Robert Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, the premier global partner marketing agency that has won over 30 awards for its world-class company culture. He leads a fully remote team of over 200 people. He is the author of Friday Forward, an inspirational newsletter that reaches over 200,000 readers worldwide each week. The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several books, including Elevate, Friday Forward, and How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace. Robert is also a global keynote speaker who has spoken on the TEDx stage and the host of the popular Elevate Podcast. Above all else, he is passionate about sharing ideas that help people and organizations elevate their performance and reach their full potential.
Why Use Books for Business
Robert wanted to create a book based on the progressive articles he had written for his industry. “We felt that our industry was on the precipice of change.” He wanted to create a book as a calling card and came up with Performance Partnerships. Through his first book, Robert realized the value that writing and content bring to a company. He also admitted that his book was a great platform to answer many common questions without repeating the answer.
Different Purposes for Each Book
His first book was meant to be a calling card for his business. However, for his more recent publications, Robert wanted to focus on impact and reach. “I took different strategies depending on what I wanted to do.” He tested out the waters for how he wanted to publish each of his books and realized quickly that certain forms of his book could be easily distributed while hardcover books have more logistics to get them to their final location.
How to Find Time to Write Books
“A lot of us picture this ideal Mark Twain, go to a cabin for five weeks and write a book.” However, this isn’t a reality for most people. Robert suggests starting small with a goal of 100 words per day and increases how many words per day as you go along until you finish your book. With an assembly line process, Robert keeps a system to continually write his books.
Listen in on today’s episode to find out how Robert markets his books, how to find podcasts to be interviewed on, and how to find your own look-alike audience.
[01:38] Using books as a marketing strategy from the start of business.
[04:10] Why each book has a specific purpose for his company.
[06:06] Which books were better for self-publishing versus traditional publishing.
[10:51] Marketing tactics Robert uses to sell books.
[15:23] Which book marketing tactics don’t work to move books.
[19:34] Scaling for book sales what you want to do.
[21:46] Details about affiliate partnership marketing.
[29:09] Put people in your book that would help your book be successful.
When you hear critics discussing any kind of narrative art, be that a movie, T.V. show, or a book, you may have heard them use the phrase ‘story arc.’
Sometimes they describe a particularly compelling story arc, or they mention that the story arc fell flat.
Maybe you’ve come across this term in how-to content for writers.
Everyone talks about how important it is to make sure your story arcs are compelling, but how does one go about writing a good story arc?
We’re here to break down what a story arc is, give you some examples of story arcs you can find in pretty much any book (seriously!), and show you how to make your own stories pop.
Let’s get started!
What’s a Story Arc?
A story arc (also called a narrative arc) is just a term for the plot of your story. The line that the story follows, from beginning to end, is called an “arc” because of the rising, peak, and falling action.
It runs from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story.
Any given book or movie probably has more than one arc running through it. Let’s take your standard superhero movie, for example. You’ll have the main arc, which is what the story is about—-somebody becomes a superhero and saves the world. Then you’ll have the subplots, which each have their own arc. Usually, the superhero also has a love interest, and maybe an arc with a side character that gets resolved.
Let’s take a closer look at each component of a story arc, so you can pick them out the next time you grab a book (also, spoilers ahead for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan).
The Elements of a Story Arc
Usually, when we talk about exposition, we’re referring to background information about the character or setting. We’ll say things like ‘avoid exposition dumps’ and point to a particularly dense paragraph as exposition-heavy, and we generally try to avoid it on our writing.
When we’re talking about story arcs, though, we’re using the word exposition differently. Here, it means the story’s setup. This is where we start out in our story! For Girls of Paper and Fire, this is the part where we meet Lei while she’s working in her family shop.
Coming out of exposition, there’s going to be some kind of inciting incident that kicks off the story. Something happens to our character that changes things forever, and they have to go do the rest of the story because of it. In a romance, this is the meet-cute.
The rising action is everything surrounding that inciting incident and leading to the climax. In Girls of Paper and Fire, the inciting incident happens when General Yu comes to Lei’s village to take her to the palace. This is where she’ll live as a Paper Girl. Lei is taken from her home and thrust into palace life, an unfamiliar world where she has to develop new skills and cope with new struggles.
At the climax, all of your rising action comes to a head in the most exciting moment in your book! This is the final superhero fight, the proposal, the last showdown. Usually, this takes place toward the end of the book, since your climax should be the thing which solves your central conflict.
In Girls of Paper and Fire, the climax is New Years Day, when Lei has to kill the king. Not only does she kill the king, but Wren comes back for her and is reunited. This ties up the romance subplot, and she now finds out what’s written on her birth pendant.
This is the fallout from the climax. In a superhero movie, this is the bad guys turning tail and going back to wherever they came from. The love interests get married, et cetera. Lei escapes the palace and starts on her new adventure, which we’ll explore in the next book.
This is where all of that tension we built in the rising action starts to ease up. We’ve solved our biggest problems by now.
This is the end! Just like we got a snapshot of your character’s life in the beginning, before the plot came and messed everything up, we should also get a sense of how things are at the end of it. Here, we get a sense of your story’s message and what sort of impact you’re imparting to the reader.
Different types of story arcs
Now that we know the different parts of story arcs, we need some examples. This isn’t a comprehensive list of story arcs, but it’ll give you a good idea of what to look for and what to replicate in your own writing. You may have seen a few of these before already!
Rags to Riches
Rags to riches is just like it sounds. A character starts off living in the slums and finds themselves in the lap of luxury! How this happens is up to the story—maybe they won the lottery, or maybe they caught the eye of a prince who wants to shower them in riches.
Examples of this include The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier, and Ever After: A Cinderalla Story by Wendy Loggia.
The voyage features a character traveling to an unknown land and then returning when the evil has been defeated. Sometimes this voyage is an alternate dimension that characters enter into from the real world (think The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), or just a frightening place (Like Orpheus and Eurydice).
Comedy makes up a huge portion of our media, and there are lots of different kinds of comedy – including romantic comedy, comedy of errors, and comedy of manners. But the basic idea is this: comedy should make the audience feel good, and it should have a feel-good ending. There might be some drama along the way, but the drama shouldn’t get in the way of the story being, ultimately, positive and triumphant.
Examples of this include: almost every superhero movie and rom-com, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
If comedies are meant to be triumphant feel-good romps, tragedies are the opposite. In a tragedy, you’re watching a hero’s downfall. These are more intensely dramatic, and generally take a darker, more somber tone compared to comedies.
If you’re looking for examples of a good tragedy, look no further than Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear are all great examples of classic tragedies.
Tips for writing strong story arcs
With some definitions and examples under our belt, we’re ready to start talking about how to write our own story arcs.
Read widely in your genre and check out what sorts of tropes and story arcs people generally expect. In romance, for example, it’s very important that an author hit the regular beats that audiences come to that genre for.
Usually, there’s a step on the voyage plot where a character meets a wizened mentor, for example, who is generally an old wizard in fantasy.
Once you know the rules and expectations, you can start to break and twist them. And that’s what will make your story unique.
Maybe in your fantasy world, the wizened mentor isn’t an old wizard, but instead a child vampire. Maybe your characters have a meet-cute, but instead of falling in love, they hate each other.
