Nowadays, if you want to be successful with your book, you have to know how to use social media for writers.
Marketing is one thing all authors will need to know how to do, no matter if you want to self-publish a book or traditionally publish. That’s right! Even traditional publishers are now looking to your SOCIAL PLATFORM as a decision-maker for buying your book or not.
And no matter your goals as an author, whether you want to write fiction full-time or want to use your book to grow your business, social media is important.
We’ll not only cover which social platforms are most important for authors right now, but also where to find your audience, and what content actually performs the best on each app.
Do you want to sell books? Do you want to make a career out of selling books?
Then yes, writers need social media. It’s for book marketing, and one of the most powerful types of marketing in this day and age.
This isn’t to say that you can’t sell books without social media. There are certainly people who do so, but unless you really know how to use ads or you get a lucky break and hit some charts in the rankings, (or are a student of our Sell More Books program where we teach those methods), your best bet for long-term success in writing is by building your author platform.
So while you don’t need social media, it increases your chances of long-term success exponentially.
The difference with social media marketing (especially for authors)
Social media is so different from “traditional” marketing methods. It’s not an email, it’s not a flyer in the mail or a commercial on TV, and it’s certainly not a radio ad.
What makes social media marketing different from other forms of marketing is that it’s personal.
It’s a person doing the marketing, very rarely a full brand speaking from behind a logo (though this does happen). With social media for writers, it’s certainly personal.
And this means that traditional methods of marketing a book are a bit different.
In fact, we’d say social media marketing is less about actually promoting your book and more about promoting your thoughts, ideas, and interests while keeping your book easily available.
This concept is a little confusing at first, but we’ll get into what this looks like with each social platform. But the main idea behind this principle is this:
If someone likes you and enjoys what you put out into the world, they’ll likely enjoy your books because of how much we place ourselves into them.
Yes, we even do this when writing a fiction novel. Our themes and messages come from within us, and when someone gets to know who you really are and likes that, they’ll probably like what you write about.
What’s the best social media for writers?
By and far, Twitter is extremely useful for anyone trying to have success as an author, especially as a self-published fiction author.
Does this mean it’s the best platform for you and your specific book? Not always.
While we recommend every writer be on Twitter, there may be other social platforms better suited for your audience. Meaning, certain people of varying ages and interests use different social platforms.
You’ll have to understand where your audience is if you want to operate on the best social media platform for you.
Thankfully, we cover those details below by going over the demographic of each platform (info by HootSuite) in detail so you can decide which will house your target audience, along with how you can connect with them.
Twitter for authors
As stated above, we believe all writers should be on Twitter. There is an extremely large fiction reading and writing community on Twitter, but it’s also really useful for nonfiction.
The struggle with a platform the size of Twitter (and really all of the ones we’ll cover below), is that they’re too big. It’s hard to find where your audience is. But that’s why we’ll also cover some useful hashtags to pay attention to.
HOW TO USE TWITTER FOR AUTHORS:
Each social platform is different. Depending on the people and its interface, different content will perform well.
For Twitter, it’s all about relateability. The posts that do the best are the one that speak to people directly, in a way they can relate to really well. It’s not really about you on Twitter, it’s about others.
So when you take to Twitter, remember that while it’s a social platform where you can divulge your own information, making all of your posts solely about you isn’t the right game here. We can save that for Instagram in a minute.
Type of content that performs best: short relateable questions and statemetns
Hashtags to note: #amwriting, #writingcommunity, #WIP, #writerlife
Other hashtags for genre-specific depend on what you write and the niche (particularly for nonfiction, the examples above leave heavy for fiction users).
Want to see a few author profiles on Twitter who are doing it really well? Here are some examples of social media for writers you can follow and emulate:
The reason this bio is really successful is because this author’s book is available, but it’s not spammy or pushing people to buy. Another reason, is because her main bio is short, sweet, to the point, and also showcases her personality.
When it comes to sharing posts on social media, especially when “promoting” your book, it works best when the words come from others. We tend to not believe authors who say their book is great, because of COURSE they think that!
Retweeting praise for your book is one of the best ways to share proof and get others interested.
Instagram for writers
Instagram is one of those social media platforms you really have to mess with to get right. Meaning, some people can find great success with one strategy, and that same strategy won’t work for you—even if you do everything the same!
Part of this is because of the story feature, and that you have to actually put yourself out there on Instagram. While it does have a somewhat negative reputation for being “fake,” people do congregate here for connection and to follow people’s lives closely.
HOW TO USE INSTAGRAM FOR AUTHORS:
As mentioned, Instagram has more to do with daily life/lifestyle than it does only branded content. That, and memes. Yes! The meme culture has shifted somewhat away from Facebook and is everpresent on Instagram’s platform.
So what works here then? Relatable memes, intimate stories where you show up with energy, and “pretty” images on your main feed.
Remember that you’ll have to find out what works for YOU here. Does your audience wants to see more of you? Of what you’re reading? Of your book-writing process?
Demographic: 52% female, 48% male — 67% ages 18-29
Posting frequency: at least once per day on your main feed, several times on your story
Type of content that performs best: Stories! Getting on your story and showing you, your real face, your real life. On your main feed, aestheticlaly appealing images of your book, you, and your life will do best.
Hashtags to note: #amwriting, #writerlife, #writersofIG, #writersofinstagram, #bookrelease
Facebook for writers
Facebook’s seemingly everchanging interface has increasingly frustrated people. In truth, Facebook is dying as a means of self-promotion unless you pay for ads on their platform.
Determine if you want to use a personal profile (not recommended), a page, or a group.
The main differences here are that a profile allows friends, a page allows for likes (and your stuff shows up on their feed like a profile’s would), and a group allows for a specific place for members to post and collaborate.
For writers, we usually recommend a page. But, if you are looking to build a brand, or maybe even an exclusive “club” for your readers, a group will get far better engagement than anything else. Facebook has continued to deprioritized page’s content, while boosting group posts.
It all depends on what your goals are as an author, and if your audience is even hanging out on Facebook.
Demographic: 79% ages 18-29
*Note on this: while this number reflects those who have Facebook, personal insights tell us the most active group of users is above 40-years-old.*
Posting frequency: 3 times per day max
Type of content that performs best: Images, videos
Hashtags to note: While Facebook has hashtag capabilities, they’re not really used to nearly the same extent as Twitter and Instagram
BONUS: Youtube for authors
Youtube isn’t for everyone. We’ll go ahead and say that right now. Not everyone has the presence for it, and not everyone will even like this style of platform building.
However, if it is something you’ve considered and need a push to start, it can be very lucrative as a secondary form of income, as long as a massive means of marketing your book—especially if you start “making it big” and gaining a lot of subscribers.
Our Youtube channel has over 40,000 subscribers and has grown immensely over the last year. We’ve seen this success first-hand, but we’re not the only ones.
There are several self-published authors who have used Youtube to quit their full-time jobs and pursue writing and creating videos.
HOW TO USE YOUTUBE FOR AUTHORS:
The first thing to think about here is what type of content you can post about, and what audience that will bring in. Many writers post videos with advice for writing books and publishing.
Others take the route of being on “Booktube,” where they read and post book reviews for other readers.
Each has their own pros and cons, but the bottom line with Youtube is that you have to be authentic, be something different (which can even simply come out in your own personality), and be consistent. One of the biggest common factors of success on Youtube is that people didn’t give up—they kept doing it through even a couple years of very slow growth.
If you are someone who’s not writing fiction and you’re looking to create awareness for a nonficion or a book to grow your business, the topics you talk about should be related to your book.
Demographic: 81% ages 15-25
Posting frequency: two times per week, 1 time per week at a minimum if you want sustained growth and engagement
Type of content that performs best: videos, helpful tips, how-tos, relevant updates, reviews, etc.
Author platform growth on social media
By far the best tip we can give you is to be consistent. With social media, it really is all about showing up regularly with content your audience wants to see, whatever that may be.
And secondly, don’t be afriad to iterate and try new things. If memes aren’t working for you, try being more real and personal. If your Twitter one-liners just aren’t working, try asking more questions and creating polls.
The people who gravitate to your social platform will respond differently to content that might “work” elsewhere. Find what works for you, be generous in how you give content, and make your book easily available. If people like you, they’ll search for how to consume more of your goodies—you don’t really have to push to promote your book on social media.
Don’t you agree that there’s almost too much information online about how to self-publish a book? So much that it can be really hard to actually determine what’ll be helpful to YOU?
We get it. We’re in the space every day, and we have to say…not all the advice you read will work.
Much of it is outdated in this everchanging space and doesn’t help you self-publish on Amazon in a way that actually brings you SUCCESS.
There’s far more to self-publishing a book than simply uploading it on Amazon and hitting “publish.” You can absolutely do that.
But don’t you actually want to sell books?
No matter what your goals are, to grow your business with a book, become a full-time fiction author, or simply to publish a memoir or self-help book to create an impact, we here at Self-Publishing School know what works.
We’re in the weeds with hundreds of students every week, learning, growing, and even expanding our program’s content to ensure it’s up-to-date.
And you know what? We want to give you a full, complete guide right here…for FREE. Nothing. Because we believe in you and the story you want to tell, no matter what it is.
