Rory Vaden Interview

SPS 086: Building A Personal Brand That Sells More Books & Grows Your Business with Rory Vaden

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Rory Vaden. Rory’s first book, Take the Stairs, is a bestseller that has been translated into 11 languages. Rory Vaden writes and speaks about the key to building a rock-solid reputation and how to achieve success by doing the right thing. He is passionate about helping others build their personal brands with Brand Builders Group.

Brand Builders Group is the world’s leader in the Reputation Strategy study, with the mission to help every person identify their voice, tell their story, and share their unique message. BBG is one of the only true Personal Brand Strategy Firms. Co-founded with his wife AJ Vaden, Brand Builders Group helps people become the type of person they want to do business with.

“The book conversation is the #1 accelerator of credibility in the world.” Rory self-published before he traditionally published. “The question is not whether I should do a book or not because the answer to that is always ‘yes.’” 

Rory notes that the New York Times isn’t looking for the once and done author when speaking about getting on the bestseller list. To achieve this status, you must be a cereal author and show an established track record. “What you really want is the real bestseller – the long-tail, perennial bestseller.” Selling hundreds and thousands of copies over the years is more useful to business and brand success.

Authors have numerous challenges when writing a book. “Authors struggle the most with telling people what their book is about in one sentence. If you can’t explain the message of your book in one sentence, then you have more thinking to do.”

Listen in to find out what is the common factor among the best sold books in the world, the hardest challenge when writing a book, and why you should build your personal brand before you write your book.

Show Notes

  • [02:27] Why Rory chose self-publishing before traditional publishing.
  • [05:28] His marketing launch process which landed him his first best-seller.
  • [07:15] What authors struggle with the most before their book is published.
  • [10:15] How Rory and his wife started Brand Builders Group.
  • [12:22] Why personal branding should come before creating a book.
  • [15:20] The six components of Rory’s Brand DNA.
  • [21:22] Why there’s not a right way to do it, but a right way to do it for you.
  • [24:53] Why building a personal brand matters and why your brand drives sales.
best writing blogs

13 Best Writing Blogs to Master the Craft of Creative Writing

Writing blogs are some of the best resources to become a better writer, which let’s be real, is the goal of all writers.

You already know this:

Writing is hard.

It’s so difficult, in fact, that there are countless writing tips and resources online dedicated to helping you better understand and improve the craft.

We here at Self-Publishing School are even committed to giving you the best advice out there.

But we wanted to offer you more by highlighting blogs about writing that contain solid advice for writing.

We’ve compiled a list of the best writing blogs on the internet for you to learn and grow from.

Here are the best writing blogs we’ll cover for you:

  1. SelfPublishing.com
  2. The Write Life
  3. Writer’s Digest
  4. Write to Done
  5. The Write Practice
  6. Count Blogula by Jenna Moreci
  7. The Creative Penn
  8. Terribleminds by Chuck Wendig
  9. Daily Writing Tips
  10. Better Novel Project
  11. Well-Storied
  12. Shayla Raquel
  13. Beemgee

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Best Writing Blogs for Tips and Advice

If you’re not quite serious yet about getting your book published yet, we’ve put together a list of the best writing blogs to learn how to write a book from.

Let’s dive into exactly what these writing blogs have to offer and why you should be paying close attention to them if you want to improve your writing, start your book, and publish it on Amazon (or wherever else you want to publish it through)!

[Pssst! Want to see some of our students’ published books? Check out the SPS Library here!]

#1 – SelfPublishing.com

Don’t let the name fool you. This website isn’t just for publishing tips and advice, although it does cover those topics in great detail.

SelfPublishing.com also offers advice for writing successfully as well.

writing blogs

Everything from character bios to full, in-depth blog posts about how to write a book can be found here.

You can also check out their tools section, where they feature must-haves for writers everywhere.

#2 – The Write Life

If you’ve been searching through for writing blogs long enough, you’re probably already aware of all The Write Life has to offer.

This blog about writing is a fantastic resource for writers of all kind.

writing blogs the write life

Whether you’re looking to write a book for the first time or jump into the freelance writing community, The Write Life has you covered.

They even have tips for blogging and marketing. All the bases are covered!

Make sure to check out their helpful writing blog posts and read the comments for extra help from their dedicated community.

Click here to check out this writing blog!

#3 – Writer’s Digest

If you love writing tips by writers, this is one of the top writing blogs to visit.

This writing blog is all about uncovering your potential through real, easy-to-follow blog posts that simplify more complicated issues in the writing community.

writing blogs writer's digest

They even host competitions, feature blog posts by editors, and give you insights to events they host or even attend.

If you’re someone who loves to physically join a writing group, you’ll love this writing blog and all it has to offer.

Click here to check out this writing blog!

#4 – Write to Done

There are a lot of different avenues writers have to be aware of when it comes to building a successful career from their work.

And Write to Done gives you just that!

writing blogs write to done

Being both a creative writing blog along with covering nonfiction writing, Write to Done teaches you how to master a number of different techniques and habits geared toward helping you succeed in the literary world.

You don’t want to miss out on all the writing advice they have to offer along with motivational material to help you keep it up.

Click here to check out Write to Done.

#5 – The Write Practice

The Write Practice is a massive source of helpful information for writers everywhere. They cover writing blog posts touching on topics revolving around key writing practices, writing exercises, and even writing prompts to get your mind stirring.

writing blogs the write practice

You won’t be without help with The Write Practice.

Not only do they offer free help through their blog posts, but they also have programs, writing contests, and help involving your author platform in general.

Click here to check out The Write Practice.

#6 – Count Blogula by Jenna Moreci

Jenna Moreci is an Award-Nominated Self-Published Author with two novels on Amazon, in libraries, and on shelves all over the country.

Count Blogula is her writing blog where aspiring authors congregate to ask specific writing, marketing, and publishing questions to be answered by this wildly successful Youtuber and Self-Published Author.

writing blogs jenna moreci

Moreci is honest (sometimes brutally – in the best way), real, and lets all writers know what it truly takes to make a career out of writing.

Head on over to her blog if you want to scroll through pages and pages and pages of free writing advice by someone who has been through it all before.

Click here to check out Count Blogula by Jenna Moreci.

#7 – The Creative Penn

If your goal is to make writing a job, it’s worth giving The Creative Penn a read.

This website has writing blog posts covering topics from genre-specific writing advice to marketing to publishing tips.

writing blogs the creative penn

Joanna Penn is an Award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and she runs The Creative Penn to teach others how to reach her level of success with their books.

She has a number of writing-specific books available for purchase along with podcasts, courses, specific tools, and more. This is one of the best blogs about writing to add to your arsenal.

Click here to check out The Creative Penn.

#8 – Terribleminds by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig has a must-acquire-a-taste-for personality. He’s curt, brutal, and gives humor to his writing tips and advice for aspiring authors.

His writing blog covers topics ranging from his own personal work and the work of others to help you specifically ask for.

writing blogs terribleminds

You’ll never be bored with Wendig’s unique delivery style and real advice.

Click here to check out Terribleminds by Chuck Wendig.

#9 – Daily Writing Tips

Daily Writing Tips is exactly as it sounds; they give writing tips for aspiring authors daily.

Their advice ranges from writing-specific to motivation to oddities, like words that Shakespeare invented.

writing blogs daily writing tips

If you’re someone who wants to improve the craft of writing with very specific tips and tricks, this is the place to frequent. You’ll never want for more help with Daily Writing Tips.

Click here to check out Daily Writing Tips.

#10 – Better Novel Project

If you love doodles along with writing tips, this is the site for you.

Better Novel Project has a number of different writing blog posts centered around helping you become a better writer.

writing blogs better novel project

From NaNoWriMo content to blog posts all about genres, writer life, character development, and even writing scene-specific details.

It’s easy to get lost the abundance of content available for you on this writing blog – so be careful, but get your fill.

Click here to check out Better Novel Project.

#11 – Well-Storied

Kristen Kieffer is the author behind Well-Storied, as well as an author of fantasy and writing resources.

Not only does she offer great writing advice, but her dedication to helping writers uncover their true abilities is nearly unmatched.

writing blogs well storied

You can check out her free courses, listen to the podcast, and even participate in her community chats.

Well-Storied has an abundance of help in the writing-world and you’ll be better off by tuning in regularly!

Click here to check out Well-Storied.

#12 – Shayla Raquel

Shayla Raquel’s writing blog is filled to the brim will knowledge regarding all aspects of writing. From prepping to writing to marketing, she has you covered.

writing blogs shayla raquel

As an editor and seasoned writer herself, Shayla works one-on-one with authors nearly every day. She has edited over 300 books and launched Amazon Bestsellers – making her experienced and competent!

Click here to check it out Shayla Raquel!

#13 – Beemgee

Beemgee backs up the features in its story development tool with in-depth posts on every aspect of creating characters or planning plots.

This blog covers topics ranging from classical Chinese literature to James Bond, always with a view to what authors can learn about the craft of story development. Click here to check out Beemgee.

All of these writing blogs have something unique to offer that you won’t find any anywhere else. When it comes to learning any craft – especially writing – it’s important to broaden your search and learn as much as you can from as many talented minds as you can.

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dialogue tags

All About Dialogue Tags

Mind your 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?

They 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 those 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 them 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 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.)

#1 – Tag Before the Dialogue

Adding a 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 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.

#2 – Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue

Dialogue can be interrupted and then resumed 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 it.
  • 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.

#3 – 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 conversations to stand out and distract, confuse, or slow the read.

Avoiding Unnecessary Dialogue 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 every author makes:

  1. Adverbial
  2. Synonyms 

#1 – Adverbial

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 

#2 – Synonyms

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 in dialogue?

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.

research for a book

Writing a Book? 7 Killer Research Tips

Researching for a book, while super important in the process of publishing a book, is difficult and if you’re not careful, it can stop you from finishing at all.

“Pencils down.”

The phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of students.

What if you didn’t write enough? What if all the answers are wrong? Too bad; you’re stuck with your final essay. There’s no going back.

There’s something about the finality of closing the door on any knowledge work that’s tough. We don’t want to miss anything—whether it’s a witty quote or that perfect case study. The same with writing books—ending your research and starting your draft is daunting.

It’s possible to go on researching forever, really. Countless book ideas remain unwritten and unpublished because the writer is just looking for that perfect piece of research. But with that attitude, you’ll never publish your book!

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Here’s what we’ll cover for how to research for writing a book:

  1. Outline the research process
  2. Backload your research
  3. Use “TK” when writing
  4. Turn off the internet
  5. Keep everything organized
  6. Change the font color
  7. Outsource the research
  8. Batch the research

We’re not asking you to abandon the research process. Virtually all non-fiction work and most fiction works require at least some research to complete a final draft, but it does require moderation.

