SPS 068: Using Publicity & Speaking To Sell More Books & Grow Your Business with Sloane Kini

Joining me today is Sloan Ketchum, one of our coaches at SPS. She is leading our new program, “PR and Speaking for New Authors.” Sloan has interviewed over 50 podcasts, spoken on stages, and has generated a healthy income from speaking on stage. Also, Sloan is the author of the book, Beautiful Girl, You Can Do Hard Things, and has coached over 150 SPS students to date.

“PR and speaking is the easiest way – it’s the lowest common denominator in the best sense of the word.” Learning the skills and doing the SPS course work will give you the confidence to make speaking a reality. She suggests building your launch list speaking at online conferences. “You’ll be able to run into that launch with a lot of confidence knowing that you’re going to hit all those goals that you want to hit.”

“There’s a system behind PR and speaking.” Make sure to be proactive in your campaign. You’ll want to do the following three-bucket items to get PR for your brand:

  1. Getting clear on your hook
  2. Booking gigs
  3. Monetize

You can book gigs by using the three-step plan: research, reach-out, and referral. Make sure to sift and develop partnerships that you have the potential to create. Start every call out with a win, and remember, “the fruit is there. We just have to sift and sort.” Start with your three to five advocate’s list and get into your feedback loop as quickly as possible. 

Listen in to find out how to create a great hook, how to book gigs, and why you should get fast “no’s” when looking for gigs. Learn how to monetize your book or business, when you can get paid to speak, and other ideas on how to market yourself to build your following.

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Show Notes

  • [02:38] Sloan’s first opportunity with SPS. 
  • [03:19] Why Sloan sees speaking as a PR opportunity for authors.
  • [07:30] Her favorite student stories.
  • [11:04] Three big buckets to fill for your PR campaign.
  • [11:40] How can you come up with a good hook?
  • [14:39] Basics you need to know about booking gigs.
  • [19:27] Monetization process gives clear focus and measurable numbers. 
  • [21:06] Find out which PR gigs give you the best conversion rate.
  • [23:18] How authors can use speaking gigs to sell books. 
  • [25:15] Students who have had the most success in the program.
  • [28:00] Biggest mistakes people make from the start.
  • [32:33] Author Advantage Live 2020 Virtual Experience
  • [36:04] Advice for those starting on their journey with speaking gigs.

Links and Resources

SPS 067: The Most Interesting Man In Book Publishing…25 Books Published, Prolific & Polarizing Writing, And What Kanye Taught Me About Book Marketing with James Altucher

Joining me today James Altucher, author of Future Self, and host of the James Altucher Show podcast. A prolific and unique writer that blends analytical and creative talent into his book creation. A former hedge fund manager and computer science major, James has the ability to write humorous content with an analytical angle.

He has published two-thirds of his books by self-publishing, with his first two or three books experiments in self-publishing. He currently has three or four books that he is considering publishing. “I always think of what I call ‘professional self-publishing,’ which is that I want to do the same things that Harper-Collins will do, except I’ll do it and with the idea that I’ll hire a professional.” He distinguishes this process against “casual self-publishing” when an author writes a book without a professional team and publishes on Amazon.

https://youtu.be/AtH1yR8pQpE

“On one hand, a book is an event, and events affect every part of your life.” He has enjoyed writing since 1990 and published his first book in 2004. “I’ve enjoyed writing articles, but books are often a way to really take a consistent message and write it into a book.”

He believes that you should ask yourself, “What do you love doing? What do you need to do? and how can you combine the two elements?” James says a key to this process is that your heart and your mind should be talking. “Success comes on the other side of all these people who tell you that you can’t do it.”

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His next book Skip the Line, is an extension of Choose Yourself. In all of his books, he is transparent and upfront with his feelings. “When you’re vulnerable, people do care about you because they can see that you’ve been through it also. Like when we fail, we’ve all failed at something, that is just real.”

Listen in to find out how James decides whether to self-publish or traditionally publish his next book, why controlling the marketing is critical, and what sparked James’s shift to move from financial to self-help books. Learn the top three aspects of book marketing James uses to sell his books!

Show Notes

  • [02:08] James talks about the roots of his analytical background. 
  • [05:12] When you should publish, and when you shouldn’t publish.
  • [07:27] How James publishes a large amount of books. 
  • [14:05] Books and how they fit into James’ business goals. 
  • [16:41] What sparked the shift on writing financial to self-help books.
  • [20:14] James talks about developing his writing skill and how it became a format to write his stories.
  • [23:05] Why Choose Yourself resonated with so many readers and is selling so well.
  • [27:55] The process for enhancing your writing to the next level.
  • [31:45] Better writing equates to better headlines.
  • [34:15] Why vulnerability is very important.
  • [36:25] James talks about how good writing comes from self-awareness.
  • [39:29] Top book marketing practices.
  • [47:23] Chandler’s recommendation for book marketing.
  • [52:31] What different for James in the writing process of his last book.
  • [54:12] To create a good book, you have to be a good writer.
  • [56:03] Have a unique opinion when you author a book.

Links and Resources

SPS 066: Myers Briggs for Writing A Book: How To Use Your Unique Personality Type (And Strength) To Maximize The Success Of Your Book with Gary Williams

Joining me today is Gary Williams, the author of the book Choose Your Best Life, and is an outstanding coach at Self-Publishing School. Gary has enthusiastically assisted hundreds of students with over 4,000 hours in coaching calls to publish their book. Learn how the Myers-Briggs personality assessment can be used as a tool when you write your book and his process he has learned and refined for book writing, and how you can apply this methodology to change in your life.

Myers-Briggs test gives you an understanding of the four different types of preferences for individuals with differing personalities display. This tool can be used to find a preference type. “The goal is to identify your natural preference and to be able to uncover that so we can identify our unique personality type.”

You understand and receive information through sensing and intuition. “Those who prefer to use sense, prefer to use their concrete sensing to understand the world around them. Typically, this person prefers to receive information that is black and white, that’s concrete and very factual.” On the flip side is intuition, represented by the letter “N.” These personality types prefer theory and process information using their “sixth sense.”

“There’s this concept underneath cognitive functions, and there’s this whole deeper layering looking at the process of your mind.” Different types of personalities will write and continue the process of writing differently. Those who prefer structure will move through the more structured kind of work well, while those who prefer using their intuition will welcome the open-ended creative processes. “It’s cool to see how these different preferences can play out and manifest themselves in a journey like writing a book or completing a new project.”

Listen in to find out why you can be both a thinker and a feeler, why a sense of completion needs to happen before moving on, and why people who are “perceiver” will handle their completion goals differently.

