Bethany Maines drinks from an arsenic mug


Rejection is Knocking

Part of any creative endeavor that gets shared with the public is rejection.  I understand that not every person will love my creative projects.  And I even get that somewhere out there is someone who hates my books and art.  In fact, I kind of hope there is.  I would like to have a nemesis who howls with rage every time I put out another book.  After all, if I’m not sparking unnatural fury in the heart of someone, what am I even doing with my life? However, hatred would be welcome compared to the banal everyday “meh” of rejection.

Rejection Corgi with the caption... Dear Writer: It's not you. It's me. Sincerely, The editor.

Thanks, but no thanks…

I would not care to count up the number of rejection letters and emails I have received over my career, but I would guess that it’s in the hundreds. And by and large, most of them are a polite form of “it’s not for me.” There have been many that have been intentionally or unintentionally condescending. “You’re doing so well” is not the compliment some people think it is. Many people (particularly those under 30) seem compelled to offer tips and suggestions rather than stating why they personally did not accept something.  There’s a big difference between “you should work on your hook” and “I couldn’t see how I would sell this in the current marketplace. I needed a something to more strongly differentiate it.” One tells me why you rejected it, the other sounds like I suck as a writer. (You may say that is a slight misinterpretation, but my brain does not believe you.)

So why sign up for rejection?

Because the risk is worth the reward. And, of course, there are the corgi memes. And after the first fifty, the polite “no thank you” rejections don’t sting quite so much and you can move on to ice cream, alcohol, and burning the really crappy rejections. And as much as I hate to admit, the rejections have helped me become a better writer. Admittedly, they’re a bit like following street signs in a foreign language as I try to decipher what exactly they mean, but they still give some clues.  Right now, I have two projects out to various entities and I’m crossing my fingers that they don’t try to send me searching down the back alleyways to self-improvement. I’d much rather they went with a large flashing sign that says “I love it!” But just in case, I’ll keep the desserts, memes and cocktails at the ready.


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of action-adventure and fantasy tales that focus on women who know when to apply lipstick and when to apply a foot to someone’s hind end. She participates in many activities including swearing, karate, art, and yelling at the news. She can usually be found chasing after her daughter, or glued to the computer working on her next novel (or screenplay). You can also catch up with her on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

What Influences a Book?

In many of my books, something from my past has influenced the story. The Past Came Hunting came from a police ridealong. Deadly Recall resulted from my memory of a piano lesson I greatly exaggerated and fictionalized.

On June 16 through June 30, my fourth single title romantic suspense goes on sale. I was actually living the idea behind Buried Agendas at the time and I’d like to share the story behind it.

Although my husband is happily retired these days, in his work life he was a chemical engineer who specialized in industrial water treatment. Over the years, I met his customers and clients. As a storyteller, I’d listen with rapt attention to the goings on of their businesses. Naturally, when I learned his company had been awarded a contract to help with the cleanup of the Rocky Flats Nuclear weapons plant rocky-flats-site-colorado-fact-sheet ( I was intrigued but also concerned.

That project started me thinking about the dangers of environmental contamination, not only nuclear but chemical. I’d read and listened to broadcasts about states rightfully objecting to where nuclear waste should be stored. About drums of illegal chemicals buried in the desert.

Conversely, I learned about the stiff fines and penalties the Environmental Protection Agency inflicted on corporations should they not adhere to these regulations.

Such was my idea behind Buried Agendas and the book would not have been written without a wonderful resource of an EPA staffer in Denver. Not only did we have a long informative phone conversation, afterward, she sent me reams of information on superfund sites (by snail mail no less).

Neither would the book have been written without the help of chemists, plant managers, and an underground tank expert. And by the time I completed interviews and consumed an enormous amount of research material, I came up with what I thought might be a believable inciting incident.

What if a chemical was created that should never have been created?

All right. That seemed to work. But how to develop a romantic suspense plot around such a complicated subject? Here’s what I came up with.

A devastating secret drove her from her lover’s arms; will a secret equally as deadly lead her back to him?

Diana Reid is an investigative reporter skilled at uncovering other people’s secrets. It’s her own she works to keep buried. Eight years earlier, she promised to leave her fiancé and hometown of Diamond, Texas forever. That pledge vanishes when she receives a letter stating people are going to die, implicating her hometown’s largest employer, and making a veiled threat against her mother. With no other choice, Diana will return to Diamond, albeit in disguise, to discover the anonymous author.

Brad Jordan moved on with his life after Diana left him. Preferring to practice law rather than assume his birthright, Jordan Industries, he turns the chemical processing plant over to his brother. Later, Brad runs for office and is elected mayor on his promise to rebuild his struggling hometown. Those plans are jeopardized when he’s notified that the company is suspected of wrongdoing and may be sacrificing the public’s health.

Diana Reid is the last person Brad Jordan wants to see, personally or professionally. But, when he discovers her presence in Diamond, he’s forced to accept that a woman he vowed to forget may be his only avenue to get to the truth.


