sps author success journal

20+ Encouraging Writing Quotes from (Mostly) Famous Authors

As someone working on a book, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. There’s much to plot out, decisions of tone to be made, editing to be done, and then publishing and marketing. You have many a word to get up on the screen. I expect you could use some encouragement to keep working at it. 

We’ve got some encouraging quotes from those who have gone before you, those who have actually gotten the book done and then perhaps become famous because of said book. We will provide some background of the authors to not only point out their mastery but also to provide you with some great book recommendations! 

Writers Need to Read 

As a writer, you need to know your specific genre and your craft. If you’ve never read a cozy mystery, how do you expect to write a compelling killer or all the twists and turns that a cozy requires? If you’ve never read a book on how to get the most out of hot yoga, how will you write a book on the subject? You need to know your field and how your book will be different than others out there. Reading will also help expand your vocabulary – and your mind! 

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” – Ray Bradbury

Bradbury is most well known for his iconic book, Fahrenheit 451, that has been made into a movie and graphic novels. He wrote more than 30 books, 600 short stories, not to mention his many poems and screenplays. This man wrote a lot! 

“One must be an inventor to read well. There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us learned about Ralph Waldo Emerson and his student and colleague Henry David Thoreau in high school. Alive in the 19th century, they were the fathers of  Transcendentalism. Emerson was a well-read, well-respected lecturer and published author of many essays.

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most famous fantasy and supernatural modern novelists in this day. He’s written over 60 books, many of which have become films, miniseries, or television series. He’s most well known for It, The Shining, The Stand, and his first novel Carrie

Just Write!

While you can’t write without reading, you really can’t write a book without actually writing it! Like Chandler says, your book doesn’t have to be perfect but it does need to be written! Here are some amazing authors encouraging us to just get to it and write! 

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has written 25 novels including My Sister’s Keeper, Small Great Things and is a New York Times Best Selling author. This is also one of the most widely used encouraging writing quotes and we love it!

“If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” – Dan Poynter

Perhaps the father of self-publishing, Dan Poynter has written more than 130 books, 800 articles and was also, interestingly, a parachute designer. 

 “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

Well known for his strong mustache, Bach was the author of some of the best sellers in the 70s including Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.

“The final sentence can’t be written until the first sentence is written.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Having written nearly 60 books, plus short stories, plays and more this lady knows her stuff. Oates is a pillar in the literary fiction world. 

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”- Ernest Hemingway

Nobel Prize winner, sportsman and author of 24 books, we know Hemmingway as a master most for his The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. And if Hemmingway didn’t consider himself a master, who can?

“It doesn’t matter how many book ideas you have if you can’t finish writing your book.” – Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a modern author who has made it his job to help others write their best.

Finding Ideas

The right ideas need to be conveyed in your book. Either fiction or non-fiction, your thoughts need to be laid out well so your readers know what you mean and take away the message you want them to understand.

“The task of a writer consists of being able to make something out of an idea.” – Thomas Mann

Most well known for his 1912 book, Death in Venice, Mann was an anti-nazi German who married a Jewish woman. 

“Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that is all important.” — George R.R. Martin

Martin’s epic Fire & Ice books have taken the world by storm in the HBO television series Game of Thrones. 

“Writing—the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye—is the great invention of the world.” – Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe was the United States of American’s 16th President who was a great orator and is most well known for abolishing slavering.

Finding the Right Words 

Once you’ve figured out what to write and how to convey it, you’ll need to do some polishing. Finding the right words to show off what you mean is everything. We encourage you to hire a professional editor who understands your genre.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain

Twain was the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn which we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of before. Clemens was famous in his time and met presidents, successful businessmen, and royalty because of his work. 

“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.” – Jules Renard

Renard was a French author, mayor, and playwright from the 1800s who used humor to tell hard stories. 

 “Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath

Plath is a famous poet who we now understand struggled with depression and ultimately took her own life. She is most well known for her Pulitzer Prize winning poems but she also wrote short stories and novels. 

“Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.” – Jarod Kintz

Kintz is a self-published author with three books under his belt. Maybe not super famous but we still love this quote!

Your Book Can Change the World! 

Now you need some encouragement to keep going. Writing the book is half the battle! You need to keep going with publishing, marketing, and selling! The idea that YOUR BOOK can make a huge difference in the world may help you keep going when you’re feeling like throwing in the towel.

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman

Pullman was knighted for his writing. He is the author of the best selling His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy as well as many more books. 

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” – Martin Luther

This is the guy from the 1500s who helped start the Reformation by allegedly nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the front door of a fancy German church. He wrote many famous letters, pamphlets, sermons, as well as books. He knows about changing the world!

“Write what should not be forgotten.” – Isabel Allende

Allende has been called “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author.” She’s authored 20 novels as well as many non-fiction pieces that focus on women’s rights.

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”  – John Updike

Updike wrote art and literary critiques for the New Yorker and authored more than 20 books as well as short stories and poems. He is one of only three authors to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. 

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

While not really a published author, Robin Williams was a famous actor and an amazing storyteller. 

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” – Aldous Huxley

Huxley is most well known for his 1931 book Brave New World in which Big Brother is always watching. He wrote nearly 50 other books as well as essays and poems.

“For me, literacy means freedom. For the individual and for society.” – LeVar Burton

Okay, LeVar hasn’t written a ton of books but he’s READ a ton of books TO us and we all love Reading Rainbow! He still counts as a book authority.

On Failure and Rejection 

Not everyone will love your book. You will get a few one-star reviews and feel some hurt and rejection as an author. Take it as a badge of honor as these great authors have felt the same way.

“I was learning the craft; I didn’t study writing in school. Rejection was my motivation, and failure is what taught me.” – Pierce Brown

Brown’s space opera Red Rising series have each been on the New York Time’s Best Seller List. 

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C. S. Lewis

Best known for his still popular The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe series, Lewis wrote about 30 books and was a contemporary of J. R. R. Tolkien (bonus book recommendation!) who wrote the iconic Lord of the Rings series. 

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”- James Lee Burke

Burke is a prolific novel mystery author whose stories have been adapted into film.

So what are you struggling with? Which of these quotes is helping you move to the next step? If you need a help with accountability and publishing, we encourage you to look into our Self Publishing School model. Attend a webinar with Chandler this week to get started!

creative writing

13 Creative Writing Exercises

No matter where you are in your writing journey or career, there is always room to grow!

But how do we grow intentionally and in the right ways?

Today we’re going to talk about the fundamental ways that writers improve, and we’re going to try out some fun writing exercises to build your skill level and refine your writing style!

How to get better at writing

There are a few fundamental ways to get better at writing.

  1. Reading. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but if you aren’t a good reader, you aren’t a good writer. Reading is the most beneficial thing you can do for your writing style outside of actually writing.
    Read tons of content in your genre, but make sure you aren’t pigeonholing yourself to it. Keep your style eclectic and interesting by reading a wide range of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
    When I have a student struggling with writing enticing language, I tell them to practice with poetry. If they struggle with narrative voice, I recommend reading autobiographies. The more you read–and the more varied the content you’re reading–the stronger your writing will become.

  2. Critiquing. Reading other people’s writing with a critical eye helps you realize the issues in your own writing. Even if you don’t have a critique partner or group, you can read pieces by other author’s through a critical lens. What would you have done differently? What are the strengths and weaknesses you can find? Maybe even edit another person’s story for your own edification!

  3. Writing. And, of course, the best way to get better at writing is by writing yourself. Anything you write will make you better at it! If you’re a young writer, write whatever makes you happiest–fanfiction, movie reviews, short stories, rambly fantasy novels–if you’re learning the craft, you should write what you enjoy the most. Even professional writers should make time for writing things that they truly love to write just for the sake of writing.
    Besides writing what you enjoy, you can try some creative writing exercises to intentionally better your skills and style.

Creative writing exercises are great to loosen up the writing muscles, as a warm-up, to practice specific writing skills, or just as a fun activity when your writing project has you feeling stale.

Here are thirteen exercises you can try to sharpen your writer reflexes! 

13 Creative Writing Exercises

  1. Write a scene or short story using no adverbs or adjectives.

This exercise trains you to focus on stronger verbs and nouns. I give this exercise to newer writers because they often default to unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as a crutch instead of refining their word choice in core parts of speech.
NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs and adjectives effectively! But before you get a hold of your writer’s voice and personal style, they can weaken your writing.

  1. Choose a random object from the room you’re in and write an image-only poem about it.

This exercise will let you practice using imagery and specific description without relying on telling.
NOTE: Try using senses other than sight! What does the object feel like? Smell like? Maybe even taste like?

  1. Take a story you’ve already written and write it from the point of view of a different character.
    Writing the same story from a different point of view can give you an understanding of character motivation and perspective. A story can completely change based on who’s telling it!

  2. Take one of your favorite short stories, either one you’ve written or one you’ve read, and write it in a different genre. For example, take a romance and write it as horror.

This is a super fun exercise, and it lets you practice using tone and perspective! The tone of a story can change the meaning.

  1. Speed-write a story using a writing prompt.
    Speed-writing helps to release judgment you might put on your stories, allowing for a more natural process. I like to speed-write when I’m stuck on a short story or a particular scene.


REMEMBER: You can always edit and delete anything you write! Don’t be afraid to write with your gut without judging it.


A few writing prompts:

  • Pull a book from your shelf, open to a random page, pick a random sentence, and use that sentence as the first line of a short story.
  • Write a story based on the last dream you can remember having.
  • Write in public (a coffee shop, a library), and eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation. Snatch a line you hear and write a story around it.
  • Take a memory of something that confused you in your childhood–write an explanation for it.
  • Listen to a song, imagine a music video, and write the story of the music video.

  1. Write a stream of consciousness. A stream of consciousness is a direct transcript of every thought you have. It’s a bit like speed-writing in that you just dump thoughts onto paper without judging them.
    Giving yourself the freedom to write without second-guessing it helps to unkink writing blocks.
  1. “Write your dialogue like it’s a script.” Gloria Russell, critique professional.
    This is more of a writing strategy, but a lot of successful writers, like Jenna Moreci, suggest outlining your dialogue-heavy scenes that way before you flesh it out fully.
    Oftentimes, we’ll get so caught up writing descriptions, dialogue tags, and body language cues that it distracts from the important conversation we’re writing. If you can focus on the dialogue itself on the first go, it’s easier to get a natural back-and-forth exchange, then you can write the rest of the scene around it.
  1. Free-write for ten minutes before you begin your writing day. Before athletes train, they warm up. Writing is the same! Loosen and stretch your writer muscles with a ten minute free-write session. It can be a daily journal, a writing exercise, a stream of consciousness, or anything you’d enjoy!

  2. “I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward.”Micah Klassen, Those Three Words
    Writing a story out of order is another way to get a fresh perspective. This exercise can also give you insight on things like story structure, progression, climaxes, conclusions, and countless other story elements. It’s a way to dissect a story and see how they’re built.

  3. Edit someone else’s writing. Thinking critically about another writer’s work helps you think critically of your own. It is good practice for problem-solving, critical observation, and revision. You might even glean some inspiration!

  4. Revise the oldest story of yours you can find! Maybe it’s from college, maybe high school, maybe it’s a story you wrote when you were seven–rewrite it with your current skill and life outlook

This is a helpful, fun exercise. It’s good practice, it’s inspiring to see how far you’ve come as a writer, and you might end up salvaging something into a quality story!

  1. Practice a skill with a short story. Choose a specific writing skill you’re struggling with, or just want more practice in, and write a short story focusing on that skill.
    Can’t nail your dialogue? Write a dialogue-heavy short story and edit it until you’re happy with it. Bad at showing instead of telling? Write a scenic short story and focus on writing with compelling imagery and specific details.
    Nailing a skill with a short story is quicker and easier than struggling with the same problem throughout longer projects.

  2. Write your MC in a different world/setting. What would your contemporary character do if flung into a science fiction scenario? What would their profession be in a different era of time? What if their socioeconomic status was completely reversed?
    This is a good exercise for understanding your character at a more complex level. If you’re struggling to connect with your MC, definitely try out this exercise.

Anytime you feel stuck on a story, it’s great to do a little free-write session changing something up, like in exercises 3, 4, and 11. Sometimes you just need a perspective switch to knock the story loose.

The best way to sharpen specific writing skills is to identify the weakness and write short stories, really digging into that skill. I find it’s helpful to share those stories with other writers so they can give you feedback and let you know if you’re getting better with it.

I hope you found these exercises helpful! Feel free to share anything you’ve written from them in a comment below.

writing space

How to Use Alliteration in Your Writing

Do you ever play with sound in your writing? 

There are tons of literary devices and stylistic tricks to use in prose to spice it up. Many involve sound, like alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. Although commonly used in poetry, these devices can be applied to any form of creative writing.

Today we’re talking about alliteration:

  • What is alliteration?
  • What is assonance?
  • Examples of alliteration
  • How to use alliteration in your writing

What is alliteration?

Alliteration is a literary device where you use a series of words that all have the same beginning consonant sound. The words can be directly next to each other, or just in close enough proximity to be noticeable. As a device used for sound, it is most often utilized in poetry.

NOTE: alliteration and assonance (which I’ll get into later) don’t necessarily have to use sounds at the very beginning of words. Just like “rhyme” usually refers specifically to end rhymes but can use internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance definitionally refers to the beginning of words but can occur in the middle of words as well.

Not every word in an alliterative phrase must be alliterated, but there needs to be at least two words in close enough proximity to create the dynamic sound for it to be considered alliteration.

There are a couple of things that aren’t “perfect” alliteration–let’s call them alliteration adjacent:

Alliteration of mismatched consonants–You might have alliteration through sound and not actual consonant. This is often the case.

For example, here’s a line from Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven:

Closed my lids, and kept them close,

The consonants don’t match, but the sounds do, giving it the same audial effect of perfect alliteration.

Opposite the alliteration of mismatched consonants, you have something similar to a sight rhyme. A sight rhyme is where words look like they should rhyme, but their pronunciation does not rhyme.

Sight rhyme alliteration–Alliteration could be used as a sort of sight rhyme, where it isn’t actually alliterated in sound, but the words begin with the same letter.

Here’s an example from one of my own poems, Reredos:

Your skin drapes

like an altar cloth

across words swallowed

before they’re whispered.

Each iteration of the letter “a” has a different pronunciation, but it has the same effect of a sight rhyme, where it looks similar. This is technically not alliteration, but it is another tool you can use to craft unique prose.

Also, since it uses vowels instead of consonants, the above example is technically assonance.

What is assonance?

Similar to alliteration, assonance is the repetition of a sound, but it is the repetition of a vowel sound instead of a consonant. Using assonance will give a phrase more of a sing-songy, uplifting tune, while alliteration is more staccato and can be used for harder emphasis.

TIP: You can use assonance and alliteration intentionally by matching them to the tone of the piece. Are you telling a very harsh story? Alliteration might give you the extra hard beat for emphasis. Assonance might suit a story from the perspective of an innocent person, to romanticize an event, or in a soft description.

Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night uses assonance and alliteration in tandem:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Assonance:

  • blinding sight/Blind eyes…like…light
  • See…meteors and be
  • Grave…blaze…gay…Rage, rage

Sight rhyme: near death

Alliteration: blinding…Blind…blaze

Examples of Alliteration

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of alliteration is the tongue-twister I had to learn when I was a kid taking speech lessons: “She sells seashells by the sea-shore.” The alliteration in that example is the repetition of the “S” and “SH” sounds.

But alliteration usually isn’t used in creative writing for things as campy as tongue-twisters. It’s used to enhance language, rhythm, and sound in prose and poetry. Alliteration can also be used to emphasize words, phrases, and ideas.

Alliteration is most often seen in cliches, titles, and poetry.

Alliteration in cliches

Cliches are often sing-songy, fun, silly phrases, so you’ll see alliteration and assonance pop up in common sayings, like:

  • Dead as a doornail
  • Busy as a bee
  • Right as rain
  • Method to my madness

Alliteration in cliches makes them more fun and catchier, which is what a cliche is meant to be.

Alliteration in titles

Using alliteration in titles makes them stand out, makes them more memorable (peep that alliteration), and makes them sound a bit cooler, like:

  • Black Beauty
  • Peter Pan
  • Gone Girl
  • Doctor Dolittle
  • Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations
  • Wombat Walkabout

Titles are a book’s greatest marketing tool, and alliteration is one more way to make a title stand out.

Alliteration in poetry

Alliteration in poetry lends itself to rhythm and musicality. It’s a unique tool to use for sound, so you’ll see it often in poems.

Here’s another example from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. You’ll find assonance and alliteration in many of Poe’s works, even his short stories:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore–

Quaint and curious is another example of using alliteration with mismatched consonants. 

This is an example from Abigail Giroir’s Summer Offering

Body bent, devoured,
watermelon rind grass and pregnant trees,
picked clean.

As you can see in Giroir’s excerpt, alliteration can be two directly connected words, or as far apart as an entirely different line. As long as the words are close enough together that they’re still “ringing” in your reader’s head, it’s alliteration.

BUT, like in this line from Krystal Dean’s My Roman Stomach-Heart, the more words used and the closer they are to each other, the more noticeable the effect of alliteration:
My toga twists as I turn her.

How to use Alliteration in your writing

Alliteration is great to use in shorter pieces of writing, like poetry or flash fiction, where sound and language have an emphatic importance. In something longer, like a full novel, it might seem accidental or out-of-place.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to write with alliteration:

  1. Don’t overdo it! If you read it back and it sound sing-songy or campy (and that isn’t your intent), you probably need to scale it back. Just like with anything, you can have too much of it. If you tip over more than four alliterated words in a row, it might be a little much. BUT it could be fun to have the same consonant repeated in alliterated phrases, spread throughout a piece.

    While pelts pattering might sound graceful in a poem,

    Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/a peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked/if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

    sounds considerably less graceful, doesn’t it?


  2. Consider tone. Like I said earlier, assonance and alliteration give two different vibes. Different consonant sounds can convey different emotions.

    For example, the sound of the letter “B” takes considerable effort relative to other consonants. It gives you a feeling of dragging, of heaviness. Take a look at this line from Paradise Lost by John Milton:

Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved. 

You can see how alliteration used there drags, like the feet of a giant. It’s an appropriate sound for the subject matter.

Opposite, the “S” and “SH” sounds are smooth, like a slithering snake. In this example from Birches by Robert Frost, those sound repetitions are used to describe nature:

Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells.

Do you see how those sounds flow into each other? It’s reminiscent of nature, like sunshine pouring and rivers flowing.

The sounds you choose to use can reflect the tone of the subject matter.

  1. Try finishing your piece before you add alliteration. Like a rhyme scheme, devoting a piece of writing to alliteration before you write it will narrow your word choice and restrict creativity. Try fully drafting your piece, then editing in some alliteration where it might fit in more naturally. It’s usually easier to edit writing to be what you’d like it to be than it is to write it that way in the first go.

  2. Experiment! If you’ve never used alliteration before, try it out however you’d like to. Toss out all the rules I’ve laid out so far and go wild with different styles. You can learn to use alliteration more intentionally later, but experimentation is one of the best parts of writing.

Here are a few prompts to get you going:

  • Write your own tongue-twister
  • Take a poem you’ve already finished and add a few phrases of alliteration
  • Take words from this prompter and use them to write a poem
  • Write an alliterative poem using the first letter of your name

Use one of these prompts and leave the results in a comment!

Alliteration is a fun stylistic tool to practice, tweak, and keep in your writer’s toolbox.

how to write dialogue

Writing Partners: How to Find Accountability Buddies in Writing

Writing is one of the loneliest professions. Especially in early drafts, you’re on your own… Later in the process, you might work with editors, beta readers, or publishers–but when you’re writing, it’s just you.

Some writers love that! It’s why a lot of people decide to be writers. But sometimes the isolation just becomes a little too much. What’s an easy solution? A writing partner! 

Besides quelling the loneliness, a writing partner can improve your writing, keep you on track, and help you finish projects quicker.

We’re going to talk about: 

  • What is a writing partner? 
  • Why might you want a writing partner?
  • What are things to look for in a writing partner?
  • How do you find a writing partner?
  • Writing partner vs writing groups
  • Tips for using a writing partner
  • Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner

What is a writing partner?

A writing partner, or a critique partner, is another writer you can swap writing and critique with. You might read everything each other writes, you might only have a writing partner for a specific project, or you might work on a consistent schedule where you regularly exchange chapters, stories, or writing exercises.

Sometimes a writing partner is an actual collaborator for co-writing. A lot of this information and advice can apply to co-writing, but this blog will focus on a writing partner as a critique partner.

Why do you want a writing partner?

Now that we know what a writing partner is…why do we want one?

  1. Like I said, writing is solitary! It’s nice having someone in on your writing with you, there to help you brainstorm, and just to have someone to talk to. Even if they aren’t writing collaboratively, a writing partner can offer new perspectives and help you over writing humps.

  2. New perspectives. Having someone else’s eyes and opinions on your work is valuable for having a full view of what you need to improve. It’s easy to get myopia if you’re the only one looking at your writing.
  3. Regularly consuming another work-in-progress can be inspiring for your own writing! “Critiquing other’s writing sometimes inspires me in my own work. It gives me ideas or helps me figure out problems I have.” — Krystal Dean, one of my writing partners.

  4. Improve your writing. Having feedback on your writing and critiquing other’s writing are two of the most helpful activities to hone writing skills.

  5. Writing partners hold you accountable.” — Gloria Russel, another writing partner. Even if you don’t have a strict submission schedule, just having someone expecting progress on a piece can keep you on track.

  6. “It’s a nice way to ease yourself into other people reading your work and receiving critical feedback.” — Micah Klassen, my New Writer writing partner.
    If you’re new to the feedback and workshop process, a writing partner can help you get used to sharing your work in a safe and familiar environment with a friend! Letting someone you trust read your story is a lot less intimidating than sending a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher.

What are things to look for in a writing partner?

When choosing a writing partner, it’s great to be selective. You can always break off a deal with a writing partner if it isn’t working out, but it’s much easier to put time and thought into who you partner with at the beginning.

So what kind of characteristics make for a good writing partner? Here are a few things you might look out for:

  1. Someone you get along with! You’ll spend a lot of time communicating with a writing partner, so it’s best to have someone you’re friendly with–especially because you’re critiquing each other’s writing. Regular critique requires good communication and a fair amount of trust. If you’re uncomfortable with your writing partner, or you’re just not good at communicating, it won’t be a good relationship–it might even scare you off of writing.

  2. Someone at a similar writing level as you. You want to have around the same skill and experience level to have a fair exchange of critique. Ideally, you’ll have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other’s, but you should have around the same level of skill. If one has much more experience, it likely won’t be a fair exchange.

  3. A good writer. There are lots of levels of experience in writing, but some writers are just better equipped than others. You want someone who is striving to learn, always improving, and passionate about writing.

  4. A good critiquer. I know a ton of great writers who are just awful at giving feedback. You want an attentive, observant, caring reader who knows how to communicate clearly. You can read a story and know it’s bad, but if you can’t pinpoint and express specific issues, you might not be good at critiquing others.

How do you find a writing partner?

If a writing partner sounds good to you, and now you know what to look for, how do you find one? The best place to find a writing partner is by being friends with writers! I’ve chosen my writing partners and critique groups from friends of mine who were already writers. This has worked best for me because I already know we have good rapport AND I know they’re strong writers–I even know our personal strengths and weaknesses to be sure we complement each other.

If you don’t have a network of writer friends, you can find some:

  1. Try joining a local book club or writing group. If none exist in your area, contact your school (if you’re school-aged), library, or community center to see about starting one.

  2. If that isn’t an option, or you’re just not feeling the in-person interaction, there are tons of online book clubs and writing groups!

  3. Twitter is a great place to find other writers, especially indie writers. Some hashtags you can check are #AmWriting and #WritersCommunity

Writing partner vs writing groups

Some people prefer one-on-one writing partners, but there are benefits to having a group of writers instead:

  1. More eyes and opinions on your work
  2. More writer voices to learn from
  3. More strengths and weaknesses to balance yours
  4. A great way to build strong relationships with other writers!

In a critique group, you have the opportunity to select writers with various strengths. One might be great with writing natural and compelling dialogue, one might be a master of imagery, another might have a talent for realizing subtext and working with symbolism. The more varied your talents within a writing group, the more rounded your critiques will be.

Also consider diversity in your critique group. Different ages, genders, ethnicities, orientations, life experiences, and perspectives will give you more rounded critique. If your writing group is solely people who are very similar to you, you’ll get more standard feedback, and likely an echo chamber of thoughts you’ve already had.

If you’d like to put together a writing group, consider the following elements:

  1. Compatibility amongst everyone. Different personalities can get along great, if everyone is a good communicator.

  2. Similar goals and schedules. Make sure everyone is on board with whatever schedule and routine you decide on.

  3. Similar works in progress. If one person is a poet, one is writing an autobiography, and one is writing a science fiction novel, it’ll be difficult to determine what is due when, and feedback might be unfair. It’s obviously quicker to give feedback on a single poem than it is to give feedback on an entire chapter of a science fiction novel.

If you want a writing group but the idea of putting one together is intimidating, consider starting with one partner and growing from there.

Tips for using writer partners

Here are a few suggestions to utilize a writing partner or group to their fullest potential:

  1. Set up a schedule to swap progress on your works in progress. Having an agreed-upon schedule written out makes it much easier to hold each other accountable, and it will help limit disagreements and conflict.

  2. Use the same prompt for writing exercises. I love using this for my short story writing group. Take the same prompt, write a story or poem from it, then see what each other comes up with. It’s a ton of fun seeing the different styles and stories from each writer and it’s a great writing exercise.

  3. Do word sprints together. My favorite writing memories are staying up all night with my friends as a teenager, word sprinting for NaNoWriMo. My writing partners and I like to sprint for twenty minutes, then share our new word counts and our favorite line from that sprint. Almost anytime you can make something a collaborative effort or a fun activity, you’ll get more done.

  4. Swap stories! My partners and I have written scenes of each other’s WIPs to give a fresh perspective or to break a writing block with a scene. If you’re stuck on something, you can ask your writing partner to write a few paragraphs and see what they think should happen next. It’s unstuck me several times.

  5. Use “I” statements in feedback. Especially early on, getting criticism is hard! To be respectful of your writing partner’s work, try phrasing feedback with an “I” statement. So instead of saying something like, “this chapter is boring,” you could say, “I feel like this chapter doesn’t have enough content.” Acknowledge that your opinions are subjective to keep everything in perspective and sound less like you’re attacking them.

Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner

Obviously, there are lots of benefits to having a writing partner or group, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone! Here are some reasons a writing partner might not be right for you.

  1. If it will make you nervous to actually write. If you know someone is reading early drafts, you might get so in your own head that you’re too nervous to produce new content–you might second guess yourself and fall away from the project. You can always try it out, but if you realize writing partners aren’t your style, that’s fine too! Everyone has a different process.
    A solution: Maybe you have a writing partner for a second draft instead of your first one.

  2. If you work on an irregular schedule. If you can’t commit to submitting projects or feedback on a timely basis, writing partners might not work for you.
    A solution: If you can write regularly and commit to a schedule, but you and your writing partner have very different timelines, goals, and expectations, you might just need to find someone with a similar lifestyle to partner with instead.

  3. If a writing partner gives feedback in a way that makes you defensive. There are so many different types of communicators, and some of them clash. If you feel the need to defend yourself or your writing against all of your writing partner’s critique, you might need a new partner.
    A solution: Check in with yourself and see if you need to learn to accept critique better. If you’re not the problem, have an open and frank discussion with your partner about the way they present feedback. If that doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to cut ties with that writing partner and find a new one.

Writing partners are a great tool to get feedback, keep on schedule, better your craft, and build substantive relationships with other writers. Like any relationship, they take work! So use these tips to find and sustain healthy dynamics with other writers.

Tropes and Clichés in Writing

We’ve all heard the terms “trope” and “cliche” before, likely in negative contexts. Did you know tropes and cliches aren’t all bad, and you can apply them in your own writing effectively?

Today we’re going to talk about what a trope and cliche are, look at some examples of each, and learn if, when, and how you should be using them in your writing!

  • What is a trope?
  • Examples of tropes in fiction 
  • How to use tropes
  • What is a cliche?
  • Examples of cliche phrases
  • How to repurpose a cliche in your writing

What is a trope?

A trope typically refers to an overused situation or plot in fiction. Using tropes in your writing isn’t necessarily wrong, but you should be careful to write with tropes in a way that isn’t trite or done-to-death. That doesn’t mean you can’t use tropes–in fact, it might be impossible to write a story without any tropes. There are countless tropes present in every story you’ll read–some are done well, some not so much.

Examples of tropes in fiction

There are so many tropes, you’d never be able to list them all. Any work of fiction you can think of has more than one trope.

To illustrate, I’m going to pick random works from my bookshelf and list the first tropes that come to mind.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of my favorite books. You’ll find many classic romance tropes in Austen’s work–she invented plenty of them! Some tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:

  • A mother character obsessed with her daughters getting married
  • Enemies-to-lovers dynamic
  • Characters having feelings they try to ignore
  • A rich, snobby male love interest 
  • A female love interest from a more modest lifestyle
  • The charming villain (Wickham)
  • The bratty teen daughter (Lydia)
  • Opposites attract friendship (Darcy and Bingley)
  • Rich bitch (the Bingley sisters)

As you can see, tropes include characters, dynamics between them, motivations, plots, premises, among others.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is another of my favorite books (and the one I always reference to teach effective prose!). Some tropes in this book include:

  • The anti-hero (Ed)
  • The good bad girl (Audrey)
  • Rape as drama–Ed has to help the woman whose husband regularly assaults her–this is a great example of an incredibly common trope that has run its course and does more harm than benefit. Time to think up something new, writers.
  • Will they, won’t they dynamic (Audrey and Ed’s weird romance)
  • Breaking the fourth wall–When a character or narrator addresses the audience/reader.

“Breaking the fourth wall” is a good example of how even some stylistic choices are tropes.

Let’s look at some examples from film and television.

My favorite scifi/dystopian show right now is The 100. (Must admit I have not read the book series.) Let’s look at the tropes present in the television series:

  • Bury your gays–This is a notorious trope where an LGBT+ character (often the only one or one of very few) is killed for little to no narrative reason OR in the same way the “rape as drama” trope is used–as a harmful and arguably lazy plot device.
  • Attractive teenagers in dystopian survival scenarios–The 100 does get better in this respect, even by the end of the first season, by representing what people in these situations might actually look like. The poor kids are never clean again.
  • Mercy kill–this happens numerous times throughout the series.
  • Gray morality–a repeated theme in The 100 is how there are no good guys. The protagonists must make hard, unfair, often cruel decisions in order to save themselves and their friends. Everyone is looking out for themselves, and no one is better than anyone else.
  • Body-count competition–the Grounders keep scars/tattoos on their bodies for how many people they’ve killed.
  • Machine worship–Jaha and his followers seeing the AI as a deity falls into the machine worship trope. This is a common trope in dystopian fiction, specifically.
  • Population control–originally shown on the Ark when resources are limited in space, but it also recurs a few times later in the series as a parallel.
  • Raising a host–Nightbloods raised and collected for the Commander legacy, then in a later season by the Primes as hosts.
  • Jerk character has a point–this is when the character everyone hates or loves to hate makes the most logical argument (so almost any idea John Murphy has).

For a movie most of us have seen, let’s look at tropes in Mean Girls:

  • Rich bitch bully
  • Alpha bitch
  • Beta bitch
  • New bitch
  • Fallen bitch
  • This movie pretty much has a bitch for every bitch trope
  • Montage of characters introducing another character
  • Cool losers (Janis and Damian)
  • Bait-and-Switch–when the edit makes it look like Regina is adding Cady to the Burn Book, but she’s really adding herself
  • Dumb blonde (Karen)
  • Character eating lunch alone–bonus points because Cady eats her lunch alone in a bathroom stall.
  • Girls using Halloween as a cover to dress skimpy
  • Frenemies dynamic–nearly every friendship at some point in the movie

Most of the obvious Mean Girls tropes are character and character dynamic tropes, because that’s what the movie is about–different personalities blending and clashing.

How to use tropes

As you can see, tropes aren’t necessarily bad things. They’re just common and recognizable story elements.

Tropes should be used intentionally, because your reader will have preconceived ideas about most tropes. Think of a fantasy story with an ogre. Ogres are a creature trope. Every reader will have a different idea of an ogre when they see it presented in a story. Maybe they have an unfounded negative feeling, just because they’re predisposed to an opinion based on the stories they’ve read with villainous ogres. Maybe they have an unfounded positive feeling, just because they’ve seen Shrek. 

Consider a writer who is unaware of the “bury your gays” trope because they don’t consume media where it has been portrayed. They might include an LGBT+ character who happens to be killed off, and they might consider that fair representation of a minority group because they simply aren’t aware that it’s a harmful trope that has been thoroughly repeated in all forms of media. Being aware of the tropes you use is imperative, because most readers are aware of them.

You can be aware of tropes by:

  1. Consuming multiple forms of media in your genre
  2. Research
  3. One-on-one conversations with minority groups included in your story that you yourself are not a part of
  4. Hiring a sensitivity reader of that minority

In our writing, we should avoid tropes that promote harmful stereotypes or regressive perspectives on marginalized groups. Tropes are something to be aware of, but we can embrace using them intentionally!

What’s a cliché?

A cliche is a phrase that is overused or stereotypical. Sometimes a trope that has been overdone, is severely dated, or was trash to begin with is referred to as a cliche or a “cliched trope.”

While “trope” is not something to be immediately associated with negative connotations, “cliche” is something to avoid or “fix”.

Cliches are indicative of amateur or lazy writing, but there are ways to write them well! I’ll get into how you can effectively write with cliches in a bit. First, let’s look at an example list of cliche phrases.

Examples of cliche phrases

  • Gilded cage
  • Head over heels
  • Only time will tell
  • The calm before the storm
  • Kiss and makeup 
  • Woke up on the wrong side of the bed
  • Gut-wrenching
  • Avoid like the plague
  • Low-hanging fruit
  • I stopped dead in my tracks
  • Stealing candy from a baby
  • Right up your alley
  • Play your cards right
  • All bets are off
  • All in due time
  • Batten down the hatches
  • Read between the lines
  • Been there, done that
  • Put out feelers
  • Rain on my parade
  • Stabbed him in the back
  • Fire in my blood
  • Blood ran cold
  • Digging yourself into a hole
  • Get your toes wet
  • Not the brightest bulb in the box
  • Pot calling the kettle black
  • On thin ice

You get it.

How to use clichés

Amateur writers often default to cliches because they’re easy to write with! Cliches have been around for a while, they’ve gathered connotations, most people know what they mean–it’s like a writing shortcut: a set of words that already carry all of the meaning you want to use. However, using cliches as a shortcut just makes you look like a lazy writer. You don’t want to write something that’s already been written.

Good news! You can use cliches and still write strong prose by reinventing or repurposing the cliche.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers boasts this advice about re-working a cliche:

“…before going with the cliché, give some thought to the possibility of “turning” it, altering it slightly to render the phrasing less familiar. In a celebrated novel we edited, the writer used the phrase “they vanished into thin air” to avoid a lengthy, complicated explanation. We suggested a change to “they vanished into thick air,” which fit the poetic, steamy atmosphere of the European city in which the scene was set.”

If you have a cliche you’d love to use, even swapping one word–like “thick” for “thin”–might be enough to bring new life to it.

You might add to a cliche, like Taylor Swift in the song Endgame: she takes the cliche “bury the hatchet” and turns it to “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps to where I put ‘em.” She achieves the immediate cultural understanding of what it means to bury the hatchet (forgiveness, putting away old disputes) and adds a layer of keeping maps to where they are, so she can retrieve that dispute whenever she wants to.

Another example of adding to the end of a cliche is a line Harlan Ellison wrote, where he took the cliche “she looked like a million bucks” and turned it to, “she looked like a million bucks tax free.” Just a tiny glimpse of a new aspect can make a cliche impactful.

From one of my own stories, I have the line: “A child was raised on stories of crows–dark creatures with black intentions.” While not direct cliches, a black crow and a dark intent are expected. Swapping language like that is referred to as “diverting expectations”, and it is much the same concept as repurposing a cliche.

TIP: if you know a reader will easily guess how your sentence will end, you might be using tired language.

Grab some cliches from the list above and try your hand at repurposing them in a comment!

Another way you can get away with using a cliche is in dialogue. People speak in cliches, so if you have a dorky character who uses cliches, that’s fine! Anything goes in dialogue–in prose, you’re on thin ice.

We know that cliches aren’t all bad–how do we know if we’re using them well? 

Repurposing cliches, as we just saw, can you give you an original piece of writing. But a good way to think about if you’re using a cliche for the right reasons it is to ask yourself if you’re using it for clarity of meaning, since cliches are widely known and understood, or if you’re using them for a shortcut. Easy writing is most often lazy writing.

The skinny of it is: avoid cliches unless you can use them in an intentional and creative way.

Now we know the good and bad of tropes and cliches, how to spot them, and how to use them! 

build an online course

Writing Multiple Points of View

Have you ever started a novel with a huge cast of characters and felt like you needed to see all of their points of view? Were you quickly overwhelmed? There are ways to manage multiple POV characters! Let’s go over some basics, then look at specific tips for writing a story with multiple POVs.

We’re going to cover:

  • the different types of POV
  • how many you should use
  • which POV to use for which scenes
  • how to swap between them effectively
  • tips for writing multiple POVs
  • and some common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

What is a POV?

POV stands for Point of View. POV and perspective are often used interchangeably when referring to writing, but Point of View specifically means the view the reader has of the story, while perspective refers to a character’s interpretation of the world through the lens of their own experiences and personality.

There are four common types of POV:

  1. First person (I, me, myself) – first person puts the reader closest to the character, because they are seeing the story directly through the character’s eyes–they essentially become the character and live the story through them.

  2. Second person (you) – second person is not often used in creative literature. It often puts the reader on edge, making them feel observed or judged. This can be used intentionally, so don’t rule it out if you’re wanting to try something stylistic.

  3. Third limited (he, she, they) – third person limited is a bit further from the character than first person, but we are still limited to the POV character’s perspective. We can’t hop into other character’s heads or know anything about the world that our character cannot observe.

  4. Third omniscient (he, she, they) – third omniscient POV knows everything. The story is told by an outside, omniscient narrator who knows everything about the world and characters, the past and future, with no limits to a character’s knowledge or observation.

Your POV character is the character the reader sees the story through.

How many POVs is too many?

There aren’t any rules about how many perspective characters you can have in a novel, but it’s important to realize that there are drawbacks to having too many.

As a general fact, the more perspective characters your story has, the harder it will be to write. Each character needs their own unique voice, not only in dialogue, but in the entirety of your prose. If your characters are all exactly the same, what’s the point of having more than one perspective? Crafting main characters includes developing their backstory, motivation, personality, and several other things–if you make that main character a POV character, you have to craft a strong narrative voice for them as well.

With every POV character you add, you add a giant workload.

When you’re deciding how many POVs you can handle, consider your experience level–are you proficient enough to handle many different perspectives?

How much will it challenge you?

How much time are you willing to spend on this project?

If you’re a relatively new writer, if you want to finish your novel in under a year, or if you’re just not looking to beat your head against a desk, I wouldn’t reach for a huge character cast.

Which POV character should you use for which scenes?

