much better read and click-through rate.” She has one newsletter for all readers regardless of genre, and pushes announcements about all new releases. In 2016 she used this newsletter to construct a street team. She selected ten members to receive a gift bag and a copy of her newest book in advance. In exchange the street team was asked to give feedback on social media and reviews of the book when it came out. “I wanted real readers, not people who wanted something for free,” Schulte said. “Authors complain that 'my street team isn't leaving me reviews.' Life happens. You aren't paying them. Always treat your street team and your readers with a lot of respect.”

Listings on sites like Amazon and Goodreads are also important. The book cover is the first impression a reader has of book. It needs to tell a story and communicate to readers the tone and genre they are going to find in the book. “Know what your genre look like and who the successful authors in your genre are. See what their covers look like,” Schulte said. “If they're selling they're selling for a reason.” Schutle employs many different cover artists and designers to help tailor her books to the proper audiences. An illustrated cover is a great fit for one genre and not another, so although Schulte's wide range of books are promoted in the same newsletter and on the same media streams, they'll still appeal to the audience she is targeting.

The blurb on the book listing is just as important and Schulte had a list of helpful tips to help craft the perfect blurb: 
  • Pick one or two character names, avoid place banes unless they are familiar like New York City or Chicago. Even if the name of the world is important to the story, it is a nonsense word to a new reader unfamiliar with the series.
  • First line show how character starts out. Establish something about the character that distinguishes them from other characters.
  • Include the Inciting Incident that starts the adventure in the opening paragraph.
  • Second paragraph show rising actions and complications to the protagonist in two to three sentences.
  • Third paragraph explains the stakes and what happens if the main character fails to prove to readers why they should invest in the story.
  • Always end with a hook that makes viewers want to read more.

Making a career out of writing is not easy, but far from impossible. “I had to treat it like a business,” Schulte said. “Plan for writing like you're going to be successful. Start your LLC early. Get everything in line. I just want to make a living. I just set goals.”

If guild members would like to hear more wisdom from Schulte's career in independent publishing, they are welcome to a complimentary nineteen-page supplemental handout. [Email information redacted for privacy of author -- guild members, please contact for contact details.]

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Weltman shares ways to tap into your intuitive creativity

Article by Jennifer Stolzer.
Photos by Steven Langhorst.

Deborah Terra Weltman helped writers tap into their intuitive creativity during an interactive workshop Sept. 9. She shared her personal experiences, as well as ideas from Julia Cameron’s 1992 book, The Artist’s Way. 

Deborah finds joy in creative work of any kind, especially work that inspires personal and spiritual growth. She adores creative problem-solving, magical places, “treasure hunts,” and imagining from new perspectives. She defined “intuitive creativity” as “being taught from within” rather than looking outside yourself for guidance. 

 “I always wanted to be a visual artist,” she said, “but I remember thinking I wasn’t good enough, even in grade school.” Because of that, she didn’t take art classes, which meant she didn’t have portfolio when it came time for college. “So I got a degree in psychology.

Later, after taking art classes as an adult at the community college, Deborah realized she had a particular artistic style. “I remember in a life-drawing class, at end of the period, it looked like we were all drawing different people but we were drawing the same model. I thought, ‘How is this possible?’ By the end of semester, we could recognize who had done each drawing, could easily see their individual style.”

She built up a portfolio and got accepted into Webster University, where she earned an art degree and teacher’s certification. “I focused on creative mindset – we all need to be able to think creatively.”

Morning Pages

Exhausted, after a single year of teaching in public school, she went into picture framing as a way of getting back into doing art while using creative problem-solving skills. Along the way, she started doing one of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way techniques: “Morning Pages.” Each day, you write three pages in a journal, to clear your mind so creativity can flow.

“I’ve journaled prayers, to-do lists, written my thoughts on what I was reading. Usually about three-fourths of the three-page requirement in, I don’t know what else to write. I do what Julia Cameron suggests for that: I simply write, ‘I don't know what to write’ over and over until something shows up in my mind. It’s a meditative practice and something always pops through,” Deborah said. “I often have the experience of feeling an opening. And when that next thought comes, I write on that.”