This post is split into two parts. First, we’ll show you how to carry out a comprehensive research process in as little time as possible, then we’ll show you how to fine-tune your research once you begin drafting your book.

The Research Process

Many writers fail to publish or even begin drafting their books because they’re stuck in the research process. Here we’ll show you three critical steps you can take to make your research as thorough as possible, and to avoid the trap that many writers fall into–researching their books forever.

#1 – Plan Your Research

Research is a necessary part of writing, and with some genres (e.g. historical fiction), it’s impossible to start without research. However, before you pick a single book or open a new tab in the name of research, there is something you have to do: Plan your research.

In academia, there’s an entire subject called research design, which teaches researchers how to choose their research methods, scope out their timeline and outline their research process. Professional researchers have to plan out their research before they carry out any research. Not only does this tick the check boxes for funding, but it also helps them stay on track and ensure their research project is valid.

Notice what they don’t do. 

A researcher doesn’t just blindly pick up a book and follow where their gut tells them (though this does make up part of the process) or start experimenting and follow what’s interesting. First, they plan, set a specific end date, and then execute.

Instead of approaching your book research in an ad-hoc manner, putting in research time when you feel it’s warranted, we advise that you design your research process.

We’re not asking you to leave no room for spontaneity, often the best ideas come from the most unlikely of sources, but there should still be some structure to your research so, you don’t waste any of your precious time.

Remember many writers have still not begun their manuscript years after they started working on their book because they’re “still researching.”

You want to avoid this trap.

This means you should set a clear end date for your research process, where you promise you’ll start drafting no matter how little, how much, or what kind of data you’ve gathered. It also means that before you start, you think about where you’ll gather your research from, and how much you’ll gather.

As interesting as a side tangent can be, you don’t want to wander too far. Keep your research focused on the subject matter. If something seems interesting, note it down for the future. Maybe it could be your next book.

#2 – Outsource Your Research When Possible

Often, writing feels like a solitary endeavor, after all, it is just you and yourself staring at a screen, tapping away at a keyboard for hours on end. But just because it feels like a lonely mission, doesn’t mean it has to be one. Especially in research.

No matter your subject, there’s an almost certain chance that someone else has done the heavy lifting for you.

Someone who has immersed themselves in the field, found the dead ends, the wrong turns and the secret passageways. So why not tap into their knowledge?

When thinking of where to begin your research, tap into the human capital available before books or the internet. Are there any professors at your local college you can ask? Any editors in your domain that you can first reach out to? A great place to find names are the references used in journal articles or the authors of literature reviews and book reviews.

By asking them for help you can save yourself miles of wasted research, get an expert’s perspective on the topic (differentiating yourself from many other self-published books), and save yourself time.

Often, as long as they don’t have a demanding schedule, they’ll be happy to respond to an email or two.

Don’t forget to remember them in your acknowledgements!

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#3 – Ignore Your Inner Perfectionist

There’s a chance that if you’ve always wanted to write a book, you’ve got a perfectionist streak. And when it comes to book research, you’ll want to keep it under control.

You want to be a laser beam in your research. Focus on the best books for the keywords you’ve identified and don’t get sidetracked. Practical research is the key–find facts and data that will make your book more interesting, not analysis that you find interesting.

It might not necessarily be the same thing.

This also comes in when you’re writing your book. Ignore the temptation to include all the research found in your book. Often 20% of your research efforts will form 80% of your book.

If you found some piece of research you’re just dying to get out there, maybe package and release it as a bonus eBook for the thorough minded amongst your audience (and build your email list,) or have it in the appendix of your kindle edition.

7 Killer Tips on Researching Your Book 

Now that you know the critical steps to carry out your book research, it’s time to look at ways to improve it. Some of these will save you time during the research process, others will help you to finish your manuscript as fast as possible, and yet give you that sense of completeness and thoroughness once it’s done.

#1 – “Backload” Research

There’s a secret to mastering the craft of research when writing your book that might strike you as controversial:

Write first, fact-find second. 

You may think that’s odd, but first hear us out. Consider this scenario: You’re working on your draft and you hit a spot where you feel stuck. You don’t know the answer to a question that arises in your manuscript, so you switch over to Google and start poking around for the answer.

Soon you find yourself wandering around the internet as if you came into a room to find something, but you can’t for the life of you remember what it was.

And here is where you find yourself at the end of your writing time–watching cat videos– and you don’t even like cats.

The problem with researching while you’re writing is that you squash your momentum. Your draft will take longer to finish and it will be harder to write if you need to jump out of your writing mindset to switch over to research.

The solution: Don’t research at all once you’ve started writing until your rough draft is finished.

#2 – “TK” is Your Friend

Here’s an editorial trick:

how to research for a book

When you hit an impasse in your draft and you’re tempted to look something up, whether that’s a quote, a proper name, or details about a location, mark that TBD spot with the letters “TK.

TK annotates a spot in your draft to return to when it’s time to research.

Then keep writing!

Why the letters “TK”? There are no words in the English language that have the letters “TK” next to each other, making it easy for you to use the Control+F command to find your TBD spot later on.

By setting aside your research for later, you can keep moving on your draft and fill in the small details later.

This prevents you from taking up all your time with research and avoiding writing. 

#3 – Turn off the Internet

Turn off the Internet while you’re writingMadness, you say? Well, why do you need the Internet? You’re going to do your research when you’re done writing, so the Internet is just distracting you. Write now. Google later.

Some pro writers say they like to take their laptop to a locale with no Wi-Fi so there’s zero temptation. Try an Internet desert for a day or two and see if it improves your writing pace. 

#4 – Keep it Organized

When you find a key piece of research, file it so you can track it down later. Whether you do this with a virtual folder on your laptop, an actual folder in your desk, or with a tool like Evernote or Scrivener, the idea is the same.

You need to compile all your resources together in one place so you can find it later.

Organization now will make adding research to your manuscript later easier and quicker. When your draft is done, you can put your hands on your resources right away.

#5 – Red Text Marks the Spot

If you’re humming along in your draft and hit the crossroads of a quote or stat, switch your text color to red to highlight that you need to come back. Red text marks the spot that needs later attention and you can keep drafting.

Of course, if you used the “TK” tip above you don’t need this step, because then you can just use Control+F to find where you placed “TK” in your draft.

However, the red text will give you a visual STOP so you know this is an area that needs more research just by looking at it. Call it extra insurance so you don’t miss anything.

#6 – Hired Guns

There’s no shame in outsourcing the manual work of research. For the most cost-effective resource, consider a college intern. When looking for interns, make sure they have a background in your field. If your book is about demographic trends then look for qualitative researchers, perhaps someone with a major in the social sciences.

If, however, you need to do some number crunching then look for some more quantitative oriented interns.

Or, if you need to hire a pro, look to Upwork to find a good researcher—be sure to check ratings and consider giving applicants a short test to make sure they’re up for the task.

#7 – Add it All In

Batching your work is a trick of the productive. By segmenting what you need to get done, you maintain focus without the need to switch from unrelated task to unrelated task. When your first draft is finished, return to the designated areas that required research, which you marked with “TK” or red text. Fill in these gaps and add in all your research at once.

Researching a book can be tricky, and you definitely don’t want it to derail your progress. With these steps, we make it easy.

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how to format a book

How to Format a Book: 7 Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Self-publishing has changed everything.

Before, you were at the mercy of your publisher on how your book format looked, but today, you have control over this entire process.

In fact, you have the final say over everything in your finished manuscript is displayed. Therefore, knowing the proper book format you need is crucial. And with great power comes great responsibility.

If you’re not careful, you may end up with a sloppy and messy manuscript that an editor will refuse to work on until you tidy it up.

Or worse, your audience will slam your book with negative reviews because you published it riddled with errors.

An unprofessional looking book will not only distract readers, it will harm your brand and label you as an amateur, affecting the sales of future books as well as your current one.

Your completed self-published book should convey professionalism in all aspects – including with its book format. In fact, if budget permits, you may consider hiring a professional formatter.

Here’s mistakes to avoid when formatting your book:

  1. Avoid hard indents
  2. Indentations vs block paragraphs
  3. Avoid double spaces after periods
  4. Be cautious with hyphens
  5. Quotes vs Apostrophes
  6. Be careful with the “enter” key
  7. Use the Style feature

25-page Book Outline Templates—nonfiction or fiction  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!

7 Money-Sucking Book Format Mistakes

There are over a hundred things that can go wrong with your book formatting, and if we wrote about all of them you’d be reading from sun-up till sun-down. But fear not!

From our experience, most authors make the same mistakes when with their book format.

In this article, you’re going to learn what the most common book formatting errors and how to avoid them. By avoiding these mistakes, not only will you have a professional looking manuscript, but you’ll make the process of designing your book to publish on Amazon’s Kindle or in print via CreateSpace a lot easier.

If you have a completed manuscript with botched book formatting on your hands, this article will teach you how to fix it using Microsoft Word.

(A quick note: it’s possible to do many of the fixes in Google Docs, however, Word has a more comprehensive set of features, so it’s better to use that when formatting your complete manuscript.)

#1 – Avoid Hard Indents in Your Book Format

A hard indent is when paragraph indentations are created by manual use of the keyboard’s Tab key.

Many of us learned how to type using the Tab key to create an indent at the start of each paragraph, so this can be a tough habit to break.

When it comes to book formatting, use of the Tab key is a no-no, because it results in an indent that’s far larger than you need.

With fiction book formatting, you want to have just a small indent at the start of each paragraph. If your book is non-fiction, generally speaking, you want to use block paragraphs rather than indents, unless your book is a memoir or historical fiction. (More on that in tip #2.)

If your book is fiction, you may be wondering how to create paragraphs without the Tab key. The fix is simple: In MS Word, set the Paragraph settings to automatically create indentations for the first line in each paragraph.

This simple auto fix will make creating your book format way easier. In Word 2016, on both Mac & Windows, to get to Paragraph settings, click the Paragraph dialog box launcher on the Home or Layout tab.   Then on the Indents and Spacing tab, go to the box under Special and click on First line. You can change the size of the indent using the box to the right.

If you’re wondering how big to make your indents, my advice is to pull your favorite book off the shelf, open it up, and take a peek. How big are the paragraph indents?

Experiment with making yours larger or smaller, printing out the page, and comparing them to the book in your hand.

But what if your 535-page tome has already been drafted, using the dreaded Tab key for each and every paragraph? No need to set fire to your laptop!