WARNING: This blog post will be lengthy, and will cover topics not JUST related to uploading your book and self-publishing it on Amazon. Because again, there is MORE TO IT than just that. So focus, even bookmark this page, prepare to take some notes, and know that it’s possible for you to do 🙂
If you want to skip over some important points and JUST get down to the how-to list, click here.
Self-publishing is when you publish a book without a publishing house first buying your book’s rights and producing the book for you. With self-publishing, you maintain 100% creative control as well as 100% of the royalties.
While traditional publishing requires writing a manuscript, querying, landing an agent, agent selling to the publishing house, and ultimately, you only writing and editing based on what your editor wants, only to receive 8-10% royalties AFTER printing costs and AFTER your advance gets earned-out.
There’s really no wonder we believe, in today’s world, self-publishing is the superior option.
But hey, you can decide for yourself after reading through this post 😉
Is it a good idea to self-publish a book?
The best way to publish a book is dependent on what your own unique goals are. Some people will find great success in self-publishing while others are better suited for traditional publishing.
Ultimately, unless you have a good amount of experience as well as connections in the traditional publishing world, this route will be difficult, and you may not ever get published.
With self-publishing, anyone can do it. Anyone can get on Amazon and upload a book. HOWEVER, not everyone can do it well in order to succeed.
There are thousands and thousands of authors making full-time income and MORE from self-publishing. Those people have figured it out. Some of these people are our very own coaches here at Self-Publishing School, teaching our students what it truly takes.
Others, have done the work and have spent years honing their craft and series’ in order to see success.
So ultimately, you have to ask a couple of questions in order to determine if self-publishing is a good idea for you:
Do you want to maintain creative control and tell the story the way YOU want, with a cover that YOU want, and keep 100% of the royalties?
Do you want to simply write and let others dictate the rest?
Do you want to market your own books? SPOILER: this is required for BOTH publishing avenues.
Are you serious about this?
No matter which way you choose to publish, you have to do the work. You have to do the book marketing. You have to commit, set writing goals, and work toward it.
You have retailers to publish, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and more. You also have aggregators like IngramSpark, Lulu, Bookbaby, and more that print your book and distribute it TO the retailers.
And then you also have self-publishing education companies, who teach you the ropes about how to self-publish the right way, with resources to help you get there.
The latter is what Self-Publishing School is. So of COURSE we’ll put ourselves at the top of this list, because we truly believe it’s the smartest and best way to self-publish.
Why not take the guidance from those most experienced? But because we want you to make the best choice for your needs, we’ll cover the other types as well.
Here are some of the best self-publishing companies you can work with:
Self-Publishing School (That’s us!): An education company with 1-on-1 coaching, a private and exclusive Mastermind Community, and an entire digital course you keep access to for LIFE, all dedicated to helping you not only write a high-quality book, but also publish it for increased visibility and that coveted “Bestseller” banner. Learn more about our various programs for various types of authors-to-be here!
Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iBooks: These are retailers, places readers can go to purchase your book and have it shipped to them. Amazon is by far the largest of them, however, you should aim to self-publish across all mediums to increase buyers.
IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Smashworlds, Lulu: Through these companies, you can have your book printed and distributed to the retailers listed above (and more). Amazon also prints its own books. So you could go exclusively with Amazon. But Amzon doesn’t publish hardback covers, like IngramSpark does. Do some research, and check out some reviews to choose where to print yours from.
When you self-publish a book, you’ll use a variety of these types. You can go it alone and simply upload with Amazon, using KDP Print (their book printers), or you can learn what it REALLY takes to do this successfully, and potentially work with us.
Cost of Self-Publishing A Book
Since you don’t have a massive publishing company backing you, there are expenses you’ll incur on your journey to self-publish a book.
Most are very mild, but they may seem like a large chunk of change to invest in your book (really, your success).
Thankfully, there are ways to cut costs. Our students have discounts through book designers, formatters, editors, and other book production services they’d have to pay full price elsewhere.
It’s likely that you can cut self-publishing costs by opting for freelancers or even checking out Reedsy’s resources to find someone to work with.
Editing: $200 – $2,000+ (this depends on word count)
Cover Design: $300 – $500 average (this is IMPORTANT!)
ISBN & Copyright: $100 – $400 (depending on country and number of ISBNs you choose to purchase)
Interior Formatting: $150 – $300 (depends on internal design)
Proof Copies: $50
Launch Team Goodies *Optional*: $100+ (signed copies, posters, etc.)
Self-Publishing Resources to Succeed *Optional*: $500 – $5,000+ (education companies)
TOTAL COSTS: $850 – $3000+
DON’T LET THESE NUMBERS DISSUADE YOU! You can save up while writing your book (which takes a good chunk of time). Just be prepared to invest in this if you want to be successful.
Also keep in mind, this is to produce a HIGH quality book. Which is the entire purpose of finding success in self-publishing a book. You have to be able to compete with traditionally published books, which are backed by massive budgets.
You can stick to the low-end of these costs and NOT opt for a developmental edit, which is one of the most expensive components.
But ultimately: do NOT skip at least a copy edit and do NOT skimp on the book cover. The book cover design…is the most important in today’s world of visually stimulating content.
What is the best way to self-publish a book successfully?
As the leading experts in this industry, we here at Self-Publishing School know we have the best way to self-publish.
It’s about more than just how to upload your book onto Amazon. And most people forget this. Most people who want to succeed in self-publishing a book, at least.
So we’re breaking down the best way to self-publish a book for maximum SUCCESS, from start-to-finish.
#1 – Create a self-publishing plan
You want to do this the right way, yes? And skip over the crap that’s not useful or the stuff that won’t really make a difference?
Good. Then you need a plan so you understand what it really takes to succeed. We don’t mess around here at Self-Publishing School.
So this includes putting together a timeline—or at the very least, a to-do list—of all the steps you’ll need to accomplish in order to self-publish your book.
You can even just jot down notes from this blog post in the order they’re here, since we’re handing you the ultimate blueprint for self-publishing in this blog post.
If nonfiction: what do you know the most about? What do people often tell you you should write about? What do you find yourself explaining over and over (for example: I often get asked “how’d you turn out successful?” from those who know my upbringing–this would be a great topic for nonfiction).
If fiction: start with some writing prompts. Try the “what if” strategy: what if a character in a certain town comes across a certain oddity?
Let your mind wander, come up with a book idea you think is GREAT, and dive into the rest of the self-publishing process.
#3 – Mindmap your idea
Have you heard of a mindmap? This is a powerful tool we use here at Self-Publishing School to help our students when they “don’t know where to even start” when they have an idea.
It allows you to get ALL your ideas out so you can better organize in the next step.
A mindmap is what you create when you start with a blank sheet of paper, and in the middle you draw a circle with the main topic of your book, or the main plot.
Then, you draw branches from this for other main elements, where you create more branches to fill out those ideas. It’s hard to describe in words, so here are some examples:
A mindmap is the space to dump ALL of your ideas, no matter if they’ll make the final book outline or not. Anything you can think of, the more, the merrier.
Then move on to the next step.
#4 – Create an outline for your book
Outlining a book can be really fun, and really difficult at the same time. It’s when you’ll finally put your ideas in the order you want them to appear in the book itself.
You trim the fat. You add the details. You have a clear blueprint for writing your book.
This step is also completely up to you. Different people outline in different ways.
Here’s a brief overview of only a few of the various methods to choose from (we suggest watching this video for more tangible examples):
Sticky Note Method: This is when you find a blank wall or large poster and use small sticky notes to write your main plot point or book elements and then arrange them in the order you want to write them.
Skeletal Method: This one is like what you may have written in school. You start with the main point as a title (chapter title maybe), then the next bullet can be the overarching idea, and then beneath that, you’ll have the supporting details or events you want to write about.
Basic Bullet Points: For this method, it is as it’s named. You start at the top and create bullet points for all the events you want to happen and write about. After this is complete from start to finish, draw lines to separate chapters.
Snowflake Method: This method involves starting small and broadening the outline. You start with one sentence of what will happen, expand this into a full paragraph, and then multiple for each chapter of your book.
#5 – Complete the book you’ll self-publish
This includes the entire writing-to-finished-product process, and we’ll outline this in just a moment below. But just know that this is the longest and most difficult part of self-publishing.
Yes, the actual self-publishing part isn’t as difficult as creating and maintaining the discipline to finish your first draft, self-edit, revise, hire an editor (YES, you need one), format the book, have the cover designed…I think you get the point.
Getting the first draft done is the most difficult part for most of our students. So let’s break down what this looks like, along with the other steps mentioned above to complete book production.
Here’s how to actually complete a book:
Start writing, and follow our outline IN ORDER
Maintain a writing schedule to finish your book
Once the first draft is complete, let it “rest” for a week or so
Book an editor (do this now, they usually have waitlists and you can do the next step while you wait. Plus, it’ll give you a deadline 🙂)
Self-edit the book chapter by chapter, rewrite, and make any changes
OPTIONALBUT SUGGESTED: After you have it the best it can be, send it to beta readers or critique partners for feedback (DO THIS BEFORE SENDING IT TO AN EDITOR)
Book a formatter and cover designer (some services have packages that include both)
Perform book edits from the editor (really take their feedback to heart. It’s easy to be offended or not want to listen, but if they’re qualified they DO know best) and set up launch team and marketing goals while you wait to get it back
Send to the formatter when it’s 100% edited
Get your ISBN and copyright your book
Work with the cover designer on tweaks (they’ll also need the barcode, ISBN, etc.)
