The Three Rs: Reading, wRiting, and Roaming

September 19, 2017

While we typically say goodbye to summer over the Labor Day weekend, this week marks the true end of summer with the autumn equinox on Friday, September 22 (at precisely 3:02 pm central time in the northern hemisphere.) This holiday is also known as Mabon—a mid-harvest festival. Given the temperatures we’ll expect in south central Wisconsin this week, it sure doesn’t feel like fall. The corn and soybeans still stand in the field and gardens are still abundantly producing. That’s just fine with me. I’ll hold onto summer-like weather as long as possible!

Hello Fall, Hello New Television Shows - my favorites with author Valerie BielWhat does tell me it’s fall has nothing to do with outdoorsy activities—it’s the new TV schedule and all the fall premieres that I’ve been waiting for. I was at a conference this weekend and my roommates and I had a conversation about the television shows we love and watch regularly. My list was rather long and I decided it was time to come clean. Yes, my name is Valerie and I am a TV addict. (In all fairness, I’m also a reading addict . . . so maybe I just like stories a lot no matter their medium.)

I decided to take stock and list all the shows I watch. (In my defense, not all of these shows run at the same time, or all I would do is watch TV.)

Outlander – Scottish time travel story based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon. This amazing show stays true to the books—I’m guessing because the author remains involved with the project. The third season has just started on STARZ and is just as good as expected. Here's the first season trailer to get you started if you've never watched this show.

The Walking Dead – Yes, zombies plus some really dumb people who keep making the same mistakes, but now I’m too invested to turn away. Premieres October 22.

Fear the Walking Dead – Same zombies, but different dumb people who keep making the same mistakes in the western part of the United States. I still watch because I need to know who dies next. The show is currently in its third season.

Midnight, Texas – This is a story about a town serving as a haven to a variety of supernatural creatures based on the novels by Charlaine Harris of True Blood fame. First season just concluded.

I'm a TV Addict - I love Good Behavior.Good Behavior – Michelle Dockery makes this ex-con-but-I’m-still-a-thief show rather a delight to watch. This is about as far from Downtown Abbey as you can get. The second season premieres October 15.

Madam Secretary – Tea Leoni stars as the Secretary of State in this wonderfully realistic political drama. My husband will actually watch this one with me. The new season premieres October 8.

Stranger Things (Netflix) – If you liked the movie Super 8, you should like this retro creepy story. A Netflix original, all the episodes of the second season will be available on October 27—just in time for the Halloween weekend. I know what I’ll be doing.I'm a TV Addict - I love the Americans!

The Americans – 1980s Soviet sleeper agents carry out their mission in a remarkably complex story line that keeps me checking for the next premiere date. It’s not until 2018 (big sigh).

Colony – With two seasons in, this USA Network original follows the human colonies created by an alien invasion of earth, with humans mainly becoming either collaborators or resistance. It doesn't hurt that one of my favorite actresses from the Walking Dead, Sarah Wayne Callies, is on this show now. The new season will be out in early January.

Shadowhunters – Based on the novels by Cassandra Clare this series has some mediocre acting, but I still watch just for the amusement value.  (The Shadowhunters movie starring Lily Collins was much better but didn’t earn enough for the franchise to continue on the big screen.)

I'm a TV Addict - Shameless equally appalls and entertainsThe 100 – Futuristic series when former space station survivors of a nuclear apocalypse on earth return to the surface. I’m behind by a season on this show, but now that means I can binge watch!

Shameless – I am equally appalled and entertained by the antics of the Chicago family in this drama. William H. Macy does a tremendous job as the alcoholic patriarch. Emmy Rossum stars as the eldest child and family glue and, one of my favorites, Joan Cusack has a supporting role. The whole cast is very talented. I’m waaaay behind on this show, but again this affords me the opportunity of a binge-watching weekend or two to catch up.

I'm a TV Addict - Westworld Please Come Back Soon!

Westworld – This HBO series featuring a western-themed amusement park with artificial intelligence that mixes with the guests in unexpected ways contends with the AI’s growing self-awareness. I love how this show keeps you guessing. We’ll have to wait until 2018 for the new episodes.

The Young Pope – The Jude Law HBO limited series will be back as The New Pope sometime in the future, but there are a lot of unknowns on casting and timing. Reports say that the cast will all be new, but I trust that the director who so brilliantly shaped the first season will bring us another surprising show.

The Fosters – If you need a dose of teenage angst and bad decision making, this show’s for you. Each episode takes on a lot of issues. It can be exhausting to watch the actors continue to make bad decisions. But the acting is stellar and the premise is modern and fresh—the family is comprised of two moms, one biological son, four adopted foster children, and assorted biological parents.

And on top of all of these, I still like a good dose of reality television.I'm a TV Addict - What's not to love about the Great British Baking Show?

The Great British Baking Show – British amateur bakers fight to the finish. I cannot believe the things they are expected to  make with basically no recipe. What’s not to love?

American Ninja Warrior – My kids like to remind me that they watch Ninja Warriors when it was still being broadcast from Japan.  These obstacle courses are fierce and the fitness level is intense. The season has concluded for this fall. 

I'm a TV Addict - Project Runway is one of my go-to shows.Project Runway – Tim Gunn is a Rockstar. I’ve watched all the seasons, enjoying the drama, the strange challenges, the hanging threads, and the odd winners. I mean really?? Ashley Nell Tipton designs the most lovely gowns, but how her Carmen Miranda-esque collection put her on top of season 14 is a mystery to me. Season 16 is currently airing.

Survivor – You know this one, even if you don’t watch it—crazy starving people back-stab each other for a million dollars. My favorite parts are the challenges, which become increasingly difficult for the remaining cast as their strength ebbs.  The new season premieres September 27.

The Amazing Race – In my opinion, this is the best reality show out there. If you haven’t given this one a try, you should tune in for the next season which will likely be in 2018 as it hasn’t been announced in any of the fall line ups.

Does the changing season and return of certain shows give you a thrill, too?

Do you refuse to miss a certain show? It’s time to fess up to your favorites!


September 5, 2017

Goodreads - Reading goals made fun and easy!Reading Goal Update: After failing to reach my ambitious goal of reading 80 books last year (while writing and publishing two books--what was I thinking?), I set a much more reasonable goal of 52 books for 2017.  I’m now only eight books away from reaching this goal. How are you doing on your reading goals this year? I track my reading through Goodreads. I love this because I also get notifications when an author I've previously read has a new release. You know how hard it is to keep track of these things!!


