Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 21, 2015

RodeoThe first time I ever rode in a car that had a Garmin GPS, I laughed at the voice prompt when when we missed a turn. It patiently stated, “Recalculating.”

As a writer riding the rodeo circuit to get published, my recalculations are not always because of missed turns or errors. Sometimes, I see a new opportunity or connection. I tend to grab the bull by the horns, but often find I have a corral full of bulls and have to figure out what next.

My corral is full at the moment, and for a pantser, that feels good. I like the energy of having multiple projects in the works. My overarching goal to publish books is always my priority. My motivation remains high when I feel inspired and connected.

However, my friend Kate, who despite having terminal cancer, remains a wise council for me. She pointed out that while I write down my goals, I should also write out my full plan. Another friend also once advised me to create an individual business plan for each of my books. I certainly know how, but as a pantser I tend to balance it all in my head. To that, Kate reminded me that when you write it down, you have a better chance of succeeding.

“Goals in writing are dreams with a deadline.” ~Brian Tracy

While I balk at self-imposed deadlines, I do know that I want my goals to come to fruition. I have several written down beneath my overarching goal of publishing, but perhaps it is time to plot more deeply. After all, that is a recalculation I do in my writing process: I draft freely like a pantser, but buckle down and revise like a plotter.

“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” ~Brian Tracy

And change is blowing across the prairie, nudging me to change direction. My goal stands, but my tactics need recalculating because of recent opportunities. This is why I like having a corral full of bulls — more bulls, more rides and a better chance to make the ride I need.

I intended to publish Miracle of Ducks first. It makes sense; it’s complete, professionally edited and my first manuscript. I took it to LA, met with a publisher who advised me to find an agent, and met with an agent who declined. I messed up my first submission, uploading an earlier draft and was told that I didn’t have enough social media. I’ve not heard back from any agents since.

So weird thing happened on the way to the rodeo…a publisher answered an email I sent seven months ago. She asked if I was still working on the project, Rock Creek, which is my current WIP still in draft form, awaiting research for gaps I discovered in the writing. She expressed interest and advised me on how to submit the manuscript.

You might be wondering why I was contacting publishers about an unfinished manuscript. It began as a call to an editor of a western history magazine to ask if she’d be interested in research that I had from a distant cousin. I thought I could pitch the copious amounts of research I have on the topic of the shoot-out at Rock Creek, Nebraska. She was clear in what her magazine publishers wanted and I filed it away for the day I could pitch it as an author because magazine articles in big publications can help promote one’s book.

But first one must publish (write!) the book.

The editor also gave me two great leads in regards to my writing: one was for an association called Women Write the West and the other was for a publisher who is looking for new women’s voices in the genre of western historical. I wasn’t sure about signing up for the association until I was further along on my western book, but I took the opportunity to write the publisher.

In my mind, I hear Garmin stating, “Recalculating…”

No hard fast rule says my first novel has to be my first manuscript. Over the past two weeks, I’ve played out several what-if scenarios in my mind. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to get Rock Creek finished and reviewed by an interested publisher. I could join the association, pitch my research articles and opt the manuscript movie rights to an interested feature writer and director. Um, yeah, about that…

While posting the flash fiction that got me started down the road to write Rock Creek as a novel, I was contacted by a feature writer and director who was working on an undisclosed television project that included the life of Wild Bill Hickock. The producers wanted to include the Rock Creek incident as a turning point in Hickok’s life. The feature writer found Carrot Ranch because I had tagged both the place and the gunfighter’s name.

As of last week, I now know the name of the series with which I shared my research. I’m not a conservative so it stunned me to realize that I shared with Fox News! The show is Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: Into the West. The episode about Hickok is called, “Plains Justice.” I already know that the producer’s goal was to show Hickok in a white hat and McCandles in a black one, so the outcome will not surprise me. The good news is that there remains much interest in Hickok in general and in what happened at Rock Creek.

My contact on the project told me:

“This is all very interesting. During my research, the Rock Creek incident is the most cloudy and confusing. After every email and phone call with you, it seems to gain clarity. You are at the forefront of knowledge of the subjects involved and what really happened that day. Keep tackling and uncovering, Charli!”

