Guest Post: Penn Wallace’s Writing Process, Part Two

Part Two of Penn Wallace's description of his writing process. If you haven't yet read Part One, start there.

A real character

Character Sketches

My next step is to write character sketches for all of the major characters. If a parking valet is going to appear in chapter two, then never again, I don’t bother with him. But, I do want to know the butler’s background. Where was he born, where did he go to school, what was his parent’s religion? All of these things will determine how he speaks and acts in the book.

You can find the character sketch I use here.

The template is two pages long. By the time I fill it out and write the character synopsis at the bottom, it’s about four or five pages per character.

I’m lovin’ it


With the beat sheet and character sketches in hand, I begin the outline.

My outlines have a section for each scene in the book. This way I can follow the plot through its machinations and keep characters and scenery consistent.

I write from a third-person single character point-of-view. Each scene is told through the point-of-view of only one character. I note in the outline whose point-of-view will be used in each scene.

I use Christopher’s Vogler’s The Writers Journey as the template for my outlines. This is another must-read for aspiring authors. I have a section for each stage of the story Mr. Vogler describes and fill in chapters and scenes below it.

For a copy of my outline template click here.

For a copy of the completed outline for The Cartel Strikes Back, click here.

This makes it all worthwhile.


My goal is to write about two thousand words a day. This is about eight pages. There are few days when I don’t make this goal. I have had great days where the words roll off my fingers when I've written six or eight thousand words in a day.

Every day, I go back and read what I wrote yesterday. I give it a quick edit and make sure it’s consistent with previous chapters. Then I go on to my first scene for today.

I hear of people claiming to have “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that is. Since I’m writing from an outline, I always know what the next scene is about. When I sit down to write, I check my brain at the door. I put my fingers on the keyboard and the words just seem to flow. I watch the story appear on my screen and get the joy of reading it for the first time.

Remember: this is a first draft and not ready for human consumption.

My next step is the first re-write. (You say: FIRST! How many times do I have to write this book? Answer: until you get it right. I re-wrote Blue Water & Me fourteen times before it was ready for publication.) Mama sent me a quotation that read “There is no such thing as great writing, only great rewriting.” I’m not sure who said this, but I’ve been lead to believe that it was either Hemmingway or Steven King.

While I’m reading, editing and changing the story, I send out a call for beta readers to my readers' list.

I’m fortunate to have a loyal band of followers who want me to succeed. I usually get a couple dozen or so people to volunteer to read the rough draft and send me their comments. I ask them to find inconsistencies, tell me how they feel about the characters, what they liked and didn’t like.

When I get their feedback, I go back through the book making changes and corrections where needed. There have even been instances where a beta reader suggests a new plot twist or asks for an explanation that necessitates writing a new scene.

This is the second draft.

At this point, I’m ready to send the manuscript to my editor. When I get it back, I begin the third draft.

When the third draft is complete, I put out a call to Advanced Readers. I give my followers a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review on

This has worked extremely well for me. I usually have twenty to thirty reviews posted on the first day the book is for sale.

While I’m waiting for the reviews to be returned, I send the book out to my proofreader. She usually gets it back to me in a couple of days.

When I get the proof and feedback from the ARCs back, I begin the final copy. I label it “Master Copy” and guard it jealously. No changes are made in any of the previous copies. The master copy is the version that will be published.

When I’ve finished my review (and correction) of the master copy, I go over it again for formatting. All chapter titles must be the same distance from the top of the page. The table of contents must be updated and approved. I add marketing material at the beginning and end of the book.

Now we have the finished copy.

The next step is to format the book for Amazon and upload it.

I always tell people that writing the book is only 50% of the process. I spend another 50% of the time publishing the book. The final 50% of the project is the marketing. That deserves a whole treatise on its own.

You can read more about marketing your books here.

So there you have it, my process for writing. From idea to publication may take from three to six months, depending on what’s going on in my life. According to my marketing plan (to see my marketing plan template click here). I’m supposed to write three books a year. Sometimes I make that, sometimes I only get two done. You have to be flexible.

I’m glad to share this information with you. If you wish to discuss this further contact me by clicking here.

Happy writing and good luck.

When the long day’s done

Vellum Revolutionizes Indie Publishing

At Monday's Marketing Support Group meeting, SDW/EG member, Rick Lakin, shared his enthusiasm for Vellum, an ebook formatting application for Mac OS. He shares information and examples below. Thanks, Rick.

I am an independent publisher of over 30 books for 11 authors. One of the challenges of indie publishing is matching the quality of books produced by traditional houses. To address this, two programmers from Pixar left thata company and created a program called Vellum, an outstanding program that gives indie publishers and authors the capability to create market quality e-books that match format and elegance of traditional publishers when combined with good writing and editing. Soon Vellum will upgrade to create paperbacks and create another revolution in indie publishing

A Short History

I remember visiting my father's workplace, the Ohio State University print shop, and standing over the shoulder of the man typing on a Linotype machine. To a 5-year-old, it was almost 10 feet tall, it weighed several tons, and Rube Goldberg would be jealous of this monster. The operator typed in a line from the typewritten copy and pressed an actuator. The machine then went through an intricate set of automatic mechanical steps and finally turned molten lead into a line of type called a slug. When a column of text in a reverse image was complete, my father would lock the column into a page-size galley, proofread it upside down and backwards, and then deliver it to the pressmen who would load it into one of the various printers to produce the final job.

The Linotype was the dominant machine in the printing industry for almost the entirety of the twentieth century. For the printing industry, it was the culmination of the industrial revolution.

By the 1960s, photocopiers were able to reliably reproduce a single document at high quality.

By the 1980s, laser printers were able to take a computer file and produce a high-quality document. That was the beginning of the indie publishing revolution.

