Category Archives: Member Contributions

An Evening with Agent Extraordinaire Donald Maass

Top New York Agent Donald Maass visited our local Whatcom Writers & Publishers group.

Photo from

The news is out: Donald Maass has opened a West Coast office in our “City of Subdued Excitement,” Bellingham, Washington! Expressing an interest in making connections within our very active, creative community, he appeared as guest speaker at our latest meeting of Whatcom Writers and Publishers. Despite the snowy, icy conditions, a roomful of dedicated writers greeted him enthusiastically.

“Donald Maass founded the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York in 1980. He is the author of The Career Novelist (1996),Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011) and Writing 21st Century Fiction(2012).  He is a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.” (From the website )

I’ve followed Mr. Maass’s career for years, and have recommended his excellent craft books to my students and editing clients. I met him briefly at a ThrillerFest conference in New York a few years ago, and was delighted to hear the news that he had moved to the Pacific Northwest to open a local branch of his literary agency. A dynamic speaker, he clearly values the deeper aspects of storytelling and the inner lives of fictional characters. He’s passionate about the importance of heartfelt stories to our culture, and is here to show us how to achieve a true emotional connection with readers. And he has a great sense of humor!

Mr. Maass graciously chatted with several of us as dinner orders were underway, then started his presentation with an update of the state of publishing. I was happy to hear that the outlook for book publishing is more positive than I expected. Apparently the much-hyped “death of the book” is far from a reality, and in fact global literacy rates are quickly rising. The publishing industry is “steady and healthy,” with 675 million print books sold in the U.S. in 2017.  Sales of eBooks, once expected to spell the end of print books, have levelled off from traditional publishing sources.

The numbers of indie-published ebooks continue to expand, with a completely different market approach. Basically, a few indie authors can make big profits if they are very marketing-savvy, but most indie ebooks languish with very low recognition. If I caught the figure correctly, around 4,000 ebook titles are published via Amazon Kindle per month, and most of these titles are lost in the flood. The traditional publishers can still offer much wider distribution and recognition through reviews, placement in bookstores, and advertising. Of course, authors must pass “the gatekeepers” of agents and editors in order to be published traditionally, but Mr. Maass assured us that new authors, by far the majority from outside the “New York scene,” are still being sought and welcomed.

Mr. Maass then proceeded to fire up the room with his discussion of the importance of deep storytelling in fiction, which depends on the development of rich inner lives of characters and connection to important cultural themes. He reminded us that “literary” values do apply to successful commercial fiction. Yes, compelling plot and pacing are important, but a story needs these rich characterizations, inner tensions, and multi-level conflicts in order to really connect emotionally with readers. He feels the separation between “literary” and “genre” is becoming meaningless. “Readers want greater depth now.”

He then challenged us with a few quick writing exercises designed to dig deeper into the background, motivations, fears, and triumphs of our own characters. We experimented with ways to “write around” an emotion such as fear or anger that our characters might be experiencing, in order to avoid such clichés as “his guts twisted in fear.” We can explore all the surroundings and sensations of the character in order to impart that emotion without baldly (and badly) stating it.

We ended on a note of fresh air in our jaded, politically-fraught times, as Donald Maass urged us to consider providing our readers with “moral uplift.” He cited studies showing that deep emotional connection to fiction can make positive changes in the lives of readers. Thank you, Mr. Maass, for a hopeful vision for our times!


You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts at  every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from  is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from another research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. 

Be An Expert: Reach Your Niche Market and Add to Your Bottom Line

Be An Expert:
Reach Your Niche Market
and Add to Your Bottom Line

Are you the author of a how-to or how-I book? Then you should not be surprised to find that you are a premier expert on the subject matter you have authored. Add to your bottom line and reach the people who want to buy your books as well as others interested in your specific niche. Share your knowledge and experience as an “expert”! Publishers with numerous authors, take note! Encouraging your authors to be experts can sell more books and increase income for you and for your authors! Capitalize on your expert knowledge by offering yourself as a consultant, workshop leader, keynote speaker, or other kind of presenter; in turn, you can collect a decent fee, and at the same time, sell more books.

Am I an Expert?