The best part of reading more books than anticipated so far this year?? I’m finding even more excellent books that I think you would enjoy! 

Review of The Iron Tiara by Beth FlynnBeth Flynn’s Nine Minutes Trilogy was recommended to me ages ago and, in December, I finally read it (and reviewed it here.) In the Iron Tiara, Beth Flynn continues with characters we met in her Minutes Trilogy. This is an excellent return to the world where dangerous bikers show a softer side in a story that weaves together past and present in a fast-paced, suspenseful plot.  There are two more books to come in this series. Write faster Beth, pleeeeease!  


(To purchase click here for Kindle or Paperback.)

Anthony Bear and Christy Chapman are from two completely different worlds.

Anthony's the leader of a motorcycle gang that terrorizes Florida's West Coast. As a child, he ran away from his family and the Cherokee Indian Reservation to enter a life of crime. As an adult, he leads a multifaceted life managing his two businesses--his legitimate landscaping venture, and his loan shark and underworld dealings.


Driven by anger and betrayal, Anthony begins the hunt for Christy's father, Van Chapman, after he runs out on a loan. 


Christy's privileged life is not as it seems. She has kept painful family secrets and hidden some of her own. She's determined to find out the truth and expose Van, but her search delivers her right into Anthony Bear's hands, adding kidnapping to his list of crimes. Their worlds are as contrasting as the color of their skin. The only thing they seem to have in common is their mutual disdain for Van Chapman...and each other. They couldn't be more wrong.


Review of the Irish Heart Series by Janet GauvinI also devoured the Irish Heart series by Juliet Gauvin, which begins with book one The Irish Cottage, and continues with The London Flat, and The Paris Apartment. (I didn’t even really need the book description at this point, knowing that those titles were enough to get me to read the stories.)


(Free on Kindle currently or purchase paperback here.)

A story about losing your way and finding your life. Book 1 of 3. Elizabeth Lara built a perfect life as San Francisco’s top divorce attorney, but when she loses her great-aunt Mags, the woman who raised her, she boards a plane and leaves it all behind.


The Irish shores welcome her as she learns a shocking truth, kept secret for thirty-five years. Devastated and now alone in the world, Beth tries to find peace in a beautiful cottage by Lough Rhiannon, but peace isn't what fate had in mind. Almost as soon as she arrives, Beth's solitary retreat into the magic wilds of Ireland is interrupted by Connor Bannon. A man with light brown hair, ice blue eyes and a secret of his own. He's gorgeous, grieving, and completely unexpected. 


With the help of Mags' letters, the colorful townspeople of Dingle, and Connor, Elizabeth might just find a way back to the girl she lost long ago and become the woman she always wanted to be.

Review of Rosebloom by Christine Keleny #1 in the Rose SeriesI began another series, this time by a Wisconsin author, Christine Keleny. The Rose series is a set of four books, beginning with Rosebloom. I was intrigued by the historical setting of this novel aboard one of the many Mississippi riverboats that went from town to town in the early decades of the last century. This is a well-research novel and gives us a lovely glimpse into the past through the eyes of a naïve Wisconsin farm girl who runs away for adventure, fleeing the sedate life of school, marriage, motherhood that she sees before her. (And if you are in the Columbus, WI area, Christine will be our guest author at the Books & Beer Book Club on September 28. Learn more here.) I'm so glad this series is complete, so I can now zip on to book two (and three and four!)

ABOUT THE BOOK: (To purchase click here for paperback or Kindle.)

Step into the life of Rose, a precocious young girl in 1930s Wisconsin, who runs away from home to avoid what she sees as a certain path to marriage and motherhood. What she seeks is adventure. What she finds is much more. Rose is thrown into the lives of the varied people and towns of the Mississippi while working on river boats, going to a prep school in St. Louis where she lives with a black family in the Ville, and working in a bordello in New Orleans (not as a call girl, of course. She is a Catholic girl form the Midwest after all).


What she doesn't anticipate are the close relationships that develop with many of the women she encounters. She also discovers the harshness of the world far away from the security of home. Ultimately, Rose realizes what is most important in her life: her family and her friends.


Rosebloom takes place at a time in history that buffets Rose between the great depression and the coming wave of World War II. She gets herself into situations through her naivete and also just by chance that test her resolve and teach her not only about herself but about the world of others which she would never have known if she hadn't left her small farm in Southwest Wisconsin.

Watch for the upcoming review and interview with Liz Czukas aka Ellie Chahill author of I Temporarily Do--another August read that I couldn't put down!


August 29, 2017

August Writers' Forum - The Book Event and Publishing Information in One PlaceIn my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and most recently completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward. On a professional level, I also use my publicity and editorial skills to aid other authors through my company Lost Lake Press. Some purchase links for books I'm recommending are affiliate links which pay me a small fee.  



New(ish) Books Terri Karsten's Historical Fiction for Middle-Grade Readers "When Luck Runs Out"

Historical Fiction writer, Terri Karsten, is newly retired from teaching and has tackled a new project with a historical blog entitled Bric-A-Brac “Thoughts on writing, reading, and exploring the past. At the beginning of the summer she released a new historical fiction title for middle-grade readers. When Luck Runs Out purchase link 

ABOUT THE BOOK: New York City is full of homeless orphans following the Civil War. Two of them, Meg Kelly and her little brother, Mole, take a chance on a better life. They travel Weston on an orphan train. Will they ever find a place to call home?

Midwest authors with lovely romantic and funny new releases included Angie Stanton with If Ever and Ellie Cahill with I Temporarily Do.  I recommend them both! Look for an upcoming interview with Liz and a review of this latest title.

Great new romantic read from Angie Stanton "If Ever"Great new romantic comedy from Ellie Cahill - "I Temporarily Do"

Bookish Events

September has a full slate of wonderful events to attend from Madison to Milwaukee. Here’s a few at the top of my list:

Mystery to Me Bookstore, 1863 Monroe Street, Madison (Full Event Details Here)

September 10 at  2 pm – Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek will celebrate their newest picture book collaboration In the Middle of Fall.

September 12 at 7 pm – Robert Madrygan will discuss his novel The Solace of Trees.

September 23 at 2 pm – Jim Thompson will give a talk about Peanut of Blind Faith Farm.

September 28 at 6 pm – Kathleen Ernst will launch her newest Chloe Ellefson mystery title Mining for Justice.

A Room of One’s Own, 315 W. Gorham Street, Madison (Full Event Details Here)

September 19 at 6:00 pm – Denise Dubois will discuss Self-Made Woman.

September 22 at 6:00 pm – Paul Buhl will launch his book Johnny Appleseed.

