Success! Nine writers from three states completed the 2015 Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp, a six-day residency writing workshop held in southeast Wisconsin in May at a beautiful retreat center not far from Milwaukee.

This unique experience provides hands-on advice and one-on-one guidance for writers in any genre who are developing or polishing a book-length work-in-progress.

“The Bookcamp was literally life-changing for me. I came home from the camp with shifted priorities and with the knowledge and confidence needed to put my writing first,” 2015 graduate Rhonda McDonnell said about her experience.

The Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp is co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Writers Association and the Chicago Writer Association, and was held at the Cedar Valley Center & Spa, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Wis. on May 17–23.

“I came to the Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp unsure of myself as a writer – and wanting to know so much more about everything involved with editing, publishing, getting an agent, writing a query, etc.,” Kent Raddatz, another 2015 participant from Wisconsin Rapids, said. “In the process, I was introduced to the writing community and gathered very practical insights that I could use immediately. Plus, I left being able to call myself a writer, rather than just saying I was trying to write.”

According to another participant, novelist Renee James from Illinois: “At the first Bookcamp (2014), I learned what I needed to do with the manuscript for my second novel, and I learned how to query effectively. I went home and finished the manuscript and placed it with an agent. At the second Bookcamp, I learned what I needed to do with my third novel, how to help my agent pitch it to publishers, and how to help market it. That’s a great payoff to my investment of time and money, and it doesn’t even count the great camaraderie and friendships that the Bookcamp makes possible.”

“Those are typical of the comments we receive from our graduates in the two years we’ve held the Bookcamp. Our staff takes great pride in hearing how much our work has helped our writers and their work,” said David J. Rank, NIP Bookcamp & Writing Retreat founder and director. “That encouragement helps us work to improve the Bookcamp program every year.”

The graduates of the second annual Bookcamp and their works-in-progress:

  • Jo DeMars, Waukesha, Wis., the second book in a fantasy quest for middle school children
  • Chris Eirschele, Scottsdale, Ariz., a cozy paranormal mystery
  • Renee James, Wheeling, Ill.; a romantic thriller set in the Canadian wilderness
  • Jack Kruse, West Bend, Wis.; lovers and rivals during the World War II battle of Kursk
  • Bev Larsen, Hudson, Wis., children’s chapter book
  • Andrew Marein, Oak Creek, Wis., thriller
  • Rhonda McDonnell, Gilbert, Ariz., literary fiction
  • Jennifer Rupp, Mequon, Wis., historical romance
  • Maggie Smith, New Berlin, Wis., literary fiction

Also taking part in portions of the 2015 NIP Bookcamp were Kent Raddatz, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., young adult fantasy; Nana Krueger, Oshkosh, Wis., young adult fantasy; Nicolette Pierce, Jackson, Wis., romance thrillers; and Amy Kumrow, Kewaskum, Wis., paranormal thriller.

“The NIP Bookcamp was even better than I hoped, and I had extremely high expectations. I searched nationally for a workshop/retreat that would provide an inspiring combination of instruction and writing time. To get that, I flew in from Phoenix, Ariz., and it was more than worth it,” McDonnell said.

With instruction led by award-winning New York mystery writer SJ Rozan, Milwaukee editor and author Philip Martin, and West Bend novelist Lisa Lickel, the Bookcamp included writing technique classes, group critique sessions, one-on-one meetings with staff and visiting literary agents, an afternoon discussion on publishing, as well as personal writing time.

Assisting with the Bookcamp were guests Agent Laura Zats from Red Sofa Literary, St. Paul, Minn.; author, anthologist and publishing imprint editor-in-chief Richard Thomas, Chicago; and Book Marketing Consultant Krista Rolfzen Soukup, Blue Cottage Agency, Brainerd, Minn.

“I understand so much more about my own writing and about what I need to do to improve my writing,” Arizona novelist McDonnell said. “As a crucial addition, I learned a great deal about the publishing industry. As writers, we don’t often have a chance to learn about how the industry works from the business side, but during this week, I had that opportunity.”

Planning has begun for the 2016 NIP Bookcamp, Rank said, and early registration will open soon. For more information, contact program director Dave Rank, 262-717-5154, or visit the To Apply page on the Bookcamp website, that has registration information.

“For 2016 we are adding a low-cost Writing Retreat option, for writers who want more writing time – and are looking for less help from the instructional staff,” Rank said.

Whether you come for the full experience or on a personal writing retreat in a lovely setting amongst a group of dedicated writers working on their novels, the program is a game-changing week of dedication to craft, career, and community. “I recommend this experience to anyone who is serious about writing fiction: you’ll love it and your writing will improve!” James said.

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The program site, Cedar Valley Center & Spa, is located at 5349 Highway D in northwest Washington County, Wis. The Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp receives additional support from Creative Co-Sponsor Diana Schramer, Write Way Copyediting LLC.


  1. I enjoyed almost every minute of each day. The classes were fantastic. SJ and Phil worked very well together and provided excellent information. Richard Thomas was very fun and good advice into the darker side of publication. Truthfully the two agents were a bit uncomfortable . . .
    Lisa and Dave kept everything running smoothly. Sorting through my intended goals was very beneficial. I left feeling my writing goals were met. Listening to SJ for hours would not be enough. She is worth every penny. Thanks for this opportunity.

    Bev Larsen
    1. Bev, thanks for the kind words.

      And I know what you mean about how literary agents go about reviewing & critiquing queries and manuscripts. They represent the most commercial end of publishing a book; they’re looking for profitable projects that can make money for themselves (understandably, as that’s their livelihood). So they aren’t as suitable for projects that are less profit-oriented, are more educational in nature or produced primarily for artistic or social-benefit goals . . . as your current writing project is, as I see it. So while we wanted to bring in the agent perspective and encourage everyone to see the competitiveness of that approach and get good advice, we don’t want to indicate it’s the only path or the best path for every writing project.

      I think the real gatekeepers for your stories are teachers and parents, either through public school channels (which have their own standards and hoops to jump through) or possibly homeschooling networks (which may be more flexible, more interested in value-rich reading materials, etc.).

      So there are many paths to publication! One goal at the Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp is to look at options for different approaches, while understanding the realities and competitiveness of the literary field in general.

      So I was very glad to read your stories and hope we’ve helped suggest good next steps!

      All the best,
      Philip Martin, 2015 Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp instructor

      Philip Martin
  2. Dear Dave,
    Oh man, how do I thank you for the Book Camp, the best week of learning and communing I’ve spent in decades. Cedar Creek was an ideal venue; the meeting facilities ample and well equipped, the common areas comfortable and welcoming, the rooms clean, bright, and nicely appointed, responsive yet almost invisible staff, the food was fantastic (Oy! I thought I would lose weight, but no such luck), and what can I say about the grounds? Heaven.

    The instructors SJ Rozan, Phil Martin, and Lisa Lickel were not only knowledgeable and skilled teachers, but entirely accessible to the participants at all times. And the industry professionals you attracted, Laura Zats from Red Sofa Literary, Krista Soukup from Blue Cottage Agency, and Richard Thomas from Dark House Press were equally approachable and so generous with their personal attention.

    Like a great play, you produced the NIP Book Camp with a perfect set and an engaging cast for an audience that could not have been more appreciative. Bravo!

    I have returned to my writing desk with my creative batteries recharged, my toolbox jammed with new techniques, and my head chock-o-block full of ideas. Additionally, I have acquired a new circle of support among the Book Camp participants. I feel more connected to the writing community than ever, and I have a more profound understanding of what lies before me.

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