Here’s what to do to clean it up:

  • Use Find and Replace (Ctrl+H or Control+H or here’s how to find it in Word 2016 on Mac and on Windows.)
  • Enter ^t in the Find (This will help you find every “Tab” in the document.)
  • Leave the Replace field blank.
  • Hit Replace All.

Going forward, set your Paragraph settings so that you don’t have to remove hard indents again. Presto!

You now have a much prettier, easier-to-convert document through the magic of technology that will make your book format much more professional-looking.

#2 – Indentation vs. Block Paragraphs

Works of non-fiction today typically don’t use indentation, except for some notable exceptions we will discuss momentarily. Rather, a popular book format for modern non-fiction is the block paragraph.

What’s a block paragraph?

A block paragraph doesn’t have indentation on the opening line, but instead uses a horizontal line of white space beneath each paragraph. This helps to delineate the separation between paragraphs.

For instance, I used block paragraphs in my latest book Published., which looks like this:

how to format a nonfiction book

The reasoning behind whether you should use indentation vs. block paragraphs is this: in works where one thought should flow smoothly into the next, such as in a novel, paragraph indentations are used with no line spacing between paragraphs.

But in books where complicated information is being consumed, having a single line space between paragraphs aids the brain in processing one piece of information before moving on to the next.

Here is an example from a fiction novel, The Savior’s Champion by full-time, self-published author Jenna Moreci of what it looks like to use indents instead of block paragraphs:

how to format a fiction book

An exception to the block paragraph for non-fiction/indents for fiction guideline: non-fiction narrativessuch as a memoir or historical fiction, should use the same indent style described above in tip #1.

In non-fiction works where some information should flow, and other sections require more brain power to comprehend. Some authors decide to mix formatting types and use indentation where appropriate and block paragraphs where useful.

But in general, to avoid confusing the reader and to make your book look uniform, clean, and as if you didn’t make a book formatting error, it’s best to choose one style or the other and stick with it throughout your book.

However, if you insist on getting crazy and mixing it up, knowing how and when to use block paragraphs versus when to indent results in a more professional manuscript.

#3 – Avoid Double Spaces After Periods

Here’s the truth: Two spaces after a period is wrong. Period. (Ha!) Just as with the good old-fashioned Tab key indent, two spaces after a period may have been the norm back when you were learning to type.

This is because, with typewriters, characters were all the same width, so the two-space rule allowed for greater readability.

With modern computer fonts, the characters all fit closer together in a proportional fashion, thereby eradicating the need for that one additional space.

Most major style guides—including the Chicago Manual of Style, which is used by traditional publishers—now formally recognize the more modern single-space rule.

From an aesthetics angle, one space looks neater, which your readers’ eyes will appreciate. Before you convert your manuscript, change all double spaces to single spaces. The result will be a better formatted, stylistically correct book.

You’re going to use that super handy “Find and Replace” function again:

  • Enter two spaces in the Find (This will help you find every double space in the document.)
  • Enter a single space into the Replace field.
  • Hit Replace All.

Voila! Like magic.

25-page Book Outline Templates—nonfiction or fiction  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!

#4 – Be Cautious with Hyphens

Improper hyphenation is a common error that may be harder to stay on top of because the rules of hyphenation differ depending on the grammatical situation.

So when it comes to your book format, you’ll have to do some research.

Generally, keep these three rules in mind while you write so you’ll have to do less work when it’s time for book formatting:

  • Two or more words that, together, function as an adjective are joined with a hyphen. For example, dark-pink skirt or two-way street.
  • Two words or more that form a number are joined with a hyphen. For example, twenty-one.
  • Compound words, which are two words that are joined together to make a single word, do not require a hyphen. For example, toothbrush or starfish.
  • Two or more separate words that are used as a single word or idea. For example, action-grabbing, top-notch, or larger-than-life.

When in doubt, look it up! For a more detailed treatment of the hyphen, here is an important source to consider: Elements of Style.

#5 – Know When to Use Quotes vs. an Apostrophe

Few things scream “new writer” like a book formatted with punctuation errors. You want to make sure you’re using quotes and apostrophes correctly so you don’t lose credibility with your readers.

When to use quotes in your book format:

  • When you’re quoting someone, use quotes! This means either a person is speaking—like in fiction—or you are borrowing material verbatim from another source, like in non-fiction.
  • Use of quotes is rarely needed for common expressions.
  • Ironic terms can be set off in quotes.
  • Overuse of quotes can get annoying, so be judicious in their application.

When to use apostrophes:

  • Use an apostrophe for possessive form (except the word its.) For example: The cat’s toys are blue.
  • Use an apostrophe for contractions, such as it is. For example: The cat’s playing with its toys. It’s a happy cat.
  • Avoid using an apostrophe for plural forms. For example: Five cats ran past her.

Again, the rules can be complicated, such as when to use an apostrophe when dealing with an acronym, so when in doubt, look it up.

#6 – Be Careful When Using the Enter Key

There are many times in your book you’ll want to go to a new page or to create a blank page.

This is simple right? Hit enter a few times, and presto, you’ve got a new page.

Wrong.

format a book

Using paragraph breaks, or hitting enter to create a new page can create many problems when it comes to getting your manuscript ready to publish.

For instance, you or your book designer will need to change your page size or page setup according to the book size and style you’ve chosen.

Using paragraph breaks will create extra space where none is needed and will change the page layouts of your book, making your book look ugly.

If you’re wondering why after you change your paper size, your chapter headings are no longer at the top of the page, but halfway down, it was because of your liberal use of paragraph breaks.

Instead, use the page break function.

This instantly creates a new page, and it remains a new page even when you’ve changed the page size, page layout, or added more content above. On Microsoft Word, this can be done by pressing Ctrl+Enter (Windows) or Cmd+Enter (Mac).

You can also find it in the ribbon in Word. Google Docs also has this feature. In Word 2016 go to Insert > Page Break In Google Docs go to Insert > Break > Page Break

#7 – Use the Styles Feature Instead of Formatting Yourself

Stop formatting your chapter titles yourself. Many writers indicate a title or subtitle by simply changing the font size and changing the font from the default font (ah, Times New Roman, how we miss you) and thinking their job is done.

This makes navigating and formatting your book a pain.

What you want to do is use MS Word’s “Styles” feature. Google Docs also has this feature. In Word 2016, you can find the Styles section under the Home tab on both Mac & Windows.

In Google Docs the styles section can be found by clicking the box between the zoom level and the font type.

When creating a new chapter, highlight the chapter heading, and then make it a header by applying the relevant style. If it’s the main heading make it “Heading 1”, if it’s a subtitle make it “Heading 2”, etc.

This has the added benefit of allowing you to easily automatically create a table of contents page, or to navigate through your 30,000-word manuscript with Word’s navigation pane, while also making your book format look professional.

You Need a Proper Book Format

Without question you want your book to stand out because of its invaluable content, stunning tone of voice, and laser targeted towards your audience.

However, don’t let your book formatting or grammatical errors get in the way of your book’s success. If you’ve written your book, and are ready to get it published, follow the guide you just read to make sure your manuscript isn’t full of errors.

For tips on how to format your book for Kindle, it’s best to follow Amazon’s comprehensive guide on the matter. It will help you design your title page on a different first page, your copyright page, trimming to the correct paper size, and the million other things you need to do to get your book ready for print.

25-page Book Outline Templates—nonfiction or fiction  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!

speaking engagements

Speaking Engagements: How to Find & Book Speaking Gigs

Once you’ve done the hard work of writing and publishing your book, it’s time to consider getting some speaking engagements so you can spread the word about your book’s message…

…and make even more cash from it.

As an author, it’s highly possible you’ve convinced yourself that speaking in front of an audience simply isn’t for you—after all, you’re a writer, not a speaker…right?

That’s not exactly true.

While the walls of publishing are coming down, and there’s never been a better time to become a published author.

…but this means there’s an awful lot of competition out there.

We’re here to cover this information all about speaking engagements:

  1. What are speaking engagements?
  2. How do I book paid speaking engagements?
  3. How do I get speaking engagements
  4. How to get speaking engagements at churches
  5. Start local to land speaking engagements
  6. Speak to your niche
  7. Find a natural connection
  8. Build excitement around your speaking engagement
  9. Hone your skills
  10. Attend a workshop
  11. Speak at an industry event
  12. Aim low (at first)
  13. Practice often!
  14. Say YES

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The authors who are willing to put themselves out there—whether in the form of speaking gigs, media, or other in-person appearances—have the best chance of standing out from the crowd and grabbing the attention of book buyers.

What area speaking engagements?

Speaking engagements are when you speak in front of a group of people on a specific topic you’re knowledgable about in order to inform or inspire.

Most people think of TEDx Talks when they hear the term “speaking engagement.”

However, not all speaking gigs have to be at the Ted Talk level in order to be considered a speaking engagement. Any scheduled speech you give (even unpaid) in front of a group of people is considered a speaking gig.

Not everyone can get paid to be a speaker upfront. If you want to be a paid speaker, you have to first hone the craft of speaking and then gain experience in the field.

Some may get lucky enough to be booked as a paid speaker upfront but usually, it can take time, experience, and a resume of speaking engagements in order to take home money for it.

An easy way to expedite the process of becoming a paid speaker is to increase your authority by writing a book.

Becoming a bestseller by self-publishing a book (something we here at Self-Publishing School teach) is even better. It’s a surefire sign that you know what you’re talking about and have credibility behind you.

Check out our Become a Bestseller program where we can teach you how to self-publish successfully in as little as 90 days.

How do I get speaking engagements?

Before you can reach the days of paying someone else to book your speaking gigs, you have to put in the work for yourself first.

This means doing research and performing a lot of outreach in order to connect with those responsible for booking speakers at different events.

Keep in mind that you may have to start small (and we’ll touch on this below) before you can expect to book yourself at larger, paid speaking engagements.

How to get speaking engagements at churches?

One major way to not only make an impact but reach new levels with your faith is to book speaking engagements at churches.

While not everyone will need this bit, it’s super important for those of you seeking to share your story and message. And like some other methods listed here, one powerful way to reach more churches is to write a book about your faith and message.

This allows you to present the church with some concrete information about you as a person of faith and the specific message you’d like to share. Not only that, but it can also be a great way to sell more books.

Here are a few ideas to help you land speaking engagements at churches:

  1. Be present in that church community
  2. Share your message and ideas with others
  3. Develop a strong speaking ability
  4. Live your faith and message outwardly
  5. Allow someone else to nominate you (due to #2)
  6. Attend local church activities

Ultimately, you’ll have to pitch your idea and message in order to land this speaking gig. However, the steps above can help others see you as a source of information, inspiration, and faith.