Books & Company of Oconomowoc is co-hosting an event with Michael Perry at the Pewaukee Public Library on September 22 at 5:30 pm. (Full Event Details Here)

Boswell Books of Milwaukee has a number of excellent ticketed events coming up in October. I’m posting these a month in advance as they tend to sell out. (Please note these are often in bigger event venues in the Milwaukee area.) (Full Event Details Here)

October 23 at 7 pm  - Scott Kelly, author of Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery

October 8  at 4 pm – Rick Riordan, author of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3: The Ship of the Dead (and so much more.)

October 29 at 2 pm – Kate DiCamillo, author of La La La: A Story of Hope (and Tales of Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie.) This event is co-hosted with Books & Company of Oconomowoc.

The Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books by DecadeAnd . . . BANNED BOOKS WEEK begins September 24 

I challenge everyone to read at least one book that has made this list through the years during the month of September. Report back here with what you read and what you thought of it. Inquiring minds want to know. This is a serious assignment!!  (If September is too busy for you, see if any of the books you’ve previously read have made this list. You might be surprised.) Here’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged and banned books by decade.

I feel like if someone tells me something is banned, it makes me want to read it even more. Right!!??

Please let me know of any upcoming book releases or events that you’d like featured in the Writers’ Forum!

How to Face the Daily Challenge as a WriterFeatured Subject

Several Ideas to Face the Daily Challenge

I read Terry Whalin’s article about making time for it all at just the right time. I have a number of projects in progress, a few speaking events to prepare for, regular work, and family obligations to fit into each day and week. I’m sure I sound a lot like you.

I appreciated his acknowledgement that somehow made me feel like I’m not the only one who feels like they run from thing to thing all day long. His questions are pertinent and made me reassess how I truly use my time. He talks about balance, using technology, and admitting that not everything gets done.

His approach made me feel a lot better about my to-do list. See if you agree when you read the whole article here.

Pre-Publication Information

The Dos and Don'ts of Dialogue Tags

He Said/She Said – The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags

I loved this article by Katie McCoach on the KM Editorial blog. She gets beyond the said and asked and shows us good and bad examples. “I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch.” This is a great tutorial that is helpful even if you are ‘seasoned’ author.

Preferences vs. Rules

On another grammar topic, Louise Harnby of the Proofreader’s Parlor discusses grammar rules versus preferences. You might be surprised that things you were taught in school as rules can be bent a bit. I think this will be a fun article to share with my critique group as we often have discussions just like this.

What You Need to Know Before You Judge the Self-Published Author

As a self-published or indie author, I have felt the sting of judgement from those in the traditional publishing world. I know that any other indie authors reading this have felt this disdain as well. What I find most interesting is how many authors now toggle between the two worlds, indie publishing some titles while traditionally publishing others. While some people may lament the indie publishing boom, I think the technology and systems that have made it possible for the indie author to reach larger audiences are a godsend. The Liminal Pages article on indie publishing is a must read for anyone in this industry no matter HOW you publish.

After all, “Diversity in the arts is strength.”

The next three articles toggle between pre- and post-publication. Decisions about formatting and distribution take place (technically) before publication, but after the book is essentially complete.

The Hard Facts on Hardcovers

Kathy Rowe on Indies Unlimited writes a thorough article about creating a hardcover book as an indie published author. Previously, most print-on-demand technologies only allowed for soft cover books, but for children’s book authors—particularly picture book authors—the hardcover has always been seen as a necessity but unavailable. But things change!! This article gives a thorough review of where you can get your beloved hardcovers and compares pricing from platform to platform.

Getting Your Self-Published Book into LibrariesGetting Your Self-Published Book into Libraries

You must have a thorough understanding of how to get your book into libraries before you make decisions that might impact your ability to do this. So well before you hit the ‘publish’ button read this excellent article by Jane Friedman – How to Get Your Book Distributed: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know.  Further your education with a more detailed look at e-book distribution to libraries with the Digital Publishing 101 article on library distribution.


The Coveted Book Table: How Those Books Get There

How does a book get plucked from the shelves of obscurity to lay flat in all its loveliness for the casual browser at a bookstore? Amy Collins on the Bookworks blog tell us all about this slightly insane process here.

Amazon Ads How To

Have you tried an Amazon ad yet? I haven’t, but I’m stockpiling information because I definitely need to give this a try to boost my sales. Luckily, many authors have come before us and written very nice tutorials about how this is done. Frances Caballo gives us the basics, including Amazon specifics like rules and word counts. And Deanna Cabinian gives a very thorough breakdown of her Amazon ad experience in promoting her young adult novel as a guest author on Jane Friedman’s blog. It’s very helpful to walk through Cabinian’s trial ads and the statistics for sales each generated. Now we have no excuses not to try this ourselves.

Social Media Changes You Need to UnderstandJust when you think you understand social media they change things around . . .

One of my favorite bloggers (can’t you tell), Frances Caballo, has written a two-part series on changes that have been made to the most popular social media platforms. You probably have noticed some of these already and adapted to them without much thought. You can find these on the Social Media Just for Authors Blog under these headlines: Have You Seen These Changes on Facebook and Twitter? Part 1 and Have You Seen These Social Media Changes? Part 2

I hope that these articles helped you on your writing and publishing journey!

Happy Reading & Writing, Valerie  



August 24, 2017

Irish Fest Milwaukee - Literary CornerI’ve gotten my voice back and it only took a couple of days after speaking to wonderfulIrish Fest Milwaukee - Featured Author Valerie Biel attendees at Irish Fest in Milwaukee this past weekend. It was an incredible honor to be part of the Literary Corner in the Cultural Village. I met so many interesting people with a deep knowledge of Irish history and Celtic mythology. I’ve collected a host of emails of those willing to aid in researching my next Irish-themed novel (and sold quite a few books along the way.)

I also was in some humbling company. The other authors in attendance were:

Tony Macaulay - Irish Fest Milwaukee Featured AuthorTony Macaulay – Tony is a Belfast native and author of Paper Boy, Bread Boy, and All Growed Up. He debuted his new book at Irish Fest, Little House on the Peace Line, which recounts his years living and working with youth on the “wrong side” of the peace line during the years of the Troubles. It was lovely to chat with Tony during our few quiet times.

Links to purchase on Kindle: Paper Boy, Bread Boy, All Growed Up, and Little House on the Peace Line.