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Show Notes

  • [02:29] Gary explains the purpose and application of the Myers-Brigg test.
  • [04:50] There are eight different letters that result in 16 different personality types.
  • [05:23] Details about the four sets of pairs of the Myers-Brigg dichotomy.
  • [07:46] Breaking down what it means to be extroverted and introverted.
  • [11:46] The ladder of abstraction and how it applies to personality types.
  • [13:03] Defining thinking and feeling at a conceptual level. 
  • [15:55] The real meaning behind judging and perceiving.
  • [22:50] Take the 16 Personalities Test linked below.
  • [24:22] Why a personal coach gives you a more personal experience when you’re learning.
  • [27:10] How personality preferences play out in the book writing process.
  • [31:52] Set a concrete deadline for your book and have an accountability partner.
  • [35:55] Gary gives tips on marketing your self-published book.
  • [38:14] Limiting beliefs of introverts.
  • [40:22] Common personality traits and habits of successful authors.
  • [44:41] The ability to have open reflection and dialogue is a powerful tool for successful authors.
  • [48:30] Grab your ticket to Author Advantage Live 2020 with the link below.

Links and Resources

life coach

How to Become a Life Coach

Do you find yourself giving your friends golden, flawless advice? Are you the person your siblings call when they need a pep talk? Do you make more spreadsheets than are perhaps absolutely necessary?

You might be a life coach.

Or a little life coach seed! Being a life coach can be a highly rewarding (and high paying) job. If you’re a motivated, enthusiastic person with strong reasoning and empathy skills, it might be the career path for you!

Here’s how to become a life coach:

  1. What a life coach is and what they do
  2. How to become a life coach
  3. Finding your niche
  4. Learning to be a good coach
  5. Living a life that gets you clients
  6. Strengthening your brand by writing a book
  7. Creating a reliable client base by building a platform
  8. Creating a course to spread your reach

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What is a life coach?

A life coach is an expert on setting and achieving goals. They help clients identify what they want to accomplish, set timely goals, plan actionable steps to help them reach those goals, and encourage them along the way.

Much like a sports coach, a life coach is there to strategize plays, give advice, and shout encouragement from the sidelines. They might tell you things you don’t want to hear, but they’re there with a glass of water and a thumbs up to help you get those hard-to-swallow pills down.

Motivation is tough! Setting goals is tough, and achieving them is even harder. When you want to do something new, you listen to the experts. If goal creating and achieving isn’t something a person has practice with–maybe it’s even something they’ve tried and failed to do–then it might be time to bring in those experts.

But maybe goals are easy peasy for you. Maybe you’re a natural at figuring out what you want, how to get it, and then taking those actionable steps to achieve them. If that sounds like you, maybe you have the potential to become a life coach yourself.

So how do you get started?

How do you become a life coach?

To establish yourself in a new career from scratch is a BIG undertaking. There are several things you might consider doing to begin or boost your life coaching career, like finding your niche in the market, living and portraying a life that proves your worth as a coach, continued learning, writing a book, building a platform, or launching your own course!

That’s a lot all at once, so let’s break those options down–

#1 – Find Your Niche

Building a clientele for life coaching is much easier if you can focus in on a particular niche. To widely market yourself as simply a Fix-All Life-Coach might seem like you’re scooping with a bigger net, but the reality of it is: the net holes are too big, and all your catches are slipping through.

It’s too vague to really mean anything, and your fish don’t even realize the net is for them.

To grab the attention of fish– *ahem* clients who actually need your specific expertise, try narrowing to a niche. What are you an expert in? Maybe you specialize in dating and romance, health and fitness, business or finance–maybe you can coach for something very specific, like writing a book.

Once you have a niche, you can strengthen your skills and qualifications to serve that specific need, then cater your marketing to catching customers who need help in that particular area.

If you don’t know your niche, ask yourself these questions:

  • What three things am I most interested in?
  • What three things am I best at?
  • What three things make me different from most people?

Take some time thinking these over, and hopefully one of those answers gives you an idea to pursue!

#2 – Live a life that reflects your coach skillsets

If you and your life don’t appear to be successful, no one will trust that you can make them successful.

What have you accomplished? Are you a published author? An expert in your field? A business owner? Think of things you can put front-and-center in your branding that help prove that your methods work–because they’ve worked on your own life!

If your life is–or seems to be–a wreck, we’ve got to backtrack a few steps and get your stuff in line before we offer services to help other people.

Check that your client-facing elements are as professional and attractive as you can make them. This can mean a well-made website, a professional and consistent social media presence across the relevant platforms, testimonials or reviews, a clean and stocked portfolio (if relevant).

For a client to trust you to guide their life, make sure your life looks as shiny as it should.

#3 – Learn how to be a life coach

If you’re interested in becoming a life coach, you likely already have some qualifications. Even if that’s the case, there’s always more to learn! If you have the extra time and resources, maybe you could invest some into further learning.

Good courses for a life coach might be topics like psychology, time management, budgeting, communication, and any skills relevant to your niche.

Not only will further learning brush up your education on important parts of life coaching, but they could ALSO give you something tangible to build credibility. Courses completed can be listed on portfolios, resumes, and websites. You could even get officially certified in life coaching for that extra push of veritability!

#4 – Write a book

Now calm down–it’s not as hard as it seems, and I haven’t lost my mind. Writing and publishing a book on a subject does a lot to show that you’re the expert on that subject.

Publishing books can also draw in clients. For example, if your content is strong and you successfully plant leads, you can drive hundreds or THOUSANDS of readers to your website, newsletter, or socials to eventually convert those readers into clients.

Writing and publishing a nonfiction book for your life coaching career–like a manual, memoir, instructional booklet, or self-help book–is a lot easier than you might think, and it can pay off BIG time. Need some help getting started?

#5 – Build a platform

Selling a product or service becomes much easier when you have the people to sell it to. Building a platform just means collecting followers who are interested in your brand and what you have to offer. There are TONS of ways to build platforms.

Here are a few examples:

  • Publishing books
  • Writing a blog
  • Collecting emails for a regular newsletter with strong content
  • Offering content, like downloadable worksheets and ebooks, through your website
  • Making YouTube videos
  • Offering classes or services
  • Having a strong, recognizable brand through social media

Whichever way you choose to build your platform, having a following means having potential customers who already know you and are interested in what you offer.

Recognition and familiarity breed trust, which is crucial for establishing a relationship with life coaching clients.

As a writer, I sell more books by maintaining an online platform. I sold my first short story collection in 2018, right as I was beginning to grow my platform on YouTube. After my platform grew ten times the size, my second short story collection outsold the first collection’s ENTIRE presale period in the first twenty-four hours. A platform is the difference between a successful launch, an okay launch, and an absolute flop–no matter what you’re selling.

As a life coach, having a platform allows you to make connections with people who can become potential coaching clients.

One-on-one coaching is probably what you think of when I say “life coach,” and that’s definitely an important aspect of being a life coach. Most coaches continue having one-on-one clients for their entire career, but it is possible to transition into a wider reach with less effort.

How can we transition from one-to-one coaching to one-to-many coaching? Make your work hours worth more by reaching more people with an online course!