What readers have said:

“Buried Agendas is a well-written, well-plotted romantic suspense. It kept me reading late into the night to find out what happens to the star-crossed lovers. The story had enough technical detail to be realistic without coming across as a chemistry lesson–well done! I felt the heat of the Texas setting and enjoyed getting to know the characters. I’m looking forward to Ms. Bell’s next one.”


BURIED AGENDAS follows the romantic suspense plots that Bell is known for. A fast compelling read with hot topics in the news today– Chemical waste and the hazards of border crossing. The characters are well developed and carry the reader through an exciting pace to the finish. If you haven’t read her previous books, you’re missing out on great storytelling.


“This is a well written, suspenseful thriller with fully drawn characters and a fast paced plot. Diana, forced to return to her hometown, confronts the fact that she still has feelings for the man she betrayed eight years ago. And now she’s in town to investigate his family’s business and possibly destroy all that he holds dear. Donnell Bell’s character emotions ring true and her plot is all too believable.”


If you enjoy romantic suspense, I hope you’ll check out Buried Agendas, particularly when it goes on sale June 16-30 for $.99.

How about you? Has something in your past influenced you? For authors, did said influence inspire you to incorporate it in a book or to write an entire novel?

About the Author:  Donnell Ann Bell writes both romantic suspense and multi-jurisdictional task force plots, keeping close tabs on her theme SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Her single-title romantic suspense novels, The Past Came Hunting, Deadly Recall, Betrayed, and Buried Agendas, have all been Amazon e-book best sellers.

Traditionally published with Belle Books/Bell Bridge Books, Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense was her first mainstream suspense and book one of a series, and a Colorado Book Award finalist. Her second book in the series, Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense, released in May of 2022 was voted best thriller in 2023 at the Imaginarium Celebration Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  Sign up for her newsletter or follow her blog at












Deep in the Promo Weeds

By Lois Winston

My post last month talked about the five-letter word that sends a shudder through most authors. I’ve been in the promotion weeds ever since, due to the recent launch of  A Crafty Collage of Crime, the 12th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Between my own blog, Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, and the two group blogs I belong to, this one and Booklover’s Bench, I also signed up for a blog tour with Great Escapes Book Tours and booked a few guest blogs on my own. The grand total came to—drumroll, please—26 blog posts through the middle of August!

And here lies the conundrum: How many ways can I talk about my series and the newest book in it without sounding like a broken record? Or worse yet, a carnival barker? Step right up, ladies and gentlemen. Be the first to experience the latest murder and mayhem author Lois Winston has dumped on her poor reluctant amateur sleuth!

No one likes being bombarded with “buy my book” pleas on social media. Hard sell often works against an author. Years ago, when I was still writing romance, I attended a conference where a well-known, bestselling author kept pleading with the audience to buy her books because her teenage son was growing so fast that she was spending a fortune every month at Foot Locker. From the sideways glances those of us in the audience were giving each other, I had the sense that this author’s attempt at a cute marketing ploy was backfiring badly. Especially since we’d all seen her latest advance recently posted on Publishers Marketplace. I’ve been published since 2006, and to this day, if you added up all my advances and royalties from the past seventeen years, the total would still be less than what that author had received in one advance.

At any rate, Anastasia and I (some bloggers requested posts written by my sleuth or interviews with her instead of me) have tried—desperately—to keep each of the posts fresh and different. My Great Escapes blog tour began June 19th and runs through July 2nd. You can find the schedule here. Visit each site to enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win one of three copies I’m giving away of A Crafty Collage of Crime. Because the drawing won’t be held until after the last guest post goes live on July 2nd, you can also go back and enter at the blogs that have already posted.

I promise I won’t implore you to add to my sons’ or grandsons’ sneaker funds!

Instead, if you post a comment here, I’ll enter you in a random drawing for a chance to win a promo code for a free audiobook download of A Stitch to Die For, the fifth book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

When One Thing Leads to Another by Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m delighted to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk as my guest to talk about her new release: Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide. Because I’ve loved her two fiction series: The Glass Dolphin mysteries and the Marketville mysteries, I know this will be a valuable non-fiction tool for writers. See you next month!  —Debra H. Goldstein

When One Thing Leads to Another by Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m new at this. Oh, I don’t mean I’m new to blogging. I’ve been writing a blog for my own website for years, and I was a Stiletto Gang member for a time until life got in the way (thankfully, they invite me back every now and again, for which I am grateful).

I don’t even mean that I’m new to shameless self-promotion, though it never seems to get any easier (I can always hear my mother saying, “never forget where you came from,” “where” in our world being a very humble place).

What I do mean is that I’m not used to blogging about a how-to book. It’s not like I can be cutesy and write this from a character’s point of view or get all authorly and talk about the narrative arc. Hmmm…maybe I can talk about how one thing led to another.

Okay, that’s settled. It all started when I led a NaNoWriMo debriefing in November 2021 at my then-local library. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo a few times but have never yet completed the 50,000-words-in-a-month challenge. The librarian thought that made me more accessible. I’d tried and “failed,” and yet I was a published author.

What I learned from that event was that the attendees were more interested in how-to get published and publishing options than whether I (or anyone else) had succeeded at NaNoWriMo. That led to the librarian asking if I might be willing to prepare a presentation on the topic. I remembered how much I’d learned since signing my first book contract in 2014, and not all those lessons came easy. In fact, some of them were downright painful.