If you establish a pattern for switching between characters (a pattern could be with the length of the scenes or chapters in a certain POV, the order in which we see the characters, etc.), it’s important to plot your story so that the most interesting parts are happening to the character we’re seeing through.

If you haven’t established a pattern, show scenes through the character who has the most at stake in that scene.

Particularly if you have multiple POV characters in one scene, ask yourself which character stands to lose the most. Who is the most emotionally invested in what happens in that scene? That is almost always who we should see the scene through.

How do you switch between POVs?

A perspective switch (POV switch) is when you swap from one character’s POV to the other. This is done intentionally and well if you do the 3 following things:

  1. Switch scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter. Do not switch perspective within a single scene (that’s a move for omniscient POV).

  2.  When you begin a scene with a new character’s perspective, establish whose head we are in as soon as possible. One or two sentences establishing the scene is fine, then name whose perspective we’re in so the reader is grounded as quickly as possible.

  3. For that entire scene, you are in this character’s perspective. That means we don’t get internal thoughts from other characters, we don’t get information our character doesn’t have, we don’t observe things they would not be observing. If you hop around character heads in a single scene, that’s an unintentional perspective switch, and you don’t want that. Some people call it head-hopping. Head-hopping is a common mark of an amateur, and it detracts from your narrative authority.

Those three guidelines will keep your POVs neat and easy to follow.

Tips for writing multiple POV characters

Once you’ve decided how many POV characters you want to use, and you know how to switch between them, apply these tips to write them well.

  1. Give a healthy chunk of story in that character’s perspective. If you have very short scenes and jump back and forth a lot, it can be jarring. It does take a while for a reader to settle into a new perspective, so don’t jump around too frequently. Using quick and abrupt swaps occasionally might lead to more tension, so if you want the reader to be a little confused and uncomfortable, it can be stylistic. But in general, give a good amount of story before switching to another character.

  2. Each perspective must be unique from the others. Put time into developing each character and each narrative voice. This is very important. You shouldn’t have multiple main perspectives if some are significantly more developed or more important. If you have three strong characters and one just isn’t there, consider cutting the perspective. You can keep the character, but their voice might not be strong enough to hold its own. This is referring to third limited POV main characters–you might have brief glimpses into less developed characters for plot reasons, especially in third omniscient, but make sure you use them intentionally and they aren’t covering up lazy storytelling.

  3. And going off of that, each perspective character is your main character, so each one needs their own story. If you have multiple perspectives JUST for ease of storytelling, that’s lazy writing. Your main characters each need their own struggles, their own voice, and their own personality. If you only want one main character, but you absolutely need multiple perspectives to tell the story, some writers will swap between first person and third person POV–their main character is in first person POV, then we duck into some other perspectives with third person POV. It can be tricky, but it’s a little loophole if you need it.

  4. If you establish a pattern, keep it. A POV pattern is when you switch between POV characters in a specific order, either by scene or by chapter.

In Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, one of the books has two POV characters. It swaps between them every other chapter until it becomes one character’s POV for several chapters because the other character has died.

In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, there are a ton characters and no pattern–the POV hops around wherever the story is. There are different ways to layer multiple perspectives, just know what you’re doing and why.

  1. Don’t be redundant. If you’re rehashing the same scene from multiple perspectives just to keep up a pattern, that isn’t fun to read.

    If you have a lot of action happening with one character while the other character isn’t really doing anything, but you’re still peeking in on them to keep up your pattern, that won’t work either. Outlining can help you can make sure interesting things are happening and the action is spread out properly.

  2. Don’t be afraid to drop a POV character. Sometimes you’ll have an idea for the perspective characters you want, but then once you start outlining or once you start writing, one or more of them seem more like they’re side characters or they just won’t work as a POV character. If that happens, maybe you don’t need that perspective.

  3. Just to emphasize, when you’re editing, check for unintentional perspective switches. If your first person or third limited POV character doesn’t know something, the reader doesn’t know it either. You can’t have them look at another character and tell us how that character is feeling or what they’re thinking unless there’s a way for the perspective character to observe it.

Common mistakes with writing multiple POVs

Here are a few things you should always avoid when you’re writing multiple POV characters.

  1. Having way too many characters to reasonably keep track of. If your reader can’t keep track of who’s who, or if they go so long without seeing a character that they forget about them, it will be hard to have them engage with the story.

  2. Unintentional perspective switches. If you’re in a limited POV and swap to another without a scene break, you’ll look like an amateur–because that’s a common writing mistake you should learn to avoid early on.

  3. Characters not having distinct voices. The same way having too many characters will confuse and disinterest your reader, having separate characters who all sound the same will confuse and disinterest. If you go to the trouble of having more than one POV character, you should give special attention to make sure they sound distinct.

  4. Re-telling the same scenes. Obviously this is boring to read, and your reader will start skimming pages. Plan your book to avoid this.

Now you know the different types of POV, how many you should use, when you should use them, how to hop between, and some general dos and don’ts!

Most writing rules can be broken, as long as you break them intentionally. If you’re giving careful consideration to your characters and the way you tell your story, you can get away with almost anything!

Exposition in Writing

A writing element that is completely imperative, but extremely difficult to balance is exposition. Too much exposition at once, presented in the wrong way, will leave your reader bored and they’ll start skimming or abandon the book entirely. Too little exposition, and your reader might be too lost to understand the story.

In the past, authors could take the entire first chapter to lay out everything about the world and characters. See how writers like Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier open their novels–lengthy descriptions of the protagonist, their life, their family, their social status, their struggles, their hobbies–it’s all there, right up front. In Rebecca, Du Maurier drags on for several chapters before you really get into the story. Rebecca is one of my favorite books, but even I start skimming the first half.

In modern writing, readers have different expectations. They want to be dropped into the story and figure it out as they go. This is accomplished with hidden exposition and subtle revelations.

Let’s talk about what exposition is, look at some examples, and then learn how to use it properly!

What is exposition?

Exposition is a literary device. It gives your reader information about events, characters, and the world around your story.

There are several ways exposition can be done well. Let’s look at a few examples from the same writer, Krystal Blaze Dean.

One way to work in exposition is outright stating information, like this opener from You Know Kaila?:

That summer sizzled in, taking my favorite classes away and sending me back to work. Our first spot of the summer was the Biloxi fair. Our trailers were parked behind a little church with a broken statue of St. Peter on the roof, one of his hands taken by the last hurricane. The fair was set up in the field beside it, the rides in a semicircle around the line of joints set up. That week, I was put on the Sizzler–a ride that spins and twists, forcing riders against the outside so they squished each other and spent most of the ride complaining about it. My buddy, Lizzie, was assigned to the ride with me and we were all set for a weekend of insanity. We were always a bad combination.

This is a great example of exposition well-done. The writer established the setting in a natural way. We know it’s Louisiana because of the references to Catholicism, hurricanes, and fair rides. We know the time of year, the weather, the age of the narrator (she’s in school), a little about her personality (intelligent, observant, troublemaker), and it established the theme and voice of the piece.

You can also show exposition through dialogue. This is a flash fiction called Visiting Hours, also by Dean.

I can’t play anything on the piano except “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But she doesn’t care.

She sits and shakes, her cheeks wrinkled up in a smile that her face can barely hold. She doesn’t flinch when I hit a key wrong and the piano clangs out an ugly note or two. Her smile doesn’t fade when the tune drops and I have to pause and think about the next key to press. She watches my hands. She says my rings amuse her because they make their own music when they hit each other.

“Oh, Dana. You’re worth every dollar your father and I put into those piano lessons.”

I smile. “Thanks, Mamma.” I’m pretty sure the piano would punch me if it could. I suck.

She clasps my hand, patting the top of it. “Play for me once more, love. I’m a bit sleepy.”

So I play the same little song again, screwing up twice. After all these times playing for her, I should be better than this.

The nurse comes in. “Ms. Jensen? It’s time for your nap.”

The old lady pats my hand again and waddles to the bed. “Next time, Dana, you can play my favorite song.”

I smile and nod. “Of course, Mamma.”

The nurse leans toward me. “Your mom’s waiting to pick you up out front, Emily. Have a good day, hon.”

I glance at the little woman in the bed, the one who calls me Dana every weekend from four to six. I smile. “I already did.”

We learn Ms. Jensen thinks Emily is her daughter through her dialogue, then we learn she isn’t through the nurse’s. Dialogue between characters is a good way to reveal exposition, but it should always be something the characters would naturally say.

The most natural way to show exposition is by revealing tiny, crucial details as they become relevant, as simply an interaction between the character and the world. Here’s an excerpt from Malibu and Pineapple:

She smells like pineapple and rum. Her tongue tastes the same. She whispers my name, but I don’t even try to remember hers. She shoves me against the wall.

Still on the bed, barely dressed, she stares at me. Her eyes shine a little too brightly in the dim room and I wonder how much she’s had to drink.

“Whatever,” she says, snatching her shirt from the coarse, gray carpet. Without another word, she leaves, taking the taste of pineapple and rum with her. I give her a few minutes to disappear into the crowd downstairs. Then I follow, ignoring my friends at the bar. I stumble out the door, finding my car in the line of vehicles outside.

When I pull into the driveway I see the lights are on inside. I park and lock the car. Before I step out, I open the glove compartment. My ring waits, dull gold and faded white design. I put it on.

She’s in the kitchen, having a midnight snack. “Honey, I thought you weren’t going to be home until later. Isn’t it your boss’s birthday?”

I shrug. “I missed you.” I lean in and kiss her.

She hums and smiles. “Pineapple and Malibu rum. My favorite.”

“I know.”

The exposition we are shown in that excerpt:

  • The protagonist slept with someone they did not enjoy sleeping with
  • Then they pull the ring out and we know it’s an affair
  • Then we learn the wife’s favorite drink and realize guilt was tainting the interaction

Exposition is necessary to tell a story, but there are bad ways to use it. Information should be worked naturally into scenes instead of “dumped.”

An exposition dump is a load of information slapped into a story with little care to revealing it in a way that makes sense. If you read scifi or fantasy novels, you likely know exactly what I’m talking about–the writer dumps a lot of technical details all at once, they’re not really connected to the story, and it’s boring to read. So you do what? Ya skim it!

Unnatural exposition using dialogue might look something like this:

“Hi, Karen,” I said.

“Hi, Maggie” she replied. “How is your uncle? Cancer gettin’ any worse?”

“Yes. Should be any day now. Can’t wait to inherit his entire estate.”

Maggie’s uncle is dying of cancer, and she stands to inherit everything–true information for a story, but is this an interaction two people would realistically have? Nah.

So what exactly is unnatural about that interaction? For one, Karen specifying who she’s talking about and what they suffer from–Maggie would know those details. “How is your uncle? Cancer gettin’ any worse?” could simply be “How is he?”

If Maggie is waiting for her uncle to die and lowkey doesn’t care, she still wouldn’t say that outright. “Should be any day now. Can’t wait to inherit his entire estate.” could be turned into body language that displays the same sentiment, while her words are more tactful.

“Hi, Karen,” I said.

“Hi, Maggie,” she replied. “How is he?”

I shook my head, dropping my gaze to look forlorn. “Not well.”

And later in the story, more details could be revealed as they are relevant.

Exposition is important, but if it isn’t done well, it can rip your reader right out of the story. Here are some ways you can incorporate exposition realistically.

8 tips to incorporate exposition naturally

  1. Don’t assume your reader is stupid. Sometimes writers have the inclination to spoon-feed their audience information when they could let them pick up on it. Readers are better at picking up subtlety than you might think. And if every detail and theme in your story is obvious enough for every reader to notice, it won’t be a very compelling story. You can reveal things about your world by having your characters interact with it, rather than directly telling your audience the relevant information.
  2. Include only necessary exposition. Only include what is important or relevant to your characters. Particularly in science fiction and fantasy, writers get excited about the worldbuilding they’ve done and feel like they need to MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS. The thick of it is: no one cares. Your reader doesn’t care as much as you do about your political system and religion and world history–if it doesn’t matter to the STORY you’re telling, it’s likely unnecessary.
  3. Spread your exposition throughout the story. We don’t need the first chapter to lay out every rule and fact of the world–it’s okay for the reader to have questions. You want them to have questions so they feel compelled to keep reading. So reveal information as it’s necessary and when it’s natural for it to come up. Give only enough information for the audience to follow along with what is currently happening in the story.
    TIP: outlining helps with spreading exposition, because you can see what information is revealed when.
  4. Work it in naturally. If you’re in a character’s POV, they wouldn’t naturally be explaining something very mundane to them. When you walk past a photo of your family, do you stop and think about each family member, their personality, what they do for a living, and your dynamic with each of them? Your character wouldn’t either! So how could you show a POV character’s relationships with their family? Have them interact in a scene and reveal it in a subtler way. If you can tell that a character is thinking about something for the benefit of the reader, it’s probably unnatural exposition.
  5. Show, don’t tell! This advice is beaten to death for writing, but it’s a great way to avoid unnatural exposition. Anytime you start telling the reader something, it’s probably unnatural. If you’re in a daughter’s perspective and she has a tense relationship with her father, you could literally say “she has a tense relationship with her father,” OR you could show it in a scene and let the reader realize it on their own.
  6. Mix exposition into your scenes. Facts can be revealed with action–you shouldn’t have “story scenes” and “information scenes.” I see a lot of new writers make that mistake, and, hate to tell you: readers skim information dump scenes. If you lace your necessary information INTO your scenes, it keeps the story interesting.
  7. Bury your backstory. Think of your backstory as a completely separate entity from your story. Bits of it will peek through, but they are not the same thing. Developing your backstory is to help you, the writer, tell a better story. Backstory isn’t for the reader. You don’t have to tell them all of it. Think of your backstory as your story’s shadow–it makes the image of your story richer and deeper, but it should be essentially out of consciousness.
  8. Do it well. If you must include exposition, make it brief, make it interesting, write it in a crisp and compelling way, and give it multiple jobs if you can. Tie your exposition to developing your characters or furthering your plot–don’t just have it floating in space with no other purpose.

Exposition is somewhat of a necessary evil in storytelling. In an ideal world, your reader would inherently know all things about the universe your story takes place in, allowing you to weave a story without regard for technicalities. Unfortunately, that ain’t it. So we must grin, bear it, and use these tips to write a stellar story.

book edits

Types of Editing: Which do you need most?

Have you finished writing it? Now you gotta edit it.

Let’s talk about editing, the different types of edits and editors, and what kind of editing your story needs.

What is editing?

Editing is the process of refining a work of writing. There are many types of edits, and there are many types of editors. The main types of editing are developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing. Let’s look at those in detail, as well as examples of each.

It is helpful to note that there is a big difference between a self-edit and a professional edit.

Every book needs a professional edit! Even if the writer is a professional editor themselves, editing their own book would require taking a several year gap between writing and editing to be able to come back to it with the new perspective required.

You would effectively have to forget your entire book before you could do a proper job editing it, and even then, you’d have to have substantial editing experience to do it credibly. The short of it: hire an editor.

However, before the professional edit, is the self-edit. There are several rounds of self-editing a writer might partake in. You can also use critique partners and beta readers as tools in the editing process.

Different Types of Editing

  • Critiques – critiques aren’t edits, but I’m including them because I think they’re such an important part of the writing process. You can get critiques from writing partners, beta readers, or hiring a professional. Critiques should point out problems with pacing, voice, character arcs, story structure, and other macro edits.
  • Developmental editing – this is substantive editing, where you evaluate an entire manuscript for problems with plot structure, character arcs, overall story, consistency, etc. You might rearrange or delete chapters, condense, expand, or even rewrite the whole thing. Critiques should give you an idea of what to do for developmental edits.
  • Line editing – line editing is less about macro changes and more about micro changes. This is editing for things like style. It covers syntax, character dialect, realistic dialogue, verbiage, prose, etc.
  • Copy editing (proof-reading) – copy editing gets down to the tiny details, like proper sentence structure, consistent spelling, and grammar.

Types of Editing Examples

Developmental editing has a bigger impact on a longer piece, like a full novel, but for the sake of brevity, this example is of a light developmental edit of a single scene. I only changed a few things, such as taking out one of the times the character is shot. Since I changed what happens in the scene, not just how it’s worded, this is a developmental edit.

Unedited version:

The man laughed as he turned raising his gun and firing. Celine dove to the ground. Stone shrapnel and dust blasted her pants. Two bullets slammed into her vest with the force of a hard punch. Pain shot from her bruised ribs as she rolled behind a large boulder.

The gunfire stopped as sat against the stone. She assessed her pistol. Footsteps came towards her. She tossed the pistol aside as she scrambled away from him. As she slid behind another boulder a bullet tore into her right calf. Blood ran from the wound further staining her pants. Dust rained down onto her as he shot in her direction.

Her heart was pounding as she listened. She was patient. She grasped the hilt of her knife with her right hand and waited.

The gun stopped firing and she jumped over the rock. She ran as fast as her injured legs would allow. The pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline. Her hand held her knife tight. Her tired body propelled her forward. Red ran down her pants. This was her chance to end this god, this man.

Celine lunged at him. He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He grinned as watched the pain spread across her face. He glared at her as she swung the knife at his face. He caught her wrist and squeezed as he laughed. She felt her grip falter.

She kicked at his leg trying to free herself.  landing several blows that he didn’t even notice. He dropped her injured hand and within a second his hand was on her throat. He squeezed hard. Her eyes bulged and her face went red as the black closed in.

Edited version:

The gunfire stopped. She pressed against the stone and assessed her pistol.

Footsteps approached.

She grabbed the hilt of her knife and jerked it from its sheath. When she saw his legs, she chucked the busted pistol as hard as she could, catching him in the ear. She scrambled to another boulder, dust raining down onto her as more bullets lodged in the cave wall. She fell into the shadows, heart pounding.

“Celine?” he called, his voice calm. He sounded like he was smiling.

Celine clenched her teeth and squatted over her feet, clutching the knife. When his slow steps finally reached her, she launched herself over the rock. Pain tore through her body with a fresh surge of adrenaline as she lunged at him.

He was fast for his age. His wrinkled face stretched into a calm sneer as he caught her first strike and crushed her hand. He glared when she swung the knife at his face, catching her wrist and squeezing as he laughed.

Her grip faltered. She kicked at his leg, landing several blows that he didn’t even seem to notice. He dropped her hand and wrapped his fist around her throat. He squeezed hard.

Her eyes bulged and her face flushed with heat as black closed in.

This developmental edit mostly toned down the violence in the scene, which makes the violence left much more impactful. Developmental editing is usually used to fix much bigger problems, but this is a good example of slight developmental edits, since the actions have been changed.

If you would like to see the full edit and reasoning behind my changes, check out this video!

Line editing will clean up the language of a piece, but it won’t change what actually happens in it. Here’s an example from a flash fiction.

Unedited version:

Conversation hummed around me in the diner as I waited. The waitress cleared her throat, forcing me back to earth. I looked up into her expectant face and faltered.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” I asked.

Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.

She let out a slight chuckle and said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just thought you might want a refill.” She held out the coffee pot clutched in her right hand and gave a nearly indiscernible shrug. 

“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing once again toward the entrance at the front of the little building.

“Hot date?” She asked, giving me the full force of her ‘customer service smile’.

“Something like that,” I replied.

“Well, good luck,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?”

With that, she turned and walked back toward the counter. I watched her leave, her dark ponytail bouncing against the back of her light blue uniform shirt. She really was very striking.

Edited version:

The diner hummed with conversation.

A waitress cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you say something?”

Her deep brown eyes flashed from mine to the pile of shredded napkin on the table in front of me and back.

She chuckled. “Sorry to interrupt. I thought you might want a refill.” She wiggled the coffee pot in her hand.

“Oh. Yes, please.” I lifted my mug, glancing at the diner entrance.

“Hot date?” she asked, giving me the full force of her customer service smile

“Something like that.”

“Well, good luck.” She turned back to walk to the counter. “Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Her dark ponytail bounced against her lower back. She really was very striking.

This is a line edit, because I didn’t actually change anything that happened. I cleaned it up to be more concise and effective, but the actions are still there, whereas in the developmental edit, I changed the actual actions the characters took. Since this example is from a flash fiction, I only left the bits that I thought were absolutely necessary, so it turned out to be a bit shorter than the original.

If you’d like to see my full edit of this flash fiction, check out this video.

Copy editing, or proof-reading, will check for technical mistakes. I’ve highlighted the changes in this excerpt.

Unedited version: 

Waking up everyday to that god damn shrilling tea kettle shooting steem into our kitchen, adding to the evergrowing smear on the ceiling. You’re always their, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but your never quick enough. You see me, and smile offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravle crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll do it.

Edited version:

Waking up everyday to that goddamn shrilling tea kettle shooting steam into our kitchen, adding to the ever-growing smear on the ceiling. You’re always there, rushing to grab the handle and turn off the stove before it wakes me, but you’re never quick enough. You see me and smile, offering a cup of green herbal that I never refuse and also never drink. I pour it down the sink when you leave. I wash my mug and yours and listen to the gravel crunching beneath the tires as you pull from the curb.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll do it.

Copy editing checks for things like missing, mis-used, and misspelled words, punctuation, and syntax.

Now here are some general tips for editing most types of writing!

5 Editing Tips

  1. Editing should be done in rounds, starting with macro changes to fix problems with overall structure, then ending with grammar edits. If you edit in reverse and start with the smaller problems, you’ll make small mistakes again when you do developmental edits. Start with big edits so you don’t have to backtrack!
  2. A lot of writers benefit from editing with a physical copy, so you might print your piece! Some writers use mark-up systems with different colored highlighters for different types of edits. I like to mark with a red pen.
  3. Take some time from your piece before you try to self-edit. For short stories, I’ll wait a day or two. I just finished the first draft of my novel, and I’m waiting until the start of next month to begin my second draft! Getting some space from the piece will allow you to return to it with a fresh perspective, and that makes editing a much easier process.
  4. Read it out loud! Hearing your words–especially your character’s dialogue–helps you spot mistakes.
  5. And the most classic piece of advice on editing: kill your darlings. If something isn’t serving your story, you gotta be able to let it go. Here’s a list of things you can almost always cut from your writing to get you started on trimming.

Editing is tedious and time-consuming, but it’s the most important part of the writing process and should never be skipped or rushed! Take the time to revise and polish your story into the best version it can be.

53 Contemporary Writing Prompts

There are many genres a story can fall under. One of the most common is contemporary fiction. A contemporary story happens in present-day, under usually realistic circumstances. 

However, there are subcategories of contemporary. For example, a contemporary fantasy could be a story set in present-day, and things are pretty realistic, BUT maybe ghosts are real.

Contemporary is one of my favorite genres to write, but writing is hard! Sometimes you need a little push to get started. Here are some prompts to nudge you into momentum. You might try a writing sprint, where you set a timer and must keep writing for the duration of that time span. Don’t judge any of it until the time is up!

Here are 53 of contemporary writing prompts, broken into categories: 

  1. General Contemporary
  2. Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi
  3. Contemporary Romance
  4. Contemporary Horror/Mystery

Even though this list is categorized, feel free to use the prompts for different genres! Using one from the romance list and writing it as horror will give you a wildly different result, so if you really like one of the prompts, try to write a few different stories with it!

General Contemporary

  1. A character has lied their entire life. One lie finally catches up to them.
  2. A group of private school girls are bored and antsy–so they start a fight club.
  3. A character tries and fails to parallel park, while a stranger watches.
  4. A character is playing Cat’s Cradle with a rosary.
  5. A single elderly man has ceramic forest creatures, frilly pink towels, and lacey pillows all around his house because he could never bring himself to redecorate after his wife passed away.
  6. A character comes home, annoyed and exhausted after a long day. They go to hang their keys on the hook, and the hook falls off the wall. The character look at the hook for a moment before tossing the keys onto the floor next to it and walking away.
  7. An old man smokes cigarettes until they burn the tips of his blackened fingers.
  8. A foster child commits crimes to help her new family while they try to teach her not to do that.
  9. A group of friends play a prank on their long-time bully, but it goes wrong and ends in tragedy.
  10. A girl grows up in a cult. She escapes and survives in the forest until someone finds her, and she is adopted. She learns to adapt to mainstream culture.
  11. A character obsessed with serial killers tries to recreate one of their murders but is really bad at it.
  12. A landscaper finds something alarming buried in a new client’s yard.
  13. A character is tripping on drugs at a carnival. They walk into one of the craft tents and are enthralled with the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling.
  14. A character traps a vermin under a cup and leaves it there because they’re afraid of it. They feel bad and start feeding it, still too scared to get rid of it. The vermin becomes a kind of pet.
  15. A group of friends play truth-or-dare. Why is one of them lying?

Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi

  1. An immortal being is trapped in one town with advanced degrees from online studying.
  2. Someone undergoes an operation that replaces part of their brain–they have memories of the previous person’s life and decide to accomplish something the brain donor had set out to do.
  3. A student’s science experiment piques the interest of a secret agency.
  4. Strange happenings in a ski lodge prompt a new employee to investigate.
  5. A spelunker explores a new cave and finds a strange creature.
  6. A girl wakes up with no memory of the night before, but she feels…off…and she has a bite mark on her arm.
  7. A character feeds birds in their backyard as a way to destress. Until one of the birds starts talking, and the situation becomes significantly more stressful.
  8. A boy buys a book from a used book store, but when he brings it home, he realizes it’s not a normal book.
  9. A girl is sorting through her dead grandmother’s attic before an estate sale, and she finds an old photo album with confusing implications.
  10. A character moves into a new house and hears a voice coming from a heating vent. The character establishes a rapport with the voice, even though they have no idea what it is.
  11. A character thinks they’ve having deja vu, until they eventually start guessing what will happen next with growing accuracy.
  12. An eccentric man has been digging a hole in his backyard for years–a constant pile of dirt for sale at the end of his driveway. When he disappears, a real estate agent arrives to evaluate the house for sale. When she looks into the hole, she discovers a staircase that leads into an underground world.
  13. Experiments have escaped from a research facility, and a massive search effort disrupts everyone’s daily lives. A character makes a new friend, and they deal with this new world together. Something about the friend is…strange.
  14. A character has hyper-realistic dreams about a fantasy place. The line between it and reality starts to blur–maybe being awake is the dream.

Contemporary Romance

  1. A character has a crush on their coworker and goes to extreme lengths to get their attention.
  2. A character and their significant other are invited to their boss’ house for dinner. The significant other accidentally knocks over an urn of ashes when the boss is out of the room.
  3. A character is driving when they see their crush is driving the car in front of them. They rear-end them to have an excuse to interact.
  4. A soft-palmed office worker inherits their dead grandparent’s country property. They quit their job, move to a tiny town, and learn to work a farm.
  5. A character hates their extended family but feels pressured to attend the week-long family reunion. They hit it off with their cousin’s girlfriend, realizing they have feelings for her a few days in. Good news is, she’s being paid to fake-date their cousin!
  6. A seasonal lodge employee gets in a verbal dispute with someone in town during her day off. Back at work, she realizes it was one of the lodge’s wealthiest patrons. The patron sets out to make her miserable, while the patron’s son has a crush her.
  7. A woman thinks she has a stalker. The stalker eventually speaks to her and says they were lovers in a past life.
  8. A character discovers her cat has another owner. They fight over ownership of the cat, but realize…maybe it brought them together on purpose. (Probably not. It’s a cat. But let’s let them pretend.)
  9. A character receives a box of letters as inheritance from an estranged family member. They research the contents and follow the letters through places their relative had lived, meeting new friends along the way.

Contemporary Horror/Mystery

  1. A movie theater worker finds a dusty back room with old reels of film. They watch one and immediately regret it.
  2. A fake psychic gets so into her con that she convinces herself and goes insane, thinking the spirits are angry with her for pretending…or is she right?
  3. Nighttime fog, illuminated by an orange street lamp, drops low around a swing hanging from an oak tree. The swing creaks in the wind.
  4. A character walks their dog on a stormy night. A shed in someone’s backyard is lit, quiet radio chatter coming from inside.
  5. A character enters their kitchen and sees something on the floor. They stoop closer and find a tiny white worm wiggling into the floorboards.
  6. An intern for a fashion designer discovers a secret code in a piece of clothing.
  7. A character is in the wedding party for a destination wedding–they arrive early to help with arrangements to find that one of the soon-to-bes has gone missing.
  8. Rain pelts on a flat bayou. The sun is shining through the storm, and a white crane flies parallel against the water.
  9. A character takes a new job as a tutor of a rich only-child in a huge, ancient mansion. The parents are aloof and estranged. Something is going on.
  10. A character is walking on the beach and finds an exotic snake that is obviously someone’s pet. They take it home and make a found pet ad. When they find the owner, they wish they hadn’t.
  11. A character visits their aging parent. Something is different about them…
  12. A group of gameshow contestants are stranded to survive two weeks on an island. By day two, someone has been murdered. The remaining contestants are alone with their cameras and a killer.
  13. An adopted child learns that he has twelve other siblings. He leaves on a quest to find them all.
  14. A character visits their father’s grave and finds a disturbing message written on his tombstone.
  15. A girl moves to New Orleans and receives a strange invitation.

I hope you enjoyed those and get a ton of new stories out of them! Here’s a list of even more writing prompts.

how to write dialogue

All About Dialogue Tags

Conversations are an important part of storytelling and are used to reveal a wealth of information: from a bonding moment, to a backstory, to a plot twist, and everything in-between. It’s the writer’s job to ensure that the dialogue used within a conversation not only fits the character speaking, but that it flows in a realistic fashion.

In fiction writing it is vitally important that the speaker within a conversation is easily identified. This is where dialogue tags come into play

What are dialogue tags?

 Dialogue tags are markers, little sentence clauses that follow the spoken words and act like a signpost for the reader. Their function is to attribute written dialogue to a particular character. These small phrases indicate speech, telling the reader exactly who is speaking.

For example:

“Did you hear that?” Emma asked.

The phrase ‘Emma asked’ is the dialogue tag in the sentence.

The main use of dialogue tags is to keep characters straight for the reader. Writers can also use them for: mimicking the natural rhythms in speech, breaking up long pieces of dialogue and making them more digestible, maintaining, elevating or break tension.

Tags can, and for the most part,  should be basic and simple. The words ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are the most obvious and the most used tags. However, dialogue tags can, of course, go beyond ‘said’ and ‘asked’ – we will get to that in a later.

First, let’s discuss how to properly utilize dialogue tags in a written conversation.

How to use Dialogue Tags

 Dialogue sentences are made of two parts: the dialogue, which is the spoken portion of the sentence, and then the dialogue tag, which identifies the speaker. The dialogue tag is the telling part of the sentence, while the actual dialogue used is the showing.

Dialogue tags can be found in three places: either before the dialogue, in-between the actual dialogue, or after the dialogue.

The rules for punctuating dialogue and associated tags are quite precise. Commas go in particular places, as do terminal marks such as periods, exclamation points, and question marks. In this article we shall be following the rules for standard American English. (UK English uses a different set of punctuation rules.)

Tag Before the Dialogue

Adding a dialogue tag in the beginning means that the character who is speaking is introduced before the actual quote.

Examples:

Rising slowly from her chair, Emma asked, “Are we sure about this plan?”

or

Placing her hands on her hips, Emma said, “I doubt you know more than I do!”

The rules:

  • Use a comma after the dialogue tag.
  • If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation and keep punctuation within the quotation marks.

Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue

Dialogue can be interrupted by a tag and then resume in the same sentence. The tag can also be used to separate two sentences. In both cases, this signifies a pause your character takes.

Examples:

“I thought you cared,” Emma said, “how could you let her leave?”

or

“I thought you cared.” Emma said, hoping to provoke him. “How could you let her leave?”

The rules:

  • When it is one continuous sentence, a comma is used before the dialogue tag and goes inside quotation marks.
  • A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce the dialogue.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation keeping it inside the quotation marks.
  • When it is two sentences, the first sentence will end with a period and the second begins with a capital letter.

Tag After the Dialogue

Most often you will likely place your dialogue tag after the quote. Therefore, making the quote the focal point of the sentence.

Examples:

“Are you done?” Emma asked.

or

“Are you done?” asked Emma

The rules:

  • Punctuation goes inside quotation marks.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation.

All the examples given up until this point have focused on using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ as part of the dialogue tags. These are the most common tags, and simply let the reader know who is talking. They serve the purpose without distracting from what is being said. 

Often times both ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are overlooked by readers, becoming invisible as they act out the conversations in their heads.

As long as ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are not overused, (repeated in every paragraph of dialogue) they will definitely fade into the background. However, if they are used in every sentence during a section of dialogue, then they will most definitely cease to be invisible.

As a writer, you never want your dialogue tags to stand out and distract, confuse, or slow the read.

Avoid Unnecessary Tags

The purpose of dialogue tags is to identify the speaker, not to draw attention to the writer’s broad vocabulary or their limitless ability to consult with a thesaurus.

Two common mistakes found in the use of dialogue tags are:

  1. Adverbial dialogue tags 
  2. Synonyms 

Adverbial Dialogue Tags.

An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb used. They are those ‘–ly’ adverbs used to convey emotion and tone. The problem with these types of tags is they are all tell. Readers are being told how a character feels, as opposed to the words themselves showing what is happening.

Example:

“This is not your concern,” Emma said angrily.

The adverb ‘angrily’ adds nothing to this sentence. What it does instead is distract from it. A writer should want to evoke the emotion, and using adverbial dialogue tags take that away.

An example fix for the above sentence could be as follows:

“This is not your concern!” Emma said.

By using the exclamation mark you are showing the readers Emma’s emotions. There is no need for extra embellishment. When you tell the reader how a character says something, you remove the power from their spoken words. Try and refrain from using adverbial tags, instead show the reader character emotions though punctuation, dialogue, or action.

More on using action with dialogue tags later.

First, let’s discuss the second faux-pas when it comes to dialogue tags: synonyms 

Synonyms as Dialogue Tags

I like to call these types of tags, saidisims. A saidism is a synonym used to replace the word ‘said’ in a dialogue tag. The key to realistic dialogue is keeping it simple. Using distractive synonyms such as ‘exclaimed’ and ‘uttered’ draw attention to the mechanics of the conversation you are writing.

Example:

“Emma,” she implored, “please listen.”

The word implored stands out like a sore thumb. It jarrs the reader from the moment putting the focus of the sentence on the tag, not on the dialogue. Instead of using this saidisim, you can simply use punctuation to get the point across.

Example:

“Emma,” she said, “please listen.”

By placing the word ‘please’ in italics, the writer shows the reader that the speaker is earnestly begging Emma to listen. No need to switch out ‘said’ for ‘implored.

The key to realistic dialogue is to keep it simple. Avoid searching for synonyms to use as creative descriptive dialogue tags which will only stand out. The dialogue tag should do its duty and identifying the speaker without shining light on itself.

Sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) it is indeed okay to substitute the word ‘said’ for something else. 

Example:

“Stop.” Emma said.

Versus

“Stop.” Emma muttered.

The tag ‘muttered’ adds a new understanding to the way the line of dialogue is spoken. This saidism enhances the dialogue and gives the reader a deeper grasp of the conversation. That is the key difference between the ‘intoned’ example and the ‘muttered’ example.

Substitutes for ‘said’ should be used sparingly and when they are used they need to elevate the dialogue, not distract from it. When you find yourself using a saidisim, pause and ask yourself these two important questions:

  1. Is the dialogue itself able to convey the expression without the use of the tag?
  2. Can punctuation be used in place of the tag?

The more you write and find your own writer’s voice/style, the less you will not need to pause and question your use of dialogue tags. However, until then it’s vital to take a moment and make sure you’re getting them right.

What happens when a writer has a lot of conversational ground to cover and does not want to overwhelm the reader with repetitive dialogue tags? In that instance should the tags be avoided?

Let’s examine this in detail.

Should you avoid dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags should not be completely avoided, but their use can be reduced so as not to wear about the reader. Make sure that readers always know which character is speaking, but keep in mind that dialogue tags aren’t the only means to identify the speaker.

A safe alternative is the use of action beats along with your dialogue tags.

What are Action Beats?

An action beat is the description of an action a character makes while talking. It serves to let the reader know not only who is talking, but also show the character in motion. An action on the same line as speech indicates that particular person was speaking.

Example:

 [Dialogue tag] “Leve,” Emma said, “right now!”

versus

 [Action beat] “Leave,” Emma pointed at the door, “right now!”

As you can see, action beats help break up dialogue, and can be used in place of dialogue tags. If you are writing a conversation with multiple speaking characters, then you don’t necessarily need to use a dialogue tag to let the reader know that there has been a change in speaker.

Action beats can turn the reader’s focus from one character to another.

Example:

 “I’m gonna kill him,” Emma said.

Victoria grinned. “Want some help?”

“I’ll need to hide the body.”

“I know the perfect place, very isolated.”

Geri let out a deep sigh as she stepped between them. “No one is killing anyone or hiding any bodies.”

In this example, there has been only one use of a dialogue tag, yet it remains clear who is speaking each line. The key is to use the tag only when it is needed. Once you identify the speaker, the reader should be able to go for several lines without needing another identifier.

An action beat can replace many words of description. We associate a frown with displeasure, clenched fists with anger, and tears with sadness. However, like any other literary device, action beats can distract the reader if overused and abused.

Remember, dialogue should sound real.

The most effective dialogue is the conversations that readers can imagine your characters speaking, without all the clutter and distractions of incorrect punctuation, repetitive tags, adverbs, or synonyms. Reading your manuscript out loud, actually hearing how the conversations sound, will be the best way to see if you have your dialogue tags right.

how to write a book messy office example

How to Write a Fight Scene

Whether they’re heated arguments, hand-to-hand combat scenes, or massive battles, fight scenes show up in most genres, and they’re really hard to nail!

Let’s talk about what makes a good fight scene, look at examples, and then discuss some tips for writing your own.

What makes a good fight scene?

  1. Relevance

Your fight scene shouldn’t just be there for the sake of being there. It should intertwine with your plot and characters, just like any other scene. How does it up the stakes? Why are those characters involved? What are their goals? 

  1. Excitement

BUT it should still be exciting! Just because your fight scene is relevant, doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be boring. Fight scenes are one type that should always be to get your audience hyped up or entertained. They can be dramatic or upsetting, but never boring.

  1. Subtext and depth

As with all scenes, there should be something deeper than what is happening on the page. What is going unsaid? Why are your characters fighting? Do any of them have a secret goal or agenda that they’re covering with some other excuse? What do they stand to lose? What do they stand to gain?

  1. Characterization

Fight scenes should have a strong character presence. If you could replace one of your characters with another character and the scene would end up the same, your characterization is not strong enough. Even in a large battle, it should be balanced with closer shots of your main characters (or the characters we should care about most in that fight scene).

Examples of fight scenes

Here’s an example from I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. The main character beating up Gavin Rose for his own good–he doesn’t want to do it. It is very focused, nearly sterile. There is no passion or anger, or really any emotion at all. This is a good example of how tone can affect a scene.

My hands reach down and grab him by the collar.

I feel like I’m outside myself.

I watch myself drag Gavin Rose into the bush and beat him down to the grass, the dirt, and the fallen tree branches.

My fists clutter on his face and I put a hole in his stomach.

The boy cries and begs. His voice twitches. “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me…”

I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them, and I put my fist onto his nose to eliminate any vision he might have had. He’s hurt, but I keep going. I need to make sure he can’t move by the time I’m done with him.

I can smell how scared he is.

It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose.

I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them – he doesn’t want to be associated with this. He is doing it out of duty, for Gavin’s own good. It’s clearly not something he takes pleasure in. He might even be ashamed of it.

