Tag Archives: William J. Cook

William J. Cook, Advice for New Writers #writetip

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author William Cook. William writes mysteries, set in my part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I’ve enjoyed his work in the anthologies we have both been featured in and look forward to hearing what he has to say!


Let me begin by saying I still consider myself a new writer, even though I have several books under my belt. Although I’ve “written” all my life, I only got serious about producing books when I retired in 2011. I hope I’ve continued to improve my craft since then, but only my readers can judge that. What follows are only my opinions, and I’m sure if you polled all our NIWA members, you’d find a hundred more.

Number One: Please don’t quit your day job. Truth be told, most of us are only meagerly supplementing our incomes, not debuting on the world stage of #1 Bestsellers. Although some of us have been quite successful, there are very few, if any, Andy Weirs among us. The fortune and fame that showered The Martian are akin to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning—it happens, but the odds against it can be astronomical.

So why do we write? We write because we have to—it has to come out of us. We write for the sheer joy of seeing our creations on paper and on a digital screen. If we make a few bucks, that’s frosting on the cake. Knowing we have family and friends who read our work and like it is reward enough. No, we never stop trying to be successful—taking courses in marketing, scheduling book signings at local bookstores and conferences, begging reviews from readers and local media outlets, doing whatever we can to improve our craft—but we also accept that we are very likely not the next John Grisham or Dean Koontz.

Number Two: Should you try to get an agent or should you publish independently? This is a complicated question. I have never had an agent, so I can only repeat what I have heard from others who have.

Potentially, getting an agent can give your book wider exposure. Your agent gets you a publishing company, and you have the support of that company behind you, hopefully helping you with advertising, book tours, media outlets, etc. On the down side, you may lose a lot of control over your book—content as well as cover. I spoke with one author who told me her company insisted she change one of her characters or they wouldn’t publish her novel. Another said her company just sat on her book and did no promotion at all. Of course, there are other situations where the agent is perfect for the job, establishes a trusting relationship with the writer, and both go on to be very successful together over the course of several books.

Bottom line: decide at the outset whether you want to try to get a literary agent BEFORE you go ahead and publish independently. Once you’ve published independently, it’s much harder to get an agent for that same book, or for a book that comes later in a series. It’s the proverbial Catch-22: your prospective agent will ask, “If your book is successful published independently, why do you want me? If it’s not successful, why should I take the risk?”

Anyway, an excellent resource is https://querytracker.net/ Two essential books are How Can I Find a Literary Agent and Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, both by Chip MacGregor with Holly Lorincz. Also, a better way to land an agent than sending out proposals cold, is to buy face-to-face time with an agent at a literary conference. The biggest one in Oregon, the Willamette Writers Conference, will be in Portland in August (depending, of course, on the pestilence situation at the time).

So far, I have opted to publish independently. Although there are many independent platforms out there, such as IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Bookbaby, Smashwords, and Kobo, I’m a bit of a dinosaur and have done all mine through Kindle Direct Publishing. That means I can only sell my books on Amazon, and that most bookstores don’t want my paperbacks because Amazon has no return policy for them. Some stores will do it on consignment, and I am fortunate to have a local store that is very kind to independent writers.

What I like about being an indie author is the freedom it gives me. I control everything—content, cover, timing of release, the works. The only deadlines I have to meet are my own. Self-publishing has introduced me to a thriving community of authors who have been extraordinarily helpful. In short, it’s fun!

Number Three: Should you look to see what’s trending and write to that? My answer? Please don’t pimp your writing. Write your own story, not the one you think other people may want to read because it’s currently fashionable. If you don’t write from your heart, you probably won’t survive the dark periods when you’re afraid the Muse has abandoned you and you’re only a hack who shouldn’t have started writing in the first place. (Yes, those days will come.)

Number Four: Should you write every day on a regular schedule? Writing is not “one-size-fits-all.” If you can write every day, that’s wonderful. I know there are many writers of great discipline (and success!) who write four to six hours every day, like clock-work. Hats off and more power to them. But I have a rich life away from my computer, and I can’t. For some people, writing is like fishing. The old adage, “Any time you can get away is a good time to fish,” can be applied to writing as well. Any time you can squeeze in an hour or two is a good time to write.

But you may ask, “What if I get stuck? What if the dreaded Writer’s Block hits me like COVID-19?” Then make a covenant with yourself: you will write one sentence every day—good, bad, or indifferent, however long it takes. If more comes out of you, fine, but your commitment is for one sentence only.

Number Five: Join writing groups. Like good parenting, good writing takes a village. At the very least, join a critique group. This should be small enough (maximum 5 people?) to afford each writer plenty of time to strut their stuff and get the honest feedback he or she deserves. Some groups email their pages in advance, while others bring printed copies for everyone to the group. By all means, read your work out loud. That’s the quickest way to spot the awkward sentence, the overly stiff dialogue, the plot hole you’ve missed. Other groups are available as well. In Oregon, Willamette Writers has local branches throughout the State. In Salem, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (WYTT) meets weekly. NIWA is a Facebook group that has been enormously helpful to me.

Number Six: Beware the perils of self-editing! I will write more about this in a future blog, but for now, always be aware that your brain operates like the autocorrect function on your phone. It will fill in the missing word, remove the repeated word, fix the misspelling. Make sure other eyes get to look at your work before you publish it.

