Five Lessons Learned: Colorado Writing Workshop – by Charles Senseman

Writer’s Digest sponsored a writing workshop in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday, November 15th, 2014.  Presentations focused on a series of lectures by writing instructor, freelance editor, and author, Chuck Sambuchino, and an agent panel called Writers’ Got Talent.  During the panel, Mr. Sambuchino read anonymous first pages of work submitted by attendees, and agents provided feedback.

Mr. Sambuchino and the agents provided numerous tools and best practices.  Some of the most valuable insights related to opening pages and query letters.  Here are five lessons learned from the Colorado Writing Workshop:

Regarding opening pages-

1. Eliminate backstory
The reason that most often caused agents to have Mr. Sambuchino stop reading a submission had to do with this bad habit.  Agents challenged us to attempt to get through the first forty pages of our novels with no backstory.  They recognized the difficulty in doing so, but added that telling most often takes the reader out of a story.

2. Make description precise and concise  
Lengthy or vague imagery distracts the reader.  Agents lost interest in a work when description went on too long or when it did not vividly portray characters, settings, and situations.

3. Prologues are a taboo 
If the information in a prologue does not fit into the manuscript chapters, then it is unnecessary.  Some agents were more lenient than others regarding a hard and fast rule.  However, one made a good point.  She said, “Given that many agents won’t consider a piece that includes a prologue, why risk including one?”

Regarding queries-

4. Do not pitch a first novel as a series
Pitch it as a standalone with series potential.  Pitching a series requires a greater investment than an agent might be willing to make on a new author.

5. Do not include rhetorical questions 
This was stated as a rule.

A last bit of advice one agent stressed repeatedly is something most of us have heard before but either fail to do or ignore. She stated resolutely, “read best sellers, in your genre, published within the last two years.”

About Charles Senseman:
By age eight, Charles lived in five different towns. Imagination was a reliable and steady companion. Reading began with Dr. Seuss and together with The Phantom Tollbooth, Treasure Island, and Gulliver’s Travels led him down the road to the fantasy genre. Charles lives in Colorado with his wife and their Australian Shepherd.

11.10.14 Update


Hi Everyone,

It’s that time of year again.  Get out your Santa hats and your candles, your appetites and the box that hides your scales.  Let’s party!

If you’d like to host the Littleton Writer’s party this year, please let me (Liesa) know.  We’re looking for a place that can comfortably hold 40 to 50 people, and a host who can say “we already have 3,000 desserts, can you bring a veggie tray?”  This party is for both the Tuesday and the Thursday groups, so anyone reading this who’s a member of either group is encouraged to let me know about it.


picture of Kathy House 2014

Kathy discussing Innies and Outies with an RMFW member at Standley Lake Library

Saturday, our own Kathy House did RMFW’s monthly continuing education course on introverts versus extroverts in writing.  What a terrific presentation, Kathy!

We learned that there isn’t such a thing as totally introverted or totally extroverted, but rather a range of emotions and modes of operations in a spectrum, and that these ranges we fall in are not an indication of anti-social or unhealthy emotions that profile serious emotional health issues.

And when we were playing with introversion versus extroversion it became increasingly easy to find ways to make our characters uncomfortable in our stories.  What a terrific eye-opener.

Kathy has masters degrees in both English and psychology, and her expertise was delivered with humor, and gracious style.  Well done, Kathy, and thanks!


If you’re like me, you may never have won at the “guess my weight” side shows and carnivals.  This isn’t usually a big deal unless you’re trying to create a character.  In my second book, I wanted a character who was significantly over-weight, but couldn’t go up to people with similar body structures and ask them what the scales would read.  Curiosity won out and I found a great website that lets you put in height and weight of a character, then draws the final figure for you.  Talk about a great character building tool!  Plus its fun. So if you’re struggling to figure out how to visualize your next hero or heroine, check out  Just be careful!  This “toy” is addictive (and no checking out your writing colleagues’ weight!)

11.3.14 – Upcoming Events in the Writing World

THIS SATURDAY: Kathy House at Standley Lake Library

What: Are You an Innie or an Outie?
Who: Littleton Writer’s Thursday Night member Kathy House
When: This Saturday, November 8th, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM
Where: Standley Lake Library, 8485 Kipling, Arvada

More Information: Come visit with our own Kathy House to learn the ins and outs of how your natural attitude influences your writing. You’ll even learn how to exploit the extravert/introvert dynamic for inherent character conflict. Writers are good observers, but can an extravert really understand an introvert or vice versa? Find out what motivates your opposite type and discover how to make your characters to ring true. Introverts, come prepared to share your darkest secrets. Extraverts, just be yourselves!!

November 18th – Pike’s Peak Panel Discussion

What: Marketing Panel: What You Need to Know About Marketing, Book Launches, and Platform Building
Who: Sue Mitchell, Deb Courtney, Jessica McDonald, Jennie Marts, and Ashley Bazer
When: Tuesday, November 18, 6:30 to 8:30 PM
Where: Carnegie Room, Penrose Library, 20 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs (parking on street and in parking lot at meters is free after 6:00 PM)

More Information: Marketing is a vital skill for any writer. What types of marketing work? How do you put together a press kit? When is the right time to begin building your platform? How do you throw a successful book launch? These questions and more will be answered by our panel of professionals and published authors. This will be primarily a Q&A.

December 11th – Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer’s of America Holiday Reading

What: Mystery and Mistletoe Holiday gathering, book sale and readings
Who: Mystery Writers of America – Rocky Mountain Chapter
When: Thursday, December 11th – 6:00-9:00 PM
Where: The historic Denver Press Club, 1330 Glenarm Place, Denver

More Information: Join the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America December 11, 2014 at the Denver Press Club for Mystery and Mistletoe, a holiday showcase of twenty mystery writers. There will be festive mixing and mingling and writers will read a brief selection from their latest book. Authors include special guest emcee Helen Thorpe, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author John Johnston, and multiple awards winner, including the Colorado Book Award and the Chicano/Latino Literary award, Manuel Ramos.

Be Sure to Check Out the RMFW November Newsletter!

Littleton Writers is well represented in this month’s newsletter for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.  Kudos to Charles Senseman for a terrific article on “How You Know if Your Writing is Good Enough?”  And Congratulations to Kevin Wolf and Janet Baltz for Colorado Gold Contest winners’ profiles.  Joan Johnston did a terrific presentation on writing the series, and the write up by RMFW Publicity Chair Tracy Brisendine included photos of our own Martha Hussain and ZJ Czupor.  Way to be active and build those platforms, Littleton Writers!