I can smell how scared he is. It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose. – this description really shows how much the main character does not want to be doing this. The tone is evident throughout that this isn’t something enjoyable or validating. It’s business.

This scene is relevant, exciting, characterizing, and has a subtext and depth.

This next excerpt is from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Four people fight a serpent witch:

The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes.

All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side. But the Prince was just in time. He raised his arms and got them clear: the living knot closed only round his chest — ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight.

The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked. This held its face (if you could call it a face) about five inches from his own. The forked tongue flickered horribly in and out, but could not reach him. With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give.

Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck. Even that did not quite kill it, though it began to loosen its hold on Rilian’s legs and chest. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.

This fight scene tracks several characters, describing what is necessary. It doesn’t randomly hop around to tell us irrelevant things the characters are doing; it describes the important details of their interactions with each other and with the enemy.

The scene acts as a turning point for Rilian, who was previously under the serpent witch’s spell. It is relevant, exciting, and–since we see Rilian have such a big change–it is characterizing.

Here’s the final battle scene from Redwall by Brian Jacques. This shows a large scale fight scene.

Cluny plucked the blazing torch from Killconey’s grasp. He flung it at the face of the oncoming warrior. Matthias deflected it with his shield in a cascade of sparks and went after the horde leader. To gain a brief respite, Cluny pushed Killconey into Matthias. The ferret grappled vainly but was cloven in two with one swift stroke. Matthias stepped over the slain ferret, whirling his sword expertly as he pursued Cluny. Ignoring his unprotected back, Matthias failed to see Fang-burn stealing up behind him. The rat raised his cutlass in both claws, but, before he could strike, Constance had hurled the net over him.

Fangbura struggled like a landed fish as the big badger picked up the net and swung it several times against the gatehouse wall. Dropping the lifeless thing, Constance plunged with a terrifying roar into a pack of weasels.

The thick tail of the Warlord flicked out venomously at Matthias’s face. He covered swiftly with his shield as the poisoned metal barb clanged harmlessly off it. Cluny tried again, this time whipping the tail speedily at the young mouse’s unprotected legs. Matthias leaped nimbly to one side and swung the sword in a flashing arc. Cluny roared with pain as it severed the tip of his tail. The bloodied stub lay on the grass with the barb still attached. Hurling the Abbot’s chair at his adversary, the rat seized an iron spike. Metal clashed on metal as the Warrior Mouse parried Cluny’s thrusts. 

They battled across the green Abbey lawns, right through the center of the maelstrom of warring creatures. Oblivious to the fighting around them they sought to destroy each other, hacking, stabbing, lunging and swinging in mortal combat.

Meanwhile, teams of Sparra warriors were jointly lifting struggling rats and flying high to drop them into the middle of the Abbey pond. Ferrets had cornered a band of shrews and were threatening to massacre them when a column of otters sprang to the rescue. Keeping heavy pebbles locked in their slings, they battered continuously at the ferrets.

Cluny stood in the center of the room, his one eye straining to catch sight of Matthias in the belfry. Blood dripped from the dozen wounds die mouse warrior had inflicted upon him during the course of their battle. But now he knew he had won; the voices had been right; he would soon see the last of the mouse Warrior. “Come on down, mouse, Cluny the Scourge is waiting for you,” he cried.

Matthias stood up on the wooden beam. With one mighty blow from the blade of the ancient battle-scarred sword he severed the rope holding the Joseph Bell. It appeared to hang in space for a second, then it dropped like a massive stone.

Cluny remained riveted to the spot, his eye staring upwards. Before he had time to think it was too late. . . .

CLANG!!!

The Joseph Bell tolled its last, huge knell. The colossal weight of metal smashed Cluny the Scourge flat upon the stone floor of the bell tower.

Wearily, Matthias the Warrior descended the spiral stairs, sword in hand. He led the sobbing little friar out of his hiding place. Together they stood and stared at the Joseph Bell where it lay, cracked clean through the center. From beneath it there protruded a bloodied claw and a smashed tail.

Matthias spoke, “I kept my promise to you, Cluny. I came down. Hush now, Friar Hugo. It’s all over now. Wipe your eyes.”

Together the friends opened the door and walked out into the sunlight of a summer morning. Redwall had won the final battle.

The bodies of both armies lay scattered thick upon the grass and stones where they had fallen. Many were sparrows, shrews and woodland defenders, but they were far outnumbered by the slain rats, ferrets, weasels and stoats.

Nowhere was there one of Cluny’s infamous horde left alive.

Jacques tells a cohesive, intelligible narrative–he describes in a way that makes logical, linear sense. It isn’t just random description of random characters fighting. We stay on the main characters, we know what they’re doing and why, and he intersperses with description of the rest of the army, so we can feel the tension growing, and, eventually, know who’s winning. This shows a good balance between narrow and wide battle description.

Now that we know what different kinds of fight scenes look like, let’s look at some tips for how to write our own! 

5 tips for writing a great fight scene

  1. Make sure you need a fight scene.

Fight scenes are fun, but they shouldn’t be included just for the sake of having a fight scene. Like any scene, it should be imperative to your plot, characters, or (ideally) both. Your character should have an actual motivation to fight. If they don’t, you likely don’t need to include the scene. Even if they’re acting in self-defense, there needs to be a reason that your character is being attacked. Once you make sure you fight scene is necessary:

  1. Nail the pacing.

If your scene is too brief, you might confuse the reader. If your scene is too drawn out, your reader might get bored. Give enough detail for it to make sense and engage, but not so much that it’s a pain to read.

  1. Make it interesting.

Instead of describing every single punch or kick or stab just to make sure your reader is following along for every muscle twitch the characters make, try to describe actions that are interesting and exciting, and actions that characterize

For example, anyone can slap someone in the face. But if your character is fierce, and maybe a little nasty, they might BITE someone. That is a more unique move, which characterizes, and it’s much more interesting to read than a slap.

Maybe your character is resourceful, so their fight scenes involve heavy interaction with the environment–grabbing weapons or using objects to trip up their opponents.

If your character is prone to panic, maybe they overthink and hesitate too much, inevitably losing the fight.

Think about your character, why they’re fighting, how they’d fight, and then make it interesting.

  1. Work in interior thoughts and dialogue.

This is a good way to break up fight scenes so they aren’t straight action (which can get boring), and it will give you another opportunity to show why the scene matters.

What’s happening with the characters internal struggle? What are they saying to each other? Maybe they have allies they’re communicating with to add a layer of action and interaction?

Their interior thoughts can also help to guide the scene and clarify your characters’ motivations.

  1. Avoid being unintentionally repetitive.

It’s easy just to describe a character, beat-for-beat, in the same sentence structure:

She grabbed a brick. She slammed it into his head. She punched him. She tripped over her own feet. She died.

So make sure you’re varying sentence length, the type of sentence, and the first words and last words of sentences.

Here’s a video that illustrates these five tips with real life examples.

Keep your fight scenes relevant and exciting, and, like with any scene, layer them to be as dynamic and characterizing as you can! 

romance authors

Imagery: How to Create Strong Visuals In Writing

Imagery brings your story to life. It paints a picture for your reader to connect with your characters and world, and it just makes your writing more interesting to read.

What is imagery?

Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. We often see sight and sound in writing, but if you can incorporate the less typical senses, combine them together, and use them creatively, you’ll sculpt a much richer picture for your readers.

When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it can even elicit certain emotions intentionally. This is a powerful writing tool.

For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder, that’s a very strong olfactory memory and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood. So if there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and the tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.

If you can learn to use imagery realistically, relatably, and with strong language, you can pull your readers into your narrative almost immediately.

Let’s look at the five senses and examples of how to use them to craft effective imagery.

Writing imagery with the 5 senses

Mastering the use of all five senses in prose takes a lot of practice. Let’s look at each sense individually with examples from one of my favorite books, I Am The Messenger. Markus Zusak is known for using crisp and original imagery to illustrate both the mundane happenings of daily life, as well as extremely weird circumstances.

Visual

Visual imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of sight. Descriptions of things like colors, shapes, textures, and movement can all work with visual imagery.

Examples:

  • “At one point, she holds her hands out, forming a cup. It’s like she’s holding her heart there. It’s bleeding down her arms.”
  • “He sips on his longneck beer from start to finish and touches the whiskers that seem glued in patches on his man-boyish face.”
  • “She looks at me, and she has sunshine-colored hair in a ponytail and clear eyes, like water. The mildest blue I have ever seen.”

These examples also use subtext. In the first one, we have a description of how the woman is sitting–her physical position–but we get so much more than that. You can see her pain, but instead of just saying “she’s hurting,” Zusak makes the connection through how she’s holding herself.

Olfactory

Olfactory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of smell. Descriptions of things like flowers, chemicals, mold, and burning food can all work with olfactory imagery.

Example:

  • “He’s a cross between a Rottweiler and a German shepherd, and he stinks a kind of stink that’s impossible to rid him of. … The initial stink of dog slaps them in the face, and it’s all over. … I’ve even tried encouraging him to use some kind of deodorant. I’ve rubbed it under his arms in copious amounts. … During that time, he smelled like a Scandanavian toilet.”

Throughout the whole book, the main character talks about how much his dog stinks, how lazy he is, how he’s always in the way, etc., but there’s nothing he loves more than his dog. The more he describes how gross the dog is, the more the reader can see that he clearly loves him.

Gustatory

Gustatory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of taste. Gustatory and olfactory imagery can work together or cross over each other. Sometimes you can taste smells, and that image might be richer than if you described it with an olfactory image.

Examples:

  • “It’s older now and a bit stale, the mud cake. But the taste is perfect.”

This quote is taken from a scene where the main character spends time with a very old woman. The subtext here is obvious.

Auditory

Auditory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of sound. Leaves crunching under your feet, birds singing, and a stream trickling can work together to describe an early Autumn day much more effectively than visual imagery on its own.

Examples:

  • “The Doorman snores. The breeze outside steps closer. The fridge buzzes.”
  • “The ridiculous first notes of “Five Hundred Miles” come on, and I feel like going berserk. Even the Proclaimers are giving me the shits tonight. Their singing’s an abomination.” 

A lot of new writers try to write with all senses and go hog wild, describing anything they can think to describe. You can see in all the examples so far that Zusak describes things that reflect how his character is feeling. “The breeze outside steps closer” does a lot to convey the character’s apprehension–the character is alone, so he personified the breeze to make the character feel watched and nervous.

Tactile

Tactile imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of touch. Itchy fabric, a biting cold wind, and a smooth marble describe touch, but what about thirst or the heavy feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve done something wrong?

Examples: 

  • “The gun feels warm and sticky, like melting chocolate in my hand.”
  • “The girl tries to crawl inside my jacket as the noise from the bedroom reaches us from inside. She hugs me so tight I wonder how her bones survive.”
  • “I haven’t shaved, and I feel like death warmed up.”

Here are a couple extra examples that I thought did a good job of combining sense imagery.

  • “On those nights, the silence of the street is swollen. It’s scared and slippery as I wait for something to happen.”
  • “I suppose he’ll die soon. I’m expecting it, like you do for a dog that’s seventeen. There’s no way to know how I’ll react. He’ll have faced his own placid death and slipped without a sound inside himself. Mostly, I imagine I’ll crouch there at the door, fall onto him, and cry hard into the stench of his fur. I’ll wait for him to wake up, but he won’t. I’ll bury him. I’ll carry him outside, feeling his warmth turn to cold as the horizon frays and falls down in my backyard. For now, though, he’s okay. I can see him breathing. He just smells like he’s dead.”

I love the first example–he uses tactile imagery (swollen and slippery) to describe an auditory image. It’s also a good example of using labels effectively–had he said “He was scared,” that would have been weak writing. But describing the silence as “scared” is original and a great way to divert expectations of the label.

Showing vs Telling

The easiest way to practice writing with imagery is to show instead of tell. This is probably something you’ve heard before, and with good reason: it’s one of the strongest writing skills you can develop. Once you really understand what “showing” means, your prose will improve.

Telling is when you explain to the reader how to understand or feel something, instead of letting them experience it.

Showing is using description to convey the same things but in a subtler and more impactful way. 

For these examples, I’m going to use excerpts from my short collection, Little Birds.

Let’s look at a “telling” version of an idea, then a “showing” version.

In my story Wolverine Frogs, the character is recovering from an attack.

A “telly” way to write the last lines could have been–

“I’m ashamed that I couldn’t stop what happened. I blame myself and hate that he moved on with his life and I can’t.”

The real ending I used is–

“The skin around my nails is still raw. I keep scrubbing them, even though his blood is long gone and replaced by my own many times over.”

The second example conveys what the first one does, but it does so with concrete imagery instead of labeled emotions and abstractions.

That example is showing instead of telling what a character is feeling, but you can show when you’re describing a scene as well.

My story called Winnow has a character observing her bedroom.

I could have said–

“I still live in my childhood room. It’s dirty and old and I wish I could move out.”

But what I wrote is–

“The yellow-tinged spot in the corner of my ceiling is growing with heavy summer rains this year, stretching toward my ceiling fan. The fan is out of balance and squeaks and wheezes with every slow rotation, blurring glow-in-the-dark stars that haven’t glowed in years.”

The description I used still shows that she lives in her childhood room, it’s dingy, she isn’t happy to be there–but it uses concrete imagery to do so.

Realistic and relatable imagery

You can write with the five senses all day long, but if your audience can’t connect to your writing with familiar imagery, it’s worthless.

Relatability is what allows your reader to connect to an emotion through the image.

You can take something that your reader has most likely never experienced and make it relatable through imagery.

For example, say your main character is a hired assassin, and they’re about to make their first kill–they’re nervous! If you describe someone being nervous to assassinate another person, it (hopefully) is not something your reader will find particularly relatable.

BUT

If you describe the way they feel and how they’re acting–fumbling hands, fast heartbeat, loud swallow, clenching teeth–that sure sounds like stage fright, doesn’t it? Most people have felt that way.

Even though your reader has never experienced murder, they’ve almost definitely felt nervous! This is what imagery does–it connects your reader to your story, even without them specifically relating to it.

Imagery is great, but language still matters

Using specific details grounded in relatable senses is great–but it still gotta sound nice. Here are some of the previous examples rewritten, with the same details, but… well, worse.

Original–

 “The girl tries to crawl inside my jacket as the noise from the bedroom reaches us from inside. She hugs me so tight I wonder how her bones survive.”

A little worse–

“The girl claws at my jacket and gets close to hide from the sounds. She hugs me very tight.”

Original–

“She looks at me, and she has sunshine-colored hair in a ponytail and clear eyes, like water. The mildest blue I have ever seen.”

A little worse–

“She looks at me. Her blonde hair is in a ponytail and her eyes are blue.”

Original–

“The yellow-tinged spot in the corner of my ceiling is growing with heavy summer rains this year, stretching toward my ceiling fan. The fan is out of balance and squeaks and wheezes with every slow rotation, blurring glow-in-the-dark stars that haven’t glowed in years.”

A little worse–

“The ceiling is turning yellow where the rain leaks through. My ceiling fan squeaks loudly as it spins and blurs old glow-in-the-dark star stickers.”

Even with the same imagery, these examples became less effective when we removed the writer’s voice and original language. While you learn to write with solid imagery, pay attention to how you write it.

To strengthen your writing, show your story with relatable imagery, strong language, and all five senses!

romance novels

Flash Fiction: How To Write Mini Short Stories

Short stories have been historically seen as a lesser form of prose, favoring novels and longer pieces. But, PLOT TWIST, short stories are THE BEST!

Not only are they fun to read, but they’re an amazing form for writers to learn with. It’s quicker to get feedback turnaround, and easier to focus on specific writing skills in a short story, as opposed to a full-length book.

One form of short story is the flash fiction.

Let’s look at what a flash fiction is, what it’s made of, and how to write a good one utilizing imagery, brevity, and editing!


What is flash fiction?

A flash fiction is a short story that is typically under 1,500~ words. Very small flash fictions (under 75~ words) are called micro fictions. One of the most well-known flashes is the micro fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Flash is a fun format to write, because it’s a real challenge to fit a plot or character arc into such a small space. 

Writing flash teaches the importance of making every word the most impactful it can be, so practicing with flash fiction will improve your writing in all forms.

The main elements of a flash fiction are the length, the character, and a bit of a twist at the end. 

Length

Length is obvious. The whole point of a flash fiction is that it’s short.

Character

Again, character is obvious. Characters are the core element of any story.

Twist

By “twist,” I mean the ending should be very impactful, and usually surprising. Your last line should be a bit of a stab to the heart.

Most flash fictions are going to be sad or tragic because, for the tiny space to have any meaning, it has to carry a very big emotion, but you can utilize any themes or emotions you’d like.

The Elements of Flash Fiction

Let’s break down five elements of flash fiction to gain a deeper understanding.

Not necessarily all stories need every one of these, and you can probably add several to the list, but these five are a great starting place if you have no idea where to begin formulating a flash fiction.

  1. Emotion – what do you want your story to make your reader feel?
  2. Character – who is your story about?
  3. Imagery – what strong, iconic imagery will your story use?
  4. Inciting incident – where will you start your story? As with all fiction, start late and end early. Start in the middle of your story. Maybe show something strange your character is doing to spark interest.
  5. Hook ending – what will your twist be?

To help you visualize these elements a bit better, I’ve broken down one of my own flash fictions from Little Birds.

  1. Emotion – tragic sadness/regret
  2. Character – an older woman who lives alone
  3. Imagery – dark, drudgey, dead animals, rundown house
  4. Inciting incident – woman collecting roadkill
  5. Hook ending – let’s read the story and see what happens!

You can see those elements and how they’re used in this story. The twist ending was that she collects dead animals to give them proper burials to console herself about not being able to bury her infant son after he burned in a house fire.

Writing Briefly

The main point of flash fiction is that it’s short–that’s what makes it flash. Writing in a small space is a big challenge. Earlier, I mentioned the six-word story about baby shoes. That’s a micro fiction.

A couple other examples of micro fictions are:

Dandelions, Actually

He showered her with roses, but never asked her favorite flower. 

–R. Gatwood

Love is Forever

We came around the corner and there they were: young lovers, hands clasped. I drew the outline, Joe directed the crowd.

–Merrilee Faber

You can see from these examples that the titles of micro fictions can bring a lot to the story, so keep that in mind.

Your first impression might be that writing micro fiction is easier than writing longer flash fictions, but it’s probably the opposite. It’s often harder to fit a story into twenty words than into 300 words.

So how do we cut down words?

  1. Use strong nouns and verbs rather than excess adverbs and adjectives.
  2. Be critical of adverbs and adjectives. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with adverbs and adjectives, but you should make sure they’re necessary. If the adjective or adverb explains something that the word it’s modifying already implies, it’s not necessary. For example, if you write, “a quiet whisper,” the adjective “quiet” doesn’t bring anything to the noun “whisper”. All whispers are quiet. But “a harsh whisper” does bring something to it–not all whispers are harsh.
  3. Edit for redundant phrasing and concepts. Here’s a video about words, phrases, and scenes you can cut from your writing.
  4. Cut most of your articles. Articles are a, an, and the, and they are almost always unnecessary. Amateur writers tend to slip in unnecessary articles without even noticing, so cut an article and read the sentence out loud. If it still makes sense, leave it out.

Use Imagery in your Flash Fiction

Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses. Instead of just describing sights and sounds, you can get a little more into it with smells and tastes and feelings, you can combine and cross them, and you can work on using relatable imagery. When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it will elicit certain emotions from them.

For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder in a story, that’s a very strong olfactory memory, and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood. If there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and use tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.

The easiest way to practice writing imagery is to show instead of tell. This is one of the strongest writing skills you can develop. Once you really understand what this means, your prose will improve. Showing is especially important in shorter pieces because every sentence and word has to carry more weight.

Telling is when you explain to the reader how to understand or feel something, instead of letting them experience it.

Showing is using description to convey the same things, but in a subtler and more impactful way.

Here’s an in-depth explanation about using imagery.

Editing your flash fiction

Don’t focus too much on writing concisely in the first draft. Write your story however you need to, because most of the process for creating a flash fiction is spent in editing

There are two basic categories of edits to make on a flash fiction:

Condensing

To clip your story into a compacted, impactful piece, you should cut out unnecessary words, use impactful synonyms, and make your writing as sharp as possible.

However, you should watch out for superfluous synonyms–the most elaborate is not always the best. Go for precision, not most obscure. A lot of new writers tend to use the most complicated words they can, which can make your writing seem forced and unnatural, and often confuse the meaning. Sometimes simplest is best!

Polishing

After you’ve left only the necessary words, make the words you do keep as effective as you can. Try out different synonyms, pay attention to connotation, and layer with subtext.

Here’s a video of live flash fiction edits that can show how different a story becomes post-edit.

Now here are a few general tips on writing flash fiction

  1. Don’t make it too complicated–focus on one central theme, idea, or message. Don’t try to pack in too much.
  2. Don’t use too many characters–you should really only have one character in focus.
  3. Utilize your title, but don’t let it give away the ending!
  4. Don’t try to write a flash-sized story in the first go–write it as long as you need, then focus on cutting back to the best of it in editing.
  5. Your last line should reverberate. In the above story, What Remains, I was advised to cut the line “She imagined her son with the raccoon, swaddled in the dirt” to have “The mud she stomped off her boots, the sand in the park” as the last line. Their reasoning was that it was a stronger image. While it may be easier to picture, it has significantly less emotional value–the feeling and thought you leave your reader with is very important.

Which line do you think works better as an ending?

How to publish flash fiction

Once your story is written and edited, you might consider submitting it for publication!

You can publish stories individually, or you can publish them as a collection.

A great resource for individual submissions is Submittable. It’s free to use, and you can filter submission calls by genre, length, topic, theme, etc. It’s quick to find and track submissions, and easy to use.

Traditionally publishing a collection of shorts, especially for an emerging writer, is extremely difficult and rare to accomplish.

If your heart is set on publishing a collection of shorts, good news! Self-publishing exists! I successfully self-published my first collection, Little Birds, and I can definitely recommend that route.

Now we know what a flash fiction is, what they’re made of, how to craft them in intentional and impactful ways, and some options for publication. Go write some stories!

How Many Chapters Should Your Novel Have?

If you’re embarking on the journey of writing a novel, you probably have several questions about where and how to start. Planning and outlining your story in advance can be extremely helpful, but a big question that a lot of new authors have is “How many chapters should I have in my book?”

The short answer is, unfortunately, that there is no one correct answer to that question. The average number of chapters in a novel, not accounting for genres or target audience is about a dozen. However, there is no exact minimum or standard for how many chapters a novel should have. Because chapters are just places where the author decides to break up the flow of their story, you could go a more traditional route and end up with 12-28 chapters or choose to be more experimental and have as many as 200.  

Looking at some popular novels, even with similar themes and audiences, there is a great variation in overall length and number of chapters.

The first installment in the Harry Potter series totaled 17 chapters with about 77,500 words total whereas The Hunger Games topped out at 27 chapters with a word count of 99,750. Your story is unique, and the number and length of the chapters inside it will reflect that.

Here are the things you should keep in mind while trying to determine how many chapters YOUR novel should have:

Why Do We Use Chapters?

In trying to determine the number of chapters your novel will have you must first understand WHY you might want to include chapters at all. They aren’t mandatory by any means, but they can be a very useful tool in structuring the overall story in a way that is more easily digestible to the reader.

The end of each chapter gives the reader a solid place to take a moment and process everything they’ve just read. Since it’s not always feasible to read an entire novel in one sitting, they also allow for a practical place for the reader to take a longer break and do other things. But they shouldn’t be so satisfied that they don’t want to come back and read the next chapter.

With that in mind, it makes sense to break up your book into sections that leave the reader both with some level of fulfillment but with an eagerness to know more. No one chapter should wrap up the story entirely except the very last one. At the same time, you don’t want to keep raising questions that never get answered or issues that never get resolved. That’s a surefire way to disappoint or lose the attention of your reader.

Which Books Need Chapters?

Longer novels are likely to have more chapters simply because there will be more opportunities for breaks throughout the story. But what if you’re writing a shorter story? Shorter fiction can be a great way to experiment with flow and pacing and can help familiarize you with the process of writing and dividing a piece into chapters.

Short stories, which are usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words long and very rarely have chapters. They do, however, sometimes include scene transitions and breaks to denote a change in setting or scene, or the passage of time.

Novellas are longer than short stories, but still only clock in at around 20k words at their longest. With these, the line gets a little blurrier. You could choose to forego official chapters in favor of breaks as you would for a short story or break it into defined chapters. This decision will largely depend on the overall length of the novella and the number and lengths of scenes.

Even if you’re writing non-fiction, or another type of book, chapters can be a handy tool in your writer’s toolbelt. For example, a cookbook could even be divided into chapters that focus on a certain type of dish like dessert, or a certain type of cuisine like French.

When Should I Divide My Book Into Chapters?

Now you know why you need chapters, but when is a good time to divide your book into chapters? Should you decide during the outlining phase? Should you wait until the second draft?

There’s no “one size fits all” approach to writing a book. One person may strongly advise against writing without planning your chapters first, while others will tell you it’s illogical to even CONSIDER chapters at all until you have a solid first draft.

What works for you will depend largely on your personal writing style, but these are some methods to consider:

1.   Write First, Ask Questions Later

One way to chop your book into chapters is to just write the whole thing as a draft and then go back through later and divide it into chapters where it makes the most sense. This will work better for those who consider themselves to be “pantsers”, or those who tend to write exploratory or “zero” drafts rather than abide by a specific outline.

With this method, you would write an entire first draft without worrying about specific chapter break placement. You can then read it back, making note of where breaks would make sense. This could be after major scenes Look for places where some questions have been resolved, but there is enough tension to keep the reader craving more. You don’t necessarily need to end each chapter with a classic cliffhanger, but you can use chapter breaks to highlight building tension and keep the reader on their toes.

Another way to determine where your chapter breaks should go is by looking for natural pauses in the story. Maybe you’ve reached the end of a major event or plot point. Perhaps your protagonist has just learned something that will change the course of their storyline. Anywhere that it would make sense for the reader to ruminate about what they just read is a great place for a chapter break.

2.   Build Chapters Into Your Outline

If you are a staunch outliner and organizational savant, you might consider breaking your story into chapters before you even begin the first draft. This method will probably work best for people who like to have very specific and thorough outlines.

Using this method, you can plan which scenes you want to include in each chapter and have them work intentionally with the overall structure of your story. This should also make the process of writing and editing your first draft easier. You can always rework them if you find out that it’s not working properly as planned, but it will give you a great jumping off point.

3.   By the Numbers

If you don’t want to do a thorough outline, but want a good way to gauge how many chapters you should end up with, you can use an average number for whichever genre and category you are writing as a good base and go from there.

For instance, an average YA novel is between 55,000 and 80,000 words long. Most experts agree that 3,000-5,000 words per chapter is a good guideline to follow. So, 12-27 chapters for a YA novel would be a good range to start with.

From there, you can narrow it down a little more by checking out similar books within the specific genre you’re writing. Contemporary stories in the YA category tend to be shorter, whereas fantasy and sci-fi are usually longer and more complex.

Shawn Coyne from Story Grid does a great job at explaining the math of a novel here, including a breakdown of key scenes, word counts, and act structure.

What Makes A Good Chapter?

The most important thing to consider when determining how many chapters your book will have is the content, pacing, and flow of your story. You want to ensure that each chapter starts in a place that engages the reader, keeps their interest throughout, and ends in a way that leaves them wanting to know more.

Generally, you should try to resolve at least one thing by the end of each chapter, in order to give the reader some sense of satisfaction but leave the door open for them to continue reading.

How Long Should Each Chapter Be?

Chapters usually range from about 1,500 to 5,000 words. The length of each chapter will vary throughout your novel depending on how it’s paced and how much information is in each section. What genre you are writing and who you’re writing for could play a part as well. Some genres leave more room for experimentation when it comes to chapter length, but it’s important to keep your reader in mind. One chapter from Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery was comprised of a single word— “Rinse”.

Shorter chapters can greatly influence the pacing of a novel and help to build tension. Conversely, longer chapters may serve to slow a story and can be used to communicate more thoroughly. Both should be used cautiously and intentionally so that readers don’t feel like they are slogging through or being rushed through with little to no respite.

Should My Chapters Have Titles?

Titling chapters is yet another thing that mostly comes down to preference. Chapter titles aren’t usually necessary, but some authors like to include them. Before you decide to give the chapters in your book titles, consider the following:

1.   Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Story?

Chapter titles can be beneficial in multiple ways. They can serve as precursory hints of what is coming in each chapter. This could help spark the reader’s interest and spur them forward in the story.

They can also be very useful in differentiating characters in stories with multiple points of view. Each chapter can be titled with the name of the character through which the story is being told.

2.   Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Reader?

Giving your chapters titles can be practically useful for your reader as well. If a reader wants or needs to refer to something that happened in an earlier chapter, it can be easier to find what they are looking for if each chapter has a unique title that is indicative of its contents.

They can also be used to give the reader more information or insight. In Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, she uses the names and descriptions of different sailing knots like “Love Knot” or “A Rolling Hitch” which adds to the maritime feel of the story.

3.   Can I Just Use Numbers?

If you’re not sure that titling your chapters is necessary, or you don’t think it would be beneficial to the reader or add to your story, you can always just use numbers. It’s simple, classic, and a perfectly good way to label your chapter breaks without distracting from the story itself.

So How Many Chapters Should I Aim For?

As previously stated, there’s no magic number. The best way to know how many chapters you should write is to write an outline or draft and see what feels most natural with your story. Then make sure that it flows properly, and the pacing is on point. Make sure that the position of the breaks adds to the story rather than detracting from it. When you have done all of that, you should end up with a perfectly appropriate number of chapters for your novel.

However, you may want to set a chapter goal as a way to visualize your book’s structure and motivate yourself. In that case, I recommend you shoot for 15 chapters in a first draft. If you write 15 chapters at an average of 4,000 words per chapter, you’ll have a solid 60,000-word manuscript. From there you can add to or edit down to get your desired length.

What is the shortest chapter you’ve read that had a big impact on the story in some way? Tell us in the comments below how it affected the overall story. 

How to Write a Scene: Pulling Your Reader Through the Emotions

You’ve planned out your plot, handcrafted an amazing cast of characters, and you know your major story beats. Now you just have to put pen to paper and let your magic flow.

Only one problem, the actual writing of it.

Scenes are the building blocks of your book. If you can’t write a good scene, it doesn’t matter how good your plot is, the book will fall apart.

That’s why I’m going to walk you through how to create killer scenes from planning to writing.

Blueprint of a scene

If you’ve planned out your book enough that you’re worrying about individual scenes, then you already have all the tools you need to be able to craft a compelling scene.

The devil of it, as with many things, is in the details. You have all the tools you need, but the way you apply them to a scene is a little different. 

Every scene is just a miniature story. There is no specific length that your scene has to fill, no set number of scenes that you have to have per chapter or per book. A scene is simply a small story, focused around a specific problem, that moves the larger story along.

All your scene needs is at least one character, conflict, action, and some kind of resolution or change — the same ingredients that any story requires. Your scene may be so long that it spans an entire chapter, or it could be so short that it only fills a paragraph. All that matters is that it is complete and moves the larger story forward. 

Keep in mind, once you start writing a scene, you’re no longer in planning mode. The scene is where pen meets paper and your story starts to come alive, but that means we have to focus on the details. 

Concentrate on the sensory details. Be specific with the actions your characters are taking. Get the words right.

How do you approach creating a scene? 

So let’s focus on the details, and look at how we need to approach a scene.

Robert McKee gives an excellent framework for a scene in his book Story. I’m going to break his framework down into a few questions that you should ask yourself before going into any scene.

  • What is the conflict? If you don’t have conflict you don’t have a scene.
  • What is the opening value? Is the character happy, sad, angry? Is everything going good, bad, etc. You need to know how things stand at the start so you know how it should change at the end.
  • What is at stake? Why is this important to the character? You may not fully reveal this to the reader yet, but you need to know why the characters are doing what they’re doing, and why it matters.
  • What happens? Break the action into beats. Plan out the major actions and reactions that need to happen in the scene. This will help you keep the pacing interesting and find the turning point, which I’ll describe more in a moment. If you prefer to write by the seat of your pants, you can come back and do this after you’ve roughed out the scene.
  • What is the closing value? Just like earlier we need to know how things stand after the scene is over. Did things change from happy to sad? Good to bad? etc. If nothing changed, then you don’t need the scene. Something important to the story needs to have changed. 
  • What is the turning point? The turning point is the moment when things irreparably changed to the closing value. 

Turning points and change are the most important part of a scene. Without change, the scene doesn’t have a purpose. The change can be in the character’s mind, their circumstances, or something else, but something important needs to change from the beginning to the end of the scene.

How big or life-shattering this change is depends on what the scene is doing — it may be a minor turning point for a minor climax in the middle of the book or the turning point of the scene may be the major turning point of your whole book.

Perhaps more importantly, though, that change needs to be meaningful to the plot. It can be as simple as your character moving a box from one side of the room to another, but that should have an important effect on a future scene. 

The effect of the change doesn’t have to be immediate, but your audience should never be able to look back and say, “what was the point of that? That didn’t lead anywhere?”

For instance, when your character moved the box from one side of the room to another. Maybe in a later scene, we discover that the box actually contained some delicate piece of measuring equipment, and by moving it, they broke a piece. So now, when the owner comes to use it they get an incorrect reading which sends the story down an entirely new path. 

Even if the scene is focused on a minor character or side plot, it should all be moving the story forward toward the overall climax.

If you can’t draw a direct line from the actions in your scene to the end climax of the book, then it probably shouldn’t be a scene you keep, and at the very least you need to work on it some more.

Laying out your scene

Now that we know what our scenes need, and what we need to know about them, we can start laying out the individual scene beats.

Pacing

One of the most important things that you need to get right when laying out your scene is the pacing. You want to shoot for a kind of ping pong pacing. An action-reaction kind of pacing. 

So instead of: 

“He went to the store, bought milk, and went home.” 

We instead want something like: 

“He went to the store, but the owner was already closing. He tries to convince the owner to let him in, the owner says no. He starts to leave depressed, the owner relents and lets him buy his milk. He goes to buy the milk, but he realizes he forgot his wallet. He and the owner fight. He runs away and steals the milk.”

That is a much more interesting scene. It has conflict, and it has a turning point. 

Action-reaction can be between two characters, your character and nature, or even your character and themselves. But the bottom line is that every action should have a reaction that is the catalyst for more action.

You use this to control the pacing and tone of your scene through the speed of the reactions, and the weight of the reactions.

If you want a light, fun tone, you may speed up the pacing, with very little time between each action-reaction pair, and each reaction may have very little weight. 

Whereas for a serious tone, you may slow it down so that the importance of the action and the impending doom of the heavy reaction can be felt by your reader.

Outlining

How deeply you plan out your story beats will depend on the kind of writer you are, whether you’re a pantser or a planner.

If you’re a pantser, and write by the seat of your pants, you may want to just start writing. And that’s ok, but you should still come back to this step afterward. Lay everything out, and make sure the scene is going where you want it to go. You may find that it needs to be reorganized, or that a part of the scene isn’t necessary.

If you’re a planner, you may want to plan out every little detail. That’s excellent, but don’t let yourself get so bogged down that you never actually write the scene.

There are practically infinite methods you can use to layout the scene itself, but most are some variation on a few tried and true methods.

Three tried and true methods are to:

  • Write out the story beats with pen and paper or in a word doc. Write in where your scene starts, and what the ending change is, and try out several methods to get from point A to point B.
  • Storyboarding can be a great method if you’re more visual. You can draw out the major beats as you see them in your head. Even if this is just using stick figures. This can be a great, quick way to picture the scene and fill in the gaps.
  • Index Cards are another fantastic method. Write your scene beats on index cards. Then physically lay them out, reorder them, or remove some. You can try out many different variations quickly without constantly rewriting.

Regardless of your method once you’ve figured out the pacing and laid out the individual story beats, you’re mostly done. You’ve done the hard part. Now you just need to fill in the gaps. 

How to start a scene

I just said that we were practically done, but that’s not entirely true. There are still two big obstacles standing in our way that lots of people get wrong. The beginning and the end.

There’s no exact way that you have to start a scene, but the general rule of thumb is you want to capture your reader’s interest quickly. 

Just like the first page and first chapter of your book need to get the reader interested enough to read on, every scene in your book needs to do the same.

So let’s look at a couple of ways you can start a scene. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but probably 90% of your scenes will start one of these ways.

  • You can start en media res. Start with an action. This is one of the easiest ways to hook your reader early on.
  • You can also start with dialogue. Dialogue is very similar to action. It should be compelling or entertaining, and just like physical action, you can start en media res. Jumping into the middle of a conversation, just when it gets juicy can be an extremely compelling way to start a scene.
  • You can also start by setting the stage for the scene. If the setting is very important to what is going to happen, or if it’s particularly interesting, then starting by describing the scene can be very important. 
  • You can start with backstory. Only do this if it’s important to the scene, but backstory can be done with dialogue, or by flashing back to the action as if it were happening now.
  • Lastly, you can begin in the mind of your narrator or main character and let their thoughts begin the scene. If you go this route, it’s recommended that you do so if there is some internal conflict.

The key to all of these is action. Something needs to be happening, or it needs to be clear that something has just or will just happen. Opening a scene where the characters are just talking about the weather isn’t good unless the point is to throw that normality on its head in a sentence or two. 

How to end a scene

Ending a scene, arguably, is much harder and more important than starting a scene.

The biggest thing to remember, like I’ve mentioned a few times by now, is that it must end with change having occurred. There should be a moment where there is no turning back.

However, once you have the change nailed down, the actual ending is very much up to you.

Here is a very incomplete list of several good ways to end a scene.

  • You can end in the middle of the action with a cliffhanger, similarly to how you may have started en medias res. Be careful about doing this too much. It can lose its appeal and become annoying if overdone.
  • You can end in a realization of some kind
  • You can end with a hint of what’s to come
  • You can end with loss.
  • You can also end with a victory or a solution to a problem. However, you should only end with a complete victory if it’s the resolution to the final climax of your book. Otherwise, you should always hint at more trouble to come.

Similarly to beginning a scene you want the end of your scene to compel the reader to keep going. Don’t give them a comfortable place to get off the ride until the final scene of the book. Make sure there is some mystery to be solved, problem to be overcome, or loss to be avenged and you’ll have people tearing through your book to get to the end.

Conclusion

Scenes can be difficult to get right, but we often make them more difficult than they need to be. 

This is where you really begin to write your book. The planning phase is over. The actual writing of it has started. If you can master creating compelling scenes, then you have the building blocks to create any book you can imagine.

How to Use Bookbub Ads Profitably

BookBub Ads are quickly becoming the best form of paid-advertising for books. 

The reason why the platform is getting a lot of good press and an increasingly high number of indies is using them as a tool in their book-marketing arsenal is quite easy to understand. 


For starters, BookBub Ads are better than both AMS and Facebook Ads. A lot better. 

Their dashboard and backend are more reliable and easier to understand. Their behavior is actually quite simple to predict. Scaling them does not require a Nobel-prize in algorithm technology. 

It’s no wonder that indie superstars like David Gaughran have termed them ‘the best form of paid advertising for books’.

But if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you know all that already. The reason we are here today is to troubleshoot your campaigns. Fix what is wrong with them and make them as profitable and as royalty-generating as they can possibly be.