How to Land Your First Speaking Engagements as an Author

We’re not saying it can’t be nerve-wracking to stand up in front of a crowd. That’s why we recommend starting small, saying “yes” to multiple opportunities, and getting lots of practice.

This isn’t a one-and-done proposition if you truly want speaking to become an effective piece of your “professional author” repertoire.

So, how exactly should you land that first speaking engagement?

Read on for our ten tips, and you’ll soon be writing your notecards for your debut talk.

#1 – Start Local

Conferences are a natural place for speakers of all levels to take the stage. However, don’t feel as though you have to limit yourself to formal settings to find speaking engagements.

Any group where your desired audience gathers can provide a chance for you to speak.

You could speak to students, to religious organizations, women’s groups, at your library, local business associations…the list is endless! Look around your own community and make a mental list of all the places where you might ask to speak. 

#2 – Speak to Your Niche

If your book is geared toward a specific niche, explore related groups. For example, if your book is a memoir about overcoming an obstacle—such as domestic violence or cancer or another illness—you could speak to a support group.

If your book is about productivity, then seek out entrepreneur groups or the chamber of commerce.

If you’re a nurse, and you’ve written a book about health care, then hospitals are a natural place for you to speak. If your story relates to a specific sport, then hit up the closest sport teams.

No audience or venue is too small or informal for your first “official” speech.

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#3 – Find a Natural Connection

While we do recommend starting small and local, look even closer: make sure the group you choose will actually be well-served by hearing your message.

Look, there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a crowd that’s bored, or worse—hostile—because you’re wasting their time.

There’s an easy way to warm up any crowd, and that’s to have something in common with them. You want your first speaking engagement to be closely related to your book and your book’s message.

If your book is all about the stressful life of a lawyer, then you’re not going to want to speak to a group of airline pilots.

For your first speaking gig, your goal is to find an audience that will benefit from your book’s message. Ideally, you want to find an audience you naturally connect with, because that connection will make you more relaxed and authentic, which will result in a better speech.

#4 – Build Excitement

If you’re not quite ready to beat the bushes in order to grab your first speaking engagement immediately, then consider building up some excitement first.

We authors share a common goal: to get our target readers excited about our book’s message!

How do you do that? The good news is the Internet makes building a virtual audience fairly easy these days with consistent effort. You can establish a following of readers through your website, through online forums, via social media, and by writing blog posts, both your own and by writing guest posts for others.

Use all of these types of content to build your audience with the goals of increasing book sales and finding your first speaking gig.

#5 – Hone Your Skills

Think of informal ways to practice your speaking abilities with the goal of scoring a “real” gig.

You can produce videos on your book’s subject, join podcasts, and seek out online interviews to share your voice with the world, gain exposure, and get comfortable with your talking points.

By showcasing your speaking talents, you open the door to an invitation to speak in a more structured setting—that even pays more.

Plus, you get great practice speaking about your book’s message before you have to stand on a stage in person.

#6 – Attend a Writer’s Workshop

A great way to get the inside scoop is to meet other authors and pick their brains about their speaking process.

How did they find speaking engagements? What are their best speaking tips? What fees do they charge?

Meeting other writers gives you a broader network to use as resources on all topics that impact authors—not just the nitty-gritty of drafting books.

#7 – Speak at an Industry Event

These fact-based speaking engagements are perfect for non-fiction authors. Whether your industry is blogging, healthcare, law, plumbing, or real estate, it’s likely you can find a conference about it.

The exact nature of the industry doesn’t have to mirror the topic of your book.

Instead, you can focus your talk on skills that can help people in that industry.

For example, if your book is about productivity, you can create a talk that’s focused on how your audience can adapt the productivity lessons found in your book to suit their particular industry.

#8 – Aim Low (at First)

The first of your speaking engagements probably won’t be a Ted Talk, and that’s okay!

The first time, in fact, you may have to volunteer your time to speak at a pretty tiny event.

But as the saying goes, you have to walk before you can run. Just keep taking steps toward bigger and better events. With each new speaking gig, your resume will grow—along with your confidence! 

#9 – Practice Makes Perfect

Write a speech today, and read it to yourself daily—before you even have speaking engagements lined up. You want to be able to handle a speaking engagement that’s the very next day if someone called you out of the blue.

Once you’ve taken the time to put together your speech about your book, you’ll notice ways to refine it and improve on it day after day when you practice like you’re speaking in public.

What way when the times comes, you’ll be ready to shine.

#10 – Say YES!

When you’re offered your first speaking engagements—take it!

Even if it gives you butterflies or if it’s not the “perfect” fit for your brand, you need to be open to invitations when you’re just starting out. You’ll gain valuable experience, polish your skills, and get your book’s message out there to the public.

All good things!

Get started now on finding your first speaking gig. No matter the size of your audience, you’ll gain exposure for your message, while achieving the unparalleled life experience of speaking about your passion.

Carlos Whitaker Interview

SPS 085: How To Sell 50,000 Copies Of Your Book “Out Of The Trunk Of Your Car” with Carlos Whittaker

Today, I’m joined by Carlos Whittaker, a people’s choice award winner, a former recording artist who spends his time creating new books and travels to speaking gigs. I’ll be chatting with Carlos about how he sold his books “from the trunk of my car.”

With a passion for writing starting with his blog, Carlos was pursuing writing in addition to a career as a singer. In 2010, he created a VLOG that went viral, which, in turn, produced traffic for his blog. At this point, he had 30,000 readers per day looking at his website, and publishers started to find his blog. “Although I was a singer, I had more people reading my words than buying my music.”

When Carlos decided to write his first book, he chose his best blog writings from his work that created the most traction from his past seven blogging years. Moment Maker was birthed from his blog in 2014. Although it didn’t sell well, “this was my little experiment, and I’m proud of it.”

He took his first offer from a publisher that approached him. “The first book was a book that I wanted to write that felt good for me, and I thought that maybe this could help a lot of people.” Carlos decided to be strategic in writing his second book and directly answered his audience’s pain point. Doing beta testing, targeting sales, and tweaking his talks to target more book purchases in the lobby post-speaking. “Once I found that secret sauce, I just stuck to that.”

With his third book, he is creating many Zoom talks and hasn’t had as much success with video marketing. Carlos is looking forward to 2021, when he can hit the road and see people in person to market his book.

Listen in to find out how you can make your audience the hero of your story, how to set up your book sale to get more people to buy your book, and Carlos’ pro tips for selling books.

Show Notes

  • [01:40] Why Carlos decided to write his first book.
  • [05:16] Getting approached by publishers to write his book and had one offer.
  • [07:01] Tips for bloggers who want to turn their blog into a book.
  • [09:52] Why he wrote his first book.
  • [18:18] How to make your audience the hero of your story.
  • [24:26] Pro tips for selling books at speaking gigs.
  • [28:05] Figuring out how many books to bring with you to sell.
  • [32:14] What Carlos reviews when revising his talk to sell more books.
  • [37:30] Parting advice for listeners about how to be a better author.
how to start a story

How to Start a Story & Fully Invest Readers

You want to learn how to start a story because you’re smart. You know the introduction of the book is the most important part.

After all, most readers skim those first few pages before deciding to read or not.

So what if you had a process that intrigued readers from the first page?

What if anyone who read your first few pages immediately wanted to buy your book?

It’s possible, and we have a proven system to make it happen.

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Here are the steps for how to start a story:

  1. Connect the readers and character
  2. Produce intrigue
  3. Elicit an emotion in your story
  4. Start your story with a strong visual snapshot
  5. Write a compelling first paragraph
  6. Leave a hint
  7. End the first chapter on a cliffhanger
  8. End the first chapter with a bookend

How to Start a Story with Intention

By default, nobody wants to read your book. Not even your mother. Not really. She’ll humor you, she’ll hope for you, but she doesn’t want to.

Since nobody is instilled with an innate commitment to read your book, you must craft that desire personally. Your opening paragraph, hell, your opening sentence is as much largess most people will be offered.

As any good salesperson knows, a crack is an opportunity and anything that opens a little can be forced to open a lot. All you need is confidence, technique, and the guts to push forward.

To this end, when starting a story, you must:

Yes, that is a lot to ask from the first page, which is why so many writers stop before they get started.

Remember, the first page isn’t the first page you write, it is the first page someone reads. Of all the darlings you must get used to killing, your original first page should always be ripe for the axe.

#1 – Connect the reader to your character

Your opening sentence shouldn’t be a warning shot. No haphazard hail Mary you hope lands. It needs to be well aimed and land solid. It sets a tone, introducing the reader to you and your world.

Like any first impression, it has as many don’ts attached as it has do’s. Let’s hit the do’s first.

You want to achieve a minimum of one and a maximum of three of these in your first sentence. Three is pushing it, you might want to try for that all-in approach, but you will just end up coming across disorganized. A page long sentence can be an interesting, impressive feat, but as a first sentence it reeks of smarter-than-the-room and will alienate most readers.

  • Connect the Reader to a Character
  • Produce Intrigue
  • Elicit an Emotion
  • Snapshot a Vivid Image

Diving off a cliff puts the reader immediately into the action. In film school you will see this as in media res. It works by forcing the reader to accept everything that is currently happening while also inviting them to see what happens next or hear what brought the character to this moment.

To execute this action-packed introduction, you need to have a firm idea of what is happening and deliver the setting with confidence, don’t over explain and don’t linger.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Connecting a reader to a character is done in several ways. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along to see the character’s arc.

start a story example

How to Start a Story Example:

“Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever.” — The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

#2 – Produce intrigue

Producing intrigue works a lot the same as the Dive. The difference is you want to leave more questions than generate answers.

Again, the more you know about the story when you drop this first hint, the more clearly it will communicate.

Avoid vague prophecy, hit them with something that will echo when the reader arrives at the resolution.

How to Start a Story Example:

“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.” – Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard

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#3 – Elicit an emotion

Eliciting an emotion is about getting the reader to feel something, not just displaying emotive language. You don’t want the reader to feel for the character or the world, as those fall into other categories. One of the main ways to do this is by adding literary devices to your story.

With this opening, you need to place the reader in a specific emotional headspace to engage with the rest of the page.

You accomplish this by using trigger phrases and touchstones.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer by William Gibson

how to start a story example

#4 – Create a strong visual snapshot

Finally, a snapshot is exactly that, a picture painted in words. You don’t want to make a whole landscape. Take a look at a random post card for five seconds.

What stood out to you? How would you describe that scene to someone else?