That is how she become a writer. One evening as she was getting ready to go to bed, Deborah had the feeling that an idea wanted to come through. “It was the beginning of a story. That was a nice surprise.”

The other two main components of The Artist’s Way are the twelve weeks of readings and exercises in the book and the Artist’s Dates. Deborah found it helpful to do the work with a group of friends. The eight regular attendees in the first group took turns teaching, doing one chapter every two weeks. “Each of us had our own teaching style,” she noted. 

The readings introduced concepts such as “poisonous playmates,” “crazy-makers,” and
"going sane” -- that’s when you start to do what’s important to you instead of doing what you “should.”

“From The Artist’s Way, I learned to be willing to be a bad artist—a beginner,” she said, adding “after all, not many people are born able to write novels."

Also from the book she learned to look at jealousy as a way of getting information about what one wants. “Pay attention – it (jealousy) will tell you what’s exciting and meaningful to you.”

Similarly, she suggested relabeling “failures.” For instance, someone in a cooking class had Jell-O that wouldn’t jell. The instructor said, “Then it’s not Jell-O, it’s strawberry sauce; serve it on ice cream.”

From the “time-travel exercise” in The Artist’s Way, Deborah identified old enemies of her creativity.  “I was shocked to remember my grade-school art teacher who said my project wasn’t good because green and purple didn’t go together. And years later, in community college – I was about thirty at the time and not quite as susceptible – my instructor said ‘you can’t do that,’ about my creative idea.  I knew he said that because it was something he couldn’t do.” Later Deborah learned of an artist who had done exactly what she had earlier envisioned. It was possible!

Filling the Creative Well

The Artist’s Date, the third component of The Artist’s Way, brings joy and creativity together: you go by yourself, to do something you find interesting, to fill up your creative well. “Some of my Artist’s Way friends had much better creative-well-filling ideas than I did – like taking a blanket to the park and lying down to cloud-watch. Others would go to events found in the Riverfront Times; one loved to go to Disney cartoon movies, even at the risk of being stared at as the only adult there in the theater without a child.”

Deborah quoted Julia Cameron, who wrote, “Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.” And “It is a paradox of creative recovery that we must get serious about taking ourselves lightly. We must work at learning to play.”

Shirley MacLaine’s 2001 book The Camino about walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail across Spain particularly intrigued Deborah, but she didn’t move forward on the inspiration until the year she was to turn sixty. 

Deborah wrote morning journal pages regularly. “One day as I was I was doing my morning pages it came to me that if I didn’t do the Camino walk that year, I probably never would.”  This thought was followed by a response from beyond Deborah: “…and your life will be forfeit.”

 “I went “huh?” – I was pretty freaked out … but I kept writing pages, thinking about ways I could make this trip happen.” She asked her Artist’s Way group for help and they had good ideas. “At some point, I realized I’d have to do fundraising and would have to ask for help. One night, after an Artist’s Way meeting at my home, I saw that one of my friends had left a check on my pillow with ‘pleasant dreams of the Camino’ written in the subject line.”

“Before the Camino, I had so many fears, such as ‘Will my body be up to the task of walking twelve to fifteen miles per day?’ I didn’t have anyone to ask, so I used a technique called automatic writing to dialogue with my body about what it needed to be able to do the Camino,” she said. “I do think answers came from within me, as well as some from outside of me – some answers spoke to what I would experience while on Camino... experiences that had yet to happen.”

Deborah demonstrated the technique she had used to dialog with her body, automatic writing, also called direct writing. She described it as a way to access what some might call the subconscious or a higher source. 

Automatic Writing Exercise

Exercise: On your paper write: “Q” for QUESTION. Then write a question that has some meat to it (what if, why, how…), not a “yes” or “no” question.

Write “A” for “ANSWER”, then close your eyes. Take a breath, let it out. Then in your mind’s eye, visualize a gray screen. Don’t try to remember your question.

When a few words come into your mind, write them down,  then close your eyes again and go back to the gray screen. 

Keep doing that until the flow of words stops. Then ask, “Is there more?”

When the flow of words is complete, then, and only then, look at what you’ve written.

