Writing Tips

For more information for writers, please see the “For Writers” tab on my website at www.pennyzeller.com

Table of Contents for this page:

castle - 1Be sure to scroll down for a wealth of information!

1. Helpful Websites for Writers

2. Preparing for a Writer’s Conference

3.  12 Suggestions for Sticking With Writing

4. Do you need a website?

Helpful Websites for Writers

http://graceandfaith4u.com/ Grace and Faith Community where authors help to cross-promote each other and be an encouragement in the writing journey.

http://pentalkcommunity.blogspot.com/ This blog has gobs of helpful information for writers, as well as, book spotlights and interviews.

http://www.christianbookvideos.com awesome site that promotes the books of Christian writers

http://www.stuartmarket.com/ Christian writers market guide with author Sally Stuart –an awesome place to figure out where to submit those manuscripts1338212_business_man

www.copyright.gov – all the details you need to know for copyrighting your work

http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/ – check out that potential editor, publisher, or agent and make sure they are legit

http://www.babynames.com/ great website to find a name for your characters

http://www.last-names.net/ website to hunt down last names for your characters

www.christianstoryteller.com – according to their website this is “a non-profit site dedicated to showcasing Christian authors, helping them to network, support and market their books”

www.writehisanswer.com – learn about writing for the Lord and find out about Christian Writer’s Conferences

www.grammarbook.com according to their website, this is “your #1 source for grammar and punctuation”

www.writersweekly.com one of the best secular writing websites that lists warnings, markets, and answers to perplexing writing questions

www.usps.com – find out how much it will cost to mail that manuscript on the post office’s official site; it also includes all the info you need to know about snail mail

www.fundsforwriters.com secular writing site that includes grants, contests, markets, and more

www.querytracker.com – according to this website, you can “find literary agents, organize and track your queries, and view agent statistics”


325656_people_having_a_breakThinking of attending a writer’s conference? How does one prepare for the “big event?” Here are some suggestions…

  • Get prayered up! Before a conference, I devote time in prayer seeking God’s direction and guidance, surrendering my writing and all of the details of the conference to Him, and asking that He help me to be sensitive to His prompting. I also ask for wisdom in choosing what editors, agents, and mentors to speak with and what workshops to attend. I pray that His will to be done at the conference and that He would use my writing to bring glory to His name.
  • Begin preparation early. I’m a procrastinator by nature, so this is a critical one for me. A month prior to each conference I attend, I prepare manuscripts, one-sheets, and proposals. I place them in a tabbed expandable folder, which is also good for organizing handouts I receive in workshops. A week before the conference, I pack everything I will need, including personal items, clothing, business cards, a spiral notebook, a camera, plenty of pens and pencils, and my Bible.
  • Know why you’re going. What is your main motivation for attending a conference? Is your goal to land an editor for your latest manuscript? To speak to an agent? To perfect your writing skills? To learn how to effectively conduct research? To develop the art of branding or marketing? Over the years, I have attended both Christian and secular conferences and have had many of these goals and more. At each conference, I also make it my goal to be an encourager to other writers and figure out ways to bless those around me.
  • Know where you’re going. The first year I attended a large Christian conference, my friend and I got lost on the way there. Ditto for the return trip to the airport. We literally stepped on the plane as they were closing the door. Have a good map or navigation system and allow extra time for unforeseen circumstances that hinder arriving on time.
  • Keep a sense of humor. At one conference I attended, I had an appointment with an editor in another building. I ran a couple blocks through heavy rain. When I arrived for my appointment, I looked scary! Keep your sense of humor in times like these.
  • Be realistic. The first couple times I attended conferences, I carried WAY too much stuff. After one such conference, I needed chiropractic care after hauling around the heaviest briefcase known to mankind. Take only what you need, i.e., not 10 copies of each of your five manuscripts like I did in those early years.
  • Plan to network. I can’t tell you how many awesome people I have met at conferences. One of my favorite parts is during the breaks where you meet other writers. Exchange business cards – don’t leave one without taking one – and learn from those around you. Some of the best friendships with other writers begin at a conference.
  • Expect the unexpected. I wasn’t planning to meet with two specific magazine editors at my very first conference. For one thing, I couldn’t imagine what I could write that would fit well with their publications. God had other plans. I met with both of them on different occasions at the same conference and ended up writing dozens of articles for each magazine. In addition, I made lifelong connections. One of my friends I attended a conference with met an editor in the lunch line who later bought one of her devotionals. Again, expect the unexpected and allow God to lead you!
  • Develop thick skin. This is easier said than done! Have your manuscript or proposal ready, and if you can, sign up for a critique. Allow agents and editors to show you how to hone your craft. Most of the editors and agents I have met over the years at conferences have been kind, tactful, helpful, and considerate. Their goal is to help writers make their writing even better. Allow them to give you fresh perspective.
  • Think of others. What’s the most important preparation for a writer’s conference besides prayer? Thinking of others. Does someone need help pushing their wheelchair to lunch? Is there someone sitting by themselves you can invite to your table during meals? Is there someone to whom you can give encouragement? Does one of the staff at the conference deserve special recognition for going out of her way for you (be sure to thank those who made the conference possible!) Could someone in your critique group use a little bit of compassion? Our reason for being on this earth is to glorify our Lord and to love our neighbor. Show your neighbor at a writer’s conference that Christ truly does live within you and make a difference.

So there you have it – some ways to prepare for the conference. So what are you waiting for? Start preparing because the next conference is just around the corner!


1386501_typewriterI contemplated quitting early in my writing career. My reason? A rejection letter.