The presentation—Paving Your Path to Publication—had record attendance, with more questions than time to respond. It also gave me an idea. What if I wrote a book based on it? I’m a total pantser when it comes to writing mystery fiction, but here, at least, I’d have an outline.

After months of research (I knew virtually nothing about social publishing platforms like Wattpad or Hybrid/Assisted publishers, and was surprised at how much I still had to learn about traditional and self-publishing platforms) and vetting every chapter with my front-line editor (also an aspiring author from a very different generation than mine), the result is Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide, which released on May 2 in trade paperback, large print, hardcover, and e-book. It’s the sort of book I wish I’d had back when I was starting out, but then again, I wouldn’t be where I am today without experiencing the highs and low of my journey as an author.

After all, one thing almost always leads to another. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Readers: Have you experienced “one thing leading to another” in your life? If so, how’d that work out for you?


About Finding Your Path to Publication: The road to publishing is paved with good intentions…and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way.

For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book, and you’re ready to share it with the world, but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms—all are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?

Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore, and where to begin your author journey.

Available in trade paperback, large print, hardcover, and e-book. Universal buy link:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario. Find her at


New Year’s Resolution: Read a Short Story a Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it has been healthy, comfortable, and prosperous for all.

Barb Goffman

If you are still considering resolutions and have any interest in short story craft, may I suggest a recommendation by well-known, award winning writer and editor Barb Goffman? Why not read a short story a day? Debra H. Goldstein has already made an excellent suggestion to get started: the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s latest anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. In addition, there are plenty of online and periodic publications to choose from, all featuring outstanding authors. Many of the Sisters in Crime Chapters have organized and released anthologies to showcase their members and give newer authors a chance not only for a writing credit, but also to learn how to promote their work.

Even if you are not interested in writing the short form, seeing how it is put together can help you strengthen skills for longer efforts. With a short story, characters, setting, and mood must be established quickly, in only a few carefully chosen words. It has to be wrapped up concisely, without leaving loose ends or unsatisfied questions. Those elements are important for novellas and novels, too. Figuring out how to develop a story and keep a reader engaged is a primary focus for shorts.

If you are interested in writing short stories, please consider the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable’s Annual Short Story Contest. This year, submissions must include a holiday element, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. They must be 2000 words or less and submitted as provided in the description of rules. An entry fee of $15 is required for each submission. The top awards are: First Place, $200 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s anthology Season’s Readings; Second Place, $100 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s online quarterly, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; and Third Place, $50 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Maybe the best news about the contest is that this year’s celebrity judge is Barb Goffman. Here’s a link with an interview where Barb talks about the most appealing aspect of writing short stories, how her careers as a journalist and lawyer have influenced her writing, what some of the most frequent mistakes she sees writers make, and what’s her best advice for submitting to an anthology or contest.

Start you New Year right: reading and writing shorts!

Mystery! Suspense! Thriller!

When I pitched my first book to a publisher, I described it as a mystery. “Tell me about it,” said the acquisitions editor. After hearing the the storyline, she asked to see the full manuscript and gave me her card.

 Glancing at the card, I noticed that the publisher she represented specialized in romance novels. I repeated that the book I had written was a mystery.

“Sounds like romance is a substantial part of it,” she countered. “Send the manuscript and let us decide.”

Long story short, her company published The Body Business as a Romantic Suspense novel. Thus began my initiation into the wacky world of genre madness and the marketing issues that plagued the book for the duration of the publishing contract.

Fast forward to the day the contract ended. At last, I had more control over how, when, and where the book was advertised.

Thankfully, the new edition took off and led to the launch of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series. As published authors know, trying to slide your novel into the perfect preset niche that book retailers and other marketers require can be daunting. My books tend to cross genres, so picking a single category was like aiming a fistful of darts at one teeny tiny target and hoping the right dart would hit the bullseye.

Mystery? Thriller? Suspense? Which one suits the stories best?

Here’s a simple way to differentiate them according to best-selling, multi-award winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan: “I always think a mystery is ‘who-done-it?’ A thriller is ‘stop it before it happens again.’ And suspense is ‘what’s going on here?’

These simple guidelines help me define the books in my series, even though each one fits into a different category.

Reviewers describe The Body Business as a “roller-coaster ride” and a “page-turner.” In other words, it reads like a thriller. As for The Body Next Door, some reviewers have called it a cozy. Like a cozy, there’s humor and a quirky character or two, but the absence of cats, crafts, or a charming village could risk the wrath of traditional cozy fans. It’s also been described as “full of suspense,” which is how I wrote it, straight-up.

Romance runs through the series as a subplot, due to my fiercely independent-minded main character, who continues to deflect the happy-ever-after ending romance readers crave. The romance continues into the next book, but the main plot is a true who-done-it.

To label a book as a mystery, suspense novel, or thriller is purely a marketing game. What an author really cares about is that people enjoy reading it. When our readers share a book they really like with their friends, they can describe it however they want.

Readers, do you rely on a bookseller’s categories to choose a book?

Writers, have you struggled with labels, too? Tell us about it.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.