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Five Questions with Elizabeth Heiter

Louise Ahern

Elizabeth Heiter is a familiar face in the CCWA. Not only has she taught workshops at our last two Write on the Red Cedar conferences, she has also given many of our monthly workshops. This month, Elizabeth is talking all about suspense. You're not going to want to miss this one!


1.     What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?

I’ve got several favorite parts: I love it when that first spark of a story appears and I can’t wait to dive in and build it into a novel.  I also love when I’m working on the story and the words are flowing so fast that my fingers can barely keep up on the keyboard.  The most challenging part probably varies by book, but I also think that the challenges of writing and the challenges of being an author are two different things.  When it comes to purely the writing, sometimes it’s the balance in the writing: layering in everything you need for the plot and the character growth and the themes and making sure you’re still able to pull out the strong emotions.  And sometimes, it’s the balance with your life: finding time and energy to write amidst all of the other commitments.  But the joys of writing far outweigh the challenges.

2.     What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? How did you overcome it?

Hmmm…maybe it’s because I’ve always regarded writing as something that was special and mine and I guarded it fiercely, I haven’t felt the need to overcome bad advice.  Whenever I get writing advice, I think long and hard about whether it’s the right advice for me.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but I think one of the most important things about this business is knowing yourself and your goals.  A lot of people have advice, and even when that advice is coming from industry professionals, they’re not you, at this time in your career with your particular goals.  I do think that one of the things I felt pressure about was when I got opportunities that I felt weren’t the right direction for me; they were great opportunities, but they didn’t match my career goals, and I turned them down.  Choosing the opportunities that are best for you – and advocating for yourself – can  be challenging, and I do think that being on the same page with your agent (if you have one) from the start can ensure that you have another advocate who can handle issues that pop up for you.

3.     Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?

I think one of the things I did right was to stay true to myself.  I turned down great opportunities, because they weren’t right for me, but I also worked with editors to transform opportunities into things that would work for me.  As in any business, I think it’s important to find the right mix of being steadfast about the important things and flexible when you can.  I also think that the biggest thing I did right was to believe in myself and to chase after my goal no matter how many times I heard “no.”  Nine years of rejections before selling was disheartening at times, but I found ways to reward myself for forward motion and to find new opportunities and most importantly, to keep writing.  It’s a job, but it’s also a passion, and it’s important never to lose sight of that.

4.     What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?

I think that if I could, I would get to know more people face-to-face from my publishing house right from the beginning.  The same is true of other industry professionals, like reviewers and bloggers.  There’s nothing like personal contact to get you and your books front of mind, and knowing the people who are working on your books makes it easier to chat about things, both when they’re going right and when they’re going wrong.  On that note, I plan to attend Bouchercon this fall and visit the MIRA office in Toronto where my new editor works.

5.     What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on promotions for my latest thriller, STALKED, which is already on shelves, and for my upcoming romantic suspense miniseries, BODYGUARD WITH A BADGE, POLICE PROTECTOR and SECRET AGENT SURRENDER, which are coming this summer.  I’m also writing a brand new standalone thriller (and waiting to hear news from acquisitions on that!).  And I'm coordinating with a group of authors on a fun suspense anthology I agreed to be part of; that one is already contracted, but I can’t share details yet – they’ll be coming soon!


Join us this Wednesday, May 3rd, at Schuler Books & Music in Eastwood at 7pm for Elizabeth's workshop!

Meet the Agents: Abby Saul

Louise Ahern

This year, at the Write on the Red Cedar conference, we tried something new. Instead of flying one or two agents in for our attendees to pitch to, we compiled a list of awesome agents that were willing to take a look at queries from our attendees. Over the next few months, we'll be posting interviews with some of these agents. This month, we're talking to Abby Saul!

Abby founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She's worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. At each publishing group she's been a part of, Abby also has helped to establish ebook standards, led company-wide forums to explore new digital possibilities for books, and created and managed numerous digital initiatives.