It’s important to remember, though, that subversion isn’t everything. And that leads us to…
Setup and Payoff
Even while you’re subverting story arc expectations, it’s important to remember that your readers want a satisfying story. The Avengers would be a much less satisfying watch if, at the climax, Thanos just decided to go away and leave them all alone. It would be subversive–we wouldn’t be expecting it—-but it also wouldn’t make sense, and it would leave all of the rising action sort of hanging there, unresolved.
When you’re tinkering with story arcs, all the regular rules of storytelling still apply. You still want setup and payoff. Things you introduced should be resolved. If they aren’t resolved, there needs to be a really good, satisfying reason for it.
If you were writing a romance, for example, maybe the characters hate each other at the start. This is a story arc called enemies-to-lovers. In this story arc, they have to grow to love each other over the course of the novel.
In a satisfying story arc, these characters would find common interests, bond, and eventually overcome their initial hatred for each other. Pride and Prejudice is the perfect example of this! Elizabeth and Darcy hate one another at the start, but they work their differences out. It’s subversive because they’re ribbing each other the entire time and making these little digs that aren’t generally considered romantic, but all the while, they’re growing closer and we can tell that they’re growing to like one another.
And that’s what you want—-set up your characters and story, with all its quirks and subversions, and then make sure it pays off in a compelling, motivated way.
And that’s all there is to it!
You’re ready to write a one-of-a-kind, satisfying story arc.
Want a little help getting started?
What are some of your favorite examples of subversive stories?
Got any tips for how to make a story pay off in a satisfying way?
Have you ever struggled to write a character? Maybe you can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing, what they want to be doing, or why they’re doing what the plot you’ve planned requires? You might need to take a look at your character’s motivation.
It’s an important element in writing a strong and compelling character. Their motivation is the driving force behind their actions. A character’s motivation is something they need. It could be linked to their own survival, someone else’s, or something that they hinge their identity or existence upon.
But, sometimes motivation is less life-altering–especially for side or minor characters–but a good rule of thumb is that if a character is important enough to name, they’re important enough to want something. Your protagonist’s motivation is the thing they strive for above all else.
There are two main types of character motivation–external and internal.
External character motivation
Your external motivations are drives linked to survival. It could be their own survival, a loved one’s, or even the survival of a greater cause.
Examples of external motivation sources:
Physiological needs, like food and shelter
Safety, as in protecting yourself, your property, your loved ones
Protecting your society or environment
Internal character motivation
Your internal motivations are related to the character’s inner workings.
Examples of internal motivation sources:
Finding love or making friends
Learning something or overcoming an emotional or intellectual obstacle
Getting revenge or atonement
Your character’s motivation might be internal, external, or a mix of both. Great main characters have more than one motivation.
What do people need?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a classic way to consider the range of human wants and requirements. From basic physiological survival requirements to self-actualization, your character’s motivation lies somewhere in this hierarchy.
For example, if we start with the base human needs, physiological requirements include breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion.
Safety includes feeling and being secure in, and of, body, employment, resources, morality, health, and property, for you, your family, and anyone else you claim responsibility for.
Love and belonging can include friendship, pets, family, and sex outside of the evolutionary need to reproduce.
Esteem means self-esteem, but also confidence, achievement, respect of and by others.
So, self-actualization covers a person’s journey through and toward morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, lack of prejudice, and acceptance.
A simplified version of the hierarchy might be more helpful for writers. This version has three main categories:
Security and safety
Maslow’s model theorizes that physiological needs must be met before moving up the hierarchy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it works in directly the order listed, but imagine a person is drowning (in threat of losing the physiological need of breathing) and instead of thinking of how to get out of the water, they’re thinking about how to publish their memoirs for creative achievement and fulfillment. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, right?
People (and characters) have a natural order in which they want things. Some categories of need are just more pressing than others, so they should be seen to first.
Get the “Character Worksheet”! This guide takes you step-by-step through developing highly-motivated characters.
PLUS, get access to our Full-Time Fiction Resources bundle, when you sign up for the Fiction Writers Workshop below!
Why should you care to understand character motivation?
Why do we care to put in the effort writing a motivation for our character? Isn’t it enough that they’re an active character? Not really! The motivation for those actions is what your readers will connect with the most.
Motivation makes a character relatable–to the writer and the reader.
Imagine reading a scene where a character throws a fit and tears up a hotel room without knowing why they’re doing it. We can imagine a reason for it, sure, but knowing that they’re in from out of town for a funeral and their family just kicked them out of it would make that scene more impactful and understandable.
Otherwise it just looks like they’re having a tantrum.
With a specific character motivation, the reader can understand and relate to the character.
Having an established motivation helps the writer too. If you know what a character wants, you’ll know how to write their actions.
A common mistake amateur writers will make is focusing on the plot. In order to get the story from Point A to Point B, the character has to do XYZ. While that might be true for the story, having a character mime out whatever is necessary for the plot can make for a convoluted or nonexistent character arc.
With a specific character motivation, the writer can know what the character would realistically do in different situations.
Every character needs a motivation.
Authors usually write their protagonist’s motivation without even trying–but what about your antagonist? What about the supporting cast? Like I said, if a character is important enough to have a name, they’re important enough to have a motivation.
If a character doesn’t have a motivation, they have no reason to act. In order to create a compelling cast of round, complete characters, a writer needs to understand how to write motivation.
Now that we understand character motivation and why it’s important,
How do you write believable character motivation?
There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about your character’s motivations. Here are some tips:
Make them complex.
Some characters will have very simple motivations–like survive being hunted by a bear. But most characters will have complicated, deeper motivations that contradict things in their environment, things they believe within themselves, and even their other motivations.
Surface-level motivations have their place, and often those can coexist with deeper motivations, but your main character should be complicated, and so should the things they want.
Give your character more than one motivation.
Like I mentioned earlier, you should have a mix of external and internal motivators for your main character. It also might seem like they really want one thing, but that want stems from a deeper desire. Maybe your character is really fighting for a promotion at work, but their internal motivation is a sense of accomplishment, for example.
Have your character change.
Through pursuing what they want–or think that they want–your character should trigger their own arc. How do they change while they’re trying to get what they want? Was it really what they wanted all along, or do they learn that they truly desire something else?
Have your character’s motivation, and their achieving or lack of achieving it, coincide with their character arc.
Have your character’s motivation change.
With your character’s change, their motivations will likely change as well. Just like real people, a character should change their mind, change their outlook, and change what motivates them to act. Consider how circumstances and plot beats could change their opinion on a matter, or some other significant shift that might swap their original motivation or make them realize what it has been all along.
Keep a character sheet.
Simply speaking, it’s easier to craft compelling and complex characters if you can brainstorm traits, flaws, interests, goals, weaknesses, strengths and other aspects of their personality and keep it organized in one place. Having all of their data in line will help you realize what motivates them as a person.
Giving your characters complex, multiple motivations that change and change them, and keeping a character sheet can help you to create strong character motivations that will lead to strong character arcs.
Mistakes to avoid in writing character motivation.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes you might run into when you’re writing in things that motivate your characters.
Forgetting about the villains.
