Category Archives: JT Ellison

1.5.17 – Choosing a Point Of View for Your Novel

By J.T. Ellison

I’m in the dreaded beginning of my next novel, and it’s been very slow going for the past month.

The first 25,000 words are always difficult for me (I believe I’ve compared it to pulling teeth) but this beginning in particular is being a pain in my butt. The point of view (POV) keeps wanting to shift, which tells me something is desperately wrong with the story.

Normally I’d say it’s the story itself that’s the problem, but this time, I’ve completely outlined the book, from start to finish. I know the turns, the hooks, all of it. It’s a solid story, with a lot of subtleties (maybe too subtle to start, since I’m more used to writing wham bam thank you, ma’am beginnings, and I am exploring this as an issue). Maybe the outline and subtleties are a bit of the problem—my roadmap is too clear—but I think the real issue is the POV.

There are five distinct POVs in this book: three women, Vivian, Lauren, and Juliet; one teenager, Mindy; and one male, Zach.

Reason (and sanity) dictates I stick with close third for Lauren, Juliet, Mindy, and Zach. Vivian, for reasons that will go unmentioned at the moment, has a first person POV role of narrator. Which is all good.


Lauren started talking in first person. And that confused the voice for Vivian in my head.

I normally write in what I like to refer to as close third. It is a version of third person, past tense. Almost all my books are written this way. It’s a wonderful POV, very straightforward and easy to navigate.

What do I mean by close third? You, the reader, are very close to the character. So close that I could easily intersperse “me” and “I” for “she” and “her” and you might not notice right away. We are deeply inside the character’s head, observing and experiencing in real time, but I also have the ability to observe from outside, move into memories, and move to other character’s POVs.


First person, present tense: I enter the room and see the bed is on fire. Smoke chokes the air from the room. I am terrified. I turn and run, slamming the door behind me. Juliet calls to me, her voice a beacon.

Third person, present tense: Lauren enters the room and sees the bed is on fire. The smoke is thick; she can’t see or breathe. She is terrified, and rushes away, slamming the door behind her. Juliet calls to Lauren, her voice a beacon.

First person, past tense: I entered the room only to see the bed was on fire. Heavy smoke permeated the air, making it hard for me to see. Terrified, I ran from the room, slamming the door behind me. Juliet called to me, her voice a beacon.

Close third: Lauren entered the room and saw the flames dancing, shredding the bedclothes. The smoke was thick enough to make her eyes tear, and she rushed out, terrified, slamming the door behind her. She could hear Juliet calling, her voice a beacon.

First person is always going to be the most intimate. But it’s limited to that person’s view alone. I can’t see what Mindy is thinking, or Juliet. The observations are straightforward and immediate. It’s not my typical novel form, and I don’t feel terribly confident in it for something long-form. Short stories, sure. But a whole novel? I fear it won’t hold up.

I switched to close third for Juliet’s first scene, and it felt very comfortable. But when I tried that for Lauren, it didn’t. Lauren was still speaking in first person, present tense.

So I’ve been dithering for a couple of weeks now, wrestling with these changes in voice. WTF, right?

Finally, I started complaining that I’ve been stuck, and then sought out the advice of a couple of friends, one of whom read two chapters, one in each format. She affirms what my gut was saying—it was too jarring to move from close third, past tense to first person, present. I know authors who can do it. I’m not one of them.

So this morning I set out to change Lauren back to close third.

Of course, she didn’t like that at all. She wants to be heard, and heard immediately.

And oddly, a whole new POV cropped up. Currently, she’s in third person, present tense (see above). Things are unfolding through her eyes in real time. It puts a bit of a crimp in my style as far as the other characters, but the intimacy is there, and I think we’re going to have to be in her head in some way for her story to have the proper impact.

This may all change another ten times before I finish. Storytelling is generally not this much of a struggle for me, so I’m still looking closely at why I’m having a hard time kicking things off. I’ve been blaming it on the research, of which I did copious amounts today, and that helped me leapfrog to the spot where the story really begins.

Which begs the question—have I, as I am wont to do, started in the wrong place? One of the big differences between thriller and domestic noir is the slower unfurling of information. Domestic noir isn’t as in-your-face upfront as the thrillers I’m used to writing, especially at the beginning. There’s a hook, for sure, but this one isn’t a drop-a-body-on-page-two kind of story. Not in the way you’re used to from me, that is.

This does have a wham bam opening, it’s just a little quieter and different than my normal, so I’m probably being too hard on myself.

Regardless, I will continue questioning myself and my story. Am I trying to be too omniscient? Not omniscient enough? And what’s with this chick wanting us to be inside her head? It’s not a great place, I’ll tell you that up front.

No matter what happens, it’s a chance to grow as a writer, for sure.

What do you think about POV? Do you have a favorite style?

Via: JT Ellison


2016 Annual Review

By J.T. Ellison

Welcome to my annual review!

For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait.

And if you’re interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.


It’s hard to quantify things sometimes, but on the whole—2016 goes down as the best year I’ve had since I started writing. All the hard work of the past decade seemed to pay off at once, which was both gratifying and frightening, because dear God, what have I gotten myself into? Be careful what you wish for, right?

I spent too much time on the road, and definitely didn’t write enough, but had a major first for me: creative satisfaction. I finally feel like I’m hitting the mark with my work. And that gives me so much hope and excitement for the years ahead. Who knew giving up my biggest goal would allow it to get within my reach?

I’ve been in this game for nine years now, and over that time, I’ve learned a very important and valuable lesson: writing what you love, what scares you, and what you think is going to get you in the most trouble, is the way to go. My training wheels are off. I’m riding free and easy. And I haven’t been this excited and happy about my art since my debut year. That’s what 2016 gave me. And what a gift it is.