Irish Fest Featured Author -  Tony Macaulay


Irish Fest Featured Author - Kathleen Anne KenneyKathleen Ann Kenney – A Wauwatosa native and 31-year patron of Milwaukee Irish Fest, Kathleen was promoting her first book, Girl on the Leeside. It’s a lovely coming-of-age tale set in the Connemara region of west central Ireland. I learned that Kathleen now lives in Winona and works in the art department at Winona State University – proving that yet again the world is a small place as our daughter is in her senior year At Winona state completing her art degree and will work with Kathleen later this year as she sets up her Senior Art Show.

Link to purchase Girl on the Leeside.Irish Fest Featured Authors - Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy – Mike’s trilogy is based on several generations of a family who emigrated from Ireland to Canada and New York, focusing on the plight of immigrants and their tremendous courage and fortitude. From Cork to the New World, The Flight of the Wretched and The Children of Michigan Street are the titles.

Links to Purchase: From Cork to the New World and The Flight of the Wretched

Irish Fest Featured Author - J.P. SextonJohn Sexton – John grew up in a remote corner of Donegal and, surprising to him, I knew just where that was as my series is set in J.P. Sexton - Irish Author Memoir - The Big Yank - Growing up in DonegalCounty Donegal. It was quite fun getting to know John and he graciously corrected my mispronunciations of place names and the like—all very kindly! His book The Big Yank is a memoir of growing up with an American father and an Irish mother within a dysfunctional family living in poverty with foot power the only means of transportation.

Link to purchase The Big Yank.

Donegal was definitely the unifying force of the weekend! I was pleased to meet a number of members representing the Donegal Tourism Council as well as Deirdre McGlone co-owner with her husband of the lovely Harvey’s Point hotel that I’ve gushed about on previous occasions. (This is the place that I would move to if my budget allowed.)

Irish Fest Featured Author - LaCrosse and Milwaukee - Valerie Biel - Celtic Themed SeriesI decided to dress the part at both the Irish Fest in Milwaukee and the previous weekend in LaCrosse, where I was fortunate to present a talk about the real locations in Ireland that became part of my fictional stories.

I think this qualifies as part of my I’ve Never Done THIS Before Challenge. I am typically not one to dress up, but found it to be both fun and in keeping with the theme of my stories. I was not alone! So many people dressed the part all weekend, from the sassy-saying t-shirts to a plethora of kilts and plaid. I was so busy at my table that I didn’t have time to take pictures of all of the fun outfits. There was even one kindly Irish swashbuckling pirate who shared information on the Highland Games and encouraged me to set up a vendor booth there as well.

Thanks so much to all the people who stopped by including authors Liz Czukas, Stephanie Lowden, Susan L. Farrell, and Blair Hull; Michael Lang—organizer of the Mad Gael Fest coming up this weekend at Breese Stevens Field in Madison; all the new friends from the LaCrosse Irish Fest; longtime friends Nancy Esveld and Kate and Iseabal Dawson; and my cousin Dennis Crosse who I haven’t seen in person in many years.

Irish Fest brings everyone together!


August 21, 2017

YES! Another fabulous book by Angie Stanton releases today. (Scroll down for my full review.)

IF EVER New Release by Angie Stanton 5-Star Review

About the Book:

Fiercely independent Chelsea Barnes has caught a rare break and been cast as the first non-celebrity on the hit show Celebrity Dance Off. Chelsea is coined ‘America’s Chance to Dance,’ but her partner planned on an A-lister, not a nobody.
Clashing with her partner, she’s ready to go home; but during an emotional dance, her heart-breaking past as an abandoned, homeless teen is revealed. Not only do the viewers fall in love with her, so does the flirty British guest singer, Broadway star Thomas Evan Oliver.
Tom is struck by this feisty girl who complicates his over-structured life, and pursues her in a romantic cross-country courtship until she’s voted off and joins him. Their sexy whirlwind love affair blossoms in New York as she navigates the big city and his exhausting eight shows a week, but most important, her scarred heart begins to heal. Perhaps happily ever after might be a possibility after all. 


Get your copy now . . . only .99 today




My Review: 5 Stars  

From Chelsea's first awkward moments on "Celebrity Dance Off" she's the girl you're rooting for--even more so when you learn her tragic family story. Mix in a cast of well-developed characters who you either love or love to hate and you have a book that you won't be able to put down. The author skillfully takes her readers on a well-described journey from the TV sets of LA to backstage at a Broadway theater, wrapping these unique details in a lovely romantic tale.


About the Author

Angie Stanton is a life-long daydreamer who grew up with her hands on a book and her head in the clouds. As an adult, she’s put her talent to use writing contemporary fiction about life, love, and the adventures that follow. 

Angie is the bestselling author of nine novels. Her work has been translated into French, German, and Bulgarian. In her spare time, Angie sneaks off to New York City to enjoy the best live entertainment experience--Broadway. She is a contributing writer to Broadway World is currently working on another Broadway-themed book. 

Visit Angie at: 

August 15, 2017






Plan the twists!

My keyboard is heating up as summer winds down. It helps that recently I met with a writer’s group, which inspired me to crave pumpkin fudge, crunchy-leaves walks, and keyboard clack-clacks. (I recommend a late-summer meeting with your book mates. It’s a fantastic way to get inspired for writing season.)

In June and July, I offered tips about seasons and time, both of which support this final summer blog post discussing plot ascension. To review, I’m a reformed pantser who needs to plan before she writes. Before I begin any fiction piece, I must understand the season in which the story takes place and how long the story will take to unfold.

By “seasons,” I refer to a season of life and/or a time of year. And by “time,” I mean the length of the narrative. Will it take place during the course of a week? A month? A year? Further, will the story be linear and move forward in time according to twenty-four-hour days? Or will time move forward and back, incorporating flashbacks (not backstory) as part of the narrative?

The great thing about these summer writing prompts is that they require only pen and paper, and this month’s exercise about plot ascension needs only pencil and graph paper. Fantastic, eh? Ditch the keyboard for another few weeks and write the old-fashioned way. I love doing it. It boosts memory and improves conceptual ability, which assists with writing. I’ve had a wonderful two months to outline my novel on actual paper. Good for my writing soul!

Develop Plot Twists to Support Ascension

Do plot diagrams haunt your dreams? They do for me because I’ve studied so many of them. One of my favorites is featured on the Mystery Writer’s website and it’s created by the talented Hallie Ephron. She concisely outlines the traditional three-act structure, plus offers ideas about avoiding a “circle-the-drain” plot. She discusses vital elements including a dramatic opening and a climax that features a narrative payoff where the mystery is solved. Good stuff, all of it, and worth a read. For further study, I recommend Larry Brook’s Story Engineering. Dive into the chapter about story structure. It’s a definite rainy-day read!