If you an author or publisher with specific knowledge to share, then you are very likely an expert. By way of example, I will share some personal experience as a starting point for understanding how to reap the rewards of being an “expert”.

I write book about art for children, books of activities and projects that reflect my specific philosophy that children benefit most by creating true art rather than copying cutesy crafts adults have made. Because I have a focused philosophy to offer educators, librarians, and others who work with children, I am often hired to give workshops, full-day trainings, keynotes, and other kinds of presentations to share my perspective. The highlights of my offerings are the hands-on art experiences I bring to my presentations, art supplies and materials and projects to explore! I am the “expert” on children’s creative art education, with knowledge and experiences to share, and because of that, I am in demand around the country to share what I know. I am paid well to do so, and at the same time, sell the books I’ve written to back up the experience for my listeners.

Ask yourself: Am I an expert? Though you may not feel like you one, no doubt you actually are an expert, and you can enjoy how that will increase the bottom line!

How Do I Find Work as an Expert?

Now that you’ve agreed you are an expert, how do you find those consulting and speaking gigs? Better yet, how do they find you and invite you?

Heard of Facebook? it’s one place to begin. Create a spin-off page from your personal Facebook page that is dedicated to your professional life as an author and expert. Then begin describing and offering your services, including your full contact info and a link to your website where all your fees, speaking topics, FAQs, and author information can be found by those seeking to hire you. Make it easy for them to contact you through email and telephone. And when they do, get back to them same day or as quickly as possible. Don’t be shy about asking to be compensated.

Another great use of Facebook is to search for organizations in your area of expertise. For me, I search for Child Care Resource & Development groups, state Associations for the Education of Young Children, state librarian associations, and so on. “Friend” the ones that relate to your knowledge, say hello, and let them know you are available for keynotes, consulting, workshops, or whatever you wish to offer. Don’t overdo it, but make yourself known.

Another Facebook approach after “friending” these organizations, is to be sure and post interesting things to their pages that relate to their field, post news about interviews or magazine articles you may have done, or post any news or research or events that they will find helpful or interesting. Don’t make your posts just about you; post information that shows you are in the know and a great resource for them.

Heard of Google? Search for organizations who may benefit from your expert knowledge. Send them emails, or write letters or even just a friendly postcard. Include your website and contact info. Many many of my own successes have come from these “reach out and touch someone” efforts. When someone replies, have a packet or brochure or sheet about “you” and what you offer. Mail or email/attach this immediately. Then follow up.

One of my most successful tools has been to reply with a sheet of FAQs that covers just about everything anyone might ever ask. People seem to love this easy way to learn about my presentations and workshops, all on one sheet, filled with answer to the questions they would ask. I also send them what I call my “Checklist” that lines out who does what and what to expect at my workshops and presentations. It’s all there. Contact info, tax number, who pays for hotel, who pays for art supplies, who sets up the tables, who makes the hotel reservations, and much more. I’ve been told that this is a huge hit with the organizers of our events, because it’s “all” there and saves tremendous time in planning for both the group and for the presenter.

Some author-experts have a “press room” on their websites that has all the presentation information clearly offered. It can be extremely important to have a video clip of yourself talking in person. This one idea can sell you as an expert more than all other details you provide. A simple video clip made with a smart phone is good enough, just 30 seconds and you’re done!

Heard of blogs? Find blogs on the Internet that relate to your interest area. Post comments and become involved. After a bit, offer the blog owner a “free give-away” of your book to their followers as well as an interview of you and your knowledge. Use these interviews to propel you further along as more and more people learn to recognize your name and your books and how you can help them in their field. Blogs are an amazing way to be discovered and invited to be a speaker, consultant, or presenter.

Though Facebook, blogs, and websites are powerful, remember Twitter, magazine and journal articles, online radio interviews, and other various efforts will bring you into the sights of those who will want to hire you, so keep at it!

A word about free events: The more you are in the public eye, the more chance you have of being hired to offer events or consultations. Speak at your public library, offers talks at bookstores, and show up at community events (possibly with a sales table) and I suggest you always have something to give-away for free, even if it’s just balloons for the kiddies. Remember to have a stack of your promotional brochures about your speaking engagements with you.? Business cards are great, but that brochure will have your FAQs and presentation topics ready to hand out, and won’t be easily forgotten.