This is the year I let go of all my earlier goals and preconceptions and live in the moment, focusing on controlling what I can control and not worrying about things out of my immediate control. No more striving, no more craving. As always, trying to make do with what I have, reading books I’ve already bought, minimizing clutter, allowing for better organization. I want to learn how to be more present, more involved in the now, which means more yoga and meditation. Taking all I’ve learned about writing and productivity and putting it into action. And letting go of the idea that I can’t work on more than one project at a time, which is simply resistance. Continue meaningful and satisfying connections with friends and readers, be a good boss, a good wife, a good reader and writer, and learn how to sit back and enjoy the ride.


All in all, I have to say, 2016 was a raging success in terms of sticking to my plan. I was absolutely more present, absolutely more focused. I worked very hard on tending my own garden and breaking a lot of bad habits. Professionally and personally, I feel like I got a handle on my self-destructive/procrastination issues, especially using the internet as a tool for avoidance. That’s gone. No more. And it has created so much space that I didn’t realize I was missing.

In terms of the good things that happened, it was a magical year.

I released six books in 2016, two original novels (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES); three paperbacks (THE END GAME, NO ONE KNOWS, FIELD OF GRAVES); and released my first print short story collection through Two Tales Press, THE FIRST DECADE.

A WORD ON WORDS was reupped for a second season, and the first season was nominated for an Emmy®! It was an incredible year on the show, with awesome authors and a fabulous crew.

Catherine and I moved to Gallery with Nicholas and Mike at the end of 2015, and I’m loving everything about our new home. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE is out next March, and it is hands-down my favorite book in the series to date.

I also signed a new deal with MIRA Books for another new standalone, and am doing a slight creative pivot to allow myself time to write both standalones and series books with them. Which is Very Exciting Stuff, as I’ve always wanted to write standalones. I have four books to come from MIRA, which is excellent news for all the Taylor and Sam fans out there and for the standalone fans.

My secret project from last year became my new standalone novel — LIE TO ME will be out next September 5. I’m hopeful it is a breakthrough novel for me. I know it was for the art. The sense I had when I completed it was utterly unfamiliar, until I realized it was creative satisfaction. It’s eluded me for a very long time, really since Jade’s passing five years ago, so I was relieved and grateful to have it back.

Amy has continued to be a godsend. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such an amazing right hand — because she’s much more than her titles — but under her steady leadership, I’ve felt more and more comfortable sticking with writing and interactions. (A note for writers here: you need someone to help. You really do. Even on an ad hoc basis for certain projects, clearing mind space for your work is a necessity. I’ve talked at length about ways to do this, from interns from your local colleges to virtual PAs. Trust me, it’s worth it.)


This list of what I didn’t do well is, as usual, long and varied:

  • I didn’t hit my word count goal
  • I didn’t read enough books
  • I definitely didn’t lose any weight
  • I lost my yoga practice
  • I didn’t play enough golf and my handicap went up (ugh)
  • I allowed myself to be distracted by things that didn’t matter and were out of my control

The biggest downside was the travel—as happened last year, I was on the road pretty much continuously from March to November. I had a several-month stretch where I wasn’t home for more than 2 weeks at a time, and there was a moment when we were actually counting down the events: only 10 more, only 9 more, 8 more… I was unbelievably stressed by all the commitments I’d made.

This year, that is not going to happen. I’m putting real constraints on myself, curtailing appearances and declining opportunities. I simply have to stay home and write for a while, and focus all my attention on my work. It’s selfish, I know, but art is selfish. I’ve resolved to unapologetically focus on me and mine for a while.

But the thing is, the positives of 2016 outweighed the negative so far that I can’t even start to complain. I am four years removed from my All Is Lost moment, when I seriously considered whether I should be doing this at all, and I am exceedingly grateful I didn’t give up.


Though it wasn’t my most productive year, I did complete two new books: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine, and my own standalone, LIE TO ME, plus started a new standalone novel, wrote three brand-new short stories, and started another.

2016 Word Total: 877,650
Fiction Total: 217,228
Non-Fiction Total: 126,882
Email: 533,600
Fiction Percentage: 25%
Books Read: 66 (of a goal of 70)

2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 36%)
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)

It wasn’t my most productive year. I failed to meet my 400,000 word count goal for fiction. With all the external commitments, it’s not a surprise, though I was disappointed in the final numbers. This year will be better. I’m setting a hard and fast goal of 300,000, and I will meet it. That equals three novels. Two are already deadlined, and I have to get ALL FALL DOWN done too. Those three books should take me right to the goal.

I went all over the country on two different book tours, one for NO ONE KNOWS and one for FIELD OF GRAVES. All of the events were fun and interesting, and I fell in love all over again with several wonderful indie bookstores.

The books themselves were very well received this year, too:

  • 2 Okra Picks (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES)
  • 1 Starred PW review (FIELD OF GRAVES)
  • 1 Starred Booklist review (NO ONE KNOWS)
  • 1 Romantic Times Top Pick (THE END GAME)
  • 1 Book of the Month Club Pick (NO ONE KNOWS)
  • 1 USA Today (!) showing (for reprint of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
  • The Brit in the FBI books hit the top ten of all the bestseller lists
  • One more awesome thing that’s secret until sometime this week…

Really, I can’t ask for more than that!

I made several changes to my daily accountability processes, including starting a spreadsheet specifically for my non-fiction. It made this process so much easier. I felt like my non-fiction was more successful this year because I pulled back on the quantity and focused on quality, something that will continue into 2017 and beyond. I also started tracking social media reach in a sustainable way, and was happy to see a lot of growth in the newsletter, which has become the staple of our outreach. Hey, we own it, unlike other networks. I have very specific goals for it next year; we’ll see how I do.