Wait: didn’t you say BookBub ads are the best?

I did indeed. But nothing’s perfect. Campaigns can flop. Mistakes can be made. What makes this platform so refreshingly good is that in it, issues can actually be fixed. For once, each problem has a dependable solution (hear, hear, AMS!). Each less-than-optimal scenario has specific procedures that can yield specific results. And if you ask me, this makes troubleshooting quite fun, too!

Ready? Let’s go through the 4 most common obstacles you can encounter when advertising on BookBub, coupled with effective solutions you can employ right away!

1. Can’t Find Authors To Target

BookBub Ads have two types of targeting. You “point” your campaigns to either specific authors or specific genres. Unless you are writing in an extremely small niche, I always recommend you use author-targeting. But do so wisely! The narrower the author’s audience, the better. Which of course, can also be a problem: what if you can’t find medium-to-small authors to target?

1- Get Creative


There are numerous “places” where you can find names of competitors you can use for your campaigns. Don’t limit yourself to the usual suspects such as Also-Boughts on Amazon or the bestsellers’ lists. Always be on the lookout for author-targets on a day-to-day basis. You can use BookBub’s Featured Deal email, for example. Subscribe to your genre’s newsletter and keep a list of the authors that are promoted on it every day. You’ll be amazed at how many ideas this can spark. 

2- Go Wide – in advertising terms

If you’re running Amazon Ads and Facebook Ads together with BookBub campaigns, you probably already have a pretty big list of targets to use in your ads. Why not try them on BookBub, too? Worst case scenario, the ad will not perform well and you can pause/terminate it. Always remember, though, that AMS, Facebook and BookBub are three entirely different ‘worlds’. What is working well for one of them, might not even register on BookBub. But the mantra, as always, is: test, test, test!

3- Browse the BookBub Website

BookBub has recently been investing a lot of money on their website. The UI has been improved, and new features are constantly being added to make the experience fun and informative for readers. Give it a test-run and you’ll see how many interesting targeting ideas you get. Start by typing the name of one of your competitors in the search-bar top right. Then click on their name and find the ‘tag-cloud’ of genres the author writes in. Click on one and you’ll be taken to BookBub’s recommendations for that very genre: target-authors galore! 

2. CTR is too low

A good CTR is essential in BookBub Ads campaigns. It means people are clicking on your ad and hopefully going on to buy your book (or download your freebie). In general terms (but you should always be testing), I generally consider anything above 1,5% to be a good CTR, though your mileage might obviously vary on this.

If you are not happy with your current CTR, there are a few ways in which you can improve it. Let’s take a look at them one by one:

1- Narrow your targeting even more.

Narrowing the audience you are targeting is quite easily done on the BookBub Ads platform. The key here is to look for target-authors with a fairly small following. Unless you have a specific strategy in mind, never go for ‘household names’ such as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. Targeting authors with such a large fan base is going to kill your CTR. Go narrower or, in some cases, use both author and genre targeting in the same campaign, so as to be even more laser-focused. 

2-  Make your graphics even more enticing. 

CTR stands for Click Through Rate. In simple terms, it’s a percentage that indicates how many people click on your ad. When the percentage is low, not enough people are clicking on your ad. What might be the reason for that? Well, in most cases, this is due to the fact that your creative didn’t catch their attention. Making your graphics more enticing for readers can make or break your CTR. Make sure you test different variations of colors, copy and images until you find a good compromise that resonates with your readers. Tools like Canva or BookBrush can be incredibly useful for this, or you can hire a professional designer to get even better results.

3. Not enough Impressions  

Having ‘low impressions’ usually means BookBub is not showing your ad enough times. Basically, you are not winning the real-time auction and thus your ad graphic is not being served to readers. There are two pretty straightforward solutions to this problem: 

1- Increase your bid

Self-explanatory, but sometimes it’s the last thing authors think about. This works with both CPM and CPC bidding. How much should you bid, I hear your asking? Unfortunately, it depends. Bidding strategies can vary enormously based on the book you are advertising, the competition in your genre, and so on. Make sure you have a solid plan when it comes to budgeting and subsequently bid accordingly. Once again, the mantra here is “test, test, test”. 

2- Change your targeting

Whether you are targeting by author or by genre, you might have gotten your audiences all wrong here. No biggie, this is easily fixed. Try ‘thinking out of the box’ or targeting authors with a smaller following. This should make it easier for the BookBub algorithm to decide to display your ad to a super-relevant audience, thus resulting in more impressions. 

4. Campaign is too expensive 

Before you begin advertising, you should always think about your goal for running paid traffic campaigns. Are you after ‘pure’ ROI? Or do you aim at giving your work more visibility, and are prepared to lose a little money in favor of greater exposure? 

If your advertising goal is pure ROI and the campaigns are losing you money, BookAds Doctor to the rescue! Here are a couple of suggestions on how you can turn things around in your favor:

1- Bid lower!

Sometimes, you don’t need to bid so high. A lower bid might still win your impressions and result in cheaper campaigns overall. Of course, this is another area where testing is absolutely necessary, but going overboard each and every time might not be needed. Aim at winning the real-time auctions with the lowest possible bids!

2- Analyze Your Targeting.

By now, you will have surely understood how important targeting is with BookBub ads. If you have not absolutely nailed your target authors and/or categories, your campaigns will cost you more. It’s just how this platform is set-up and there is no escaping this!

3- Try CPC instead of CPM

I usually do not recommend using CPC bidding. Time and time again, I have seen the CPM option to be much more effective when it comes to both costs and CTR. However, some authors have reported CPC to be more cost-effective than CPM in specific genres: after all, you only pay for readers who click on your ad. Worth a try, but if this doesn’t work after a couple of experiments, switch back to CPM! 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short troubleshooting guide. Hopefully, it has helped you find what is wrong with your campaign and it has helped you set things straight. Let me know in the comments: I look forward to hearing from you!

writing space

Get Out of that Writing Rut – It’s Time to Get your Fingers Typing! 

Are you struggling to finish your WIP? Are you stuck on the same page for days and you can’t even look at your draft anymore? Do you feel unmotivated and would rather watch a pot boil than write another single word?

If you’ve answered yes to all these questions, or at least, to one of them you’re on the right post!

Here we’ll help you to get back on track and get your mojo back! When I feel stuck in a rut, quotes are the first thing I look for to get me inspired and to help me get back on that motivational horse.

That is why you’re here right now. You need a gentle push and the following quotes about writing are just what you didn’t know you needed until this moment.

Are you ready to get swept by your feet? Moisturize your hands well because you’ll need the hydration after all that typing!

Here we go!

These are the best motivational quotes about writing:

#1 – “If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” Dan Poynter

This is my favorite quote of all. The reason why is quite clear, I do believe; however, if you need a little more explanation, this quote motivates me every time because the reality is if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. If you write, you become a writer. I’ve always struggled with this concept of “I’m not inspired”, “I don’t know what to write about”, I understand, and I’ve said this many times too, but now it’s time to write, not to wait.

#2 – “Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heartbreak at rejection? You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” Jennifer Salaiz

Have you been rejected? Sent your finished novel and not even heard back from them? Yeah, that’s not the best day in any of our lives, but you can’t dwell on it. You gotta stand up, shake yourself off (Taylor Swift was onto something!) and try again.

#3 – “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

There are not many quotes that inspire one quite like this one. The beauty in these words is enough to make you want to achieve this realm of artistry. Whenever I re-read it, I feel better prepared for another séance of writing. Also, this is a good reminder to describe things in depth and, if you’re ever stuck on what to write, just use Thesaurus to look for other words.

#4 – “Don’t forget— no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories you have to tell.” Charles de Lint

Sometimes we’re too afraid and doubt ourselves and our ability to tell our own stories. As if anyone else in the world could do a better job at telling them than ourselves, the people who’ve lived the story through and through. Even if your story has been told, you bring a new fresh voice to that theme. No story is the same, no writer is the same, therefore share your stories and use your voice!

#5 – “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Jodi Picoult

Let this one serve you as inspiration for that first page that has been wanting to be written for several days, months even? Or if you’re anything like me, years… And I’m not ashamed to say it, no. It happens. You get stuck to the idea of perfection, and you want it to be just right, but truth be told… if you don’t start, you can’t edit it to perfection – and you know it!

#6 – “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.” Octavia E. Butler

Whenever I read this quote, it reminds me that 5 and 10 years ago, I didn’t have the same skills at writing as I do now. Not even the same vocabulary or interests. It’s important to remember that we’re always learning and re-learning how to do things. If you can get better at playing a sport because you practice, you put in the hours, why would writing be any different? You need to write and re-write and write plenty to get better at it, to find your style and your voice.

#7 – “The thing you are most afraid to write. Write that.” Unknown

Would you believe it if I told you I’ve had this quote on a post-it above my desk ever since I was about 12? Because I’ve most certainly had! This has motivated me to write on those extra painful days where everything seems to be going wrong and you don’t know where to turn. Those days I got really upset at school because someone said something or when I lost important people in my life. Those days were the best to write. Well, the best and the worst… I still fought to write because I knew those words would be the purest, most meaningful, and most raw I had to write. Those words would scare the [email protected] out of me, but those words were important because I’d read them later in time and be okay.

#8 – “If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” Wally Lamb

Do you often question what you write? Do you fear no one will want to read it? I think we all do. But just in case you needed to hear this today, someone will want to read it. Someone will fall in love with it and it will mean everything to some. Others will even re-read it and fall in love with it again. Your words will be read, no matter what. There will always be an audience because people are different and they go through the motions and live different phases in life, so there will always be someone your writing is destined to.

#9 – “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

Could anyone put it any better? The need for writing is just like a hungry wolf, it needs to be fed. Knowing you have an amazing story that you could share with people not only fuels us but starves you at the same time. It needs to be let open and it begs to be told. Whenever you feel this way, don’t deny it its freedom, let it fly, and belong to the world; I promise you someone will feel it at a very deep level, and that only is enough.

#10 – “You fail only if you stop writing.” Ray Bradbury

You fail only if you stop, I’d say. You know this is right about just anything you can think of. Whenever you’re trying, you’re achieving. It might take a while, it might be in a couple of weeks, but you’ll get there if you don’t quit. This also applies to writing; even when you feel that your story is developing enough or not going in the quite right direction, just continue and see where it leads you. You might end up deleting 50 pages of work or you might end up typing for another 50. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it when you don’t stop.

#11 – “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.” Anonymous

And wouldya look at where I just found you!? On the Internet! No, don’t be ashamed and don’t click on the red cross button. I think we needed a good laugh by this point, so there you have it. I have to agree with this one too, though. Nowadays, we get so caught up by irrelevant things that we don’t give ourselves time to think and let our fingers do the job. So, yeah, it’s more about what you do with your time than if you have any talent at all. (Even though, do not let me lie, talent does help…3% maybe?)

#12 – “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann

Don’t you just love this quote? Give yourself a pat on the back, you’re a writer! You’re here because you’re struggling with motivation or inspiration for what to write next or what to write all at, so you’re officially a writer! If you weren’t, it wouldn’t be difficult for you, now would it? Not according to Thomas Mann anyway!

#13 – “This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” Neil Gaiman

It is that easy… and that hard. Do you know of this new thing on social media where you make a sentence by clicking on the middle suggested word of your phone’s keyboard? Well, let me tell you, you don’t only need to make new sentences about the next Harry Potter’s book title, you can also (maybe! Proceed with caution…) get inspiration and ideas for a new piece of work. How, you ask me? Just start with a simple sentence such as “I went…” or “She screamed…” and see what your phone suggests next. It might not be a Shakespearean play, but it might help when you’ve got writer’s block and are looking for inspiration.

#14 – “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s the fear of not writing well; something quite different.” Scott Berkun

This one reminds me of number 5 in a way. We always put so much pressure on ourselves to write something we feel is absolutely perfect. It can’t be anything else other than pure perfection and because of that, we don’t write. It’s not the writing per se, it’s really more about what we type, what words we use and how we use them. I don’t think this is conscious, but we just do it. And this is why it reminds me of that earlier quote: it does not have to be perfect, it just needs to be there, on paper. Later, you can always edit it and make it better. But first, write it.

#15 – “People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.” R.L. Stine

Do you know it? Do you feel in you? Then, don’t doubt yourself. You can do it and you will do it. You know it! So, just do it.

#16 – “Writing sometimes is about re-opening a deep ugly wound.” Catarina Pinto

I had to end this quote list with one of my own. I wrote this when I was only 14 and it has haunted me ever since. I think it’s because of how real it feels to me, but maybe that’s only because I wrote it. I wanted to leave it here for you too, though, because I want to remind you, once again, that the scariest stories are the ones that need to be let free. They’ll be the ones worth writing about and the ones that will finally let you free and able to breathe again. Trust me.

Oh, no! This is it! This is the end of our list… but…

How good were these?

I hope these have helped you in whatever way you needed. I hope they’ve given you that boost of energy and motivation you were looking for to get wrapped up into your new story. Remember that it’s ok to need inspiration every once in a while, everyone needs it. Whenever you feel like another little push, come back here and re-read these!

Don’t forget to share with us down below in the comments YOUR favorite quotes! Let us know what gets you going and help others by sharing your positive motivation hacks!

Best Time to Launch a Book

Successfully writing, publishing, marketing, and selling your book is a serious entrepreneurial business.

Think about it: you are taking, in essence, your thoughts (the raw material, let’s say), forming them into concrete sentences and paragraphs to make up chapters of a book (the work-in-progress), followed by selecting a stand-out title and amazing cover art – with the ultimate aim of marketing and successfully selling your “finished product.”

Figuring out just when to launch your book is equally important, perhaps one of the most strategic aspects of the book publishing process.

As with most things in the publishing world and the endless number of writers seeking publication, there are no hard and fast rules. There is no magic step-by-step formula. When to launch your book – like what to title your work and whether or not to use a pen name – is arrived at after careful consideration of many factors.

This article explores some of the changing factors in the publishing world, various things to keep in mind regarding the “new way” to launch books, and, lastly, some helpful tips on when and how to release your book for maximum impact.

Self-Publishing, the “New Way” to Publish: Keep These Things in Mind

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

While with traditional publishing you might have access to a team of professional marketers with industry experience, in taking the self-publishing route you are, in effect, assuming chief executive responsibilities.

Traditional publishing follows the brick-and-mortar commercialized model: consider a fun summer read, say, a warm-hearted novel by an established author with a few bestsellers under her name. Following the traditional book publishing calendar, the release date for such a book will likely fall during the summer months, not the fall or winter where other book genres generally do better (see below for a month-to-month breakdown on when certain genres are normally released).

The self-publishing route follows a different, though somewhat similar, marketing approach regarding launch dates.

With self-publishing, given the amazing potential for building an organic audience through social media, blogging, podcasting, etc. book launches follow a more case-by-case model. The first-time author, for instance, with millions of youtube fans – say PewdiePie, whose 2015 book became an instant New York Times Bestseller – can release his or her book practically at any time because the demand for such work will likely already be very high. One announcement is really all it takes – especially for someone who has an especially loyal following.

Granted, not everyone publishing a first-time book will have stardom at that scale. This is why aspiring writers need to be already creatively building their name, reputation, expertise, brand, etc. on the various social media platforms. This will look different for everyone, of course. For successful digital publication, branding, and sales, the key is to have a pre-existing list of followers, subscribers, etc.

What are some of your writer goals – what end objectives do you have in mind upon your books release? Clarifying what some of these goals are will better help you with selecting a timely release date. For instance, you might want to consider some of the following:

Are you looking to publish purely out of passion? Is this book simply flowing out of you that you simply just need to get it out to, say, your loyal blog following, friends and family, etc? In such a case, a specific release date may not be too pressing. Perhaps you have reached a critical point in your life – retired after years serving as a teacher, police officer, lawyer, etc. Personal memoirs – even fictional works – can work here. Say you went through a grueling but memorable life-changing event. Say, against all odds, you graduated from medical school and want to share your story.


Example: Look at Scott Turow, whose book One L, an autobiographical work on what it took to graduate from Harvard Law School, earned him much recognition. This was his first book, published in 1977 (a lot of reprints since then; more on “evergreen” books later). He has since become a very successful author, having sold more than 30 million copies, including several movie adaptations.


Few more things to note about his success:
Turow began writing his work while still in school, perhaps as journal entries. This enabled him to record the events in stark detail.
He strategically released after graduation. Imagine that: he’s being educated at one of the finest schools in the country while documenting the kind of journey that, until then, was probably not common knowledge.
Ask yourself: What special experiences do I have that are not common to most that can form the basis for a powerful/interesting reading? Wherever in life, you may be, BEGIN DOCUMENTING NOW


After he landed success with his first book, he later would establish a career in a different genre – legal thrillers.
Is big commercial success what you are after? Who doesn’t want their book to be top-rated, reviewed extensively, perhaps even quoted and remembered for ages to come? You are in it to win it, right?! While there are no guarantees, strategically releasing your book can definitely help with getting it out at the “right” time – hence, leading to more exposure and the “right” person picking it up. More on how sometimes this happens unexpectedly below.


What about an audiobook edition? People are on the go today. Sometimes hearing a book is more effective and more commercially viable for both the writer and listener. In fact, audio content is getting more popular as podcasts and, yes, audiobooks take off. This might be an excellent opportunity for you to be creative. Typically, print books come out first, whatever the release date. For a more personal and creative impact, audiobooks then follow. Depending on your foundational pillar in the digital social media space, an audiobook might be more advantageous for your brand.

Here are some things to consider:


What if your voice is simply stellar, soothing to the core?
Perhaps your book just sounds better to read aloud, not read quietly?
Maybe you’ve already “read” a book length’s work to your audience through your mastery of a subject you display through your twice-a-week podcast show.
If so, offer some free previews to your loyal fan base. This builds momentum and spreads the word. You’ll know when to release it.
NOTE: certain genres may sound better through audio. Think outside of the box and dare to do what nobody has done: a kids adventure book, a deep confessional, an unsolved mystery, etc.


Who is your intended audience?
Might you simply be writing an industry-specific book intended to be read by colleagues? In this case, you might be more concerned with developing greater authority in your specific field and likely not looking for broad commercial success. A release date would likely be ASAP.
Is your book the first in a series, a sequel, perhaps the fourth book in your line? If the first, you should definitely pay attention to the genre and book calendar, especially if you are looking to make an impact and leave readers wanting a follow-up. If established already, then, your loyal fan base may not be too concerned with a release date.
EMBRACE – Don’t Shun – CHANGE. Life moves fast. As it is with life, so it is with business and self-publishing entrepreneurial success. For better or for worse, sometimes there are factors out of your control. Consider some of these real-life and hypothetical scenarios:
You “time” the market perfectly and announce the publication of your book just when the world seems crazed to read about that subject you endlessly studied and passionately wrote on for years. Your book does well at first but years later it simply flops out of lack of interest, perhaps due to new information on the subject that challenges an original theory, etc. Books on certain historical time periods covering, say, a major war, come to mind.
For instance, new books on the Civil War – or some critical aspect of it – seem to come out yearly. This is both good and bad. While there is room to compete, it could also be that no matter how well an aspiring writer times their books’ release, the market may well be too flooded or dominated by key authority figures.
NOTE: Many subjects/genres simply are not evergreen enough. In fact, no book is. Even beloved classics that have sold millions get special and/or commemorative editions. Sometimes the publishers include a new cover page, interesting artwork, a foreword by a famous scholar, etc. This is why a lot of books undergo updates and revisions, sequels, why writers delve into various subjects/themes, etc – fresh content, like a new movie with a twist, keeps people loyal and engaged
Maybe somebody in the mainstream media mentions a particular literary figure once formerly obscure to most of the general public but now, upon the mentioning of that person, interest rises like crazy. Google searches, Amazon book searches spike overnight. Let’s say you wrote a biography of that literary figure years ago at a time when no demand existed, highlighting some unique aspect of their life. Chances are, your book will be found and interest for it – probably little to none prior to this time – suddenly explodes. That means more for sales for you, higher visibility, and status as a writer.


QUICK RECENT REAL WORLD EXAMPLE: Daniel Golden’s book The Price of Admission, recently got much national attention when his book – an expose on corrupt university admissions – was widely cited when the national conversation centered on the recent college admissions cheating scandal. I cannot presume to know his – or his publishers’ – strategic plan regarding the books release except to say that 13 years (it was released in 2006) after its publication it got some serious attention (and sales).
For the last example, I’ll get personal. A friend and I are currently co-authoring a book on the failing state of education in a New England city where we live. Right now, aside from maybe concerned parents, educational reformers, and urban political news junkies, there may not be much demand among the general public for such a book. For that reason, there is really no precise “release date.”
But here’s the catch: my friend has many years under his belt as a principal and is actually in the process of opening up his own school. Say his school takes off and becomes the focus of local and statewide attention, perhaps even national.
At this point, our book would likely be mentioned. As we do interviews, get featured on radio, podcasts, it gets all-the-more popular.
Before we know it, we are working on a second book, perhaps a documentary (heck, it could be featured on Youtube)
My personal blog suddenly experiences a surge (meaning more subscribers/potential readers)
We become more recognized as experts in the field, consulting later down the road, etc….

Scenarios like these are virtually endless, involving any number of variables. Again, there is no exact formula for a book release date. Eventual commercial success can come in a variety of ways, in the most unexpected times, and from the most unexpected of places.

The takeaway is simply to stay motivated. Simply write. You just don’t know when it will take off. At best, you boost your resume; at worst, perhaps, interested readers find your book years from now. Still seems like a safe wager to me.

Some Guidelines on Genre and “Tie-ins” for Book Launches

Retail stores have their displays boiled down to a science. In the traditional book stores, the same applies. Walk into any bookstore and you will see that it is carefully arranged by genre – and, depending on the time of year, you will notice certain genres more heavily promoted than during other times.

Alan Rinzler, a traditional publishing expert, in his highly informative and widely cited article, “Timing Your Book’s Launch for Maximum Impact,” provides this helpful month-by-month breakdown on the best times to publish by genre:
Tie-ins by the month
January
Post-holiday: Prime time for diet books, celebrity exercise books, and how-to books, including self-education, home repair, adventure travel planning, languages, and self-help books about finding a new relationship, renewing a marriage, or becoming a more effective parent.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day: For inspirational books about African American history, civil rights, peace, and freedom.
February
Valentine’s Day: For loving gifts of books with hidden agendas, including collections of lyric poetry, romance novels, dreamy photos of romantic foreign cities like Paris or Prague.
End of the month: Books related to Major League Baseball’s spring training, with celebratory biographies, compilations of new statistical records, glossy picture books, and metaphorically inclined literary novels, all in place for the sport’s big opening day in April.
March
International Women’s Day: Books on the latest topical or historic issues around women’s health, reproductive rights, freedom from oppression and exploitation in hostile cultures, personal memoir, biography, quality fiction.
Easter: Books about Christ, biblical exegesis, inspirational, archeological, and illustrated children’s books about the resurrection and other relevant topics.
April
Holocaust Remembrance Day: Books about Jewish calamities and heroism during World War II, personal memoirs, new research about partisans and German rescuers. There are always many new titles for this large book-buying demographic.
May
Cinque de Mayo: Books targeting the rapid growing market for Hispanic-American fiction and nonfiction, history, politics, culture.
Mother’s Day: An occasion perfect for celebrative fiction, memoir, and appreciation to go with that bouquet of roses.
June
Graduations: Gift books for high school and college students. And in these economic hard times, a new category for graduating college students has emerged like Finding a Job When There are No Jobs, Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters and many others you’ll see on the front tables during June.
July and August
Summer reading: These are the weeks devoted to summer book sales, the season for category fiction like paperback mysteries, romances and science fiction.
September
The anniversary of September 11th: The events of that day have inspired books in many genres, including politics, history, memoir, biography, education and children’s books.
Off to college: Books for for college freshmen learning the ropes about class and time management, roommates, and coping with issues like sex and drugs, loneliness and insecurity. Also advice books for parents seeking guidance for their 18-year-old’s first time away from home.
Back to school: Children’s books, also parenting, education, technical, professional, literature and fiction.
October
Halloween: Horror movie tie-in books and new titles in costume, art, graphic novel and other fiction.
November
Thanksgiving: Books for children, cookbooks, history and spirituality are popular markets for this holiday.
December
Holiday books for Christmas, Chanukah, the traditional African American Kwanzaa feast, and other special year-end observances.

In his article, Rinzler points out various critical strategic tie-in strategies that would-be and established writers should be aware of. These include:

Various “Seasons,” literal, cultural, and otherwise: the obvious include Christmas-themed books during the holiday months; self-help books (weight loss, business, etc) during January as part of New Year’s Resolutions.
Speaking of which, a book’s title along with the release date can be strategically paired.
Example: Not to sound cheesy but consider promoting a book mid-way through the year and releasing it by the year’s end titled, “365 Days to a Healthier You: Dieting, Relaxation…Tips, etc…”
Say you already have a handle on this niche, have great Youtube content, and so forth. This may or may not work. Perhaps it has already been done.
Point Being: Know the particulars of your industry and what thought leaders – historical and current – have done.
Annual Events And Anniversaries: Rinzler mentions as an example a recent book being featured in the New York Times titled 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story. It is being released during the company’s 125th anniversary.
Many examples abound here: D Day, World War II, Black History Month. If you look hard and long enough in a bookstore you’ll see countless examples spanning many different genres of books being released during key times throughout the year.
Combining these annual events/anniversaries with an in-person event celebrating/remembering, say, the 50th anniversary of fill-in-the-blank subject and you can score big!

The more creative you can be with a tie-in the better. If you need help developing a tie-in for your book, definitely check out Rinzler’s article where he provides some very helpful steps.
Final Note: Combine the Best of Both Worlds

Just because you may be self-publishing your book does not mean that you cannot take full advantage of “traditional” book publishing methods. In the world of traditional print, when a book release is announced, various “follow up” events happen to further promote the book.

While established authors with huge fan bases can land corporate gigs and do book signings – even go on tours, etc – beginning writers can make use of many different venues to better launch and promote their book.

For instance, your local library may have events where they feature local writers. Look these up.
”Pitch” an idea to a local library, university department, newspaper, museum, cultural organization, non-profit dedicated to the cause your book touches on, etc. – institutions that generate people with interest in the subject (s) you are seeking publication.
Example: Maybe around St. Patricks Day as your local paper focuses on the various festivities, you write a column about Irish history and in the bio section announce when your book on the subject will be released and how it can be purchased.
Look into the various Irish organizations in your area that are hosting events and ask for a speaking engagement to really double down. At this point, your book is published and, by raffle, you give out a free copy or two, etc.

The Pros at Self-Publishing School have been strategically launching books for many years now. No matter where you are in your writing journey, they are here to offer top-notch consulting services on every aspect of the writing, marketing, and book promotion process. Get in touch with them now.

writing style

Psychic Distance in Writing

Do you find that you struggle to connect your readers with your characters? Does your MC feel distant and detached? You might need to work on your psychic distance!

Psychic distance, also known as narrative distance, is an important literary element that affects how your reader relates to your character.

A simple definition of psychic distance is how close a story’s narration is to its character.

There are multiple levels of psychic distance. You can have a very far-off, objective view of the character–take the sentence:

 “A woman sprints through the forest.”

Who is she? What’s she doing? What’s she thinking? We don’t know! We know nothing about her. Because this is an unknown character, likely an introduction, it is appropriate for the reader to be somewhat detached from her.

On the other side of this spectrum, you might have a sentence like: 

“Moss slips under my feet as I run through the forest.”

In the first example, we are far-off, objective observers of this woman. There isn’t a large sense of urgency, and we don’t have a strong emotional tie to her.

In the second example, we are the woman. We are a part of the scene, we know our footing is unstable, we feel more connected to the story.

Those are two ends of a spectrum, so a point in the middle might be:

“Carol runs through the forest, slipping on moss.”

This one is third person, a little further than the second example, but we know her name. Knowing Carol’s name puts us closer to the character than if she were just a “woman.” We might care about her a little bit more. We don’t know her thoughts, and we obviously aren’t her, but we know her name.

Psychic distance is a spectrum with endless points, and they range from very far from your character to very close to your character. To explain this a little easier, let’s pick four points, or tiers, on the psychic distance spectrum.

Let’s say tier 1 of psychic distance is objective observation, tier 2 is indirect thought, tier 3 is direct thought, and tier 4 is a stream of consciousness directly from your character.

Here’s an example paragraph with zooming psychic distance. It starts wide with objective observation, then zooms to a stream of consciousness.

“The woman walks into the forest. Carol has always loved trees. They’re so quiet and unopinionated, filtering harsh sun to a kinder glow, cutting winds to a gentler breeze, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling calm.”

Tier 1: objective observation

“The woman walks into the forest” is objective. We’re not in her thoughts–we are simply observing the world for what it is. This distance is great for setting the scene. Picture an opening scene of a TV show or movie: they start with an establishing shot. The outside of a house, a panning shot of a forest, maybe even an overhead angle of a city. The objective distance takes in the wider world or a glimpse of a character we don’t know yet.

In this tier, the narrator is in charge. An example that keeps wholly in this distance of narration is Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Those books tell horrible stories of child abuse and endangerment. Why is it marketed to children? Because the psychic distance is far enough away. The reader views the characters through Lemony Snicket, so far off that it isn’t nearly as emotionally impactful as it would be from a closer perspective. Imagine those same stories as a first-person account from Violet’s point-of-view. It’s much darker and heavier, isn’t it?

Keeping so far away makes it very difficult to connect reader to character, but, as in the above example, it can be done intentionally and serve the story well.

Tier 2: indirect thought

“Carol has always loved trees” is an indirect thought. We have a small glimpse into Carol’s head, but we’re still in a separate narrator’s perspective. That narration puts a barrier between the reader and Carol.

Think of this tier as voice-over. We’re getting inside information of a situation, but it’s not happening in real-time or up close, so it’s not as urgent as it could be.

Tier 3: direct thought

“They’re so quiet and unopinionated” is Carol’s direct thought. We’re much closer to her now. From this distance, we can even infer a little bit about her perspective–why would she note that the trees are quiet and unopinionated? Maybe there’s a little subtext there. Did Carol have an upsetting conversation with an overstepping friend? Maybe that’s why she’s taking a walk in the woods.

This is the most common distance you’ll see in most fiction. It’s the standard narrative closeness, and likely will become your default.

Tier 4: stream of conscious

From “They’re so quiet and unopinionated,” we slip right into a stream of consciousness: “filtering harsh sun into a kinder glow, cutting winds to a gentler breeze, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling calm.” Tier 4 removed the narrator’s voice completely, and we’re feeling what Carol is feeling. She’s super into these trees. We get it, Carol.

This is as close as we get to our character. Even in third person, the narration can slip in so close that we become the character.

In that example paragraph, we started wide and ended narrow. What if we reverse it?

“The trees filter harsh sun to a kinder glow, cut winds to a gentler breeze, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale calm. Trees are so quiet and unopinionated. Carol has always loved them. The woman steps into the forest.”

How did that paragraph feel? Not as satisfying, right?

The reversed example doesn’t foster the same reader-character relationship. We don’t go into it knowing it’s Carol thinking about the trees, because we have no context for her. You want your reader to grow closer to your character–not further away. You don’t start very close, then know less.

You can zoom in and out with the distance you view your character, but you cannot zoom in and out with the distance of how you know your character.

You will hop around with psychic distance for your narrative in general, especially if you’re not in a first-person point of view, but one aspect you shouldn’t change is the closeness with which you refer to your character once you are on a first-name basis. This is one of the biggest ways new writers mess up with psychic distance–they hop around with how they refer to their character.

Inexperienced writers will often call a character by their name, David, then they’ll use a synonym in the next sentence like, the man or the prostitute. We already know his name is David, so using synonyms is zooming in and out of the reader’s intimacy with the character for no reason.

Writers who switch psychic distance in referring to characters are often trying to do one of two things:

  1. Avoid the repetition of repeating a character’s name.
  2. Remind the reader that the character is blonde by calling her the blonde.

Neither of these are good reasons to regress on psychic distance. If you feel you’re being repetitive with your character’s name, do you really need to be using their name so often? Here’s a video by Jenna Moreci about dialogue tags that might give you some ideas of how to avoid using a character’s name too often. And if you want to work in description of a character, simply describe them in a natural way instead of using a synonym for their name.

If there’s one rule to psychic distance, it’s how you use a character’s name. Apart from that, psychic distance is a fun tool to experiment with for dynamic narration! Decide what distance is going to be the most impactful for whatever you’re trying to accomplish in that sentence or in that scene, and do it intentionally.

For an example of purposely using different psychic distances, think again of how you set a scene. You start wide to establish your setting: where are we, what time is it, what’s the weather like–then we zoom into what the character is doing. A wide psychic distance is used to establish setting and context, a tighter one is for when we’re close to our character.

As with any writing advice, you should keep in mind that there are no hard and fast facts about what to do and not to do, but you have to know the rules before you break them, or you’re gonna look like an idiot. You can break the “rules,” as long as you know that you’re breaking them.

To summarize, be aware of where your psychic distance is, use it intentionally, and use it to your advantage. And once you’ve named your character, call them by their name. One of the quickest ways to spot an amateur is when they call the character by some descriptor other than their name after we are intimately familiar with the character. So watch out!

A Roundup of the Best Horror Authors of All Time

Being a writer seems to be a great talent and an exclusive gift. Moreover, it’s hard work and relentless looking for perfection. But what about a horror writer? How have they managed to make us tremble, fear, and look behind only with their written word? It’s clear how to describe, how to tell, but how to make readers feel what you want? If you are looking for the answer, make sure to check how to show things in your book. You will get to know how they make emotions so real. Yeah, we have a step-by-step guide! Sorry, if we have ruined your image of a miracle when you get goosebumps while reading.

5 Geniuses of the Horror Genre

If things that go bump in the night and riveting tales of the dark excite you, then you’re in luck — you’ve just stumbled upon a gold mine of the 5 best horror authors. Granted, although the ones that made it on the list are our favorite authors, they’re every bit of deserving to be here. Hell, they might just end up being your new favorite by the time you’re finished devouring this list. So, without further ado, here’s our roundup of the best horror authors of all time:

  1. Neil Gaiman. Welcome to cirque de souris!

First on the list is a contender whose imagination knows no bounds. Neil Gaiman is the man behind countless brilliant works of art but is highly acclaimed for two pieces in particular, namely Stargirl and Coraline. The latter is so well-received that it was picked up by Focus Features and turned into a film with an all-star cast to boot.

Coraline explores the story of a feisty young girl who discovers a door to another realm; one where everything is exactly how it is in real life and isn’t. The magical world seems like a dream come true until she’s face to face with a pair of parents with buttons for eyes and a talking black cat that’s screaming at her to run from the impending danger. Will Coraline listen? Or will she dig a hole so deep she won’t be able to escape?

Do not be fooled by the child-like wonder that’s brimming from each page. Gaiman is a master of dark twists and turns and has made every character so lively and detailed it’s scary. Want to become skilful in creating breathtaking protagonists? Be sure to look through our guide on how to boost your main character. 

         2. Shirley Jackson. Shirley, shimmering, splendid

Miss Jackson’s work is so good that even Netflix couldn’t resist picking it up and running it on their streaming platform. Shirley Jackson’s reputation precedes her. A highly acclaimed horror novelist, she has a long list of work to be proud of. Her claim to fame? A little novel entitled “The Haunting of Hill House” that’s sure to spook even the bravest of souls.

The story kicks off with 4 characters that find themselves secluded within a haunted house in an effort to prove the existence of the paranormal. What happens next, as you can imagine, is a series of unfortunate events that touch on everything from ghostly hands that prey on you in the evening, to ill-tempered spirits that roam the walls of the vast mansion.

The last paragraph is sure to get you in all sorts of moods.

  3. Bram Stoker. Don’t let the bed bugs bite

If sinister, latent horror is the name of the game, then Bram Stoker is our man. The award-winning writer has a plethora of pieces to be proud of. His book “Dracula” has made it into the top list of many, and rightly so. When the world fell to its knees in worship of vampirism, Bram Stoker was atop that very pedestal. 

The chart-topping classic opens with a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the protagonists. Our clever Count Dracula is on a mission to spread his Transylvanian soil – his source of sustenance and nourishment when in need of rest and energy – to parts of the world in the hopes of having lairs in multiple states. The ship which he boards carry 50 boxes – almost coffin-like – of silver mounds of Earth. Slowly, the men on the ship begin to disappear save for the captain who is stuck at the helm in order to navigate the waters for the count. What ensues after is an adventure of dark magic, withered garlic blossoms, and carnal infatuation that is sure to keep you up at night.

I’ll stop here. Snag the book if you haven’t read this blinding masterpiece yet!

     4. Anne Rice. Fangs and whips and shiny things

The undisputed queen of gothic fiction and erotic literature, Anne Rice is a force to be reckoned with. Her line of sensual vampire tales buzzing with lust and carnage has made it into the hearts of many avid readers. Best known for The Vampire Chronicles – which merited two film adaptations! – Rice has been on a roller coaster that only goes up.

In Interview with A Vampire, a wealthy man by the name of Louis de Pointe du Lac is interviewed as he claims to be a vampire. He recounts his past life as a wealthy plantation owner who suffers a tremendous loss following the death of his wife and infant child. A vampire named Lestat is on a hunt and finds Louis. Sensing his dissatisfaction with life, he offers his prey eternal life as a Vampire. What follows after is an adventure you’d like to relive over and over and over again. And what makes the story so attractive you are not able to break away, even to sleep? Of course, dialogues! Our article on how they make dialogues so appealing reveals their secret techniques that keep you awake all night. 

5. Stephen King. The King of modern day horror

This wouldn’t be a roundup without the man of modern day horror himself, Mr Stephen King! His work lines the rooms of so many fans it’s incredible. King, now a household name, has produced masterpieces such as Firestarter, It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, Misery, and The Green Mile. There’s only so much this man has contributed. Thank you, Stephen! Now, on to one of his pieces:

From the long list of his work, we’re going to dip into Misery. The film is so simple it’s fantastic. We follow Paul, a writer whose career was launched because of his work based on a fictional character named Misery Chastain. After completing his manuscript where he kills off his main character because of his boredom, he impulsively drives off to Los Angeles instead of New York City and subsequently gets stuck in a snow storm, accidentally driving himself off a cliff. 

Miraculously, he survives the crash and finds himself in the home of Annie Wilkes. It’s made known that she is a huge fan of Paul’s and despite his injuries being severe, insists on healing him herself with the use of equipment and painkillers she has lying around the house. Upon finding the final manuscript of Paul, Annie suddenly becomes blind with rage and leaves him alone for two days, visibly angry at the outcome of the story. She returns, adamant that Paul must write a new version. His disobedience and longing to escape only anger her, cutting off his foot and thumb along the process. 

Will Paul ever make it out of this hell?

Do you have a story for the world? 

Exciting things, yeah? If you have something similar in mind – a breathtaking plot that will make us whooo – don’t hide it from the world! Check our advice on how to start and good luck! Don’t be shy, write exactly what your imagination says, and leave proofreading for the editor. You are a master, open your soul, and tell your story! 

These are our favorites. Subjective, but decent. We would like you to share your impressions after reading these masterpieces and, of course, expand this small list with new names and titles.

Writing Rules: How to Improve Your Writing

Writers have their own style, their own vision. Do they have to follow writing rules? Technically, writers can do whatever they want, but if they want to be taken seriously, it’s good to understand standard grammar and writing principles. 

