The Creative Penn, Mark Lefebvre, and Kobo Writing Life

Another great self-publishing blog is The Creative Penn, by Joanna Penn: a writing, publishing and marketing blog. This week, Joanna interviews our own Mark Lefebvre about Kobo Writing Life!

In her post, she mentions some great tips for KWL users, like:

“Firstly, make sure there’s a link from your website. Many authors just list Amazon. Kobo wants to be a business partner with you as a publisher, a business-person. The Kobo dashboard contains information on where you sell in each market including a map of the world. Kobo is constantly working on their own search algorithm and refining it, as well as merchandising opportunities and lists. Ongoing, Kobo will be adding more possibilities to authors – they are constantly developing so watch this space!”

Check out the interview here:


Joanna Penn is a British author, internet entrepreneur and international speaker whose books have appeared on Thriller and Action Adventure bestseller lists.

Check out her author site here.

Check out Joanna’s books on Kobo:

Cyber Monday Sale!

Check out these fantastic self-published titles on sale for Cyber Monday only. Sale ends Nov 26th at 11:59pm.

Use the promo code to get the discount.

50% off
Promo code: 50cyber

30% off
Promo code: 30cyber

Happy reading!

Milestone or millstone, your choice — part 1

(Or: actually completing your first book)

“I know I have this book in me. If I could only…” Find the time, get down to it, organize myself, and so on. The excuses are as numerous as the numbers of unwritten books out there.

We asked several of our authors what they did to complete that first book. Published many times over, authors Michelle Leighton, Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey, Alison Brennan, and Phyllis Smallman, and Olivia Cunning are as different as romance and sci-fi fantasy. But they all share one important feature: there was a time when they hadn’t completed a single book.

Here are their answers, unadulterated but for the odd spelling or punctuation correction. (Hey they’re authors, not editors!)


Tip 1: Write something – anything – every single day.

Michelle Leighton: I worked on it every single day until it was finished. Even if it was to type only a few words or jot down some notes on a piece of paper, I thought about it and worked toward completing it in some way every day.  And, for the most part, I do that even to this day.  I might not actually type every day, or even make notes, but I think about my story several times throughout each day, regardless.  I think of the characters and what they’re like.  I think of the plot and where it might be going.  I think of some interesting dialogue I’d like to add and where it might go.  To me, a book is almost like a living thing.  Like a friend.  I pay it some attention every day so that it doesn’t become a neglected stranger.  I hold it close until I type those last words.  And usually, like a friend, they stick with me long past the end.

Michelle writes romance, and paranormal romance. Check it out!

Tip 2: Get the help of an avid reader.

Hugh Howey: I know what it’s like to finish a book and not see it to completion. I did that for almost twenty years, on and off. I started dozens of books and soon abandoned them. Two things helped me see that first manuscript to completion. First, I developed a habit of writing every day without the pressure of finishing a novel. In my case, it was as a book reviewer for a major website. But blogging every day, writing in a journal, or working on short stories are other ways to develop this routine. Writing needs to be a habit in order to be successful. It can’t be something you pick up and set down now and then. It has to be daily, even if it’s only for half an hour.

The second thing I did was invite my wife into the process. Every day, I gave her pages to read. Her insistence to know what happened next drove me to make up what happened next! You could also publish your rough draft online as you write it if you need encouragement. I still post sample chapters as I write my work in progress. I find the feedback and support from my readership motivates me to write more and write well. It’s easy to get frustrated if you tackle this all on your own.

Hugh writes fantasy. Read his work here!


Tip 3: Have faith in your story, and writer through the doubt.

Barbara Freethy: Keep writing! There comes a point in every novel where the writer becomes plagued with doubts about the story, the characters, the plot, the tone, everything! But you have to write through those days. You have to keep the faith in the story and know that you will have plenty of opportunities to make changes and rewrite once you finish the book.

Barbara is a romance writer. Here are the finished products.


Tip 4: Make a commitment to yourself to finish. And then finish.

Alison Brennan: Like many writers, I had many beginnings and no endings. In fact, I started well over 100 books and never finished any of them until after I turned 30. I had a career, a husband, and kids and it seemed that ever new idea was better than the last, so I dumped whatever project I was working on and started something new.

I had to make the commitment to finish one of the many books I’d started. It’s not something that anyone can make you do–honestly, no one cares if you get published except YOU. So I had to be at the right place mentally to make a personal commitment to finish a book. Once I typed “THE END,” I knew I could do it again. And again.

Because I had a full-time job and young kids (when I started seriously writing I had three; I now have five) I had to set aside time every day to write. I wrote every night after the kids went to bed. Every night. I gave up television for three years. (I love television; this was a big sacrifice!) I wrote from 9 pm to midnight six days a week. That was the only way I could finish one book and start another. It worked. In two years I had completed five books full-length novels. I sold my fifth book to Ballantine.