“Instead of hearing words, you may see words as if written on a chalkboard, or you may have a feeling in your body … sometimes the first answer will offer another question,” she said. 

Another way to access creativity is JOURNEY WORK. Often you use a rhythmic sound like drumming to take you to another place with an animal ally or a teacher to learn a lesson or understand something specifically. Some people when journeying have dialog with animal allies or teachers, but Deborah said she had physical experiences. For instance, on a journey to a sacred pool where salmon swam, suddenly she realized she could see from both sides of her head like a fish instead of through forward-facing human eyes. She hopes to be able to use this insight in her creative work.

She described two ways to access DREAM WISDOM. On a notebook by your bed, record the date, then write: “I will remember my dreams.” When you wake, you may remember “a corner” of a dream, which can act as a thread to help you pull the whole dream back.

Another way is to record the date and then: “In my dreams tonight, I would like guidance on …”

In the morning, write down what you remember. It may not always make sense right away. Dreams are symbolic and may need translation, but symbols are often universal. Using them may add another level to your writing

“If you are journaling or writing dreams, you will begin to notice synchronicities in your life,” she said.  “For instance, you may see a bumper sticker on the car in front of you at the same time the radio announcer says the same words.”

You may also want to pay attention to symbols in your body. For instance, constipation may indicate fear of letting go, pains in neck may refer to specific people, or you may be itching to get away. “If it’s meaningful to you in some way, it may work in your writing, too.” 

Other techniques to open creatively may included:

·         MEDITATION: in a meditative state, ask for guidance from a favorite author. Or, see if story ideas come.

·         Consider story titles which can be important, can sell the work.

·         Critique groups can provide useful input. Julia Cameron says that good criticism is that which is greeted with an internal “ah ha” and which leads to a new and valid path for your work.

·         You can create a “RANDOM IDEA Card Deck.” If you get stuck in your writing, pull a card. See if what you’ve written brings up ideas that will work in your story.

Round-Robin Storytelling

Exercise: To illustrate this technique, Deborah gave everyone a notecard and said to write down a situation. The notes were placed face-down in the center of each table. The participants were divided into groups to do “ROUND-ROBIN” Story-Telling. One person started a story, told it for a short bit and then “threw” it, perhaps in mid-sentence, to the person on their right. Whenever a person felt stuck as to where to take the story next, they could pick up a “situation card” for inspiration. 

Deborah also told the true story of two bestselling authors who discovered they had independently come up with the same story idea -- an Amazonian rain-forest business venture gone wrong, involving a long-suffering spinster employee who is quietly in love with her married boss, and sent on his behalf to the rainforest to handle the fiasco... also a love story.

“The point I took from this was that stories are alive,” Deborah said. “Ideas are alive. They’re floating around in the ether, and they visit a lot of people. If an idea comes to you, grab it… If you put it down, the Muses may take it to someone else.”

Deborah did get to go walk the Camino. While in Spain she journaled daily. “The Camino was a fabulous adventure. My life is NOT forfeit!” The daily journal entries became the foundation of her upcoming book, Camino Lessons: Losing 21st Century Fears on an Ancient Pilgrimage Trail (due out from PenUltimate Press this fall). Deborah teaches classes in “The Artist’s Way,” “Treasure Journaling,” and “Realizing Big Dreams” at the local community college and other venues. She is also the author and illustrator of two 75-card decks: “A Seeker’s Guide to Internal Paradigm Shift, What if…? Cards" (questions to guide and bless your day) and "A Seeker's Guide to Money and Abundance, What if…? Cards” (questions focusing on peace and plenty). View a sample of her “What if…? Cards” online at: or contact Deborah at:

Friday, December 1, 2017

Critique groups help writers make their stories the best they can be

Article by Jennifer Stolzer.
Photos by Steven Langhorst.

Critique is essential to any writer’s betterment, but receiving criticism on one’s hard work can be a difficult thing.

“Remember that the goal of critiques is the make the piece the best it can possibly be,” said author/illustrator Jennifer Stolzer during the Aug. 5 workshop. While having pride in one’s work is good, it’s important to remember that first drafts are seldom perfect. 