A zealous reader who loves her iPad and the ebooks on it, she still can’t resist the lure of a print book. Abby’s personal library of beloved titles runs the gamut from literary newbies and classics, to cozy mysteries, to sappy women’s fiction, to dark and twisted thrillers. She’s looking for great and engrossing adult commercial and literary fiction. A magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, Abby spends her weekends—when she’s not reading—cooking and hiking with her husband. Find her @BookySaul on Twitter.


How and why did you become an agent?

While exploring options with several internships during college, I really clicked with the one I had at a literary agency in Chicago. Spending the summer reading manuscripts, writing reader's reports, and learning about publishing as a business (rather than just a way to be around books) hit all of my buttons and made me know that publishing was for me! After graduation, I started out in New York on the production side of publishing, which taught me how books were made, then ultimately came back to Chicago to work at a commercial publisher. While there, I was offered a position at the agency where I interned during college and so made it back to the agenting side of the business. Everything about it - the editorial work, the business and negotiation skills, the client management, finding new amazing books - is everything I want in a job, and I'm so lucky to have discovered the career that's right for me!


What's the best query you've ever received and what made it stand out?

This is such a tough question because I get at least 200 queries a week (!), and the best queries just do it right... which means they aren't necessarily memorable. (Some of the bad ones, on the other hand, I'll remember forever!) A professional and good query will do everything it needs to do in a way that makes the story stand out and the query itself fade away. I've found the majority of my current clients through the query inbox, and their queries are ones that are short, sweet, and are pitching me great books. They wrote queries that focused on the book and had obviously been edited and read a bunch of times. My biggest advice on queries is to take your time perfecting it. You've spent so much time on the book - don't wing the query!

Are you also a writer or do you just love books?

I am not a writer of books. I am a writer of pitches, editorial letters, informative articles, supportive emails, thank you notes, and contracts. By that I mean, I learned early on that I'm an excellent reader and an excellent editor, but that I don't have a book in me. I just help writers get their books out!

What are dying to see in your inbox? What are you tired of seeing?

I am dying to see an amazing, female-driven historical fiction set in a "new" time period (ie, not World War II). And I'm tired of seeing projects in genres I don't represent. I know that's not helpful trend-wise, but it honestly hurts my heart when people have wasted their time and mine by sending a query that's going to be an instant no because I don't do science fiction, or young adult, or whatever. After you take your time on your query, take a tiny bit more time to make sure you're sending the query to someone who represents the project you've written.

Thanks, Abby!


Do you think you have what Abby is looking for? Check her site for more details on what she reps and how to submit to her!

Five Questions with Louise Knott Ahern

Louise Ahern

Louise Knott Ahern is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer and writing coach/editor with more than 20 years of experience. Her journalism career has spanned both coasts and some of the biggest news markets in the country and has earned her many awards, including a 2014 Sigma Delta Chi -- one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the country. She founded CCWA in 2013 to help writers find the resources, motivation, and support necessary for navigating professional writing careers. Her debut novel, Seventh Inning Heat, was released in March 2016 under her pen name, Lyssa Kay Adams. You can find her at and

Louise is teaching our workshop this month on high stakes conflict. You're not gonna want to miss it. She gives great workshop!


What is your favorite part about writing? What is the most challenging part?

My favorite part? That’s easy. It’s when someone writes a review gushing over my book. It will never get old to see that someone loved something I wrote! But I also love that amazing part in the writing process when it all starts to come together and the million different threads in the novel start to weave together into something cohesive. It’s a great feeling to shut your computer down for the day and think, “Wow, I might actually pull this off again.”

The most challenging part? For me, that would be discipline. Writing is now my full-time job, which is a dream come true. But writing from home brings challenges that I didn't have when I was balancing it with a “day job.” When I sit down at 8:30 a.m., the day stretches before me and seems like SO MUCH TIME to write, so distractions more easily creep in. When I allow too many distractions, the day goes by pretty quickly. I have some tactics I use to stay focused (like using an old-fashioned kitchen timer and scheduling specific blocks of time in my planner for email), but it’s still really easy to talk myself into abandoning a particularly tough scene because there is laundry calling my name.


What’s the worst writing advice you ever received, and how did you overcome it?