It seems the stars are aligning over Rock Creek.

So what is holding me back? I wanted to publish a novel before Rock Creek because I feel the need to build my credibility, after all I’ve not published a book before. Without a book, I feel like everyone is excited over my idea, but they might think my novel-writing skills are less than expected; they are unproven, and that creates the doubt I’m battling.

Also, I feel an odd sense of disloyalty to Miracle of Ducks. I know I’m not abandoning it, but I would shelve it. Instead of finding an agent for generalized women’s fiction, I would have a publisher in a genre I love. I could always self-publish Miracle of Ducks after I build up a better author name, or if I fail at Rock Creek, I could return to my original plan.

As I recalculate, is there any sage advise for me to consider?

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  1. A. E. Robson

    This is an amazing journey for you, Charli.

    Like you, I had always wanted to publish a book. Worried about the outcome, I procrastinated for decades. Finally, I got the guts and got my feet wet by self publishing two cookbooks (From Our Home to Yours: Cookies and From Our Home to Yours: Cakes & Squares). Both are on Amazon and both are an experience that have taught me much.

    The biggest eye opener publishing these e-books was that the dormant writing bug had been awakened. Gathering up five decades of poetry and prose I had saved, the focus then took me to the pages that became Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works.

    I wrote a short story called The Valley specifically for Moon Rising; and, to see if I wanted to pursue the writing bug further or be happy with the fact that I now have a published book available in three formats.

    Apparently, the bug had bitten deeper than I had anticipated as I am now working on what may someday become a series based on The Valley. To add to the mix, I have started another storyline, new characters and venues that have a completely different theme.

    Disloyal to The Valley? I think not. Over exuberant and excited about both? Absolutely! For me, working back and forth between the two is a great trade-off. If I had to choose one over the other, I honestly couldn’t say which chute I would opt for. If there was a chute boss directing the events, that would certainly make the difference.

    In my opinion, Charli, you have been given the luck of the draw. The attention that you and Rock Creek have garnered through the Hickok story is truly commendable. Congratulations!

    Consider that Miracle of Ducks is not going away, merely taking a sabbatical until you are able to focus in that direction. It might be a nice interlude for you to go back to periodically while you proceed with Rock Creek.

    The need to have a book published to bolster your credibility is, again in my opinion, something you should not be worrying about. You have a tremendous social media following from all over the world and with credits like the Hickok story on your resume, your future work will already have a leg up.

    So, dear lady, at this rodeo, although you need to do what you think is right for you, might I suggest you take a deep seat, a short shank and ask for the chute gate to be opened for Charli Mills and Rock Creek!

    • Charli Mills

      You certainly understand the ride! Like you, I’m infected with the writing bug and finally took the chance to focus on it as it sat on the back-burner of life. Your comment is insightful: “If there was a chute boss directing the events, that would certainly make the difference. ” Exactly! Since we have to choose our own, I’m leading toward the one that is lively at the moment. Western historic is really what I want to write but I talked myself into writing a commercial fiction first to get established. Thanks for sharing your journey (and great covers for your cookbooks, I’ll certainly be interested in them both)! Okay, I’m taking that deep seat…!

      • A. E. Robson

        Good to hear, Charli! I look forward to reading your updates.

  2. Susan Budig

    I couldn’t have said it better than A. E. Robson. I concur with their assessment and suggestions.

    • Charli Mills

      Ann has good insights from her own journey. I’m going to take that deep seat!

  3. Annecdotist

    So agree about those satnavs – I like to go a shortcut they don’t expect which really gets them recalculating!
    But, hey, what good news, although rather confusing – do you stick with your original plan or recalculate?
    Like you, I felt very loyal to my first novel (actually the second I’d written, the very first was going nowhere) and was a bit unsure when the initial feedback was going better for Underneath than Sugar and Snails. I think it’s just chance that it worked out the way I wanted it.
    I’d say if there’s interest in Rock Creek it’s worth riding with it – but be cautious too! I’ve heard so many stories of publishers and agents getting excited about a writer’s work yet suddenly, without explanation, cutting off contact. And don’t let it go out into the world until you’re satisfied with the quality (you’ve got the experience of Miracle as a benchmark for that) – but perhaps an interested publisher can help you with the revisions you might otherwise request from beta readers.
    Writers have various journeys to publication – I’m hoping this might be yours. And there are so many rejections in this business, it’s great to discover you’ve aroused interest. But do stay cool and keep your business head on! The ranchers are rooting for you!