Order proof copies and review, adjust if needed
This process is extensive and what our students truly get a lot out of our programs, since each of these steps is thoroughly outlined with video tutorials. But, we’ll still cover a few more points below.
We do have blog posts and/or videos for many of the steps above if you want more details. Just do a quick search in the bar at the top (or click the three bars to see search if you’re on mobile), or head to our Youtube channel and check them out.
#6 – Get an ISBN & Copyright your book
Amazon provides a free ISBN if you choose to use this. However, keep in mind that with an Amazon ISBN, you cannot sell your book on other retailers (like B&N, Kobo, iBooks, etc.) with that same ISBN.
For this reason, we always recommend our students buy their own (and get a package of them if you plan to publish more than one book).
First, make an account (you need this to check out)
At the top right, under “Register and copyright your book” hit “CopyrightsNow!”
On the right, select which package option you’d like and add it to your cart–we suggest the 1 ISBN and Copyright, but if you plan to publish more than one book soon, choose another
Click “go to cart” from the pop-up screen
Follow the process to check out
This process is pretty painless, but it does cost $184 USD for 1 copyright and 1 ISBN. These are essential costs.
If you want to add a copyright paragraph into your book, we have an actual book outline template you can use for those opening pages. Just choose fiction or nonfiction, fill out your details, and check your inbox for DIRECTIONS for how to use and access.
Book Outline Template Generator
Choose your book type to receive a "fill-in-the-blank" book outline template you can use to plan your book.
Enter your information below to receive your free outline template!
Book Outline Template Generator
Thanks for submitting! Check your email for your book outline template.
In the meantime, check out our Book Outline Challenge.
There are a growing number of options for where to get your book printed and distributed from. For self-publishing a book, Amazon is a typical go-to, but KDP print has some limitations that can move your attention elsewhere.
Why do you want to go with someone besides Amazon to self-publish a book? Because you can get your book into other online retailers, like B&N, Kobo, iBooks, and many more.
Amazon keeps everything on Amazon.
Here are the main print/distributors and their differences in self-publishing:
— Amazon’s KDP Print —
This is Amazon’s own printing press, which used to be CreateSpace. It was acquired by Amazon so they could serve self-publishers on their platform all in one place.
Ease of use: 5/5
Cost to publish: $.85 flat fee per book over 108 pages + $.12 per page (for a 300-page book, Amazon would take $4.45 in printing costs out of your retail price)
IngramSpark is one of the most popular book aggregators out there because they include hardcover in their printing options, where Amazon’s KDP Print does not. Many find this to be more appealing and a higher benefit.
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Cost to publish: $25 – $49, with a $25 per book edit fee, plus handling fees per book. You can see a breakdown of the costs here in the review linked below.
This is another distributor that’s been around for a little while. They have a flat fee for using their service, plus a royalty rate for you. Their services range from book printing to distribution to even ad management serivces. However, in all honesty, you can get the same level of service with a higher royalty rate elsewhere, but you may find they work best for you!
Ease of use: 4/5
Cost to publish: You pay $99 – $399 depending on distribution choices, but only KEEP between 11% – 20% of your royalties. PLUS, there are fees for editing your books.
It’s time to start building your launch team! This is such an exciting time, because self-publishing your book is getting REAL!
If you’re not sure what a launch team (or street team) is, it’s a group of people who are dedicated to reading your book, writing a review on the platforms you want, and helping your self-publishing journey become a success.
Overall a launch team helps you build hype and market your book before and during your launch.
When you build your launch team, you’ll want to find people who are actually interested in your book. Yes, friends and family can certainly help, but tapping into the market you WANT to sell to can be more effective.
Here are a few steps for building your launch team:
Create a social post, email, or announce it anywhere else you see fit
Offer a FREE version of your book (a PDF copy is usually fine) to get people to sign up
If you have an email list or a website, use a form to capture their information for use later
Create a Facebook Group or a Discord or something equivalent where you can communicate with the launch team all at once in a singular location
Set up a list of tasks, challenges, or other initiatives to ensure your launch team is invested in helping you market the book
Set them up for success by clearly communicated and listing DATES you expect things completed by
HAVE FUN!! This team is here to help you succeed! Be kind and treat them well.
#10 – Create a launch plan
This highly coincides with the previous step on building a launch team and creating a plan for THEM. Ultimately, to self-publish a book successfully, you should also set up an effective launch plan.
Dystopian novels had a big upswing in popularity a few years back with series like The Hunger Games. While there has been a remarkable dip in the genre, it’s important to remember that trends are cyclical. With the current tumultuous state of the world, we can expect another jump in interest for dystopian novels.
With that in mind, why not hop ahead of the curve and get started on your own dystopian novel? Here are 37 dystopian writing prompts to get you started!
Write about a band touring after the end of the world.
During a zombie apocalypse, a woman finds a tube of her favorite lipstick from the old days–but it’s in the display window of a boutique overrun by zombies.
In the mountains, a traveler finds a survivalist school run by a doomsday prepper who doesn’t know the world has ended.
A family huddles together in a tornado shelter while the storm passes. When it lets up, they emerge in a horrible version of their world where everything has been burned to the ground.
A motorcycle gang has been keeping the peace in a small town. One day, a traveler arrives, sick with the plague that ended the world.
A salesman got rich selling equipment that was supposed to protect the nation’s citizens from the oncoming climate disaster. The equipment didn’t work.
After the government collapsed, a group of people decided to instate a child as its leader, believing they would make more morally pure decisions. How does that go?
Three teenagers find a TV abandoned in a warehouse and don’t know what it is. They finally get it to turn on. What’s playing?
A dystopian society organizes its citizens into three groups. A government member comes out and admits that the organization is completely arbitrary. What ensues?
No one’s been outside the city walls in several hundred years. A girl sneaks out.
The world’s leaders agree to immediately shut down all industrial plants, factories, and mass manufacturing in an effort to stop climate change. How does the world look five years from that decision?
A group of post-apocalyptic archaeologists uncover a building that they don’t know is a high school from 2015.
The nation’s leaders have decreed that the oldest child from every family go to military service. One family decides to hide theirs, and it works, until the child’s seventeenth birthday. What happens then?
Write about a world where people spend some or all of their time in an alternate reality simulator.
In fear of annihilation, bunkers deep below the ground are built to ensure that people can survive. The worst happens, and people are sent to live underground. What does life look like after fifty years down below?
Write from the perspective of a cave explorer logging their experience as they find the remains of human life from 2020, which was two thousand years ago.
In post-apocalyptic Texas, a group of people band together to form a Sheriff’s department to help curb crime. Write about their latest case.
Write about a world in which children are not allowed to say a single word until they turn eighteen.
A group of nomadic people travelling across an American wasteland come across a cat. The youngest girl wants to keep it, and the others want to kill it. Who prevails?
Write the journal entry of the last scientist to die when the world is overrun by a horrible plague.
In this world, a government requires citizens to be at work literally every waking hour. They are given 8 hours to sleep. One day, a citizen doesn’t clock in.
A society assigns people to their romantic partner based on a variety of genetic factors, and does not allow people to choose outside of their assignment. Of course, people fall in love who aren’t assigned all the time–write about one unassigned couple.
A horrible new species of dinosaur resurrected from unexplored caves in North America. Nothing humans had could kill them. Write about one brave person’s attempt to kill them off a hundred years after society has collapsed.
Write a story about two kids finding a stray dog in a world where it’s illegal to have pets.
A space explorer lands on a planet called ‘Earth,’ two thousand years in the future. There are no people. What’s left behind?
An intern in a dystopian world discovers that the leader of their nation is just a computer plugged into a mainframe. What do they do with this information?
Write about a society where organs can be harvested while people are still alive.
To prevent high murder rates, body cameras on installed on every citizen. You can’t turn them off, and you can’t remove them. Write from the perspective of a surveillance officer as he watches a citizen run from the law.
In a next-to-empty world, where the world has been picked to its bare bones, a lone character grave robs for supplies.
In a new age where extreme poverty is the norm, the new Gold Rush and the promise of money sends people flooding to what was once California to collect.
A cult leader takes himself and his followers underwater to live the rest of their lives beneath the sea level. They expand their original buildings and eventually create a nation, and it’s the only thing left when a meteor wipes out people on land.
In a world where people aren’t allowed to die, replacement organs and body parts are produced cheaply and sold at an outrageous upmark, people who can no longer afford replacement parts are kept alive on machinery. Write from the perspective of a worker in one of these facilities.
A secret lab produces hybrids of humans and various animals in an attempt to create a super-species of people that can survive in the changing world conditions. One of these hybrids escapes.
A character in a sparsely populated post-apocalyptic world finds an entrance to a previously unknown, thriving underground city.