#6 – Create an online course

With an established platform and a full schedule of life coaching clients, how do you grow from there? One way to swap from a one-to-one coach to a one-to-many coach (or to create a hybrid career of both) is through creating a course

Using my career as an example, I offer one-on-one services for writing and marketing. I also create courses that require much less effort on my part. My customers are still getting value and high quality knowledge, as they would with a one-on-one effort, but all I have to do is initially produce the course, upload it, and promote it.

I go from reaching one person with eight hours of effort on something like a manuscript critique, to producing an entire course that HUNDREDS of people can gain access to (much more affordably on their part) with the same eight hours of effort.

If you could turn one customer served into hundreds or thousands of customers served with nearly the same amount of effort, why wouldn’t you?

There are many formats and media you can utilize for building your own course, such as:

  • Launching your own website to host the courses
  • Distributing the materials yourself through newsletters, worksheets, and/or livestreams
  • Using a platform like Skillshare or Udemy to post materials for wider consumption

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Each platform will have different start-up costs and payoffs, so consider your options carefully.

I personally use Skillshare. Skillshare makes it easy to plan, produce, and upload courses. Once you have a few good reviews on a class, Skillshare suggests your classes to more users, and you can sit back and earn those royalties. Skillshare also offers $10 per referral, so slap your link onto class promotional materials and grab a bag for the money pouring in.

What content do you put in a course?

An easy way to generate content for an online course is to pull the core ideas from your book (you wrote one, right?) and convert it into lectures, exercises, and/or homework assignments.

Course content to complement your books (and vice versa) can create a strong platform and brand, refer sales to each other, and give your customers a full educational experience.

Writing a book is great for your platform and career. Producing a course is great for your platform and career. HIT ‘EM WITH THAT COMBO MOVE!

Even though I write fiction, my Skillshare courses are ABOUT writing fiction–this allows me to use my own writing as examples in the courses, funneling customers to buy my books after they have finished the class.

A platform + books + courses = a full-figured career with multiple streams of income.

A cohesiveness among your platform, books, and courses = cross-reference sales to bounce off of each other and grow your business even more. Load your arsenal with the full deal!

Ready to jumpstart your life coaching career by producing a course? 

book template

What is a Book Template?

Have you ever gone on a road trip with no idea where you’re headed? A fun adventure, maybe, but sometimes we don’t want to waste that kind of gas.

To get to our destination as efficiently and as low-effort as possible, maybe we grab ourselves a roadmap and make a plan.

Writing a book is the same way! Some writers might prefer “discovery drafts,” where you start writing to see where it ends up. To each their own, but if you’ve clicked on this post, you’re probably interested in a more direct route to publishing your book.

FREE 25-page Book Outline Templates  Finish your book FASTER by downloading these FREE templates (both fiction or  non!) that are pre-formatted, easy to use, and you can fill-in-the-blank!  YES! GET MY OUTLINE!

Let’s talk about the roadmap of book writing to get you there quicker: the book template.

  1. What is a book template?
  2. What are the contents of a book template?
  3. Fiction template
  4. Nonfiction template
  5. Frameworks for a nonfiction book template

What’s a book template?

There are tons of forms of book templates for different genres and preferences, but a book template is essentially a plan for what to include in your book and where it goes. This can streamline the process from writing to publishing, getting your book done a lot quicker than if you were freeballing.

So why should you use a book template? A template is your roadmap. Knowing where you’re going will help you foresee obstacles, plan ahead, and get to your destination quicker.

Why waste time muddling through the order and format of a book, when you can just use a template and know exactly what you need to get done?

Before we talk about what might go into a book template, I want to mention my biggest tip for using them: personalization. Making your own template would ensure that it suits your needs and style. Feel free to take the elements listed in this blog, tweak and customize, then save YOUR book template to use for future projects.

Contents of a book template

Let’s look at the content you might find in a book template. The elements might be different based on the genre, particularly between fiction and nonfiction works.

Fiction templates

We’re going to cover a fiction book template first, because fiction should have fewer sections and subsections–it will most likely be separated by chapters because fiction is almost always meant to be read linearly.

An example of a fiction book that might be read out of order is a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or something else that turns a story into a unique format. But most often, fiction books are read from beginning to end, which makes a novel template very straightforward.

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Here are elements you’d likely see in a template for fiction books:

  1. The title. Every book needs a title! Besides the cover, your title will appear on the title page and the half-title page inside of the book, along with any subtitles and your name or pseudonym. Here’s an example of the title and half-title pages from my latest publication, Starlight:
  1. Copyright page. The fine print of all things legal. Your copyright page includes the copyright statement and other legal details. It might also include information like the editor of the book, other contributors, or disclosures and content warnings.
  2. Self-promo (optional). This page might be where you promote your other books or plug social handles or a newsletter. This is a great page to have if you own a business, a website, or have multiple publications. Any opportunity to reference somewhere your readers can find more content can only work to your advantage.
  3. Acknowledgments (optional). The section might appear before your main book content or at the end. This is where you thank people who helped with the book, in life, or whatever else.
  4. Table of contents. This is a breakdown of what is in your book and where. In fiction, this will likely be a list of chapters. If the chapters don’t have titles and the book should always be read in order, you might not exclude the table of contents page. Since Starlight is a collection of short stories, I included a table of contents page in case someone wants to find a particular story on their second read:
  1. Prologue (optional). A prologue is a small snippet of story in the same universe as the rest of the book, but far apart from the actual story. The prologue might be a peek into the very distant past or very distant future, or it might be from a perspective different from the perspective for the rest of the book. Not every book needs a prologue, but most fiction templates will have a place for you to insert one.
  2. Dedication (optional). This is the page you’ll see with a small ode to someone else, like “for my mother” or “to all lost children.” The dedication page is a small area to acknowledge who your story was written for. Here’s an example of the dedication page from Starlight:
  1. The story itself! Maybe it’s a three act structure, maybe it’s The Snowflake Method, maybe it’s a different format, or maybe your template just says “STORY HERE.”
  2. Review ask. This is something you’ll commonly see in ebooks and self-published books, where the writer asks the reader to leave a review at the end of the book. This is a great opportunity to up your book stats, but it’s obviously optional.
  3. Read more. This is another optional opportunity to push readers toward your other works. You’ll see this page at the end of most books, especially for series, titled something like “also by the author” with a list of their other works.
  4. Author bio. A strong author bio is a great tool to have, so spend a minute on it. Snag someone’s interest to look more into your work or writing with a cleverly composed author bio.

This list covers most elements you’d see in a fiction book template. Tweak it and twerk it to your preferences, then save your template for future books!

Nonfiction templates

Nonfiction can have a much wider range of elements because nonfiction books follow a wider range of formats, but you’ll see a lot of the same elements we saw in fiction templates.

FREE 25-page Book Outline Template  Finish your book FASTER by downloading this FREE template that's  pre-formatted, easy to use, and you can fill-in-the-blank!  YES! GET MY OUTLINE!