That’s the essence of a snapshot, the highlights, and standouts, not the overview.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The thing was big and white and hairy, and it was eating all the ice cream in the walk-in freezer.” — Monster by A. Lee Martinez

While you toil to create these openings, you want to avoid a few key elements. Each of these can destroy your efforts and drive the reader into dismissal mode.

monster by lee a martinez
“The universe was filled with secrets, and he understood now that one of the biggest was that no one needed to know them all.”
― A. Lee Martinez, Monster

Avoid these elements when starting a story:

  • Mundane
  • Clichés
  • “He woke up”

World building is about establishing what your world is, not what it isn’t. Describing how the regular world works and then adding ‘but mine doesn’t do that’ wastes a lot of time.

Expect your reader to know mundane information and don’t bother repeating it. It bores you to write and the reader to read.

Cliché’s have their place in an established book genre. Don’t confuse a genre trope with a cliché. What you want to avoid is saying the same thing in the same way.

Your fantasy world may well have a dungeon and a dragon, but you don’t want to put those facts too close to each other.

Cliché will kill emotion in its cradle. Readers want to feel something genuine and cliché is the opposite of that.

Far too many science fiction stories start with someone coming out of some kind of sleep. There is a temptation to start the story from the very first conscious moment of the character but remember that you don’t even really remember the first few minutes of your day.

Start the story where you remember starting your day, usually after breakfast and post stimulant.

Not convinced? Alien 3 started with Ripley waking up in a tube. Nobody likes Alien 3, ergo, no starting by waking up.

#5 – Construct a compelling first paragraph

If everything has gone to plan you have gotten a foot in the door, wedged the sucker open, stepped into the vestibule, and presented your wary, but accepting, mark… er reader, with your wares.

You haven’t made the sale yet, but you have an opportunity to deliver a spiel before they work a clever excuse to get you out.

Seize that advantage by showing that your opening sentence leads into an opening paragraph that isn’t just more of the same but a makes some promises that most of the rest of the pages are also going to offer something worth sticking around for.

Having gained some headway, you have more to lose than gain. That is, there are more wrong things to do with the first paragraph than there are right things.

The right course of action has three options for your starting paragraphs:

  • Stay the Course
  • Ramp Up Gradually
  • Double Down

Staying the course

Staying the course means keeping the same tone and attention you presented in the first sentence. This works best for mystery stories or when you have started with a Dive.

In both of these cases, the idea is often to put the reader immediately into the world and you need to be careful not to shake the hook loose with too much pull.

Example: Back to Stephen King and The Gunslinger, the paragraph after the opening line is a delicious snapshot of the desert mentioned. It holds the reader, drawing them further into the enormity of the task presented by the preceding sentence. He already has us ready to find out more, so he sets the hook gently, rather than pulling us right into the boat.

start of a chapter

Note also how he goes from one strong type of opening, the Dive (mixed with a character connection), into a snapshot. Right there he’s established three strong openings without breaking a sweat.

Ramping up gradually

Ramping up gradually is seen more often in character connections and snapshots. With each detail you add through the paragraph, you build interest. The character gets slowly separated from other characters of their type.

If you start with a high school student, you see how they break the mold. If you start with a city, you reveal what makes that city unique.

Example: Consider the wide panoramic opening of EM Forester’s Passage to India, how he shows the country in an almost dreamlike shot you can immediately visualize. The book was written before film was invented and yet it used a standard technique employed in nearly all aerial establishing shots.

Double down

The hardest technique to use is the double down. Here you pull hard and fast, hoping to take the opportunity gained by your first sentence to really wow the reader.

While this can be done with several techniques, you see it least commonly with the Dive. If your action is strong enough, more action blows the reader away. However, a complication to the action works.

By slipping in some Emotion or Intrigue you deepen the scene without pushing the reader out.

how to start a story and invest new readers

Example: In The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a mysterious circus appears in the first sentence. Complicating this matter is the first paragraph which suggests the sudden appearance wasn’t the kind where it was simply not advertised in advance but hints it may well have materialized out of nowhere.

Regardless of the approach, remember that the first paragraph serves to grow your lead and hold the reader through the chapter.

While pulling is the goal, the main aim, as mentioned several times, is to avoid pushing the reader out.

We call these the Goldilocks Paradox:

  • Too Obvious
  • Too Obscure

In the Too Obvious scenario the reader develops a certain “Simpson’s Did It!” mentality. If they feel like they know exactly where the story is going, that this is just one more reprise of the hero’s journey, the fetch quest, the star-crossed lovers, they will put it down.

Conversely, if you go Too Obscure, they won’t have any investment. Sure, nobody has ever really read a book quite like those composed by Thomas Pynchon, but then again, ask anyone what Gravity’s Rainbow is about and be prepared to get a ‘the what and who?’ in response.

You want to land in familiar territory with some new spins. Don’t reinvent story structure or character, not in the first chapter. You need to gain trust before you start pulling the rug out from a reader.

#6 – Leave a hint in the last paragraph

While the first sentence gets the reader hooked and the first paragraph makes promises, the last paragraph needs to introduce more concepts while limiting resolution.

That sounds like a heavy order because it is. It isn’t all that bad once you break down the components.

Aim for one of the following:
  • Hint at the End
  • Roadmap to a Plan
  • Cliffhanger
  • Bookend

Each of these chapter endings provides the reader a reason to keep going. Many television pilots fail at this, they either wrap up the first story and have nowhere to go, or they toss in a last-minute villain preview to suggest a larger threat somewhere.

Sure, it worked out for Avengers to tease Thanos but they also had the advantage of a sixty year comics history to assure viewers they know how to build a multi-part story.

When you give a Hint, you want it to be broad enough to be interesting but narrow enough that your resolution (within the next chapter or two) satisfies it completely.

If you toss an owl through a window to get Harry Hunter or Harry Potter to explore a magical world, you better make good on the magical world sooner than later.

If you are building up a large world and need to set several things in motion before you get to the major plot, which is a risky move in itself, you need to show the reader a roadmap. The hobbits need to get out of the Shire before they can get to Rivendell on their way to the ultimate goal.

#7 – Opt to end the chapter on a cliffhanger

Ending on a cliffhanger is usually a good call. The pulp stories of the 30s were sometimes christened Cliffhangers because they used this technique extensively. When releasing serial stories, it is the default way to go, how will our heroes get out of this sudden predicament!?

It makes the ending exciting and demands the reader pick up the next installment, or, in your case, turn the page and keep going just a bit further.

Cliffhanger Generation Tricks and Tips:

  • Someone Appears!
  • A Lingering Question
  • A Sudden Insight
  • The Depths Appear

Dropping a new character into the scene, especially one that shows up with the same aplomb as a first sentence Character Connection, gets the reader going. They want to know who this is, and why they will have importance to the next section.

The end of the first chapter of Stardust by Neil Gaiman does this perfectly, introducing us to a baby delivered via faery door. You have to turn the page to find out more.

In a Lingering Question scenario, you invite the reader to ponder something about the event that just transpired.

Why was it so hard, so easy, what was the significance of the turns? Any question that goes unanswered makes the reader wonder. In a serial, they would have to wonder for weeks, or months. In a book, they can always find out by turning a few pages.

Sudden insight works somewhat the opposite of the Lingering Question.

Here, a character understands something that just happened, something the reader may have been in the dark about, this often goes hand in hand with the next tip. Knowing what is at stake drives tension and the character and reader both being ‘in on it’ delivers.

The Depths Appear works well in science fiction, horror, and fantasy stories.

Any place where the world isn’t just what is known, where other dimensional forces can act, where a universe of possibilities can exist, it is possible for something else to be out there.

Alluding to the larger forces at the end of a first chapter puts the story into a context against these larger, more meaningful threats. This is especially a good idea when your first chapter reads like a self-contained story.

#8 – Try a bookend for the first chapter

I lied about the mother thing, turns out she really does want to read your book. She always did, she can’t not, mostly because she loves you.

This type of ending paragraph reflects the Bookend.

Here, you offer a mirror version of the first sentence to show that what has been set up and was so gripping originally has turned around. This works especially well for stories that start in a known world.

Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore, Alice ends up down the rabbit hole, and the once bright sky is now overcast with the coming troubles.

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how to write a children's book

How to Write A Children’s Book in 2021: Step-By-Step Guide for Beginners

Learning how to write a children’s book involves a number of steps. Writing and publishing a children’s book successfully is possible, but it’s more than just writing out a story idea and drawing pictures…

And there are a lot of mistakes you can easily make that’ll cost you book sales, fans, and ultimately the success of your book.

  • Have you written a book for children that has been rejected by agents and publishers over and over?
  • Or do you have pages full of kids’ writing prompts or book ideas but no idea what to do with them?
  • Do you have the drive or desire to make a full-time income from publishing children’s books but aren’t sure where to start?

If so, then we can help you.

How to Write & Publish a Children's Book Step-By-Step  Learn how to tell a story kids love, parents can't wait to buy, and teachers  want in class—and publish it successfully!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

I’ve met my fair share of authors who’ve been swindled by hybrid publishers or spent years investing time, money, and energy into an industry that has given them little in return.

Never fear! We are here to help you!

These are the steps for how to write a children’s book:

  1. Determine your book’s audience
  2. Learn what makes a good children’s book
  3. Read a lot of children’s books
  4. Expand your children’s book idea
  5. Outline your children’s book
  6. Narrow the details
  7. Write your book!
  8. Re-read and revise your first draft
  9. Get your book edited
  10. Find a children’s book illustrator
  11. Celebrate writing a children’s book!

What is a Children’s Book?

Children’s books are everything from Young Adult down to board books for your teething kiddo, however, a book is considered a children’s book when it’s intended for an audience between 0-8 years old.

But there are a wide variety of standards and skill between these opposite ends with children’s books.

For example, books for young adults are full of detail, world-building, plots and subplots, setting creation, and strong character development, with no pictures, for thousands of words.

Picture books, on the other hand, serve our 0 to 8-year-old audience and have very few words, lots of pictures, simple plots but intense engagement.

For our purposes here, let’s think Early Reader down to Mom-or-Dad-reads-it-to-you. Everything else is essentially novel writing for an older child audience.

Why write a children’s book?

There are a number of reasons to write for children. The bonuses and motivation for writing children’s books will often be much different than if you want to write a full novel.

Here are some of the wrong reasons to write a children’s book:

  • “I’m retired now and want to make a livable wage doing something easy.”
  • “Children’s books are short so I know they’re easy to write and fast to the money.”
  • “I want to write but I’m not sure what. Kids don’t expect much so I’ll write for them.”
  • “There are some awful children’s books out there. I know I can do at least that well.”