Like I mentioned earlier, your protagonist isn’t the only character who needs to be motivated. The antagonists and villains need love too. Why are they doing what they do? Sure, sometimes characters can be “just evil,” but what are their goals? What is their ultimate idea for what they want to achieve? What drives them? It doesn’t have to be a tragic backstory, and it doesn’t have to make them an empathetic character, but they still need to be motivated by something.
Forgetting about the supporting cast.
To reiterate: if a character is important enough to have a name, they’re important enough to have a goal. As an example of side characters who don’t have motivation, think about the best friend in most romantic comedies–they’re only there to support the main character and their goals. They typically don’t have drive of their own, and their only purpose is to be a soundboard for the protagonist’s problems or to be a plot device. While this works in a formulaic romcom, it’s not ideal for novel characters. As a general rule, everyone needs to want something.
Your character development works the same way. When you’ve decided what drives your character, just let it drive them. You know it’s the motivational force, but you don’t tell your reader that. A good reader will figure out your character’s motivation on their own if they’ve been written well. In most cases, blatantly conveying information to the audience cheapens the experience.
Sticking too hard to one motivation.
Like we talked about earlier, a character’s motivation should be open to change. It’s also nice to have multiple in play at once to provide a complex and intriguing character arc. Think about how the character themself is changing throughout the story, then apply that change to the things they want and the way they act.
So make sure you give every character an adequate motivator, including the antagonists and supporting casts, show those motivations in the way the character behaves and makes choices, and don’t be afraid to have multiple, complex, or evolving motivations.
These tips should help you write a more grounded, round, and relatable character! What was your favorite book character’s main motivation, and did it change over the course of the story?
Get the Character Worksheet that takes you step-by-step through developing highly motivated character and also helps you build the world that is most conducive to that.
Grab the training and Fiction Writer’s Resource Bundle below.
Seriously. Jack Sparrow, Batman, Walter White, Severus Snape—-these characters are some of the most treasured fixtures in our pop culture. Breaking Bad ended years ago, but people still get into heated debates about Walter White like the season finale happened yesterday.
As a writer, you might want to get in on some of this action yourself. It’s not a coincidence that antiheroes are so remembered and beloved. In this article, we’re going to talk about why antiheroes work so well when they’re done effectively—-and we’ll help you avoid writing an ineffective antihero, too!
What is an antihero?
In literature, “hero” typically refers to the protagonist of the story. An “antihero” is a character who is still your protagonist, but their morality is more ambiguous. They’re flawed, complex, and often incredibly relatable to the audience. They’re usually seen as broken or damaged, despite the fact that they’re usually doing the best that they can.
An antihero lacks the usual traits we associate with heroes—they make “bad” choices, are often self-serving, and don’t follow society’s rules and expectations.
Why are they so impactful?
Heroes are fun to read about, sure. But they’re not very relatable. It’s satisfying to see Captain America take the high road and we can appreciate what a good guy he is. The fact that antiheroes are a little darker means there’s an automatic extra layer of complexity to them that we don’t get with regular heroes.
But also, there’s just something so gratifying about watching anti-heroes.
They don’t take the high ground. They don’t usually really care that much about helping others, and they’re generally just trying to save their own skin.
And the truth is, that’s a lot more relatable than someone who never does the wrong thing, even once. We want to watch a character do the stuff we secretly fantasize about. We want to see Jack Sparrow work around the law to get what he wants and laugh when he stabs his friends in the back—-it’s mean, but it’s fun!
We see a little bit of the darker parts of ourselves in a good antihero, and that’s what makes them so effective. Even if we don’t necessarily relate to them, it’s just a guilty pleasure to watch them scowl and stomp around and tear through the plot.
Plus, that self-serving nature often makes for really compelling conflict. So once you’re in it for the one-liners and gleeful jabs, you’re staying to see whether our dark, snarky protagonist could actually be capable of change.
Examples of an anti hero
Let’s look at a few antiheroes in our popular culture and talk about what makes them work so well to give you a better sense of what we’re working with:
Jack Sparrow wants his ship back. He’s working around the law, since he’s a pirate, but he’s also a failing pirate. Depp modeled this character after a washed-out rock star, and it gives Sparrow that modern edge and comedic feel that we remember him for! We love his snark and we love how unpredictable he is–he’s not always loyal to our protagonists.
Important to remember: Sparrow may be unpredictable, but he’s always loyal to his own interests, and his interests remain consistent. We’ll expand on this later.
Geralt of Rivia
Toss a coin to your Witcher! He’s literally dirty, he’s grumpy, he’s unfriendly, and he doesn’t care about you or anyone else except himself.
Geralt works well because although he’s a no-nonsense character with some questionable methods, we get moments of real humanity from him. He may not ever admit it—-ever—-but he does care about helping people, and he does have people he cares about.
I remember being pretty confused when I sat down to watch the Maleficent movie starring Angelina Jolie. A movie? About her? She’s the bad guy!
When the movie started, my suspicions were confirmed. She’s evil! She’s got horns!
But then it got complicated.
Maleficent hits the major antihero beats we discussed. She’s snarky, she laughs at some of the fairy tale tropes that we’ve all kind of been dying to laugh at, and she makes faces at a baby. Guilty-pleasure stuff. But we also get her origin story, and we learn that she isn’t actually, deep down, evil.
Tips for writing anti heroes
How can we make our own antiheroes work as well as the examples we provided? Well, I’ve got a list of tips and tricks based on the examples we just gave. Here’s 5 ways to make your antihero work in your story!
Give Them a Motive
Antiheroes are all about their unconventional methods and roundabout approach. They can also be known for their unpredictability, since they’re pretty self-serving. Sometimes, when this is done wrong, it makes the character confusing. You don’t want a character randomly being cruel and being arbitrarily unpredictable.
To solve this, just give them a strong motive.
Here’s a huge author hack for you: readers will root for just about any character with a strong motive. Think about John Wick. We’ll happily watch him go on a two-hour murder rampage because, hey, someone got his dog! It’s a simple hook, but it works.
Jack Sparrow, to use an earlier example, is self-serving and unpredictable, but he’s always doing things in line with his own goals. He wants his ship back and he wants pirate fame. His actions aren’t random, they just don’t always align with what our protagonists want. That’s what makes him a wild card, and that’s what keeps him from being frustrating.
Let the Mask Slip
Antiheroes gotta antihero, and that means a lot of snark, glowering, and generally grumpy behavior. Where heroes are genuine and kind, antiheroes have a lot of snark and defenses.
But you know what audiences love? When the mask slips, and we can see that our antihero isn’t actually rotten to the core.
You don’t want your antihero to be outright evil. Someone who acts mean and is mean and does mean things is just a villain. Think about Geralt. He’s grumpy, he huffs and puffs about, but then we see him with Yennefer. His defenses slip, and he’s soft and feeling and kind.
Aw, we think. He’s not all bad.
And not only does that make us more comfortable watching him ram daggers into people’s eyes, but it also makes us want to see the mask slip again. It keeps us engaged, and it sets us at ease.
Give ‘Em a Sidekick
Antiheroes can be funny sometimes, when they’ve got something snarky to say. But they can also be a little bit painful to sit with for long periods of time. Again, let’s use Geralt here. He’s not running around making jokes like Sparrow–on his own, he’s probably quiet, gruff, and minding his business.