What Am I Worth?

You may have a sense of what you should charge based on what you have paid for consultants or conferences in your own experiences. Maybe you know someone doing something similar and have an idea of what they charge. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to ask others in the same field what they are charging to get a ballpark figure to work from. In my field, a full day training running 8am-4pm will run anywhere from $1500-$5000 per day, plus expenses (hotel, airfare, rental car). For shorter jobs, the fees remain about the same, because a day away is a day away. As well, different kinds of venues may require different fees, so be ready to adjust as needed. Fees can always be negotiated, so value yourself and don’t undersell your skills. You are an expert, afterall! The more experiences you have under your belt, the fees you should charge will be easier to estimate. Be sure to save a list of contacts from your various engagements so that recommendations can be given to new clients.

How Will I Sell More Books?

Part of being an expert at your events is to be sure your books are available to be sold before, during, after, or prior to said event. Pre-sales are a great way to get attendees excited about your topic and your visit, and give you a better idea of how many books to bring or ship. Giving a special price for pre-sales is motivational and friendly. People love autographs, so plan to sit and chat and autograph your books as well, usually during lunch (no, you don’t usually get to eat a real lunch!). If possible, ask the folks giving the event to handle the sales of books you provide, and always make credit card purchases possible. (The new cubes that fit on an iPhone or other device are great!) You will be too busy to do it all, so be sure you have the sales portion of your event set up in advance.

If you have handouts or other promotional materials, be sure to include a list of your books and how people can find them for purchase. If you prefer to use Amazon only, it’s easy for you, but you may prefer to use your own website as the sales venue of choice. Some experts field all their sales to their distributor, a wholesaler, or even a local independent bookstore. The choice is yours, but make it clear and easy whatever it is. Remember to include an old fashioned order form with your handouts. Some people still like to mail in a check (yes, it’s true). Above all, the important thing to know is, you will sell more books!

How About that Bottom Line?
How much can you add to your bottom line as an expert?A little or a lot? Yes, both definitely, but it’s up to you to set the parameters. Because it is difficult to guess what any one particular author-expert might achieve in one year, let’s look at one example, and you can plug in your own numbers to get an estimate:

Example — Do the Math:
One author-expert offers 5 strong events in one year (200 people attending each) with a fee of $4000 per event = $20,000. Add sales of one $20 book for an estimated half (100) of the attendees = $2000. Expenses are covered, so there’s no further deduction needed. Deduct book costs of $2.00/book and minor expenses $100. There you have it. $21,700 give or take added to the bottom line for five events, and this is only a very loose estimate. Book sales can be much higher if you have numerous titles, and if you add more events both large and small, the total goes up quickly, as do the sales of your books. If you piggy back events in one city, the expenses are less, and the sales are higher! The more events you offer, the more you will be invited to do more!

Will I Have Time to Write?
One of the considerations about adding all this newfound excitement and days away from the office into your life as an expert is that time to write becomes more difficult to fit in. You have to be honest with yourself and disciplined with how much you can add on to what you already do as a busy author. Some author-experts like to space out the events over the year leaving room to write in the months between. Others like to squeeze their events as close together in one big hunk of time and then be done with it for the rest of the year. Know yourself, and decide to make writing a priority above all else. After all, that’s how you become an author-expert in the first place. You have to have time to write another book, and another.

Ask any author-expert: What is the best part of interacting with your readers and sharing your knowledge? Most will answer, “They inspire me to write!” And that’s a bonus!

MaryAnn F. Kohl is the owner of Bright Ring Publishing, Inc. (1985) and the author of 20+ art education books for teacher/kids/parents. She writes for both Bright Ring and for Gryphon House, Inc. Visit MaryAnn’s website at MaryAnn is on the IBPA Board of Directors, a “Parent Expert”, and a winner of numerous Benjamin Franklin Awards. Bright Ring’s books are distributed to the trade by Legato Book Distribution.




All About the Blog Tour

Read: Jump On Board the Blog Tour
by MaryAnn F. Kohl,
from The Independent, IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association,

MaryAnn Faubion Kohl, author-educator-publisher-agent-presenter-consultant, wrote this article for the monthly journal The Independent published by the Independent Book Publishers Association. She was on their board of directors at the time.

