Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Study of Endings

A Study of Endings
By Natalie Hanemann 

It’s one of the hardest things a novelist does: ending the story. Or maybe it’s the easiest. I've worked with authors who write the ending first and then go back and fill in the rest. Is there a right way to end a novel? It’s not an exact science, of course, but if you've ever read a book and at the end, wanted to drop it in your paper shredder, then you know that the ending can make or break you as a novelist.

I've come across a string of stories lately with poor endings. 

Last week my kids found a movie on Netflix, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. They loved this movie but something happened in the last few moments of the story that changed their minds. They said they never wanted to watch that movie again. I googled the movie and there’s even a site where the ending is discussed:

At a library sale last weekend, I picked up There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly for my kids. I hadn't read it before but I liked the art work. I was shocked when on the last page of the book, the final line was, “There was an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead of course.” Really!? The old lady dies? For the sake of the rhyme. Poor decision and potentially scarring to little kids.

In both of these examples, the protagonist dies at the story’s conclusion. Is it a mistake to have your hero/heroine die at the end? Not necessarily. You must take a few things into consideration. One is the genre. In less commercial, more literary novels, the protagonist’s death seems to be more tolerable. But what about a story where the hero’s death is sacrificial and helps to save the lives of others? This happens frequently and audiences seem to be able to handle it. This was the case in the recent Disney movie Big Hero 6. It was sad to see Baymax die, but my kids didn't feel betrayed because they saw the role his death played for the other characters in the story. Plus, Disney could bring him back in the sequel . . .

I recently edited a novel where the author ended the book with the protagonist getting shot and dying. It wasn't a sacrificial death; he just died. “What if he didn't die?” I asked the author. “But what will he go off and do?” the author wanted to know. Once your protagonist accomplishes their goal, should they just go live happily ever after? Is that realistic? Should it be? 

These are difficult questions and every story has its own, unique way it should end, but it isn’t always obvious. But here’s a universal guide to ending a story well: think about your reader. You should have their experience in mind as you write your novel and especially as you think about how it will end. If the ending isn't satisfying, they will be frustrated. They may blog about it or put a review online to vent their disappointment. They won’t tell their friends to read the book (word of mouth is so important) – they may even tell them NOT to read it.

Here are a few elements of a satisfying ending: Is the reader left feeling hopeful when they put the book down? Is there a promise of happiness for the protagonist (assuming they aren’t dead)? Was justice served? Did the bad guy get their comeuppance? Did good triumph? Did the problems get resolved?

In fiction, no resolution is rarely a good resolution. The danger is that plot threads can get too neatly tied up and a reader will roll his or her eyes at the end. You don’t have to spell everything out. Being subtle can help in not tying too neat of a bow. Everyone shouldn't get what they want. It can be annoying to read stories where everyone wins in the end. The art in closing plot threads is to balance being realistic with offering a satisfying conclusion.

A good ending isn't easy and can’t be rushed. Writing is highly creative and you, as the author, will have strong feelings about how the story should end, but before you complete that final scene, try to step outside of yourself and think about how a reader will feel when they turn the last page. Show your readers some love by considering their feelings.

And if you do, they just might reward you with their loyalty . . . and their recommendation.

Natalie Hanemann is a freelance fiction editor who lives in Franklin, TN with her husband and four kids. Visit her website at:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Expand Your Reach Through Audio Products

Expand Your Reach Through Audio Products
by Becky Lyles / Rebecca Carey Lyles

My husband, Steve, and I started a podcast last year. But we didn't join the podcasting craze just to be trendy. Our audio-engineer son, Toby Lyles, who works with podcasts and audiobooks, advised us to do so. He insisted a podcast would expand my reach into the world of potential readers for my books – and that audio products are the wave of the future.

I balked at the idea because I’m not a professional broadcaster, and I wasn't sure listeners would want to hear me ramble on about, well, any subject. In response, Toby suggested I discuss different aspects of editing because I’m a freelance editor. However, I felt like such a narrow focus would limit my audience. All writers need good editors, but the behind-the-scenes work required to improve a manuscript is not the stuff of Hollywood movies—or interesting podcasts (in my opinion).

With a little arm-twisting, my sweet hubby agreed to join me in a vaguely related podcasting venture – storytelling. Everybody loves a good story, right? Thus, the name: “Let Me Tell You a Story.” We realize all those people who love good stories may not listen to our podcast; however, our intended audience is definitely broader than if I’d gone with the editing idea. (Of course, Toby says I could do both. J)

Many podcast hosts chat about subjects from their field of expertise, or they interview experts, but that’s not our style. We don’t lecture, teach or preach. And, truth be told, we don’t tell stories on “Let Me Tell You a Story”; instead, we read stories.