Here are some things you might see on a nonfiction book template:

  1. Title and subtitle
  2. Your name or pseudonym
  3. Copyright page–gotta have that fine print.
  4. Lead magnet. This is a great space to offer a free gift in exchange for people doing things like joining your mailing list, checking out your other books, following you on social media, or anything else you’d like to direct traffic toward.
  5. Dedication (optional)
  6. Table of contents. In nonfiction, you’ll almost always see a table of contents. Unless it’s a memoir, most nonfiction pieces can be read in chunks, not necessarily in order. A reader might read it once, then go back to refer to certain bits later, so having a clear and thorough table of contents can really make utilizing your nonfiction book easier for readers.
  7. Foreword (optional). A foreword is kind of the nonfiction version of a prologue. Either the author, editor, or someone else responsible for putting the book together might address the reader in a foreword to provide context or scope for the book they’re about to read.
  8. Introduction. A forward and introduction might look like very similar things, but an introduction should specifically tell your reader what to expect from the book. In nonfiction, your introduction should cover several things:
    1. Identify the problem–plainly state why the reader is here. What problem do they have that the book or course will solve?
    2. Present the solution–explain that you have the answers to their problem.
    3. Reassert your credibility–why are you qualified to give advice on this subject? Give specific reasons you’re qualified.
    4. Show them the benefits again–look at this solution you have! It’s so helpful! They should definitely read this book to get the answers.
    5. Give them proof–have your methods been successful? Do you have numbers that prove it? Is your own life a reflection of how your advice applied can be beneficial and fix the stated problem?
    6. Make a promise–what will you do for the reader? How will reading this book and applying the advice and wisdom change their life? Aim big!
    7. Warn them against waiting–why do they need to do it now? What are the possible repercussions of not taking action on the stated issue?
    8. Prompt them to read (call to action)


Now for the content of the book itself–a nonfiction book could have a few different structures.

Nonfiction frameworks

Let’s look at three different types of nonfiction frameworks–sequential, numerical, and problem/solution.

Structure 1: sequential framework

The Sequential Framework arranges information according to a step-by-step sequence. This framework is most effective for books that are written to describe a step-by-step process. 

A book that follows this type of framework is one by Lise Cartwright, Side Hustle Blueprint: How to Make an Extra $1000 in 30 Days Without Leaving Your Day Job!

The layout for a nonfiction using the sequential framework might look like this:

Step 1 

Chapter 1: First part of the process

Chapter 2: Second part of the process

Chapter 3: Third part of the process

Step 2

 

Chapter 4: First part of the next step

Chapter 5: Second part of the next step

Chapter 6: Third part of the next step

Et cetera, until the steps of the process are complete.

Structure 2: numerical framework

The Numerical Framework organizes information by listing a specific number, keys or rules to support the author’s point, then uses smaller chunks of content to support the key/rule.

A book that follows this type of framework is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

Number 1

 

Chapter 1: Introduction to the point

Chapter 2: Supporting content

Chapter 3: Summary of the point

Number 2

 

Chapter 4: Introduction of the next point

Chapter 5: Supporting content

Chapter 6: Summary of the point

Et cetera, until every point of the list has been covered.

Structure 3: problem/solution framework

A problem and solution framework organizes information so readers are able to clearly identify a problem and understand the solution you have to offer. This framework is often used in combination with the numerical framework.

A book that follows this type of framework is Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The not-so-obvious secret guaranteed to transform your life before 8am.

Main Problem

Chapter 1: Introduction to the problem

Chapter 2: How the problem came to be

Chapter 3: Impact of the problem on the reader

Main Solution

Chapter 4: Introduction to the solution

Chapter 5: Supporting content

Chapter 6: Supporting content

Chapter 7: Supporting content

Chapter 8: Next steps

Those are three common frameworks for structuring the actual content of a nonfiction book. Again, templates should be customized for the specific writer and book, so feel free to take these elements and alter them into whatever format would best suit your needs!

Book templates are a powerful tool in organizing your books and streamlining the writing and publishing process. Seeing exactly what needs to be done helps you organize a plan to do it efficiently and effectively.

publishing industry

What Can Authors Expect from the Publishing Industry in 2020?

2020 hasn’t quite gone as planned, has it?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically every person, and practically every industry, often in more ways than one. But we’re here to tell you that now isn’t the time to put down your pencil. 

Shakespeare famously wrote not one but three tragedies – King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra – during the bubonic plague. The literary world doesn’t stop moving, even in times of crisis. 

But it’s moving towards a different landscape than what many of us were anticipating. So exactly what can authors – and self-publishers in particular – expect from the publishing industry throughout 2020?

Let’s take a look…

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Increased Competition

OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. This year, the industry looks set to be more competitive than ever before, driven by a slew of new authors using their newfound free time to finally get to work on those short stories they’ve been wanting to start but have never been able to get around to writing. 

Speaking with David Barnett at the Guardian newspaper, literary agent Juliet Mushens reported that her average 10 – 15 daily requests for representation had risen to 27, while Ireland’s Tramp Press editor Lisa Coen was said to be experiencing a threefold increase in the number of submissions received each day. 

And this increased competition is expected to be greatest amongst self-publishers as writers explore alternative publishing options to reduce reliance on traditional brick and mortar publishing houses. 

A report by The Bookseller magazine suggests that 60% of small publishers believe that they could be out of business by Fall due to a drop in sales and the subsequent cashflow problems that come with it. 

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It’s natural that new writers breaking into the field will want to take the approach that we’ve been rooting for all along: self-publishing. And while this may mean more fierce competition for self-publishers in the industry this year, it definitely doesn’t mean that you should think about quitting.

Instead, it could be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing and optimize your strategy to ensure you stand out among the crowd. One option is to consider hiring a literary agent. We know, we know, self-publishers don’t always need an agent. But here’s the thing: literary agents don’t just work with publishing houses; they could help to get your work recognized by film and theater producers, too. 

If you’re not sure how to get a literary agent, then now is the perfect time to learn. Writing a great book isn’t always enough; you’ll need to make sure you’re properly preparing your manuscript and sending out submissions to the right people, at the right time. It doesn’t hurt to have a killer query letter, either. 

Greater Demand

If there’s one thing that the publishing industry is asking for more of this year, it’s content. 

Reports show that around one third of all US adults are reading more during the pandemic, with figures ranging from 28% for ‘Baby Boomers’ to 40% for ‘Millennials’. And a similar trend is being seen across the world. Nielsen reports that 2 in 5 Brits are reading more in isolation, while 58% of Canadians are reading more, and 22% are buying more books now than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The reason, of course, is that many people have more time on their hands to enjoy the things they really love, such as reading. Job loss in the United States is at its highest since the Great Depression, and while this is devastating, it is certainly good to see that many people are filling their time with literature. 