MaryAnn launched her own blog tour and found that it may have reached 1.5 million+ followers of blogs. To quote MaryAnn, “It’s almost unbelievable! I hope this article helps other independent publishers and authors get on board a blog tour. I have to say, that the planning and record keeping is intense, but the reach of followers is worth it. I had a spike in sales that shook my distributor, Legato (part of Publishers Group West)!”

Hint: Join IBPA if you want amazing coop programs for marketing and advertising and all kinds of help becoming a successful independent publisher! There are many free articles and resources about publishing on their website:

A Letter from WWP’s Prez and Chief Writer/Cat Herder

Happy New Year Whatcom Writers, Publishers, and Readers!

 WWP’s All Writers Holiday Party held the second Wednesday of December was  a fun and well attended event.

Members from Red Wheelbarrow, Upstart Crows, Bellingham Writers, the Pride of Liars, Skagit Valley Writers League, and others (a whole lot of SFF writers this year!) joined with WWP members in the evening’s festivities.

We had prizes for “What’s My Genre?” game winners,  Authors and Titles Pandemonium, and a White Elephant gift exchange. And, of course, Nicky’s offered libations and vittles. Authors brought in their books to exchange with others. The party continued at the “meeting after the meeting” at Nicky’s bar.

All in all, a great way to wrap up another year here at WWP!

Wednesday, January 13 is the date of the FIRST WWP Dinner Meeting of 2016!

We will kick off  2016 with Rae Ellen Lee presenting “Turning Tragedy into Humor” — something that anyone who has read her “My Next Husband Will Be Normal” truly knows that she can! Rae Ellen is an entertaining speaker and published author of humorous  memoirs and heartwarming  stories.

SAVE THE WWP MEETING DATES – 2nd Wed. of the Month

Be sure to mark your calender for the SECOND WEDNESDAY of each month for the WWP dinner meeting at Nicky’s Bella Marina at Squalicum Harbor except for July and August.

  • Happy Hour Prices 5:30 to 6 p.m.
  • Announcements start at 6:30
  • Presentation begins at 7:00
  • “Meeting after the Meeting” (casual gathering in the bar on the main level) at 8:30 pm.

Cost: FREE (non-members are asked to join if attending more than 2 meetings per year) Annual Membership Dues: $25

Food: Order drinks and food are available for purchase and you can order from the full menu.

Nicky’s offers pub fare along with steamed vegetables, risotto, and steaks and the best fish and chips in town along with a full bar. We meet upstairs at the Skyline Room with the gorgeous views.

Seating is limited and if we underestimate the number of attendees it makes things difficult for the kitchen, wait staff and Nicky’s restaurant, which is graciously giving us our meeting space for free, so please RSVP.


Program and Speaker suggestions for 2016 and 2017 – We want to hear from you! What do you want to see, and who do you want to hear? What type of topics are you interested in? ​

Please contact Pamela Beason, Speaker Seeker committee chair with your ideas and suggestions at:

Visit WWP’s website OFTEN!

Be sure to visit the Whatcom Writers and Publishers website frequently for the latest in opportunities, discounts, announcements, events, and to make your RSVP and keep your dues and directory listing current!


Finally​, I will not be attending January’s meeting because I will be heading to Nacogdoches, Texas for the Beauty and the Book Club weekend with Kathy Murhpy — Empress of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, which has more than 600+ chapters. I am attending to see how to get books on the “Official Pulpwood Queens’ Book List.” I promise a full report at February’s meeting! 

Best wishes for the NEW YEAR! ​Keep on Writing!

​Kiffer Brown, Prez & Chief Writer/Cat Herder ​of WWP

A Books by the Bay Report by Selah J. Tay-Song

The very first Books by the Bay book sale event was held on Sept. 21, 2014. It was a moderate success and we hope that it will only et better with each successive year. Selah J. Tay-Song, local WWP member, had a few things to share about her experience at the Book Fair.

My takeaway from Books on the Bay was this: There are more amazing books out there than I have time or money for! I wanted to buy so many beautiful books at this grand event! Continue reading A Books by the Bay Report by Selah J. Tay-Song