Something else I need to look at—my email number is apparently the equivalent of five nice, meaty novels. I think that number, though an estimate, may be high. My calculations assume all things are equal, and runs the average from the number of emails sent (in this case, 5530 emails * 100 words). Of course, that’s not always accurate. Some emails were short, some were long, some were goofy meme wars. I’m not too bothered by the idea of 5 novels worth of email, because Amy and I do 90% of our work through email. And I don’t track texts, so those will more than make up any deficiencies on my end. That said, I do know I need to limit my email consumption and output. Noted for the future.

I also abandoned my first adopted status. I was able to get into a great bullet journal method, which I’ll be discussing at length in the coming year. I relied heavily on Scrivener, Freedom, and Wunderlist, and got a new laptop for Christmas, which I predict will help my productivity tremendously. In case you’re interested, I did a permanent link to my Writer’s Tools here on the site. I’ve streamlined and am very happy with my system now. It’s simpler, easier to manage, and doesn’t rely on trying every new thing that comes down the pike.



After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.

Home. Deep Work. Consistency. Contentment.

These are such simple words, to go along with my simple goals.

  • I am going to stay home and write this year.
  • I am going to challenge myself to write more.
  • I am going to increase my deep work time.
  • I am going to lose myself in my habits.
  • I am going to regain my yoga practice.
  • I will create flow.
  • I will not allow external distractions rule me.

How am I going to achieve these goals? To start, I’m not scheduling anything on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays in order to create the space I need to write. I have a productivity course I’m going to take in January called “Zen and the Art of Work.” It’s the perfect way to start my year, in a contemplative and meditative examination of my productivity. I have arranged to go to a yoga class on Fridays to enforce my desire to reboot my practice. I’m already walking three miles per workout regularly, I’m going to add two more days a week.

What do I hope will come out of these goals?

Well, in addition to being more bendy and in better cardiovascular health, I want to finish three books. I will finish THE LOST ONE by April. I’ll finish Nicholas Drummond #5 by November. And if I get some free time in there, I will keep working on the new Samantha Owens, ALL FALL DOWN. And then, who knows what might happen? There could even be another secret project in the mix. 😊

I’m also going to take a real vacation, with no writing, somewhere overseas where I can truly allow myself to detach. Ireland, maybe. Or Spain. Someplace I’ve never explored before so I’ll want to be present and engaged. A beach with a pile of books would work, too.

I have two original novels releasing, two short story collection re-releasing, and a big surprise from Two Tales in the Fall. And I will continue mentoring new authors, helping my friends, and being a contributing member of the writing community, so long as my work is done first. It’s a relatively quiet year, considering. Fall will inevitably ramp up because of LIE TO ME’s release, but that’s 9 months away.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”


That’s what the “Year of Flow” means to me. Doing. Lots and lots of doing.

It sounds very simple, and I hope it will be easier than I think. Thanks for helping cheer me along! Happy New Year!

The Deets: 2016 Writing

JT 2016 Worksheet.jpg

Via: JT Ellison


12.22.16 – See You in 2017

By J.T. Ellison

And That’s a Wrap, Folks!

Amy and I are taking a true blue (red and green and sparkly white?) VACATION for the next few days. We have some things programmed into the system, but we won’t be around to comment.

We’ll be back in action here on the Tao January 3 with my annual review.

I can’t thank you enough for an incredible 2016. You made it all worthwhile. It’s been a ride, and I can’t wait to see what the new year brings.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year! 🎄🕎🎉

Via: JT Ellison


12.20.16 – Getting the Most Out Of Your Creativity and Social Media

By J.T. Ellison

I wrote a very earnest piece back in 2009 about social media and its negative affect on creativity.

It wasn’t a new concept, but I caught a lot of flack for it, especially because I was so obviously breaking all my own suggestions. Which is totally fine. Since then, the concept of minimalism has launched many a career, and I too have found ways to step back from social media, making it work for me, instead of the other way around.

Seven years later, I want to revisit this idea, and talk about how I’ve finally found a good work/life balance with my social media responsibilities.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the intervening years: with all the pressures authors have on them nowadays, writing can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. THIS is what I mean when I say social media kills the creative spirit. Thing is, it absolutely doesn’t have to.

Social media is a lot like life. You get out what you put in. Social media is no longer something we’re encouraged to do, it’s a given requirement of a publishing career. Finding readers now is all about discoverability, which means having some sort of online presence. A website at a minimum, preferably accompanied by a well-loved Facebook fan page and an active, exciting Twitter account. Now Instagram is a huge part of things, too, and blogging is making a comeback (YAY!). Newsletters are the new black, and that’s good for those of us who’ve had one for a while.

Honestly, as much as we’re encouraged to exploit Facebook and Twitter, I think the two most important components of your social media strategy should be the newsletter and the blog.


You own it. You control it. No one can take it away from you. You get to interact directly with your readers and friends without the majorly frustrating concerns we all have about actual reach on the socials. Facebook only shows your posts to a fraction of the people who’ve signed up to receive information from you (bad move, Facebook. Perfect way to lose all your customers). Twitter is such an immediate medium that your tweet only exists for a few seconds before your readers have moved on to the next. Instagram is pretty, plain and simple, but it too rewards bigger accounts with better penetration.

For years, the conversation I’ve been having most often is: How do we get around this? How do we actually reach the people who want to be reached without annoying the crap out of everyone else?

Note what I’ve just said.

The conversation I have most often is about how to reach readers in a more efficient, successful manner.

See something wrong?

What I should be focused on, exclusively, is writing.

I’ve always known this. I’ve always struggled with it. Writing is lonely work, and an engaged social media platform makes it more fun. But in the long run, when I keel over at my desk, no one’s going to say, “Wow, she had an amazing Facebook page.” Nor do I want them to.