Whether you use a traditional publishing house, or you’re a self-published author, demand for literary content from the publishing industry this year is expected to be greater than ever due to COVID-19. 

But the big question is… what sort of themes are 2020’s audiences looking for? Read on to find out…

Shifting Interests

One of the first pieces of advice you may have been given back when you were just starting out was probably to ‘write what you know’. After all, it makes sense to talk about issues we’re familiar with. 

In 2020, while that advice still stands, the boundaries are beginning to move a little, especially for fiction writers. And this is causing a pretty notable shift in demand from the modern-day publishing industry. 

When you’re writing a book, you not only want to write what you know, but you want to write about something that your audience knows, too. And what do we all know this year? We all know Coronavirus.

But will a book proposal about COVID-19 really hit the mark with the 2020 publishing industry? Perhaps not. Recently, HarperCollins Editor Phoebe Morgan took to twitter with some advice for her authors.

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If you’re used to writing about your life as you know it, now could be the ideal time to start branching out and exploring some new ways of getting creative. Submitting a strongly written book proposal about themes that can help readers to escape from the everyday could be your ticket to success this year. 

Continued Digitization

The large scale shift from print to digital is already well underway, but authors can expect an even bigger move to alternative formats from the publishing industry in 2020 as more people spend time at home.

With worldwide stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, coupled with a widespread reluctance to be out and about, an increasing number of people are looking for easy-to-access, at-home entertainments. This means that digital books, such as ebooks and especially audiobooks, are in more demand than ever. 

Audio books are already an area that we recommend self-publishers should be exploring. Last year, a report by the Audio Publishers Association found that half of all teens and adults in the US had listened to an audiobook within the past 12 months. Those are some pretty impressive statistics if you ask us! 

If you want to give the publishing industry what it’s looking for this year, now is the time to start learning more about the audiobook landscape, especially distribution techniques. It might also be a good idea to chat with some authors who have ‘been there, done that’… we’ll talk more about the community later.

No matter what format you decide to release in, it can definitely be nerve-wracking launching a new book at this uncertain time, but think about this: a book on your hard drive does nothing for you. You have the technology you need to get your book in front of the right eyes… you should make use of it! 

A Change in Promotional Opportunities

Social distancing regulations and a ban on large scale gatherings have meant that many of this year’s biggest literary events – events that self-publishers may rely on for marketing and promotion – have been canceled. This includes Penguin Presents, the Sydney Writers Festival in Australia, and PEN America’s World Voices Festival in New York, which had Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in the 2020 line up. 

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According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there is a rapidly emerging trend in the marketing industry to delay promotional campaigns at this time. And as a writer, you may think that a lack of physical events means it’s necessary to put off your plans. We say that you should keep moving forward. 

After all, it takes energy to change your plans; energy you could be pouring into your next book!

Penguin CEO Tom Weldon says that now is the time to ‘be imaginative and creative about how to develop clever solutions to promote’. This could mean shifting your approach from physical events to online events, or looking to work with others who are finding themselves in a similar situation. 

Writer collaboration is expected to be a hot topic this year, with self-publishers pooling their resources to help the community thrive at this challenging time, rather than simply survive. If you haven’t already done so, start forming relationships with others in the industry. Learn and grow from each other. 

And don’t forget: support from other self-publishers is just one type of support available right now…

Increased Support

Perhaps the most important thing authors can expect from the 2020 publishing industry is more support. 

Hurrah!

The Self-Publishing School, for example, has been giving away all resources for free for the first time ever. The platform is proud to be supporting self-publishers and the publishing industry as a whole at this challenging time by providing more than 20 writing and publishing resources free of charge this year.

And they’re not the only ones. 

As self-publishing is gaining more and more momentum under the ‘new normal’, it’s expected that other online publishing channels will start to extend services to provide more support when you need it most. 

Amazon’s KDP platform has already started to globalize its offerings, extending its advertising opportunities across both the US and Europe, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the UK. Google Play and Apple are also expected to up their game this year to support self-publishers. Apple in particular is rumored to be placing an increasing focus on its Apple Books branch in the near future. 

As an author – and as a self-published author especially – we can all feel like we’re not always supported by the publishing industry. But we’re confident that we can expect more from the industry this year. 

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Riding the Wave

It’s safe to say that 2020 isn’t the best year we could have hoped for. 

But let’s look at this, this way: writers – and self-published authors in particular – are self-motivated, hardworking, entrepreneurially-minded, and certainly aren’t afraid to face a challenge head on. 

This year, while the heart and soul of the publishing industry may not have changed, the pathways that we take to research, to write, to market, and to launch our ideas are becoming more and more flexible. 

Ultimately, what we can expect from the publishing industry this year is an opening up of multiple different avenues to success that, while may have already existed within the literary world, have largely been overshadowed and limited by tradition; by a focus on traditional publishing houses and print. 

This is the year that is going to push us all to our limits, and test us all. But it’s also the year that self-publishing really shines. This is the year we can create truly positive change across the industry.

Whether we write to entertain, to inform, to humor, to inspire, to motivate, or for any other reason, the unique challenges this year won’t harm the publishing industry; they’ll merely accelerate the much-needed change that we’ve been waiting for. Maybe 2020 won’t be that bad after all…

SPS 065: How To Write & Publish A Quality Children’s Book That Kids LOVE to Read And Parents Are Proud To Buy with Marcy Pusey

Joining me today is Marcy Pusey, who was one of our first students at SPS, she is the author of multiple books in multiple genres, including a memoir, self-help books, and many children’s books. A long-time SPS coach, she has helped hundreds of students write their own publication with over 3,000 coaching calls! Marcy is also the creator of the SPS Children’s Book program and works with our children’s book authors.

After seven years in the traditional publishing industry, along with attendance at conferences and participation in many clubs, she felt like she had little to show for the time and effort she placed into these activities. “Even my traditionally published books were published through a tiny press that is now sold privately to the homeschool community and curriculum settings so you can’t just buy them.” Agents who were using her book as a writing example at a conference still wouldn’t represent her as an author. She was feeling disillusioned.

“I feel wired to write, I feel that’s what I was created to do. I felt like there were so many roadblocks.” She decided to doubt that being a writer was indeed what she was meant to do.

One day, Marcy came across one of my videos. She liked the Self Publishing School concept and decided to join SPS. At the time, SPS only offered Adult Nonfiction classes. Marcy wanted to have the SPS experience and decided to come up with an idea to write an adult non-fiction book to use in the class. “This was my last-ditch effort. Can I learn how to publish my own stories, get other people out of the way, and ultimately see if this is who I thought I was – wired to write. Is this really and truly who I really am and should be doing with my life?”

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Marcy debunks the myth that self-publishing is not a “real way” to publish your book. “At the end of the day, the reason I have stopped submitting to agents and editors is that I love the control I have over my own process.” She can publish a book in three months as opposed to traditional publishing takes two to three years after you find a publisher.

