The Writer's Mailbag: Installment One-Hundred and Twenty-Seven

Here We Are Again

Like death and taxes, you can count on the Mailbag arriving at your doorstep. We even made it despite a big snowstorm in the Midwest and horrendous weather down south, so nothing, and I mean nothing, can derail the mail.

Hey, that rhymed! I’m poet . . . derail the mail! Get it? Now if I could only do that through an entire three stanzas I’d have an actual poem.

Oh why bother? I’m a storyteller, not a poet, and yes, I know, poets can also be storytellers, but this storyteller cannot be a poet.

I’m babbling. Let’s get on with it.

Welcome to the Mail Room
Welcome to the Mail Room | Source

Stop Words Continued

From Angela: “I’m still confused about stop words. I looked up the list you referred us to, and it appears to me to be very difficult to write a title that doesn’t have stop words in it and still have that title make sense. Do you understand what I’m saying? If I wanted to write an article about the top five vacation destinations in Italy, how would I write that article title without using stop words?”

Without a doubt there will be some titles, Angela, which are impossible to write without a stop word. Still, it is something to watch out for. Take the title “The Top Five Destinations in Italy.” What can we do with that to eliminate stop words? Try “Top Five Italian Destinations.” Same thing, no stop words.

In those situations where you feel the stop word is essential, try running two Google searches on it. Do a Google search using the stop words, and do a Google search not using the stop words. Do those Google searches take you to where you want to go? If they both go to the same search sites then the stop words don’t make any difference in that case and you can go ahead and use them.

Clear as mud?

After all these books, fame still hasn't arrived for this writer, either.
After all these books, fame still hasn't arrived for this writer, either. | Source

Fame Has Not Appeared

From Pete: “I’ve written three novels and self-published all three, and to date I’ve sold a total of twenty books. I’m beginning to think I’m wasting my time. What should I do to increase sales, or should I just stop writing?”

Really, Pete? How much time do you have for my response to this?

If you are writing because you love to write, then sales have nothing to do with the conversation.

But I get it, you need the money, so what should you do?

I’ve never read one of your books, so I can’t comment on your writing chops. My first advice is to always concentrate on producing the best product possible. After that it’s a matter of marketing like a mad man, and showing some patience. Hell, Pete, I have ten books out now and please believe me, I’m nowhere near famous or successful. I give you the same advice I follow, from a book of the same name: Write, Publish, Repeat.

And I would add one more piece of advice: learn marketing!

And after you do all that, understand that you still might not sell more than a handful of books. The default position of the self-publishing world is failure. I hate to be blunt but that’s reality. Many more self-published books fail than those that make it.

So good luck!

Write locally first and then move up the ladder to regional, state, and national
Write locally first and then move up the ladder to regional, state, and national | Source

Travel Articles

From Gwyneth: “I want to submit some travel articles to magazines, but I don’t know which ones to start with. Suggestions? Which magazines are most receptive to a struggling articles writer?”

My suggestion, Gwyneth, is to dream big and start small, and by starting small I’m talking about local. Begin researching the local online newspapers and magazines, and query them with an article idea. You have to build a reputation, and you do that one baby step at a time. Don’t bother querying regional and national publications if you don’t have any credibility, and you build up credibility in the magazine business by getting published, one small magazine at a time.

Pick an interesting place in your area, possibly one that hasn’t been written about too often. Go visit that place, take your notes, come back and think of a new approach for a travel article, and pitch the idea. Keep doing that until you get someone to take a chance on you. Then, eventually, once you have a reputation of sorts, work your way up from local to state to regional to national.

That’s how it’s done. Good luck!


From Anna: “Help! I’m three-fourths of the way through my novel and I’m stuck. I don’t know what the ending will be. What should I do to find that elusive conclusion?”

Anna, some may be laughing right now, but if one understands the quirky way the creative process works, one would not be laughing. I’ve actually had this happen to me. I’ve also started a novel with no idea where it was going, and didn’t discover direction until one-third of the novel was written. I’ve also thrown out ten-thousand words because the novel wasn’t working for me.

So, to put it succinctly, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Walk away from your novel, and I mean walk far away from it. Take a week off. Do other things. I’m willing to bet, if you do that, the ending will come to you, but you have to let your muse speak to you during a quiet moment when you are doing something else. That’s how it works for me. I’m hoping it will work for you, as well.

If all that sounds a bit too New Age for you, have a trusted friend read your manuscript and make suggestions for an ending.

Best wishes!

Besides Bookstores, What Else?

From Alan: “Bill, I’ve heard you say before that we should take our self-published books to independent bookstores, as long as the books have ISBN numbers. I’ve done that. Where else would you suggest?