Check those and other sites to get the basics of the three-act structure; it’s a universally accepted format and any fiction writer should be well-versed in its elements. For this blog post, I am focusing on the plot twists that support plot ascension. Ms. Ephron suggests including three major twists, others just two. It’s the writer’s choice depending up the length and complications of her novel.

One of my professors described plot twists as the protagonist’s point-of-no return. What complication has occurred that leaves the main character with no way back? I’m not talking about simple conflict; I’m talking about major events that force the characters to change direction. In mysteries, one of the major twists is when a character is found dead. The other (or others) is something that impacts the protagonist such as a lost romance, a new romance, a job loss, an antagonist’s interference, or a complication from the initial murder including the introduction of another character or even another death. In The Girl on the Train the points-of-no-return are when Rachel awakens, bloody and bruised, to find that Megan is missing, and when Megan’s body is found and she’s discovered to be pregnant by a man other than her husband. This major-plot-twist structure holds for non-mystery books, as well. For example, in Juno, the twists are when Juno finds she’s pregnant, and when the adoptive father falls in love with her. She can’t undo those complications and they drive the story in new, unexpected ways.

Can you identify the two or three major plot twists in your novel? If not, this month’s exercise is for you. The major plot twists are arguably more important than the dramatic Writing Tip: Graph your Plot Twistsopening and pay-off climax. Without plot twists, there is no story. A great beginning and ending aren’t enough; plot twists are the story and developing them eliminates the dreaded circle-the-drain dynamic.

To do this exercise, sketch a three-act structure on graph paper. Enjoy the moment, let your mind explore ideas. Fill in a timeline of events, which you should have created last month. Take a walk and then come back to what you’ve written. Have you included major plot twists? Are they satisfying and shocking enough for your novel? If you change them, what will happen? Develop the major twists and then build the open and close around what happens. Enjoy this process as you build your novel.

Backstory Tip

Last month, I offered my professor’s sage advice regarding backstory: “Do not ‘download' background information all at once; it slows the momentum of your plot. Rather, weave Writing Tip. A soap opera can teach you how to write backstory.backstory into the narrative.”

Successfully incorporating backstory is an ongoing issue for writers. How does one incorporate background information into forward-moving action? Practice makes perfect, of course, but a quickie study of the practice is available via soap opera television shows. Watch an episode of The Young and the Restless to understand what I mean. A character will offer one or two sentences about past action and then discuss a current dilemma. (Listen to the dialogue rather than watch the characters — and don’t get hooked on the show. You’ve got writing to do!)

Next month, I’ll discuss how exercise supports writing goals.

I’m off to sharpen pencils and purchase graph paper. Happy writing!

Blog Shout Out: Kathleen Ernst

New Chloe Ellefson Mystery - release date October 8, 2017Kathleen Ernst is a nonfiction and fiction writer who has created the Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The stories take place in southwest Wisconsin as well as the Upper Midwest, and the books are packed with interesting characters, plenty of plot twists, and fascinating history. Kathleen’s blog is a wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpse at her prolific writing process. In addition, A Memory of Muskets is being featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Chapter a Day” program until September 1, 2017. Kathleen’s latest book Mining for Justice will be released on October 8, 2017.

August 8, 2017

I’m late to the game but I’ve finally read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I enjoyed both of these books immensely and not for completely different reasons. Believe or not, there were similarities between an adult memoir of growing up in Appalachia and a young adult partially-autobiographical novel based on growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State.

First, both of these books evoke strong emotions in their readers. I’m no exception—I will definitely be thinking about these books for a long time. They both touch on emotions that nearly everyone can relate to and, at the same time, offer a window into a part of our nation that many of us might not ever see or understand. That’s what great writing is all about. It breaks down barriers, opens our eyes, and quite possibly serves as a mirror back to us as we realize we have similar life experiences.

In fact, when I asked people what they thought about Hillbilly Elegy, many said that they felt like they could relate it to their own experience growing up. This came from people in all parts of the nation and both from rural and urban settings.

While that may be, you’re probably wondering how this story from Appalachia could have anything in common with a story set on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

The similarities fall into some general themes as I describe below (and even more that I don’t have the space to get into here.)


The extreme poverty in both of these locations is evident without even reading a page, but it seeps into the thread of the narrative like an additional character.

“Pajamas? Poor people don’t wear pajamas. We fall asleep in our underwear or blue jeans. To this day, I find the very notion of pajamas an unnecessary elite indulgence, like caviar or electric ice cube makers.” From Hillbilly Elegy

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” From The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Review of Hillbilly Elegy by author Valerie BielStabilizing Force of Grandparents/Grandmother and Big Sisters  (SPOILER ALERT IN THIS SECTION)

Arnold Spirit, the main character in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is devastated when his grandmother is killed by a drunk driver. (See section on alcohol abuse below.) His sister is also eventually killed in an incident partially fueled by alcohol when drunk partygoers start a fire in her trailer. And while she had moved away from the reservation, she still played an important role in Arnold’s life.

J.D. Vance credits his eventual academic success to his MawMaw and PawPaw (grandparents) who provided the stability he needed away from his mother’s drug addiction and rotating cast of sometimes abusive boyfriends. When Vance loses both PawPaw and MawMaw even though he is not as young as Spirit, it is still devastating to him. His big sister was often his protector when his grandparents couldn’t be and Vance talks about them being close yet today.


Quick Purchase Links for Hillbilly Elegy

Hardcover          Paperback         Kindle


Abuse of Alcohol/Drugs

The abuse of drugs in Hillbilly Elegy is almost as omnipresent as poverty. And the same goes for alcoholism in The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian.

Alexie once was once asked if as a Native American he felt a special pressure to address alcoholism and he replied, “Well, I mean, I’m an alcoholic, that’s what, you know, my family is filled with alcoholics. My tribe is filled with alcoholics. The whole race is filled with alcoholics. For those Indians who try to pretend it’s a stereotype, they’re in deep, deep denial…”

J.D. Vance talks about the history of alcoholism in his own family and explains his eyewitness account of growing drug abuse in his community. “I was on the ground floor of the opioid epidemic because I saw it happening with my mom before it had really reached crisis proportions. But in a lot of ways, she was just responding to the things that cause people to go and search for drugs in the first place. She was a person, I think, who carried around a lot of emotional baggage, a lot of emotional turmoil and hurt from her own childhood. And so she turned to drugs. But a lot of people have done the same, of course, in the past five or 10 years, which is why these addiction rates - which is why these overdose rates are so high in these communities.”