Yes, rules have exceptions, so let’s get that tidbit out of the way right away. To maximize your writing’s impact, you should still pay attention to certain guidelines. 

Instead of an entire grammar book with rules and exercises, below are the lucky 13 recommendations to remember. (They’re not all grammar, never fear! Nonetheless, many people can benefit from a grammar review.) 

  1. Commonly confused words – Don’t be common!
  2. Subject-verb agreement – Be agreeable!
  3. Wishy-washy words – Don’t be wishy-washy!
  4. Deadwood – Prune it.
  5. Active voice – Don’t be passive.
  6. Parallel structure – Keep your balance!
  7. Commas – Figure out if you use too many or too few…or just right!
  8. Punctuation with quotation marks – “Who wants to know where that punctuation goes?”
  9. Complete sentences vs. fragments – Understanding the difference makes the difference.
  10. Sentence variety – Variety adds spice to your writing life.
  11. Reading awareness – Writers need to read…for fun!
  12. The 3 R’s – No ‘rithmetic is necessary with these 3 R’s.
  13. Say it your way Nobody says it better!

Get ready for more details!

#1 – Commonly confused words – Don’t be common!

Spelling is not the issue here; usage is. Don’t count on spellcheck; count on your own skills because the word may be spelled just fine while being used incorrectly. 

Some of the terms below have multiple meanings; the most commonly confused versions are paired or grouped below.

  • Advice – a recommendation, a personal or professional opinion, guidance. Advice is a noun, something you may receive, give, or need! My mom always gives great advice.
  • Advise – the verb form of advice; to recommend, to guide. I advise you to listen to your mother!
  • A lot – TWO words! Everybody knows what it means, but too many write this as one word. It’s two, people! The library has a lot of books.
  • Allot – If you insist on writing alot as one word, you need an extra l and the meaning changes to “dividing something into portions, assigning, designating.” Since that’s probably not what you mean, please spell a lot as two words. I allot most of the funds to the library’s book budget.
  • Already – something happened earlier. I already ate breakfast.
  • All ready – completely prepared. I am all ready to go out for breakfast.
  • Farther – physical distance away. They live farther down the road.
  • Further – greater, extended, more in depth. We must discuss this further.
  • Its – possessive pronoun showing ownership. The chunky monkey swung from its tail. 
  • It’s – contraction for it is. An apostrophe in contractions indicates a missing letter (or letters). Autocorrect on my iPhone switches my correct it’s to its, making it auto-wrong, auto-incorrect, or just wrong. It’s frustrating!
  • Many – a lot, quantity that possibly could be counted or measured. How many iguanas infiltrated the patio?
  • Much – again a large quantity but something more difficult to count or measure; a deeper extent. I love you very much.
  • Principal – a person who’s in charge. Our school principal is a PAL of a guy! 
  • Principle – code of conduct, guidelines. That goes against my principles.
  • Quite – considerably, actually. (Remember, quite is one syllable.) I am quite impressed by your writing style.
  • Quiet – no or very little noise. (Quiet has two syllables.) Be as quiet as a butterfly!
  • Stationary – not moving or changing. I would rather exercise on a stationary bike in air conditioning than sweat on a real one outside.
  • Stationery – writing materials, often with matching decorated paper and envelopes. Tip: think of the e in stationery as envelope. I stopped buying stationery years ago because I would rather e-mail people or text them.
  • Than – conjunction used for comparisons. Sweet corn is much better than canned corn.
  • Then – adverb used to indicate next in time. I hit snooze on my alarm and then went right back into my goofy dream.
  • Their – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Their screen porch is so inviting!
  • There – adverb showing a place. It’s not here; it’s over there. (Notice how here is part of there if it helps to remember “here and there.”)
  • They’re – contraction for they are. They’re 20 minutes late…again.
  • To – preposition (usually) to express where, etc. Just take it to the patio.
  • Too – adverb for very, extremely, overly, also.  The ground is too wet for planting.
  • Two – adjective for the number 2. I have published two children’s books so far.
  • Weather – noun for climate or atmosphere. It’s been a year of historic weather.
  • Whether – conjunction signifying choices or comparisons. It all depends on whether the building sells this month or not.
  • Who’s – contraction for who is. Who’s coming with me?
  • Whose – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Whose car is parked behind mine?
  • Your – possessive pronoun showing ownership. Your birthday is tomorrow!
  • You’re – contraction for you are. You’re finally done reading about these commonly confused words. 

The subject and verb need to agree in number. Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs. 

#2 – Subject-verb agreement – Be agreeable.

With a simple sentence, it is clear which word is the subject, so the verb agreement is easy. Add a prepositional phrase or other words between the subject and verb, and then agreement may get confusing. Remember that the subject can never be part of a prepositional phrase.

Easy: Beach Surprise shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = Beach Surprise; verb = shares)

Less easy: Beach Surprise: Unicorns, Mermaids, Flower Fairies, and Rainbow Rocks Meet at the Beach shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = Beach Surprise: Unicorns, Mermaids, Flower Fairies, and Rainbow Rocks Meet at the Beach; verb = shares)

Even less easy: The second children’s picture book in the Rockin’ Fairy Garden Tales shares an inspiring message for children about plastic straws. (subject = book; verb = shares)

#3 – Wishy-washy words – Don’t be wishy-washy.

You won’t find wishy-washy words as in a grammar book’s index, but you will find them in sentences that start with There is, There are, There was, There were, There will be…and so forth.  Starting sentences like this waters down your writing. Start with your subject, not an inverted order with nonessential words. Don’t postpone the subject.

Wishy-washy: There are watermelons on sale at the grocery store.

Better: Watermelons are on sale at the grocery store.

The grocery store has watermelons on sale.

Be direct. 

Talking is different from writing. You have time to choose your words and revise those words when you write. That gives you the opportunity to optimize your vocabulary and sentence structure.

People may start sentences with well, um, there, it, yeah, and other wishy-washy words before getting to the point. It’s more difficult to be eloquent when speaking…at least if you prefer writing.

Expletives are” filler words” like there are, there is, and all of those swear words that I won’t list. None is necessary to the meaning. At least swear words add impact; wishy-washy words detract. They deplete the energy from your writing.

Also wishy-washy can be the pronouns they, it, this and other ambiguous references. Be specific. What is it? Who are they? This what? Using pronouns for word variety works; using them generically dilutes your writing. 

He and she can be confusing also. 

Confusing: Ali told Juan that it was his turn to talk to the Customer Service representative. (Whose turn was it, Ali’s or Juan’s?) 

Clear: Ali told Juan, “It’s your turn to talk to the Customer Service representative.”

#4 – Deadwood – Prune it.

Just like you need to trim away dead branches from a bush or tree to help it thrive, you need to eliminate wordiness from your writing. Be concise. Don’t be redundant. 

With today’s technology, people have an overload of choices to read. They don’t want wordy. If you can say something in one word instead of three, go for one.

In writing this blog, at first I said, “The point of the apostrophe in contractions is to indicate a missing letter (or letters).” 

When proofing my piece, I trimmed some deadwood: “An apostrophe in contractions indicates a missing letter (or letters).” 

The sentence length decreased from 15 words to 10. 

#5 – Active voice – Don’t be passive.

The short version: Make the subject perform the action, use lively verbs, and limit helping verbs. A typical order would be subject –  strong verb – direct object. 

The long version: Check out What Is Passive Voice and How to Improve It with Examples. When you avoid passive voice, you achieve active voice.

#6 – Parallel structure – Keep your balance.

You want your words to be in the same grammatical form to be balanced. Parallelism is a form of grammar gymnastics; balance assists in determining a fine finish.

Not parallel: I like reading, writing, and to walk. 

Parallel: I like reading, writing, and walking.

Parallel: I like to read, to write, and to walk.

#7 – Commas – Figure out if you use too many or too few…or just right.

Commas serve as a brief pause so everything doesn’t run together. Commas clarify word relationships and make the meaning clear. 

  • Noun of direct address: Set off the person’s name with a comma or two when “speaking” directly to someone. 

Would you please check the pizza, Anthony, and see if it’s ready?

Mario, the pizza’s ready!  

With writing a letter, text, or e-mail, the same comma concept applies. Hi, Heidi!

  • Compound sentences: When independent clauses are joined by and, but, or, so, yet, for, or nor, use a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

Grammar rules aren’t that fun, but they are still important to understand.

  • Introductory elements and transitions: 

Whether you go with me or not, I need to leave at 8:00. First, I need to unload and reload the dishwasher.

 If your sentence starts with a prepositional phrase, use a comma if it’s is five words long or longer. 

In the green pantry cupboard downstairs, extra supplies are shelved alphabetically.

  • Multiple adjectives describing the same noun: When you have more than one adjective before one noun, you need a comma if the adjectives have “equal” status. To check, swap their order and see if the sentence still makes sense. Another trick is to use the word and where the comma should go.

Have you ever noticed the unofficial law of gravity where gooey, drippy food automatically falls onto white clothing?

Check: The meaning doesn’t change if you switch the order to say drippy, gooey food, or if you write gooey and drippy food. Thus, use that comma with gooey, drippy food.

But that’s not all! Because commas can be complicated, Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Extended Rules for Using Commas is a helpful resource. Above are comma rules that seem to be overlooked, but they’re not the only common comma errors. Unless you are a Comma Queen or King, please check the extended information in the Purdue link or in another reputable resource.

#8 – Punctuation with quotation marks – “Who wants to know where that punctuation goes?”

“This one is easy,” said Elena. “Put commas and periods before the quotation mark; place semicolons and colons outside of them.”

#9 – Complete sentences vs. fragments – Understanding the difference makes the difference.

In English class, the emphasis is on writing complete sentences. It’s what you do. Fragments receive red halos or frag. Things change once you leave the classroom.

Fragments are acceptable IF…

  • You know they are fragments.
  • You understand why they are fragments
  • You could write them as complete sentences if you had to, but you still chose to write them as fragments for a valid reason.
  • “Like in dialogue where most people don’t speak in complete sentences.” 
  • Or when you need words for effect. You. Know. What. I. Mean.
  • If you don’t know what I mean, focus on finding and fixing your fragments.

Envision this scenario:

You are chewing a juicy cheeseburger, and you suddenly bite down on a bone fragment. Gag! You stop chewing and try to figure out what to do. After all, it’s just minuscule piece of the bone, not the entire “hamburger bone.” (Let’s not go there!) This fragment ruins your entire burger. It makes you wonder about the background of your beef. You now have your own “beef” with whoever caused that fragment. 

To carry this over into your writing, if you haven’t mastered fragments, your validity as an author is doubted and judged as inferior. It’s that simple. 

#10 – Sentence variety – Variety adds spice to your writing life.

Let’s start with the exception. If you are writing a children’s bedtime book, then it’s good to have a repetitive sentence structure. Your goal is to lull that kid to sleep. That monotonous cadence has a purpose. 

Now for the rest of you. When you are writing up a storm, you create a pattern where the words are pouring out of you like rain while ideas keep thundering in your head despite your eyes experiencing lightning flashes from working on the computer for too long. Who has time to worry about sentence variety? 

You make the time after the flow trickles away. You go back and weed that fertile landscape of words. You revise until you have long sentences, short sentences, simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences. (You might even have fragments.) Overall, you want more short sentences than long.

You also want more short paragraphs than long. We live in a “smartphone world.” People read blogs, articles, and books on their tiny phones. Their eyes need white space to rest. People see short paragraphs and feel more inclined to read. Looking at an entire phone screen filled with miniature words repels instead of compels.

Back in that beloved English class, the teacher expected paragraphs to be at least 5-8 sentences long. You had to develop those ideas. Every paragraph required a topic sentence, supporting ideas, and summary.

Now that your English teacher is “history,” you still get to develop your ideas; just do it with paragraphs only 1-3 sentences long. (Sorry, English teachers!) 

Variety invites interest and keeps people reading.

#11 – Reading awareness – Writers need to read…for fun!

Words are your business. Beyond writing them, you need to read them. 

Be aware of popular books and the new releases in your favorite genres. You can’t copy another writer’s style, but you can appreciate it and absorb its flavor. Reading keeps you well-rounded. 

Read magazines. Study the catchy headlines and advertisements. They are indicators of trends and the public’s general interests.  Clever ads and headlines have mastered wordplay. 

Notice billboards. They have limited space and very limited time to capture people’s attention. Billboards with maybe 7 words still create profits for businesses featured on them. Words count.

Reading and writing work magically together. Keep the magic going.

#12 – The 3 R’s – No ‘rithmetic is necessary with these 3 R’s.

Actually, we could have lots of R’s, but since we already covered read, let’s forge ahead with revise, rest, and review. Put this in a loop because you will be doing these R’s repeatedly.

Revise: Don’t keep track of how many times you revise. (See, no ‘rithmetic!) Repetitive revising is necessary, but before you overdo it, take a break. In other words…

Rest: Self-care is important. Let’s call it vital. You need time to yourself to regroup and be at your peak. Getting enough sleep is obviously important, but rest includes mental breaks. Whether it’s reading, walking, meditating, biking, weight lifting, swimming, doing yoga, or whatever, do what refreshes you. 

If you don’t put yourself first, no one else will. You are not being selfish; you are taking care of yourself. It’s the responsible thing to do, so stop feeling guilty about it. 

Review: You need to review your writing. Since you have “self-correcting eyes,” you need other people to also review your writing. They don’t know what it’s supposed to say like you do, so they will read the actual words, not what you thought you’d said.

Repeat with revise, rest, review until it finally has to end!

#13 – Say it your way – Nobody says it better!

Your writing style is an extension of how you think. People read your writing because they appreciate the way you express yourself. 

Think of magazines. They publish similar topics in every issue, yet the articles seem fresh each time. People subscribe to those magazines because the writers find interesting ways to cover the same old topics. 

With books and blogs, the topic options are vast. You could say so much on so many subjects. Pick one that energizes you, find your voice, and find your audience. People want to share your vision through your words. Say it your way. 

Rules overview

Some writers resist rules. They may have an instinctive urge to ignore grammar and just create. “If others don’t like it, then that’s their problem. They know what I mean.” 

Errors take the energy out of your writing. They are the proverbial red flag waving an alert: Beware! Self-published amateur who doesn’t care about the details of standard English.

If you hated English class because grammar never clicked for you, that’s OK. Grammar is abstract. Certain words represent certain concepts, parts of speech and punctuation rules take many chapters to explain, and who can remember everything?

Fortunately, you don’t have to remember everything. One of the fabulous perks of today’s technology is that you can search online to answer your grammar questions, and you can install computer programs to help you. 

The important thing is that you care enough to do your best in creating the best product possible. And if you have read this far, you care about learning more to improve your writing. Kudos to you! 

How To Read More Books & Find Time For Reading! (3 Ways To Read FASTER)

One of the questions Self-Publishing School founder and CEO gets most is: “How do you have so much time to read books?”

He shares his insights in this video.

Reading books is an incredible way to boost creativity, grow as a writer, and educate yourself on specific topics that interest you or you need to learn more about.

Chandler has made a habit of reading one book a week. This single decision resulted in him reading four books a month, and fifty-two plus books a year. One book a week compiles to a lot of books at the end of the year. Sound inspiring yet daunting?

Maybe you don’t consider yourself much of a reader.

Maybe you’re simply not used to reading or don’t read often.  

Don’t be discouraged. It might surprise you that not that long ago, Chandler didn’t read much either. In fact, he was a C-level English student and a college drop-out. Regardless of his English grade, he realized the importance of reading. Rather than make an excuse he had two thoughts:

One: “I don’t have time to read.”

Two: “How do I make time to read?”

More important than even those two thoughts was his third thought, “I’m going to find a book on how to read faster.” It might seem counterintuitive to read a book on how to read a book, but Chandler’s first step in his process of reading set the tone for all the books he would later read.

He realized that if he spent purposeful time reading a book that educated him on how to read books, all the books he’d read in the future would be much more profitable.

In this post, we’ll cover what he learned from the book “10 Days to Faster Reading.”

The fundamental principles we’ll talk about are:

·      Where To Read Books To Get The Greatest Benefit

·      How To Track What You’re Reading

·      How To Read More Books  

·      The Secret Of How To Read Faster

As you read through these points, take note of the ones that will most benefit your own goals and lifestyle.

Number 1: Where To Read Books To Get The Greatest Benefit

A good rule of thumb to follow is to never read in bed or on your couch. Of course, when it comes to fiction this is a different story. When reading fiction, pick the most comfortable place to read. Reading can and should be fun!

But when reading for educational purposes, you want your brain to be on full alert. Your brain goes into lazy mode when sitting on the couch where you just binge-watched that last Netflix series.

On the topic of where to read, it’s helpful to never even work from the couch. Blurred boundaries on work/life balance are not healthy and certainly not helpful.

It’s important to read with intentionality. Make it a point to,

·      read at a desk with a comfortable (but not too comfortable!) chair

·      read in a chair where your brain is used to being alert

·      read at the coffee shop you love working at during the week

These seemingly small choices will go a long way in how much content you’re able to cover and how well you retain the information you read.

Set yourself up for success by choosing a place to read where your mind is already on full-alert. You’re doing yourself a disservice trying to read in bed. It will probably take you just as much energy – if not more! – to stay awake as it will to read.

When starting your new reading habit choose a well-lit chair or desk where you’re used to being productive. This will help your reading sessions be much more efficient. Ultimately, it will also allow you to make more time for reading because what you’re reading can be read and retained in a much shorter amount of time.

Number 2: How To Track What You’re Reading And Read Faster

Tracking what you’re reading is a tremendous benefit when it comes to speed reading. Wondering how to do so? It’s much easier than you might think. There are three different methods for tracking your reading:

·      Simply cover up the words as you go

·      Uncover the words as you go

·      Or put your finger in the middle of a page

Chandler’s favorite method is to sit at a desk with his finger in the middle of the page he’s reading. This keeps him looking back and forth and scanning the page as he goes. He’s gone from hardly reading to reading a book a week, and recommends you try this method out for yourself!

Number 3: How To Read More Books  

Finding time to read on a daily basis can be difficult. You likely have work, family, and friends, not to mention working out, meals, and sleep to consider. However, even finding 10-15 minutes a day has a compound effect on how many books you’ll end up reading.

Chandler has established a specific morning routine that allows him 30-45 minutes of reading every single work day. If you’re wondering how to make time for reading be sure to put it in your morning routine. You don’t need to start with 30-45 minutes a day, but even reading for 10-15 minutes every morning will impact your own, self-education in a positive way.

Not only will establishing a morning routine allow you the time and space to read more books, but tracking what you read will speed up your reading and allow you to get more read in the same amount of time.

Bonus: The Secret Of How To Read Faster

We’ve covered where you should be reading, how to track what you’re reading, and how to read faster. But you might still be sitting there thinking,

“I’m really not a reader. I love learning but when I pick up a book, it takes me so long to even turn one page. Reading is so important but my day is packed. I only have 10-15 minutes to read, on the weekends!”

Short on time to sit down with a book? Chandler has another method of reading that will greatly benefit you, especially if you have a long commute to work or a workout you just can’t miss.

His secret?

Get those books read on audiobook!

Whether you’re on a flight, walking to a meeting, headed to the gym, or even at the gym, listening to an audiobook gives purpose to time that could be spent passively listening to the radio.

Reading doesn’t need to be viewed as simply a time with your eyes on the page, scanning word after word. Reading can also look like you on the treadmill, earbuds in, keeping your brain healthy and growing as you keep your body healthy and fit.

Chandler prefers to listen to audiobooks on 2 or 2.5 speed. This allows him to track faster with what’s being read and additionally get more books read in less time. He even listens to audiobooks as he scooters to his next destination!

If you’re just starting out listening to audiobooks, start listening at the normal speed. As you get used to actively listening and working to retain the information, try upping the speed to 1.5. As you grow as a reader/listener, you can up the speed even more.

If you already have a habit of listening to podcasts, simply swap some of your podcast time out for audiobooks. Chandler’s a fan of listening to audiobooks over podcasts because often, podcasts are a stream of thought. They aren’t as centralized or focused. On the other hand, books are way more intentional, practical, and laid out. 

If you’re a writer yourself, you know the work it takes to create a book.

You have to get the idea, expand that idea into chapters, and then write it all down. That’s before the multiple drafts of editing! It’s only after countless hours of time, energy, thoughts, and lots of typing that the book’s theme is laid out in a reader-friendly way.

The privilege and opportunity of listening to a book while driving to work or running at the gym should be taken advantage of. Even if you’re not a reader, you can still get a lot of reading done.

How To Read More Books, Recap:

Making more time for reading and reading faster are goals that will change you as a writer and as a business person.

Yes, it takes effort to read, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes to get the habit started.

Establishing a specific amount of productive reading time into your morning routine will make the effort seem even easier to accomplish. Those 10-15 minutes of dedication will grow you as a person, in your business, as a writer, and as a reader. Your self-disciplined education will take you further than you realize.

So you’ve committed to reading.

You incorporated it into your morning routine.

You downloaded an audiobook app and are ready to go.

There’s one important question to ask before starting the first chapter of your next book.

What should you read?

Some questions to ask when considering what to read next are:

·      What’s the field I’m working in?

·      What subject most interests me?

·      What’s a topic I’ve wanted to brush up on?

For a more in-depth video on how to pick which book to read next, click here.

The number one thing to consider when starting your reading journey is to be intentional with your reading.

It’s one thing to read every book that crosses your path. People love recommending books, and many of those recommendations are good, quality books that should be read. 

However, it’s important to consider your own goals and aspirations when choosing the book you’re going to read next.

You could easily spend 10-15 minutes on your daily commute to work learning about a subject that will never be directly beneficial to you. While learning stretches and grows the mind no matter the topic, how much better to read a book that will directly impact your work/relationships/personal goals right now, today?

This is why choosing the right book is so important.

We all have the time to read. Whether that time looks like reading early in the morning as we work through our morning routine, or listening to an audiobook as we work out at the gym, we all have time to prioritize what’s truly important to us.

Choose the right place to read. 

Let your mind be alert and ready to go.

Track what you’re reading so your time spent will be productive and efficient.

Read all the books you can, but make sure they support your goals and dreams.

Let us know what book you’re currently reading and how it’s impacting you. We’d love to hear! 

set writing goals

How To Create A Successful Morning Routine (And Using A Morning Routine To Write Your Book)

How many times have you hit snooze? It’s hard to get up in the morning and go right into work. The day gets busy and when five or six o’clock rolls around, working out or reading can easily seem too difficult a task. Finding time to write your book seems nearly impossible.

What if we told you there was a keystone habit that would fix this issue? You’d never want to hit snooze again and when the beginning of the day dawns, you’d actually already have your daily workout in. You’d already have a good bit of reading in. And to top it off, you’d be much better prepared to write the book you’ve always dreamed of writing. 

A thought-out morning routine is the keystone habit guaranteeing a successful day.

Our CEO, and the founder of Self-Publishing School, Chandler Bolt, shared how he started his first morning routine in 2014 when he dropped out of school. 

He quickly found it made him happier, more fulfilled, and more successful in his business. Since that morning in 2014, everything has changed for him.

Below are the details of his morning routine, how he sustains it, and what the details of getting up early actually look like.

We will cover:

1. How To Create A Successful Morning Routine

2. The Two Factors Contributing To Successful People

3. Getting Practical: The Do’s and Don’ts Of Your Morning

4. Consistency: The Key To A Life-Changing Morning Routine

5. Chandler’s Make Or Break, Daily Decision

6. How To Make Your Morning Routine Fluid And Sustainable

Keep reading to discover how to use a morning routine to write your book.

Number 1: How To Create A Morning Routine

When diving into his morning routine in this video, Chandler shares how the book The Miracle Morning, (which shares the story of his friend Hal Elrod) influenced his daily routine. The book shares details on how Hal was hit head-on by a drunk driver and told he would never walk again. Not only did Hal prove he could walk again, but a few short months later he came back strong, running two marathons back to back. As if that’s not enough, he battled and beat cancer as well. 

Hal shares his life “savers.” The acronym can be broken down and implemented for a successful morning routine:

·  Silence

·  Affirmation

·  Visualization

·  Exercise

·  Reading

·  Scribing (journaling)

Chandler uses most of these every single day, and we’ll show you how you can use them too.

Number 2: The Two Factors Contributing To Successful People

Most successful people have two things in common. The first is a morning routine. The second is reading. Why not combine the two?

The goal of a morning routine is to be able to already have a successful day before the day starts.

Especially when it comes to writing, it’s important to read on a regular basis. Writing demands creativity, and habitually giving yourself a specific amount of time devoted to reading will help you become that much better of a writer.

Number 3: Getting Practical, The Do’s and Don’ts Of Your Morning

When recommending how to create and sustain a successful morning routine, Chandler points out two practical tips.

First, he says you want to have discipline and structure. Even if you need to start with a twenty-minute routine, slowly lengthening it from there, be sure to start small so you can keep the habit every single morning for a month.

Second, your routine can change with the seasons of your life. It can be flexible, fluid, and should always be evolving. One aspect of Chandler’s morning routine is that it changes based on his personal needs. During one season of his life, he cut out one aspect of his routine in order to allow more time for stretching due to a back injury.

Remember, a morning routine is for your benefit, not for the sake of tying yourself to a stringent morning. It should be fluid because a healthy individual is always growing and changing. 

The important point is to implement it in your life and try at least some sort of routine for about a month. This will help establish a habit and allow you the time and space to hone in on what routine best helps you.

Number 3: Consistency, The Key To A Life-Changing Morning Routine

Going to bed at a certain time can be difficult, but when you know you have to get up at a certain time, it gives you that much more incentive to get a head start on sleep. When it comes to your morning routine, consistency is important. Your start and end time should be consistent as well.

When you’re first starting out, you can be a little easier with your flex time, while making sure you hit your REM cycles. Know how much sleep you need, and if you go to bed a half-hour late one night, start your morning routine a half-hour late the next morning. 

Especially when you’re writing a book, you need to be well-rested and alert. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep before starting your routine will greatly influence the quality of your writing.

However, once you get into the habit of getting up at a specific time, try to maintain a certain level of consistency.

Chandler recommends setting a consistent wake-up time and bumping it back 15 minutes at a time until you have plenty of space to complete your entire morning routine.

An abbreviated morning routine is a good place to begin. Start with a wake-up time that’s not too much earlier than your usual time (15-20 minutes) and then stair-step up to a longer routine.

As you become more accustomed to your routine and begin to see the benefits, you’ll see your morning routine is actually one of the most important parts of your day. You’ll be willing to get up on time even if you go to bed late. Having a hard stop, or cut off time, for your routine will encourage you to get up on time as well.

Chandler’s hard stop is his first, 8 am meeting. For you, it might be leaving for work at a certain time or taking your kids to school.

Number 4: Chandler’s Make Or Break, Daily Decision

Once you establish your alarm time, it’s important to decide to actually get out of bed when it goes off. It’s helpful to wake up to something positive. Your subconscious is most open to new ideas in the morning and late at night, so at these times try to focus on affirmations rather than negative things like news or email. 

Chandler’s brother recorded himself speaking affirmations to Chandler, and listening to affirmations is one of the first parts of Chandler’s routine. Below is a bullet-point list of his routine:

· Wake-Up Time: 6 am

  • Brush teeth and listen to affirmations

·  Mini workout

  • 65 pushups
  • 65 sit-ups
  • Stretching

·  5 Minute Journal

  • 3 questions
  • What are the 3 things that would make today great?
  • 3 things I’m grateful for
  • 3 written affirmations

·  Bullet-proof coffee

·  Read 30-40 minutes

·  Guided meditation

  • Head Space app
  • Calm app

·  Put on work clothes 

  • mental flip into work day

·  Make eggs for breakfast

·  First meeting (hard cut) at 8 am

Wake Up Time

You can easily take this layout and personalize it to your individual goals. For instance, maybe you’re wake up time needs to start a little later. Simply bump your time a few minutes back and work with your specific time for a month to establish the habit.

Mini Workout

Chandler is the first to say he didn’t start cranking out 65 pushups. He worked up to it. And you can do the same. He enjoys working out in the morning because when the end of his workday rolls around he doesn’t still have a tough workout to face. Personalize your workout in a way that is something you can accomplish and feel good about. You want your routine to be a definition of success and accomplishment!

5 Minute Journal

This type of journaling was started by a company run by some of Chandler’s friends, and you can use this method or create your own. One year Chandler decided to write a thank-you note every single day for the entire year. This reminded him of everything he had to be thankful for and also enabled him to show his gratitude to those important to him.

Bullet-Proof Coffee

There are countless articles online about the benefits of this specific type of coffee. Because it has so many fats in it, it curbs the appetite and allows you to get more done before breakfast. As you can see from Chandler’s morning routine, he has a good amount of reading in and his workout complete before making his first meal of the day.

Reading

As mentioned above, books are one of the two important aspects contributing to a successful person’s lifestyle. Chandler recommends the book Miracle Morning. This can not only educate you but show you how to use a morning routine to write your book. Miracle Morning is a great book for writers who want to create a specified morning routine.

Meditation

Maybe you’ve never meditated before, but realize the need for a little calm before the day gets busy. Chandler uses guided meditation apps to help bring focus and clarity to his morning. Even a few minutes of stillness and mindfulness can help establish a positive morning and an even more successful day.

Work Clothes

Although Chandler works from home, he recognizes the importance of dressing for success. Dressing for work helps him create a mental flip from his morning routine into his workday. When his first meeting time calls at 8 am, he’s dressed and ready to go in business clothes. This physical act helps him mentally get into the headspace he needs in order to have a positive, productive day.

This type of thought process can even be related to where you end up working or choosing to write your book. 

Breakfast

By this time in the day that bullet-proof coffee is probably starting to wear off. Don’t forget to fuel your body with healthy food to kick-start your workday and finish your morning routine. Chandler’s personal choice is eggs, rich in protein, and great fuel for his day.  

Remember Morning Routines Are Fluid

Chandler mentioned how he switched up his morning routine when he suffered a back injury. Hopefully, it’s not a back injury for you, but there may be another reason to switch up your routine and swap a new aspect in.

Try a different meditation app, see if you can write a thank-you card each day for a whole year, or Chandler’s personal recommendation: a cold shower. There’s nothing like a cold shower to wake you up in the morning and get your senses on full alert.

You may also want to try listening to motivational videos or an audiobook throughout parts of your routine that allow for it, such as your morning exercise or even something as simple as brushing your teeth.  

Remember, the goal of a morning routine is to already have a successful day before the day starts. Why? A productive morning routine helps lay a strong foundation for the rest of the day.

Even if you only complete your morning routine by the end of the day, you’ll know you’ve had a productive day. Perhaps you’ve even been more productive in the first few hours of your day than many people have their entire day!

Wondering where to start? Pick one or two aspects from Chandler’s list and implement it into your daily morning schedule. After a month or so, check in with your writing goals. 

You’ll be surprised how much a morning routine benefits your writing. Not only does it help you meet your daily goals before the day starts, but allows you time to read and prep for the book you’re writing.

After you’ve established your routine let us know how it’s going for you. We’d love to hear!

Top 23 Book Cover Designers – You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover!

You’ve done the most difficult part… you’ve written a book! Now, you’re getting your book published and all you need to choose is a designer to create your unique book cover.

Well, you thought writing was the difficult step, but here you are. Not a clue about where to start or who best suits your style.

I really do believe that choosing your book cover designer is one of the most important steps of writing a book and I can’t imagine having to start from scratch. If you don’t have any designers in your mind or you just haven’t found the one, we’re here to help!

Your cover has to speak volumes because it’s the first thing your readers will see. And yes, I am quite familiar with the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” but today we’re throwing that out of the window, and we will be judging every single book by its cover! Trust me when I say your future readers are also judging your cover. Maybe not everyone, hopefully not even the majority, but plenty. I’m also guilty of buying books only because I fell in love with their covers. I knew nothing about the book or the author, I just found it really, really pretty. (don’t judge me!)

So, are you looking for the best cover designer?

Do you want to find someone who completely suits your style and personality?

Are you in a hurry?

If you’ve answered yes to these, then let’s get started!

Here are the crème de la crème, the best book cover designers of today!

BuzBooks

Wow! Would you look at these!? These are definitely my favourite out of their portfolio and they have a vast portfolio! I love how contrasting these are too, side by side, and how simple they seem to be. The book title and author are more prominent in these covers but the artistry in them makes me really want to grab a copy and devour them! Find BuzBooks here. https://buzbooks.com/portfolio/

Na Kim

I’ll say this with the best intentions ever, this cover still gives me the creeps! I’m pretty sure this was what Na was going for and I can tell you, it worked! At least, on me. Ever since I saw this book for the first time, I can’t forget it. It ties with the book title so well that it feels just like the hands laced together. It is pure genius! Find more of her work here. https://www.instagram.com/na_son/?hl=en

LBarros

You know I just had to include a children’s book cover, don’t you? I mean, it’s a must! And I had to find the best one, the one that I would have loved to read myself when I was little, the one I wish I had to show my kids one day. Because children are the best judges of book covers, aren’t they? They see it with their eyes first, then if the story’s good, they’ll love it even more. This one did it for me! Contact the designer here. https://en.99designs.fr/profiles/2726185

Coralie Bickford-Smith

Coralie is best known for her clothbound covers and because I’m a huge fan, I had to share them with you. I’m sure you’ve seen these, I’m sure you love them too. But in the slightest chance you haven’t, here you go. Enjoy. Order them already. Coralie is probably that artist that will shape the world of reading and take it into a different galaxy. Find her here. https://www.instagram.com/coraliebickfordsmith/?hl=en

Jenna Stempel-Lobell

I’m sure you’ve heard about Jenna before! She’s an absolute queen in the covers design world! You might specifically know her because of Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give, but don’t be fooled – she’s amazing at everything she does! Just look at these two examples… I still can’t believe how these covers exist! Please hurry up and find Jenna here. https://jennastempel-lobell.com/

Tanamachi Studio

I really love the beautiful, intricate designs of this studio. They’re so complex yet they work so fluidly that it’s impossible not to catch one’s eye. And what a beautiful new cover for Pippi Longstocking! Don’t you just feel like buying it just to keep it in your collection?? Talk about judging books by their cover! Amazing job! Find Tanamachi Studio here. http://www.tanamachistudio.com/archive

Jake Nicolella

I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that drew me to this cover but I just feel so connected to it. How simple an image can be and how powerful and with such a strong message it has. The frames just fading away with a pale background, so neutral but with a thoughtful process. That is why Jake needs to be part of this list. Find more about him and his life here. https://www.instagram.com/nicolellalalala/?hl=en

Helen Crawford-White

I mean, how could anyone not love Helen’s work?? These book covers give me life! Such a breath of fresh air and so, so well-thought! I love how the colors meet, the sharp lines, the effect both covers have on the eye… just exquisite. Everything looks perfect to me and what’s more is that she has a ton more beautiful covers and you can find them all here! https://www.instagram.com/studiohelenbooks/?hl=en

Isabel Urbina Peña

If you’re looking for cool fonts and lettering, Isabel is your woman! She does the illustrations and lettering on her covers herself and I’m sure we can all agree she does a tremendous job. I especially love how simple these look, but still have something quite unique about them that it makes me want to pay attention. What do you think? Find Isabel on Instagram here. https://www.instagram.com/bellera/

Rodrigo Corral

Rodrigo is another big name in the design world; he doesn’t only design book covers but you probably know him for his iconic cover of The Fault in Our Stars. If that one didn’t convince you, however, you can find a couple more here and these are just stunning. There’s a connection between the art and the novel and that you can’t just pretend, you have to feel it and transform it into a piece of art. Find Rodrigo here. https://www.instagram.com/rodrigocorral_/?hl=en 

Alison Forner

Alison works at Simon & Schuster and her beautiful creations can be found in plenty of different books. To this smart (and colorful) cover she said she’s “indulging [her] science ephemera obsession.” – we can tell! Amazing job! Find more about her and her art here. https://www.instagram.com/aforner1/

Book Covers Art

If you’re looking for a more thriller/sci-fi/fantasy kind of cover, this company might just be the right one for you. They have a variety of covers, all following the dark, mysterious vibes and they give you options to choose what’s best for you and your book. Their portfolio is very complete, give them a look here. https://www.bookcoversart.com/

Venanzio

I fell in love with these covers right away. There is something simple about books and life that intrigues most people and that is why I think Venanzio’s work will please many of you out there. Sometimes the best things are simple and basic but not vulgar and I believe this is what this work shows. Contact Venanzio here. https://en.99designs.fr/profiles/249130

Janet Hansen

It is hard to describe Janet’s work because I truly believe that there are no words to describe this amount of artistry and creativity. She transports the reader to the book’s universe even before turning the first page. She makes simplicity look detailed and layered. Find more of her stunning work here. 

Holly Ovenden

When I found Holly’s covers and work, I knew she needed to be part of this top list. There is no doubt about how talented she is, but what surprises me the most is how diversified she truly is. These covers below speak for themselves! I know anyone would be so honoured to work with Holly. Get in touch with her here. https://www.instagram.com/hollydrawsinink/?hl=en

Andrei Bat

I really like Andrei’s work for the mysterious/fantasy feel too. He’s doing so well with his work and I love what he did with The Marked series. Check out his work here. https://en.99designs.fr/profiles/bandrei

Kate Forrester

These covers are amazing! So, so beautiful and pretty to display in your bookshelf. These books are those I could never put them next to others, I would feel the need to display their cover in a nice glass showcase. Wouldn’t you agree? Kate does an amazing job, find her here. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bvg_1MdluQR/

John Gall

I love how John is so realistic in these covers. They look so real and 3D – I wanted to include these specifically because I haven’t seen anything like this. If this vibe is yours, I definitely consider John Gall one of the best at this. It just looks incredible!

Sarah Kaufman

I’m a little biased here, Red Queen is definitely one of my favorite series of all time, but I have to say, the first thing I knew about this series was the cover of the first book. I didn’t know anything about the story and to be honest, I didn’t want to. The cover made me buy it and then, I fell in love with the story. All four covers are beautifully designed, and you can feel the crowns in each one. This series proves Sarah’s talent and she deserves to do many more.

 Will Staehle

Will has done Circe’s cover and so many others. He’s different and fresh and his covers are getting better and better. He is one of the best and his work reflects it. Contact him here. https://www.instagram.com/unusualco/?hl=en

Subsist Studios

Subsist Studios are making great covers with books that matter. They’re spicing things up with bold colors, intriguing designs and 90s-styled fonts. What else do you need in a book cover? I’m loving their covers! Contact them here to know more. https://en.99designs.fr/profiles/subsiststudios

Stefan Sagmeister

How much more creative does one get? Apparently, Stefan has a whole category above everyone else, just for himself. I mean, how do you even describe this cover? Am I dreaming? Did I just wake up in book covers 2.0? Definitely someone to keep in mind when looking for a designer!

Kimberly Glyder

Kimberly, to me, does the type of art I would love to include in one of my books. It feels intimate and feminine with a perfect balance of colors. I also think she does a great job with her fonts and they complement the design perfectly. Find more of Kate’s art here. https://www.instagram.com/kglyder/?hl=en

We hope you liked these! It was a complete task choosing these exact 23 designers because there are so many other brilliant ones out there! If you’re in the need of one, I highly recommend going with who feels right to you. Don’t narrow it down to genre because as you could see from this list, some of these brilliant designers do so much more than just one specific genre.

In the end, the choice is yours and it better be a great one! 

Remember, we definitely judge a book by its cover! (even if we try really hard not to!)

