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Writers Festival Workshops
Sat. March 16, 2024

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9 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Keynote Address         David Bruns and J.R. Olson

A Decade of Co-writing: Lessons Learned about Friendship, Creative Pursuit, and Publishing


David Bruns and J.R. Olson, are co-authors of best-selling national security thrillers. Over the course of their ten-year writing partnership, they have published with a Big Four traditional publishing house, released a series through a mid-sized press, crowdfunded novels, and independently published their work. For the past five years, they’ve authored the Two Navy Guys Debrief, a weekly column about the intersection of fiction and fact in the world of national security.


Ten years is a long time in the world of writing and publishing. If there’s a mistake to be made, they’ve probably made it. A success to be savored, they’ve celebrated it. Join David and J.R. for a discussion about co-writing, marketing, and publishing in today’s book economy.






10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

First Steps in Writing Picture Books

Joyce K. Ellis

This class will discuss the steps and give you a practical approach to marketing your book. In addition, we will go through the types of marketing that can be done through these stages of the publishing process:

  • Inception

  • Preorder

  • Launch

  • After launch

    Learn real-world information that is easy for you to implement.


Joyce K. Ellis, author, speaker, writing instructor, is the award-winning author of 18 books, including The 500 Hats of a Modern-Day Woman, The Fabulous World That God Made (picture book), and the humorous grammar book, Write with Excellence 201. She has also published hundreds of magazine articles and taught at many writers conferences, and received the Terry White Lifetime Achievement Award in 2023. 

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10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.


Setting as Character: Making it Real       

Nan Dixon

Setting is one of the three major pillars of a story. This workshop will discuss how to create rich, vibrant settings that enhance character reactions or pit characters against their environments. You will be prompted to think about how the setting can contribute to the plot and story arc. The workshop includes a short exercise.


The chairman of programming for Romance Writers of America (RWA) requested that Nan Dixon develop this workshop after reading her debut novel, Southern Comforts. (The mansion being renovated throughout the series becomes a character.) Nan has presented this workshop for the RWA, and it can be borrowed or purchased by members. She has also presented it to Central Valley Fiction Writers and Midwest Fiction Writers.

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10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.


How a Book Can Help You Stand Out    

Ann Aubitz


 In this class, we will discuss how your book helps you become more visible, what you can do to strengthen your relatability, and how books demonstrate your knowledge.  We will go through the three major publishing options and the ten questions you should ask your publisher before you sign on the dotted line.

Ann Aubitz is co-owner and publisher of Kirk House Publishers and FuzionPress, located in Burnsville, Minnesota. She has been in the printing/publishing industry since 1990. She teaches about publishing possibilities, marketing your book, and how a book can help you stand out.  Ann is also the president of the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, a proud member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, and a group leader for Women of Words.









12:30p.m. – 1:30p.m.


Time is Money: How to Self-Edit—Before It Goes to an Editor                     Connie Anderson


“Self-Editing” involves the things you can do to fix your writing before you send it to a professional editor. This includes what to watch for, such as word usage, punctuation, grammar, content flow, and completeness. You’ll learn how to catch your own errors—especially overuse of certain words—by using the search/find/fix tool on Word. Also learn effective use of beta readers. Editing from the reader’s point of view ensures that the book’s message is clear, concise and accurate. Your time spent self-editing saves you money because an editor’s time is money.


Connie Anderson has been editing book manuscripts for many years in a wide variety of genres. Her author clients appreciate the insights and honesty she brings to her editing, and agree that the right editor can help make your book the best possible…so find one you can trust. She also makes sure authors write to their intended market, and that they know and avoid costly mistakes in the publishing process. Connie offers FREE sample edit of up to 8 manuscript pages.




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12:30p.m. – 1:30p.m.

The Writer’s Ultimate Treasure Chest

Susan Thurston


In this workshop you will create a “time line” that will provide a foundation around which to build a longer work (or create solid shorter pieces), whether that be a memoir, novel, poetry collection, or genre-fluid work. You’ll create the “plot points” of your (or your character’s) life and populate it with the “flash drivers” that will propel a narrative forward, reveal the layers of the characters, and guarantee that you will never be faced with a writer’s block ever again. You’ll leave with fresh content, prompts for generating more, and energized to write with more confidence.


Susan Thurston is an award-winning author of fiction, prose, and poetry. Her work has been published by the Star Tribune, Poetry Quarterly, the Writer’s Almanac, and several anthologies; her first published novel Sister of Grendel received a 2023 Midwest Book Award. She is an editor for Calumet Editions and has taught writing for decades for small groups, one-on-one, and at St. Olaf College, the University of Minnesota, and Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar).

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12:30p.m. – 1:30p.m.


Indispensable Resources for Accurate Historical Writing

Kristine Spanier



Don’t go down the rabbit hole! Ditch the aimless digging and learn a librarian's secrets to identifying the historical resources you need, so you can get back to writing faster. This workshop unlocks indispensable (and free!) online treasures: niche websites, hidden archives, and digital libraries that will take your research–and your manuscript–to the next level. Leave with a curated list of trustworthy sources and search strategies to supercharge your research for crafting compelling narratives, whether you're writing historical fiction, nonfiction, or stories echoing the past.


Kristine Spanier is an editor, writer, and research librarian with more than thirty years of experience working with words and books. She is also a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she leads a four-hour workshop titled “Beyond Google: Research Strategies for Historically Accurate Writing.” Kristine's academic credentials include a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, and a certificate in Editing and Publishing from the UCLA Writers’ Program. She belongs to the Professional Editors Network, the Editorial Freelancers Association, and Authors Guild.