Here are some of the right reasons to publish a children’s book:

  • “Children are the present and future of our world, I really want to impact them.”
  • “I want to make writing for kids my business and have a plan to write many books.”
  • “I LOVE children’s books (even though I’m an adult) and want to write them so much, that I’m willing to learn how to write well in order to exceed their expectations.”
  • “There are some awful children’s books out there. I want to improve the quality of children’s literature to give kids a better reading experience.”

The reality is, children’s books are the most difficult type of literature to write and produce.

You have to engage an adult audience (the people who hand over the money and are likely to be the one reading your book Every. Single. Day.) but you also have to engage the children, who will beg their money-wielding parent to buy the book and read it to them Every. Single. Day.

Additionally, you only have zero to 700 words to communicate an entire story, with inciting incident, climactic moment, and final resolution, to the full satisfaction of both adult and child—much like when writing short stories. On repeat.

Marcy Pusey's children's book

Writing Children’s Books Is Increasing in Popularity

The good news is that children’s book sales are on the rise. According to a 2017 article in Publisher’s Weekly, children’s books have become a centerpiece for many traditional publishers because the increase has surpassed those of every other book genre counterpart.

Between 2012 and 2017 children’s book sales doubled, with a trajectory to continue increasing.

In 2018, 31 out of the UK’s 100 bestselling books were children’s books. That’s a huge percentage!

If I’m honest, I didn’t enter the children’s industry for the “right” reasons. I have always been a writer and was finally ready to pursue that professionally.

So, in 2007, I began the hunt toward publishing. Self-publishing was nearly unheard of and I knew enough about traditional publishing to know that who you know matters as much as the quality of your work.

Learning to Write Children’s Books Taught Me…

Before we teach you how to write a children’s book, it’s important to understand a few key things I wish I knew when I got started.

Here’s what I learned writing a children’s book:

  1. The children’s industry is highly competitive. So even though sales are on the rise, so are people writing and publishing them.
  2. Books that thrive in the industry are extremely well written and well marketed.
  3. It takes time to study the craft of writing for children well and of marketing and selling your book well. Thus, it also takes time to make money.
  4. Self-publishing children’s books is a totally viable and profitable way to produce your stories. From conversations I’ve had, I learned that I make more money per book sold than my traditionally published counterparts, have to do the same level of marketing as they do, have more creative control, and can get my book out in three months instead of one to two years. (I have many friends in the traditional industry and I love their contribution to market research and high-quality value. Together, we partner to impact children.)
  5. Writing for children is the best. Fan mail for kids? Nothing else like it. Experiencing the giggles and gasps of kids who are caught up in your words is life-giving. And knowing that your story is a safe space, gives kids permission to be uniquely them, and passes on important life skills to our upcoming generation is among the highest of honors.

With time and practice, I learned how to set my expectations correctly, develop a writing habit, and produce high quality, professional, and engaging children’s books.

If, after reading the right reasons to write a book for children, you realized this is YOU, then stick with me a bit longer and I’ll walk you through some standard first steps.

If, after reading the wrong reasons to write a book for children, you realized this is YOU, then consider writing a book for adults. We have some great resources on how to determine what you should write, starting with something that gets you excited, that you can write quickly, and that you can write easily.

For the rest of you, there are a number of standards and steps to get you going on writing your first children’s book.

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Step by Step

Writing a children’s book has a different overall book writing process than say, when you’re writing a novel.

We’ve broken down the steps for writing children’s books with a strategy that works.

How to Write & Publish a Children's Book Step-By-Step  Learn how to tell a story kids love, parents can't wait to buy, and teachers  want in class—and publish it successfully!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

#1 – Determine your children’s book’s audience

Everything about how you start your book: your story idea, book layout, page count, number of illustrations, and depth of the plot depends on who you are writing for.

A picture book, for example, is normally ready aloud by an adult. The child is captivated by full spreads of illustration and relies almost entirely on listening to the story.

Language can be a little more developed, poetic, and nuanced since the book is as much for the reading adult as it is for the child. Early chapter books, on the other hand, are for the older budding reader who still relies on some artwork while gaining vocabulary.

If you don’t know the age and stage of the child you’re writing for, you might lose their interest. The following is a guide for your book according to age group.

Determine What You’re Writing:

Children’s books length varies depending on the age group you want to write for and the detail of the story you want to tell.

If you want to write for children 0 – 4 years old, then you’re most likely writing a board book or a very simple, short concept book.

These books often teach children their colors or how to count or demonstrate a routine like bath time or bedtime, in 0 – 100 words.

Children ages 3 – 8 love picture books. These are stories 0 – 700 words (1000 at the most) that use full page images to tell a story.

These books are often read aloud to children by an adult. Picture books rely in part on the quality of the story as told through text and the work of the illustration to communicate the story. With so few words, picture books must be compelling and tell a complete story, meaning that every word must be purposeful in moving the story forward.

Early Readers are short chapter books aimed at 5 – 7 year-olds and range from 200 – 5000 words.

This youngest chapter book is designed for kiddos who see big kids reading chapter books and really want to read them, too.

However, these kids are still developing reading skills and need simple language because they are reading it solo. Chapters are short so kids can feel successful as they make their way through such a “big” book. These are most popular in the educational market as a bridge for younger readers between picture books and chapter books.

Here’s a handy table for an easier overview:

Children's AgeBook Length
0 - 4 years old
0 - 100 words
3 - 8 years old0 - 700 words
5 - 7 years old200 - 5000 words
6 - 7 years old5000 - 20,000 words
8 - 10 years old20,000 - 35,000 words
Tweens40,000 - 55,000 words
Young Adult50,000 - 70,000

Naturally, as age of target child increases, word count increases, and the depth of the plot increases as well. These books include illustrations, in lesser measure as the word count increases, stopping around Middle Grade.

This is a great resource for determining what you want to write (and for whom). This article was written primarily for writers in the traditional industry but is a great standard for us as well.

#2 – Know What Makes a Good Children’s Book

Children’s books are unique in the sense that their lesson and what children learn are so very important, but you also have to create this in a way that holds their attention.

Here are some criteria for writing a good children’s book:

  1. It has an important lesson
  2. The story is easy to follow for your chosen age-range
  3. The illustrations are high-quality and professional
  4. It’s relatable to a wide range of children
  5. It can entertain adults at the same time

Using these criteria can help you structure your story, create a better story setting, and ensure you’re hitting the milestones needed for a good children’s book.

#3 – Read LOTS of books in your category

There are many different genres to choose from when writing for children and the best way to write them well is to read them often.

The following are a sampling of the options:

  • Realistic Fiction: Made up stories that could happen today in real life (but didn’t).
  • Historical Fiction: Made up stories based on actual historical events.
  • Biography: A story like this, or a memoir, is based on the life of a real person.
  • Fantasy: Made up stories that involve ideas that don’t happen in real life.
  • Science Fiction: Made up stories that generally aren’t plausible and are normally set in the future involving some level of science and technology.
  • Poetry: Writing poetry is telling stories told in verse, rhyming or not, mean to communicate in such a way as to evoke emotion.
  • Non Fiction: True stories that are informational (to teach facts) or based on actual real-life stories.
  • Folklore: These are the stories, often told orally first, that represent our history, our culture, our stories, myths, legends, nursery rhymes, songs of the past, and even some passed on fairy tales. These are often retold since we don’t know the original author.

Reading books in your genre can help you understand the story structure that works, including how to start your story, the maturity of the content for your intended audience, and more.

#4 – Come up with a children’s book idea

Children’s story ideas can be silly, deep, inspiring, hilarious, zany, serious, and straight up weird. They can make you laugh, cry, gasp, squeal, giggle and guffaw.

Ideas like these come from so many places: the kids around you (eavesdrop on ‘em, it’s great), adults around you (eavesdropping actually goes a long way as a writer), nature, books, movies, newspaper articles, youtube videos, animals… be an observer and you’ll find ideas everywhere!

Here are a few of my favorites places to come up with children’s book ideas:

  • Fractured Fairy Tales: Take a commonly known myth or legend and retell it in a new and creative way. Think “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” (as told by the wolf), Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, or my very own book, Tercules. I took the legend of Hercules, combined him with a wild turkey chick, and voila.
  • Unlikely Characters and Settings: Speaking of Tercules, another great place to get ideas is by throwing together two very unlikely characters and dropping them in an unlikely setting. Shark versus Train is a great example of this.
  • Putting Characters in Child-like Settings and Circumstances: Some book ideas are life skills we want to teach our kids in creative ways. The Princess and the Potty worked magic with my daughter. Or Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, illustrated by my friend, Daniel. Taking a unique character and putting them in the position of a child will help kids catch all sorts of great life skills. Or on a more serious note, my own Speranza’s Sweater: A Child’s Journey Through Foster Care and Adoption, gives children permission to experience the many conflicting feelings of adoption through the lens of Speranza. Our own SPS coach, Jed Jurchenko, also does this with his recent release, The Stormy Secret, helping kids navigate the safe places to share secrets imposed on them.

#5 – Outline Your Children’s Book

Once you have an idea, start laying it out in a book format. Yes, this is essentially outlining. Depending on the book category and genre, this outline will look different. For a picture book, the story will be, on average, 28 pages of story.

Create a book dummy and fill in the pages with your idea. (To make a book dummy, take 16 pages of regular paper and fold them together in half to make a small booklet.

This should create a 32 page “book.” The first few pages are your title page and copyright page, 28 pages of story, and then any end matter you’d like to include, like “About the Author” or an author’s note.

Use this book dummy to layout your scenes and choose where in your story you want the page to turn.

For chapter books, make sure to outline the entire story with the five important milestones of a strong plotline, as well as the individual chapters. If you’re more of a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), then at the very least have a framework for your story so you don’t get lost on rabbit trails.

Don’t get lost! Your readers will, too!

#6 – Focus on Your Children’s Book Details

Choose whether you’ll write the book in poetry or prose, first person or third person, past tense or present tense.

Use other books in your genre to guide you as a standard.

If you choose to write in poetry, be aware that if you can’t do it perfectly, you really shouldn’t do it at all. Writing poetry is much more than rhyming words. It’s meter. Rhythm. Timing. Pacing.

If one of these is off, it throws your reader off and discredits your book and your storytelling skills.

If it can be told just as well in prose or poetry, do it.

#7 – Write that first draft!

Don’t stress the details, just get the story down.

One of the biggest hangups preventing all authors from being successful is finishing writing a book.

If you can accomplish this, you’re further along in the process than most other writers you never get past the idea phase.

Here are a few tips to finish your draft:

  • Schedule writing time
  • Get an accountability partner for external motivation
  • Set a deadline
  • Get rid of distractions while writing
  • Focus on just FINISHING, no editing along the way

#8 – Re-read and revise your first draft

Do you have enough words? Too many words? Add or cut as necessary.