Academic Achievement as a Way OutReview of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by author Valerie Biel

Both J.D. Vance and Arnold Spirit pursued education as a way to achieve their dreams, but this wasn’t easy as they were both weighed down by their backgrounds—Spirit at an off reservation “white” high school and J.D. Vance at Ohio State and eventually Yale Law School. Their stories of attempting to fit into an environment that there were not well-prepared for culturally are some of the most poignant in both stories. Indeed, these are also the most relatable scenes as we all have felt that like we didn’t know how to act at some point in our lives. 

“Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn't pay well.” From The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

 “social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, it’s about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working-class to professional-class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.” From Hillbilly Elegy 

Quick Purchase Links for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:

Hardcover        Paperback        Kindle


Celebrating Sherman Alexie's Often-Challenged Young Adult NovelThe Attempts to Ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Let me say a thing or two or three about censorship. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an often-challenged book when schools attempt to add it to their curricula. This makes me sad. I think banning or censoring a book stops the discussion that might have taken place. Every single scene that might be considered objectionable in this book is a lost learning opportunity when the book is locked away. What kind of message is being sent to our teens when a school caves to this pressure and removes a book like this from its classrooms? The message is . . . we don’t think you’re smart enough to discern the subtleties of this text; we think you need to be protected from difficult ideas and difficult situations that make you reason and think for yourselves. If only those seeking to ban this book could trust the youth they are seeking to protect, they might be surprised at the discussion that ensues.

Obviously, I highly recommend both of these titles. I would love to hear from you if you've read either of these. I'm especially curious if you use Sherman Alexie's book in your classroom or have teen who has had it as part of a course at their high school. 

Happy Reading, Valerie


August 1, 2017

Cover Reveal for Angie Stanton's new novel "IF EVER" - release date August 21








So thrilled to be part of the exclusive group revealing the cover of Angie Stanton's newest novel, If Ever. Love this cover art by Sarah Hanson at Okay Creations!! This is a contemporary romance like Angie's other excellent titles. I can't wait to read it! 

Check back here for a review on the release date: August 21

COVER REVEAL - Angie Stanton's "If Ever" - release date August 21


Fiercely independent Chelsea Barnes has caught a rare break and been cast as the first non-celebrity on the hit show Celebrity Dance Off. Chelsea is coined ‘America’s Chance to Dance,’ but her partner planned on an A-lister, not a nobody.
Clashing with her partner, she’s ready to go home; but during an emotional dance, her heart-breaking past as an abandoned, homeless teen is revealed. Not only do the viewers fall in love with her, so does the flirty British guest singer, Broadway star Thomas Evan Oliver.
Tom is struck by this feisty girl who complicates his over-structured life, and pursues her in a romantic cross-country courtship until she’s voted off and joins him. Their sexy whirlwind love affair blossoms in New York as she navigates the big city and his exhausting eight shows a week, but most important, her scarred heart begins to heal. Perhaps happily ever after might be a possibility after all. 

See more on the IF EVER Goodreads page.


Author Angie Stanton - contemporary romance novelAngie Stanton is a life-long daydreamer who grew up with her hands on a book and her head in the clouds. As an adult, she’s put her talent to use writing contemporary fiction about life, love, and the adventures that follow. 

Angie is the bestselling author of nine novels. Her work has been translated into French, German, and Bulgarian. In her spare time, Angie sneaks off to New York City to enjoy the best live entertainment experience--Broadway. She is a contributing writer to Broadway World is currently working on another Broadway-themed book. 

Learn more about Angie Stanton at:


July 24, 2017

July Writers' Forum - The Best Book & Publishing Advice In One PlaceIn my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and most recently completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward. On a professional level, I also use my publicity and editorial skills to aid other authors through my company Lost Lake Press.

The Best Indie Author Advice & Book News Celebrates 100 Posts!

Happy 100th Blogiversary to me!

This is my 100th blog post since beginning the Three Rs: Reading, wRiting, and Roaming in 2014.


Book Events

I am not sure if Sherman Alexie had any upcoming book tour stops here in Wisconsin. I know he was here for the Untitled Town Book Fest in Green Bay this spring. Please take a moment to read his note about the heartbreaking reasons he has decided to stop his book tour.  

He was promoting You Don't Have to Say You Love Me -- a memoir mostly about his relationship with his late mother, Lillian Alexie. It's available in both hardcover and Kindle or wherever you prefer to shop for books. (Alexie is best known for his middle-grade novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.) 

Bookish Happenings for August

Books & Company at 1039 Summit Avenue in Oconomowoc is getting creative with a Return to Hogwarts Party on August 24 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm . . . trivia, refreshments, games etc…  Looks like fun! Learn more at:

August 2017 Events at Mystery to Me in Madison, WisconsinMystery to Me Bookstore at 1863 Monroe Street in Madison has a great schedule of events for August:

Wednesday, August 9 at 6 pm Lesley Kagen will be speaking at the Sun Prairie Public Library. Kagen is a bestselling and award-winning Wisconsin author who will discuss her career as a writer, actress, and voice talent followed by a book signing. (Books sold by Mystery to Me.)   Free and open to the public.

Thursday, August 10 at 7 pm at the store Allyson K. Abbott and Vickie Fee will be talking about their new installments in their cozy mystery series: A Toast to Murder by Allyson K. Abbott and One Fete in the Grave by Vickie Fee. (RSVP via the Eventbrite link on the store’s website below.)

Sunday, August 13 at 6:30 pm Craig Johnson (of Longmire fame) will visit the store. He’ll discuss his new book, The Western Star, to be released September 5. (Special bookplates are available for those who preorder the book for the author to sign that evening.)

Friday, August 25 at 7 pm William Kent Krueger will discuss his latest pulse-pounding thriller, Sulfur Springs. This event also has a rsvp set up on Eventbrite at the store’s website. 

Please let me know of any upcoming book releases or events that you’d like featured in the Writers’ Forum!

Featured Subject

Don’t Miss Out on Affiliate Marketing

If you have ever felt like there’s no way you’re ever going to learn everything you ought to know about the publishing world, join the crowd. I had one such moment a few weeks ago when I learned about affiliate link marketing. (Some of you I am sure are shaking your heads at this and asking, “How did she not know about this?” Trust me. I asked myself the same thing.)

So, for those of you who need a quick tutorial, I am here to save the day!

Here’s how Wikipedia defines Affiliate Marketing: . . . (It) is a marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.

What does this mean?