Listen in to find out how self-publishing is a more accessible and better way to publish your book, why traditional publishing overhead is very high, and why you don’t have creative control over your traditionally published book.

Show Notes

  • [02:23] Why Marcy decided to join Self Publishing School after traditionally publishing several books.
  • [03:24] Elements that Marcy felt were deceptive in the book publishing industry.
  • [05:20] Why Marcy chose children’s books and why she is passionate about writing in this genre.
  • [08:00] The many benefits of self-publishing your own books.
  • [12:30] How do you know if your book idea is good or which book idea should you choose?
  • [15:31] When you have multiple ideas, how do you decide on which book to write first?
  • [16:36] The process for what age group, genre and how many words to use in a children’s book.
  • [18:55] Let yourself get out your content, then break your written words up into sections.
  • [21:59] What your team should look like when you are publishing a children’s book.
  • [26:39] The cost of publishing a children’s book.
  • [30:07] Post-production work, check out upwork for options.
  • [32:20] Marketing, launching and making money with children’s books.
  • [36:20] Top three to five tips for writing your children’s book.
  • [40:35] How you sell to two different people – parents and kids.
  • [43:35] What works for children’s books when getting an idea of what works.
  • [46:12] If you want to be an author as your main gig.
  • [47:57] Look locally for children’s book events to read your book to children or your genre.
  • [49:55] Advice for what to consider if you’re considering writing a children’s book.

Links and Resources

dystopian writing prompts

37 Dystopian Writing Prompts

Dystopian novels had a big upswing in popularity a few years back with series like The Hunger Games. While there has been a remarkable dip in the genre, it’s important to remember that trends are cyclical.

With the current tumultuous state of the world, we can expect another jump in interest for dystopian novels.

With that in mind, why not hop ahead of the curve and get started on your own dystopian novel?

Here are 37 dystopian writing prompts to get you started!

200+ FREE Writing Prompts  Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts  spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!  YES! GET MY WRITING PROMPTS!

  1. Write about a and touring after the end of the world.
  2. During a zombie apocalypse, a woman finds a tube of her favorite lipstick from the old days–but it’s in the display window of a boutique overrun by zombies.
  3. In the mountains, a traveler finds a survivalist school run by a doomsday prepper who doesn’t know the world has ended.
  4. A family huddles together in a tornado shelter while the storm passes. When it lets up, they emerge in a horrible version of their world where everything has been burned to the ground.
  5. A motorcycle gang has been keeping the peace in a small town. One day, a traveler arrives, sick with the plague that ended the world.
  6. A salesman got rich selling equipment that was supposed to protect the nation’s citizens from the oncoming climate disaster. The equipment didn’t work.
  7. After the government collapsed, a group of people decided to instate a child as its leader, believing they would make more morally pure decisions. How does that go?
  8. Three teenagers find a TV abandoned in a warehouse and don’t know what it is. They finally get it to turn on. What’s playing?
  9. A dystopian society organizes its citizens into three groups. A government member comes out and admits that the organization is completely arbitrary. What ensues?
  10. No one’s been outside the city walls in several hundred years. A girl sneaks out.
  11. The world’s leaders agree to immediately shut down all industrial plants, factories, and mass manufacturing in an effort to stop climate change. How does the world look five years from that decision?
  12. A group of post-apocalyptic archaeologists uncover a building that they don’t know is a high school from 2015.
  13. The nation’s leaders have decreed that the oldest child from every family go to military service. One family decides to hide theirs, and it works, until the child’s seventeenth birthday. What happens then?
  14. Write about a world where people spend some or all of their time in an alternate reality simulator.
  15. In fear of annihilation, bunkers deep below the ground are built to ensure that people can survive. The worst happens, and people are sent to live underground. What does life look like after fifty years down below?
  16. Write from the perspective of a cave explorer logging their experience as they find the remains of human life from 2020, which was two thousand years ago.
  17. In post-apocalyptic Texas, a group of people band together to form a Sheriff’s department to help curb crime. Write about their latest case.
  18. Write about a world in which children are not allowed to say a single word until they turn eighteen.
  19. A group of nomadic people travelling across an American wasteland come across a cat. The youngest girl wants to keep it, and the others want to kill it. Who prevails?
  20. Write the journal entry of the last scientist to die when the world is overrun by a horrible plague.
  21. In this world, a government requires citizens to be at work literally every waking hour. They are given 8 hours to sleep. One day, a citizen doesn’t clock in.
  22. A society assigns people to their romantic partner based on a variety of genetic factors, and does not allow people to choose outside of their assignment. Of course, people fall in love who aren’t assigned all the time–write about one unassigned couple.
  23. A horrible new species of dinosaur resurrected from unexplored caves in North America. Nothing humans had could kill them. Write about one brave person’s attempt to kill them off a hundred years after society has collapsed.
  24. Write a story about two kids finding a stray dog in a world where it’s illegal to have pets.
  25. A space explorer lands on a planet called ‘Earth,’ two thousand years in the future. There are no people. What’s left behind?
  26. An intern in a dystopian world discovers that the leader of their nation is just a computer plugged into a mainframe. What do they do with this information?
  27. Write about a society where organs can be harvested while people are still alive.
  28. To prevent high murder rates, body cameras on installed on every citizen. You can’t turn them off, and you can’t remove them. Write from the perspective of a surveillance officer as he watches a citizen run from the law.
  29. In a next-to-empty world, where the world has been picked to its bare bones, a lone character grave robs for supplies.
  30. In a new age where extreme poverty is the norm, the new Gold Rush and the promise of money sends people flooding to what was once California to collect.
  31. A cult leader takes himself and his followers underwater to live the rest of their lives beneath the sea level. They expand their original buildings and eventually create a nation, and it’s the only thing left when a meteor wipes out people on land.
  32. In a world where people aren’t allowed to die, replacement organs and body parts are produced cheaply and sold at an outrageous upmark, people who can no longer afford replacement parts are kept alive on machinery. Write from the perspective of a worker in one of these facilities.
  33. A secret lab produces hybrids of humans and various animals in an attempt to create a super-species of people that can survive in the changing world conditions. One of these hybrids escapes.
  34. A character in a sparsely populated post-apocalyptic world finds an entrance to a previously unknown, thriving underground city.
  35. In a water-covered world, resources are limited. As a form of population control, there’s a Death Lottery. With a ranking based on community usefulness and infractions committed, a random person from the lowest-ranked citizens is selected to be killed and eaten. Write from the perspective of a selected.
  36. An EMP deprives the world of all electronics, which gives the citizens relying on cyborg brain parts to function normally an interesting problem.
  37. Soldiers collect children between the ages of 10 and 19, because they’re the prime age to be receptive to a life-saving biological alteration in the face of mass extinction.

Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups!

Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.

Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.

Happy writing!

mystery writing prompts

38 Mystery Writing Prompts

Mystery fans are a different kind of reader. They want a story that engages them and makes them think.