Does your story make sense? Are there plot holes you need to address? Did you break any of the “rules”? If so, why? If not, why?

Tighten up your draft.

This self-editing process can take a while, but you’ll feel better sending a cleaner, tighter manuscript to the editor because it can only get even better from there.

#9 – Get a critique and/or an edit.

Getting a book critique gives you a chance to get a children’s book professional’s feedback on the marketability of your book, the content of your book, and to address any grammatical issues.

No matter how well you think you’ve nailed grammar or understand a child’s brain, your set of eyes alone will never be sufficient for a perfect draft.

I’m a seasoned writer and editor and I still don’t trust myself to catch every grammatical issue or plot hole. Invite a professional to give you content feedback as well as outside eyes on your grammar and syntax.

But not just any professional! Make sure they have strong experience in the children’s writing industry and credibility to back up their work.

Editing for children’s book is not the same as editing for books for adults.

Trust me, I do both. Consider the editors feedback and make any necessary changes. Stay true to your voice and your story while honoring the tradition of literature and writing quality books.

#10 – Find a children’s book illustrator

This is the most fun part! Your book will now come to life in the hands of someone amazing.

The illustration in your book are extremely important. You have to think about which style you want and find someone who can bring that to life.

Here are a few places you can find a children’s book illustrator:

P.S. — Do you know any great children’s book illustrators? Drop their names in comments below so we can check them out!

You can also check out our article on how to find an illustrator for your children’s book.

#11 – Celebrate!

This is huge! These words you’ve been pouring over are about to be read by children!

Take a minute and have a dance party before stepping into book production, including formatting your book and even getting a book cover design.

You did it!

How to Write & Publish a Children's Book Step-By-Step  Learn how to tell a story kids love, parents can't wait to buy, and teachers  want in class—and publish it successfully!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

how to market a book

How to Market a Book: 2021 Book Marketing Strategies to SELL

“With a book marketing strategy, your sales will skyrocket!” you’ve heard that a dozen times.

But… Just because you wrote a new book and you’ve promised everybody (including yourself) that you’re going to promote it, it won’t get any sales.

Harsh? Maybe. But it’s true. And here at Self-Publishing School, you first have to learn the truth before taking action.

Even if your book is the next Great American Novel, it won’t be a success if it doesn’t get into the collective consciousness of the public. 

This is why you need good book marketing tactics to back it up. You’ll also need to avoid book marketing mistakes.

We actually teach a ton of pre-launch and post book launch marketing plans in our programs here at Self-Publishing School. You can check those products out right here.

How to Effectively Market a Book in 2021 & Sell More Copies Consistently  The Real Reason Your Current Promotional Strategy Isn't Working and How to Fix  it in 3 Easy Steps!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

Here are the book marketing strategies we cover:

  1. Book marketing for authors during Covid-19
  2. Social media marketing strategies
  3. Use a launch team for book marketing
  4. Pricing your book effectively
  5. Build a website to market your book
  6. Grow your email list
  7. Influencer outreach for book promotion
  8. Apply for BookBub
  9. Land interviews on podcasts
  10. Reach book clubs
  11. Write another book

Book Marketing for Authors During the Covid-19 Pandemic

We wanted to add this section at the top in light of everything happening with the Coronavirus sweeping the world.

With so many shut-downs and quarantines, Amazon has decided to cut down production considerably—and this includes paperback books.

For self-published authors, this is a huge problem. After all, some of you make a living from your book. So we wanted to offer you a few pieces of advice that we’re also sharing with our paying students at this time.

Here are some tips for book marketing during the Covid-19 Pandemic:

  • Switch to an ebook-first marketing plan (switch marketing images to ebooks, talk about the ebooks, make ebooks top-of-mind so more buy those versus physical copies)
  • Promote that your paperbacks are on other websites (Barnes and Noble, etc.) instead of sending them right to Amazon
  • Have any collaborators or those who sell your book via an affiliate link with Amazon switch to a different distributor or an ebook link for the time being
  • Reduce your ebook price or run a special to get the word out
  • Connect the current events to your story or message (it’s a GREAT time for dystopian authors and those with work-from-home material)
  • Offer a free PDF for anyone who buys a paperback (so they can start reading right away, waiting until their physical copy arrives)
  • Run a special that donates a % of the profits toward families in need during this time
  • Make sure that while still promoting, you’re aware of others’ struggles and hardships during this time. Be sensitive with your messaging.

This is a crazy situation for all of us and all we can hope to do is tweak our lives to fit the current times, and this includes self-published authors impacted by Amazon’s change.

Book Marketing for Self-Published Authors

Marketing takes planning, organization, and consistent action; it’s hard work. But the good news is that marketing is also about fostering connections and relationships, which can be rewarding to you and your fan base.

And since you’re the one who knows your book from cover to cover, your backstory, your reasons for writing it, and who your ideal reader is, it’s your duty to put a plan in place to best connect with your intended audience and share your story.

We know, we know…you’ve put a ton of effort into writing, editing, and getting your book ready for publication that the thought of adding another layer of “work” is not the most appealing idea.

But realize that if you launch your book without a marketing plan, FAR fewer people will read it.

It will hamper the success of the book you’re working on now, as well as others you plan on publishing in the future. So if you dream of becoming a New York Times bestselling author, or if you want your book to help you reach other lifestyle goals, a book marketing strategy is your essential key to success. Check out Jeff Brown’s helpful list on the best marketing services out there if you want to read more.

Book Profit Calculator for a Marketing Plan

If you want to know why you have to market your book, the profits will explain it.

If you want to make a living writing your books, it’s important to understand exactly what that means.

In order to earn a living writing your books, understanding how many books you need to sell and what you’ll bring home for each is vital.

Check out this book profit calculator in order to know how much you need to market in order to become a full-time self-published author.

STEP 1

Enter Your Information Below To Calculate Your Potential Book Sales

STEP 2

Want to receive personalized tips on how to sell more books right in your inbox?

CONGRATULATIONS!
Here's What You'd Earn:

Your profit per book:

In 3 months, you'll make:

In 6 months, you'll make:

In 1 year, you'll make:

How to Market a Book on Social Media

Having a quick overview of exactly what you can do and how much time and effort each will take can help you better plan for your book marketing plan.

Here are our recommended book marketing strategies and what you need for each.

Free Book Marketing Plan

Having seen and been involved in so many book launches ourselves, we know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to book marketing.

We’ll walk you through a play-by-play of exactly what you need to do so that your readers can find your book and buy it.

We’ve broken this guide down into three main sections for learning book marketing:

  1. Pre-Launch: Building Your Book Marketing Launch Team
  2. Pricing Your Book for Maximum Sales
  3. Post-Launch: 8 Strategies for Selling More Books

Let’s get started!

Pre-Launch: Build Your Book Marketing Launch Team

The first step of preparing for your book launch, and the marketing behind it, is to build your launch team or street team, as it’s also commonly referred to.

What is a Launch Team?

The ideal launch team, also known as a “street team,” is a dedicated, hand-selected group eager to make your launch successful. If you use your team’s talent and communicate well, there’s nothing your launch team can’t accomplish!

This video does a great job of detailing what a launch team is and exactly what they do:

#1 – Launch Team Size

The first step is to determine the projected size of your book marketing launch team based on the size of your audience.

Your audience is anyone interested in you, your book, and your product.

They could be five of your lifelong friends, members of your community, big organizations you’re connected to, social media followers, email subscribers, anyone who might be interested in what you’re sharing.

If you have a smaller following, we suggest you aim for a launch team of 10-50. Those with hundreds in their network can aim for 100-250 team members.

#2 – How to Find a Launch Team

If you don’t have much of a following right now, start by looking at your personal inner circle— your family, your close friends—then branch out to their connections, families, and colleagues.

You can reach out to peers from college, your volunteer work, or even your first job. You may even consider parents at your child’s school, fellow dog owners, or members of your yoga class.

Even though you may not know these people well, they are a part of your network, and you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that they’re inspired by your book and would be eager to share it.

Once you’ve completed this exercise, you should have an initial list of potential launch team members!

#3 – Recruit Quality People for Your Launch Team

Now that you’ve determined your potential recruitment pool, the second step is to initiate contact and gauge their interest level.

The most important lesson to consider about your book marketing launch team is that QUALITY trumps QUANTITY.

One top-quality, dedicated team member trumps a handful of mediocre ones.

To begin recruitment for your launch team, create a simple questionnaire process that describes your book, your expectations of the team, and questions asking:

  • Why are you interested in supporting my book?
  • What part of my book speaks to you?
  • What specialized skills can you contribute?
  • What’s your available time commitment?
  • Who are influential people you can reach out to?
  • Why would these influential people be interested?

To sweeten the recruitment deal, feel free to offer a free signed copy of your book or an inclusion in the “acknowledgments” section. You can easily do this through email, or through online forms like Typeform.

#4 – Record a Welcome Video

Take the time to record a warm welcome video for your new supporters! In your video, first, congratulate your team for being selected and express gratitude for their help.

Then, detail your expectations, your unique mission for writing your book, and why you want to share it with as many people as you can!

This welcome video will help you create a more personal connection with your book launch team, and show them a bit more about why you’re creating it and what message you’re trying to convey.

Be sure to send it to everyone who completes your questionnaire!

market a book

#5 – Establish a Communication Style

Here’s the secret to a successful book marketing launch team: Effective communication.

Communicate with your team regularly to keep them focused on weekly tasks, progress, and innovative ideas by doing the following:

  • Strive to send one email per week preceding launch then increase it to three or more during launch week.
  • Use a Facebook group to engage, share ideas, and post feedback. Set the tone by posting “Dos and Don’ts” to keep conversations focused and positive.
  • Boost morale and build rapport by sharing inspiring quotes, gifts, and goofy photos to keep energy high and build vital connections.

No matter which mode of communication you’re using, remember people like to be treated well.

Always make sure your team knows how grateful you are to them and their dedication!

#6 – Book Marketing Launch Team Assignments

You can’t just build up a catalog of supporters and not use them, though. You have to give them small assignments to help you with launching and the book marketing process in general.

It might feel weird telling people to help you, but don’t worry about it!

They’re here because they want to support your project, and as long as you’re gracious and ask nicely, they’ll be happy to support your work.

Facebook Groups will be the most effective way to dole out weekly team assignments.

Here are some book marketing initiatives you can assign your team to do:

  • Share snippets of content from your book across social media
  • Submit reviews on Amazon
  • Add their reviews to Goodreads
  • Share a book review on their YouTube channel
  • Record a testimonial for your book
  • Buy extra copies to give to their friends
  • Give you more marketing ideas, such as a book trailer to help build up excitement in your followers!