Alan, this is an easy one to answer. Any local store, any independent, is fair game when looking for a distribution place. Our local grocery store, Ralphs, always has a small display of books by local authors in their store. Concentrate on being local when approaching any store owner, and worry very little about what they sell in their store. Local businesses like to support local businesses. Everyone wins in those situations, so raise your head proudly, march into your local independent stores, and work out an arrangement. For God’s sake don’t be shy.

Yes, you will be splitting the profits with the store owner, because almost always these are consignment deals, but there is more to marketing than sales. Every book that you sell is an advertisement in its own right, and every new reader is a potential fan for life.

Remember these words of wisdom: 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing!


I can only answer what I’m given, and that’s all the questions that arrived this week, so this is a short one.

Thanks to those who asked questions. If you’ve got a question bugging you, include it in the comment section below, or email it to me at

And, on a personal note, my new novel, “Shadows Over A Hangman’s Noose,” is due out through the Amazon network later this week. If you’re looking for a good Christmas present for that reader in your family, I have no problem suggesting my new book for that present.

2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

More by this Author

Comments 64 comments

Janine Huldie profile image

Janine Huldie 2 months ago from New York, New York

Bill, your rhyming made me smile more than you know. Thanks once again for the awesome advice here and Happy Monday now!! ;)

Duane Townsend profile image

Duane Townsend 2 months ago from Detroit

Great observations Billy.

As far as marketing my work, I agree with you. I spend more time marketing than I do writing.

It sucks, but it's necessary.

Great hub.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Janine, I'm a terrific poets for a total of two lines. LOL Then my talent runs dry.

Have a super Monday, my friend, and thank you always.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Duane, that about sums it up. It sucks but it's necessary. LOL Thanks for succinctly stating that truth.

annart profile image

annart 2 months ago from SW England

You're a poet and you didn't know it! Well, well, bill, there's a turn up for the books!

I've written articles for local magazines; the fact that there were photos to go with them was a plus in getting them published. They were both for 'Somerset Life', which is the county title of a nationwide '.... Life' publication. Something like that would be great for Gwyneth because if you can get into one, presumably you can diversify and write for another of the same group. My advice is always keep a portfolio, hard copy and file copies, to show when you can.

A question: When Christmas arrives, do you take at least 2 days off to rest and have fun with your family? In a wider context, do you think it's a good idea to take regular time off - 'thinking' days and expeditions to see what inspiration you can find? I've realised that I'm starting to feel guilty about not writing so much, even though I know I'm going to get back to it, so I'm trying to compensate by storing up ideas as I do other work, observe my daily surroundings and travel my regular roads. What's your slant on that?

Have a multi-functional Monday, bill, and a wicked week!

Ann :)

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Ann, your advice about magazines is right on, of course. Keep a portfolio, start local, and keep writing and submitting. It takes time to become established int he writing game, but once it happens, like becomes one paid gig after another.

Thanks for the question. It's one I'm already chuckling about. I'll tell you why next Monday. :)

Snow in Olympia, and I'm smiling.


Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 2 months ago from Europe

Billybuc the poet, be careful by saying nothing can derail the mail. You might challenging fate. Nevertheless an interesting mailbag, as always.

Wish you a great week, and see you next week!

PAINTDRIPS profile image

PAINTDRIPS 2 months ago from Fresno CA

A Blessed and Happy Monday Morning to you,

I'm always happy to see the Mailbag, and wasn't disappointed once again. I don't believe in fate but Buildreps may have a point about saying nothing can derail you! Anyway, very informative. I didn't know anything about stop words before reading the mailbag and now I think I understand them better. Also I never have thought of writing for local magazines but now I'm thinking "hmmmm." I just may give it a try. Once again, thanks for all the insight.



vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 2 months ago from Nashville Tn.

I love your teaching technique Bill - comes right from your brilliant mind and great big heart. What a combination! Mahalo, (thank you in Hawaiin), for expanding my limited knowledge as a writer.

I, SO, love you


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

And wishing you a great week as well, Buidreps. Thanks for always being here.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Blessings to you, Denise, and thank you. As for tempting fate, as long as I control this particular fate I'm feeling pretty confident. The Mailbag will end when I'm pushing up Daisies. :)

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Audrey, thank you dear friend, and love is heading your way on this snowy Monday morning. The snow is inspiring me and I'm typing like a man possessed.



Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

A nice, entertaining mailbag. Enjoyed the questions and answers. Thanks for the good advice and tips provided, Bill.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 months ago from South Africa

Another informative and useful hub in the writer's mailbag. Marketing is a rare talent among writers. But we have to do it. Ugh! Travel agencies may be interested in our travel blogs/hubs. But again, we have to do the essential marketing, Ugh!

May you have some good sales during this holiday season, billybuc :)

mpropp profile image

mpropp 2 months ago from Minnesota

Happy Monday Bill! Glad you survived the crazy weather. I'm sitting in MN without any snow...I'm so excited to read your latest Shadows book! I've been patiently waiting!

