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Monday, June 16, 2014


Many writers bemoan the fact that they have to invest -- OOOPS, spend money (!) on their careers -- well before selling a ms. or seeing any results from sales. I was fortunate to have been raised by parents who understood the importance of preparation and schooling and who taught me that to have anything worthwhile, it takes time and sacrifice AND, quite often, money.

That understanding has served me well. First, as a teacher, but for the last many years, as a writer. Most writers recognize the need for computers and technology without a second thought. Unfortunately, for many, the cost of attending conferences or courses, building a platform by speaking and appearing at locations without pay, even donating articles, books and resources while having to spend on other resources, adds up so quickly that they pull back. That hesitation, however, can slow the course of their career and writing opportunities tremendously.

Thankfully, I married a man who, though not a "reader", also supported my growing obsession and said, "Go for it!" Though I had been writing and selling articles and stories for several years, teaching English and history full time while being a very busy rancher's wife and mother of three, etc., meant I was burning my candle at two ends. I think a lot of writers do that, especially in the beginning. But my husband said, "If you really want to write, don't be afraid to quit teaching full time, if that's what you need to do." So I did....

The next step, spending money in the process of writing, came next. My father -- who had passed away by then -- had always said, "Never, NEVER, be afraid to invest in YOURSELF." My mother and family kept reminding me of that. My twin sister and mother even insisted we load up my sister's old pickup truck, and four of our children, and head up to Montana where I was wanting to go for primary research into the history of the Marias Massacre, the background for the novel I was pursuing (ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, which then WON a WILLA Literary Award)! We looked like something out of the Grapes of Wrath :-)   Packed into her 1969 pickup, in August -- with no air conditioning -- we headed north! With four little boys, it was quite an adventure.

But I realized through that endeavor that getting to those locations where you need to SEE, hear, or feel your STORY, is critical. I even suspect that part of the reason the novel went on to win a WILLA Award, from Women Writing the West, was because I had spent so much energy and time researching primary documents and visiting sites that were integral to the story. Hopefully it made the story much more authentic because I was not sitting at home trying to imagine the locations Red Eagle and Liza Ralston struggled against but walking over ground they would have walked....perhaps that's why PRP was also willing to re-release the novel in December 2013 (thank you, Cheryl and Livia)!

After that trip, I also began to see the need to attend more writing conferences and courses. I had already found Women Writing the West and when the conference came to Sacramento, I jumped on board. What a great group! I have since attended at least ten Women Writing the West conferences, and even did a stint as President and WILLA Chair.

Besides meeting the awesome women who people the organization, through WWW, I met the editor for Arcadia Publishing and immediately began a relationship with them, having now sold them four titles. Two of those titles have gone into second printing and the last one my coauthor and I did for them (POSTCARDS FROM THE STATE OF JEFFERSON) was actually one that Arcadia pitched to US! At WWW, I also met the publisher who accepted the ms. for HISTORIC INNS & EATERIES IN THE STATE OF JEFFERSON (Old America Publishing), AND two conferences ago, I met the editor from Globe Pequot who accepted the pitch for ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP, just released. ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP is now ranked #57,000 on

I also met the agent I worked with (only for a short time) at a writers' conference. Although the relationship didn't work out, I began to build the confidence that helped me approach other agents and editors at conferences.

I have since attended RWA conferences, PNWA conferences, a Willamette Writers conference, even smaller local and regional conferences. I dragged my husband to L.A. and attended a four-day Screenwriting course because I wanted to jump into that genre, and I traveled to Portland (320 miles north) for six weeks to attend a screenwriting course. Some of my writing friends shook their heads at how willing I was to travel long distances to learn more or seek out new opportunities. Of course, living in a remote, rural area -- I had little choice but to travel!

I began to speak to small writing groups and offered myself to schools in the area, even traveling a couple hours each way, to speak and share; sometimes I sold a book or two, but often sold nothing. I joined a list of historical writers and began writing for our local NPR/JPR station and its quite famous historical essay series (I still contribute 3 small essays each month!). I accepted a "job" as a writer for a new regional publication, JEFFERSON BACKROADS; in exchange for my writing a long piece each month, I "receive" free ads and publicity. This year, I'll be attending the Western Writers of America conference in Sacramento and can't wait to meet writers who have attained such great success as many of them have done!