Thanks to the team approach, our listeners get to hear more than one voice on our podcast. We take turns reading, and we alternate writing styles. So far, we’ve read short stories, book chapters, poetry, essays, vignettes, quotations and jokes. Sometimes, guest authors read their own work, which adds even more variety. (FYI, we always obtain permission before we share other writers’ literary creations with the public.)

So, you ask, what’s involved with producing a podcast? As mentioned above, you need to choose a focus for your audio musings and decide what audience you want to reach. Then you can name the podcast and create a cover graphic for the show (we paid a professional graphic artist a small fee to design ours). Next, you purchase a recorder and a good-quality microphone. As you may guess, such equipment comes in all sizes and shapes…and prices. Toby provides great how-to advice in his free podcast manual, which can be downloaded from his website:

For our first few recording sessions, we plugged a USB microphone into my laptop. Using my computer as a recorder worked great – until the motherboard crashed. Thanks to a separate crazy issue, the computer problems continued, and we stopped podcasting for several months. Finally, with Toby’s guidance, we purchased a small recorder and an XLR microphone. If I remember right, the total cost was around $200. You might spend less, and you might spend more.

What’s the average length of a podcast? Ours tend to run between 25 and 45 minutes. We strive for an average number of stories rather than a certain time limit. Other podcasts are longer than ours, 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll have to find your own comfort zone and what best suits the material you’re presenting.

Toby is the audio engineer for our podcast. Does that mean you need to hire an audio person? No. Many people produce podcasts without involving experts, thanks to free or inexpensive programs like Audacity and Reaper, which enable novices to create quality audio products.

That said, we like the intro our son created for our podcast, something our non-techy selves would not have been able to do. Plus, we like the sound effects he adds when he has time to play around with our stories. Again, I’m sure many of you are able to do the same.

Libsyn serves as our podcast host (fees start at $5/month). From there, the podcast is sent to my website, Stitcher and iTunes to provide easy access for listeners.

At this point in our short podcasting history, we only record one or two “shows” per month. Toby thinks we should aim for weekly offerings, which is a good idea because the more we record, the easier it becomes. And the more we practice, the better our tongues cooperate. We’ve learned to read each story, poem, etc. out loud at least two times before we push the record button. Preparation and practice help us relax and have fun during our recording sessions.

Has our podcast increased book sales? So far, we don’t see spikes in sales when we release new editions. However, just like with Facebook or Twitter, we’re growing our audience. The main benefit we receive from the podcast right now is that it provides another avenue to get our names “out there.”

Our featured authors also gain exposure when we read their stories on “Let Me Tell You a Story.” We provide their contact and purchase info so readers are able to connect with them and find their books. If you’ve written something you’d like us to read aloud, send me a note. We’re always looking for new material. To listen to our podcasts, go to

A couple more thoughts regarding audio products –

Audiobooks are becoming more and more popular. Two of my books are now available in audio format. You can hear excerpts at (Winds of Wyoming) and (Winds of Freedom). Again, a sound engineer could help you create an audiobook, or you could do it yourself. Audible, an Amazon subsidiary that publishes audiobooks on Amazon and iTunes, walks authors through the process. Check out

Some podcasters are now combining their podcasts to create audiobooks for their audiences. Evidently, the sky’s the limit when it comes to audio these days.

There you have it – everything you always wanted to know about audio products. Well, maybe not everything. Please feel to contact me at or Toby at with questions.

Rebecca Carey Lyles grew up in Wyoming, the setting for her award-winning Kate Neilson novels, “Winds of Wyoming” and “Winds of Freedom.” (Excerpts from those books can be heard on podcasts 3 and 11 at She now lives in Idaho, where she serves as an editor and a mentor for aspiring authors and women transitioning from prison to life on the outside. She recently published a short story collection titled “Passageways” and is writing the third book in the Kate Neilson series, “Winds of Change.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Releases!

NEW today. Just in time for Valentine's Day.

Book five in the Mail Order Brides of Hickory Stick. Christian Fiction

THE LONE STRANGER by Patricia Pacjac Carroll  ONLY .99

Prudence, desperate to protect her troubled young son, risks everything to go west. After all, it's not easy for an eight-year-old boy to be saddled with a twenty-dollar name, glasses, red hair. And no father.

Herman is proud of his store. His success a tribute to his motto ~ avoid risk and settle for the sure thing. But when Prudence comes into his life, he may just have to set his motto aside.