How to Effectively Market a Book in 2021 & Sell More Copies Consistently  The Real Reason Your Current Promotional Strategy Isn't Working and How to Fix  it in 3 Easy Steps!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

#7 – Utilize Talents

Your team members will have a different variety of skills and talents, and it’s your job to effectively manage your team by assigning work based on their strengths.

To identify your team’s talents, write a post during the introductory week and say the following:

“If you have any special talents or connections you’d like to lend towards my book launch, please comment on this post and let me know. I’m looking for ways to help spread my book’s message to a wider audience.”

#8 – Have Fun and Say “Thank You!”

Your launch team will commit weeks of their time, energy, and talent, so make sure you thank each and every person for their contribution!

Ensure that each person on your team feels valued and appreciated for their efforts.

And most importantly, let them know how to get your book for free (or at least at a deep discount)!

Which brings us to…

How to Price Your Book

One of the most important factors in how successful your book launch is will be how you price it.

To find out how to price your book for success, we recommend reading Book Launch.

But for the sake of this article, here are some of Self-Publishing School’s biggest secrets that will get your book to soar up the Amazon’s charts:

  • If you have a sizable audience, we recommend launching your book for $0.99, and then increasing the price to $2.99 or higher after about a week.
  • For first-time authors, we recommend Amazon’s Free Book Promotions for your book launch.

Although you won’t get paid by putting your book out for free, realize that it will be featured on another author’s page which instantaneously increases your exposure and recognition.

Once the free promotion has ended, switch your book’s price to $0.99 for the following week, then slowly increase the price by $1 per week until sales stagnate.

Post-Launch: 8 Book Marketing Strategies for Selling More Books

All marketing—no matter which market or industry—is fundamentally about people and making connections.

Part of pitching your book will be figuring out how your book relates to your readers and how they will benefit from it.

Now that your book is out in the wild, you want to get as many people to it as possible. Here are the eight best strategies for doing just that.

#1 – Build Your Book Website

Can you imagine if you came home one day and your house was…missing?

Well, that is what an author’s life can be like without a website to post fresh content.

You’ll always be missing a home where you can park your books. Many authors think they don’t need a website because they can promote their books through social media or the author platform on Amazon.

Sorry, not exactly.

There is a huge difference. Having an author website is the difference between renting or buying a piece of property. When you rent, you are living in someone else’s space.

It doesn’t belong to you and they can cancel your lease at any time. Maintaining your own website on a hosted server with your domain name is the same as having that piece of real estate.

You can customize your site your way, publish your own content, and you are always in complete control of how it looks and what gets published.

When it comes to book marketing with your own website, the sky’s the limit. You can:

    – Publish your book’s landing page on your site.
    – Post blogs about your upcoming book
    – Create a countdown timer for the book’s release date.
    – Set up an affiliate link to your Amazon page so you get commissions on book sales Include sample chapters from your book
    – Link to video clips about the book on your website
    – Communicate directly with your email subscribers about new releases or your current blog post

And you can also set up a Google Alert so you can be notified about where your name and your book show up online.

If someone gives you good feedback or a stellar review, reach out and thank them and ask them to link back to your book’s website.

Action Step:

If your book doesn’t already have a website, get one started! To set up your website and personal blog on a paid server, you can try Bluehost or Godaddy and use WordPress for building your site.

#2 – Build Your Email List

There is a saying going around that says: “the money is in the list.” Why? It’s simple. A list of followers who are in love with your writing will be the first to line up when you have a new product to sell.

These people are essentially your customers.

Your email list is yours. It doesn’t belong to Amazon or social media. You control what you want to say, how you say it, and when. Imagine if every time you had a new book ready to launch, hundreds or thousands of people were waiting for it so they could get it first.

If you are serious about your book marketing your current project and all future ones as well, building your list should be a top priority. Nothing else comes close.

Although building a list takes time, in the long run it is the easiest way to market.

These are the true fans that will get the word out and be the first to leave verified reviews after buying your new release at the special price of 0.99. But that is just the beginning.

You can continue to build your list by including a reader magnet at the front and back of your book. Get people hooked on your brand and then keep them there by writing your next book, and then, including them in your next launch.

As your book reaches more people, and you get more signups, your marketing capacity grows…exponentially.

Action Step:

If you haven’t started on your list building, go to an email management system such as Mailchimp or AWeber and sign up for an account. Then get building and start to funnel your fans into your books today.

#3 – Reach Out to Influencers

When it comes to book promoting, nothing can have a bigger impact on your book than influencers through book endorsements.

Even Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the most influential and knowledgable people in the marketing game, thinks so.

What is an influencer?

Influencers can be podcasters, bloggers, or authors with strong email lists. It’s someone with an established platform that can get you noticed if they notice you.

An influencer is someone who has a lot of promotional weight and can spread the word about your book to thousands of people with just a brief mention to their email list, on their blog, or by sharing on social media, for example.

Influencers have a long reach. What you can do is identify the influencers in your niche and reach out to them. Tell them who you are and ask if they can help to promote your latest book.

A lot of the time, they’ll want a free copy to read and review. You can also offer to support their future endeavors as a way of giving back.

Influencers can have a major impact on your exposure as an author, so try to set up interviews in your hometown or reach out to someone online and offer to do an interview so you can deliver value to their target audience.

Guest post blogging on an influencer’s blog or website is another way to market your book.

For example, if you wrote a book on recipes for Italian food, you could try connecting with people in the Italian cooking niche.

They may have a blog, podcast, or a webinar on which you want to appear.

And if you want to make sure you sound professional during the interview, you can check out some of the best podcast microphones to use.

Action Step:

Identify at least one influencer in your market and reach out to that person. Tell them who you are and what you do. Get on their podcast or get interviewed. Exposure to fans in your niche will have a big influence on book sales.

#4 – Leverage Two Social Media Platforms

Social media is a powerful way to promote your book to potential readers. We can engage with thousands of people just by hitting a few buttons.

But with social media sites, the big scare is the amount of time we can get sucked into trying to do everything. If you try to connect with everyone, you’ll match up with nobody.

When promoting and marketing your book, you can’t be everywhere doing all things at once.

That is why we recommend you choose two social media sites to work with and post your content regularly on these two sites.

For example, you can have a YouTube channel and post weekly videos covering a wide range of topics centering around your book. After a few months, you could build up a library of content that will bring in the right audience, engage with new subscribers, and even create a course out of your videos.

Here’s an example of Youtube content from a writer currently working on her first fiction novel. She created a Youtube channel to engage fellow writers, who are also readers:

book marketing youtube example

By creating a Youtube channel and giving advice about writing, she’s appealing to writers while also advertising that she is also a writer and has a book in progress.

Switching gears to Facebook, you can promote your book or blog using Facebook ads that drive new readers to your Facebook page or your book’s website.

You could also post popular quotes or snippets of material from your upcoming book. With Twitter, you can post multiple times a day with brief quotes or messages under 280 characters. Twitter has proven to be a powerful platform for authors when it comes time to promote and market a book.

And if your book is more business-focused, you may find that LinkedIn works best for you, since it allows you to connect with new readers on a more professional platform.

We recommend choosing two social media platforms and focusing on consistent engagement. This will keep your book’s appearance fresh and invite new people in to check out your work.

#5 – Using Specific Hashtags to Grow on Social Media

In the writing community, there are a number of very popular hashtags authors and writers use to connect with each other.

Why make connections with other authors? Because almost every other is also a reader!

Here are some of the top hashtags you can use on each platform:

Twitter

  • #amwriting (as in, “I am writing”)
  • #writerslife
  • #fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
  • #writerprobs, #writerproblems\

Instagram

  • #amwriting (as in, “I am writing”)
  • #writerslife
  • #fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
  • #writerprobs, #writerproblems
  • #writersofig, #writersofinstagram, #writersofinsta

Facebook

  • #amwriting (as in, “I am writing”)
  • #writerslife
  • #fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
  • #writerprobs, #writerproblems

Pssst! We have a full Social Media For Authors course that covers all of these, where to find your readers, and more!

#6 – Get on Bookbub

Bookbub is the cream of the crop when it comes to promoting and marketing your book. In fact, you should submit your book for promotion as either free or for 99 cents right after your book launch.

Bookbub has a massive following and can get your book delivered to thousands of readers. It really is the “Big One” when it comes to book marketing.

The cost isn’t cheap and can run you anywhere from $200 to $2,000 for a promo, depending on the genre, category, and the price of your book.

But is it worth it? Yes. Definitely.

For example, if you are running a promo for 99 cents in general nonfiction, you could potentially sell, on average, 2,000 copies of your book. Not only will you make a profit, but this could bring in hundreds of subscribers and leads to your email list.

From there you can upsell readers on your other books or even a course if you have one.

Action Step:

Go here for Bookbub submission requirements. You can also check out the pricing here and submit your book here.

#7 – Interviews and Podcasts

A local radio or podcast interview can introduce you to new readers. While this may sound intimidating, you can pull this off like a pro with a little preparation.

Look to local colleges, podcast hosts, or local radio stations for interview opportunities

(Pro Tip: Hosts love to interview up-and-coming authors, so you may be surprised at the many offers that come your way when you reach out).

Reach out, let them know a little bit about your book and why it might be interesting to their audience, and include a free sample of it so they can see if you’d be a good fit.

If you have a press release describing what your book is about, feel free to include that as well to give them more context.

Then be sure that when you go on, you present a great story about your book and get their listeners excited to read it!

#8 – Book Clubs

Local book clubs are another goldmine of new readers; you already know they like books! Find and connect with these groups.

You can offer to attend a meet-and-greet and hand out copies of your free signed book. You can also get your book listed in Facebook Groups and other groups dedicated to readers.

There are also paid lists, such as Buck Books, that can reach tens to hundreds of thousands of readers. Book Launch also teaches what lists are out there, and which ones are the best to use.

Action Step:

Are there any book clubs you could join? Look on Facebook for groups that would be a good fit for your book.

#9 – Write Another Book

Publishing another book is great for brand building. In fact, it’s much harder to market just one book unless it is a ground-breaking phenomenal masterpiece.

Your book may be great, but you can compound that greatness by writing more books, preferably in a series.

With every new book you put out there, you increase the chances of your work getting recognized by influencers and people online who are hanging out in all the places you can target for promotion and sharing.

marketing a book

How to Effectively Market a Book in 2021 & Sell More Copies Consistently  The Real Reason Your Current Promotional Strategy Isn't Working and How to Fix  it in 3 Easy Steps!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!