I was told by a published author I admired when I was new to fiction writing that you have to write every day. No excuses. No exceptions. If you couldn’t carve out time every single day to devote to the craft, then it wasn’t really important to you, and you weren’t a real writer. It took years for me to realize that was complete and utter BS. And those were some tough years, because I tortured myself with my inability to live up to the credo. I was a full-time newspaper reporter, so I was writing every day—just not fiction. That meant my brain was dead by the time I got home at night (which was hard to predict, because the news laughs hysterically at your silly little plans). But I couldn’t see those realities of my life. All I could see was that I wasn’t living up to the “write every day” rule.

I overcame the bad advice because I was forced to: I had a baby. Balancing motherhood with everything else in my life taught me that I needed to develop a schedule that worked for me and to stop trying to force myself into someone else’s ideal. Being free of that arbitrary requirement actually made it more enjoyable for me to write, which made me more productive.

Having said that, I will advise writers that if you regularly find yourself going more than two weeks without writing, you might need to reevaluate how you’re spending your time or whether you’re working on the right project. Going that long without writing can pull you so far out of your fictional world that any time you finally carve out to write will be spent reacquainting yourself, not progressing in the manuscript. But write everyday? Nope. Don’t sweat it if you can’t.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?

I’m still a work in progress, so take this with a grain of salt…

From the start (as in, when I first made the decision that I was going to seriously pursue fiction publishing), I treated it as a career—not just a creative pursuit. I invested time, money, and energy into learning everything I could in both the craft and business sides of publishing. I attended conferences, joined writing organizations, networked, entered (and won) contests. I was also brutal with my own work. I detached myself emotionally as much as possible from books that were simply going nowhere so I could move onto something else. I knew that if one idea wasn’t working, there were a hundred others I could jump into.

Anyway, the career-focused approach paid off, because when I published my first book a year ago, I had 15 years of education and industry connections to draw upon. My book had a built-in audience of published romance authors who were eager and excited to share it with their own readers. I had tons of resources for marketing the book and friends who could guide me and cheer me on. And because of that, the book has sold well for a debut indie novel. I was able to qualify for Romance Writers of America’s official published author status in less than two months of publishing—which is unusual for a first-time indie author. And I’d like to think the dedication to craft worked, as well, because my second book (Wild in Rio) was recently nominated for a RITA Award by RWA!!! I am still in shock over that.

What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?

Not much, to be honest. Would I have liked to be published sooner? Maybe, but the opportunities were different even just five years ago, so my career would have looked different. And, frankly, I don’t know if I would have been truly ready for an indie career if I’d started earlier.  I have a wish list for my career, to be sure, but the only thing I would truly change about how I got here would be to never have discovered the distraction of the Internet. I shudder to think how many writing hours have been wasted because I get stuck in a scene and somehow sought the solution in recipes on Pinterest.

What are you working on now?

I’m madly working to get my third book out to the world. It’s the second in the Vegas Aces series, called Seventh Inning Hero. Then I will have six weeks to finish my next project – a New Adult novella called The Prospect. It will be the first book of my second (related) baseball series called The Long Ball Boys. (The series follows a summer baseball league where Major League hopefuls play in the hopes of catching the attention of a scout. It is a ton of fun to write, because there is a lot of crossover with my Vegas Aces world.) Anyway, by the end of the summer, I will have both series out in the world, and I’m already tired thinking about it.

Can we get an overview of your workshop?

Sure! We’re going to talk about “High Stakes Conflict.” I like to use the analogy of a road trip to describe writing. You are the driver. Readers are your passengers. Conflict is the fuel that keeps your engine running. Without conflict, there is no tension. Without tension, there is no reason for readers to keep reading. But there are different kinds of conflict, so we’re first going to go over those. Then we’ll examine how to layer those levels of conflict to make your story a page-turner. And finally, we’ll have some timed writing exercises to help you brainstorm ways to increase the conflict in your current work-in-progress. There will also be a giveaway at the end!


Thanks, Louise!

Be sure to stop by Schuler on Wednesday, April 5th at 7pm for a fabulous workshop!