    • Charli Mills

      Excellent cautions, Anne! I was thinking about how tough writing a book synopsis is. On one hand, if it’s too dull agents/pubs pass on reading the manuscript. On the other hand, if it hooks interest, the actual manuscript might fail to deliver. It’s the same with a book cover — you want to hook readers yet give a worthy expectation, too. So, I take the interest with a grain of salt. It might be my banquet; it might be a bite that passes. I also know that I have such a clearer idea how to promote Rock Creek. Miracle of Ducks is like my quiet novel and I’m not clear and who would want to read it. All I know is that I wanted to write it! That part has been a struggle for me. Rock Creek would give me a distinct genre (one I love) and still allow me to be true to my desire to write about strong female leads. I’ve always thought I’d be a hybrid author one day. My strategy was to get published traditionally with commercial fiction and then self-publish historical westerns. Maybe it will be the other way around. But I’m going to go for it and continue to shop MOD in the meantime.

  4. Norah

    Recalculate! Recalculate! How exciting! We have loved reading about Rock Creek. Sounds like there are many others out there wanting to read as well. What at amazing response from your contact on the television program. Imagine the response once the program is shown. You will have readers clamoring for your book. Write it! Write it!
    I am so looking forward to reading “Miracle of Ducks” but I think it might have to wait its turn. There’s another miracle in the making.
    No self doubts are allowed Charli Mills. Take the bull by the horns and ride the ride! This is your ride. The rocks are aligning to show you the way. I’m very excited, and hopeful, for you.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! I hold on to that comment because its the only recognition I’ll get. I’m not formally listed as a contributor, but the writer/director wants to do something more with the material and if I have a book (I’m sure timing and quality is of the essence) he might want the options. These moments remind us that anything is possible. Even if it doesn’t work out as hoped, it was always possible and I’ll recalculate again! I’ll remain excited and hopeful for now, too.

      • Norah

        Sounds like a strong and determined plan is forming. No recalculations required just yet! 🙂

  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Hi Charli, That is incredibly good news. Well done. To become the foremost expert in the matter of Rock Creek gives your book immediate credibility. I may have mentioned a book by one my old writing group., Lyn Stewart. She has written a book Blood Revenge, Murder on the Hawkesbury 1799. This link will show you the book and a small video. This was her first book and it was reviewed in a National Paper The Australian on June 13 this year. It was a marvellous review and it is going to excite a lot of interest and subsequently sales.
    This is a genre you love and write well in. The research you have carried out is good and I’d say jump at the opportunities which present. In other words let the Garmin recalculate and go with it. I used to be an avid follower of Shakti Gawain who wrote Creative Visualisation. Here she suggested that you have to believe in your vision and work towards it and by doing this you will make your vision reality. She also made it very clear that the end vision could change along the way and you had to take the new direction embracing it as you did the original. It wasn’t failure not to reach that first vision but rather that vision was needed to get you to the point where there became a realisation of where you finally want to go.
    Gosh I ramble. All the best with it and go with Rock Creek. The ducks will happily wait.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, that gave me chills, listening to Lyn’s video and how she ended the fascinating story with her ancestor! What a great review of her book, too. Definitely one for me to read. Thank you for sharing that as it encourages me. Also, the creative visualization makes sense. I always thought of Miracle of Ducks as a small story about a small place with big potential. Yet, I was never clear on that big potential. As it came time to sell, I realized that trying to hook an agent or publisher with a small story is not easy. My original vision was “to write novels.” But I do love the historical genre and I could write all sorts of westerns based on my lively ancestors. Even today I had a call from a distant McCanles cousin as we discussed yet another family “scandal.” Another cousin sends me new story ideas all the time! And my grandfather thought to write a sweeping epic from Scotland to Ireland to North Carolina. He passed away and left me all his notes and writings. Yet, I still harbor old ideas I learned in school about getting published. Time to broaden the vision and see the ride through. Ducks will follow! 🙂