How do we fix this? Enter Jaskier.
I always say this is the Donkey and Shrek approach. For one, it’s hilarious to watch a bubbly, quipping sidekick try to pal around with the world’s grumpiest idiot. For another, it breaks up some of that gloom-and-doom and gives the audience something more dynamic, lighthearted, and interesting to experience while these characters are on their journey.
Plus, this often combines with the last point. For all the complaining the antihero might do about their sidekick, it makes for a great feel-good moment when we watch them trudge along to rescue their annoying counterpart from whatever shenanigans they blundered into.
Make Them A Feature, Not the Main Attraction
Like we’ve mentioned, antiheroes can be something of a downer. At worst, they can be grumpy and incompatible with other characters, and at their best, they can be unpredictable and unwieldy. It can be a little difficult for an audience to sit with a totally self-serving jerk, even if that jerk is funny and has a good motive.
This is really just because antiheroes can be a little chaotic. And there’s an easy way to temper that chaos: relegate them to the sidelines and make them a feature.
Jack Sparrow is our example again here. He’s a major character, sure, but he isn’t really our main character. Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner are our main characters. Jack Sparrow is acting as sort of their pirate guide—-the story is about him, in part, but he’s more of a feature than the main character.
Because of this, all of his quirks and weird antics are comedic relief. They’re a delightful break from the traditional pirate story, and they make it fun and exciting. When we’ve had enough, we come back to the plot, and we stay engaged the whole way through.
Give Them a Code
We don’t want our antiheroes to be full-on villains, and we want them to have a motive. But sometimes we still need a little something extra to make it clear to the audience why they behave the way they do, and why they matters.
Give them a code! I also call this the Batman solution.
Batman is a classic antihero–unconventional methods, gruff demeanor, ticks all the boxes. One of the things that makes him an effective antihero and not just an inconsistent, frustrating character is that he’s got a very rigid code: he doesn’t kill people.
Prompts for writing anti heroes
Ready to get started with your own antihero? We’ve got some prompts to set you on your snarky, self-serving way:
A man gets diagnosed with a terminal illness and needs to make sure his family isn’t financially screwed in the wake of his treatment and departure. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make some extra money. What does he try?
A village recluse’s home is invaded with woodland creatures. It turns out their land has been taken by the King, and the recluse decides to advocate for the creatures to get them off his land.
Pick a villain from your favorite fairy tale and write their origin story. Were they always evil? Or were they just misunderstood?
A rogue bounty hunter wanders the countryside with his prized hunting dog, looking to pick up odd jobs. One day, someone steals his hunting dog, and the bounty hunter goes on a mission to get him back.
This businesswoman is ruthless, cunning, and self-serving. On a layover, she gets stranded in a small town with her chipper new intern. Write them falling in love!
Want the fast pass to writing GREAT anti-heroes?
Grab the “Character Development Worksheet” below and get writing!
Got any advice for writing antiheroes? What’s your favorite example of an antihero?
Justin and Alexis are SPS graduates and have published their memoir Redefining Normal and have sold over 5000 copies in a few months. Justin and Alexis are involved in community development and changing the foster-care system. Alexis Black is a proud foster care alumni. She founded The Scholarship Expert, where she authored The Scholarship Blueprint book and workbook and an online course to assist students in graduating from college debt-free. Justin Black created the Rising Over Societal Expectations (ROSE) Empowerment Group with a vision to close the information gap for today’s generation of Black and Brown young adults after his experiences as a Black male in the foster care system.
Why Justin and Alexis Decided to Write Their Book
Justin says, “There is so much that we want to teach people so they can learn and understand the culture of poverty and generational habits and unresolved issues.” They want people to learn from their trauma and circumstances. “When it came to the memoir aspect, I feel that so many people can learn from our experiences and our stories.”
How They Packaged Their Story
“From many blogs that I’ve read and podcasts that I’ve listened to, I learned that you have to be careful when you write a memoir and not become the victim in it,” says Alexis. When you are the victor, people can learn the lessons you want them to take away.
She also recommends getting a good book editor because not everything needs to be in your book for your memoir. “It’s important to have your story buttoned up tight and really well-written so people can follow-along and relate to your story.” Justin adds the importance of being self-reflective, authentic, and intentional of your experiences in your story.
Listen in today’s episode to find out how they recorded their conversations to create content for their book, the importance of having a support system in place when writing a memoir, and why you need a third-party editor to bring your book to life.
[02:45] Why Justin and Alexis decided to write their book.
[04:46] Why write a memoir for their book.
[09:42] How to tell your story so others can relate to your experience.
[16:36] The challenges of co-authoring your book.
[19:15] The importance of bringing in a third-party editor.
[26:38] Connecting with influencers and change makers to promote your book.
[31:52] How to market and purchase your book for sale.
There’s a great debate over whether or not doing something quickly produces good quality. After all, fast food restaurants and known for their low-quality food being unhealthy.
However, writing is not like the food industry.
In fact, we have plenty of tips for maintaining that quality while learning how to write faster.
So can you write well while doing so quickly?
The answer is yes, and here’s how…
How to Write a Faster
I have some good news: This doesn’t have to be the case.
You can set up your writing process in such a way that it’s guaranteed you’ll find your writing flow and have words stream out of you faster than you can catch them.
You can make sure that your writing session is as efficient and effective as possible so that not a single minute is wasted.
Writing faster will not only mean that you finish your book’s first draft, which can be a life-changing achievement, it’ll also mean that you’ll be quicker at anything you write.
Your blog posts, emails, letters, and even your social media updates will be written faster.
Here are all the practical tips I’ve gathered over the years to help me and my students learn how to write a book in less than 30 days.
#1 – Write Every Day
I’m going to start with an essential tip: If you want to write faster, you have to write every day and make that your primary writing goal.
Writing, like any craft, gets better the more you do it.
The more you practice your writing skills, the faster the words will come to your mind and your fingertips.
You’ll get better and quicker at connecting different pieces of knowledge, forming new ideas and improving your natural storytelling abilities.
You’ll also get quicker at the mechanical process of writing.
You’ll develop muscle memory for your keyboard and your writing speed will go up. Soon you’ll wonder how you could have ever survived at your slower words-per-minute speed.
What to write? You could update your WordPress blog every day, or a chapter of your book every day. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re writing.
However, even writing every day won’t stop you facing that feeling you get when you see a blank page. To avoid that and guarantee your words flow every time you see a new page you need to create an outline.
#2 – Create an Outline
Here’s the writing world’s worst-kept secret: outlines work to help you write faster!
To achieve any goal, you need to plan first. The same can be said for writing.
Even if you’re able to crank out 3000 words an hour, it won’t matter much if your content lacks direction, as readers will get confused and drop your book.
A solid outline gives you the direction you need to keep your readers engaged and it also allows you to plan roughly how many words are in your novel, working backward from how many chapters and how many words in each chapter.
This ensures you can plan and create your writing goal to succeed.
Writing a book is a lot of work, but we can cut out a ton of obstacles with a well-written book outline that builds passion and purpose into your writing.