What I want them to say is she was a woman of letters, had a long, storied career, and wrote a ton of great novels. That she was loved by her friends and family. That she was kind.

You know what I mean?

Rebecca Kaufman’s recent piece in Publisher’s Weekly really hit home for me. This chick is seriously smart, and I hope more people listen to her story. Were I a young, just-breaking-in author, I would push back, and hard, on the idea that I MUST have an extensive social media platform. We don’t have a ton of empirical evidence that proves that social media actually sells books. It does raise awareness and name ID, which trickles down to sales, but word-of-mouth is still the #1 way people find new books.

I think it’s much more important for new writers to immerse themselves deeply into their work. The challenge of going from writing for yourself to writing to deadline is big enough without the added pressure of being responsible for growing your own readership.

Push back. Say no. Ask for help. Protect your writing time at all cost.

You can have just as much of an impact on growing a readership by writing great books as curating awesome cat videos. If you do get involved with social media, one bit of advice — be genuine, and keep it about books. Most readers are keenly interested in hearing about your work in progress and the inherent foibles of a writing life. It’s fascinating to everyone, actually — me included. The blogs and pages I come back to again and again are those that examine the writing life, writing challenges, successes and failures. Even online diaries of word counts and daily work are interesting. It shows dedication, commitment, and that’s always attractive. Ask questions, and be interested in the answers you receive.

For those of us more established, I feel like we’ve all settled into a solid groove with our platforms. I know I have. A large part of that is the Amazing Amy, who will celebrate her 2nd anniversary as my business manager in January. A few years ago, looking down the barrel of a plethora of ideas and not enough time to accomplish them, I wisely recognized I needed help. I started with automation, making my blog feed directly to my accounts. Then I moved on to hiring people on a project-by-project basis, then a monthly basis, and finally, brought Amy on as a dedicated part-timer. Last year, I hired her as my full-time assistant.

Part of this dearth of time and too much work is my own fault. No, I don’t need to do all the things I do. I do them because I love them, and I get bored with just one thing, so I have an indie press and a wine blog in addition to this blog and my novels. It’s fun, and I enjoy it tremendously. Besides, one never knows where the industry will be in a decade, so it’s always good to know how to handle things yourself if needed. I could cut back on social media and disappear into my cave and ignore everyone — and trust me, there are moments when that urge is huge, but it’s not the smart thing to do. Instead, I look for ways to streamline, but still augment, the brand. Hence: Amy.

Now, Amy handles a lot more than social media, but with her at the helm, the brand looks MUCH prettier, and runs MUCH smoother. I can interact with my readers without having to spend the time on the back-end posting and perfecting and designing—something that I actually enjoy, but takes a great deal of time.

Perfect example: yesterday I changed my personal privacy settings on Facebook. This morning, I received an email from Amy telling me I had severed all links to my apps by doing so, and she’d already reconnected everything, something that would have taken a solid hour out of my work day. That hour was instead spent writing 1000 words on a new book. The cost benefit is readily apparent.

I’ve written before on the importance of getting help. Amy has changed how I do business, allowing me to focus on writing and interacting, the two things that will bring in more readers. You really can’t hang a price tag on that.

But the lure of the internet is still strong. This isn’t just about social media anymore. It’s about the fragmentation of the writer’s mind.

I’ve made no bones about how much I loved Cal Newport’s book DEEP WORK. Happily, I’ve been putting parts of his thesis into practice for many years, using a great program named Freedom to shut off my Internet while I work. I used to feel ridiculous that I needed an app to help me focus; now it’s something I take pride in, that I realize how fragmented I get when my Internet is on. I haven’t given up social media—as a business, I need it— but with Amy’s help, I feel I’ve conquered Facebook and Twitter. I am comfortable stopping in, talking to people, and leaving again, and don’t suffer any ennui or FOMO.

Now, the rabbit hole of research and learning and interesting things on the web is still an issue for me. Then add in what I call “First Adopter Syndrome” (both a blessing and a curse in my life), AKA the tendency I have to reinvent my wheel when a new app comes along that looks like it might be a better mousetrap for my work.

2016 was the year I settled into my apps and stopped this nonsense. Now, if I see something that might improve a portion of my workflow, I send it to Amy to check out. If she thinks it will add to our system, in it goes. I’ll say this, in two years, I can only think of two apps that have been adopted, and they were specifically designed to address workflow. Irony.

This week, Cal Newport began exploring what I bet will become his next book, the concept of Digital Minimalism.

I fully, happily endorse this. Less technology, not more. Fewer apps, not more.

Repeat after me: Not more, not more, not more.

One of the things I do regularly is examine my apps. Am I using it? Is it enhancing my workflow? If I was lost on a desert island, would I have to have it? This mindset keeps my iPhone and iPad screens down to two, my folders easy to navigate, and my laptop relatively nimble. I’m getting a new laptop for Christmas, which means downloading the apps I need to work. It’s the equivalent of moving house for me, a chance to tidy and discard, to make everything shiny again. (I’m one of those weird people who likes moving. Don’t hold it against me.)

Things have changed since 2009. A lot. Authors are expected to engage so much more. And our readers are fantastically tuned in—reading more, engaging with us, making it all worthwhile. You don’t have to live on social media, but you don’t have to abdicate from it either. A balance can be found. Find the network that gives you joy, and focus all your efforts there. If you hate it all, hire someone to maintain your presence for you.

No matter what, write. Write every day. Write hard, write well. That is your legacy. That is what will give you satisfaction at the end of the day. Feel free to step away from the pressure of growing your readership and do it the old fashioned way—by writing spectacular books. That truly is the best way to a reader’s heart, not a great meme or pithy tweet.

Tell me what you think. Readers, should we authors spend more time on social media, or less? Authors, do you find your own work suffering when you’re online too much? Do you have any solutions to share that work for you?