Number Seven: The necessity of marketing. Ah, the dreaded M-word. I have found that marketing is an entirely different skill-set from writing. And I’m not very good at it—yet. When your book gets published on Amazon, it will be the proverbial needle in a haystack, lost among the millions of volumes already there. Good advertising makes it stand out. Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’re going to have to learn how to advertise on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram. But you can take it a little at a time. Get that book written first!

So there’s my two cents. I hope I haven’t been too negative. The truth is, holding that book in your hands, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a thrill like no other. Go for it!

Thank you for those excellent words of wisdom, William!

If you want to read other posts in this series by this author, go to https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:

https://lecatts.wordpress.com/   “My Approach to the Writing Process”

About William J. Cook:

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:


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NIWA Blog hop Post 1: My Writing Process

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/ The topic today is my writing process. I had a difficult time formulating how I wanted to write this post. Finally, I asked myself 3 questions, as if it were an interview.

  1. What am I working on?

I am working on three novels and was seriously procrastinating on a fourth, until the plague hit. The one I’m now getting through the formatting stage of the publishing pipeline is an alt-medieval fantasy, Julian Lackland. It is set in Waldeyn, a mishmash of Venice, Wales, and England. While the characters from Billy Ninefingers and Huw the Bard have significant roles in it, each book in the series is a standalone book.

I love Julian and his story, but I had a hard time letting go of him.

The novel I have on hold, Heaven’s Altar, is a two-book subseries set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah. It is a prequel, set 500 years before Mountains of the Moon. It deals with a historical figure, Aelfrid Firesword, who frequently gets mentioned as a kind of superhero in children’s books. All three of my main characters in that world were influenced by these books as children.

Alf is not superhuman. He’s a young mage with a destiny he’s not comfortable with. At the outset, his wife has abandoned him, leaving him with a sick child. Along with that, he faces the disapproval of his people for having married a woman who was not of the tribes. Alf has a long struggle ahead of him to prove he is worthy of taking up his grandfather’s task of War Leader.

My third work-in-progress, Bleakbourne on Heath, began as a serialized novel and ran for two years on a now-defunct website. This tale is an inverted Alternate-Arthurian story. In their history, Arthur was a Caligula-like figure. The Druids conquered Rome, and the Church reflects that.

I have fleshed it out, addressed the inadvertent discrepancies and contradictions that writing and publishing a chapter a week and winging it inevitably generated. That experience of writing by the seat of my pants taught me that I really DO need to have an outline.

Now I am trying to end the story and am working on the final battle. Leryn (with Merlin and Bramblestein) must face the Demon Knight, Mordred.

A fourth novel has been pulled out of storage and dusted off. Surprisingly, this paranormal scifi fantasy doesn’t stink as much as I thought it did. I’m finding a lot of useful material here.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of both a gamer and an addict for fantasy novels. I am a freak for the brilliant early Final Fantasy console games. Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2, and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I want to inject the action, the romance, and the drama of a full-throttle action/adventure into my books. I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. I want the philosophies and moral choices, as well as personal relationships, to mean something to the reader.

Gaming teaches us that magic has finite limits, and no character has unlimited power.

In my worlds, those limitations are what drive the action because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must justify the effort and the losses incurred as they struggle toward the conclusion.

  1. How does my writing process work? 

Typically, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game. I spend days building the outline, the shell of the story. Because the Tower of Bones series began as the storyline for an RPG, I still have the habits developed in that industry.

I figure out the political and religious systems and create the rules for magic. Most importantly, I draw maps to keep my characters going in the right direction.

Each world is unique, and I want to know how my characters fit into their society.

My outlines are formed by the answers to these twelve questions:

  1. What is the inciting incident?
  2. What is the goal/objective?
  3. At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
  4. How badly do they want it, and why?
  5. Who is the antagonist?
  6. Why are they the enemy?
  7. What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
  8. What happens at the first pinch point?
  9. In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
  10. What is their health like?
  11. Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
  12. At the ¾ point, the protagonist should be ready to face the antagonist. Do I have the story set up correctly to this point so I can choreograph that meeting?

All stories must have a logical arc, but each character should too. It’s my job to make sure that the characters evolve and grow throughout the story. For me and my style of writing, the character arcs benefit most from the outline, even more than the overall story arc does.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside and work on something else for several weeks before I begin the rewrite. Setting it aside is important because when I come back to it, I need to see the raw draft through unbiased eyes.

My work in the Tower of Bones series tends to be linear as it began life as the walkthrough for an RPG that was never built. Each protagonist has a specific goal or “quest.” Many obstacles hinder them on the path to achieving those goals. My task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader, so I have to be careful when choreographing scenes. I can’t go too over the top, but I need to be creative and logical.

The Billy’s revenge series has been anything but linear. The storylines in each could easily have gone awry, if I hadn’t had a basic outline to keep things logical.

I have to negotiate carefully between the two radically different series when I am writing, as I want to stay true to the intent and flavor of each.  This is where having a writing posse really helps.

I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine. Thank you for being a part of my writing life!

The next installment of this series will feature William J. Cook, who will be sharing some excellent advice for new writers. Look for his post on Thursday, April 9th. You can find out more about him at https://authorwilliamcook.com


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