Who’s your favorite book cover designer? Have you fallen in love with a book cover and hated the book? Who’s your favorite from our list? Let us know everything down below in the comments section! We can’t wait to hear from you!

ghostwriter

How to Hire A Professional Book Editor (Three Steps)

So your book is so close to being finished, or finished already – sealed with the last two magic words: “The end!” It is now time you pat yourself on the back, rest, and let the fun begin: celebrating this grand achievement with some mashed potatoes, bubble bath, chocolates, or Groupon massage.

Wait! Not so soon. I know the feeling we writers get when done penning a manuscript. It is so cathartic to our well being. However, finishing your draft is just one of the many roadblocks you have to overcome in self-publishing. It merely means one road has come to an end, and others lies ahead. In other words: editing the draft, promoting the book, and also amassing a fanbase.

If you refer to the title of this post, you already know it aims to lead you through finding a book editor; but if you are looking at self-editing, here is an article to inspire you all the way.

Let’s take off.

Who is A Book Editor?

Ideally, a book editor can be an individual or a book editing firm whose practice involves refining a piece or pieces of written work. Most book editors have some level of higher schooling: holding a major in English or journalism; required to be objective in their work, ruthless, and have some insights into the craftsmanship of a story.

Two critical questions most authors asking when seeking a professional book editor, are:

1. Is Getting A Book Editor Right for My Book?

The honest answer is: it all depends!

Why do I say so?

As an author, you know the first line of defense in self-publishing is self-editing; however, your book would be better with another pair of eyes to critique. It is always the ideal option.

An independent editor can be the difference between publishing an average book and a bestseller.

On the other hand, if you are a professional editor, or have been trained to edit, then you might get away with publishing a book without seeking editorial services.

2. What About Beta Readers, And Can They Replace A Professional Editor?

Anyone can be a beta reader: friends, family member, or anyone in an online writing group or critique cycle. Unlike professional editors who can cut to the chase, beta readers provide feedback similar to that of an occasional reader. They too can serve as editors for your book. You can let them provide suggestions on your manuscript, straighten out the issues they find before you drop your draft to the editor.

Here are the places you can find beta readers for your book.

Four Things Editors Can Bring To Your Book

Working with a professional book editor is the standard rule in self-publishing. Nothing matches the experience an expert can bring to your story, especially these days where readers have become so judgemental, critical, and unsupportive.

Here is what your book stands to gain from an experienced editor irrespective of the role.

1. Polish Style

Here, editors will review your writing for word choice. They will examine your book for uniformity of context and vocabulary to ensure no cliches. They will look at whether you are using enough expressions and what response they evoke on a reader.

2. Cut The Excess Fat

Sometimes when we write, we find ourselves with redundant, lengthy, and clumsy sentences. Editors will help cut these missing words to make the syntax and context clean for the reader to understand.

3. Identify Plot Holes

Here, editors examine for the theme and character consistency: knowing where the author is coming from and guiding them to their destination.

4. Mood And Tone of Your Book

Ready to Hire A Book Editor

OK. So you have already done the heavy lifting, poured your heart and soul into your manuscript, and understood the benefits your book stand to gain from an edit. You may also have self-edited, probably made all the necessary corrections friends and family members suggested. Now you are thinking it is time to tighten those loose ends in your story by sourcing out the services of an experienced editor.

Before you do that…

Here are The Reasons to Outsource for A Book Editor

  • You need an extra pair of eyes with good judgment to identify any errors that passed by your notice.
  • You are too busy: If you are an editor/author, such that you have not time to edit.
  • You have a budget: There are a lot of factors that go into getting a quote for editorial services. We have got things like genre, editor’s experience, and the shape of your book as factors that will affect the overall cost of editing a manuscript.
  • You are terrible at editing.

If you answered yes to all these reasons, then finding a professional book editor will surely make sense to your book.

Now the easy part.

Who Can Edit Your Book? Freelancers or Book Editing Agencies.

Hiring editing agencies seems to be the most viable option for most authors looking to outsource for book editing. It is the standard norm in self-publishing.

These firms comprise a group of professional editors fighting for the same goal or experienced authors with a registered business to see authors or writers beyond the editing process. Their editorial process is rigorous and may go through three methods: a developmental edit, copy edit, and proofread – your choice!

However, you could also delegate the work to freelancers, who are standalone professional editors with unimaginable options at their disposal: not limited by the knowledge of in-house editors.

Here are the places one can find a professional book editor, whether freelance or an agency.

As aforementioned, hiring agencies may seem like the best option. However, it can be difficult and expensive, especially on the time factor. If you are low on resources and want the work done quickly, start by hiring freelance editors.

Here is why:

  • First, it is cheap.
  • You can decide to hire and let go when you want.
  • You can opt to pay a fixed rate regardless of the length of your draft.

On the other side:

  • Freelancers may work for multiple authors at the same time or even an agency, hence may not be involved in the work as much.
  • Freelance editors can be unreliable.

How to Hire a Professional Book Editor in Three Steps

#1 Decide on the type of book editor you want.

#2 Reach out through job ads or in the mail.

#3 Test.

#1. Decide on The Book Editor You Want

Editors like all of us come with different talents or skill set. There is a development editor, a copy editor, proofreaders, and content editors.

So, the first step to hiring a professional book editor is to be clear on the editor you want to polish your book.

In this stage, avoid using human instinct, so as not to pick an editor who may not meet your book editing demands.

With that information in mind, there are metrics you need to check in this decision-making process:

1. Vendor/type of Services

Find what other services the firm or book editor provides. If it is a traditional book publishing or editing firm, find if they can help publish your book and possibly market it on your behalf. Such “after-sale” services may relieve you the extra marketing/publishing cost of your book.

2. Expertise

Which books have they edited? What relevant experience and knowledge do they have with editing? What is their level of education? Do they work with companies or individual? And in what capacity and what sector?  How about their reputation, reviews, and portfolio? Ask the editor if they have any training or certification and how long they’ve been editing. These are just but the few questions to ask before settling on who will polish your book.

3. Cost

No need paying a King’s ransom when shopping for a book editor as you have already spent enough on the writing process. Finding how much the cost of their service is can go along way in meeting your book’s financial obligations. Factors like:

  • Genre or your priorities.
  • Editor experience level.
  • State and length of the manuscript will also influence the cost

4. The Editing Your Book Needs

As an author, it is upon you to determine what type of editing your book needs. If you are new to editing or self-publishing, then you already know that your book will deserve more than a proofread.

5. Customer Experiences and Reviews

How quickly are other authors ready to recommend their services? What about customer reviews or references? Are there any worth compelling to enable you to go after their services?

The answers you will get from this decision-making process will affect the whole process of hiring a book editor, such as places to look for an editor. So you should try and get persuasive with every question or decision you make.

#2. Reach Out in The Mail or Via Job Ads on Book Editing Sites

Having decided on the editor you want, you can do a job ad on job boards or writing groups and wait for the applications to roll.

To succeed at hiring an editor from job boards or on book editing platforms, give clear instructions regarding the editor you want to wade off ‘non-serious’ editors. Then vet them one after another.

Here is a sample job listing on Flexjobs for a client seeking a proofreader.

Do you notice how specific they are with the type of proofreader they want for their client?

Their goal is to find and only attract the relevant person for the job, by:

  • Giving clear instructions on how one should apply.
  • Asking insightful questions to determine their genuine interest in the niche or editorial experience.
  • Giving the applicants a reason to apply by including the budget, packages, and basically what type of editing they will do.

Without that much clarity, you may end up with the wrong editor; hence, more work on your side.

If step one was not easy, fear not! There are other ways of finding a professional book editor.

Since you already know your industry, you can narrow down to self-publishing. Looking for a self-publishing site like Self-Publishing School and enter the word editor on the search bar. The report you will get will show you the names of editors who are hired on a freelance or full-time basis or have written content for the site. 

Here at Self-Publishing school, our most relevant search for editor gave us Qat Wanders. You can now go further and search if Qat (or the editor) appears more frequent on similar sites, find their contacts then reach out through mail asking if they can take editing work within or outside their routine.

Also, you can find editors on social media, writing groups, or professional platforms like LinkedIn.

Eventually, once you have found an editor, you can ask knowledgeable editing questions such as:

  • What tools and SW they use for editing or tracking changes.
  • Companies or authors they have worked with in editing.
  • Knowledge and book editing experience of your niche
  • Level of education
  • What value or addition they will bring to your book

Of course, this you do after going through their profiles.

You can also use your referral network to find a book editor. Referrals are great for seeking the right editor since you are relying on a trusted source and their experience working with that editor.

#3. Test

So you have already chosen the editor to polish your book, it is now time to challenge them – early – by putting them on probation. The most important part for both parties at this stage is the ‘test draft.’

A ‘test draft’ will determine whether the editor is reliable, talented, or skilled, and whether he/she will make your book business go through the ceiling.

In the ‘test draft,’ decide the number of words or pages to edit and duration it would take for the editor to complete the work. Negotiate also on the pay rate, a discounted if possible.

Luckily, and in most cases, you will find that many editors are willing to edit the first chapter of your book for free. 

If they do not satisfy you with their work, you can pay as agreed and say goodbye.

Found A Professional Book Editor?

If their services meet your standard and specification (the edits and comments they inserted in your book a good match for you) in the trial phase, it is a neat sign you have found a good editor. You can now see your book on book review sites. It is now time to bring the editor up-to-date with your plans.

The next step is to communicate your book goals and probably the challenges you experienced while writing the book or the other matters you need the editor to address in your book other than the usual editing. 

At this stage, ensure you give the editor all the detail about your book as your relationship will depend on a successful onboarding experience.

Working Together With Your Editor

Once they have understood your book goals, it is time to establish a good working relationship with the editor.

Unfortunately, there is no one exact way of doing this. Each author will have to devise his/her way of maintaining an excellent relationship with an editor.

However, here are some ways we think may be of help if you are stuck.

  • Showing them the author you are and your expectations.
  • Your overall budget.
  • The tools you will use for work and collaboration. Google docs, Slack, or Microsoft word tracking changes. Such tools make commenting, editing, and communication seamless for both parties.
  • When you will want the work completed
  • Keep them motivated by making their job easy. I know editors are always eyed-shaped, ruthless, and will surely fill your pages with red marks as they go through your book. Do not make their work unbearable. You never know, the relationship may develop into a potentially long-term one as you will need more of your books edited or learn how to be an editor yourself.

Other ways to keep them motivated include:

  • Sharing your book news and your progress.
  • Show performance metrics if you got any or provide ratings.
  • Let them know of their importance to the success of your book. Editing is challenging, as Stephanie Rische puts it: “sometimes an editor’s job is to find the pulse of a manuscript and resuscitate it. Sometimes an editor’s job is to hold the author’s hand and coax her through the final chapter. Sometimes the editor’s job is to recognize a thing of beauty and then get out of the way.”
  • Offer feedback on their work, reviews, and referrals.

These the ways you can succeed in hiring a professional book editor.

Additional Resources

To learn more about editing/publishing or how to take your manuscript to a bestseller, check these sources to expand your knowledge base:

Have you worked with a book editor before? How was the experience? We would love to hear them in the comments section below.

Twitter for Authors: How to Master The Most Underutilized Platform

Whether you’re self-publishing or traditionally publishing, writers are responsible for building their own author platform to market their writing. One of the most accessible, cheapest, and easiest ways to build an author platform is through social media. And one of the most popular social media platforms for authors to use is Twitter.

Should you be on Twitter? (Yes.) How should you use Twitter? How do you get followers, what should you post, and how often? We’re going to answer all of those questions and more for you today.

Why Should Authors Tweet?

Twitter is where a lot of conversations happen, between authors, agents, readers, and publishers. If you’re a writer, especially an indie writer, Twitter is one of the spaces you should get comfortable in. Here are five great reasons why:

  1. It’s a free way to start building your author platform! Later on, you might want to invest in different promotional methods for your platform and your books, but Twitter is free to use, super easy to start and maintain, and is a great place to begin.
  2. To connect with other writers. Twitter is great for meeting other writers in your genre and around the same place in their writing journey as you! You can also meet writers who are further along in their careers to learn from.
  3. To connect with readers. Readers love to connect with their favorite authors and new writers through Twitter–you can add to your reader base, interact with your audience, and learn more about what your demographic is interested in reading.
  4. To connect with potential publishers. If you’re traditionally publishing, Twitter is a way to meet agents and publishers. Agents often scout through social media, and it’s just an easy way to make contacts. You can reach out to them with specific hashtags, which we’ll talk about later. Even if you aren’t traditionally publishing, following publishers is a way to keep up with what everyone else is doing, and to know what the market is looking for.
  5. To learn about the industry. Following writers, agents, readers, and publishing companies will give you insights into best practices, your market, trends, and demand for different types of writing.
New call-to-action

What Should Authors Tweet?

So you’re on board that you should have a Twitter–now what do you put on it? Here are some examples of different content you can use to promote yourself and your books while naturally engaging in conversations with your audience.

  1. Promotional posts. Share things like release dates, WIP updates, discounts, and blog posts to keep your followers informed about what you’re up to. You want to space out your promotional or “business” posts with at least three other posts between them. Keep reading this list for ideas of what your other posts can be.
  2. Personal content. If your Twitter is all business and self-promotion, you won’t get too many followers. What can you offer outside of that? Humor, advice, interaction? Maybe you’re a parent and you post content for parents, or pet pictures for other animal lovers. Find your niche and make sure you’re posting interesting content other than self-promotion.
  3. Excerpts. Many authors post excerpts from their current WIP to garner interest in it before publication. Here’s an example from my Twitter!
  1. Writing games. You can make up your own games or play ones that have already been made as a way to interact with readers and writers. In this tweet, Owen’s introducing a month-long game for writers to build their world.
  1. Questions. Asking your audience questions is a great way to boost interaction. You can use questions, polls, and other interactive posts to get engagement from your audience. Here’s Bella, our Content Creation Specialist, using this method. She gives an update on her writing process, mentions her WIP, and asks a question for her followers to answer all in one tweet.
  1. Aesthetic boards. Most writers love making aesthetic boards. It gives you a feel for what your characters look like, pulls in your book’s imagery, and can make an attractive post to go with prose excerpts or just on its own. It’s another way to promote discussion and build some hype for your upcoming book. This writer made an aesthetic board specific to one of their characters:

Notice how all of these examples make good use of hashtags? Keep reading to learn which ones you should use!

How Do Authors Get Twitter followers?

So we know we need a Twitter, and we know what kind of content to post–now how do we get followers? Here are four tips to help you get started, and to help keep your Twitter active and engaging.

  1. Make sure you post good content! Anyone can buy followers or use the follow-for-follow method, but if you’re consistently posting good content, you will attract followers who are active and will engage with your posts (and eventually buy your books). An active audience is a profitable audience. Using cheap methods to gain followers will give you inactive accounts and bots. The numbers might be satisfying for the short-term, but it won’t do you any good in the long run.
  2. Interact with people! Like, retweet, and comment on other writers’ tweets. But don’t just spam for attention. Look for content you genuinely enjoy, and interact with it. Tip: Asking questions is a great way to foster conversation.
  3. Don’t forget to link your twitter handle on your website, in your newsletter, in your blog posts, and on other social media platforms to drive traffic to it. You can even link it in your email signature!
  4. Tweet consistently. Engagement posts, promotional posts, and sharing other people’s content should be enough for you to keep a consistent stream of content to attract new followers. If you ever get stuck, come back to the list we made about types of content for authors to tweet!

I promised we’d talk about hashtags, so let’s talk about hashtags!

Best Twitter Hashtags For Authors

Hashtags are how tweets are categorized. If someone is interested in a certain topic, they can browse tweets that have used that hashtag–so use appropriate and relevant hashtags to get new followers!

New call-to-action

Tag your tweets with one or two of these, and you’ll see a jump in interaction. Social media experts recommend no more than three hashtags, because any more than that discourages people from retweeting.

One of the most popular hashtags for author twitter is #AmWriting. This is for any tweet about, duh, writing. You can use #AmWriting for WIP updates, writer observations, excerpts, and anything related to your work in progress. There are also a ton of sub-hashtags in this one, like hashtags specific to your genre:

  • #AmWritingFantasy
  • #AmWritingRomance
  • #AmWritingMystery
  • #AmWritingFiction
  • #AmWritingPoetry
  • #AmWritingCoverLetters

Other branches of this hashtag are for different stages in the writing process, like:

  • #AmEditing
  • #AmOutlining
  • #AmQuerying
  • #AmRevising

When you’re first starting out in a new social media space, it’s great to find people who are doing the exact same thing you are. Use hashtags to connect with other writers! Here are some popular examples:

  • #WritersLife
  • #WritingCommunity
  • #WritersCommunity
  • #ReadingCommunity
  • #Writers
  • #Authors
  • #IndieAuthors
  • #PoetryCommunity

There are hashtags for producing story and non-story writing content. Use these to tag your discussions about writing advice, future plans, to do lists, word count goals, and things related to writing:

  • #WritingTips
  • #WriteGoal
  • #WriteMotivation
  • #WritingPrompt
  • #WIPAesthetic
  • #WIP
  • #WorkInProgress

There are even hashtags for different days of the week! If you’re struggling for content to tweet, check out trending hashtags, or day-specific ones like these:

  • #MondayMotivation
  • #TuesdayThoughts
  • #TeaserTues
  • #WriterWednesday
  • #WedWIPAesthetic
  • #FollowFriday
  • #FridayReads

And honestly, there’s nothing stopping you from making up your own!

Here are some hashtags you can use for the writing industry:

  • #AskAgent (use this tag to get answers to your questions from writing agents)
  • #AskAuthor (use this tag to get answers to your writing questions from, duh, authors
  • #AskEditor (you get it)
  • #PitchWars (the hashtag for the mentoring program where published authors/editors help a writer with the manuscript and the query process)
  • #PitMad (a pitch party on Twitter where writers pitch their manuscripts for agents and editors)
  • #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List, which agents use to describe what sort of things they’re in the market for)
  • #SelfPub
  • #SelfPublishing

Aside from tagging your tweets with these hashtags, browse them to find new people to follow and interact with!

Twitter Tips

Now here are some general tips to help you get the most out of your Twitter account.

  1. Spend time on your profile photo, cover image, and bio! Compose a cohesive and attractive brand through those elements. This will help to build a consistent brand, help people find you (especially if it’s consistent across all of your social media platforms), and make you a more recognizable and respectable presence.
  2. Interact with other writers to make connections and build your platform. Especially early on, new writers are all looking to make friends with other writers, so they’re a great way to start building a network.
  3. Watch what you say! Even if you delete a tweet, it never goes away. People are quick to screenshot, and there are lots of programs to retrieve deleted content. Make sure you think through anything you post online, make sure you’re being respectful, and make sure you’re saying things that you stand by.
  4. The mute button is great! Use it! The block button is better! Use it more! It’s easy to get sucked into arguments or to get upset by other people. There’s nothing wrong with cutting out meaningless negativity, or even just people who particularly annoy you. I went a long time without muting or blocking anyone, and as soon as I started doing it, I enjoyed Twitter a lot more. Twitter is a tool, so use it in a way that is beneficial to you.
  5. Experiment with different kinds of content to see what you like, and to see what your audience is interested in. When you’re figuring out your brand and platforms, it’s good to use that time early on to try out different things and see what works best!
  6. Attach images! Tweets with images perform way better. Check out Canva for Twitter for some easy-to-create templates.

That’s the why, where, what, and how of Twitter for authors! Have fun, be courteous, and use it as a learning experience.

New call-to-action

How to Translate Your Book Into Another Language

(Hint: Don’t ask your teenage neighbor…)

Congratulations on self-publishing your book! This is a huge milestone, maybe one you’ve been dreaming about for years. You may be exhausted from all the work it took to transform your original idea into a book, but you’re beginning to see the impact it’s having on people’s lives.


Then one day, you realize that only English people can read your book . . . 20% or less of the world’s population. Hmmm…. what to do? “I know”, you think to yourself, “I’ll have my book translated!” You decide to start with the second most common language in your country, which is perhaps Spanish.
Your teenage Spanish neighbor is bilingual, so you ask him if he would be willing to translate your book. He eagerly agrees (for an amazing price!) and the process begins. Possibilities begin to roll through your mind.

After Spanish, you could do French, German, Italian, then maybe even some Asian languages. How exciting! Here come the royalties. . .


Time out!


Hold on a minute. . . Remember how conscientious you were with your original book? You agonized over the title and subtitle, gathering feedback and making adjustments. You invested in meticulous editing and proofreading to avoid annoying your readers with typos.
You carefully selected a cover designer and spent hours perfecting your book description, painstakingly choosing categories and keywords. That attention to detail is what helped you establish your reputation as an author, and likely earned you the coveted bestseller banner on Amazon. You may have already begun to launch a business using your book as a calling card.
Don’t throw caution to the wind now! The unfortunate truth is that a poor book translation makes an author appear naive at best, and unprofessional or even careless at worst. I collect translation bloopers as a hobby, and below is one of my favorites from a bagel shop in the city where I live (the word “tongs” got confused with “tongue”).

The translation myth
There is a common belief that anyone who is bilingual is capable of translating, such as the owner of that bagel shop. This reasoning appears logical on the surface, and I used to believe it myself. But a decade of translation studies at university, culminating in a doctoral thesis on translation quality, has changed my perspective.
Let’s explore the idea of bilingualism. People who understand two languages can certainly express ideas orally in both. Even if they can’t match sentences exactly, they can convey the same general information. In conversation, grammar rules are more relaxed, and people are generally patient while someone tries to express what they are thinking.
But it’s just not the same with books! There are standard writing practices to be respected, and readers become impatient with typos and with sentences that are hard to follow. That’s why you spent money on an experienced editor, rather than asking your basketball buddy to proofread it just because he speaks English. You knew that talking about an idea and being able to express it properly in writing are two different things.
And that’s the crux of the translation myth. Just because your best friend speaks two languages does not automatically mean she has good writing skills. Nor does it mean that she is capable of written translation: university translation programs exist for good reason. Translation is an art underpinned by solid “transfer” principles that can only be learned through extensive training or experience.

Obtaining a quality translation
The quality of a translation can make or break your book, so it’s important to proceed carefully. Here are nine steps for obtaining a quality translation of your book.

1 — Polish the English version first

The appropriate time to start on a translation of your book is after the final editing and proofreading (of a printed copy) are complete. Errors that seem to be unnoticeable on a computer screen miraculously show up in print.
While proofreading almost two million words for 50 French translations published by the UPCI French Literature Cooperative, I have found errors that made me cringe. I’m not referring to a misplaced comma overlooked by the translator or editor, but serious errors such as saying in French that the Bible was vindictive, when it should have said self-vindicating. Ouch!
So it is important to have a clean book manuscript to hand to a translator. Otherwise, you will incur much extra time and cost by having to go back-and-forth with the translator because of changes made in the English text after the translation has already begun. Translation is time-consuming enough without adding in this frustration.

2 — Choose the best language

With thousands of languages in the world, how do you choose which one(s) to translate your book into? There are several factors to consider, beyond simply determining the top languages spoken in the world. Especially when self-publishing, you need to find out what languages are popular for digital books. The chart below shows the top ten languages used online as of December 2017.

The first consideration, if you are publishing on Amazon, is to determine if the language you are interested in is supported. Currently, books can be uploaded in over 40 languages, but some are only supported for Kindle versions, not print. Look for countries and language groups:
where Amazon is investing and growing (India is first);
where there is less competition in your category;
where there is a demand for your type of book (ex. China: non-fiction, children and youth books, crime stories and romantic fiction);
where your book content appeals to the culture.

3 — Allow enough time for translation

Time and quality are intrinsically connected. If someone offers to translate your 30,000-word book in 3 days, this should be an immediate red flag. Even with the development of technological aids, it is not feasible to expect a translator to produce quality translation of more than 300-500 words per hour; this varies depending on the book content.
This means that a 30,000-word book should take a minimum of 60 hours to translate, and possibly up to 100 hours. You probably spent a similar amount of time writing your book. Translation involves recreating content in another language, and should not be rushed. Also, try to avoid splitting the book between two or more translators to speed things up. This could result in style and terminology inconsistencies that will confuse the reader.
Be sure to leave enough time to obtain and evaluate a translation sample, as will be discussed in Step 7. If you have to do this more than once, it will probably take a week or two for each round.

4 — Don’t Google it!

Can you remember life before Google? I remember when school projects required a trip to the library to consult an encyclopedia. Now we have instant information at our fingertips, including access to Google Translate, which is a machine translation. Implicit in this term is that no human checks the translation for errors. Just for fun, I recently typed traduire à la pige (the French term for “freelance translation”) into Google Translate and received the response below.

I am sure you want more for your book than a stilted machine translation that doesn’t understand the context and is blind to the nuances of human emotions. Machine translation can be useful for large quantities of technical material such as manuals. But a crucial part of the process is “post-editing”, in which a trained translator corrects the mistakes made by the machine.
If you come across a translator offering “unbelievable” rates to translate your book, it is probable that they are using machine translation and then just tweaking it. They may or may not have the skills and experience to produce a final quality translation.

5 — Set a budget

When it comes to translation quality, you really do get what you pay for. A low-priced translator generally means a hasty and possibly inaccurate translation. Your goal should be for people who buy your books in another language to have the same reading experience as your English readers. Translation rates vary widely between countries.
OTTIAQ, with whom I am certified in Quebec, reported average rates of $0.21 per word in 2018, which is higher than many countries in the world.
ProZ.com, an online community of translators, posts average rates of $0.09 to $0.14 per word.
If you were able to engage a quality translator for $0.12 per word, the cost for translating a 30,000-word book would be $3,600. This is a large investment, so make sure you do market research first to determine if your book is likely to produce sales in the language or geographical area you are considering.
It is not advisable to pay a translator by the hour, as some translators work much more slowly than others. Also, if your book is very scholarly or requires extensive terminology work, you may have to pay an above-average rate. Find out if sales taxes are payable on the translation services provided (the sample contract under Step 8 includes taxes in the price).
One final consideration is that when you hire an individual translator, you pay them only for translation services rendered, and they have no right to royalties from the translated book. Some aggregate translation services may offer you a lower price upfront, but expect to share in your royalties. Make sure you know what you are agreeing to.

6 — Find a qualified translator

If your budget allows, the safest option is to hire a certified translator, meaning that a professional order or translation association has verified that the person’s translation skills meet a quality standard. You can usually check credentials online; just be aware that membership does not always equal certification.
For example, everyone accepted into Quebec’s professional order of translators (OTTIAQ) has been certified, but the American Translators Association (ATA) includes translators who simply pay a membership fee to join. ATA does have another level of translators who have earned certification by “passing a challenging three-hour exam to assess their translation skills”.
If you cannot afford to pay a certified translator, the second option is to hire someone with translation experience who can provide customer testimonials as proof of quality work. This should be someone who translates into a mother tongue so that the translation is idiomatic and easy to read. For example, you should have a Spanish person translate your English book into Spanish; this requirement is not as relevant if the translator is certified.
If the main market for your translated book is in another country, choose a translator who is familiar with the culture and customs in that country, to avoid unknowingly offending readers. Your translator should be familiar with the topic of your book (through work experience or personal knowledge), so the translation will be authentic. Usually, you can search a translation-provider website by both language combination and domain specialization, as shown in the OTTIAQ screenshot below.

7 — Ask for a sample first

A translator will probably request a sample of your book in order to give you a fee estimate. It is a good practice to ask for the translation of a 500-word sample. Most translators are willing to invest the time to do a sample of this size in the hope of receiving the whole book contract.
The next step is to ask a native-language speaker with excellent writing skills, who also understands English, to compare the sample translation to the original text and give you an honest evaluation. You might have to pay a small fee for this, but it will save you problems in the long run. If the translation is into Spanish, look for a Spanish writer, editor, teacher, or even another translator, to do the independent evaluation.
You will need feedback on three aspects: fidelity, idiomaticity, and conformity. You can do this by asking three questions:
Does the translation convey the same information as the original text, with no omissions or additions?
Is the translation idiomatic — pleasant to read in that language?
Does the translation conform to standard grammar and punctuation guidelines?
If you receive positive answers to these three questions, you can confidently sign a contract with the translator who did the sample. If not, you should find a different translator.

A translator will probably request a sample of your book in order to give you a fee estimate. It is a good practice to ask for the translation of a 500-word sample. Most translators are willing to invest the time to do a sample of this size in the hope of receiving the whole book contract.
The next step is to ask a native-language speaker with excellent writing skills, who also understands English, to compare the sample translation to the original text and give you an honest evaluation. You might have to pay a small fee for this, but it will save you problems in the long run. If the translation is into Spanish, look for a Spanish writer, editor, teacher, or even another translator, to do the independent evaluation.
You will need feedback on three aspects: fidelity, idiomaticity, and conformity. You can do this by asking three questions:
Does the translation convey the same information as the original text, with no omissions or additions?
Is the translation idiomatic — pleasant to read in that language?
Does the translation conform to standard grammar and punctuation guidelines?
If you receive positive answers to these three questions, you can confidently sign a contract with the translator who did the sample. If not, you should find a different translator.

8 — Obtain a written contract

It is important to have a written agreement with the translator of your book, in order to protect your investment. A simple one-page contract that can be signed, scanned, and returned should be enough. The sample contract below shows important information that should be included.

It is a good idea to insist on receiving the translation file if you make a payment partway through the translation process, both to verify that the work has been done, and to protect you if the translator were to have a computer breakdown. My personal policy is that I do not hand over a translation to an individual (as opposed to a business) until they have paid me. The client is protected by my insurance through OTTIAQ, but I have no such protection against non-payment by individual clients.
In regard to insurance, not every translator has professional liability insurance even if they are certified (for example, it does not appear to be mandatory for ATA certified translators). You will need to decide your comfort and trust levels; will you only use a translator who has insurance? If you printed 100 books and later found out there were serious errors in the translation, who would pay for the reprinting?
The good news is that when you hire an experienced translator who earns their living through translation, they are concerned about their reputation, so that should reduce the risk to you.

9 — Don’t forget the extras

Before you finalize the contract with your translator, think about translation needs beyond the actual book text, and decide on a payment structure for assistance with these items. Some things to consider are:
Feedback on the title and subtitle
Feedback on the cover: Are the image and colors appropriate for the new reading audience? Would a different image have a stronger positive impact?
Translation of the back cover and the book description
Choosing Amazon keywords and categories
Creating ads and marketing materials
If you do not speak the other language, you will likely need assistance in navigating the corresponding Amazon site (ex. www.Amazon.es for Spanish books).
Finally, remember that your translated book is a separate product and will need its own ISBN. Also, be sure to choose the correct book language in the drop-down menu when you set up the book on Amazon.

IN CLOSING…
Whew! That was a lot of information, wasn’t it? But it’s always best to be well informed before plunging into a new endeavor, especially one that involves significant costs. Obtaining a quality translation of your book will not happen overnight, but you can follow the steps above to facilitate the process.

What languages are you considering having your book translated into and why? Comment below to get the conversation started!

How to Plan a Novel

Are you ready to write a novel?! We have everything you need to know!

What do you need before starting a novel?

Some people start novels with absolutely no plan! Those people are very brave, and often do not finish their books very quickly.

You can prepare as much or as little as you’d like. We’re going to go over some items you could plan out in advance.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to be prepared going into an intimidating project like writing a novel, here are some things you might want to have in place before you start drafting:

  • Character sheets
  • Research and worldbuilding
  • Outline
  • Timeline/schedule
  • Budget
  • Educational Resources
  • A solid handle on prose before you begin
  • Writing partner

Character sheets

Having separate profile sheets for your characters is great for plotting character arcs, establishing backstories, and developing unique voices for each character. They’re also helpful during the drafting process because it’s much easier to forget things than you might think (in my novel’s first draft, I think every single character swapped eye color at least once).

What items might you include in a character sheet?

  • Physical descriptions
  • Development tracking (how should they change at what points in the story)
  • Character story summaries (a paragraph or two about who they are, what they want, where they’ll start and end)
  • Background information

Research and worldbuilding

Most novels require research and worldbuilding, especially if you’re writing historical, sci-fi, or fantasy.

Getting the big chunk of your worldbuilding out of the way before you begin drafting is helpful, because then you know the elements your characters have to work with/against. Knowing the setting helps to decide things like who your characters would be in that world (based on their upbringing and environment), their motivations and goals, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

Worldbuilding is also helpful for plot development because things like environmental elements, politics, religion, weather, and magic systems can all contribute to conflict. Throwing characters you know into a world you understand will nearly always generate its own plot points with low effort.

Outline

Any project is quicker and easier to finish with a plan! A novel’s plan is its outline.

There are countless ways to structure a story outline. Here are a few examples, like the MindMap! It can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like, but in most cases, the more detailed your outline, the easier drafting will be.

You can edit an outline as you write to keep the process flexible and exciting if that’s a writing style you prefer. An outline is simply a writing tool–use it however you’d like.

You might fully flesh your outline into a scene-by-scene summary of your novel, but if you don’t want an outline that detailed, you should at least have an idea of:

  • Your story’s POV. Will you write in first, second, third limited, or third omniscient? Will you have multiple POV characters, or just one? If you’re writing in third omniscient: what kind of voice will your narrator have, is the voice a character, are they involved with the story?
  • Your main characters. Whose story is it? Who is your protagonist? Who is your antagonist?
  • Your setting. When and where does your story take place? Is your world set in realism, magic realism, or magic? What significant worldbuilding elements will come into play?
  • At least a few plot points or an idea of what will happen in the story.

Educational resources

Besides doing pre-research on your novel itself, you might do some research on the art of writing! Here are some good resources if you don’t know where to start.

Books to read–these three books cover the main categories of writing a book.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish

Plot & Structure deals with, shockingly, plot, and structure in novels. Knowing the technicalities of formulating a novel before you even start outlining makes the writing process much smoother.

The Elements of Style

If plot and structure are a story skeleton, prosaic style is the flesh. This book breaks down how to take your story idea and write it well.

I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop

This book by Mur Lafferty teaches about honing your craft, the creative process, and how to deal with your own self-critic. It also has in-book writing exercises and story prompts!

Skillshare classes–if you learn better with a teacher, here are a few Skillshare classes that might be helpful! (The links will give you 2 month free trials to Skillshare if you don’t have an account already.)

Novel Writing 101 – This class breaks down the absolute basics of writing a novel.

Story Structure: 8 Essentials for Outlining Your Novel or Script – This class gets into the more specific steps of outlining a story.

Plan Your Novel in 30 Days or Less! – This class holds your hand and guides you through planning each element of your story.

Writing Flash Fiction – This class teaches how to write flash fiction, which is a great way to practice writing prose, which will make your novel better.

Solid handle on prose

A lot of new writers like to jump straight into writing with a novel, but a novel is a massive undertaking! Planning a book, plot beats, developing characters, and building worlds are some of the easier things to figure out. What takes a while to learn (based on my experience in writing and teaching) is the actual art of prose.

Learning prose is much easier to do in shorter pieces like flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and creative essays. If you learn how to write before you try to write a novel, you will (surprise) write a much stronger novel.

Timeline and Schedule

A common reason books don’t get finished is that they are often side projects for people with careers, families, and other obligations. And often, writers have no one waiting for them to finish the first draft. If you don’t have an agent, a publishing company, and/or an audience demanding a finished product, there isn’t anything holding you accountable to making steady progress on your manuscript. If this sounds like you, you need to master self-motivation!

Whether you have an outside push or not, planning your novel timeline has many benefits–including motivating you to finish.

How to schedule your novel:

  1. Take a look at your outline (that you wrote, right?) and estimate how many words/pages/chapters you expect it to be.
  2. With your estimation, decide how soon you’d like to finish your novel. On average, a traditional novelist will publish a new book every 1-3 years. A lot of writers who self-publish tend to “churn,” which means they write lower quality novels with much quicker turnaround–they might produce a few books per year. Consider how much time and effort you’d like to expend, your expectations for your novel’s quality, and your lifestyle when you’re deciding on a timeline.
  3. Once you know when you want to finish your novel, break that time into sections. How long will you take on your first, second, and third draft? Do you think you might need more drafts than that? How long for beta readers? How long for a self-edit? How long do you need for a professional editor, cover designer, illustrators, and anyone else you might hire? Write out specific deadlines for each piece of production.
  4. Keep your schedule somewhere accessible and make monthly, weekly, and daily goal lists to be sure you’re staying on track. If you fall significantly behind, adjust your schedule as needed. Editors and other professionals need to be booked ahead of time, and everyone has a different window for how much notice they need and how much time they need to finish a project, so do your research when you’re planning your production timeline.

Sample timeline

Here’s an example timeline for my next short story collection. I’ve input it into a Gannt chart so it’s more visual, but this shows about a year-long process, from drafting to release.

As you can see, most of the processes happen simultaneously. With a timeline, I know everything that should be happening and when. I made this with MS Excel’s default Gannt chart, but there are lots of different formats you can choose, even just within MS Excel, to structure and track your novel timeline.

Sample schedule

Like I said, once you know your timeline for project completion and have broken it into specific durations, you can decide what your weekly and daily task lists should look like. My current phase of developing my short collection involves drafting, beta rounds, and self-revisions/edits.

For example, this month my tasks are:

  • Turn in a new short story to critique group on the 10th, 20th, and 30th
  • Revise (specific stories)
  • Review beta feedback and make final edits on (specific stories)

Once I’m done with drafting, workshops, and self-edits, my tasks will shift to promotion and communication with the professionals I’ve hired.

Timelines put you in control of your project.

Budget

Along with a timeline, a crucial planning element on the business side of producing a book is your budget. A budget will look very different between a self-published book and a traditionally published book. If you’re traditionally published, most of the costs will be covered by your publisher. If you’re self-publishing, the responsibility of services like a professional edit and cover design falls to you.

Here’s an example of a book budget:

Again, I just input my information into a MS Excel budget template for a visual. These items are examples of most things you might want to purchase to produce a book. I’ve over-budgeted in every category, so I’ll spend less than what I’ve estimated, but it’s better to overshoot than underestimate and have to eat unexpected costs.

From publishing my first collection, I have a reference for how much everything costs, but I also know my expected income once it releases. Based on those past numbers, I made this budget. The first time around, I kept costs as low as possible because I wasn’t sure what kind of sales I’d make. Now that I have an idea of how well my books sell, I’m freer to make more assumptions about where I can invest in higher quality production.

NOTE: Producing a novel will incur different costs than producing a short story collection. For example, I am only hiring a copy editor. For a novel, you’d do your best hiring a developmental editor as well. A professional edit on a novel typically runs between $1,000 and $3,000.

Critique/writing partner

This is probably the most optional thing you need for the early stages of a novel. Some writers prefer to have their first drafts all to themselves, but eventually, you’d benefit from having a writing partner.

How do you find a writing partner?

Make writer friends! A good writing partner is someone you can trust and get along with, so finding a writing partner amongst the friends you already have is a great option.

If you haven’t been able to make writing friends yet, you can reach out to other writers who have a similar skill level to you. Twitter hashtags are a great way to get into the writing community. Try tags like #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting.

How to plan a novel series

Some writers “pants” all the way through a series with no idea of how many books they’ll end up with or what will happen in each one. That can sometimes work, but it’s also a good way to confuse yourself into awkwardly stapling plot holes together.

A cleaner way is to have an idea of how many books your series will have and to at least roughly outline each book before your first one is published.