Another expense that seems to "pay off" includes contests (although I'm quite selective). I've entered many different contests and have placed in a number of them, even winning the cost of registration, presentation at the banquet provided the finalists and winners, and a private pitch session for one of my scripts, through Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA).

Clearly, I consider the cost of attending conferences as a necessary investment in building my career. It provides so many opportunities for meeting and networking that the investment of time and money comes back many times over. I look back and think to myself, "Wow! Had I shrunk from spending the money out of fear or feeling the pinch, I'd have missed so much!" So, if you've hesitated until now, just "Go for it!" Search the internet, find local, regional, or national conferences, or courses you know will expand your horizons, and jump in!

For more about my books, visit my website:
For more about the WILLA Literary Award guidelines/application, visit:


  1. I enjoyed reading about your journey in writing and travel. I'll think of "Go for it!" when I balk at doing something again!

  2. :-) Thanks, Linda! Sometimes we do have to force ourselves to go for it.... I am not aggressive about most things in life, so taking this kind of risk was an important step of faith-building for me.

  3. Gail,
    Although I don't have many resources to fall back on, I also feel that 'spending' what time and resources I do have have been worth it. Through WWW I learned what it took to put out a newsletter, being the editor for 3 years for that organization. Like you, I've met some wonderful and supportive people who encourage me to keep going. Investing in myself and passions has always been a win/win for me. Your story is an inspiration to others who want to 'tell stories'. Thank you. Doris

    1. WWW has been great inspiration for me....though I never worked on the newsletter for that group, I have worked on many newsletters over the years, particularly for our local CattleWomen's organization! Time consuming, for sure, but even projects like those provide an opportunity for learning and sharing! Thanks for stopping by..... BTW, are you going to this year's 20th WWW Anniversary conference???? I want to, but haven't worked it out yet.

    2. I will be there. Presenting a workshop. It should be a good one. If you get there, I look forward to seeing you. Doris

  4. Wow, Gail! What an inspiring post! I've been really fortunate in that my locations I use are right here in Oklahoma--places I've been or can easily travel to. Sometimes, TX, but that's like my second home, living so nearby.

    I'm not really aggressive about a lot of things, either, in life--probably the things I'm MOST aggressive about are my kids. LOL

    I love your father's advice--never be afraid to invest in yourself. That's something that would make a huge difference in anyone's opinion of themselves, growing up, to hear that often.


    1. Thanks, Cheryl! Yes, my dad was an inspiration. First generation Italian-American, his mother was legally blind and illiterate (also a mail-order bride), so getting an education was very important to her and to my dad. He was the youngest of five kids but none of them, apart from Dad, got more than a high school education. He ended up going to Rutgers, Harvard, then Stanford -- and he encouraged us to always "go further" -- seek excellence and seek and education however you can do it! My mother was of the same ilk -- so they instilled a love of learning in a big way (but not just public education, but personal growth, too!)....

  5. Gail,

    My road to publication was similar to yours, and it was time and money well-spent. Over the years, though, I have all but stopped going to conferences and entering contests, but I, like you, like to go to the historical sites that I use in my stories because it is critical to "...SEE, hear, or feel your STORY...".

    1. Hi Kaye - yes, I'm more and more selective these days too... I need to SEE what the benefit may be in entering contests or going for conferences, but I'm always amazed by what I do learn -- even in small things! Love the networking, too, and have made many lifetime friends over the years.

  6. I have spent quite a few dollars on writing classes, both in college classrooms and cyber classrooms. It has been money well spent. When I had writer's block, a few years back, I took one of the best classes ever in procrastination and writer's block. I found out why it happens and how to unravel it--and it left me with the tools to keep on track and prevent it from happening again. I have never benefited from contests, but I have benefited from judging in contests. Sometimes just looking at an aspiring author's work makes me look at my own with a more critical eye. Conferences are out of my budget and, now that I'm retired, so is RWA. I was a member of RWA for many years, even before I published, but honestly, I never felt supported by it. I did, however, benefit from the writing classes it presented and the workshops I attended once a month in my local chapter, Carolina Romance Writers. I learn so much from edits on my work, too. What I really wish I had was a writer friend who lives next door that I could have coffee with and do some brainstorming and writer talk with. Of course, that would be free--except for the coffee.
    Wonderful, inspirational blog.