Via: JT Ellison


12.18.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By J.T. Ellison

Hello, chickens! How was your week? Are you making lists and checking them twice? Holiday prep is winding down at Chez Ellison. The last of my Christmas cards and gifts went out this week. The decorations have gone up. Neither of the cats has eaten said decorations yet. Things are getting a bit calmer, and I’m ready to settle into a quieter week. I don’t think I’ve ever been done with Christmas this early before. It feels VERY nice.

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

Do you ever wish you had Hermione’s Time Turner so that you could go back and revisit the Christmases of your childhood? I do. Sometimes I miss the magic of Christmas, because I get caught up in the checklists, to-do lists, the calendar of social events, trying to make the holidays happen. My wonderful A WORD ON WORDS cohost, Mary Laura Philpott, gave voice to that ennui this week in the New York Times, in a piece called “Wishing Away the Wishlist.” Give it a read, especially if you need to catch your breath trying to make all the things happen.

This is what the holidays are all about: a couple paid off $30,000 layaway charges at a Walmart in Memphis. Pay it forward, y’all.

This time of year, Iceland stays dark for a good portion of the day. So what do Icelanders do to pass the time? Read, of course! This is where they find their books.

Looking for wine to pair with the holiday meal? Vivino’s compiled a list for almost anything you’re serving. Mmm!

We talk a lot about Parnassus Books here, but there’s another wholly independent bookstore in Nashville, and it only features Tennessee writers and artists. Get thee to East Side Story for a fun afternoon with proprietor Chuck Beard. You’ll love it, and what a great place to buy Christmas gifts for your Nashville-loving friends!

And closer to home:

Y’all. ‘Tis the season for gift giving… but sometimes, you need to give one to yourself, too! Case and point: THE FIRST DECADE ebook is on sale for only $3.99. Includes THE OMEN DAYS, a romantic Christmas ghost story* perfect for this time of year!

*Yes. I said “romantic Christmas ghost story.” 👻 💕

If you’re stuck on a unique gift for your nerdy loved one or writer friend, check out my gift guide. Three sections, ten books, lots of programs and stocking stuffers and fun things you can still pick up!

Oh, and you need this five-minute peanut butter fudge in your life. Just sayin’.

That’s all I have this week. Y’all be good, do nice things for strangers, hang your stockings by the chimney with care, and we’ll talk again soon!


Via: JT Ellison


12.15.16 – I Have an Idea…

By J.T. Ellison

First, thanks so much to Amy for her great piece on the Barnes & Noble Concept Store. Don’t know about you, but I vote for more Amy blogs here, don’t you?

Okay, onward.

One of the questions I get most often is, “JT, where do you get your ideas?”

I answer the same way every time — where don’t I get my ideas?

Ideas are everywhere. They’re the easiest part of being a writer. The world, nay, the universe, is brimming with concepts and inspirations. I can’t walk down the street without coming up with four or five solid concepts.

The question that you should be asking is: “How do you decide which idea to write next?”

This is the tricker of the two questions, mainly because oftentimes, there are deadlines and reader expectations and contractual obligations for stories, especially when you write a series. It would stand to reason that, for the sake of your career, you find a great idea and funnel it directly into your next series book.

My problem is, I write three series, all slightly different but firmly entrenched in the thriller genre. I also write standalone novels. And I write a couple of short stories every year, too. How do I decide what goes where, and in what order to proceed?

The logical answer is: I focus on deadlines, and try to channel all my energy into the book that’s due next. But sometimes, this is wishful thinking. Sometimes, an idea sparks, and you have to decide whether to abandon your current project to follow that fire.

It’s a tricky business, ideas. I often warn about finishing the story you’re working on lest the trail of half-eaten sandwiches start taking over your house.

Less disciplined (AKA new) writers often see that shiny new object and pursue it, and end up with multiple unfinished stories. You gotta finish. Rule #1 for a successful writing career.

Because writing is hard. It is. That’s no lie. One of the biggest challenges is sticking with a story to the end when you haven’t done it multiple times and you’re being assailed by cool new ideas.

Personally, I have an Evernote folder for every book, current and upcoming. When I see a cool, shiny new idea, I clip it to Evernote, open a Scrivener fie with the concept laid out (I call these “treatments”) and move on with my current story. This works 90% of the time.

But every once in a while, an idea is too good to pass up, and I all-stop on a project to write it. NO ONE KNOWS is a good example of that. So is THE OMEN DAYS. And it’s just happened again. I’ve been working on a new standalone, but something’s been holding me back — an idea that bloomed fully-formed in my head back in August. I wrote it all down, gave it a Scrivener file and an Evernote notebook, but it’s been eating at me. I finally stopped the standalone and indulged this new idea. 50 pages later, I have a super weird, surreal horror story finished, and now, at last, I can return to the standalone unencumbered.

For me, it’s a fine balance between controlling (though corralling is perhaps the better term) the new ideas (Shiny! Exciting! Happy!) and finishing the current work in progress (WIP = long hard slog). It gets easier with practice. And as Stephen King says, when an idea is so great that you don’t need to write it down, you know it’s a keeper. I still write everything down, just in case, but I’d amend King’s concept to this: the idea that won’t leave you alone is the one you need to write next.

Just make sure you FINISH!!!

Via: JT Ellison


12.13.16 – A Trip to the New Barnes & Noble Concept Store

By J.T. Ellison

Hey, guys. Amy here, otherwise known as “Assistant Amy” or “The Kerr.” I answer to both.