If you have links to your own products (or other products) on your blog or website you should be using an affiliate link which gives you a small fee for each purchase made by clicking through that link from your page or blog. You don’t get paid much, but if you already have purchase links to your books on your website, what do you have to lose by making sure these are affiliate links that pay you a small percentage on top of your book royalty. And you don’t have to stop there, many products are available for affiliate linkage. There’s a nice article about how this works on a blog by Melissa Culbertson

How You Can Become an Amazon Associate & Why You Should!

At the moment, I’ve only created Amazon affiliate links—so that’s what I’ve focused on here. For the step-by-step process in how to become an Amazon Associate (the first step in being able to create these links), read this “Savvy Book Marketer” postOnce Amazon sends you your Associate acceptance email, this article from “Untethered Income” will help you successfully build (and test) product links. 

This is a good start, but all of your book links ought to be affiliate links. Nearly every online retailer has a program, you just need the diligence to set them up.

Pre-Publication Information

The 50 Best Book Covers of 2016Best Book Covers of 2016

The Design Observer released its winners of the 50 Best Book Covers of 2016. This may be especially helpful for reference if you are at the beginning of your cover design process. The only downside to this list is that the genre is not listed. Some are obvious, but others would require some research. There are a number of great contests out there to see which book covers are considered the best of the best. Definitely do some genre-specific internet searches to see what’s working best for the type of book you write BEFORE you finalize your cover.

The Pro-Bono Marketing Staff Every Self-Published Author Has at Their Fingertips

I have to admit that the reason I clicked on this Book Designer article by Eva Lesko Natiello was my reaction that I had somehow missed out on something. What the heck??  

I knew better, of course, but it got me to click. This article is a witty take on how elements of book design and promotion can serve as the hardest-working parts of a successful publishing venture. For instance, she lists your Book Cover as the Senior V.P. of Sales and your Meta Data/Book Description as your Senior V.P. of Marketing. Read the full article here.

Using Keywords to your Advantage in your Book Description

Picking the Right Keywords for Amazon Book Category InclusionAs you set up your book description (particularly on KPD/Kindle) you get to pick two book categories and then seven keywords. If you are savvy when choosing those keywords, you can leverage them to give you access to more than your two main book categories. But you have to know the right words to choose for other categories where your book might fit! A 2013 article from Jennifer Bresnick served as my original guide to this and a new article from Melinda Clayton at Indies Unlimited addresses this same topic.

Using my first novel as an example, I chose these two main categories for my young adult fantasy novel based on Celtic mythology:

·        Juvenile Fiction > Fantasy & Magic

·        Juvenile Fiction > Legends, Myths, Fables > Other

Then I added these keywords: Teen & Young Adult, Paranormal, Celtic, Coming of Age, Historical, Ireland, Romance

Those keywords have allowed my book to not only be ranked and searchable under the two main categories but the book has also been listed under Coming of Age and Paranormal & Urban Fantasy even though those aren’t either of the two main categories. The articles take a deeper look at this subject.

When to Publish Your Book

And just when you think your book should come out in time for Christmas sales, think again . . . The BookBaby blog walks through the best months for release, depending on your topic.

Agents Tell It Like They See It!

If you want to listen in on agents being extremely candid about the book industry, check out this discussion featuring Jodi Reamer (Writers House), Kim Witherspoon (Inkwell Management), Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media), Sloan Harris (ICM), Eric Simonoff (WME), and Christy Fletcher (Fletcher & Company) on the “Publishing . . . And Other Forms of Insanity” blog. 


My Failed WATTPAD ExperimentMy Failed Wattpad Experiment - What I did right and the many things I did wrong!

I had hoped that the free reader platform, Wattpad, would be a springboard to more fans and more sales. Unfortunately, the Wattpad Success Story proved elusive for me. I detail my experience and what I did right and wrong here

Promoting your YA Novel

Another article from Book Baby this month gives tips on promoting your young adult novel through different types of social media . . . there’s some expected advice about Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest, but what was new to me were the tips about promoting via Reddit. I have one more thing on my list now--which might be good after my Wattpad fail. 

An Audio Book Narrator Interview - How to get your book recorded.Audio Books

Anne R. Allen has an excellent interview with an Audible/ACX narrator that gives inside info on getting your book recorded, so you don’t miss out on the fastest growing book market. 


I’ve thrown a lot at you today from a lot of different directions. Even if you’re not ready to use all of this advice immediately, you might be thinking, “I’m so tired!” or “There’s too much to do!” We all feel that way at least some of the time. Book writing is hard, but I think book marketing is even more difficult.  Judith Briles on The Book Designer website recognizes this and talks us through our “marketing fatigue”. She acknowledges the hard work that is required to be successful and gives encouragements to keep us moving in the right direction! 

Happy Reading & Writing, Valerie  



July 19, 2017

Wattpad - A Failed Experiment (What I did wrong!)Attempting to gain new readers through the Wattpad platform was a failure for me. I’m happy to share my experience to assist other authors in what to do and what NOT to do. To start, I should explain that I didn’t lose anything financially because it is a free platform, and I admit there certainly were things I could have done better to gain audience attention. 

What’s Wattpad?

Wattpad is a free reader platform where published and unpublished authors write stories and post segments/chapters on a regular basis for feedback and ratings from readers.

Officially Wattpad describes themselves as such: “Wattpad takes everything you love about storytelling, and turns it into a social, on-the-go experience. The result is a one-of-a-kind adventure in creation and discovery. To date, more than 45 million people around the world have joined Wattpad. We’re proudly based in Toronto, Canada, but Wattpad stories transcend borders, interests, and language.”

To professional writers & publishers Wattpad says, Build your audience. Sell more books. With a dedicated monthly audience of 45 million, Wattpad expands your reach as a published author to entirely new groups of people. It helps drive book sales as you keep your fans informed, plus you’ll get free promotion. What’s not to love? 55 MILLION total monthly audience, 15 BILLION+ minutes spent monthly, 30 MINUTES average session time.

Sounds pretty good, right? I thought so, too. (This is where I would cue the laugh track if my website had audio.)

There are plenty of websites and tutorials that explain how to set up your author profile and story description on Wattpad. Here’s one that has a good checklist

I followed these instructions carefully and created a profile page with a nice header and story page, including all the write tags (key words). You can see all of this on my profile page and on my story page. You will also see that I have a grand total of four followers. (Quit your laughing!) At the moment, my full book (Circle of Nine: Beltany) is available to read for free on Wattpad, but I will in the future amend this and leave just a sample available. I was upfront about my plans, listing August 1 as the date I’d do this to give my handful of readers time to finish the story. Now that I'm at this point, I feel like my experiment has come (almost) full circle and it was time to assess how well this went--obviously not very well. 