Alison writes crime fiction, mysteries, romantic suspense and more. Here is some of her finished work.


Tip 5: Sit down and write. There’s no getting around that.

Phyllis Smallman: The most important components in taking a book from idea to a finished product is desire and persistence.  Talent is worth nothing if you don’t begin and only determination will take you from the beginning to the end. Intelligence and ability abound but it is the person who sits down and actually writes who will succeed.

Phyllis is a mystery writer. Here is her finished work.


Tip 6: Treat writing as if it were your job. Do it every day.

Olivia Cunning: I treated writing as my job. Butt in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Dazed and confused look on my face. Lots of clock checking. I also had my eyes on the prize. Publication. That first completed book is locked in a drawer somewhere. I was 19 when I wrote it. It was atrocious. But I finished it. I’ve since finished writing books that are actually good. Go, me!

 Olivia writes erotic romance. Here are some of her finished books.

Event: Self-publish & market your book

If you happen to be in the Toronto area, come to the Professional Writers Association of Canada’s event: Self-Publish & Market Your Book.

  •  Thursday November 22nd, 2012
  • 7pm – 9pm
  • Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Room R318, 750 Spadina Avenue Toronto ON, M5S 2J2

Listen to author Harry van Bommel, freelance writer Paul Lima, and Kobo Writing Life’s own Mark Leslie Lefebvre as they participate on a panel that will cover such topics as writing and editing, design and layout, and self-promotion and publication.

Don’t miss it!

Click here for more information and to register!

Joe Nassise: A Real Class Act

Joseph Nassise, a veteran of both traditional publishing and digital self-publishing has seen success in both worlds.  Through a combination of keeping an open mind, engaging in experimentation, and above all, adapting and persevering, he has been able to not only navigate the digital publishing world, but also help others on their journey.

Joseph knows how to successfully format, package and sell a self-published book, and will be teaching a virtual class on exactly that topic via LitReactor starting November 26th.

Joseph Nassise: How to Format, Package & Self-Publish Your eBook

Joseph was a beta user for Kobo Writing Life and also recently provided fifteen days of Horrifying Hallowe’en Reads (See lucky Day Thirteen here)

We recently asked Joseph a few questions about his own journey as a writer.


Tell us how you first discovered your love of writing.

I fell into writing by accident, actually, as the result of a dare in college over a case of beer. I’ve always loved reading though so it wasn’t a great surprise when I discovered that I had some interest in writing. When Pocket Books bought my first novel right out of the gate, I made the decision to give the business a try. Here I am, eleven years and seventeen novels later, still going strong.

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

To some extent, yes. I think most writer’s block is caused by one of two things – a lack of understanding with respect to your storyline or the interruption of your normal writing flow due to external issues (stress, personal problems, etc.)

I’ve suffered from both and find the former easier to fix than the latter. You can always sit down and analyze your story, searching for the true vision amidst all the distractions. Getting rid of the unexpected intrusions in life isn’t always so easy.

Where do you usually write?

In my office. Sometimes at the local coffee shop.

What made you decide to self-publish?

Simon & Schuster reverted the rights to my first two novels back in 2010 and they were just lying around gathering dust. That seemed like a creative waste to me (never mind the fact that I was leaving income on the table) so I took it upon myself to learn how to format and publish ebooks in order to put those novels back into circulation.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

Writers write so if you want to be a writer, you need to put your butt in the chair and write. It really is that simple, actually. If you’ve got some innate talent and you nurture that talent through daily practice, you will inevitably see improvement in your work. It is like any other trade or craft – it improves through consistent practice. Put in the hours, put in the practice, and your writing will get better. I write every day and my writing is better for it.



Joseph Nassise is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the internationally bestselling Templar Chronicles series, the Great Undead War series, and the Jeremiah Hunt trilogy. He is a former president of the Horror Writers Association, the world’s largest organization of professional horror writers, and a multiple Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee.

You can find him online at Shades of Reality.

Check out the LitReactor class Joe is teaching entitled:  How to Format, Package & Self-Publishing Your eBook (Nov 26, 2012)

Twisting the plot for a great mystery

What makes for a great mystery novel is something of a mystery to us. So we turned to one of the more successful writers  in the genre, Connie Shelton, author of the Charlie Parker and Samantha Sweet series, for some clues on what separates a good thriller from no-thrill-at-all.

According to Shelton, sometimes all that’s lacking is a good plot twist, and she offered some great advice for giving your story that extra bit of oomph which keeps pages turning and readers coming back to you for more. Shelton had a few suggestions on what not to do, how to plan the ‘surprise’ in your story, and how to generate ideas to keep your plot from plodding along.

First, the thrill-killers:

Bad timing.