As you know, the way we read and obtain our reading material has changed dramatically over the past ten years. The advent of ebooks has made sitting down with your favorite stories easier than ever before—and it’s certainly changed the way we shop, if at all, at brick-and-mortar stores. Every week, I read about another neighborhood bookstore forced to shut its doors, and the small mom-and-pop shops aren’t alone. Some of the bigger box stores that foisted neighborhood bookstores out of the picture 20 years ago (you saw You’ve Got Mail, right?) are now being foisted out themselves, all thanks to the mighty ebook.

One of the biggest brick-and-mortar players left is Barnes & Noble. They’ve felt the ebook pinch over the past few years, in both their retail stores and online ventures (I’m looking at you, Nook), not to mention they’ve had significant CEO turnover in the past five years. In what seems like a last-ditch effort to keep up with the zeitgeist, Barnes & Noble has begun rolling out a new concept for their bookstores. Last week, I got to visit one of these new concept stores in Edina, Minnesota, a tony suburb of Minneapolis.

Turns out, B&N really has transformed their space—and, along with it, a new vision for their bookstores in the 21st century. And this vision is actually a surprising throwback.

A few takeaways from my visit:

(Warning: this is about to get super publishing geeky)

1. The Layout

So open! So airy! Who's breathing deeper? *raises hand*

So open! So airy! Who’s breathing deeper? *raises hand*

The biggest change I see in the new concept is in the store’s layout. It’s open and airy, designed to circulate traffic throughout the entire store. Guests enter the store and dive headfirst into a sea of co-op tables positioned in the middle of the store, then circulate the perimeter to fiction, nonfiction, then music and gifts in the corners.

I could do cartwheels down these aisles—note the clean displays of merchandise

I could do cartwheels down these aisles—note the clean displays of merchandise

If you’re looking for a particular sub-genre, they’re much easier to find in the new concept store. Fiction and Nonfiction sections are clearly marked and along the perimeters, and sub-genres reside in floating displays according to their parent group.

2. The Books

So many face-out covers

There seem to be fewer books displayed on the B&N floor (remember: open and airy layout), and a significantly higher portion of books are on display face-out. I think this has everything to do with Amazon, both online and their brick-and-mortar stores, which displays their entire stock face-out. Think about the last time you went through shelves at a bookstore looking at the spines—not looking for a particular item, but just browsing for something to catch your eye. It doesn’t happen that often, does it? With the advent of online stores, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the entire front cover and, ergo, literally judge our books by their covers in order to make an informed purchase. I’m curious to see what this positioning does to sales.

Also, this may or may not be the case, but I detected fewer book discounts than in the old concept stores.

3. The Co-Ops

Perhaps the only discounted books I saw.

Perhaps the only discounted books I saw.

Good news, authors: if your book is displayed on a co-op table, the new concept store ensures your book will get more eyeballs on it than ever before, thanks to the open layout. The co-op tables are the first thing you see when you walk in the store, taking up significant square footage and prime real estate. The tables are on wheels, making the displays easily mobile. A few copies of books grace the top of the display, while larger stacks of stock are placed under the table, for easier browsing for customers and easier restocking for employees.

Another thing: there seems to be more endcaps at the new concept store. And I’m not talking about the small, outside-of-the-bookshelf endcaps. I’m taking about entire wall displays—sometimes with one author in particular, but sometimes displays with themes. Not sure if these are paid-for promotions or if the store assembled these themes themselves, but it’s definitely noteworthy.

4. The Restaurant

The token coffee bar (the restaurant is tucked away behind it)

The token coffee bar
(the restaurant is tucked away behind it)

Now the fun part: the most head-scratching part (to me) of B&N’s new concept announcement was probably the full-service restaurant portion. The restaurant, Barnes & Noble Kitchen, serves beer and wine along with a selection of entrees, in addition to a coffee bar placed at the front of the restaurant a la the Starbucks of old.

I must say: the food quality and service at this restaurant were excellent. My dining partner and I sampled some guacamole, meatballs and polenta (spectacular, especially in cold weather), a lovely kale salad, cappuccino and tea. Everything was perfect, though the price point surprised me—the entrees range from $14–$26, a little higher than I’d expect for a bookstore café.

I like the new concept. I’m just not quite sure what to do with it.

Is the store a destination spot, a gathering place for special occasions and book groups looking to splurge on a night out? The restaurant fare and prices make it seem that way. Or is the new B&N positioned to entice a reader who’s looking for a particular book or a short browse, followed by a quick cup of coffee to-go?

Yes and yes, I think. B&N is trying to play both sides of this coin, becoming multiple things to multiple buyers. It’ll be interesting to see how the restaurant acts as a sales driver for the store, both in food and book revenue.

Verdict: ultimately, I think B&N is creating a store highly targeted to a certain kind of buyer.

From the higher priced entrees to the lack of book discounts to its location in a tony metropolitan suburb, I’d wager B&N is looking to appeal to a very particular kind of customer: an upper-middle-class buyer who doesn’t care as much about price point as they do about the quality of their book buying experience—and they want that book-buying experience to be a traditional one. It will be telling to see where, exactly, B&N places the rest of these new concept stores, if the company converts their traditional stores to the new concept, and if they want (or are able) to keep their traditional concept stores at all.

In an age where price seems to trump the book buying experience, I wonder if B&N’s Great Big Experiment will pan out. I guess the only thing to do is get a cup of coffee and a book, and wait it out.

I know her!

Via: JT Ellison


12.11.16 – Sunday Smatterings

By J.T. Ellison

Hello, chickens! How was your week? I’m safe and snug by a warm fire, resting after a fun week with my partner in crime, the brilliant Catherine Coulter, in California. We ate lots, went to the Apple campus, signed what felt like a million tip-in sheets for THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE (you can enjoy the fruits of our labor and pre-order a signed copy), had an author Christmas party with some of my favorite people (and boy did we party—Catherine knows how to do Christmas, y’all). Oh, and we might have talked about some upcoming Nick & Mike books.