I read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park in 1993 on a Macintosh LC (LC stood for low cost). That was the beginning of e-books.

In 2007, Createspace was formed to begin the Print-on-Demand revolution. These final two developments democratized the publishing industry and allowed talented writers to join the indie publishing revolution, market their books, and make them available through the Internet. The big problem remaining was consistent product quality.

Technology will never replace good writing and good editing, but it will allow independent publishers and authors to produce the same quality e-books and paperbacks as traditional publishing houses. Up until now, that required a steep learning curve and/or the cost of hiring a professional to produce the files that will be submitted to the distributor. Even so, those inside the traditional houses felt safe because they could easily pick up a self-published book and explain why it looked, well, self-published.

Here Comes Vellum

With the release of a Macintosh-only program called Vellum, the first of three dominos have fallen. Vellum is a simple and elegant solution, created by a pair of Brads who used to program for Pixar, that creates an incredibly high-quality e-book in various formats that appear the same on all of the current e-book distributors.

The author imports a properly formatted MS Word .docx file; fills in title information; uploads the cover; selects the desired style templates for headings, first lines, ornamental breaks and quotes; performs a final formatting check; and then generates the files for upload to Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords, or any other distributor.

I have redone thirty books this way. I formatted a book containing pure text in five minutes. I formatted a book with photos, captions, and other odd formatting in a couple of hours. The results are amazing. Here are some examples:

Peach Cobbler for Breakfast by Sheila Dobbie

Platonic Tradition by Jerry Dell Ehrlich, Ph.D.

The Man with a V by Pat McCrackin from Shady Grey Press

The second domino should fall within a few months when Vellum 2.0 is released with the capability to format paperbacks for Createspace and other print-on-demand platforms. This is one of the many examples where technology promotes the convergence of products from the low end to the high end. The cover and editing are still difficult but it is art.


Read and Critique Meetups

Looking for a read-and-critique group? Check out options on

East County

Go prepared to read or just listen.

Alpine Writers Guild

Alpine, CA
17 Members

Don't be a writing hermit! Come meet other local writers, talk about the craft of writing, get some feedback on your work and give us some of your own. We are a friendly group...

Next Meetup

Let's Get Together

Wednesday, Mar 1, 2017, 9:30 AM
3 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

Central County

This group uploads work using Dropbox for review ahead of in-person meetings.

Mission Valley Crime Writers

San Diego, CA
3 Writers

Mission Valley Writers of Crime, Criminal Justice, Detective, Mystery, Law Enforcement – Fiction or Fact – Criminal Justice Memoir. Short Story or Novel. Members submit 2-3 th...

Check out this Meetup Group →

North County

Just getting organized in early 2017

La Jolla Writer's Meetup

La Jolla, CA
50 Members

Academic writer hosting writers at residence over appetizers and wine.

Check out this Meetup Group →

The following group combines writing with read-and-critique.

Memoir Writers of San Diego

Solana Beach, CA
32 Writers

Memoir Writers Meetup is for memoir and personal essay writers/ aspiring writers who need help with motivation, inspiration, and "critiquing" their work. Mostly, it is a commu...

Check out this Meetup Group →

This group is really a collective of north county writing groups. Not all are read-and-critique groups, but each offers networking possibilities that could lead to finding the right partners.

San Diego Writer's Collective

Escondido, CA
54 Inklings

Calling all writers! Are you looking to connect with other writers? Want to share your experiences, network, find a critique group or even just have a regular place to write a...

Next Meetup

San Marcos Early Bird

Friday, Feb 17, 2017, 6:00 AM
2 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

The following group involves a Yahoo group for uploading work ahead of time so a roster of pieces to be critiqued can be created before the in-person meetings.

The Sandy Ego Writers Group--Where Writers of all sorts meet

San Diego, CA
37 Authors/Playrights/Screenwriters

Hi, and thanks for your interest in The Sandy Ego Writers Group. We host events for writers of all sorts, and sometimes for those who just like to read!For writers, the grou...

Next Meetup

Let's Meetup and do the *author* thing.

Tuesday, Feb 21, 2017, 6:00 PM
2 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →


Amazon’s Review Policy and Advanced Review Copies (ARCs)

Guild member and publisher Rick Lakin shared information he posted on his website regarding Amazon's revised review policy.

To Independent Authors on Amazon:

In October 2016 Amazon updated its policy for product reviews including books. Reviews that are posted in exchange for receipt of a product are, and always have been, prohibited by Amazon and by the Federal Trade Commission.

Recently, Amazon has been cracking down on clubs and groups that require compensation or product in exchange for reviews. For those who have an active social media presence, Amazon has been deleting Friends and Family reviews.  On the other hand, I am not aware of a single review being deleted for any of the thirty-plus books I have published.

As a publisher, I recommend to my authors that they ask their reviewers to include the following statement somewhere in their review:

“I received a free/reduced price copy of this book with no obligation to post a review”

Therefore, it is ok to send an Advanced Review Copy (ARC), e-book or hardcopy to potential reviewers.

Here are the words from Amazon at the end of their latest policy update:

"The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books."

As Indy publishers and authors, we are in a tough market with 1.3 million books published annually.  Reviews are essential to the effective promotion of your books.  Be aware of the guidelines but keep on sending those books to reviewers and colleagues in the community who can help you promote your books.

Rick Lakin
iCrew Digital Publishing

Is This a Surprise?

From the July Newsletter

A survey reported in Mindful magazine asked, “What takes up the most room in your house?” Thirty-one percent replied they fill up the nooks and crannies with books. Twenty-one percent keep more clothes around than anything else; ten percent said they have a lot of useless junk; four percent have a lot of toys.

Mindful, June 2016