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Glad it gave you encouragement. Looking forward to where your redirected vision takes you. 🙂

  6. jeanne229

    Wow, finally getting back into the swing of things after my trip, and this is all very exciting and very promising! I agree with the others: take this bull by the horns. You are perfectly positioned for both the film angle and the women western writers angle. And though I came a little late to this rodeo and have only seen small pieces of Rock Creek, what I have seen is very well written and a fascinating angle on a well known figure.
    Here is another thing. I wrote an entire life story for my client over 2013 and into 2014. We devoted about five months to pitching it through query letters and finally fell back on a connection of mine who edited for a small publisher and talked the publisher into publishing it. Late last year, after we had already lined this up, we started working with a professional agent/editor. (I am lucky since my client is willing to pay for professional advice, and I glean the benefits of this.) She very adamantly advised us to pull out of our arrangement with the publisher since she thought my client’s story deserved a better shot. Over the last few months, the book has morphed into an entirely different animal, not a full life story but a medical memoir. Of course, that is not the book I have written, but upon the agent’s advice, I set aside the book as is, and wrote a comprehensive proposal on what the book can look like, to attract the publishers with whom this agent has connections. The one thing I did up front was write an entirely new first chapter based on a dramatic incident mid career.
    Point is, you may not need an entire book to attract an agent/publisher (though I do think that is the normal approach for fiction/memoir). It might be helpful to write out something like a proposal, which includes chapter summaries. This will give you a deeper idea, or at least crystallize on paper what you already know about the project) regarding who your market and competition are and what your promotional plan might look like. Then, polish up a chapter or two. That should be all it takes to show you can write this book. If a publisher picks it up, their editor will also most likely have ideas on changes, additions, clarifications.
    Just a suggestion, and it is true that writing a good proposal can take a month of your precious time. But sounds to me like you have a really great foundation laid out here. And as the others said, Miracle of Ducks ain’t going anywhere. If Rock Creek is calling now, and especially if your mind and heart are being pulled back to it, sounds like you need to heed that call.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome back to the States! You’re so right about angles. Rock Creek has favorable angles which is becoming more apparent. There’s such a current resurgence in interest of western legends and the field is wide open for the female perspective. And in a meaningful way, beyond the scope of romance. Your experience with a client’s memoir reflects the importance of an angle, in that case transforming to a medical memoir. Perhaps Miracle of Ducks will do fine on its own two (duck) feet, or maybe I’ll need to give it a better angle. Rock Creek already has that. So insightful as to what a huge difference that makes! Good advice on how to write a book proposal. That might buy me the time I want to take to have two sets of beta readers (one for research, and another for readability). That way the publisher knows more from the proposal and can read a couple of polished chapters. I hear the call!

  7. mj6969

    As so many have already said – what choices!

    It seems to me that as one door closes for a bit, another opens – with great possibilities. And sometimes, despite our best intentions and *expectations* – which is a hugely troublesome word – things happen for a reason – and unfold as they are meant to be, if we have the courage to follow the passion – with caution that is non-restrictive, but “sensible” – i.e. business etc. And if suddenly, the time is “right” then it seems you are being gifted with an amazing opportunity …. take some time – assess the situations – logically – then take yourself away – for some down quiet time – and let nature tune in as you tune in – and listen to the messages you will receive – you will know what to do.

    So very pleased for you Charli! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      That’s fabulous! I’m going to proceed with sensible passion. 🙂 Yes, I’m going to meld my intuition with some strategy and come up with a plan based on this gift of an opportunity. I’ve returned home to my gardens and yard and will spend time thinking it through with all the great suggestions and insights from you all. Thanks!

  8. Cardboard Express

    Hello there! I just wanted to say that you have an incredible blog, and I enjoy reading your work. I also think your writing is insightful, refreshing, and apt!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment!

      • Cardboard Express

        You’re very welcome! It was my pleasure really!

  9. writersideup

    Charli, I wish I had some amazing advice for you to help make all of this easier, but I don’t other than—follow your instincts. Try to do what truly feels the best/right.