It was lovely, whirlwind trip… but it’s always good to come home to kitties and a kind hubby.

Here’s what happened on the Internets this week:

Around the Christmas season, we typically buy things we don’t normally need. This is why—and what we can do about it. (this article is utterly fascinating)

2016 was tough for many reasons, and especially when you consider some of the brilliant minds we lost. Book Riot curated this Reading In Memoriam of sorts that can help us learn about and honor the legacy of these fine humans.

Fellow writers: these are four traits of a master writer, and how we can develop them. Good stuff, right here.

And closer to home:

Stumped on what to get your bookish loved ones? I curated a list of my 10 favorite books of 2016, plus a few other gifts for the nerd in your life.

It’s almost time for my favorite time of year: Annual Review time! As a numbers geek and productivity nerd, this is one of my favorite exercises. If you’re ready to look ahead to 2017, jump on my bandwagon and follow my handy guide that lays out how I do my plan every year.

That’s it from me! Wrap those presents, take a few minutes to breathe in the blessings of the season, and we’ll talk again soon.


Via: JT Ellison


How to Conduct An Annual Review

By J.T. Ellison

How to Conduct an Annual Review (1).png

Ever the overachiever, I have already started putting together my annual review.

I absolutely love this process. It is so much fun to pull out my trusty notebook, look at my goals for the year, see what was important to me 12 months ago, what I accomplished according to plan, and what went right and wrong. My reviews are elaborate, with spreadsheets and out-year planning and metrics, but remember, I did do a stint as a financial analyst, so these things come naturally to me.

If you’d like to do an annual review, but don’t know exactly where to start, nor want to delve into metrics, here are some ideas.

I break mine into the following categories:

  • Summary of the Year
  • What Went Right
  • What Went Wrong
  • Nerdology (where I extrapolate on numbers and goals)
  • The Year Ahead
  • Actual spreadsheet

How to pull it all together

Here’s how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

Every year gets a word, essentially its own theme. In the past years, it’s been things like The Year of Lent, The Year of No, The Year of Making Do, The Year of the Pencil, The Year of Depth, The Year of Evolution. You get the idea. (*Note to self, interesting pattern there, JT)

Once I’ve picked my word of the year, I then write a short summary of what I want from the year ahead. This is not the place for details, it’s simply your mission statement for your upcoming 12 months.

Then, I go into detail on what went right. I start with my career/business, then move to personal. This can be as top line or as detailed as you’d like. I do mine in bullet points, and leave room at the end because I always find a few things I’ve forgotten. And when I do this, everything positive over the past year goes in. It’s a celebration.

Next, it time for the sad part — what went wrong. I don’t like this section, but it’s a necessary evil. With the good comes the bad, and vice versa. I use it as a tool to make sure I don’t repeat mistakes, so I can learn and grow from my foibles.

Now it’s time for the fun part.

I break my goal setting into several parts: work, home, personal, health, financial, spiritual, education. Again, pick which categories work for you. I set about five goals per category, though sometimes, if I’m planning a life change, I use this section to map out what I want my life to look like at the end of 12 months. e.g.: One year, I wanted to make sure I had at least one night a week that was quiet, no TV, to read books by the fire. It seems like a silly goal, but when I started including it in my weekly plan, man, did my contentment levels soar.

That’s a word to think about when you’re doing this: contentment.

Goal setting should NOT stress you out. Instead, it should give you confidence, clarity, and contentment. The three Cs.

Once all my goals are set, it times to turn to the numbers.

How to track your metrics

My word counts are the easiest, because I’ve been using these awesome word trackers for years. In 2016, I wised up and started two spreadsheets, one for fiction, one for non-fiction, which will make life easier in a couple of weeks.

Once I get those numbers in place, I start the breakdown. Fiction speaks for itself, that’s my novels and short stories. Non-Fiction is tricker, that includes everything else, from blogs and essays to email and social media. Those last few aren’t ever completely accurate, but I’ve found an average that I use based on previous years experience. In the chart below, you can see how I do this. For example, I wrote 14 Tao of JT blogs in 2015, and they were approximately 1000 words each.

My actual spreadsheets are much messier than this, because I’m pulling metrics from previous years for averages and medians, but you get the idea. Here’s my 2015 final chart.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

For more ideas and insight into how and why I got into this, please see Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. I’ve adapted his system, and he’s the genius behind all of this.

Good luck, and let me know if you end up giving this a try!

Via: JT Ellison


12.06.16 – Holiday Gift Guide for Bookworms, Nerds, and Productive People

By J.T. Ellison

Welcome to the first annual Tao of J.T. holiday gift guide! It’s a bit unfair to call it a full-blown gift guide, since it’s most books, but there are some other suggestions for your favorite bookworm/nerd, too. So let’s jump right in, shall we?

Bookworm Gifts

These are my hands down favorite of the year. I read more than 70 pleasure books this year, and these are the cream of the crop.

The Black Widow – Daniel Silva

Frighteningly accurate modern thrillers are Silva’s specialty, and this latest installment in his acclaimed Gabriel Allon series doesn’t disappoint. It’s the most topical novel I’ve read in a long time, which Silva addresses in his author’s note. It goes to show that well-researched authors truly do have their finger on the pulse of the world. This is a can’t-miss read and my #1 for the year. In my humble opinion, Silva is the finest thriller writer working today.

Perfect for: Thriller junkies and current events enthusiasts

I Let You Go – Claire Macintosh

What a brilliant book. A masterful, slow-burn suspense novel, Mackintosh’s debut is clever, misleading, and beautifully written. I found myself wishing for the seclusion of a small Wales beach, and then very happy I didn’t have that. You won’t see the twist coming, I promise.