A method you might use to track your series is by creating a series bible. A series bible is a compilation of information about your series. It might include:

  • Character profile sheets
  • Plot arcs for the series and individual books
  • Backstory and worldbuilding 
  • Rules about magical, religious, and political systems
  • A lexicon of made-up words, creatures, concepts, etc.

As far as timelines, schedules, and budgets for a novel series, it’s essentially the same as what we covered for individual novels–just for multiple.

Writing a novel can be as planned or unplanned as you like, but there are certainly things you can work out beforehand to give yourself a creative and professional edge!

How to Choose a Pen Name

The decision to choose a pen name is a highly individual one arrived at after carefully considering many factors.  

A previous article on the Self-Publishing site discussed the many benefits a pen name affords the writer.  These included: personal anonymity, strategic branding, and genre-hopping, among others.

This article discusses how to choose a pen name.  As the world of book publication gets more competitive – and, particularly in the digital self-publishing arena where writers virtually anywhere in the world can publish their own works across many genres – choosing a pen name (or pseudonym) will become a more common and important thing to consider for effective branding and marketing purposes.    

Thanks to many wonderful advances in technology the process of writing a book is now virtually in the hands of the creator – you, the aspiring author.  From the initial idea to publish a book to the polished final copy, just about everything in between is now in your hands.  

Whether or not you “qualify” for a pen name is no different.  It is your judgment call.  You do not want to sacrifice originality and creativity for practicality and vice versa.  

Remember, no perfect name exists – just as no perfect title or book cover art exists.  Like with most stages of the book writing process, the goal is to build momentum, stick to your writing schedule, and reach the finish line: a fully realized manuscript.  

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding upon this critically important marketing and branding decision:

  • Is a Pen Name Necessary When Other Authors Have Used Your Real Name?  What if Your Real Name Has Already Been Taken on Social Media?
  • How “Old” is Your Pen Name, Figuratively Speaking?  Are You Known Enough Already that You Don’t Even Need a “Real Name?”
  • For Very Distinct Ethnic Book Genres and Categories Does Your Pen Name Have to be Culturally Relevant?  
  • Is the Domain Name Available for the Pen Name You Are Deciding to Use?  
  • Do you Have a Corresponding Book Title and Cover Art in Mind  For Your Pen Name?

How to Choose a Pen Name: Five Questions to Keep in Mind

Is a Pen Name Necessary When Other Authors Have Used Your Real Name?  What if Your Real Name Has Already Been Taken on Social Media?

There are as many name combinations out there as much as there are potential book titles.  But while book titles likely span endless word combinations author names are a bit more limited.  This is where you will have to be practical and creative.  

On Youtube, the second largest search engine in the world and certainly a powerful marketing tool for writers and content creators, three Youtube channels already have my name, “Gabe Muniz.”  Another channel exists under my “full name,” “Gabriel Muniz.”  

If I was to release a book right now and wanted to reach a bigger audience and expand by books publicity through various creative vlogs, etc. I would likely have to reconsider using my real name.  

But here’s the thing: what is true for one major social media platform may not be true for an immensely important commercial website.  Enter Amazon, one of the most popular book purchasing websites in the world.  On Amazon, my name was virtually unheard of.  A grand total of four products came up – none of them books and none with my name.  

Publishing a book on Amazon with my real name would seem to be a safe – even commercially viable – option.  Not so much with Youtube.  This is where having a blog with a creative name that encompasses your brand/message/passion/niche comes in.  I could easily use the name of my blog on Youtube and promote my book (written with my real name) on Youtube and elsewhere.  

Here are some scenarios where it may be wise to use a pen name in place of your real name:

  • Do you share a first and last name with somebody famous in the publishing world?   Is your name John Grisham, James Patterson, etc?   
  • Is your birth name quite long and difficult to pronounce?  Do you have a nickname that you go by that is both easy to remember and spell?  Remember, your name will be searched online and elsewhere so the easier it is to find the better for you.  
  • Is personal privacy a big deal to you?  Do you want to “test the waters” before jumping right in?  Is what you are writing about too “steamy?”  Pen names allow you to keep your public and private worlds separate.   
  • Do you simply want to get started now under a fake name and once you have built up the knowledge and experience to begin to write under your real name?  
  • How “Old” is Your Name, Figuratively Speaking?  Are You Known Enough Already that You Don’t Even Need a “Real Name?”  (Think: Pewdiepie)

Nobody really thinks of names as having a certain “age.”  Names,  in the popular mind, are timeless – they simply are or are not.  Some are more popular than others, sure.  But older?  

According to Dave Chesson, a popular blogger and E-book marketer, yes, names – and especially pen names – do, in fact, “give off” a certain age feel.

Dave gives the example of an instructional book that is written by a younger-sounding name.  A potential reader would likely not pick up a book written by somebody who simply sounds younger.  Instead, that same reader would be more inclined to read a book written by someone with a more mature authoritative name.

Think of the many textbooks you have seen over the years.  They all seem to have authoritative-sounding names followed by specific educational distinctions – Ph.D., M.D., J.D., etc.  Now,  of course, you cannot “fake it to make it” and include such titles after your name if you don’t possess the level of education.  The point is simply that an author’s name should ideally match the seriousness or lightheartedness of the book’s content.

So in this case, the opposite can, in fact, be true.  Say you are a practicing doctor or lawyer and you have been dying to delve into your true passion of writing a suspense-themed novel or children’s fantasy book, an official title after your name may not be needed in these cases.  

The key is for your name to tap into your reader demographic.  There are many creative ways this can happen.  Say, you are a millennial, and you regularly blog about millennials-related themes on your popular blog titled, “Millenial Mania.”  You even have a growing podcast under the same name. 

 If up to this point you haven’t released your real name for privacy reasons – this is your after-work passion up to this point – you may want to publish a book under a younger more relatable name that is also catchy and memorable: “Eddy Z,” for instance, or something to that effect.  

Consider the Youtube legend himself: Pewdiepie.  That’s not only his “stage name,” but his “pen name.”  He used it to write his popular book, “This Book Loves You.”  If your “stage name” really takes off like his why not cross-brand it?  

Last note: there are helpful tools out there to help with coming up with a pen name from a certain era.  You can, for instance, get lists of the most common names on year by year basis with a very helpful tool.  More on that later.  

  • For Very Distinct Book Genres and Categories Does My Pen Name Have to be Culturally Relevant?  Do you have the subject matter expertise/educational background to pen under your real name? 

Ethnic-themed books, autobiographies, and memoirs by authors sharing intimate aspects of their particular life experiences and culture are typically written exclusively by “ethnic” authors.  That does not mean, however, that these books are read exclusively by “ethnic” readers.  

One of my favorite books in high school was the popular memoir, “When I was Puerto Rican,” which detailed a young woman’s journey from Puerto Rico to the United States.  The book dealt with the struggles of assimilation, being a bilingual Latina in a foreign culture, various rites of passage, etc.  It was a popular book that won significant acclaim and launched the author’s career.   

Now could a non-Latino person pull off the same thing under a more American-sounding name?  For a deeply personal biographical account, I would say no for obvious reasons–they haven’t lived that life.  Now for a fictional account – for somebody very versed in the culture, language, etc., they may be able to pull it off.  But even then a slight name change would be better.  (Instead of John, how about the Spanish-equivalent Juan?)

 However, say a non-Latino professor of sociology has spent the last twenty years studying urban issues within a city environment where a high concentration of a minority ethnic group lives?  Can he publish that book?  Yes.  

 “When a Heart Turns Rock Solid,” a book by Timothy Black who is in fact a Sociology Professor, is one such book.  No need for a pen name in his case because his knowledge and expertise speaks for itself.  Also, notice the strong bold title.  The book sounds fictional, almost fantasy-like, but it is, in fact, a powerful biographical account of three brothers struggling with the plight of urban poverty.  

Granted, not everyone has PhD level expertise in a subject.  And, frankly, there are many more people who have strong passions for things outside of their birth ethnicity and culture.  Think of cookbooks and anime as two examples.  Pen names may or may not be necessary.  

One search on Amazon for Chinese cookbooks reveals an interesting pattern: most of the search results feature Asian names.  Not too surprising.  

But what if you aren’t Asian, have a passion for Chinese food, and believe you have what it takes to publish the latest cookbook?  This is where expertise and creativity again comes in.  While you may not need a complete name overhaul, you will want to showcase that you are both knowledgeable and respectful about the culture you are writing about – be it a cookbook, biography, etc.  

A pre-existing platform that demonstrates your passion and credibility is always useful.  Real-life experiences also help (Say you lived abroad for years, documented your experiences, etc.)  Always be mindful of pre-existing audiences and ensure that you are delivering at the same level of quality they are used to.  

  1. Is the Domain Name Available for the Pen Name You Are Deciding to Use?  

“Joe Johnson,” not your real name but the pen name you have decided to use after considering the various tips you’ve learned through reading this article, is now the name attached to your surprise bestseller.  What do you do?  

If you are lucky, you may find that no domain name exists under that particular name.  This means you can create a website under that name and, in doing so, create a marketing platform that features your future work.  

Ideally, you want to purchase your pen name’s domain prior to your book’s release.  The first thing you want to do, then, when considering a pen name is to see if a domain is available.  

Consider what happens if you do not purchase the domain name of a pen name that suddenly is associated with a popular book.  For one thing, someone else can purchase the domain and redirect traffic to their site instead of your own resulting in a loss of many would-be opportunities for broader brand exposure, increased readership, speaking engagements, etc.  

You can check to see if a domain name is available on many popular web hosting sites like siteground.com.  Try it here.

  1. Do you Have a Corresponding Book Title and Cover Art in Mind  For Your Pen Name?  Consider carefully whether you want to emphasize your name or the title of the book (along with its cover art)

If you look at major authors with long-established records, you notice that their names are placed prominently on the books cover either above or below the title.  This should not be the case for the beginning writer with no real track record or pre-existing audience.  It may be better to emphasize the title – especially a catchy, hard-hitting title – and the cover art to really “grab” the reader’s attention.

Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the cover.  As Seth Godin, popular author and marketing genius once stated in a popular blog post: “Tactically, the cover sells the back cover, the back cover sells the flap and by then you’ve sold the book.”  

In other words, the catchy nature, original quality, and even bold controversial naming of your book, corresponding cover art, and elevator pitch-like description, when combined, represent your “sales pitch” to your potential reading audience.  You gotta hook ‘em.  

Using a Pen Name Generator

As one blogger put it, picking a pen name is harder than coming up with a baby name.  Think about it: picking a name for a child is just that – a name, one name.  A pen name requires that you decide upon a first and last name, a process that is even more complicated if you want to connote a certain age, reach a particular audience, emphasize a certain ethnicity, etc.  

Pen name generators are a helpful way to make this process a bit easier.  Thankfully, too, many specific pen name generators exist for different types of genres – everything from horror to Victorian. 

Probably the most popular and comprehensive of these name generators is fakenamegenerator.com.  This site enables the user to create not only a fake name but a completely fake persona, including address, phone number, occupation, place of work, etc.  You can customize the settings to take into account age, gender, and ethnicity.  These options not only help with pen name creation but with fictional character development.  

Give it a shot here.   

In Dave Chesson’s helpful article he provides various other pen name generators that are more genre-specific.  These include:

  • Namegenerator.org.uk : On this site, you are asked various questions – many of them random and unrelated – to come up with a variety of pen names
  • Fantasynamegenerators.com : for odd, awkward, and fun names, this is your place to go.  Interested in something more classy and historical?  They have a special focus on Victorian-era names too.  
  • Namegeneratorfun.com : want something edgy and cool?  This is the place to go.  
  • Seventhsanctum.com : As their tagline makes clear: “Evil names for all your evil naming needs as you may have needed to name evilly. For evil.”  A great resource for coming up with names for villains.  

Picking a Name that is the “Right Age?”  

Chesson also provides a great resource for coming up with age-specific names.  Babyresource.com, the world’s largest digital parenting resource, provides some helpful lists of the most common names by year.  Simply go to Google and type in, “Top baby names for 1990 Baby Center.”    

Click here for the results for 1990.  Now for 100 years further back – 1900 – click here.  The results are very interesting and telling of the changing cultural influences.  Indeed, names evoke a historical time period and context.  Give it a try.  See what year, if any at all, your name appears in.     

Self-published books have many moving parts to them, each with varying levels of strategic marketing importance.  A carefully chosen pen name is one such critical component.  By now, your creative juices should be flowing.  As with most things involving the sometimes tedious writing process you can revise and edit accordingly.  Have fun.  

Tips on How to Write a Good Nonfiction Chapter: Easy Steps to Setting up your Book for Success


So you have a killer book idea, and you’ve gone through the mind mapping and outlining processes. Now it’s time to begin writing.

Of course, the actual writing is the hardest part for non-experienced writers. In this blog, though, we’re going to explain the best way to make the writing aspect of self-publishing a breeze.

We’re going to show you how to write a good chapter. My tips will mostly be useful for non-fiction authors but could also be executed for fiction.

Why do we need good chapters?

This should be pretty obvious, but it’s always good to start with the basics. Chapters will give your book structure. Without them, it’s hard to keep your thoughts organized. 

That’s why chapters are necessary, and if we have chapters in our book, obviously we want them to be good. Good chapters will lead to a good and even great book.

With that, let’s dive into how to construct a good chapter.

Three main steps to writing a good chapter:

1 – Follow your Mindmap & Outline

2 – Stay on one point while writing until reaching a finished thought, then move to the next

3 – Complete thorough self-edit

Follow these three main steps, and you will be well on your way to creating a good chapter. Repeat the process, and you will have a very good manuscript.

Writing a good chapter requires following your mindmap & outline

There’s a reason why Self-Publishing School first teaches its students to mindmap and then outline their book before beginning the rough draft. Mindmapping creates a roadmap for your book while constructing an outline then connects those roads and essentially gives them names.

Here’s the beginning of the outline for my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond.

If done correctly, the book structure is right in the mindmap and outline. It’s time to put those ideas in longer words on-page in the form of a rough draft.

The mindmap and outline should also ensure that each idea goes into the correct chapter. As important as the next step (staying with one topic within a chapter before moving to the next) is to write a good chapter, it’s even more vital that there aren’t any loose thoughts or ideas that belong in a different section of the book. 

Good outlines should prevent this from happening.

Writing a good chapter involves covering one topic at a time

This step is most critical for rookie writers. Inexperienced writers have a tendency to bounce back and forth between ideas. That’s not a recipe for success.

When beginning your rough draft, make sure you complete your thoughts, writing down every teenie, weenie concept you may have of an idea before moving on to what’s next.

Think of writing the same way you did mind mapping (link to my mindmap blog post). During that step, you should have written down every thought you could conceive for every general idea, which will eventually become all of your chapters. Writing works the same way.

Don’t put a limit to how many paragraphs you need for an idea — write as many (or few) graphs as you need to convey your point.

Of course, you could reach a point of redundancy, but that’s alright in the rough draft process. It’s easier to cut than it is to add. Just make sure to stay on point and transition smoothly from one idea to the next.

Tip: In order to execute those smooth transitions, use transition words such as next, secondly, thirdly, then, etc.

You can also use conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, although, even though, despite, moreover, furthermore, etc. 

Here’s a more extensive list of conjunctive adverbs:

However, (see what I did there) keep conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, and despite, to a minimal. If you use them constantly, it’s going to seem like you are contradicting every single point you make.

Second Tip: If you are still having trouble bouncing back and forth between numerous ideas, it might be best to breakdown that chapter into multiple chapters. We’ll dive into an example later.

Complete a thorough self-edit before submitting to an editor

After finishing the rough draft, it’s going to be very tempting to immediately send the manuscript to an editor. But it’s not ready. The last major step to writing a good chapter is self-editing that chapter.

You’re in luck because I also wrote a SPS blog post on self-editing. Please refer to that post for more details, but essentially, the self-edit process helps you double-check all of your work.

In the self-editing phase, you will complete several different verbal read-throughs, ensuring that each chapter stayed on point with no loose ideas that actually belong in a different section of the book. Yes, you should also catch grammar and spelling mistakes while self-editing but checking for chapter structure is arguably more critical. 

Any decent editor will be able to catch grammar or spelling errors. It will take a more advanced editor to provide advice on paragraph order and chapter structure.

Through self-editing, writers could also trim any of the redundancies that they may have made while originally writing the rough draft.

How Step 3 in “How to Write a Good Chapter” Process Helped Me

When I wrote my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond, my first chapter was a bit of a mess during my rough draft phase. That’s because I tried to tackle too many ideas at once.

During the outlining phase, it seemed natural to explore the popularity of the James Bond film series and how the series’ portrayal of masculinity has changed over the years into the same chapter. Bond’s masculinity is a major reason why so many men and women have loved the series over the last 57 years.

But during my self-edit, it felt as though I was bouncing between these two ideas — Bond’s popularity and masculinity — too much. The chapter felt clunky and even longer.

What’s worse, it was the first chapter of my book. I couldn’t have my audience believing my first chapter was too long and confusing.

Therefore, I decided to break that first chapter into two. That helped me stay focused on one idea. It ultimately led to a very successful first two chapters in my book.

How to Write a Good Chapter for a Fiction Book

So far through this blog, we’ve focused on writing a good chapter for non-fiction books. Fiction is a little different. Rather than forming arguments or making points, fiction authors are telling a story.

For more information on constructing fiction books, please refer to the Self-Publishing School expert, R.E. Vance, and his numerous blog posts.

To get you started, though, you can use these same basic concepts to writing a good chapter for fiction. Following your mindmap/outline and self-editing are key for both fiction and non-fiction.

The middle step is the biggest difference, but the essential premise of the step is the same. Keep your key story elements together and ensure to tell the story in order (unless it’s portrayed in some unusual flashbacks).

Other Things to Keep in Mind to Write a Good Chapter

1 – Keep paragraphs on the short end

2 – Limit chapters to 3,000-4,000 words

3 – Every good chapter could use a good title

These last three things can take a good chapter and make it great.

1 – It’s alright to keep paragraphs to 1-3 lines

These first two things are really style preference, but for me, shorter paragraphs and chapters are better. 

Millennial readers don’t like big bulky paragraphs. How do I know? Well, I’m one of them.

Books are a little different, but with web writing, short graphs are essential because it’s easier to skim, which is often all readers have time to do. 

This can apply to books in the digital age because so many people now read e-books. Shorter graphs look more appealing and less daunting on an electronic screen.

We don’t want to encourage people to skim your book, but if there’s ever a question of, “should I make this one paragraph or two?” make is two! 

2 – Shorter chapters is a good thing too

Remember when you were a kid, and you were reading a really long book for English class? What was the very first thing you did before reading a chapter?

If you are anything like me, the first thing you did was count how many pages you needed to read to get to the next chapter. It was so painful when that next chapter was 20, 25, or even 30 pages away. 

Because nobody wants to pause a book in the middle of a chapter. Longer chapters could mean a long time until getting a break.

Now, that doesn’t mean we want to give our readers opportunities to stop reading. But similar to 1-3 line paragraphs, shorter chapters will make the reader feel more accomplished. 

If someone asked me would I rather read a 200-page 10-chapter book or 200-page 20-chapter book, I’d definitely pick the latter. 

For a slow reader like me, it will make me feel like I’m reading through the book faster, thus making it a more enjoyable experience, if I can get through each chapter quicker.

Tip: Keep in mind that these style choices won’t matter if the content isn’t good.

It won’t matter, though, if you have nice short paragraphs and chapters if your chapter doesn’t make any sense or bounces between too many ideas. The first two steps are far more important than the length of graphs and chapters.

3 – What’s in a name?

The very last thing to a good chapter is a title. When I say the very last thing, it’s the very last thing.

Don’t get caught up in what to call the chapter before writing it. Often times, it’s going to change anyway. Following your mindmap and outline, each author should have an idea of what each chapter is about, but there are alterations made during the writing process.

Just like in journalism, I rarely give my sports stories a name before writing them. If I did that, I’d spend the entire time writing to the title.

Write about what you want to write. Make the points you wish. Then decide on a title that fits what you just wrote — if you even want one. They aren’t necessary but a nice added feature.

Are you ready to start writing your good chapter TODAY?

Obviously, we all want to write good chapters. That leads to a good manuscript and then a good/great book. 

Following these steps, you can get to the point where you are writing good chapters with ease.

If you’re ready to start (finish) and publish your book, check out this free training by Chandler Bolt!

Benefits of Using A Pen Name

Pen names (or non de plumes in French) are pseudonyms adopted by writers with a long, interesting, and sometimes funny history.  

Similar to a musical artist (whether single/duo/or group) who might employ a pseudonym for purely stylistic purposes – to be catchy, to encapsulate their brand/image, to better represent their alter persona – writers often employ pseudonyms for easy recollection, ease of pronunciation, and, in some cases, for their name to better match the genre in which they are seeking publication (a darker, more mysterious sounding name, for instance, for mystery/thriller-themed books).  

But given that authors write in various historical time periods each with their own set of political, social, and economic mores, the reasons a writer might choose to write under a pen name are often very different.

In reading this article, you will learn about some of these reasons.  

Additionally, you will learn about the various benefits of using a pen name.  

Lastly, you will also better appreciate the virtually limitless creative energy flowing in each and every writer and how pen names, far from being used for a single purpose, can be used to experiment across various genres and potentially unlock hidden writing talent.  

Let’s get right into it.  

I love the language an article published on the website electricliterature.com used when explaining the various reasons authors have used (or continue to use) pen names.  Noting that some have used them for “political reasons, others for personal concerns, and some simply for the joy of mischief… pseudonyms are a powerful tool for writers, allowing their pens to say what perhaps their mouths couldn’t”

Here are just a few writers whose pens were used to do the talking.

Notable Writers Throughout History Who Used Pen Names

  • Daniel Defoe, the English writer, journalist, and spy, widely considered to be one of England’s earliest novelists and most controversial writers of his time, having produced more than 400 works ranging from books, pamphlets, songs, essays, and journalistic works spanning many subjects, used 198 different pseudonyms
  • Theodor Geisel, the beloved children’s author who wrote under the pen name Dr. Seuss, whose pseudonym resulted from being caught drinking as a Dartmouth undergrad (for which he was forced to resign as Editor-in-Chief of a campus humor magazine) holds the record for the most books written pseudonymously (57).
  • Stanley Martin Lieber, widely recognized as Stan Lee, who would eventually achieve worldwide literary acclaim as a comic book writer, producing such classics as The Amazing Spider-Man, planned to save his real name for more “serious” literary work such as novels
  • Eric Blair, who wrote worldwide classic novels such as 1984 and Animal Farm and whose literary masterpieces denouncing the evils of totalitarian government has instituted a “language of dystopia” – such words as “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” –  wrote under the pen name George Orwell so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty – an experience he recounts in his classic work, Down and Out in London and Paris.  

For more interesting, fascinating, and sometimes hilarious tidbits of literary history regarding pen names, check out this very artful, historical infographic timeline provided by electricliterature.com.  

Common Reasons Why Authors Use (Or Have Used) Pen Names

Anonymity / Privacy

Some of the greatest works of literary fiction that would go to achieve much acclaim were, in many instances, scathing indictments on the current political power, economic order, social value system, etc.  Writers, then and now, needing protection from the government, enemies of one sort or another, chose to write under a pen name for their personal protection.  

In some cases, though, it’s simply a matter of privacy.  Social media being all the rage, if you wish to retain some privacy regarding your thoughts on touchy subjects – and believe you have what it takes to publish a book on such things – using a pen name is definitely recommended.  Hiring managers no doubt check social media profiles, workplace friends have access to your every thought it seems like, so it’s definitely preferable to make a clear boundary between your public and private life.  

George Orwell mentioned previously, was motivated by both concerns:  he feared what his family might think as he lived destitute in many of Europe’s leading cities and he certainly knew that his writings were taking on the elites of his time.  

Conceal Gender, Marketing, and Reckless Abandon

From England’s Victorian Age up to the present postmodern world of liberal publication, women have penned works under male names for a variety of reasons.  In more historic times, given the male-dominated nature of authorship and publication, aspiring female authors, to be taken seriously and have their works published at all, wrote under a male name.


Combine this social and political climate with literary works criticizing these very norms and it makes sense why  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (‘Currer Bell’), Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (‘Ellis Bell’), and Middlemarch by Mary Anne Evans (‘George Elliot’) – three of the most celebrated English literary classics – were written under male names.  

More recently, Joanne Rowling, popular author of the Harry Potter Series, one of the best-selling book series of all time, penned her works under the more gender-ambiguous ‘J.K. Rowling.’  In 2013, when she published The Cuckoo’s Calling, she adopted the even more straightforward male name of ‘Robert Galbraith.’ 

In the case of Rowling, because the intended audience of her Harry Potter series were young boys who presumably would not want to read fantasy books written by a woman, publishers decided that she use the more gender-neutral J.K.   

Sometimes a flat out rejection of traditional standards of decency and modesty explains female to male name changes.  Speaking about Amantine Lucile Dupin, the famous French novelist and memoirist, Carmela Ciuraru, author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms writes: 

“bored by her aristocratic milieu, a cigar-smoking, cross-dressing baroness rejected the rules of propriety by having sexual liaisons with men and women alike, publishing novels and plays under the name George Sand.”

The rationale behind the name change for a more gender-neutral or male-sounding name sounds antiquated but it nonetheless remains true in some parts of the literary publishing world.  Ciuraru, for instance, during a CNN interview, speaking about Rowling’s decision to write under a male name, stated that “Sadly, in certain genres, it still helps to be a man – particularly in crime or science fiction.”  

In the late ’60s, as one example, James Tiptree Jr, a very popular science fiction writer who seemed to have come from nowhere, was actually Alice Sheldon, a former CIA officer, and experimental psychologist.  

CHANGE GENRES / FAN EXPECTATIONS

Say your favorite writer of legal suspense decides to write a coming-of-age novel, just how motivated would you be to read it?  Would you be suspicious, maybe even questioning the quality of the book?  

Aside from answering to their critics, many notable authors have big fanbases who, like it or not, have to be catered to.  While book titans James Patterson and John Grisham have been able to “get away” with writing outside of “their genre” the same may not apply to a lesser-known and beginning writer.  

Here’s what even established authors likely consider: 

  • Feeling disingenuous they may wonder, “how can I write a book of poetry if I only am known for romance novels?” 
  •  Fearing backlash they may think about fans or even first-time readers coming down hard on them and judging their work extra hard.  
  • As public figures, bad PR might keep them up at night: say the writer writes mainly fictional Sci-fi books and one day decides to pen a non-fictional work on the latest culture war topic.  

These scenarios–internal debates about whether or not to shift genres (and the potential consequences of doing so)–are virtually endless.  

This is where pen names come in.  

The biggest names do it–or have done it.    

  • Nora Roberts becomes ‘J.D.  Robb’ when writing erotic thrillers.  
  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens, when writing across different genres, was known to the world as ‘Mark Twain.’  
  • The King of Horror himself, Stephen King, has penned various novels outside of horror under ‘Robert Galbraith.’

For the Weary Reader…When Pen Names Can be Beneficial 

A quick note on King and others like him.  Writers who have an especially large output – such as King and other authors who publish in different genres – are wise to use a different name if they are simply publishing a ton of material – more than a loyal fan base might be able to keep up with.   

So, for instance, in one calendar year, once you have established a regular publishing pattern, one or two books a year, and you still think you can churn out a third, but, say, in a different genre, a name change might work here in terms of sales, marketing, and keeping a loyal fan base.  

Again, the particulars of this will look different for every writer but as an example, consider the following: you establish a great reputation, both in print and on social media, as an expert on the topic of, to use a modern trendy example, the ketogenic diet.  

You’ve written a book or two already, have a great Youtube channel, perhaps even a podcast.  You are firing on all cylinders.  Say, now, you would like to shift gears, and pen something on leadership.  

Here are some things to think about: 

  • Should you go full steam ahead and risk everything by delving into a brand new subject? 
  • What if it flops?  Perhaps the market is flooded with such books already.  
  • Maybe your fan base thinks you are “faking it to make it” by hiring a ghostwriter – your latest attempt to exploit your following by offering something they probably don’t even need. 
  • Worse, they begin to question your previous books and think it was a marketing ploy–using others to manufacture your claim to fame.  

Using a pen name is a strategic marketing decision arrived at after considering your track record, future goals, personal passion, and subject expertise.  

Below follow some reasons why ought to consider using one.  

Pen Names Are a Great Way to Test the “Writing Waters” and Experiment with Your Craft

Personal journals/diaries detailing your deepest darkest secrets were once the domain of only one person–you, the individual.  But, today, in an internet-crazed world where people are looking for more answers to more and more of life’s complex problems, you very well may have the answers people are looking for. 

Pen names allow you to publish material that you otherwise would not publish–material that could form the basis for a loyal following, people so loyal who could be salivating for your next biggest project–a book-length work that, who knows, goes on to span a fictional series, a memoir based on personal life experiences, a novel that you later sell the movies for, etc.  Most great fiction finds its basis on non-fictional real life accounts, after all.  

Think of it in terms of a question: why do new cookbooks or rock groups come out each year?  

Personally, I think it comes down to the market always allowing for new and unique voices that offer a fresh perspective on a given subject.  What you think is only good enough may very well be great for somebody else.  You may be that special person people connect with.  There’s only one way to test this out: get your material out there.

A Medium article published by the writer S.K. Anthony further elaborates on these above points.  Expounding on her point of what pen names do for a writer’s branding, Anthony makes the excellent point that “there’s no better reason to have a pen name than having flunked under a different name and needing to start over” – a phenomenon she says happens more than people even realize.  

Think of the virtually limitless creative opportunities that you, the aspiring writer, are afforded.  No other creative profession – no profession at all, for that matter – allows for such wondrous potential.  

The lawyer who loses too many cases develops a bad rap;  the athlete who blows the big game one too many times finds it hard to rebound; the musician who plays a horrible note hardly recovers his or her musical prowess; the restauranter who gets too many bad reviews on Yelp, and on and on…

Not so with writing…

If you fail to resonate with readers after publishing your deepest personal memoir but feel you can give it a shot at short story writing—who can stop you? 

Who will know you – the real you – failed?  

If the funny punchlines that you thought could form a humor book fall flat and get bad reviews on Amazon but think you can write the lastest Sci-Fi book, what law exists to prevent you?  

How do you make such drastic genre changes you still be might wondering?  

CHANGE YOUR “NAME!”

Perhaps you need reminding from a daring historical figure who stopped at nothing to accomplish greatness – Thomas Edisons’ timeless quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

The only difference is his failings were made public; yours will remain private.  Talk about a win-win!!

The beauty of writing is that you can control the extent of your privacy; nobody sees you in the privacy of your home formulating your craft, nobody even has to know the person behind the name…too shy to engage with your audience live?  Do it through a personal fan page where you interact digitally until you announce your “coming out” moment.  

Not to go too far with my point here, though.  I guess I’m just pointing out some additional benefits to being a writer who dares to experiment and who, perhaps too shy and introverted, wishes to remain anonymous.  

BRANDING:  When pen names may work; when they may not be necessary 

Here are some pointers to keep in mind regarding pen names.  I provide some examples – some hypothetical, some real-world–on when pen names are appropriate and ways you might be able to further brand yourself:  

  • It seems that very famous writers, like celebrities, can “get away” with certain things based on how successful and loved they are; nobody questions when a celebrity of any field decides to write a book (that is standard practice), but when a writer decides to enter a new genre – write a screenplay, launch a videogame, invent an app – they can only do so if they have truly proven themselves
  • To give an example of the previous point, the creator of the Rich Dad Poor Dad series, Robert Kiyosaki, has been able to successfully brand his international hit, the Rich Dad Poor Dad book, into many successful follow up books, a board game, popular website, speaking engagements, popular seminars, etc.  Keep in mind, his second book (you may not score big on your first)–which to this day remains a huge hit–allowed not only his writing career but his broader entrepreneurial brand to really take off.  
  • NOTE: There was no need for him to use a pen name because his books and larger brand centered around personal finance, investing, business, self-help, etc.  If he ever wanted to brand himself outside of this world, it might make sense to use a pen name.  
  • Genre-hopping requiring a pen name, to be clear, need not even happen for you, the aspiring writer.  If you truly find your niche and can keep building it up through follow up books, seminars, a game, a movie, consulting, etc…why rock the boat, right?  Consider the biggest brands like Star Wars and Harry Potter and the immense scalability they both wield across the globe.  From the first HP book to movie adaptations, LEGO sets, action figures, various toys, video games, etc.  THINK BIG.  
  • No matter where you are in your personal/professional life you likely already have a powerful story to share–and you need not even have to use a pen name, no matter how deep and personal.  I love the story of Matthew Crawford, the “philosopher-mechanic,” whose New York York Times Bestselling Book, Shop Class as Soul Craft, became an instant bestseller.  Here was a Ph.D. in political science working as the Director of a think tank who made the occupational change to a motorcycle mechanic who wrote a book – a very powerful thought-provoking one – to tremendous acclaim.  Imagine what his next move might be – speaker, consultant, follow up book on a similar topic.  No need for a pen name.  Judging by the reception of his first book, people likely want a second.  
  • Long complicated, difficult-to-pronounce name, too ‘soft’ of a name for a ‘strong’ subject you are tackling—these are situations where a pen name may work.  Again, many musical artists do it.  When they want to sound fun, upbeat, and energetic, they pick a name accordingly.  Think of the countless rock bands that pick names connoting danger, death, and what have you.  The literary equivalent for a writer would be picking a mysterious-sounding name for a suspense-themed book.  Many artists –including writers– “Americanize” their name, if, for instance, the name is too long/difficult to pronounce.  However, the opposite works too. To get in touch with their roots (and their potential readership) writers will use their foreign names to great effect.  Two such examples of works dealing with strong ethnic themes that have garnered much literary acclaim are Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.  

You literally have unlimited freedom when it comes to choosing a pen name. Whether or not you choose one comes down to a consideration of factors that this article hopefully helped to frame for you. Self-Publishing School can certainly help with this important decision and more. What are you waiting for?  

15 Writing Tools: Products, Services, and Practices to Improve Writer’s Lives

While writing is fulfilling and fun, it can also be extremely frustrating and draining! Here are some tools you can utilize, for free or cheap, that will make writing a little easier.

We have three lists of tools: one for the actual process of writing, one for your author platform, and one for you, the writer.

6 Tools to improve the writing process.

For drafting, editing, revising, and sharing your work, here are some things you can use!

  1. Microsoft Word—You obviously have some kind of word processor if you’re writing. I’ve used several different ones, and the Microsoft Suite has had the most reliability for me. Some others have had really nice features I’d love to have, but files kept corrupting or getting lost, and it ultimately wasn’t worth it. Microsoft Word is what I use consistently, because of the reliability and backup features.
  2. Google Docs—I use Google Docs for sharing my writing. If I’m collaborating with another writer, we’ll draft in Google Docs so we can see each other’s changes in real-time. It keeps everything together and easily accessible to different people across different devices. The commenting feature is really easy to use, and you can track edits as suggestions instead of changes, so it makes editing and critiquing really easy.

After I’ve finished a draft of a chapter on Word, I just upload it to a Google Doc, but my critique group’s email addresses, and send it off. It’s easy, all their feedback is in the same place, they can respond to each other, I can respond to them, and I have access to those notes whenever and wherever I need them.

  1. Google KeepGoogle Keep is a notepad app. I use it for keeping track of ideas. I have a doc for lines, images, story ideas, character ideas. Since it’s Google, it’s accessible across all of my devices, and really convenient for jotting down thoughts. Write down your ideas as soon as you get them! They’re not gonna hang around. They’re gonna run away. You gotta grab ‘em!!
  2. A critique group—I have two critique partners and we exchange chapters on a set schedule to give each other feedback. Having other people expecting you to finish something by a certain date really helps to keep you accountable, with the added bonus of constructive feedback! It’s a win-win. Get yourself a critique partner or group.
  3. Apps for focusing. Apps like StayFocusd and Pause For can keep you on track and writing! StayFocusd is a chrome extension that allows you a certain amount of time on designated websites before blocking you out of them. Pause For is for iPhones, and you can use it to set amounts of time not to use your phone. If you succeed, it donates money to the charity of your choice! How motivating!
  4. Backup files! Back up everything! On another hard drive, on the internet—multiple backups! Trust me! Do it!

6 Tools for your author platform.

Here are some things you can use to grow your readership, promote your book, and market yourself!

  1. Jenna Moreci’s Skillshare classes on author platforms and releasing a book—there is so much good content in these classes. Literally anything you could possibly want to know. If you’re just starting out as a writer, or maybe you just haven’t hit your stride yet, check out Jenna’s course for building your author platform–you’ll learn about target demographics, social media, personal branding, and a ton more. Her course on planning a book release outlines everything from setting goals and doing the prep work, to hosting giveaways and managing a street team. I could not recommend Jenna’s classes enough. Check them out to strengthen your writing platform and work smarter. If you don’t have a Skillshare account, here’s a two-month free trial!
  2. Social media—even if you don’t have a book ready, even if you haven’t set up a website yet, you can start building your author platform on social media. It’s free, and it’s pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. The three main social media authors use are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but which you should use depends on your target demographic. For example, if you’re writing books for people in their 40s and up, you need a Facebook page. If you’re writing young adult, Twitter and Instagram are where your audience will be. If your audience is even younger, you might use Snapchat or TikTok!
  3. A press kit—even if you don’t have a completed book yet, you can start making a press kit with your author information. It’s really good for sending to ARC reviewers, for interviews, etc. Once you have a book to promote, you’ll have a head start on your marketing materials since if you’ve been building your press kit as you go!
  4. WordPress—I used WordPress to build my website. I’ve used Wix and Weebly in the past, but WordPress has been my favorite so far. There are several options, each with different strengths and weaknesses depending on your goals and experience, but whichever service you choose, set up a website. If you’re not ready to buy a domain, you can use the free URL for now and start putting your website material together. You can start a blog there to get some traffic. You can also set up a mailing list–I use MailChimp. It’s easy to embed sign up forms on your website and manage your list through them. And it’s free!
  5. PexelsPexels is a free way to get access to a wide variety of royalty-free stock photos to create your marketing materials. I’ve used a photo from Pexels for things like my Twitter banner as well! They have great content, and it’ll really make your stuff look nice.
  6. CanvaCanva is a super simple, free online alternative to something like Photoshop to make graphics and marketing images. They have great templates and tools, and they give you dimensions for everything—YouTube thumbnails, banners, Facebook posts, Instagram stories. Use Pexels and Canva, and your stuff is gonna look dope.

3 things for you, the writer—

  1. An adequate workspace. Be it a desk, a corner, a coffee shop, or a porch–find somewhere you can dedicate to writing. It will help you get into your writing mode quicker and keep you on task, resulting in a much more productive writing session. Make sure you’ve got a supportive and comfortable chair, and don’t sit for too long! Every half or so, get up and wiggle. Wiggling is imperative.
  2. Blue filter glasses. Looking at a computer screen for a long time gives me headaches, so I wear these boys. They’re fly as heck. It filters the light that makes your eyes ache, so you can work comfortably for longer. There are also programs you can install like f.lux that can cater your screen settings to what is easiest on your eyes. I have my f.lux set to imitate the sun, so the day starts and ends with a softer, orange light, which wakes your brain gradually, then gets you ready to wind down for bed!
  3. Wrist and hand care. If you’re young and spry, you might not be worried about this yet, but working at a computer all day is a killer on your hands and wrists. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need to, do hand and wrist exercises (here’s a great yoga routine for it), and also look at things like stress balls, ergonomic computer accessories, and wrist rests for your keyboard. Your hands are very important and very breakable. Keep a lookout!