Have a great rest of the week!

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

Another useful installment of question and answers! The Q-A regarding travel articles is really helpful.

And that display of books that you have authored--Awesome and I salute you for that!

Thank you!

Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

Thank for more solid advice and I love your idea on the stop word issue. Never thought about just figuring out a different way to add a title to avoid stop words. Well Bill as you see if I am here writing this on a Monday then I am bound and determined to get all my year end goals finished by the holidays. So no more catching up now I put in a lot more hours and then can enjoy the holidays. Hope your week is inspirational.

Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 2 months ago from Brazil

Hi Bill,

Regarding travel pieces, I have written several for an Italian company. I have never been to Italy but after my research, I would love to go. Perhaps it is cheating, but with all the information which is online, reviews and Google street map, I can almost smell the espresso in the Guidos cafe.

I have a question for you. Returning to Patterson's books and his co-authors. If you were asked to do a book with him would you? I know that you have been a ghost writer but putting your name on the cover alongside someone who takes more credit, would you feel comfortable with that?

Secondly, do you know if those who co-author with a famous person are then pigeonholed to only play as a second fiddler or do they go on to greater things as a result of their association?

lifegate profile image

lifegate 2 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

Another great week of Q's and A's, Bill. Just a thought for Anna - I know she's already started her story, so it may not work for her, but there have been times I've started with the ending and worked backward. Now I know where I'm going. It's just matter of how do I get there ,which is the rest of the story. It may not work for everybody, but it works for me,

always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 months ago from Southern Illinois

Bill, you're a poet and don't know it. ( I know, that line is worn out. )I enjoy reading all the questions and your answers. The little tidbit suggestions are helpful. Thank you for hanging in there. You are appreciated!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you Venkatachari M. It's always a pleasure having you stop by for a visit.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Martie, I echo your ughs. LOL It is something I do not enjoy at all.

Thank you my friend.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you Melissa! No snow? I've got relatives in North Dakota buried in snow. Weird weather, my friend. The new Shadows will be out Thursday at the latest. Thank you in advance.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I appreciate your kind words.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Sounds like a good plan, Rasma! I hope it works out for you and that you enjoy the holidays. Thank you so much.

Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

All we can do is try. Fame is a fickle mistress.

Great mailbag!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Great questions, Mary. I'll have to do some research on that second one but I'm happy to do so. Thank you! As for your travel writing experiences, I don't think that's cheating at all. In fact, I wrote an article for HP a couple years ago about doing exactly that. Why not! A good writer doesn't need to travel to write a good article.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Bill, great suggestion. I've never done that but I can see how it would work quite nicely. Thanks for that!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

It's nice to hear that, Ruby! I think we all need to know we are appreciated, so thank you.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

True words, Larry! True words indeed. Thank you sir!

heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 2 months ago from Chicago Area

Happy Mailbag Monday! Yes, it was snowing here in the good ol' Midwest. Didn't accumulate much. Just made a mess at the Bears game. Anyway...

Re: Fame and Bookstores. Yep, it's all about the marketing and sales. If you're not willing to be a marketer, then you can expect to toil away writing in obscurity.

I would say, though, that when approaching local stores, make sure the fit is relevant to not only the area, but also the type of store and customers they serve. Remember, the store owner is taking a chance on you, even with consignment sales. Be ready to sell how your book ties in with that the store sells.

And, for heaven's sake, don't bother approaching any franchises or chain stores even if the owner is "local." They have restrictions on what they can offer in their stores. Do you research before you approach store owners to make sure you're not wasting your time and theirs with a proposal that will have to automatically be rejected.

Enough "shop" talk for a pre-Christmas week. Have a good one!

MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 2 months ago

This mailbag may be short, but it was sweet, Bill. I learned a few new 'uns from Alan's question. I'd never in all my born days thought of a grocery store. May I make two more suggestions? Museum gift shops; all states have museums and most love to put books by local authors in their shops. The other suggestion, and along this same line, is tourist traps with gift shops. Same reason. Our state capitol gift shop has a special section just for books by in-state authors. Of course they favor books about local history, travel, architecture, mores, and food, but most will take fiction, too. Have a good 'un, my friend.

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 2 months ago

I appreciate your advice about titles. Thank you.....

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Heidi, all great suggestions and right on, as always. Thanks for adding your expertise to the discussion. I totally agree, approaching chain stores is a no-win situation for everyone concerned.

Happy Holidays, my friend.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

MizB, those two suggestions are fantastic, and I'm adding them to my to-do list. Thanks for that. I know the smartest people!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

It's my pleasure, Pop! Thank you and have a great week.

social thoughts profile image

social thoughts 2 months ago from New Jersey


I've been confused by stop words, lately. I appreciate Angela's question and your answer. :) To add to it, don't you think that trying to come up with a title and avoiding stop words can be difficult when making sure your title is unique? Perhaps, it makes it more of a challenge and I'm seeing stop words as a crutch.