    P.S. Your friend, Kate, must be an amazing person. God bless her

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you! And yes, Kate is amazing. 🙂

  10. lorilschafer

    Okay, I’m going to be the voice of (less) positivity here, not regarding Rock Creek, but Miracle of Ducks. In my opinion, unless you get a Big 5 traditional publishing deal, you likely won’t sell many copies of that book, and here’s why. It’s women’s fiction. No matter how good it is, it will be awash in a sea of other women’s fiction and will quite likely vanish beneath the waves without a really big ship to support it. In fact, the only way that book is likely to succeed if you publish it on your own or with a small publisher is if you already have another popular book – such as Rock Creek. Rock Creek will have a more limited potential audience, but it will have a dedicated potential audience; it will have readers who seek out works on the subject and buy them, which you will never get with Miracle of Ducks simply due to sheer volume of product. By numbers alone, therefore, Rock Creek has a potential for success that Miracle of Ducks is unlikely ever to achieve. I hope this isn’t too harsh, but unfortunately, that’s been my observation. I know you must be itching to publish, but if you can wait, do Rock Creek first, and if you get a deal on that and not on Miracle of Ducks, you can always prepare to release them at the same time, which will most likely be beneficial to you.

    Incidentally, if the “insufficient social media following” continues to be a problem when it comes to landing an agent or publisher, just remember one simple trick – the more often you post, the more followers you get. It’s true for Facebook, it’s true for Twitter, and it’s true for WordPress – and yes, I can prove that empirically. Quite likely it’s true for other forms of social media as well. However, it’s also possible that they were turned off by Carrot Ranch’s Alexa ranking, which stands at only 22 million right now. You can solve two problems at once by using social media to drive traffic to your website, which will both increase your Alexa ranking and your social media followers, but it will cost you more time than you might wish to spend. And unfortunately, while social media does sell books, it sells far fewer than you (or agents) might think. However, if you believe that this might be what’s holding you back, you might give it a shot – I can give you some great advice on amassing a (real) large Twitter following in a relatively short space of time, which might, in the long run, assist you in landing a contract once the book is completed.

    • Charli Mills

      Not harsh, coming from you, Lori. You have the experience and work ethic to speak this. And I’ve wavered on those exact points regarding the different target audiences. Initially, I felt that western historical was too niche, but I am understanding more and more how congested the bigger markets are. I’d still stick with the “women’s” angle, after all, it’s the gender I use most days and I have made good connections within the support structure of women authors. I thank you for being direct on potential audience and the odds of achieving success in the mass marketplace.

      As to Alexa, huh? I’m so ignorant as to not even know what that means. Metrics is my weakest area when it comes to understanding marketing online and the big picture of social media. I do well in the day to day relationship building, branding and have decent credibility, but when it comes to audience building through that more pointed tactic of mass social media, I’m not exactly a game changer. At 22 million, I don’t even sound like I’m a game player! 🙂 Would you be willing to talk more about this with me? I do think it’s important. Thanks, Lori!

      • lorilschafer is the most widely used ranking system for websites. You can get a better feel for what the numbers mean by visiting the site and plugging in the addresses of people you know and seeing where they rank. I personally don’t feel that Alexa ranking is a fair measure of social reach. Yes, you may have less of a mass audience, but you have dedicated followers, most of whom will actually buy most of your books, which bodes better for your success than having a massive social reach but few real personal connections. However, an agent or publisher who is looking at your ranking won’t see that – all they’ll see is that the numbers don’t look so hot, and if you want to traditionally publish – and it sounds as though, with Rock Creek, you may get the opportunity – that could be an issue. To give you a basis for comparison, my rank is about 4 million right now, but when I was really spending a lot of time on Twitter, it got up to 2 million pretty quickly. Is my website more popular than yours? Absolutely not. I simply have the ability to drive a greater variety of traffic to it, and that seems to make the difference. Has my social reach enabled me to make sales I wouldn’t have otherwise? Absolutely! But as near as I can determine, the rate of return is less than $2/hour 🙁