Here’s how an outline can double or even triple your writing speed:
Outlines Eliminate Writer’s Block
One of the reasons writers experience writer’s block is by not having an outline, or having a poorly written outline. If your outline is well-organized and fleshed out with all the ideas, chapters, and sections flowing in a logical sequence, chances are writer’s block won’t be an issue.
When you have to stop to think about what comes next, you’re no longer in writing mode. Instead, you fall into confusion and frustration and then default to book research mode.
“I know I can get through this if I just it look up…”You start doing everything else but writing. The next time you hit a wall, check the flow of your outline. Revise what you need to and keep moving forward. Be sure to do as much research as you can before the initial writing begins.
Outlines Provide an Organized Framework for Your Book’s Structure
Your outline is the roadmap for your book, a place where your story structure is laid out in front of you. Without it, your writing time is slow and grueling, like running up a mountain with a ball and chain. Sounds tough, right?
A well-organized outline boosts productivity throughout the writing phase.
The secret to completing any big project, like a novel, is to break it into small manageable chunks, and an outline breaks this marathon project into small manageable writing tasks.
You’ll write much faster when the chapters flow from one to the next and ideas are combined and clustered.
When your outline flows with a well-organized structure you don’t have to stop to think about what to write next. Your fingers can keep moving in flow with the plan you created.
Outlines Give You a Bird’s Eye View
When you can see your book in its entirety on the page, you feel compelled to write as much as possible. Think of it as a race. You’ll perform much better knowing the exact distance you have to run — especially as you near the finish line and you have the end in sight.
Behind every great post and book is a bulletproof outline. Here are some steps you can take today to get started with this process.
How to Write Faster Action Step:
1 – Spend some time today and go back and revise your book outline. If you don’t have one, make one.
2 – Look at areas that could be better researched. Review the chapters that have ideas that require deeper development.
3 – The aim is to make your outline the best it can be. Revise your outline as you go, but make sure your words keep hitting the paper.
For other writing:
Commit to this rule whenever you’re writing anything: Five minutes of outlining for every 500 words of content. Writing a 1,000-word article? Spend 10 minutes developing an outline.
Writing a 100-word email? Spend a minute outlining your points. Every minute you spend outlining will save you a heap of time later.
#3 – Don’t edit as you go
Want to write better quality stuff? Then you’re going to have let go of your inner perfectionist and stop your self-editing.
Hemingway is often attributed with the quote, “write drunk, edit sober.” While I’m not advocating you become an alcoholic to produce content, you can adopt the figurative meaning of the quote.
The largest obstacle to entering that zen state where the words zip out of us effortlessly is our tendency to censor ourselves. We continuously correct what we’re about to say before we put the words on the page.
Us writers tend to be perfectionists, yet this self-criticism gets in the way of our creativity.
A better strategy is to write a rough draft first. Think B- quality instead of A+. This is what Hemingway means when he says to write drunk. During the drafting phase you let go of caring about the quality of your work, but instead focus on the quantity.
Aim to finish your daily writing goal, no matter how bad the draft is. The goal is not to have a perfect manuscript.
Once you’ve finished, then and only then, begin the “edit sober” phase. Here you can engage your inner critic. You can cut what doesn’t work and polish what does. It’s best to begin the editing phase with a fresh set of eyes, usually after you’ve taken a break.
If it’s a short article, then sleep on your draft before editing.
If it’s a book draft, then take at least a week off the project before looking back on it.
It’s hard to let go of that inner judge when drafting our work, but once you do, you’ll write significantly faster. Often when you look back on the draft that you thought was horrible, you’ll find it’s better than you thought. Not perfect, but better than you imagined.
You’ll also see that there were some ideas you put in there that couldn’t have happened if you were writing as a perfectionist.
Also, if you’re still worried about the quality of your book draft, remember that you’ll hire an editor to polish your book to be the best it can be.
How to Write Faster Action Step:
1 – When you begin writing a piece, throw perfection out of the window and aim for a rough draft. Think B- work and not A+.
2 – If you find it hard to lock up your inner perfectionist, set yourself a challenge to write a word count in a set time, like 500 words in 30-minute chunks.
3 – After you finish your draft, put it away for a bit of time before you begin editing.
#4 – Write Faster First, Research Later
Here’s a piece of great advice many journalists receive: write first and research your book later. It might be counter-intuitive, but before you close this page and think I’m crazy, hear me out.
When you begin writing you have one mission: enter flow. This is the state where the words come out of you effortlessly and you lose awareness of time flowing by. This is the key for quality and effective writing.
Once you enter flow, your mission is to stay there.
A sure way to get thrown out of the zone is to stop mid-sentence to find the capital of that country you want to reference, and then get sucked down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.
TK is short for “to come” and is a handy placeholder to use for research points you want to look up later. There are barely any words in the English language that have those two letters next to each other, making it easy to use the Command+F function to find these placeholders.
For example, let’s say you were writing about the Golden Gate bridge and couldn’t remember the date it opened and its length.
If that were the case, this is what your draft would look like and doing a quick “command+f” (for mac) will help you fill in these gaps later:
The Golden Gate Bridge was opened in TK and was the longest bridge with a main span of TK.
This takes 10 seconds to write, and you can stay in your flow and move on to the next sentence. If you had Googled each of those facts, the sentence would have taken you 60 seconds and taken you out of your flow.
After you finish the draft, you can go back in and fill in the blanks:
The Golden Gate Bridge was opened in 1937 and was the longest bridge with a main span of 4,200 feet.
How to Write Faster Action Step:
1 – When drafting, if you can’t remember a piece of detail, put TK as a placeholder, instead of going to Google.
2 – During your editing phase, use Control+F to search for “TK” and replace each result with the relevant piece of research.
#5 – Schedule Brief Typing Practice Sessions
Think of your typing speed as the bottleneck between your brain and your piece of content, like the narrowest part of the road that’s causing a traffic buildup. Your fingers simply can’t type as fast as your mind is working.
Unfortunately, technology hasn’t yet progressed to the point where we can think of the words and they magically appear on the page, but with the help of a few fun and simple online games we can improve our typing speed.
I’ll share a secret with you: I used to not be able to type very well. I was like someone from the early 20th century, using two fingers to pound out my content. My typing speed was barely above 30 words per minute. Yet, writing was important to me, like it is for you, so I worked at it.
Even now, for ten minutes a day I play online typing games to test my writing speed and provide feedback on how efficient I am a typist. It’s a great way to master the skill of getting your word count up. Check out 10FastFingers or Key Hero.
# 6 – Use Proper Sitting Posture
The position of your body has a lot to do with typing speed and efficiency.
If you slouch in your chair you’ll cramp up and find it hard to concentrate.
Here is how you should position yourself:
Make sure that you are sitting up straight — don’t lean or hunch over towards the desk.
Position your elbows at right angles to the keyboard — avoid bending your arms upwards or downwards.
You can even buy a standing desk to help your posture.
It’s scientifically proven that the standing desk has major benefits for your health.
Standing gives you higher energy levels and better blood flow. But that’s not all! It also boosts productivity and makes us more efficient when typing.
#7 – Use talk-to-text
One of the greatest parts about the advancement in technology is the fact that there are now options to use talk-to-text to even write a book, and not just compose a text message.
Google docs has a fantastic diction program that allows you to speak your words onto the page.