Jennifer gave an overview of the Guild’s critique group program, which she coordinates. Describing it as a matchmaking service, she said her goal is to match writers with others from similar genres and writing levels.

“Finding the right people is important,” she said. “Generally, you wouldn’t want to pair a brand new writer with one who has published several books.” The Guild’s website,, has a form in the Members Room that guides you through the application process. The password is listed each month in the President’s email or request it from:

While variety among the members can provide valuable insights, she suggested limiting a critique group to similar genres. “And have guidelines on how to add and remove people from your group.”
When it comes to the actual feedback, one key skill is learning how to handle conflicting advice from your critique partners.

“One person may want more specifics in a scene, while another may want you to leave more to the reader’s imagination.” You can’t do both, so she advised using discernment. “It’s not a checklist of things to do … You don’t have to do everything your critique partners say, but do consider what they tell you. Take the best (advice), and leave the rest. Remember, you are the master of your own castle.”

 Noting that critique partners generally review only one section or chapter at a time, she suggested,  “Think of your work as a whole.” A comment about the need for more specifics may stem from another part of the story, such as a need for more description when the character is introduced, whereas the descriptions in the current chapter may be fine.

Using the “sandwich method” of critique can be helpful in many kinds of situations, not just writing. “You start with a positive comment, then offer your critique, and end with a constructive suggestion.” Ideally, you’ll prompt the writer to fix their own piece and think it’s their own idea. “You make them smile, make them sad, then make them smile again – and that will make them more excited about fixing the stuff in the middle.”

“Simply saying ‘this is bad’ isn’t helpful to anyone, and it’s also mean,” she said. Comments need to be specific and actionable, such as “I think the story actually begins in the second scene.”

To get the most from the critique process, learn to listen without being defensive.

“Be aware of your own personal preferences,” Jennifer said. “Don’t look for things that are wrong—look for things that need improved. Just that shift in mindset helps.” When you receive feedback, keep in mind that their goal is the same as yours—to improve the story.

“As writers, we can never get the ‘first-reader’ perspective,” she said, which is one thing critique partners and beta readers provide.

She shared a handout entitled “Beta Reading Worksheet” from Jami Gold,, that offered questions to consider when reviewing your own or someone else’s work, such as:

Does the manuscript begin in the right place?

Do the characters’ goals seem believable, with well-drawn and appropriate emotion?

Are there enough stakes and/or tension throughout to make it a “page-turner?”

Does every scene add to and seem important to the story?

Do the details enhance rather than distract from the story?

Are characters’ voices consistent and distinct from one another?

Does the writing “show” with the senses, using “telling” only as appropriate?

Does the story deliver on the promise of its premise and opening scenes?

Do any sections take you out of the story? (Mark in manuscript.)

She concluded the workshop by handing out a few pages of a story to edit, giving participants the chance to try some of the techniques she had discussed.

Jennifer—who is also the Guild’s secretary--lives and works in St. Louis, MO. She holds a degree in digital media and animation from Webster University, and uses this skill set to create bright and engaging characters in both pictures and words. Her illustration company, Jennifer Stolzer Illustration, has served the St. Louis area and its authors for seven years. Find samples of her work at or on Facebook under Jennifer Stolzer Illustration.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Gateway to Publishing Conference and Convention

Gateway to Publishing Conference & Convention is June 16 - 18, 2017 at the Renaissance Hotel in St. Louis, MO. Gateway Con, a conference for writers and a convention for readers. This event is presented by St. Louis Writers Guild, for more information visit

St. Louis Writers Guild has a new blog!

Hello Members and the World,

St. Louis Writers Guild has a new blog. Right now we're going to use this platform to bring you interviews with the speakers at the Gateway to Publishing Conference & Convention, plus more about the conference, and the fun events and workshops that SLWG has planned. In the future, we hope to feature members, writing services, and provide content all writers can use to improve their craft.

Follow this blog for more information or check out our other social media pages. Find SLWG on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+.

For more information about St. Louis Writers Guild and it's events visit

Gateway Con is June 16-18, 2017. To learn more, or to register for the conference click here.

St. Louis Writers Guild
founded in 1920