        So we’re basically talking about two different things here – how your numbers look and what they actually mean. The first is crucial for a venture into traditional publishing; the second is a better measure of how your books will actually fare on the market. But bear in mind that no matter how many people you know, they’re drops in the bucket compared to how many people Amazon can bring to your reading room. A personal audience is a great launching pad, but it will not be enough to ensure your success. I would encourage you to go onto Amazon and just look up the books of some of the bigger name bloggers you know and see how they’re doing. Since you haven’t published yet, you need to know that a rank of 100,0000 in the Kindle store translates to roughly one sale a day (for most authors I’ve found that paperback sales are too minimal to even worry about). Then start looking at the sales ranks of the big-name people on Twitter, then look at the sales of traditionally published authors you know. Have a drink first, because your findings will sober you up quick.

        It is a very frugal, very competitive market. My memoir has sold well – incredibly well, actually, at an average of 3 to 4 copies a day IF you count promotions and don’t get too depressed over weeks like this one, in which it’s hardly sold at all. It’s on the first page of search results for mental illness memoirs, and last time I checked, the excerpt I published is still the very first result under mental illness in all of Amazon. It has tons of visibility, and, like Rock Creek, a niche audience to buy it. By contrast, my romantic comedy, which – if I do say so myself – is tremendously entertaining and has generated a fair amount of fan mail already, hardly sells at all without direct advertising, even though it’s in a far more popular genre. It has the potential to do well, except that people don’t know it exists. And how would having a more popular website help me with that? Readers of comedic erotic romance don’t typically follow blogs, and, thanks to my ranking, I already get plenty of hits off of searches for “funny erotic fiction” and the like. Furthermore, while I sold plenty of copies of my memoir on Twitter, I hardly sell any of that book via that venue, which suggests to me that once you move beyond a niche subject, your book simply becomes one of the many spamming up everyone’s feed and is therefore ignored. So then what do you do?

        I would like to say that this is the harsh reality of being an independent author, but the fact is, based on what I have seen, many traditional authors aren’t doing much better, plus they lack the flexibility in promoting their work. This, I think, is why you need a good-sized publisher or you simply get stuck in a void of having a high-priced book you still have to promote on your own, and I’ve seen it too often. Are these people selling vast quantities of books in stores? I don’t think that they are. I think that this is the new reality and that authors, unless they get lucky, can expect to make less than ever because there are simply so many of us.

        I haven’t quite hit on a solution myself – obviously! – but I’d be glad to share my observations with you anytime. I finally got a new phone that’s actually smart so give me a call sometime and we’ll talk (510) 706-5814. In addition to admonitions and warnings, I’ve got a fair amount of actual useful advice, and I’d be happy to pass along the benefit of my experience if it might help you.

      • Charli Mills

        Lori, I think your accounting background serves you well. You have a good head for numbers and you are able to calculate what authors are making (or not). I agree that traditional authors are not faring any better than independents these days. However, they still have the market on credibility, larger reviews and print distribution. Whether that gives anyone an edge is debatable, but I’m coming out of the old-school mindset that traditional publishing does hold an edge, yet I’ve read about truly successful authors being cross-overs (or whatever other term describes those with a traditional publishing track and simultaneous ebooks or indie digital novels). I’m interested in that “both” realm, in addition to wanting to do other projects like writing retreats. I freelanced for 25 years and it has changed drastically in the past seven years, just as book publishing has changed immensely. I got my best freelance gigs through niche writing (I used to write organic farmer profiles and regional articles on beer and foodie stuff). I also did marketing for cooperatives, organic producers, community gardens, and local farms so it gave me an “authority” of sorts. So, I’m thinking that having freelance topics to pitch after I have a book will help promote it too and I already have editors interested in related articles for Rock Creek.

        I’m comprehensive with relational and niche marketing, but really, I don’t have your same grasp of the mass marketing scene, and I’d love to learn more to enhance what I do, but I believe I’ll likely retain a more hands-on or hands-shake approach because it fits my marketing values. I have marketing friends who love the metrics and really get into the numbers but I’m so people-oriented that I know where I belong.

        Thank you so much for sharing your insights and (yay!) your smart phone number! My smart phone will give yours a call. 🙂


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