Here’s how you can use diction on Google docs:
Open a new doc in Google Docs
Go to Tools
Select “voice typing”
Make sure your microphone is working
Push the microphone that pops up on the left side of your doc and start speaking
That’s all there is to it. This way, those of you who can speak faster than you type and are audible people in general (usually you extroverts!), you can write a book faster with this method.
#8 – Do writing sprints to write faster
Writing sprints are one of the best ways to write faster.
There’s an entire community of writers (typically found on Twitter using the #WritingSprint hashtag) who write their entire books by using sprints.
A writing sprint is when you set a certain amount of time on the clock (15 minutes for the first, then 25, then 10 minutes) and you write as fast as you can for that amount of time.
The goal with writing sprints is to NOT edit, not go back and read, just write.
Here’s an example of the writing community on Twitter doing their sprints:
#9 – Get an accountability buddy
One of the best ways to write and finish a book faster is utilizing accountability partners in order to keep you on track.
Here at Self-Publishing School, we help students find accountability partners in our Mastermind Community on Facebook. This is largely responsible for students finishing their drafts faster.
These are some benefits and reasons having an accountability partner can help you write faster:
Someone else can keep you accountable
They can help lift your spirits if you’re feeling down (which usually prevents writing)
They can talk through writer’s block with you to get rid of it
You can do writing sprints together
Ultimately, you’ll only benefit from having a writing buddy on-hand to keep you on pace to finish your book faster.
#10 – Challenge Yourself
Writing faster will not only allow you to finish your book’s first draft faster, it’ll make you quicker at all forms of writing. You’ll be speedier at composing emails, recommendation letters, cover letters, social media posts and articles.
Writing is also closely related to thinking. Being a faster and clearer writer will make you a faster and clearer thinker.
Follow the above tips on your next great article idea or book chapter and see how many words you can get out in a timed writing session. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your writing speed.
Instead of your draft taking months to produce, you might find that you’ll be able to pound out full-length novels on the weekends.
Dan Miller is a multiple-book author and is passionate about helping people find work they love. He specializes in creative thinking for increased personal and business success. He believes that meaningful work blends our natural skills and abilities, unique personality traits, and dreams and passions. Dan is active in helping individuals redirect careers, evaluate new income sources, and achieve balanced living. He believes that a clear sense of direction can help us become all that God designed us to be.
Why Dan Decided to Write His Book
“I never thought of myself as a writer or wanted to write a book.” His first book, 48 Days, came from teaching a Sunday school class where he met others who were doing well financially but weren’t happy with their work. “They were doing something that they felt was ‘OK’ but they didn’t have passion about it.”
When he met with those people, they started referring him to others. Dan came up with the material for his first book through these conversations, which he created through a three-ring binder and two cassette tapes.
“I started my marketing campaign with the 67 emails I originally had” back in 2000. Over time, he had over 140,000 people sign up for his newsletter. “Seeing that and seeing that people wanted more, I started coaching and doing live events.”
Listen in today’s episode to find out what Dan did to market his first book, how Dan embraces the relationship he has with his current following, and why Dan got into podcasting to promote his platform.
[01:55] Why Dan decided to write his first book.
[04:15] How real stories created Dan’s book.
[07:43] Publishers started knocking on Dan’s door when his book gained popularity.
Your book is finished! Congratulations! You wrote, edited, and polished that little guy until he sparkled. You agonized over every pixel of your cover and formatting. Maybe you even plotted out a series of sequels. It’s ready to go!
With all of that time and effort put into your book, it’s priceless to you. But what’s it worth to everyone else?
Let’s talk about how to properly price a book.
Pricing a book can be tricky. It’s more of an art than a science. Factors you consider in pricing your book might include what you’ve invested, the market, the trim size, the format, the genre, your competition, the mode of sale–deep inhale–the time of year, your business goals, your sales goals, and countless other elements. It’s a lot to sort out! Before you get overwhelmed, let’s break down why careful book pricing is important.
Why you should know how to price a book
Pricing a product requires multiple levels of understanding in numerous areas like marketing, trends, psychology, and accounting.
The biggest reason pricing is important is that it can help you accomplish your book goals. Whether your goal is to turn a profit, build a business, grow your readership, or establish a brand, each goal will have a different pricing strategy.
If your goal is just to make money, pricing it too cheap might prevent you turning a profit. Price it too high, and you might have the same problem because no one is willing to buy it.
If you want to grow your business and use the book as a sales funnel, a high price point might be blocking you from potential sales. But maybe pricing it too low will undervalue your work and lose a browser’s interest.
Knowing how to price a book will help you make the right decisions for achieving your personal and professional goals.
This graph from ScribeWriting.com shows how the price of an ebook can affect the volume of sales. As you can see, the happy price for ebook sales to sell the most copies is between $0.99 and $3.99 with a drop for $1.99.
Why do sales drop at the $1.99 mark? One explanation could be that there’s a balance between perceived value and cost. At the $0.99 price point, potential customers may have a feeling of “nothing to lose.” Even if the ebook is complete garbage, it’s less than a dollar. With such a low cost of entry, there’s very little at risk.
At $1.99, that feels a little different. That’s no longer just cents–it feels more substantial, so it’s less of a throwaway expense. But wait–why does the book priced at $2.99 sell MORE copies?
What you price your book at is what you’re telling prospective readers the book is “worth.” At $1.99, that’s not exactly an unnoticeable amount of money–you think your book is worth more than a dollar, but not THAT much more.
At $2.99, you’re VALUING your book higher, which can raise the perceived worth.
Outlandishly cheap ($0.99): Nothing to lose.
“Just” cheap ($1.99): Must not be worth much.
Affordable, but far from free ($2.99-3.99): The author puts worth in this book, so maybe I should too.
As this graph shows, the price of your book greatly indicates its sales success. You want to know how to price a book because then you can use it to accomplish your book goals.
We know why we want to price a book well, now let’s look at how to price a book well.
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Like I mentioned earlier, there are so, so many factors that can go into book pricing. Let’s look at a few of the big things you can do to settle on an appropriate price.
Consider your goals. The main factor in deciding a price for your book is deciding what you’re trying to accomplish with it. What do you want your book to achieve?
Are you trying to make as much money as possible? Trying to grow your business? How about your readership?
Also consider your sales goals. If your goal is to sell enough in your first month to pay for the cost of production, what price point makes sense for your expected sales numbers? (Be careful here–in most cases, basing your price on the investment you made can harm your sales. More on that in a bit.)
If the book is simply a hook to grab readers or clients, it would likely be priced considerably lower than a book only written to produce income.
Take the time to determine your personal, business, brand, and sales goals before you settle on a price.
Research the industry and your genre. Different genres and formats are priced differently. Take a look at how other publishers are pricing books like yours. Keep in mind that if a reader is holding your book and a similar book in their hands, and yours is $7 more, they’ll almost always go with the other. Consider your book’s worth in relation to comparable publications.
Write down the price range you see in books like yours. For example, if your romance subgenre sells between $3.99 and $7.99 at your book’s word count, your book should sell somewhere between those price points.
Now consider how the popular authors are selling versus the unknowns. Where do you lie on that spectrum? If you have a large online following, your book can probably sell for much higher than a debut. If you’re a debut, your book is probably realistically on the lower end.