A surprise that comes too early or too late in the story loses impact. Burning down the house with our hero inside would be intense, but this kind of surprise needs to come far enough into the story that something crucial is at stake. If the reader knows our guy has the one incriminating clue hidden under the mattress he’s sleeping on, and the fire starts in his bedroom—much more drama there. Similarly, a surprise after the crime has been solved loses punch. Careful timing of your twists is crucial.

Lack of emotional impact.

Simply, we have to care says Shelton.  Maybe the character’s cat gets killed, but if the writer never establishes a close owner/pet relationship the reader can be left feeling sort of so-what. Build strong reader attachment to both the character and the cat and it will be a shocking thing when the pet is killed (who will ever forget the rabbit in Fatal Attraction?).

Next, Shelton suggests designing those plot twists into the story right from the beginning to give your writing direction. “Starting with a plan really helps, but don’t ignore ideas that happen on the fly. It’s great fun to throw in additional surprises when inspiration strikes,” she says.

She’s tactical when it comes to the plan and recommends the following:

  1. Create a timeline. Yes, an actual line on a sheet of paper. Mark the left-hand end of the line with the incident that sets the whole story in motion (i.e. discovery of a body), and the right-hand end with the conclusion (dramatic confrontation where criminal is caught).
  1. Now, come up with two plot twists that will happen somewhere in the middle (maybe you want to kill the cat and burn down the house). Place the first surprise roughly at the 1/3 mark on the timeline. The second surprise will happen 2/3 of the way through. So, if your manuscript will be 300 pages in length Twist #1 is around page 100; Twist #2 is at page 200.
  1. Finish big.  A third, highly dramatic moment needs to come in the confrontation scene, usually within the final twenty pages.

Coming up with good plot twists in the first place can be a challenge at times and again Shelton offers practical advice.

First, structure a brainstorm with yourself. Take a blank sheet of paper and write your central story idea in the middle. For instance: “A high-profile woman is being stalked.” Circle it. Now set a timer for ten minutes and start jotting down possible surprise elements (in this case, who the stalker might be and why they are doing it). Don’t edit or critique yourself, and write down all ideas no matter how outlandish. When your timer goes off—stop. Look over your ideas and build upon the best ones.

“For my ninth Charlie Parker mystery, Balloons Can Be Murder, this example was my original plot premise,” says Shelton. “I decided that the stalker was the woman’s father and he’d just gotten out of prison, where her testimony had sent him. Of course a later plot twist revealed that all was not exactly as it seemed . . .”

Shelton also recommends creating a kind of “idea factory.”

“Whenever I’m seeing a lull in the pace, I use this technique to play around with alternate ideas,” says Shelton. By this she means she manufactures a number of possibilities for the action to follow, and then chooses the one that seems to offer the most creative opportunity and gets the story moving again. Here’s an example of how the idea factory works:

Joe and his parents are having drinks in the library and Sally has just walked into the room. On scratch paper, jot down some possibilities—what she does and how each of the others react. List four to six reactions for each of the other characters.

  • She says, “I’m pregnant.”
  • She has a gun in her hand.
  • She’s crying and says, “Joe’s doctor just called.”
  • She says, “Two men just drove up.”

Come up with at least three entirely different scenarios before you choose which to use. There are endless possibilities with this technique and the more you work with it the more creative your ideas will become.

Shelton offers one caution: “Obviously, any plot twists must fit logically into the story. Sally can’t reveal that the father of her baby is an extraterrestrial unless you’ve already established some plausibility for this.  Surprise your readers but don’t make them throw down your book.”

Plot twists are great fun. Play around with ideas and enjoy the process!


Connie Shelton is the author of eighteen mystery novels and ranks among the Top 100 mystery authors online. She taught for Long Ridge Writers Group for six years and is the creator of the Novel In A Weekend™ writing course.

Find Connie’s books on Kobo!

My writing life — Barbara Freethy

Barbara FreethyBarbara Freethy has been making up stories most of her life. She is a New York Times bestselling author of more than of 31 novels of romance, women’s fiction and romantic suspense. Some readers might know her books for Silhouette, where she wrote under the pen name Kristina Logan; Barbara became a full-on indie author in 2011 when she published Summer Secrets.

Though she’s lived life on both sides of the publishing world,  her best piece of advice to writers is “understand that no matter what path of publishing you take it’s a long haul. Very few people make a career off one book. You put up one story and start working on the next. And some day you’ll have a full list of books and hopefully a booming career!”

Here’s more of what Barbara has to say about her writing life:

When did you first discover a love for writing?

My love of writing came from a love of reading. My mother was a voracious reader, and our house was overflowing with books. Her favorite genre was romance, so I started out reading historical romance and then moved on to contemporaries and mysteries.  My mom was also the one who inspired me to write after she penned a novel. Unfortunately, she never sold a book, but her joy of writing and reading rubbed off on me. Having read so much fiction really helped me when it came to developing my own characters and my own stories.