And ....

Ransom: A White Road Tale- Novella 3 by Jackie Castle

How had lips that once kissed his face with whispers of love now dripped with such poison? 

Tarek was often left wondering if the princess was honestly enchanted into forgetting what they once had together, or simply chosen to forget.

A raging war battled inside his heart. Despair tried hard to convince him to give up. Hope rallied for him to hang on. For a moment, the girl he loved was there. For a moment. And that moment was all he needed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Writer Tip of the day

“There are some 100-page books that feel long and some 1,000-page books that feel short.” ~ Leonard Sweet

Use your words wisely.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Writer Tip for the day


Be careful not to add anyone to your mailing list without getting their permission. You don't want to drive away potential readers.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Proposals that Shine

Book Proposals that Shine
by Natalie Hanemann

As a former in-house editor at a publishing house, I have logged many hours going through the slush piles of book proposals. The majority of the proposals came from unpublished authors and the quality of the proposal varied widely. It’s easy to dismiss a proposal that is sloppy or has insufficient data. Here are some tips for a book proposal that will make you stand apart from the crowd.

It’s important to remember than an editor only has a few minutes to review your proposal, so you want to hook them immediately and spend their time wisely. Here are the basics of what the editor needs to know:

· Is this your first book or have you published before?

· If you’ve had books published previously, provide the details (title, year, publishing house, and how many units you sold).

· A one-sentence description. It can take FOREVER to come up with the perfect one, but it is worth the time to be able to distill your story into a sentence that captures its essence. Here is an example: “A tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father-a crusading local lawyer-risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.” [To Kill a Mockingbird] Work hard to get your sentence just right.

· A short synopsis. Here you’ll share the protagonist, his/her goal, the obstacles, the outcome.

· A long synopsis. Here you’ll be more detailed about the primary characters and the different conflicts. Unless the publishing house requests it, do not send a chapter by chapter summary.

· Is your idea a standalone or a part of a series? If a series, share brief summaries of future books and how much time you need to write the subsequent books. Include if the first book in the series is complete or how many months until it will be complete.

· Books in the industry that are similar to the book you wrote. It’s best to compare your book with one that has the same audience (i.e. Christian fiction, secular). TIP: don’t compare yourself to Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Even if you write stories just like theirs, it just isn’t realistic or helpful.

· What kind of platform or outreach do you have? Include groups of people or memberships where you would be able to promote your book. If the numbers are good, include # of FB friends and Twitter followers. Also include a list of possible endorsers, authors you know or who you’ve networked with.

· A short biography about yourself. 4-6 paragraphs highlighting your writing life and a little bit about who you are. The tone of this bio should be professional but show a little bit of your personality. If your proposal is presented in a voice that is too familiar, it can count against you. Similarly, if the tone is too formal, it may come across as dry.

· Sample chapters. Three is normally sufficient. Make sure your sample chapters are polished and sparkling! No typos or amateur errors; don’t be sloppy. No matter how mediocre your proposal is, if the story is good, they’ll overlook the rest.

· Don’t email or call the in-house editor to ask for a status update on your proposal. Reviewing prospective projects isn’t a top priority so it can sometimes take a couple of months before your proposal is looked at. Try to be patient.

· In all things, be succinct. Trim your sentences so they are efficient. Say things in as few words as possible. This can become a game of sorts. Try to whittle down 500 words to 400. It can be done, I assure you, but it takes some practice.

· Don’t provide a cover. With software programs today, it’s easy to let your creativity creep into design and “I’m just gonna see what I come up with” can turn into hours of work on a cover that you feel will make you stand out. Well, it does make you stand out, but not in the best way. Book design is a fine art and should be undertaken by designers. If you have a niece or uncle who is in school for design, don’t be tempted when they ask if they can mock up a book cover for your WIP.

· Pray before you hit Send and then leave it in God’s hands.

· If you get rejected, whatever you do, don’t go on social media and start talking trash about the publisher. In fact, don’t ever use social media for an emotional outburst. It’s unprofessional and reflects poorly on you. In every case, be kind and respectful.

Natalie Hanemann is an award-winning editor who has worked in book publishing for more than thirteen years. In 2012, she left corporate publishing to stay home with her four children and began her freelance editing business.

Natalie has a passion for fiction. She enjoys working on both general fiction and genre fiction. She has mentored young writers, been interviewed on author blogs, and published articles on fiction writing. What she loves most about her profession is working closely with the authors to help them tell the story that God has put on their hearts.

If you’re interested in contacting Natalie for her services, visit her website at or email her at