In a water-covered world, resources are limited. As a form of population control, there’s a Death Lottery. With a ranking based on community usefulness and infractions committed, a random person from the lowest-ranked citizens is selected to be killed and eaten. Write from the perspective of a selected.
An EMP deprives the world of all electronics, which gives the citizens relying on cyborg brain parts to function normally an interesting problem.
Soldiers collect children between the ages of 10 and 19, because they’re the prime age to be receptive to a life-saving biological alteration in the face of mass extinction.
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way. Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Mystery fans are a different kind of reader. They want a story that engages them and makes them think. A lot of readers like to race the protagonist to solving the mystery, so laying out a plot with just enough detail to keep the reader’s interest but not so much that the solution is obvious is a skill mystery writers develop and hone over time.
If you want to try your shot at it, here are thirty-eight mystery writing prompts to get you started!
A bizarre heist results in an empty safe…well, empty except for the mysterious infant the burglars left behind.
Partygoers are confused to realize the birthday girl is dead and they’ve been invited to her twisted idea of postmortem amusement.
Girls at a boarding school receive anonymous threatening notes.
A team of criminals breaks into an eccentric billionaire’s home while he’s supposed to be on vacation. It’s going well, until they find the billionaire dead in the pool.
In a small town, the members of the church start to go missing–no bodies have been found. When a local news reporter arrives to cover the story, she thinks something might be up with the pastor.
The new nanny for a rich family finds some disturbing footage the security camera captured. What is the mother up to?
For some reason, one section of the trail has been blocked off for longer than any of the park rangers can remember. One backpacker sets out to discover why.
Markus sleepwalks. He sometimes dreams of distorted versions of what he did during the night, but when he wakes up clutching a bloody knife, he has absolutely no memory of what happened the night before.
A woman’s pet sitting the parakeet next door for an old woman. One morning, the parakeet is missing. Who took it? Why?
A character is flipping through their grandmother’s recipe book when they find a recipe of surprising ingredients for something that definitely isn’t food. Do they experiment to see what it is?
While on a family vacation on a remote island, a tourist discovers a local resident’s missing heirloom on the beach. The resident believes the tourist took it. What happens next?
Elizabeth snags a tutoring job for a new family on the edge of town. Her first day, the child gives her a house tour, specifically pointing out a locked door at the end of the hall that no one is allowed into. When Elizabeth sneaks in, what does she find?
Write from the perspective of a detective who is fired just before she can crack the case she’s been working on for years.
At a destination wedding, the groom goes missing. Good thing the maid of honor is a detective.
One of the town council members is draining money from the town’s funds, but the new intern can’t prove it. Yet.
At a ski resort, disaster strikes. Then it strikes again. Every time there’s a tragedy, a wolf appears. Why is it there?
On an international flight, a man is found dead in the bathroom. It looks like a natural death… Except for an hour later, someone else dies in exactly the same way.
High school students work to figure out where their friend has vanished to the night before graduation.
An intern for a Parisian designer finds a secret code stitched into one of the gowns. Who is the designer communicating with?
A politician hires an undercover cop to find out whether their spouse has been cheating, but what the undercover cop reports is much, much worse.
The day after a CEO is fired, someone breaks into their abandoned office and steals only a single hard drive. What was on that hard drive? Write from the perspective of a detective hired to get it back.
All over the country, an enormous number of people are reporting their pets missing. Where have they all gone?
A businesswoman’s grandfather dies, leaving behind a ranch. When she goes to inspect the property, she finds a corpse in his freezer.
An estranged family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch at his southern plantation. The granddaughter finds a puzzling message etched into a tombstone in the family graveyard. Is it from her grandfather?
Three sisters revisit their childhood treehouse. They find a note inside telling them it isn’t safe to go back to their homes. Why isn’t it safe? Who left the note?
Someone is turning off the utilities for every rich person in town.
One night, someone replaces every piece of famous art in a museum with a replica. Write from the perspective of the art student who notices the fakes.
Benjamin inherits a thirty-year-old parrot, and the parrot has some interesting things to say about her previous owner.
Film students rent a cabin to shoot their final movie. When they watch the footage back, there’s a stranger in the background of every shot.
The local pizza shop owner swears someone’s been trying to run his business into the ground. He hires a P.I. to find out who’s behind the strange goings-on at his restaurant. What’s been happening?
Marissa has never seen a cat in her town until one day there are thousands of them.
A girl applies to a specialized boarding school–not for the curriculum, but for the unsolved cold case murder, she’s been obsessed with for years.
Shelayne receives an anonymous letter inviting her to an unspecified event at midnight with an address deep in the French Quarter. She wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t signed with the insignia she’s seen around her grandfather’s house for years. The address brings her to a seemingly empty alleyway. A door in the wall opens.
On vacation, a teen and their family take a tour of a southern plantation. Bored, the teen lags behind to goof off. That’s when they see the ghost.
A spoiled son is snooping in his dad’s home office for some extra cash, but what he finds is proof his dad has been wiring cash to every member of their household except him…for years. What is he paying them for?
A group of friends decide to play a prank on the annoying kid in class. That night, they arrive at his house, but what they see in the window makes them leave fast.
When Micah’s best friend is blackmailed, he decides to get to the bottom of it, starting with his best friend’s ex.
A housekeeper has been with their employer through five marriages, each ending in the wife disappearing, going on an extended vacation and “deciding not to return,” or otherwise vanishing with little to no explanation. The employer is kind and generous to her, so the housekeeper works with her head down. Until the new wife arrives…and the housekeeper develops feelings for her. Should she warn her?
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way. Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Writing scene description is something all writers struggle with. What should you include? What should you exclude? How do you get a character from Point A to Point B without it being boring and monotonous? How do you include everything that’s important without bogging your reader with too much at once?
We’re going to discuss:
How to utilize the five senses
How to know what’s relevant to describe
How POV factors into your scene description
How to spread your description
How to write scene description that isn’t boring
1. Utilize the five senses.
When writing scene description, many writers will default to what is most accessible and obvious: sight and sound.
Sight and sound are both important and will usually be the most-utilized senses in scene description, but using all five senses can provide a much rounder, more tangible experience for your reader.
Instead of giving the reader a “picture” of the scene with one or two senses, using all five can give them an experience of the scene.
Put yourself in your character’s shoes and really think about everything they would be experiencing at that moment. Writing that experience will give you a strong setting. You can also work to create dynamic mixes of senses instead of isolating them to one specific sense.
Jennifer Giesbrecht uses strong, unique sensory descriptions in her book The Monster of Elendhaven. Let’s look at some examples.
“A thin line of blood appeared beneath the blade and snaked over the metal. Johann watched it trickle all the way to the point of the knife.”
“The Ambassador’s voice was wet, like the noise a drain makes when clogged with gristle.”
“The sailor grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his head into the wall–once, twice, three times–and then yanked the coin from his hand.”
“His lip split on the dock and his mouth filled with a foul mixture of grease, salt, and blood.”
“From a sailor who stank of rum and fish oil.”
“His hair was so light and fine that it required only a bit of mussing to fluff up like a dandelion.”
This is discussing how his hair looks, but it uses the sensory experience of touch.
“Florian’s eyes were the colour of light split through a glass of vodka. His wrists were so narrow that they could be snapped with one hand, the bones crushed in a strong palm as easily as the rib cage of a sparrow.”
This is discussing the physical appearance of a person through sight, but it makes the image so much richer by using the senses of sound and touch. Bones crushing and snapping is a visceral experience.
Utilizing multiple senses in your description will paint a richer scene.
2. Include what’s relevant.
It’s easy to bog down your writing with a lot of scenery and description just for the heck of it, but you often don’t need that much. If you include too many details, your reader will get bored and may start skimming.
Stick to what’s important, interesting, and relevant, then make what you’ve included as pretty and precise as you can.
If your description isn’t relevant to the character, plot, or setting, examine if you really need to include it.
Let’s look at a scene that uses too many unnecessary details, then a revised version without those details.
Johan’s stomach groaned like some kind of dying animal. He went down the unoccupied halls of the mall where rain knocked heavily on the ceiling glass. The building had no power and the venues were all pitch black inside. The only light came from the sunlight buried behind the gunmetal clouds overhead. His olive-colored coat was heavily drenched from being outside and the jeans he wore that had once fitted nicely were overgrown and baggy.
He stopped at a directory in the center of the hall and eyed the various locations listed before finding the words Food Court, and continuing in the direction of its guiding arrow.
Near a set of still escalators along the way, he noticed a department store with a shattered window at its façade. Someone must have stolen from there long ago, he thought. Aside the broken glass on the floor was an empty shoebox. When he walked beside it, he realized from the picture imprinted on its side that it belonged to a pair of small, bright red Velcro strap boots for children.
Johan’s stomach groaned like a dying animal. He walked the ghost mall, rain knocking heavily on the glass ceiling. The building had no power, and the venues were pitch black inside. The only light seeped from behind gunmetal clouds. His olive coat was heavily drenched, and his jeans that once fit nicely sagged, cinched with a rope around his waist.