2p.m.  – 3p.m.

So You Want to Start a Podcast    

Amy Zellmer

In this workshop, you'll discover the step-by-step process of launching and sustaining a successful podcast. From identifying your why to defining your niche to selecting the right equipment, we'll guide you through the essentials of creating engaging content that resonates with your audience.

Amy Zellmer is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Midwest YOGA + Life magazine, and The Brain Health Magazine. She has taught courses for the Loft, as well as numerous speaking engagements across the country. Additionally, she has published six non-fiction books, along with eight successful Kickstarter campaigns, and has hosted three podcasts over the past fifteen years.



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2p.m.  – 3p.m.


Building an Authentic Author Platform

John Noltner


Join award-winning author and photographer John Noltner as he discusses elements of building a platform that gets you recognized as an authentic expert in your field and supports your writing goals.


Learn the building blocks of credibility and the stepping stones that will enhance your marketability and your presence in your chosen field. This session will be interactive with plenty of time for Q&A. We'll discuss developing a social media platform, getting media exposure, booking speaking engagements, creating a media kit, writing your bio, creating your elevator pitch and your mission statement.


John Noltner is the founder of A Peace of My Mind, a media arts project that uses portraits and personal stories to help a polarized world rediscover the common humanity that connects us. Noltner speaks on the power of storytelling to bridge divides and build community. He has spoken at the National Civil Rights Museum, the Gandhi – King Conference on Nonviolence and the Sojourners Summit for Change. He has lectured on interviewing techniques and storytelling at Duke University, Rutgers Honors College and Cornell University, and has delivered keynote lectures at dozens of conferences and colleges across the country.


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2p.m.  – 3p.m.

The Reality of Publishing

Joshua Weber


Publishing is experiencing a paradigm shift and authors need to adapt, and to understand the inner-workings of different publishing models and the work it takes to develop a manuscript into a published book.

Between unscrupulous practices by self-publishing companies, the wasteful traditional publishing model (print, distribute, return unsold stock, pulp), and publishing service providers who demand exorbitant costs, this workshop will be a discussion on the “reality” of getting a title published that authors don’t consider. With knowledge and some business savvy, authors can expect a happier writing career.

Joshua Weber is a publishing professional, serves on the board of MIPA (Midwest Independent Publishers Association) and is the host of Write On! Radio on KFAI.





3:30p.m. – 4:30p.m.

First Things First: Orient Your Reader, Quickly!

Tamara Hogan

Writers are often told that our novels’ opening paragraphs should “hook the reader,” do we do that? What does that even mean? Using examples from published novels, award-winning author Tamara Hogan puts a practical, craft-oriented spin on this advice: How about we orient our reader instead? Which details must we quickly supply to help a reader, agent, or editor feel confident they understand our point-of-view character’s current circumstances? Learn how to leverage point of view, setting, time references, and careful word choice to improve story clarity, reduce reader confusion, and keep that reader hooked.

Tamara Hogan is the award-winning author of The Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series. Both traditionally and indie-published, Tamara has broad industry knowledge and is a frequent writing conference instructor and speaker. An English major by education and a technologist by trade, she recently stopped telecommuting to Silicon Valley to teach and write full-time. In addition to past conference workshops, panel presentations, and years of corporate training experience, Tamara teaches adult fiction-writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN. Her debut novel, Taste Me, won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense, and Prism Awards for Best Dark Paranormal, Best First Book, and Best of the Best.

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3:30p.m. – 4:30p.m.


Writing, Publishing, and Selling Memoir

Debbie Russell

This workshop will cover the “how-tos” of crafting memoir with suggested resources, how to choose the right type of publishing for your goals, and how to find your readers. The focus will be about deciding early on what your goal is for your memoir. Once you’ve figured that out, you can determine the next steps.


Debbie Russell is a lawyer turned writer. She spent twenty-five years as an Assistant County Attorney in Minneapolis, prosecuting numerous high-profile cases and fighting off several nervous breakdowns. At age fifty-five, Debbie took early retirement, giving up a full pension for the freedom of time. She now spends that precious time writing, restoring her property to native prairie and wetlands, and training her rambunctious retrievers. Debbie’s first published article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2001 and she resumed creative writing in 2014 when she began her storytelling blog, sharing personal stories and professional experiences that have touched her life in a significant way. Debbie’s “not-quite” memoir, Crossing Fifty-One, uncovers long-hidden secrets found in a box of old letters.


3:30p.m. – 4:30p.m.

Some Clever Ways to Build Awareness and Promote Your Book

Rachel Anderson

The most successful books are those written by authors who have taken the time to build their platforms before the book hits the market, and once it becomes available know how to get the attention of their most likely readers. So, what are the basics of establishing an author platform, and once set up what comes next? In this workshop, students will be provided with some clever ideas for building awareness and promoting their books.

Rachel M. Anderson is a Marketing & PR Consultant and Publicist with a media background. Since founding RMA Publicity in 2009, she has led dozens of workshops for organizations, including Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA), Women of Words (WOW), The Rosemount Writers Festival and Book Fair, Minnetonka Community Education and The White Bear Center for the Arts. Topics presented have included Book Marketing, Publicity, Building an Author Platform, and Publishing.  Her most recent workshop was “Novel Writing for Teens,” held at the White Bear Center for the Arts in December 2023. RMA Publicity has successfully promoted more than 250 books, and secured over 3,000 media placements for clients.


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