Consider royalties. Sales price does not equal income. Don’t forget royalties when you’re deciding on your sales price. If your publisher or distributor offers a higher royalty, you can usually price it lower. Many offer a very small royalty, take that into consideration as well. That doesn’t mean hike up your prices until you’re happy with your cut, but it does mean to factor in your royalty percentage when pricing your book to meet your goals.
Remember that people might judge the quality of your book based on the price. If your publication is an ebook that you spent a few weeks writing and is essentially an elongated listicle, 99 cents is probably perfect. If your publication is a 200,000 word fantasy novel you’ve been working on for three years, suggesting a 99 cent price tag probably just sent your soul shooting straight out your nostrils.
A hefty fantasy novel priced at 99 cents might make potential buyers nervous too, because they’re used to bigger price tags in that genre. A book that time-consuming to produce selling for under a dollar is a big red flag–it tells your readers that your book won’t give them value.
That said, there’s a wide range of reasonable prices for a book, and finding the balance between not undervaluing your work and not overpricing right at the beginning during peak sales times is tricky. Common advice is start on the lower end of reasonable to get more sales (thus more reviews), then inch the price up once you have momentum.
Consider your goals, your industry, your current readership, your genre, royalties, and quality perception when deciding on a price.
Those are specific factors to consider–now let’s look at some general things to keep in mind.
Book Pricing Tips
Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when pricing your book.
Expect to fluctuate your price. As your book ages, sales will drop. Determine when you should drop the price of your book with it. For example, I published my first collection of short stories in 2018. The price started at $11.95 for paperback and $4.99 for ebook. They’re currently at $7.95 and $3.99 respectively, and I might drop them again in the future. I do this to match the price to demand.
There might be cases where you want to raise your book’s price. For example, many indie authors use the strategy of starting your book at a lower price to collect reviews and build momentum before they increase it for higher royalties.
Either way, don’t expect that your book’s price will stay consistent through its lifetime.
Run promotional prices. You’ll likely want to drop your prices temporarily to boost sales, before another book release, or to promote something else. For example, I dropped the ebook of my first collection to 99 cents for the release week of my new collection. That way, people could read the first one if they hadn’t yet to get hype for the new release.
For another example: If you wrote an educational or nonfiction piece, you might run a promotional price period for the release of a corresponding webinar or online course.
Go for odd numbers. There’s a weird marketing phenomenon where people perceive odd numbers as being a bargain. That’s why you see items priced as $19.99 instead of $20. There is also research to support that giving a random-looking price can increase sales. If you price a book at $4.99, people might see it as below $5, a standard price. If you price something as $4.53, it might look like you’re making it as cheap as possible, because it’s a very strange number. Some distributors REQUIRE that you price your ebook ending in .99 because that’s how big of an impact it has on sales.
Lower the price for books in a series before releasing a new one. Like I said earlier, you might drop the price of a previous publication before the release of your next. This is an especially good move in a series. If someone sees a book that looks interesting, but it’s the third in a series, they might lose interest. But if they see that they can get the first in the series at a lower price point for a limited time, they’re much more likely to try it out and potentially buy the sequels.
Consider NOT considering your investment. I know there’s an impulse to “make your money back.” In business generally, your ROI is an important factor. In book pricing, this is somewhat of a gray area. Publishing hinges heavily on timing–the release of your book is the hottest sales spot. If you price your book higher because you’re worried about making your investment back, you run the risk of pricing it TOO high, resulting in fewer sales. Of course, in self-publishing, this might be rectified later with a price drop, but you won’t get that Shiny New Book time back. By that point, the book is stale and you’ve missed out on potential sales.
I think the time to consider a return on investment is before production when you’re creating your book’s budget. If this is your first publication and you have no idea how it will perform, keep that in mind when you’re deciding what to invest.
Learn from experience. Keep track of your sales, prices, and other factors. Experiment with different price points and make note of what works.
Also keep up-to-date with the market and current trends with every publication. The research you did for your last book might be irrelevant now. Publishing is a constantly evolving market, especially self-publishing. With newer industries, expect norms and best practices to change pretty regularly, so make sure you’re staying on top of it!
Book pricing can be difficult to get a handle on, but through research, practice, and trial and error, any author can manage it.
John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and best-selling author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine, The Referral Engine, and SEO for Growth. He is the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing System and Duct Tape Marketing Consulting Network that trains and licenses small business marketing consultants around the world.
Why John Uses Book Marketing to Promote his Business
“It’s a great way for people to see what it may be like to work with you through your book.” John says that books can give people a deep look into a possible client fit. “Also, by buying the $15 calling card, it allows you to charge more for your services,” like writing and publishing a book bridges and builds trust with the reader.
How Authors Can Use the Duct Tape Method to Sell Books
The Duct Tape Marketing is a system that starts with using strategy before tactics. “We want to differentiate who is going to be a standout client for us.” Having a solid point of view that allows you to differentiate yourself is critical for your business, John says.
Marketing strategy is the foundation for your marketing by starting with your ideal client for your company. You can figure out the problem you solve for your client and develop content for each stage of your customer journey with the Duct Tape seven phases. Combining these marketing components gives your business a solid fan base that will spread the word about your platform and send you more referrals.
Developing a Book Marketing Strategy
Focus your book around a core problem that is a pain point for people. John gives new ideas on how to market your book, including sending your book out to those who would promote and market your book by sharing it with others. Speaking at events and selling books at events is a tangible marketing strategy to get the word out for your book.
Listen in to today’s episode to find out how to negotiate your publishing contract, how to use your book as a referral source, and how to sell your book when speaking at an event.
[02:27] Why John uses books as part of his marketing plan.
[04:10] How authors can use the Duct Tape Method to sell more books.
[08:28] What you need to develop in your book marketing strategy.
[13:00] Identifying product fulfillment for your market.
[19:36] Tactics that have sold the most books for John.
[22:19] Marketing your book to a traditional publisher.
[28:23] What you can ask for when negotiating with a publisher.
[32:42] Offering free content with a book purchase.
Short stories are hugely underappreciated. Most writers don’t know how to write or publish short stories in general.
They pack just as big a punch as some novels in less than a quarter of the space, and they’re one of the best tools a writer has in their arsenal for improving their craft. Maybe you’re a strict novelist and you’ve got no interest in writing short stories, or maybe you’re a new writer wondering whether short stories work for them. Let’s break down a few pointers on publishing short stories.
Plot: because short stories take less time, they’re a great way for an author to practice complete narrative arcs. When writers start and abandon multiple novels, they’ll get really good at starting stories, but struggle with resolving tension.
Prose: short stories have fewer words, so each word needs to matter, especially when you get into shorter short stories like flash fiction and microfiction.
Publishing: practice in publishing short stories can get you ready to publish something bigger and more cost-intensive, whether you’re self-publishing or finding an agent.
Now that we’ve broken down the reasons why everyone should be writing short stories, at least as a writing exercise, let’s do a deep dive. In this article, we’re going to talk about what short stories are, how to write them, and how to get them published.
How Long is a Short Story? What’s In it?
By definition, a short story runs between 5,000 to 10,000 words. Anything longer than 10,000 words starts to veer into novella or novel territory. However, there are some short stories as short as 1,000 words. Some people also group flash fiction (about 1,000 words or less) and microfiction (less than 300 words) in with short stories, while others consider flash and microfiction to be their own category.