He kicked past broken glass in front of a shattered boutique window, knocking shards against an empty shoebox. The picture on its side showed a child’s pair of red Velcro boots.
We trimmed that scene from 179 words to 91 words. The revised version gave us crisper imagery and made the scene easier to follow. Find the full scene and edit here.
When it comes to writing effective scene descriptions, less is often more.
3. Remember the point of view.
When you’re in a POV character, you’re noticing what your character is noticing, and people notice things for a reason.
If you’re in a POV character, you should be writing what they would naturally observe.
For example, one tired trope a lot of new writers fall into is the “waking up and looking at yourself in the mirror” trope:
A character wakes in their bed, like they do every day. They walk to their mirror, like they do every day. And they describe, in detail, everything about their physical appearance. They describe their room. They walk downstairs and describe the family members they see every day.
There’s no reason for someone to be thinking that intently about their mundane daily experience. It isn’t something they’re going to take the time to notice and have an inner monologue about. These kinds of sequences make it really obvious that the writer is giving exposition for the reader to understand what’s going on–it’s a bit easy, which is why it’s a favorite of less experienced writers.
Realistically, that same character might be thinking of the homework assignments they have due that day. Maybe they’re picking out an outfit. They’re not noticing that they have auburn hair or thinking about why they painted their walls green seven years ago.
When you’re looking through a POV character, you’re limited to what they’d observe or care to think about, so you can’t believably include things like really detailed descriptions of a regular part of their day.
That’s the limitation of POV. But a strength of POV is how you can utilize descriptions to characterize.
You can show the reader things about your character through what they choose to observe and the way they’re observing it.
For example, if your character enters a room full of people, they’re not going to notice and describe every single person to the same extent. It could probably go something like this:
An observation of how many people are in the room.
Maybe a description or two that applies to the entire crowd (e.g., if they’re all high-school aged, if they’re all women, if they’re all dancing, if they’re all impossibly still and quiet).
Zoom into people the character knows–maybe a group of friends has gathered in one area. The character joins them.
A general description of each friend.
A much more detailed description of one friend that we later learn the character is in love with.
If we got a full description of every person in the room, each made equal, we wouldn’t be able to notice the relationship of each to our character without being told. Choosing what to describe and when allows you to show things about your character.
4. Spread out your description.
Don’t front-load your scenes by describing EVERYTHING at once. If you drop all of your descriptions at the beginning of a scene, it’s not as interesting, your reader may skim, and they might forget crucial details when they become important.
Instead of describing everything right away, try walking through the scene with your character.
For example, say your character is entering an enchanted valley to find a place to hide because they’re being chased by some rabid antelope. They wouldn’t logically take the time to look around the enchanted valley and notice everything because they would be busy, worrying about the rabid antelope.
So they run through some vines and enter the valley–you can give a quick description of the vines, the size of the valley, and maybe the air quality or lighting if they’re different than outside. Then IMMEDIATELY focus in on the next target–a tree they’re going to climb to hide from the antelope. While they’re running to the tree, they realize the grass they’re on is blue. When they’re climbing the tree, we learn what kind of tree it is–it’s a magic tree! The bark is furry, and it makes it hard to climb.
Once they’re in the tree, they look around the valley. They see a river, some rainbow mushrooms, some unicorns. The unicorns are eating the rainbow mushrooms and tripping out. One unicorn is laying on a couch while Bojack Horseman plays on his Roku TV, staring at his hooves, he’s giggling, but he looks scared.
If your character had broken through the vines, and we immediately got all of that description, it would seem like the character had been standing there for ten minutes, which doesn’t make any sense when there are rabid antelope in pursuit.
Spread your description by walking through the scene with your character. We don’t need to see it ALL at the beginning.
5. Don’t be boring.
We all sometimes get carried away with writing scene descriptions. It’s easy to get caught up in our own worldbuilding, or maybe we get excited because we can so clearly SEE a scene that we want to get every detail down. That’s fine for a first draft, but you should always go back and trim down to what is necessary.
To be blunt: the reader doesn’t care.
If it isn’t something relevant to your story or your characters, you should nearly always cut it out.
Scene description is a lot like worldbuilding–it’s something the writer often puts a lot of thought into and ends up caring about way more than a reader ever could. That work you do in the background, developing your story, doesn’t always need to end up in the final product. It can just be a shadow that makes the story richer.
Keep what is relevant and necessary, then make those details as sharp and compelling as you can.
For spicy scene description, utilize the five senses, include what’s relevant, remember POV, spread it out, and don’t be boring!
Did you know romance is the highest-selling novel genre? By, like…a lot?
Everyone loves to be in love. The next best (or better?) thing is reading about love! It requires no emotional effort AND no one comes into your house to eat your food and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor. Best of both worlds.
Romance is basically the perfect genre to read. Which could also make it the best genre to write!
A bookstore patron falls for one of the booksellers, but is too shy to speak to them. One day, they buy a book with a note tucked inside.
A distant member of a European royal family crashes their car outside a woman’s house in a rural area.
Two high schoolers who hate each other get stuck doing community service together after a senior prank goes wrong.
A woman’s on her way to her date an hour early and chats up her Lyft driver. He’s handsome and charming, and soon she realizes he’s the man she’s supposed to meet later.
Write a love story between two patrons at a cafe from the perspective of the barista.
A farmer hires a mercenary to guide her to the next town through a monster-infested forest. Their relationship is strictly professional…until it’s not.
Groups from both sides of a war clash at a crypt, searching for an ancient, powerful artifact. In battle, the crypt collapses, trapping two knights from opposite sides. They have to learn to work together if they’re going to make it out alive.
A student on a study abroad trip falls in love with the bartender at the pub down the road, and on the last day of classes before she leaves, she confesses her feelings.
While exploring an ancient castle, a woman falls down a tower. She wakes up in a monster’s lair. At first, she’s horrified, but it turns out they’re both trapped down here, and the monster isn’t so bad.
When people turn 20, a tattoo appears on their wrist–a clue to lead them to their soulmate. On your character’s 20th birthday, their wrist remains blank.
A woman is torn between man and woman vying for her affection, and when she tells them, they confess that they have feelings for one another, too.
At the party after their high school graduation, one graduate works up the nerve to confess her four-year-long crush on someone else via Snapchat. The next morning, she realizes she sent the message to the wrong person, who says that the feelings are mutual.
At a ball, a woman waits for her crush to ask her to dance. They disappear, but when the party’s ended, they meet the woman in the empty ballroom for a last dance.
A caterer regularly works at a CEO’s lavish parties and falls in love with a recurring guest.
Your character has a crush on someone in their apartment building. They find excuses to be in the common areas when the neighbor comes and goes.
A woman studying for her history degree uncovers a series of letters in a digital archive written between two lovers fighting on the European front during World War One. What do the letters say?
Your character loathes one particular coworker. They’re both working late when something traps them in the building for two days. How does their relationship change?
A high school student’s best friend and crush reveals herself to be a werewolf.
A knight swears his fealty and hand in marriage to his queen. But on his very first quest, he falls in love with a fellow knight…
While her partner is at work, a woman decides to try to cook dinner as a surprise for them. It goes spectacularly bad.
Write about a long-distance pair off the internet meeting for the first time in two years in a fast food parking lot, all from the perspective of an employee at the restaurant.
On an airplane, a woman strikes up a conversation with a stunning person and regrets not getting their number when the plane lands. When she boards the plane for her return flight, the person is in the next row over.
Two interns scouting out a possible five-star hotel for their CEO to stay on a business trip get snowed in. Luckily, the company agrees to pay for them to stay the weekend–but there’s only one room available at such short notice. And that room has only one bed.
In a failed attempt to woo a beautiful baker, your character ends up with a job at the bakery. Unfortunately, they know absolutely nothing about baking.
On a road trip across the country, a woman meets an intriguing traveler at a rest stop.
A man spends his life obsessed with a woman from a Renaissance painting. He becomes a successful scholar, researching the painter and painting. One day, he meets a woman who looks exactly like the woman from the painting.
Every night at the same time, a woman plays her violin in the town square, and a stranger puts the same amount of spare change in her case. They grow to look forward to the woman’s performances. One day, the woman vanishes.
A woman dresses to attract a man who won’t pay attention to her, but draws the attention of his best friend instead.
When his upstairs neighbor keeps blaring music, Trevor blares his own music in return. His neighbor starts incorporating Trevor’s favorite songs into his rotation. One day, Trevor goes to ask him about it.
Two people fall deeply in love. One night, one partner has a dream where, in dozens of past lifetimes, they’ve found each other and fallen in love before.
On a tour bus driving through beautiful countryside, a tourist strikes up conversation with the guide, since all the other travelers are quiet. Turns out, they have more in common than just their interest in history.
After months of building up the courage to ask out a coworker, the date goes horribly wrong.
It’s the last day of filming for the latest Hollywood rom-com. Just as they wrap things up, the actress realizes she’s got feelings for her co-star.
Your character accompanies their friend to a speed-dating event for moral support. While they aren’t interested in the dates in front of them, they find they can’t stop peeking at their friend across the room.