When I first began writing for publication over a decade ago, I started with articles in national and regional publications. One day, I received a request to see a bicycling article I had spent weeks perfecting. Excitedly, I sent the article and numerous photographs to the editor. Not a week later, I received the manuscript back in the mail with a note rejecting it. I was devastated. My heart and soul had been poured into those three pages of text. I am ashamed to say that I cried for days and thought seriously about giving up my newfound career.

I wondered if I really was cut out to be a writer. Sure, I’d had rejections before, but never had I worked so hard on an article as I had on this one.

If you get stuck in a rut, as I did, here is some advice that has helped me along the way:

  1. Pray. In late 2000, I committed my writing to the Lord. Pray that you will use the gift of the written word that He has given you to glorify Him. Ask that He direct your path and give you wisdom and guidance.
  2. Seek out family and friends.  My husband was ultimately the one who told me not to let this one editor be the one to make me quit the career I had dreamed of since I was seven. I am grateful that he sat me down and gave me the “you listen here” speech, and I am grateful I listened!
  3. Join a writing group. Years ago when I walked into my first writing group meeting with my four-month-old daughter on my hip, I never realized just how valuable a local writing group would be. I have gained insights, confidence, and lasting friendships from this group of people with whom I share the same goal. Similarly, an online writing group can be just as beneficial. A few years ago, I joined the ACFW and have discovered wonderful friendships and helpful camaraderie from those who share the same passion for words.
  4. Attend a writer’s conference. The classes offered, the presentations of the speakers, the networking with agents, editors, and other writers all add to the immense value of attending a writer’s conference. While some conferences can be pricey, many offer scholarships. One of my friends wrote an essay that won her a scholarship. (For more information on how to prepare for a writer’s conference, please see https://pennyzeller.wordpress.com/sticking-with-writing/)
  5. Find an editor.  Every writer has an inborn antennae to “catch” things others may miss.  When I heard that my new neighbor was a retired English teacher, my antennae went on full alert. Now was the time to find out if I should be writing as a profession. With several manuscripts in hand, I walked over to her house and asked if she would be willing to edit my work. She was honored. Since that time, I have learned even more extensively about grammar and punctuation from this woman whom I am proud to call my editor. She gives me honest, constructive criticism – and that’s what a good editor does.
  6. Discover your niche(s).  So maybe writing about bicycling wasn’t my niche. What about other topics? I believe there are as many topics as there are writers to write about them. So, I found my niches, not only in articles, but also books. I have written historical romance (my favorite), children’s fiction, and children and adult nonfiction books and have written on a wide variety of article topics.
  7.  Develop a “happy file.” I have never kept my rejections (there is a reason why my outdoor garbage can is next to my mailbox!)  But, I DO keep sweet notes from readers who enjoyed my books, thank-you notes from people I have interviewed, congratulatory notes, newspaper write-ups about me, and “atta girl” letters from editors.  I place all these in a file to revert to whenever I need that extra motivation.
  8. Examine your motives.  There is a reason why a person wants to be a writer. For me, it was my dream before I could use a computer. It has become my ministry and I seek to glorify God in all I write. In addition, the idea of dreaming up new things to write about and then proceeding with the written project is exciting and challenging to me. Examine why you wanted to be a writer in the first place.  Write down the three main reasons. File it away in your “happy file” and read it whenever you feel like giving up.
  9. 1363492_notebook_collage_5Keep an “idea file.”  Ideas always come to me while I am taking a shower or suffering from insomnia. I quickly write these ideas down and file them in my “idea file.” This is a highly motivational tool. If you don’t write those books and articles, who will?
  10. Realize opinions are subjective. I realized that everyone has his own opinion and what may not look good to one editor may look acceptable to another. Keep this in mind when you receive a rejection letter. That was one editor. There are a million more and they all have different opinions. The chances are good that one of them could easily like the manuscript or article you are proposing.
  11. Look back to the past. Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I look back at old query letters I wrote at the beginning of my career. I am amazed at how far I have come. Keep copies of the queries you send – this is a great way to track your progress in the future.
  12. DO NOT GIVE UP.  I am a firm believer in perseverance. Pray often about your writing and seek God’s will for it each day. Then, stick with your dream, and someday your dream will be realized.


Websites are an integral part of getting the word out about your books.  If you are looking for an experienced web designer to design your website for an extremely reasonable price, I would highly recommend Bev Nowlin Designs.

Bev Nowlin designed my website at www.pennyzeller.com (if you get a chance, bee-bop on over and see what a fantastic job she did!) Bev is very talented and has wonderful ideas. She is taking on new clients right now, so if you need a website, I urge you to contact Bev at her FB page at http://www.facebook.com/bevnowlin

12 thoughts on “Writing Tips

  1. Hi Penny, I love your blog! It’s “clean” no ads, very organized, informative, professional and personal simultaneously, warm and family. That was quite a mouth full. I will return to it couldn’t read everything tonight. Keep up the good work God is a faithful re-warder of pure motives!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom, Penny. I am a Christian being led to write in the secular world. Of course, we don’t leave our Christianity at home when we do this. But I am never sure whether to look at Christian writer’s conferences or secular ones? Any advice?
    similarly with seeking magazines to query. Suggestions?
    Thanks so much. And may God make you bold in pen, cursor and manuscript.

  3. I love the suggestions for sticking to writing. This is an excellent resource for writers who are discouraged to pursue their careers.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s absolutely ok that you mentioned Jonathan R. Bowman. I’m always glad to pass along helpful suggestions to my readers, so thank you for mentioning him. Have a blessed week!

      • I’m glad. I felt like I had committed a “blogger sin” or something when I recommended him and almost commented back with an apology. I’m glad you were ok with it. He is really very talented and he’s a wonderful young man with strong work ethics also. He would also be embarrassed by me doing this on his behalf. He was my computer teacher for a year and he’s the smartest and best teacher ever!

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