Take care!

bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 2 months ago from Massachusetts

Hi Bill. Excellent questions and answers for the mailbag this week. We had a dusting of snow this morning also. Great advice to Gwyneth on travel articles, something I should be paying attention to. Have a great week.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

I like the suggestion of starting with the end in mind. Good questions and answers.

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

Bill, you're such a great teacher. I'm still struggling with "stop words" and with your guidance will get past this (but jeez, it's just so anti- whatever we learned in English Comp.)

Thank you for keeping this mailbag going each week. You are a blessing to we who comment, and many more than you'll ever know.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

There are some interesting questions in this edition of the mailbag, as always. I hope the week ahead is a good one for you, Bill.

B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 2 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I, too, once, back when I was near college age, got stuck part way through a novel and abandoned it. Since then I've learned about starting with a logline.

When the ending of a novel in progress is elusive, I wonder if it would be helpful to brainstorm using a Tony Buzan mind map, starting at the center with the words What If?

Would it help a fiction writer get even better at the basics to get into storytelling? I once attended a storytelling festival and was fascinated and impressed. And might storytelling be a way to make money, both from live performances and from podcasts sold to commuters and health club exercisers? Add sound effects and music to bring back radio drama as podcast drama.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 months ago from Queensland Australia

A wonderful bunch of Q and A this week, Bill. I hope the mailbags continue strong into 2017.

jo miller profile image

jo miller 2 months ago from Tennessee

Your hubs are always a good way to start my day: lighthearted, inspirational, and informative. Thanks, as always.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Kailey, your question is a good one. It can be hard, and not using stop words can leave with a rather disjointed title...more on Monday.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Bill, when you finally find the time, you will be writing quality travel articles for some magazine, and they will never go out of style.

Dusting of snow here as well, my friend. Stay safe and warm.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thanks Flourish! It's an interesting approach, and I'm sure it would work, if that's how your muse likes it. :)

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Aw, thanks Linda. That's okay, I still struggle with stop words too. I'm doing my customer articles today, and I'm already dreading the titles of those articles. LOL

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you very much, Linda, and I hope your week is a quality one as well.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Brian, you are taking me back to the old days now, with your suggestions about podcasts. I wish I had the time to make some quality podcasts, or to make my books into audio books. Yes, there is money to be made, my friend.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

I do too, John! Thank you so much!

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

That's very kind of you, Jo! Thank you!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Hi Bill, Thanks for another session of writing tips. I liked your rhyme. I'll have to go back and catch the rest of the conversation on stop words as that intrigued me and I'm not up to speed.

I have a question for you. What are your thoughts on seeking a literary agent for first time publishing? Do you have any experiences that you would share on this? A friend has written a book (first time author) and he believes that is the best way to go. I went for self publishing but, as you said, it's a long and lonely road.

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Shadows Over A Hangman’s Noose - Hot off the presses for Christmas. With a Christmas title like that you are going to receive record sales!!!! Great question this week. I am glad I did not write 3/4 of a novel and not have an ending, what a predicament. Your solution to seek out a friend to read is a good solution. At the 3/4 point there should only be a few paths to follow.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you, Peg, and great question. This is one I'm highly qualified to answer, and I'll do so next Monday.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Coming soon, Mike! What a Christmas story it is. LOL Thanks, buddy! Your point about only a few paths to follow sounds logical to me. It seems to me, by that time, one would have few options remaining.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Great stuff here. I reckon I aught to get onto to that Amazon and get some great presents from you. I think that whole deal of presents is commercialize. But a gift from a friend of several years now makes the cut as way good.

Thanks Bill, I gave thanks for you at Thanksgiving, but daily seems like a good idea.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Eric, you giving thanks for me at Thanksgiving is one of the nicest things I've heard in a very long time. Thank you my friend, and may blessings follow you and your family forever.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 months ago from The Caribbean

These questions and answers just confirm for me that writers have to keep learning and trying. Eventually, we become better writers and better people.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

That should be the goal for us all, Dora! Thanks for your insights,.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 months ago

I agree that one should know marketing in order to promote your work. This was another great read and enjoyed over a cup of tea.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 months ago from Olympia, WA Author

Thank you Dee! I hope you enjoyed the tea. Wishing you a Merry Christmas, filled with love.

lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 6 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


This was a great article to come back to after the Christmas and New year. I had a few near disasters this year and one where I nearly lost the latest manuscript! (50k words and counting).

I've got a question, but I'll admit it's a loaded one.

"What is failure?" Isn't it when we 'give up?'

Keep going bro, and pass that on to others.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA Author

A loaded question for sure, Lawrence, but I'll give it a go. Thank you my friend, and blessings always.

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