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way. Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Sometimes a story requires a backtrack—if you can’t start at the beginning, maybe you just throw the beginning somewhere in the middle. BUT! Do you need to tell the beginning at all? In this blog, we’re going to learn about flashbacks and if your story really needs them.
Some good reasons to use flashbacks:
To tell your story in a more compelling and clever way
To allow your reader to get invested before you go back to cover the less exciting requirements of your story
To postpone revealing information for intrigue or flow
These are all fine reasons to employ a flashback, but let’s talk about when you should and when you shouldn’t use them.
What are flashbacks?
How to write flashbacks
Examples of flashbacks
What are flashbacks?
Flashbacks are simply flashes back to an earlier event in a story’s narrative. They can occur at any point in a story. Most prologues are flashbacks.
Flashbacks can be tricky little guys to nail, especially in written works. I see a lot of inexperienced writers mess them up big time. They’re either too frequent, overdone, too long, irrelevant, or awkwardly shoved into a scene they have no business interrupting.
Let’s look at ways to use flashbacks effectively.
How to write flashbacks
So what’s the best way to write a flashback? When do you use them, when do you not use them, and how do you use them well?
Here are five tips to help you out:
Earn your flashback. If you throw in a long flashback too early in the story, you run the risk of your reader not being interested. Are they invested enough in the story to hop back in time with you? If your flashback is longer than a page or two, it may turn readers off if they haven’t grown attached enough to your characters and your story to care about extra information, like a flashback.
Save your flashbacks for a point in the story when your readers should be invested enough to time travel.
Smoothly transition into and out of your flashback.
You don’t want a flashback out of nothing. Just like a regular scene, write transitions to help it flow as a cohesive piece. A great way to do transition is with a trigger, like a character hears a word, sees a flash of something familiar, smells, tastes, feels something that reminds them of the time they’re flashing back to. This provides a logical bridge from the main storyline to the flashback.
Transitioning back out of it can be as simple as someone in the present-time saying, “Hello?” You need something to jog the character back into the present. Clear edges of the flashback gives your reader the stability they need to follow along.
On the flip side of that, negating the transitions is a great way to intentionally make your audience uncomfortable or confused. I’ll explain that in a bit.
Make sure it’s relevant and necessary. Don’t hop around in your timeline for no reason. It’ll make your story more difficult to follow. If you’re using a flashback, employ the same rules we mentioned for prologues:
Is it crucial for the reader’s understanding? If no, don’t use it.
Does it make sense without it? If yes, don’t use it.
Can you weave the information into a regular scene instead? If yes, don’t use it.
And use your flashbacks sparingly. Flashbacks are a need-to-include element in a written story because it takes more effort for the reader to settle into a flashback scene.
Carefully critique your flashback scenes for necessity and relevance.
Keep it brief. You don’t need pages and pages of backstory—most of that should be worked into your regular timeline. If you’re sure the flashback is relevant and necessary, then you should be able to hit your point quickly and get out before it drags on for too long.
Make it mean something. Your flashbacks should carry weight—they shouldn’t just be exposition or a convenient way to pass information to your reader. Like we said, it takes effort on the reader’s part to keep up with a flashback. Don’t make them do extra work for no payoff.
Types of flashback
There are essentially two main types of flashback: A full flashback scene or a brief in-scene flashback.
For a full flashback, you need transitions, as mentioned above. Something to trigger the beginning of the flashback, something to trigger the end, and likely scene breaks or a chapter change to separate it from the original timeline. These scenes are much longer and cover a lot more ground than an in-scene flashback.
The more common flashback in novels and short stories is the in-scene flashback. Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how they’re woven into scenes without pulling the reader away from the present for a significant amount of time.
I mentioned above that sometimes you may want to confuse your audience. Here’s an excerpt from the short story, Wolverine Frogs (TW: sexual assault):
The warm sun and humidity hit my face like opening a dryer mid-cycle. I step onto the sidewalk and start down the street.
“Maya, wait up!” Andre is buttoning his shirt and running toward me barefoot.
I keep walking. “I have to get back before next period.”
“Wait.” He grabs my arm. “Maya, just look at me.”
I was pinned to the ground in the dim room, fingernails digging into the wooden floorboards, red light blinking in front of my face.
“Just look at me,” the man said through gritted teeth.
I closed my eyes tight.
“Look at me!”
I was on my stomach and he was on top of me and I couldn’t look at him if I tried. My fingers were white, gripping at the cracks on the floor.
I press my hands into the floor and push up as hard as I can. He falls off and I face him. I lunge and dig into his skin, tearing at his eyes with claws I didn’t know I had.
“Maya, stop!” Andre cries.
I’m outside, in the sun. A bird sings somewhere.
This flashback is weaved into the scene because the character is experiencing PTSD in the form of a triggered flashback. She’s confused about when and where she is, so the reader is confused about when and where they are. The transition is subtle, indicated by switching from present to past tense. The scene is in the present tense, then, “I was pinned to the ground in the dim room,” gives us a time and scene shift. She was outside, now she’s not. It’s confusing, but clear enough to follow.
This scene isn’t set apart by a full flashback with scene breaks because it’s meant to be extremely brief and confusing. The reader is just as displaced and lost as the character.
Let’s look at an example of an in-scene flashback that isn’t intentionally confusing for the reader from Landline by Rainbow Rowell:
Her mom had turned Georgie’s childhood bedroom into the pug trophy room as soon as she graduated from high school—which was irritating because Georgie didn’t actually move out of the house until she graduated from college.
“Where else am I supposed to display their ribbons?” her mom had said when Georgie objected. “They’re award-winning dogs. You’ve got one foot out the door anyway.”
“Not currently. Currently, I have both feet on my bed.”
“Take off your shoes, Georgie. This isn’t a barn.”
This isn’t a full scene—just a bit of dialogue. It’s triggered by Georgie walking into her childhood room and remembering a conversation she’d had with her mother. It’s indicated with italics and past perfect tense (while the rest of the scene is in the past tense).
The flashback shows Georgie’s dynamic with her mother. It’s much quicker and easier to slip in while Georgie is entering her room, because it was already necessary for her to do so, and to show the relationship with her mom may have required an additional scene. This flashback saves a little time.
Flashbacks most often occur in visual storytelling, like movies, TV shows, and comic books. Let’s look at some examples.
Flashbacks in movies
Flashbacks are most commonly found in screen media. Many films are nearly entirely flashback, like:
Forrest Gump, where Forrest tells his life story to random people who sit with him on the bench. This narrative scope serves several purposes: showing how people react to Forrest, how he’s accepted, and how he’s open to being friends with anyone. It’s characterizing and sets the tone for the film.
Titanic is told in a flashback from the perspective of elderly Rose. This narration leads to intrigue. We know that she survives, but we don’t know what happens to Jack until the end of the movie.
The Notebook is told in a flashback as Noah reads their story to dementia patient, Allie, from her own journal. This is stupid and serves no real purpose, which fits the quality of the rest of the story.
Flashbacks in TV shows
One of the most popular flashback styles is from the TV show LOST. The audience could keep track of flashbacks by the characters and setting changing appearance, but also by the signature “whoosh” to indicate we were hopping back in time. (Here it is, if you’ve somehow been able to forget.)
Flashbacks in books
Flashbacks in books aren’t nearly as common as they are in TV shows and movies. It’s much easier to transition between timelines in a visual medium—with books, you really have to work for it.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak flashes back and forward through the character’s story to create suspense and intrigue.
Other stories that famously employ flashbacks are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and The Odyssey.
Flashbacks are one more tool writers can use to build a compelling and impactful story, but they’re tricky! Use these tips to make intentional choices about the structure of your timeline so you can utilize flashbacks in a way that helps readers connect with the story.
The fantasy genre is defined as speculative fiction, often inspired by myth or folklore from the real world. The setting most often featured in fantasy is medieval or heavily inspired by the medieval era, though that is not an absolute through all fantasy stories.
Subgenres of fantasy include fairytale fantasy (inspired by fairytale or folklore), comic fantasy (humorous in tone), contemporary fantasy (usually set in the real world but including magical or supernatural elements), and gaslamp fantasy (set in Victorian or Edwardian eras, usually with gothic influence).
There are several subgenres categorized by levels or tiers of fantasy, based on how fantastical the story is. These subgenres include contemporary fantasy, low fantasy, and high fantasy.
Today we’re talking about high fantasy. For an inside perspective on writing fantasy, I reached out to bestselling science fiction and fantasy author, Jenna Moreci.
Jenna is the author of the low fantasy/science fiction novel, EVE: The Awakening, the high fantasy novelThe Savior’s Champion, and its upcoming companion novel, The Savior’s Sister (pre-order here!).
Jenna and I are going to discuss:
What is high fantasy?
How to write high fantasy
High fantasy vs low fantasy
High fantasy examples
What is high fantasy?
As I mentioned, there are different levels of fantasy. High fantasy is the most fantastical level, defined by the epic nature of its setting, characters, themes, or plot. High fantasy is set in an alternative fantasy world, rather than the real world (like in contemporary fantasy).
Think of the fantasy genre as a sliding scale, with one end being a realistic, modern world with a very subtle fantasy influence, and the other end being a magical world of complete fabrication.