A lot of readers like to race the protagonist to solving the mystery, so laying out a plot with just enough detail to keep the reader’s interest but not so much that the solution is obvious is a skill mystery writers develop and hone over time.

If you want to try your shot at it, here are thirty-eight mystry writing prompts to get you started!

200+ FREE Writing Prompts  Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts  spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!  YES! GET MY WRITING PROMPTS!

  1. A bizarre heist results in an empty safe…well, empty except for the mysterious infant the burglars left behind.
  2. Partygoers are confused to realize the birthday girl is dead and they’ve been invited to her twisted idea of postmortem amusement.
  3. Girls at a boarding school receive anonymous threatening notes.
  4. A team of criminals breaks into an eccentric billionaire’s home while he’s supposed to be on vacation. It’s going well, until they find the billionaire dead in the pool.
  5. In a small town, the members of the church start to go missing–no bodies have been found. When a local news reporter arrives to cover the story, she thinks something might be up with the pastor.
  6. The new nanny for a rich family finds some disturbing footage the security camera captured. What is the mother up to?
  7. For some reason, one section of the trail has been blocked off for longer than any of the park rangers can remember. One backpacker sets out to discover why.
  8. Markus sleepwalks. He sometimes dreams of distorted versions of what he did during the night, but when he wakes up clutching a bloody knife, he has absolutely no memory of what happened the night before.
  9. A woman’s pet sitting the parakeet next door for an old woman. One morning, the parakeet is missing. Who took it? Why?
  10. A character is flipping through their grandmother’s recipe book when they find a recipe of surprising ingredients for something that definitely isn’t food. Do they experiment to see what it is?
  11. While on a family vacation on a remote island, a tourist discovers a local resident’s missing heirloom on the beach. The resident believes the tourist took it. What happens next?
  12. Elizabeth snags a tutoring job for a new family on the edge of town. Her first day, the child gives her a house tour, specifically pointing out a locked door at the end of the hall that no one is allowed into. When Elizabeth sneaks in, what does she find?
  13. Write from the perspective of a detective who is fired just before she can crack the case she’s been working on for years.
  14. At a destination wedding, the groom goes missing. Good thing the maid of honor is a detective.
  15. One of the town council members is draining money from the town’s funds, but the new intern can’t prove it. Yet.
  16. At a ski resort, disaster strikes. Then it strikes again. Every time there’s a tragedy, a wolf appears. Why is it there?
  17. On an international flight, a man is found dead in the bathroom. It looks like a natural death… Except for an hour later, someone else dies in exactly the same way.
  18. High school students work to figure out where their friend has vanished to the night before graduation.
  19. An intern for a Parisian designer finds a secret code stitched into one of the gowns. Who is the designer communicating with?
  20. A politician hires an undercover cop to find out whether their spouse has been cheating, but what the undercover cop reports is much, much worse.
  21. The day after a CEO is fired, someone breaks into their abandoned office and steals only a single hard drive. What was on that hard drive? Write from the perspective of a detective hired to get it back.
  22. All over the country, an enormous number of people are reporting their pets missing. Where have they all gone?
  23. A businesswoman’s grandfather dies, leaving behind a ranch. When she goes to inspect the property, she finds a corpse in his freezer.
  24. An estranged family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch at his southern plantation. The granddaughter finds a puzzling message etched into a tombstone in the family graveyard. Is it from her grandfather?
  25. Three sisters revisit their childhood treehouse. They find a note inside telling them it isn’t safe to go back to their homes. Why isn’t it safe? Who left the note?
  26. Someone is turning off the utilities for every rich person in town.
  27. One night, someone replaces every piece of famous art in a museum with a replica. Write from the perspective of the art student who notices the fakes.
  28. Benjamin inherits a thirty-year-old parrot, and the parrot has some interesting things to say about her previous owner.
  29. Film students rent a cabin to shoot their final movie. When they watch the footage back, there’s a stranger in the background of every shot.
  30. The local pizza shop owner swears someone’s been trying to run his business into the ground. He hires a P.I. to find out who’s behind the strange goings-on at his restaurant. What’s been happening?
  31. Marissa has never seen a cat in her town until one day there are thousands of them.
  32. A girl applies to a specialized boarding school–not for the curriculum, but for the unsolved cold case murder, she’s been obsessed with for years.
  33. Shelayne receives an anonymous letter inviting her to an unspecified event at midnight with an address deep in the French Quarter. She wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t signed with the insignia she’s seen around her grandfather’s house for years. The address brings her to a seemingly empty alleyway. A door in the wall opens.
  34. On vacation, a teen and their family take a tour of a southern plantation. Bored, the teen lags behind to goof off. That’s when they see the ghost.
  35. A spoiled son is snooping in his dad’s home office for some extra cash, but what he finds is proof his dad has been wiring cash to every member of their household except him…for years. What is he paying them for?
  36. A group of friends decide to play a prank on the annoying kid in class. That night, they arrive at his house, but what they see in the window makes them leave fast.
  37. When Micah’s best friend is blackmailed, he decides to get to the bottom of it, starting with his best friend’s ex.
  38.  A housekeeper has been with their employer through five marriages, each ending in the wife disappearing, going on an extended vacation and “deciding not to return,” or otherwise vanishing with little to no explanation. The employer is kind and generous to her, so the housekeeper works with her head down. Until the new wife arrives…and the housekeeper develops feelings for her. Should she warn her?

Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.

Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.

Happy writing!

how to write descriptions

How to Write Descriptions: Powerful Formula

Writing scene description is something all writers struggle with. What should you include? What should you exclude?

How do you get a character from Point A to Point B without it being boring and monotonous?

How do you include everything that’s important without bogging your reader with too much at once?

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Here’s how to write a scene description:

  1. How to utilize the five senses
  2. How to know what’s relevant to describe
  3. How POV factors into your scene description
  4. How to spread your description
  5. How to write scene description that isn’t boring

#1 – Utilize the five senses

When writing scene description, many writers will default to what is most accessible and obvious: sight and sound.

Sight and sound are both important and will usually be the most-utilized senses in scene description, but using all five senses can provide a much rounder, more tangible experience for your reader.

Instead of giving the reader a “picture” of the scene with one or two senses, using all five can give them an experience of the scene.

Put yourself in your character’s shoes and really think about everything they would be experiencing at that moment. Writing that experience will give you a strong setting. You can also work to create dynamic mixes of senses instead of isolating them to one specific sense.

Jennifer Giesbrecht uses strong, unique sensory descriptions in her book The Monster of Elendhaven. Let’s look at some examples.

Sight:

“A thin line of blood appeared beneath the blade and snaked over the metal. Johann watched it trickle all the way to the point of the knife.”

Sound:

“The Ambassador’s voice was wet, like the noise a drain makes when clogged with gristle.”

Touch

“The sailor grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his head into the wall–once, twice, three times–and then yanked the coin from his hand.”