Wattpad Success Stories & Helpful Suggestions

I hoped I’d be one of the Wattpad successes, gaining access to a new audience for my story, just like author Linda Poitevin. You can read about her Wattpad success here

I dutifully followed her list of suggestions.

1.      “Remember Wattpad is primarily a social platform. Respond to reader comments, thank you readers you follow you, and so on.” CHECK.

“Follow others on Wattpad, give them feedback on their stories, and post in the community forums.” PARTIAL CHECK

Honestly, I didn’t have the time to add one more social media platform to my interaction list. However, I did post in the Community Forums about being new to Wattpad and encouraged others to check out my story. I followed a few paranormal/magic writers, but I didn’t actively engage with them. I admit this may be part of my failure.

2.      “Release your book as a serial (a chapter or two a week) to build reader interest, engagement, and anticipation — which is more likely to lead to purchases.” CHECK

I religiously posted a new chapter every Friday for 30 weeks.

3.      “Wait until your story is complete and available on e-book before you begin putting it on Wattpad, and don’t just publish on Kindle.”  CHECK

I went above and beyond in this department. I waited until my series was complete before posting the first book chapter-by-chapter.

4.      “Each time you upload a new chapter of your story, include a short reminder to readers that, if they can’t wait to find out what happens next, the completed e-book is available for purchase.” PARTIAL CHECK

You can’t put links inside the chapters, but I could have added the purchase link in the comments underneath each chapter, which I didn’t do. Instead, I referred people to my profile which has the purchase links for the entire series. When I posted the final chapter, I included a message to the readers with a book blurb for the next two books in the series.

5.      “Be consistent.”  CHECK

Did I mention that I posted a chapter every Friday?

6.      “Be patient. Building an audience on Wattpad can take time. Post links to your Twitter and Facebook followers (and any other social media you’re on) to let them know you’re offering a free read.” NOPE

I didn’t do this—but it was a calculated decision. I was aiming to find a new audience for my books, not an audience I already had access to via my social media followers. This advice is a little tricky to follow for an author who is already published. 

7.      “Post often. At least once a week.” CHECKWattpad - How to Successfully Gain an Audience

Refer to my every Friday comment above.

8.      “Reach out to Wattpad itself (contact information is on their Help page). The people behind this app are enthusiastic, incredibly helpful, and all about promoting authors. They may be able to include your story as a Featured Read or in other promotions.”

I applied to be a featured story twice and was turned down. I think this is THE make or break moment for anyone on Wattpad. You need the boost of this promotion because there are just so darn many stories that it is hard to gain attention. It’s like getting the elusive BookBub deal that can change things immensely in terms of sales. And this is a notoriously hard to find portal. You need to go to the help center for the application to be a featured story. Here's the link to simplify your hunt. 

***** UPDATE*****

I decided to try one more time to be chosen as a featured story and received this message from Wattpad on 7/19/2017: 

There are some changes coming to the Featured List to help update it and make it even better at promoting content across Wattpad.

The biggest change is that content will only be featured for a limited period of time, up to one month at most. This is to allow for stories to get maximum exposure. Every time the Featured List is reset, previously featured stories will be removed and they will be eligible to be featured again under the new rules. The next change is that the featured stories will no longer have to be completed, so a story can be featured while it is still being updated.

With these two changes comes an end to the application process. We understand that for many users, this was a confusing process and for others, it wasn't easily discoverable. We will be selecting stories across Wattpad to feature. While it may not guarantee you will be featured, if you would like to help us find you, just tag your story with #featured. 

So there's no longer an application process, but all I have to do to indicate I am interested in being featured is to tag my story with #featured. (big sigh) FYI --  There's a limit of 20 hastags for your story -- so deleting one of those that actually makes my story more discoverable to readers is not fun, especially when I'm replacing it with this hashtag which likely has no hope of getting my story featured. I am curious what these new "rules" will be. 

9.      “Make sure you’re putting up a quality, professional product.” CHECK

My book, having been published already, had proper grammar, editing, and an engaging cover.

Another successful Wattpad author, Rowena Wiseman, had similar hints on how to gain readership on Wattpad. Her only addition to the previous list was including a call to action at the end of each chapter, asking the reader to please vote for the story. She also further explains that you will likely not be a Featured Story if you don’t have a fair number of likes/followers already. This creates a rather difficult-to-overcome catch 22. Can’t be featured if you don’t have the votes. Can’t get the votes if you don’t have the feature.

And, finally a more specific tip on targeting the most popular authors in your story’s genre makes a lot of sense. This author explains that he gained readership by leaving an insightful comment on top-ranking authors’ stories. Many of these authors then read his story and some voted for it. These reads and votes re-post automatically as notifications to that authors many followers on their public feed, gaining this new author a broader reach. I DID NOT DO THIS, BUT I STILL CAN!  I like the specificity of this tip, rather than the broadly overwhelming tip to engage with other writers and readers. I was not looking for a place to “play”—I do that on Facebook and Twitter to some extent. This is all about market share for me, and while this may be contrived, this is an instruction/hint I can work with.

Considering the Impact of Category Choice & Contests

Wattpad - My Failed Experiment (Can the Watty's Contest Make a Difference?)My story is considered young adult, so I listed it in the over-saturated Teen category on Wattpad. Today, I switched the category to Paranormal. I may leave the full book up for a few more weeks just to see if this makes a difference. To be fair, a lot of the most popular stories on Wattpad aren't in either of those categories--they're in fan fiction. While my story deals with stone circles, it’d be quite a stretch and probably unwisely raise expectations to call this Outlander fan fiction . . . I have no time travel and this stone circle is set in Ireland, not Scotland. I’d probably just tick off readers by attempting to lure them in this way, so I’ll steer clear of that.

I have also entered the Watty contest for 2017. There isn’t an official entry form or anything. You merely add the keyword “#Wattys2017” to your story tags and are part of the contest, with the hope of gaining more attention. So far that isn’t working either, probably because EVERYONE that has enough of their story complete does this. (And again, this requires that you eliminate a story subject hashtag/keyword as part of your 20 allowable keywords to make room for this Watty contest hashtag.)

I might not give up just yet. I'll see what the reaction is to the new featured story system and see if switching my category to paranormal makes any difference. I will also spend a little time commenting on top-author's works and see if that builds an audience. If any of this pays off, you’ll all be the first to know!