What was the first book/story you ever wrote?

The first book I wrote was a contemporary romance about a wedding planner who ends up sharing office space with a divorce attorney in an old Victorian house in San Francisco. It was titled Promise of Marriage and was published by Silhouette a long time ago under the pen name Kristina Logan. I have gotten the rights back to that book and hope to digitally convert it in the next few months.

What was the first eBook that you self-published?

The first book I self published was Summer Secrets, a story about three sisters, a family secret, and the adventurous background of sailboat racing.  The book took a while to catch fire, but then raced up the charts and eventually hit #1 on Amazon and #1 on the New York Times, which was a thrilling moment.

Where do you usually write?

Two days a week I write with a friend at Starbucks or some other locale for a few hours in the afternoon. We chat a little about writing and then dive into our own work on our laptop computers.  The rest of the time I write at home, sometimes at a desk, sometimes in a comfortable chair.

What is the most interesting thing about eBook publishing?

 EBooks have made it possible for authors to write continuing stories without any worry that the first book in the series will go out of print. And for readers, knowing that they’ll be able to find every book by their favorite author is a big plus.

How has the ability to publish and control your eBook entirely affected your approach to writing and publishing?

I find self-publishing to be a freeing experience creatively, because I’m no longer bound by the restrictions of an agent or a publishing house or even a retail chain that has to be selective about what books to put on their shelves. I can write what I think my readers want to read. I can also publish my books more frequently, which makes me very happy. Coming out of traditional publishing, I was always limited by a certain number of books per year. Now I can publish as many books as I can write.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?

I’m creatively inspired by nature, music, movies, books. I never know where my ideas come from because a book usually starts from something very small or just a brainstorming question that might begin with, “What if …”

My book, Daniel’s Gift, was one of my more personal stories and is a very emotional love story that was written after a tragedy in my own family. But the book is full of hope, and it was somewhat cathartic for me to write it. Other ideas have sprung from current events. Ryan’s Return was set by a river that floods every fifty years.  At the time, there was a lot of flooding going on in the country, and I remember a newscaster interviewing someone who chose to live by the river even though they had to rebuild over and over again, and I decided to create my own town, my own river, and populate it with interesting characters who chose to live by a beautiful river that could destroy them with very little warning. One of my favorite books, Don’t Say a Word, was based on the famous photograph of an unnamed woman during a civil war. I started wondering what would it be like to find out you look exactly like one of the world’s most famous orphans in a picture taken a thousand miles away from where you live.

As you can see, my ideas come from everywhere.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I believe that writing is hard! Some days the words won’t come and other days they flow, but I don’t believe that a professional author can afford to be derailed by writer’s block. Usually for me, when the words stop, it’s because I’ve taken a wrong turn in my story. Figuring out where I went off the path usually gets the words flowing again. I also believe in pushing through the slow moments. I tell myself to “just write something” and somehow the act of putting words down kick-starts my imagination. Another little trick I use is to end the previous day’s writing with a partial sentence or the beginning of a new chapter so that the idea is already percolating in my brain before I sit down to write.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received as a writer?

Write more than one book!  And after you write what you know, write what you don’t know.  Okay, that was two pieces of advice but both valid. No one can make a career with one book. Readers who love that book will want more. And you will learn from every book you write. While writing what you know is a good place to start, I’ve found that writing about new places, subjects, themes has kept me interested in writing book after book, because I have more fun.

How important are beta readers to a self-published author?

I think it’s important for self publishing authors to use editors, either content or line editors or both, as well as proofers. Beginning writers will also want to get several opinions before they polish and publish. The last thing a self-publishing author wants to do is put up a book that isn’t as good as it can possibly be, because readers and reviewers can be harsh and unforgiving.

How do create your covers?

I started self publishing before there were a lot of options, so I learned how to use Photoshop and manipulate stock art.  I still really enjoy making my own covers, although I have used artists on occasion to take my idea to a better level. For me, I don’t really know what I want until I see it. I believe the cover is very important, and I will make changes if I don’t think a cover is working. Sometimes you don’t realize how good or bad your cover is until you see it in thumbnail size next to a bunch of other covers. I’ve also learned that what looks fantastic on a print cover may not look nearly as great on a digital eBook and vice versa.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished the third book in my WISH Series, When Wishes Collide, which will be available on Kobo on September 23, 2012. A Secret Wish and Just a Wish Away were the first two titles. The books all stand alone but are connected by the theme of wishes. I’m now beginning a new family series, THE CALLAWAYS, and the first book will be released in late Fall of 2012.

Where can readers connect with you?

Readers can visit my website at or connect with me on facebook at or follow me on twitter at

Find Barbara Freethy’s books on Kobo!


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