The advice in this article applies to short stories, flash fiction, and microfiction alike, so whatever you’re looking to try, this will apply to you!
Short stories are complete unto themselves and should follow one central character through a complete arc.
A Few Famous Examples:
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
There’s no genre limit to short stories. You can write a sci-fi short story, a fantasy short-story, or a Western–anything goes, as long as it’s under 10,000 words and it tells a complete narrative.
Now that we know what a short story is and we have a few examples to reference, let’s get into how to write one ourselves.
How to Write A Short Story
Short stories and novels are very different mediums, but in many ways, the writing processes are very similar. Just like for a novel, the first thing you’ll need for a short story is a solid idea. If you’re not sure how to get an idea or if nothing’s coming, you might need a brainstorming session.
In the brainstorming stage, you’re coming up with new ideas to write about. Don’t worry too much about outlining, marketability, or anything else–this stage is just for getting some ideas on the page and getting those creative gears turning.
There’s lots of ways to brainstorm, and no one way is objectively correct. Like everything else, it’ll be a matter of figuring out what works for you.
4 Brainstorming Methods to Generate Some Short Story Ideas:
Stream of consciousness: try sitting down and writing for short bursts of time uninterrupted. Set a timer for five minutes and write literally whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just ‘I can’t think of anything to write.’ If five minutes is too long, try a minute, or even thirty seconds. Something will eventually work its way free for you to develop into a short story!
Word Map: if you’re a visual person, word mapping might be perfect for you. Start with a core concept–it could be an image, a person, a taste, whatever you want, and draw a line out from it. Write down whatever else comes up when you think of that thing. Keep going until you’ve got something you can work with.
Visiting Old Favorites: if you’re really just feeling uninspired, take another look at some of your favorite stories. Watch a favorite movie or revisit the best passage from your favorite book! Consuming great art is often what inspires us to make our own. This doesn’t mean you should copy it, but listen to how you feel when you consume it. What do you want to make? Write it down!
Writing Prompts: If nothing else works, it can never hurt to try a writing prompt! SPS has a ton of writing prompts for you to try out. Feel free to tinker with them to fit them to the sort of story you’d like to tell–don’t feel like you have to follow these prompts exactly. They’re just to help you get started!
Alright, so now you’ve got your idea, be a map of images or a paragraph of information. How do we turn this into a short story?
2. Outline Your Short Story
Believe it or not, outlining isn’t just for novelists! Short stories can still get pretty wordy–remember, it’s up to 10,000 words–and whether you’re writing something quick or something more technically complicated, it can still be a huge help to have a roadmap to back you up.
You don’t necessarily have to follow your outline every step of the way. Think of it as a safety net. It’s there if you need it, even if you end up veering a little off-course. Having an outline helps you visualize each point in your story, and it minimizes the chances that you’ll lose your way. Why not give it a try?
Popular Outlining Methods:
Storyboard: again, this one’s for our visual learners. Lots of directors and screenwriters use storyboards to map out their scenes, but these can be helpful for fiction writers, too! Block off a comic strip and try drawing out your scenes. These can be artful renderings, or they can be labeled stick figures–the objective isn’t to create a compelling piece of comic art, but rather to see your story mapped out in front of you.
Bullet points: if you’re looking for something a little more streamlined and low-fuss, look no further. Grab a piece of paper or open a new Word doc and make a bulleted list of what you want to happen in your story. Get as detailed as you want, or keep it as vague as you prefer, but it’s helpful to at least get the inciting incident, climax, and resolution down as reference points.
Graph It Out: this sort of meshes the storyboard method and the bullet point method. Grab a story graph and write all the events in your story along the key points–not every story will line up exactly with ‘rising action, climax, falling action’ beats, but these can at least help you see where your story is going and how you’ll get there.
A note on shorter fiction: remember those super short stories we talked about, flash fiction and microfiction? Often, these pieces don’t necessarily follow a full narrative arc, but instead capture a mood or convey a feeling. Since these stories don’t always have room for a full outline, a helpful outlining step might be to note what emotion you’re trying to convey, or what image you’d like to focus on.
3. Draft Your Short Story
You’ve got an idea, an outline, and you’re ready to draft! It’s time to take all of your story points and convert them to prose. There’s no hard and fast rule for how you should draft, but there are a few helpful things to keep in mind while you’re putting your short story down on paper for the very first time.
A Few Elements For Short Stories:
Drama: you don’t have a lot of space in a short story, so a dramatic premise will help leave an impact on your reader.
Hook: a short story should start strong and grab the reader. Think of it as buckling up for the ride to come–while a novel can have a more meandering start to let the reader settle in, a short story needs to get going as soon as possible.
Depth: Novelists might be used to having lots of room to explore their themes, but a short story demands conciseness. This doesn’t mean you keep things simple, though. A short story should still include nuance and complexity, even if the word count isn’t as high.
How to Publish a Short Story
Congratulations! You wrote a short story! Whether you intend to publish it or not, you’ve just learned a new skill and added a new tool to your writing arsenal.
If you write novels, it might not make sense to bother publishing a short story, but short story publications can offer exposure for new authors and experience in breaking into the industry. Plenty of famous novelists also write short stories–Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are just two contemporary examples.
There are plenty of options to consider when it comes to short stories. You can publish each on its own, or you can publish a collection.
Submitting to literary magazines/anthologies: this will involve finding magazines or anthologies to publish your short story. Websites like Submittable will give you a list of magazines currently accepting publications, but be sure to check whether they’re open and whether your short story matches the required word count and formatting.
Self-publishing: you can, of course, always self-publish your short stories! Publishing somewhere like Wattpad or even posting microfiction on Twitter is a free, accessible way to get your work out there, but you can also try publishing short story collections for a profit. Consider what works best for you! Keep in mind that some magazines won’t accept stories that have been published elsewhere, including social media, so be careful about what you decide to post.
It’s important to note that these routes aren’t mutually exclusive, and if you’re trying to make a name for yourself, it’s probably best to submit as many places as possible. Even so, before you submit your story to the first magazines you see on Submittable, here’s a checklist to consult:
Does my short story match with what they’re asking for? Sometimes, magazines make a call for specific genres or themes. It’s probably best not to send your adventure sci-fi to a magazine asking for contemporary romance pieces.
Are they asking for submission fees? As a general rule, it’s best to avoid submitting to magazines that require fees, unless you personally know that they’re a reputable group. These fees can get expensive if you’re submitting to lots of places at once.
Can I see my work alongside their other publications? Take a quick second to click through their past issues and see if your short story fits in. This is also a good chance to check quality. While it can be tempting to submit your short story to anyone in the world who will take it, it’s important to remember that they need to fit you, too.
Finishing it Up With Publishing Short Stories
In summary, while it’s important to make sure you’re a good fit for the anthology, magazine, or page to which you’re submitting, it’s also important to make sure they’re a good fit for you. It’s better to wait on a good fit than to submit somewhere that might not be ideal.
With these tips and tricks in your arsenal, you’re prepped to write a stellar short story. Do you have any additional advice for fellow short story writers? Let us know down below!