Taste:

“His lip split on the dock and his mouth filled with a foul mixture of grease, salt, and blood.”

Smell:

“From a sailor who stank of rum and fish oil.”

Combo moves:

“His hair was so light and fine that it required only a bit of mussing to fluff up like a dandelion.”

This is discussing how his hair looks, but it uses the sensory experience of touch.

“Florian’s eyes were the colour of light split through a glass of vodka. His wrists were so narrow that they could be snapped with one hand, the bones crushed in a strong palm as easily as the rib cage of a sparrow.”

This is discussing the physical appearance of a person through sight, but it makes the image so much richer by using the senses of sound and touch. Bones crushing and snapping is a visceral experience.

Utilizing multiple senses in your description will paint a richer scene.

#2 – Include what’s relevant

It’s easy to bog down your writing with a lot of scenery and description just for the heck of it, but you often don’t need that much. If you include too many details, your reader will get bored and may start skimming.

Stick to what’s important, interesting, and relevant, then make what you’ve included as pretty and precise as you can.

If your description isn’t relevant to the character, plot, or setting, examine if you really need to include it.

Let’s look at a scene that uses too many unnecessary details, then a revised version without those details.

Original:

Johan’s stomach groaned like some kind of dying animal. He went down the unoccupied halls of the mall where rain knocked heavily on the ceiling glass. The building had no power and the venues were all pitch black inside. The only light came from the sunlight buried behind the gunmetal clouds overhead. His olive-colored coat was heavily drenched from being outside and the jeans he wore that had once fitted nicely were overgrown and baggy.

         He stopped at a directory in the center of the hall and eyed the various locations listed before finding the words Food Court, and continuing in the direction of its guiding arrow.

         Near a set of still escalators along the way, he noticed a department store with a shattered window at its façade.                                                                Someone must have stolen from there long ago, he thought.                                                                     Aside the broken glass on the floor was an empty shoebox. When he walked beside it, he realized from the picture imprinted on its side that it belonged to a pair of small, bright red Velcro strap boots for children.

Revised version:

Johan’s stomach groaned like a dying animal. He walked the ghost mall, rain knocking heavily on the glass ceiling. The building had no power, and the venues were pitch black inside. The only light seeped from behind gunmetal clouds. His olive coat was heavily drenched, and his jeans that once fit nicely sagged, cinched with a rope around his waist.

         He kicked past broken glass in front of a shattered boutique window, knocking shards against an empty shoebox. The picture on its side showed a child’s pair of red Velcro boots.

We trimmed that scene from 179 words to 91 words. The revised version gave us crisper imagery and made the scene easier to follow. Find the full scene and edit here.

When it comes to writing effective scene descriptions, less is often more.

#3 – Remember the point of view

When you’re in a POV character, you’re noticing what your character is noticing, and people notice things for a reason.

If you’re in a POV character, you should be writing what they would naturally observe.

For example, one tired trope a lot of new writers fall into is the “waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror” trope:

A character wakes in their bed, like they do every day. They walk to their mirror, like they do every day. And they describe, in detail, everything about their physical appearance. They describe their room. They walk downstairs and describe the family members they see every day.

There’s no reason for someone to be thinking that intently about their mundane daily experience. It isn’t something they’re going to take the time to notice and have an inner monologue about. These kinds of sequences make it really obvious that the writer is giving exposition for the reader to understand what’s going on–it’s a bit easy, which is why it’s a favorite of less experienced writers.

Realistically, that same character might be thinking of the homework assignments they have due that day. Maybe they’re picking out an outfit. They’re not noticing that they have auburn hair or thinking about why they painted their walls green seven years ago.

When you’re looking through a POV character, you’re limited to what they’d observe or care to think about, so you can’t believably include things like really detailed descriptions of a regular part of their day.

That’s the limitation of POV. But a strength of POV is how you can utilize descriptions to characterize.

You can show the reader things about your character through what they choose to observe and the way they’re observing it.

For example, if your character enters a room full of people, they’re not going to notice and describe every single person to the same extent. It could probably go something like this:

  1. An observation of how many people are in the room.
  2. Maybe a description or two that applies to the entire crowd (e.g., if they’re all high-school aged, if they’re all women, if they’re all dancing, if they’re all impossibly still and quiet).
  3. Zoom into people the character knows–maybe a group of friends has gathered in one area. The character joins them.
  4. A general description of each friend.
  5. A much more detailed description of one friend that we later learn the character is in love with.

If we got a full description of every person in the room, each made equal, we wouldn’t be able to notice the relationship of each to our character without being told. Choosing what to describe and when allows you to show things about your character.

#4 – Spread out your description

Don’t front-load your scenes by describing EVERYTHING at once. If you drop all of your descriptions at the beginning of a scene, it’s not as interesting, your reader may skim, and they might forget crucial details when they become important.

Instead of describing everything right away, try walking through the scene with your character.

For example, say your character is entering an enchanted valley to find a place to hide because they’re being chased by some rabid antelope. They wouldn’t logically take the time to look around the enchanted valley and notice everything because they would be busy, worrying about the rabid antelope.

So they run through some vines and enter the valley–you can give a quick description of the vines, the size of the valley, and maybe the air quality or lighting if they’re different than outside. Then IMMEDIATELY focus in on the next target–a tree they’re going to climb to hide from the antelope. While they’re running to the tree, they realize the grass they’re on is blue. When they’re climbing the tree, we learn what kind of tree it is–it’s a magic tree! The bark is furry, and it makes it hard to climb.

Once they’re in the tree, they look around the valley. They see a river, some rainbow mushrooms, some unicorns. The unicorns are eating the rainbow mushrooms and tripping out. One unicorn is laying on a couch while Bojack Horseman plays on his Roku TV, staring at his hooves, he’s giggling, but he looks scared.

If your character had broken through the vines, and we immediately got all of that description, it would seem like the character had been standing there for ten minutes, which doesn’t make any sense when there are rabid antelope in pursuit.

Spread your description by walking through the scene with your character. We don’t need to see it ALL at the beginning.

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#5 – Don’t be boring

We all sometimes get carried away with writing scene descriptions. It’s easy to get caught up in our own worldbuilding, or maybe we get excited because we can so clearly SEE a scene that we want to get every detail down. That’s fine for a first draft, but you should always go back and trim down to what is necessary.

To be blunt: the reader doesn’t care.

If it isn’t something relevant to your story or your characters, you should nearly always cut it out.

Scene description is a lot like worldbuilding–it’s something the writer often puts a lot of thought into and ends up caring about way more than a reader ever could. That work you do in the background, developing your story, doesn’t always need to end up in the final product. It can just be a shadow that makes the story richer.

Keep what is relevant and necessary, then make those details as sharp and compelling as you can.

For spicy scene description, utilize the five senses, include what’s relevant, remember POV, spread it out, and don’t be boring!