Perfect for: Your friend who hated GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN but loves a great psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator, and Gothic lovers

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

What a fabulous romp this book is. I forced myself not to read it in one sitting because I couldn’t wait to see where Cline’s brain took me. An elegy to the 80s and 90s pop culture, this dystopian reality game inside a reality game is wonderfully visual and entertaining—plus, it will be in theaters under Spielberg’s guidance in 2018. An astounding debut.

Perfect for: Anyone from Generation X, fans of video games, John Hughes, and science fiction fans, plus young writers looking for their path.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) – Deborah Harkness

Every year I reread a favorite series, and this year, when I hit a reading slump, I dove back in to Diana and Matthew’s magical world. It took me several tries to get into A Discover of Witches, but once I did, the book became an obsession, one I heartily recommend to everyone. These books are so different, so unique, that even though there are some wink and nods to the vampire/witch/urban fantasy tropes, it never falls prey to them due to the exceptionally high level of scientific knowledge throughout.

Perfect for: Your fantasy, romance, or science lover

Pretty Girls – Karin Slaughter

This book. This hideously scary, depraved, frightening book. I couldn’t put it down, but I couldn’t handle more than a few chapters at a time. Slaughter lives up to her name, and absolutely turns the genre on its ear with her willingness to “go there.” She never flinches, and as such manages to put together novels that plumb the darkest depths of humanity. This isn’t a light read, nor appropriate for readers who can’t handle gore. But it is a masterpiece of fear, perfectly constructed and ingeniously plotted.

Perfect for: Your dark thriller lover

The Abandoned Heart – Laura Benedict

A spooky end to the Bliss House trilogy, Benedict’s latest creation is dark, scary, and utterly Gothic. Happily, it’s freaky story is accompanied by gorgeous prose and impeccable research. It’s a must read.

Perfect for: Those who love haunted houses and spooky stories, history, and southern Gothic tales

Flight of Dreams – Ariel Lawhon

A heartbreaking and gorgeous novel about the last doomed flight of the Hindenburg, Lawhon creates the never-before-seen interior life of the airship as it crosses the Atlantic. Seeing the people who were on the ship, and knowing that they might not all survive, gives this book a verisimilitude lacking in others of the Hindenburg canon.

Perfect for: Your literary history lover

Sweetbitter – Stephanie Danler

Another incredible debut, this Bright Lights, Big City for millennials is a behind-the-doors peek into the restaurant industry. Funny and irreverent, with evocative prose and an accessible style. If Danler can write books at this level consistently, she’s a serious name to watch. A true talent.

Perfect for: Your young culinary friends who love restaurants, food, and wine

Luckiest Girl Alive – Jessica Knoll

Gosh, I am debut central, it seems. Knoll’s creepy, haunting mystery is wonderful, and, like Macintosh, you won’t see the twist coming. Knoll’s personal life informs a lot of the character, and makes the story that much grittier. I couldn’t put it down.

Perfect for: Fans of psychological thrillers and well-constructed mysteries with unreliable narrators

American Housewife – Helen Ellis

Ellis is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Eating the Cheshire Cat, so when I heard she was putting out a short story collection, I leaped on board. As The Kerr says, these are some of the creepiest bedtime stories ever, all masquerading in the homely skin of the American housewife. With this truly subversive collection, Ellis cements herself as one of my favorites.

Perfect for: A short story lover, a Gothic fan, or that friend who’s just a little bit off

Hero of France – Alan Furst

I’ve never been a huge WWII fan, but this book changed all that for me. Furst’s multi-novel oeuvre is set in the war era, with an incredible eye for detail and truly human characters. This installment is about a leader of the French Resistance, and it’s stunning how well the conceit of “history as plot” works. This is a series, but loosely so, which means you can start anywhere.

Perfect for: History buffs, World War II fanatics, and francophiles

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Probably the most impactful book I read this year, Newport has single-handedly saved many of us from the demonic lure of social media. Deep Work talks at length about how important it is to turn off the internet and truly create — whether painting, writing, computer coding, whatever. I credit this book with helping me find a real, sustainable balance between my creative work and online world. As important to the creative life as On Writing, Bird by Bird, and The War of Art, so don’t miss it.

Perfect for: Your friend who bemoans their time on Facebook and Twitter, plus people who are interested in neuroscience, social media’s impact on society, productivity, and all creatives

Nerd Gifts

Blackwing Pencils – To help you go full-nerd (I guarantee other people will take awe in your nerdiness)

Blackwing Long Point Pencil Sharpener – A necessity for your new Blackwing Pencils.

“I do what I want” Mug – A visual way to inform your loved ones and colleagues of your badassery

Clairefontaine Notebooks – The loveliest paper in all the land will make your note-taking joyful

Midori Travelers Notebook – A gorgeous, rustic idea notebook. People will stop and ask where you got this every time you pull it out.

Gryffindor Pajama Pants – Remember, this is the Nerd Gifts category.

Productivity Gifts

Freedom – Say goodbye to online distractions and hello to quality, uninterrupted work time.

Zen and the Art of Work – This online course helps you find calm and productivity in your work and play. A new favorite of mine!

Scrivener – My go-to writing program, and hands down the world’s best writing software. Only $45!

Vellum – Transform a Word doc into a beautiful ebook in ten minutes. Perfect for indie authors.

Shipt – Grocery delivery is such a HUGE time (and headache) saver!

Svenja Gosen word trackers – A free but awesome gift for the writer/CPA in your life

And, finally, a free gift! 🙌🏻

Why not give the gift of my newsletter, perfect for your favorite reader or chef.

A – It costs nothing

B – It’s a free ebook for your friends

C – There’s a treasure trove of delicious, healthy recipes

D – More book recommendations!

Just sayin’ — it’s the best free gift ever!

Do y’all have any gift suggestions? Let me know if you find something cool!

Via: JT Ellison