We’re talking about the far end of that scale: high fantasy, with completely fabricated worlds, characters, and stories.
Jenna, what attracted you to writing high fantasy?
“High fantasy has been my favorite genre since I was six years old, particularly high fantasy adventure. While my friends were pretending to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast, I was calling myself “Super Perseus” from Clash of the Titans (true story – we’ve got it on home video). Adventure, romance, and magic—in my opinion—are the perfect trifecta for entertainment. I want to be whisked away into another world. I want to battle dangers, marvel over monsters, and explore hidden powers. I want to fall in love. Writing high fantasy puts little to no limits on your creativity and imagination. It’s the closest thing there is to playing make believe as an adult—aside from LARPing, maybe, but that’s not really my thing.”
Jenna enjoys the freedom of writing a story in high fantasy, but there are certainly obstacles to overcome as well.
How to write high fantasy
High fantasy is one of the genres with the most required world-building. You’re creating completely original settings, characters, religions, political and economic systems, societies, cultures, magic systems—it’s all up to you to build. That’s a big undertaking, and you’ll have tons to consider! To name a few elements:
Politics – What is the political climate? Who are the rulers and how did they come to power? What systems are in place, by accident or intentionally?
Religion – Monotheistic, polytheistic, actual, interpreted, proven false? Are there different religions? How do your character’s religion influence their outlooks and behavior?
Economy – Is there a system of currency? Is it trade or barter?
Weather and climate – Weather and climate can have a big impact on your setting. They can also provide an obstacle for your characters to overcome.
Species – Are your species human, humanoid, fantasy, a mix?
Magic system – What are the rules, capabilities, and limitations of your magic system?
Culture – What do your people value? How do they think, and why do they think that way? What kind of traditions and norms exist?
History – What’s happened in the world before your story takes place? How has it impacted the present?
Flora and fauna – The plants and animals that live in your world.
Character motivation – This isn’t something a lot of writers think about needing to develop when they think about a high fantasy story, but what characters want and are motivated by are incredibly influenced by their environment. The culture, history, society, religion, and everything else about your world should directly influence the things your character is trying to achieve. They’re not going to want the same things people in the real world want.
But don’t let all of that scare you off! High fantasy can be an exciting and freeing genre to try out.
Jenna, do you have any advice for writers wanting to try high fantasy?
“You are not Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, or J.K. Rowling. Don’t try to be. People remember these authors not because their stories are superior, or because their stories follow particular formats; they’re remembered because they’re original.
Mimicry isn’t going to get you far. Half the high fantasy writers out there are already trying that. Tell your own story.”
Do you think people have to read a lot of fantasy in order to write good fantasy of their own?
“I think writers need to read a lot, period, in order to gain skill in the craft. Reading within your own genre is going to be the most beneficial, but I always encourage writers to diversify. Different genres can teach different skills, and having a well-rounded wheelhouse of tricks can help separate you from other fantasy buffs.”
That’s great advice, and it certainly applies to any genre.
High fantasy vs low fantasy
The difference between high fantasy and low fantasy is simply the amount of fantastic or supernatural elements present in your story.
High fantasy, like we’ve mentioned, is when you’re crafting an entirely new world.
Low fantasy is like a contemporary fantasy story, based in the real world, likely present-day, with some amount of magical content. Maybe there are make-believe creatures, maybe dragons exist, maybe a regular human finds a portal to another universe.
Think of The Chronicles of Narnia as a mix of low fantasy and high fantasy—when the children are in the real world with the fact that other worlds exist, that could be considered low fantasy. When they’re in Narnia or the Wood Between The Worlds, that could be considered high fantasy. Overall, The Chronicles of Narnia is a high fantasy series because so much of it takes place in a completely fabricated universe.
How did you approach writing The Savior’s Series (high fantasy) differently than you approached EVE: The Awakening (low fantasy/science fiction)?
“The Savior’s Series provided a lot more freedom than EVE: The Awakening. TSC takes place in the realm of Thessen, a kingdom of my design. I got to choose the climate. I got to choose the system of government. If I wanted my characters to dress, speak, or act a certain way, I could work that into their customs. And of course, magic is always fun to play with.
While EVE takes place in the future, it’s still in our timeline on planet Earth. History had to line up. Changes in customs had to make sense. Sci-fi provides a ton more freedom than many other genres, which I do enjoy, but not quite as much as high fantasy—unless you’re inventing an entirely new planet.
Low fantasy has the double-edged sword of normalcy. On the one hand, if you struggle with world building, good news: that’s 75% done for you. On the other, normalcy creates confines you have to work within. If you’re looking for freedom to create whoever or whatever you want, that might be a problem.
High fantasy is the polar opposite. Good news: the world is your oyster. You can create whatever you please. The bad news? You have to make everything. Literally. You are starting with a completely blank page. Try not to get too overwhelmed.”
That’s a solid summary of what we discussed earlier—high fantasy gives you complete freedom to be as imaginative as you’d like, but it’s a lot of work!
High fantasy examples
When you think of fantasy stories, most of the examples you could come up with would likely be high fantasy. Books like:
Fairytale fantasy – Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine Ella Enchanted is a fairytale fantasy because of the fairytale elements—fairy godmothers, ogres, giants, elves, enchanted mirrors, magic books, curses, etc.
Dark fantasy – The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci Dark fantasy is categorized by thematic elements like gore, violence, and adult content. It has a gloomier tone, often combining with elements you’d find in horror genres. The Savior’s Champion slaughters the majority of its character cast, categorizing it as dark fantasy.
Historical fantasy – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon Outlander takes a modern (1940s) woman from a realistic setting and drops her back into the 18th century Scottish highlands.
What are your favorite fantasy books, Jenna?
“This may sound silly, considering I write adult dark fantasy, but the first book that immediately pops into my mind is Ella Enchanted. I’m a bit of a control freak, and when I read, I can’t help but think of what I would’ve done had I written the story instead. This makes it difficult for me to immerse myself fully when I read or get that book hangover feeling people are always talking about. But when I read Ella Enchanted back in the fourth grade, damn, that book ruined me in the best way. It had everything I wanted, and I was living for it. I remember finishing it and thinking, this is exactly how I want to make people feel when they read my work.
Obviously I’m not in the fourth grade anymore, and I’ve read a bunch of fantasy books I’ve enjoyed since then. And even more obviously, my work is starkly different from Ella Enchanted. But I still put that book on a pedestal for breaking through my nitpicky reader wall and giving my childhood self the exact story I needed at the time.”
Ella Enchanted is a great book. I really liked Fairest when I was a kid, by the same author. Still waiting for my film adaptation…
Writing a high fantasy story is a big undertaking! There are so many elements to consider, which can be intimidating, but the freedom to create literally any universe you want is exciting.
If high fantasy is totally new to you and you’re looking for an introduction to the genre, Jenna’s new book, The Savior’s Sister, is a good place to start!
If you’ve already been through our list of 400+ all-genre writing prompts, but it didn’t quite scratch that alien, other-worldly itch, no worries! We’ve got you covered with 46 science fiction writing prompts.
Writing is hard, and we’re here to make it a little bit easier. Try out some of these science fiction ideas for writing exercises, short stories, novel prompts, or anything else!
A woman is appointed sheriff of a town she’s never heard of. A series of strange incidents make her realize something isn’t quite right–the entire town is populated by aliens who have taken the form of humans to hide out on earth. They’re perfectly nice, but assimilation is tough.
People’s consciousness can be downloaded onto chips and replaced with others. The rich and influential rent bodies loaded with whatever consciousness, abilities, and knowledge they need in a person.
A family moves into a new house. The basement has been sealed off, apparently for years. When their home improvements lead them to break into it, they find it’s covered in unidentifiable eggs.
It’s like the olympics, but on another planet and 14 solar systems are competing.
A man has heard a ringing sound his whole life. The same tone, the same volume, twenty-four hours a day. He’s seen doctors, he’s had tests, he’s tried medication. He’s learned to live with it, even ignore it. One day it stops.
The only thing stopping Maya from going to her dream college is a two-point too low ACT score and the fact that she’s now of age and her alien family has returned to fetch her. Her parents rule their planet, and it’s time for her to train in leadership, find a spouse, and take over.
A teenager buys a plant from a one-day-only farmer’s market. The market is gone when he returns to ask a few follow-up questions on why the plant ate his cat.
Aimee always knew she was smart. She’s the top of her senior class, head of the debate team, and fluent in seven languages, after all. She just didn’t know it was because her real dad was an alien.
Two friends plan to heist an entire planet with a corrupt government. Sure, they’re doing it for the people, but the money’s not too bad either.
Thousands of homeless people in a usually packed city have vanished overnight.
A man disappears for thirteen years and returns with a special ability.
Everyone in town falls asleep simultaneously, except one family.
On an alien planet, earth is merely a farm to harvest meat.
A group of animals go through a series of experimental trials that ends with them possessing comparably human intelligence. They plot escape.
Horrifically realistic dolls are manufactured as children’s toys. Their lifelikeness prompts a lonely woman to adopt one.