I hope some of these tools help you out. Happy writing!

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel

So you want to become a fiction author? Maybe you even have some fantastic ideas rolling around in that noggin of yours. Why not just dust off your typewriter and clackity-clack that novel in no-time flat? Seems easy enough, right?

Wrong! 

How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.

In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:

  1. Make a Plan: providing an hour-count breakdown through each step of the writing process 
  2. Get Inspired by Others: looking to those who have braved the path before you
  3. Invest in Your Craft: passing on the #1 piece of advice to be a great author
  4. What are your goals? 
    • to tell a captivating story that will change someone’s life?
    • to leave a legacy and create something that will outlive you?
    • to become a career author?

By applying things you learn in this post, you’ll be shaving months (or years) off your writing time all while getting inspired to accomplish your goals.

Realistically, what are we talking here: a month, a year, two years? Ah, not so fast there, hotrod! I’ll give you a hint: it completely depends on your commitment and incorporating a solid plan.

Make a plan for your novel

Books take time, and it’s better to think about them by word count rather than the number of pages. 

Novels tend to range from 40,000 words to 150,000. Breaking that down to hours will depend on your writing speed (which will increase as you plan better and gain experience). 

Most starters are capable of writing 500 words per hour, though some have achieved mythical status such as Joanna Penn and Chris Fox with his book, 5,000 Per Hour.

Don’t get too intimidated by that! It took them years to work up to that, and dictation is a useful tool for those who can make it work.

Cut to the chase! How long?

Technically, one could write a rough draft is as few as 6 hours but it usually takes 60+. That is only the first step in producing a novel to be proud of.

Let’s take a look at writing and releasing a 50k word novel. It also helps to have specific guidance, like Self-Publishing School, but while  you’re here, let’s break down what it takes:

  1. Have an idea and pre-write. When coming up with your idea, save those notes; they may come in handy when writing your book description later. Pre-writing is a great way to streamline your process. It includes such things as brainstorming, shaping characters, mind-mapping, world-building, and outlining. (2-20+ hours) Need help with ideas? Check out these writing prompts!
  2. Write a crappy first draft. This is the hardest obstacle to overcome as a new writer (and sometimes as a seasoned one!) Very few, if any, of your favorite books are first drafts. If you’re feeling really brave, try dictating. (6-100+ hours)
  3. Read aloud and self-edit. This is an optional step but highly recommended for new writers. (2-20+ hours)
  4. Send it to an editor. There are many types of editing, so this could vary. This prolongs the process by a matter of weeks. Let’s assume you gave enough notice and requested a quick turnaround. (10-40+ hours)
  5. Fix mistakes or rewrite. At this point, you can choose to accept all the changes in a matter of minutes, or comb through each change and comment, likely rewriting several sections. (1-30+ hours)
  6. Have it proofread. Even after this step, errors will still surface later. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for done! Let perfect come with time, if ever. (4-40+ hours)
  7. (Optional but recommended) Sit back, relax, and try not to rewrite it again…yet! To be successful, the real next step is to start the process again with the next book. You can always revisit a book or series after you’ve grown in your craft and received plenty of reader feedback.

Based on those numbers, there is a wide range! In a perfect world—what? You don’t live in Perfectville? It’s pretty nice…or so I hear.

A quality novel can be produced in as few as 25 hours or up to 250 hours.

To be honest, even those are ambitious numbers. Based on an article that also breaks it down to hours, the range is closer to 100-500 hours. 

It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author. 

Action Point #1

Place a rough draft deadline on your calendar. Assuming you push hard to write 1000 words per day, your 60k draft could be done in 2 months! 

It would also be wise to get an accountability partner and post this goal on a writing group.

GET INSPIRED BY OTHERS (my experience as well as some of the greats)

Let’s hear about a real person, someone I admire sometimes, but more often chastise: myself.

The first book I finished writing took me 30 days using the Self-Publishing School system #humblebrag. Honestly though, without the initial training videos, I would still be staring at a growing catalog of unfinished books.

Let’s get real though. My first novel (starting on my own and finishing with SPS Fundamentals of Fiction) took me two years to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite some more, and publish. 

Did I mention rewriting? 

Well, I did, at least six times. Most current authors don’t recommend that many revisions. It’s best to move on to the next project, then come back to it if you can later.

Don’t freak out though! Breathe, it’s okay. This will not be you, not if you follow the advice in this post.

With the Fundamentals of Fiction course, I actually wrote the drafts for books 2 and 3 in my series within a year. The latest one was around 60k words and only took me 2 months. 

I’ve gotten progressively faster and better; so can you!

Enough about an average guy. Let’s glance at the “greats” for a moment…those are the ones we really care about, am I right?

If you’ve searched this topic at all, surely you’ve seen this infographic that shows how long it took famous authors to write their wildly successful novels. I found this both encouraging and intimidating!

The thing to remember is that not all—very few in fact—were first or early novels for those authors. If you really counted the hours they invested in their craft, it would be astounding. 

That’s step one for you! (after you finish reading this post, of course)

Action Step #2

Get accountability for your own writing by doing one or all of the following:

INVEST IN YOUR CRAFT

Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.

Here are some ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:

  • Write Every Day! Go back to Action Point #1 to see how to make this happen. Aim for an hour but have grace for yourself if you can only do 15 minutes occasionally. Make mistakes, write rough (emphasis on ‘rough’) drafts, learn how to craft your stories.
  • Be a Plotter, not a Pantser: You don’t have to be a full-blown plotter, but you need to plan as much as you can. There will still be times to write by the “seat of your pants”—hence: “pantser”—but there’s no denying the benefits of having some direction as you write.
  • Participate in Nanowrimo. The SPS Fundamentals of Fiction crew has their own ongoing writing challenge called InNoWriLife (International Novel Writing Life) where they strive to write every day, every month.
  • Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
  • Publish a Book! SPS is a perfect program to get you there (save $250 right away with my referral, ask anytime!) The most powerful thing you’ll get is real reader feedback. By understanding and managing reader expectations, you get better all around.
  • Learn from It! This is paramount to success and is the main reason to push so hard to get that first novel out there. Not only will the reviews give you insight, but you’ll learn through every step of this journey. The next book will be better, and you’ll write it even faster.
  • BONUS TIP: If selling more books is your goal, break down some of the top books in your genre to identify popular tropes. Use those to guide your storylines and characters in order to maximize your book’s impact on Amazon.

You’re already on the right track by coming to this site, so kudos to you! 

Chandler Bolt has a great write-up on how long it takes to write a book, and Scott Allan is great at inspiring people to finally start. These are geared towards non-fiction, all the principles apply and are crucial to getting your novel done well and quickly!

I wished I had come across SPS a lot sooner, specifically the Fundamentals of Fiction course. Technically, it wasn’t around when I first needed it, but it’s here now and it’s better than ever! I highly recommend it. Ask me for a referral to save some scratch (for you young’n’s, that means money, cash, moula, smackaroonies).

One of its most powerful features is how it connects you to a community of aspiring authors. Besides writing and getting feedback from readers, writers need a network in order to succeed.

Action Step #3

Take an honest look at your weekly schedule, and see what you can drop or rearrange in order to gain an hour a day to devote to writing. Personally, I’d rather replace my Netflix time than wake up earlier, but those are both great time-finders! 

More time-finders: 

  • invest part of your lunch break
  • use commuting times to dictate notes or scenes
  • hire a house cleaning service
  • write at work, in between responsibilities (be careful here; that’s gotten me in trouble a few times!)
  • replace video streaming and social media time with writing and/or researching
  • rearrange your sleeping schedule to find extra time

Before you leave, make sure to go back through the action points as well as devote at least one uninterrupted hour this week to writing and planning your writing. In time, make progressive steps to build that up until you are writing every day. 

The world needs to know your story; don’t deprive us of that for fear of failing or falling short. You can do this. You will do this. Let us know how we can help!

What is your biggest hangup when it comes to completing your novel? (Comment below)

Publishing Houses

If you’re ready to publish a book, but don’t know what to do after you have your book finished…going with a publishing house might make sense. But then, it also might not.

You wrote a book? Congrats! …Now what?

You’ve got two basic options for publishing your book: traditional publishing and self-publishing.

But how do you decide which is best for you? Depending on your personal goals, each option could be your saving grace or your biggest downfall.

Choosing the best publishing option will set you up for success. But this means understanding them. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to explore publishing houses and if this method is right for you.

Here’s what you need to know about publishing houses:

  1. What’s a publishing house?
  2. What are the Big 5 publishing houses?
  3. How do publishing houses work?
  4. Overview of traditional publishing
  5. What’s a vanity press?
  6. Alternative: self-publishing
  7. How to get started with self-publishing

Learn How 100 People Have Published in the Last 60 Days!  Learn the exact step-by-step methods 100 of our students have used the last 60  days to publish their books--and how YOU can do it too, just as easily!   Start Here!  <https://selfpublishingschool.lpages.co/organic-eg-bab-how-100-people-have-finished-their-books-in-the-last-60-days/>

What’s a publishing house?

A publishing house’s main purpose is to find authors and their manuscripts to produce and publish into books.

They can be responsible for several things:

  1. Selecting marketable manuscripts. Publishing houses need to know trends, statistics, and market climates to choose the right books and frame them in the best way to generate the most sales.
  2. Designing and editing the manuscripts. As I said, publishers are responsible for framing. This also requires a knowledge of trends and market climates to design a book that will grab readers’ interest.
  3. Selling and promoting. The publishing house makes deals with retailers and companies for when, where, and how to sell the book. They also plan and execute marketing and promotional plans, if any, for the book. This isn’t something they do for every author. Publishing houses benefit from pushing their high sales authors–very little marketing budget goes toward newbie and debut authors, so if you’re into the idea of traditional publishing because you think they’ll spend their marketing budget on you: reconsider.

What are the Big 5 publishing houses?

There are five publishers known as “The Big Five,” and being published with them is considered a mark of significant success in the publishing industry.

These are the Big 5 publishing houses:

  1. Penguin Random House – they’ve published authors including: Kay Hooper, John Green, E.L. James, Markus Zusak
  2. Hachette Book Group – they’ve published authors including: Min Jin Lee, Malala Yousafzai, Chris Colfer
  3. HarperCollins – they’ve published authors including: Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, George R.R. Martin
  4. Simon and Schuster – they’ve published authors including: Mary Higgins Clark, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin
  5. Macmillan – they’ve published authors including: Janet Evanovich, Sara Douglass, Tatiana De Rosnay

Of course, there are hundreds of more options for publishing houses, but these are the five most recognizable and most elite.

How do publishing houses work?

The first thing to understand about publishing houses is that they pay you for the rights of your book, ideas, and whatever else is in the contract. This means that the publishing house “owns” your book and you simply get a cut of the earnings (a small, 5%-10% cut).

The way this typically works is that you, the author, finds an agent. This agent then pitches your manuscript to publishing houses.

If the house likes the concept or even the full manuscript, they’ll purchase the rights to your book with a contract that typically includes an advance and royalty rate—occasionally with a multi-book deal if they see the potential.

From here, the publishing house pairs you with an editor, where you work to write the book, edit it, and get it publish-ready. Meanwhile, other individuals in the publishing house work on the book cover, title, and other tasks the writer doesn’t need to worry about when going through traditional publishing.

How to work with a publishing house

Traditional publishing used to be the only viable option for publishing a book. So what exactly is traditional publishing? Let’s break down the process step-by-step:

  1. Write your manuscript! If you’re a debut or unknown writer, you’ll almost always need a full manuscript before you begin the querying process. Once you have successful books and a readership, you can usually sell books with only a pitch and a first chapter.
  2. Determine your genre and category. Publishing is cyclical–genres, themes, and tropes drop in and out of popularity pretty regularly. Publishers strategically publish books based on what’s popular and what will sell. Some genres are just harder to sell to publishers–like extremely long books, memoirs, and short story collections–but most genres will eventually have their time in the sun if you wait out the market.

    Within genres, there are specifications to follow that makes your book more “publishable.” For example, different genres have prescribed word counts–romance novels are typically between 70,000 and 100,000 words. Fantasy novels are typically a bit longer. Books get shorter the younger your target demographic. Word count is just one aspect of industry standard expected in traditional publishing.
  3. Prepare your submission materials.
    • Query letter – this is a one-page pitch letter of your project.
    • Synopsis – a summary of your book, beginning to end (one-to-two pages)
    • Samples – for fiction, this is typically the first chapter of your book. For nonfiction, it might be any chapter you feel is representative. There may also be specific requests from the agent or publisher, like a different number of chapters.
  4. Find publishers and agents. The majority of reputable publishers do not accept manuscripts without an agent, so you will likely have to find an agent first. To find an agent, you might try looking at published writers in your genre–are any of their agents open to queries? This is an especially good option if you have a connection with that writer, as it can give you more context and a personal twist to your query.

    Outside of seeking agents individually, you might try one of these websites:
    • PublishersMarketplace.com
    • QueryTracker.net
    • WritersMarket.com
    • Duotrope.com
    • And my favorite recommendation for all things related to writer networking: Twitter.
  5. Wait for a thousand years to hear back. 🙂 Typical responses to agent queries are:
    • Nothing (rejection)
    • A rejection (rejection)
    • A partial or full manuscript request. This is the one you want, spoiler alert.
  6. Evaluate offers, if you receive any. If an agent likes you, make sure you like them! Of course, beggars can’t be choosers AND you hopefully filtered suitability before you applied, but do a little extra homework before you get into bed with a contract.

Sounds fun and easy, right? (heh) But don’t be lulled into a soft and warm cocoon of security yet! There are dangers in these waters…

Look out for: THE VANITY PRESS! (suspenseful music swells)

What’s a vanity press?

A predatory traditional publisher you should look out for is the vanity press. A vanity press is a publisher that charges the author to publish their book.

It’s for feeding egos and giving writers a false sense of accomplishment.

While legitimate publishers reject the majority of books submitted to them, a vanity press will publish anyone who is willing to pay for it. Vanity publishers don’t make their money from readers–they make their money from writers.

A legitimate publisher has to publish books that will sell in order to make their investment back. Vanity presses just need to dupe an author into paying them, then they don’t have to worry if the book sells because their money has already been made, and the writer is left out to dry.

Examples of vanity publishers you should look out for:

  • America Star Books (also known as: PublishAmerica, PublishAtlantica, PublishBritannica, PublishIcelandica)
  • AuthorHouse
  • iUniverse
  • Dorrance Publishing
  • Xlibris
  • Vantage Press
  • Matador

Be wary of any publisher that tries to charge you! You want to sell your book, not buy your book.

So now we know what traditional publishing is, how to do it, and dangers to avoid. Now the question is…

Is traditional publishing for you?

It certainly isn’t for everyone! Some writers may not thrive in traditional publishing.

Here’s how to know if traditional publishing, and working with a publishing house, is NOT for you:

  • Writers who have tried traditional publishing and seen endless rejection
  • Writers who want to keep their creative control of their books
  • Writers who want to be hands-on in the business of their books
  • Writers who want higher royalty rates on their books!
  • Writers with “unpublishable” genres or manuscripts. For example, I love writing short stories–that isn’t something publishers are jumping to publish. I’ve found a lot of success self-publishing my short story collections. Does that mean I’m sworn off of traditional publishing forever? Nope! I’m actually thinking about querying my fantasy novel, just to dip my toes and see if that’s a route I’m interested in pursuing to become a hybrid author.

If you fit any of those categories, maybe you should think about the alternative to traditional publishing.

Alternative: self-publishing

For years, self-publishing was seen as the lesser option. With fewer barriers to entry, more freedom, and more inclusivity, self-publishing takes away the Cool Kid Club aspect of publishing.

Anyone can do it! Does that mean a few stinkers slip through to print? Sure!

But it also means MANY more authors have the opportunity to raise their voice. Do you know any famous writers who began their careers with self-publishing? I bet you do.

Authors who started famous careers self-publishing books:

  • Christopher Paolini
  • Andy Weir (The Martian went on to be a bestselling book and an Oscar-nominated movie)
  • E.L James (obviously)
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Margaret Atwood

While these are great examples of writers who have become famous for their books, there are COUNTLESS self-published authors who are making amazing livings through their writing.

Fame isn’t the only (or even the most meaningful) measure of success, so even though the authors listed above ended up traditionally publishing, there are many, many writers who continue to make healthy incomes through self-publishing exclusively.

Reasons to self-publish:

  • Higher royalties
  • Creative control
  • Business control
  • Fewer barriers to entry
  • Quicker turnaround (or work at your own pace)

Does it sound like self-publishing is for you? It probably is! If you want to learn more about this growing industry and how to do it for yourself, keep reading.

New call-to-action

How to get started with self-publishing

Self-publishing is probably a lot simpler than you think it is.

  1. Start building your author platform. You can sell anything if you’ve got the people to sell it to. My author platform is mainly on YouTube. I make videos on writing, editing, film reviews, and random nonsense. People watch my videos, and that’s “free” marketing for my books, services, and anything else. Having a platform also makes you wildly more publishable, if traditional publishing is still a goal you want to pursue in the future.
  2. Refine your genre and category. Each genre has different trends, tropes, and tricks. Settling into one or two specific ones will you give a tighter niche to learn and work in. Having a tighter niche in your writing also makes personal branding and marketing much easier to do.
  3. Get guidance. Self-publishing? We can help with that. Check out several of our programs to see if self-publishing successfully with our guidance is right for you.

Learn How 100 People Have Published in the Last 60 Days!  Learn the exact step-by-step methods 100 of our students have used the last 60  days to publish their books--and how YOU can do it too, just as easily!   Start Here!  <https://selfpublishingschool.lpages.co/organic-eg-bab-how-100-people-have-finished-their-books-in-the-last-60-days/>

Passive Income: How To Start Your “Side Hustle” & Make Money

Have you ever thought about establishing a source of passive income? Do you think your 9-5 job isn’t enough to cover your financial needs? Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid to do nothing? Maybe you can!

(Eventually!)

There are many ways to set up passive streams of income to fatten your pockets and keep you a little warmer this winter. Having a few extra income streams can be beneficial in preventing financial disaster when something like this inevitably happens again.

But here is the question: But where do you even start, and which passive income ideas are actually the most lucrative?

Here’s what we’ll cover for how to make passive income:

  1. What is passive income?
  2. Reasons you should have passive income
  3. Building a platform for passive income
  4. Writing a book for passive income
  5. Sell materials online
  6. Create online classes for passive income
  7. Get into rental property ownership
  8. Make smart investments
  9. Affiliate marketing for passive income
  10. Some general tips to keep in mind

Learn How 100 People Have Published in the Last 60 Days!  Learn the exact step-by-step methods 100 of our students have used the last 60  days to publish their books--and how YOU can do it too, just as easily!   Start Here!  <https://selfpublishingschool.lpages.co/organic-eg-bab-how-100-people-have-finished-their-books-in-the-last-60-days/>

What is passive income?

Passive income is regular earnings from a source other than an employer and accumulates without your need to be actively working. It’s income that requires little to no effort to earn and maintain.

You’ll almost definitely have to do a bit of work at the start-up to get things rolling, but ideally, passive income will require very little upkeep in the long run.

Passive income can mean freedom. It can be a great supplementary income, a way to free up valuable time, and it can give you room to have a flexible schedule and build the life you’d rather have.

Many people even go into early retirement through passive income streams like writing and publishing a book, or other means.

Why should I have a passive income in 2020?

So we know what passive income is–why do you care? Is it something you can do yourself? Why spend the time and effort creating a passive stream of income when you already have a regular paycheck? WELL–

  1. Because of COVID-19, passive income is more relevant than ever. A global pandemic is a great time to be secure: you’ve been laid off and need an alternate source of income until you find a new opportunity. You can simply take advantage of the extra time people have on their hands by providing entertainment or engagement with your product or service. If you’re busy taking care of family and others, a more passive stream of income would free up the time you’d be committed to a traditional form of income. It’s hard to imagine a situation right now that couldn’t be improved by a passive income stream.

  2. Extra money! Who would say no to some extra, practically effortless cash? It can give you more financial independence, flexibility, and safety. Perhaps you stream your passive income directly into a retirement fund. Maybe you use it to fund a hobby. Maybe it goes to a savings account for vacations, or even adopt a dog. Or maybe it’ll just grease the wheels in your monthly expenses. No matter what you’re using it for, the extra money that doesn’t cost a ton of time and effort will never make your life harder.

  3. More time to devote to things you actually care about. Maybe you don’t invest the money for extra things–maybe you just allow yourself to work less. Time is our most valuable commodity, so the more you can free up, the better. If setting up alternative income streams can cut the number of hours you work so you can use that to spend time with family and friends, fix up your house, or just have more fun, why wouldn’t you do it?

  4. Security. Even with a regular job, nothing is permanent and nothing is guaranteed. If you lose your job today, where does that leave you? Do you have a savings buffer? What if you burn through it before you’re able to be employed again? Having passive streams of income expands your safety net between monetary stability and poverty. Even if you can’t completely live on passive income streams, they will give you more room to tread in a flood.

As you can see, passive income is never a bad idea. An initial investment of time and effort can pay off Big in the long run.

So how do we get started? What are the ways to generate those passive streams of income?

make money as an author

How to make passive income?

There are countless streams of passive income, but I’m going to talk about seven big ones you should jump on today if you want the freedom of making money while away in the future.

#1 – Build an online presence

Be it a blog, a YouTube channel, an Instagram dedicated to your skill or interest, or any other type of content, having a platform to sell things to can make a huge difference for any business endeavor you’re interested in trying. I use the platform I built through my YouTube channel to sell books, workshops, freelance services, and more.

Having an online audience in and of itself won’t generate passive income, but it will give you the means with which to find success doing several things, such as the other items on this list!

#2 – Write a book!

Self-publishing an ebook can have no start-up costs and still pay off BIG with a little work. This is one of the main ways our Become a Bestseller students bring home a few extra bucks (or even full-time equivalent incomes).

Not sure what to write about? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you good at?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Do people often ask you about something that you have to explain over and over again?
  • Do you have an idea that has been lingering in your head for years?
  • When do people say, “you should write a book!”

Turn one of your interests or skills into a book and earn royalties for as long as it sells—and self-publish it, while you’re at it. So you keep 100% of the royalties.

Writing a book isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, especially if you’re writing about something you know and you have the right writing and publishing system in place to guide you to success.


#3 – Sell online

Again, what are you good at?

These days, starting and maintaining a website is easier than ever, so what’s stopping you from launching one to sell non-fiction books like:

  • Cookbooks
  • Craft instructions
  • Self-help guides
  • Whatever informational packets you can produce in your field

Or maybe you use your website to sell products like:

  • Merchandise (websites like Teespring and Redbubble allow you to create and sell merchandise for no down cost)
  • Homemade items (you could also use sites like Ebay and Etsy, as opposed to creating your own)
  • Flipped items (furniture, clothes, and other items bought at a discount and revamped to sell at a markup)

The options are endless, but one of the most cost-effective materials to produce and sell are ebooks!

#4 – Online classes

Are you an expert on something? Produce your own course about it!

Platforms like Skillshare and Udemy allow you to produce, upload, and sell your own classes. If you’re up for a slightly bigger challenge, you can run a class from your own website with online lecture series, live streams, worksheets, ebooks, etc.

Hosting it yourself would provide more freedom, but also requires a larger time and money investment, so keep that in mind.

I teach on Skillshare. I produced classes with the equipment I already had from YouTube, so all I paid for was a Skillshare account (which I use a lot), and that runs for less than $10 a month.

So the startup costs to produce a class were very low for me. The payoff has been amazing.


Here’s how to get started on this passive income stream:

  • Figure out what you’re best at
  • write a script for your class
  • film it
  • pick a platform
  • and let it roll!

Once your class is posted (on Skillshare, as an example), it requires no upkeep! I’ll occasionally promote my classes on social media, but once I had some good reviews posted, Skillshare started internally promoting my class.

Now it’s just free money.

#5 – Rental property

Maybe you have the money and time to invest in spare real estate, but not a lot of people do. But! Rental property can still be an option for you. Do you have a spare room? A couch? A truck you’re not using? A lawnmower? Consider renting out your space and equipment.

Websites like Airbnb and Vrbo make it easy to rent extra rooms and space to travelers, so if you have spare space, think about listing it!

You can post about equipment availability on a ton of free sites, like Facebook Marketplace and craigslist.

You might have free money laying around in the form of unused assets. Give it a think!

#6 – Investments

If you’re in a stable place right now, maybe you have some money lying around to invest in the stock market.

Sites like Robinhood and e-trade help you invest in stocks, ETFs, and options easily. Investing is a great way to make your money work for you instead of working for your money.

#7 – Affiliate marketing

There are tons of ways to cash up with affiliate marketing. If you have a platform of any kind, there will likely be a company willing to partner with you.

Especially if you’re already producing some sort of content, slipping affiliate marketing into the things you already make is a super easy and quick way to earn some extra cash.

Maybe you do one-on-one sponsorships with companies to plug their product or service, or maybe you do general affiliate links, like with the popular Amazon Affiliate Program.

You could even cash in on company-specific perks, like this link I use to get and give $10 of store credit on ThredUp. 🙂

I check with the companies for any service or product I use and love to see if they have affiliate opportunities. It costs me nothing to promote something I already like to an audience I already have, so there’s no reason not to utilize affiliate marketing opportunities.

Passive Income Tips to keep in mind

Now you understand what passive income is, and you probably have a few ideas bouncing around in your head about how you can make it happen for yourself, but here are a few things to think about:

  1. Beware of anything that promises huge and effortless rewards. Passive income isn’t an overnight achievement. Everything worthwhile will require a little work, so look out for get-rich-quick schemes and multi-level marketing gigs. Look for long-term gains versus overnight magic.
  2. Do your research! When you have an idea, read up on other people who have done it, look at their success, and see if you can figure out what they’re doing that makes it successful. Almost everything has been done before–it’s been done well, and it’s been done poorly. Knowing what a successful version and a failed version looks like before you begin can save you a lot of strife later on.
  3. Be hesitant to drop large amounts of money right away. Think your ideas through before you invest more than you’re willing to lose. Do your research, and have a plan before you invest in anything. But remember, some investments make sense. It’s all about your end goal and how much you really want this.

Those are only a few of the many ways to generate passive income. Which one sounds the most achievable for you?

Writing a book might be a great place to start.

New call-to-action

SPS 064: Fundamentals of Fiction: How To Write A Great Story & Build A Fiction Career (What I Learned From 7,000+ Calls With SPS Students) with Ramy Vance

Joining me today is Ramy Vance, who was one of our first students at Self Publishing School, who is now the lead SPS Coach and developer of Fundamentals of Fiction Story program. He’s written 29 books to date and coached over 400 SPS authors with over 7,000 coaching calls along with running a traditional publishing company. Gain insight and knowledge from Ramy’s author, marketing and tier one experience all wrapped up into this one episode!

Starting his own publishing company back in 2004, to teach himself how to publish his own book, Ramy’s publishing house did very well. When his wife announced she was pregnant in 2014, Ramy didn’t have his first book completed. However, he gave himself the goal of having his book published by the baby’s due date.

https://youtu.be/nOOUCPYm4KE

With 29 books to his name, Ramy considers himself a career author. When he is suggesting or looking at genres to write a book about, he thinks about the trends and fads of readers. “For example, in urban fantasy, there is a fad, although I say it has lasted long enough it may be a trend, for the academy, similar to Harry Potter style of ‘I have magic, let me go to school and explore that.’” Popular trends often fall into the romance genre.

So what genre should you write in? “Whatever genre gets you most excited. It’s whatever you wake up every morning and say, I can’t wait to write that page. This is what I like to read and what I like to engage in.” Besides, you must understand the market, understand what your readers are looking for, and figure out how you can be unique or special in that area, Ramy suggests.

New call-to-action

We also cover topics that are crucial to fiction book success, including: the five points you must have in your fiction story, how to find your tier one for marketing your fiction book, and the four elements to becoming a successful fiction writer.

Listen in to find out how to carve your own niche, tips, and hacks to write a good fiction book, and how to find a twist or angle from your premise-level perspective. Learn common mistakes made by a fiction author, the five common mistakes fiction authors repeatedly make, and how you should take constructive criticism from a writing coach.

Show Notes

  • [02:18] Ramy tells his story of how he decided to write his first fiction book.
  • [04:13] His experiences which led him to create a fiction course for SPS.
  • [06:13] How Ramy selects his next genre to write his book. 
  • [08:35] Are some fiction genres more lucrative than others?
  • [10:35] The purpose of cyberstalking successful authors. 
  • [12:00] How to write your story from a premise-level perspective.
  • [14:00] Differences between fiction and non-fiction writing. 
  • [16:09] Five mistakes fiction authors commonly make when writing their book.
  • [19:42] How to successfully take in feedback from your book coach or another person.
  • [23:19] The five part story structure online class available for free from SPS.
  • [24:37] Two hardest parts of writing a fiction book. 
  • [27:30] How marketing a fiction book is different than marketing a non-fiction book.
  • [29:50] One thing that will highly impact your fiction marketing. 
  • [33:20] The importance of copyright in your book. 
  • [35:38] Four elements to becoming a successful fiction writer. 
  • [37:20] Ramy’s recommendations for lead magnets for your fiction book. 
  • [40:00] Bucket list items books and career writer book ideas.
  • [43:25] Tips on how to become a successful career author.
  • [51:06] How to use good storytelling when pitching your non-fiction book.

Links and Resources

SPS 063: How To Get On Ellen & The Today Show (13 Steps To A NYT Bestseller) with Lewis Howes

Joining me today is Lewis Howes, are a keynote speaker, business coach, and NY Times best-selling author of the hit book, The School of Greatness. His newest book, The Mask of Masculinity He produces The School of Greatness podcast, which has over 250 million downloads to date and interviews amazing guests on his show. Today I’m talking to Lewis about how to use books to grow your business and how to use publicity to grow your business and sell more books.

In 2009, Lewis was teaching people how to use the new platform LinkedIn as he was regularly using this platform and seeing great results. He saw influencers get more prominent brands and bigger brand deals once they had written a book. “There’s something there when you have a book, it makes you more real as a brand. It makes you more tangible.”

New call-to-action

On Christmas, 2007, his brother handed him a book. He found this book fascinating, and while usually not into books, he read this book in a few days and opened him up to a new world of possibilities. “I thought, wow! This is the direction I want to go in, I want to go figure this out.” From this point, he wanted to write a book to open other people’s minds the way this book opened his account.

Lewis took his book he co-wrote with another self-published author and went to conferences all over the country, selling his book. From this point in his journey, he took off and started speaking. Eventually, he grew this business into a multi-million dollar company.

“I’m the dyslexic kid who had an English tutor all throughout middle and high school and almost flunked English class. For me, it was an incredible full-circle moment almost 15 years after graduating high school. What I realized is that I need a team of people to support me. I didn’t write any book on my own, except for The Millionaire Morning.”

https://youtu.be/CwjvutI_Mjg

Listen in to find out why being on the New York Times list essential for Lewis, how he pulled in one takeaway from the top 20 bestselling authors on the New York Times list, and why you need to be strategic when you promote your book. Learn how to be ruthless in your ability to ask and be willing to risk hearing the word “no.”

Show Notes

  • [02:42] Lewis talks about his decision to write his first self-published book.
  • [04:30] He decides he wants to meet the author one day and eventually become friends.
  • [07:38] In 2015, he launched his podcast and started building a bigger audience.
  • [10:41] Writing The Millionaire Morning and distribution of his book.
  • [12:30] Lewis feels that there is always something good that comes out of writing a book.
  • [15:35] Why he doesn’t want to re-launch The Millionaire Morning.
  • [18:45] Be clear on why you are writing your book and who you are writing your book for.
  • [22:09] The team Lewis put together to market and sell his book.
  • [26:30] Doing whatever it takes to sell books and reach his goals.
  • [30:25] The importance of building relationships with personalities that have platforms.
  • [34:42] Being intentional with who you connect with to grow your brand.
  • [35:30] Finding the right platform to write, finish and launch your book.

Links and Resources

SPS 062: Creating The Perfect Book Title…And The Outreach Template You Can Use To Get Booked On Any Podcast with Dane Maxwell

Joining me today is Dane Maxwell, a long-time friend, and mentor. Founder of The Foundation, an online education company that assists you in starting a business. He is an author and spoke at Advantage Live this past year, and guests of the conference loved his message. His new book, Start From Zero, was born from his passion of helping others start their business.

“With proper copy, you can potentially build a million dollar to a six-figure business with just words.” Dane recently read from The Sixteen Word Sales Letter that all you have to do for excellent copy is define one belief and answer ten questions to have your copy that will sell.

https://youtu.be/Cin6fFwu_zU

To create a great title, Dane suggests that your book title needs to be unique and come from within yourself. What are you feeling? How are you assisting others by telling your story? “If we are invested with our book title being successful, and that we in some way believe that our well-being depends on the success of the book, then that can create a state of survival and then can shut off a lot of creativity.” He suggests your book is a beautiful expression in the world and that your book is not identified with you.

When coming up with a book title, Dane suggests to “Look at the deepest parts of you that don’t yet feel like having permission to be seen and allow yourself to be witnessed by the world. If you give yourself that permission, then stand in the title that comes from that experience.”

New call-to-action

Listen in to find why your book title is so important, how to find the right title for your book, and what Dane is doing for his book launch that no one else is doing right now.

Learn how he successfully launched his book Start From Zero, how he is using his book to grow his business, and how to write words that sell.

Show Notes

  • [02:45] After starting over a dozen companies, why has Dane decided to write a book now?
  • [06:14] His haunting experience with a Numerologist predicting he would write a book in the near future.
  • [08:57] How to write words that sell in your book.
  • [10:50] I recall handwriting copy for one hour a day for three months to practice good writing.
  • [11:40] Fundamentals and framework for coming up with titles that sell.
  • [15:58] Clinging to outcomes hinders your creativity and performance. 
  • [17:24] How Dane comes up with titles for people’s books.
  • [21:09] What Dane is doing for his book launch that no other author is doing right now!
  • [24:53] “Cool stuff” happening from the publishing of his book.
  • [28:56] How Dane cold emailed podcasters to get to be on their show.
  • [34:12] The reach-out people he uses to promote his book.
  • [36:52] What would Dane say to pre-writing Dane?
  • [39:18] Where can you get a copy of Dane’s book?

Links and Resources

SPS 061: Overcoming Fear & Imposter Syndrome To Write Your Faith-Based Book with Jennifer Allwood

Joining me today is Jennifer Allwood, she is an author, blogger, and podcaster who lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. She is a speaker and influencer in the Christian space. Her book, Fear is Not The Boss of You is for any woman who has ever been overwhelmed with indecision, paralyzed with fear, or just plain stuck. She is a successful entrepreneur and business coach, who can teach you how to get out of your own way and get on the road to fulfilling the life of your dreams.

When she was little, Jennifer would tell people she wanted to write children’s books when she grew up as she loved reading. Although she has never written books for kids, Jennifer has extended her writing to her blog and her new book. Several years ago, she added her love of writing by creating content for social media to boost her business. Next, she was offered to write a book by a publishing company. After much thought, Jennifer decided that her most significant gift would be to tell other women how to get unstuck from their fears.

Jennifer also talks about her own fears, including training for a triathlon, her concerns during her book writing, and how she niched-down her book for her audience. She chats about how she decided “how much religion” to put in her book and talks about how she used social media to boost her book sales.

Listen in to find why she didn’t shy away from her religious-based niche, why she threw away her entire book with six days to publish, and how creative people think and work. Learn how imposter syndrome sneaks into the life and work of a creative, how to ask another person to endorse or promote your book, and what she would change or do differently when publishing her book.

New call-to-action

Show Notes

  • [01:36] Jennifer and I talk about our similar painting backgrounds.
  • [03:20] Why Jennifer decided to write her book and 
  • [05:46] Her transition from teaching painting to coaching women on how to market their business.
  • [08:15] Jennifer shares her fears she had during her writing process.
  • [12:37] Why she pursued a faith-based niche for her book.
  • [14:29] The process of creative thinking versus people who are not creative.
  • [16:10] How much religion is “too much” religion when writing a book.
  • [19:47] What Jennifer personally felt as a result of the pandemic affecting her book launch. 
  • [23:30] Social media marketing that worked well for launching Jennifer’s book.
  • [27:13] Jennifer’s other recommendations for your book launch.
  • [31:05] Fitting in or not fitting in with the world.
  • [32:32] How Jennifer runs her book club.
  • [34:49] Make your calls to action as simple as possible for people to do.
  • [35:33] Her advice to other women who are working to become authors.

Links and Resources

SPS 060: 1M+ Books Sold Through An Infomercial…And How I’m Selling 5k+ Copies/Week With A Free + Shipping Funnel with Dean Graziosi

Joining me today is Dean Graziosi, a New York Times Bestseller, entrepreneur, real estate expert, and speaker. His most recent book, Millionaire Success Habits and his podcast of the same title has inspired and given action to millions of people worldwide. He and Tony Robbins teamed up and launched the Knowledge Business Blueprint. In this interview, Dean and I will talk about how to use books to build a knowledge-based business, and how Dean has accomplished this goal with his own books.

With dyslexia, Dean has had trouble and has struggled with reading his entire life. “I had never read a book cover to cover, and I was terrible at writing.” However, in 2005, he decided to write his first book to clear someone’s mindset to get the sales results they want. He wanted this book to be a tool in which the reader could use to achieve their dreams. Totally Fulfilled was this book – the first book published by Dean.

When he finished his book, he hired an editor who he was excited to work with. After sending over his manuscript, she called him and said, “Dean, there are certain rules to writing a book, and you can break a few of those rules, but you broke every single one of them!”. She advised him to rewrite his book, and, with this information, almost decided to delete his entire idea and throw it into the trash.

New call-to-action

At this point, he hired another editor and asked her to clean up his book. She did, and when his book released, it hit the New York Times Bestseller list in four weeks! Dean suggests if you know your topic, and it’s from your heart, go out and share your knowledge and passion in your book.

Dean recommends overdelivering on your value, with your first two upsells, then sell the big ticket item. People will be excited to purchase your big ticket item because they will expect you to deliver great value.

Listen in to find why your mindset is a pivotal element in creating a book, why writing a book can make a significant impact in your life, and why you should extract marketing pieces from your book. Learn what Dean is doing now to move thousands of books a day, and how books bring out the essence of the author, and why writing an excellent book gives you a level of credibility.

https://youtu.be/GTtmY2–C9s

Show Notes

  • [01:48] The why and how of Dean’s first publication.
  • [03:25] Even though Dean knew nothing of writing a book, he moved forward with his idea of publishing his own book.
  • [05:25] What marketing tactics took Dean’s book to New York Times Best Seller list.
  • [07:21] Choose a topic that speaks from your soul.
  • [11:40] Going on a journey with a book and getting intangible and tangible value from a book.
  • [14:29] How Dean brought back his old marketing model to sell his books.
  • [16:53] Why one particular message resonated with Dean’s market so well.
  • [21:47] How to break the noise and do away with flashy get rich quick sales.
  • [24:55] Overdeliver on your first two upsells to provide a high-ticket item your customers will want to purchase.
  • [27:41] How Tony ties in KBD launcher with his book sales.
  • [29:40] Using outcome journaling based on getting yourself into flow state.
  • [32:00] Finding mentors and trainers when you purchase a book.

Links and Resources