A couple loses their child in an accident. They take advantage of accessible cloning technology to make a new one. While the clone looks exactly like their child, it’s a different person. They dispose of the clone and try again. This goes on for decades, clones of the same person at different ages being tossed into the foster system, onto the street, into other homes–eventually, they meet.
An ancient tribe that disappeared suddenly from history returns in modern day.
A shrill tone rings out from an unknown place, heard around the world. Everyone on earth turns into a mindless slave for an unseen power–everyone who has the ability to hear, at least.
A tourist in an Egyptian tomb accidentally activates ancient, but far advanced, technology when she bleeds on a stone.
Scientists spent decades developing a technology to wipe people of emotions. This technology is available to the wealthy and powerful, and it creates a logical, peaceful society. It also creates a market for consumable, temporary emotions harvested from lower class people.
A tattoo appears when a person comes of age, dictating the beginning of their life’s quest.
A character receives a gift from their great-grandmother on her deathbed. It’s a necklace. The great-grandmother says it’s a charm for focus and clarity. When your character puts it on, her mind goes silent. That night, the great-grandmother passes away, and the character receives a letter on their doorstep with an invitation to a secret meeting. They’re part of a small collective of soldiers who work to dismantle a government with the ability to project thoughts and ideas into citizens’ minds. Your character has to sort through which thoughts were real and which were planted in their head every day up until now.
Your character is on his way to America. Four ships since the Mayflower have successfully traveled and settled. He’s excited to begin a new life in a new land and experience every adventure that comes with it. The ship is caught in a storm before it reaches America, pulled into a whirlpool and sucked below the surface to a world below the ocean.
A space explorer from Earth crash-lands on a planet where humans are considered scum. Write from the perspective of one of the aliens living on the planet.
A teenage girl invents a machine for a science project that will allow her to talk to aliens. It fails at the science fair, but later that night, she picks up a signal…
An intern monitors the communications panel for a space voyage that has long since gone dark. In the middle of the night, she receives transmission from one of the crew members, the only survivor on the ship. What does the crew member tell her?
An alien sneaks on board a spaceship from Earth, which is supposed to be in space for one full year. Write from the perspective of the alien as the crewmembers slowly turn against each other.
A thousand years into the future, a promising young scholar discovers a teenager’s MySpace page from 2009. What does he do with this information? What does the MySpace page look like?
The internet suddenly crashes completely and cannot be recovered. What does society look like ten years from now without it?
A group of friends at a high school go to an observatory after hours, and one of them disappears. The next week, the remaining friends receive strange text messages claiming to be the friend, trapped in another dimension.
Just as you lose your job as an accountant, your eccentric uncle passes away, and you inherit his farm. Everything looks great when you first move out there, but then you realize there’s something in the woods at night, people acting strangely on the property, and cryptic letters carved into trees. What was your uncle doing? What killed him?
A graduate student studies the effects of different drugs on mice, creating a drug that can double the mouse’s lifespan. He administers the drug to his dying cat, and gives his cat the ability to talk.
The moon gets stuck in the same spot in the sky, and the sun doesn’t rise. Write from the perspective of a team of scientists working in a remote location to figure out why.
A marine biologist gets a research grant to visit a remote island. While they’re scuba diving, they discover that some of the creatures in the sea aren’t like anything else on earth.
The first mission to land a human on Mars succeeds. The astronauts are exploring the planet for themselves, and they meet humans who landed thousands of years ago and have evolved for the Martian climate.
Backpackers on a mountain trip realize that the wildlife around them is loaded with surveillance equipment. Who’s spying on them? What do they want?
A cruise ship returns home, but somehow, it’s a hundred years in the future. Everyone on the cruise ship aged normally, but everyone on land in the rest of the world aged exactly one hundred years. Write from the perspective of a father with his kids on vacation.
A woman falls in love with someone in her biology class, only to learn that they were scientifically designed to be her ideal romantic partner–he has no free will of his own. What does she do?
Whenever an artist tries to draw or paint, they can only draw the same person’s face, over and over and over again. They’ve never met this person, and can’t seem to find out who it might be. They make tons of money selling this one person’s face. One day, at the opening of their new gallery, they meet the person.
When a woman cuts her finger making dinner, she realizes that beneath her skin is a thin coating of metal. She peels it back to discover circuitry. Who created her? How did she gain independence?
After the death of her mother, a little girl studies the night sky every night to see her and her mother’s favorite constellation. At midnight the night after the funeral, the constellation moves.
A mother takes her kids camping in a national park a year after the death of her husband. Her oldest son starts getting strange interference on his walkie-talkie and instructions to venture deeper into the forest–it’s his dead father’s voice on the other end of the radio.
Write the travelogue of a mechanic who’s been abducted by aliens in the hopes that she’ll fix their ship.
A kid gets a copy of the new video game everyone’s been raving about. As he plays it, the game personalizes a little more. Eventually, NPC’s in the game start saying things they shouldn’t know about the kid’s life–things he’d never told anyone else. What does he do?
A soldier fighting in a far-off space war decides to mutiny and crash-lands with her crew on planet Earth, bringing the fight with her.
A scientist receives regular transmission from what he believes to be a far-off planet. He keeps this secret to himself and develops a relationship with the person–or alien–at the other end of the line. After years of secrecy, the government finds out, and the mysterious creature must reveal themselves. What happens?
Fantasy is a popular genre for new writers to try because it’s fun, exciting, and much more accessible. It’s quicker and easier to get started with fantasy because it requires less research and preparation. You make up the rules, and you create the world!
But starting a story in any genre is hard, so we’re here to make it a little bit easier. Here are 33 fantasy writing prompts that you can use for writing exercises, story ideas, or anything else!
Characters fall through a mirror and land in a lake of a new universe.
A girl finds a box in her grandmother’s attic that’s been passed down for generations, hidden from everyone but one female descendant it is passed to. The girl’s mother died before the grandmother could pass it on, then, on her deathbed, the grandmother told the girl where to find the box. She died before she could tell her what to do with it.
Write a short story about a messenger delivering love letters between a prince and princess on opposite sides of a war.
A character is visited by a ghost in a dream every night, trying to give them a message. One night they realize they haven’t been dreaming.
An unmarked letter arrives in his mailbox. No address, no stamp. Just a key and a train ticket to his mother’s hometown.
A new family moves into town. Your character brings over a pie. Getting no answer to their knock on the front door, and it being a friendly town, the character lets themselves into the backyard to follow sounds. The form of a human greets them, but not before they see the mass of small fairies that rush together to create the facade.
The pond in the city park is a popular place. Kids swim, dads fish, there are motorboat races every summer. One day, a child notices the pond is reflecting a place much different than the park.
Write a flash fiction about a god who is struck down into a tiny fishing village where no one recognizes him.
A girl wakes up in a lake by a small village with a strange mark on her hand. A man in the village tells her it’s a curse.
A child brings a beautiful shell home from the beach. “You know, if you put your ear to it, you can hear the ocean,” their mom says. When they put their ear to the shell, they hear much more than that.
While taking a tour of a Louisiana plantation, a girl sees a figure. When she points it out, no one else in the group can see it. She sneaks away and follows the figure to an old slave house–now a gift shop. The figure is the ghost of one of the girl’s ancestors, and she has a secret to reveal.
Two girls find a dragon with a massive horde of treasure in a cave. Write from the perspective of the dragon.
A village boy harasses an elderly man. The next day, he wakes up as the man.
A cult prays to their god in a forest, and the god appears. How does the god appear, and what is their answer?
A kid in modern day sees a symbol everywhere they go. It appears more and more often. One day, they realize what triggers it.
The boy just wants to return home to his village after being stolen and sold into slavery. He boards a ship as a stowaway, but within the hour realizes he’s boarded the wrong ship, and the sailors are…not quite human.
You awake as an angel in heaven: the afterlife employment for an exceptionally-behaved human. Problem is, this is definitely not where you were supposed to end up.
Everyone in town thinks the woman who lives in the hut deep in the swamp is a witch. Turns out, she’s something much worse.
You move into a new town. The welcoming committee is friendly and obliging, but they leave you with one warning: don’t look for the voice. Under no circumstances should you look for the voice. You shrug it off as small-town quirkiness until exactly 3:00 in the morning when she starts singing.
A cruel princess abuses and replaces her noble-blood lady’s maids until her parents decide to discipline her and put an end to the cycle by promoting a tough and unshakeable drudgery maid.
Everyone is born with magic. As they age, it fades if not cultivated properly. A middle-aged woman’s magic faded to nearly nothing due to childhood neglect and abuse by her father. She has found a way to siphon magic from children, but the consequences make it where she has no volunteers…good thing for her, it doesn’t have to be given freely.
A wandering traveler is trying to hide from a ghost who wants revenge. What does the ghost want revenge for, and do they get it?
Write a story from the perspective of a werewolf attempting to live a “normal” life amongst humans.
A vampire falls in love with a member of the local church, but can’t go near the church where they live because of the religious symbols.
There’s a small island off the shore where it’s rumored a coven of mages lives in complete seclusion. One day, two siblings decide to investigate.
A young woman seeks treasure hidden by her pirate ancestor.
A group of soldiers is out at sea during a long war. They run out of food. The sea god tells them she’ll grant them a safe passage home, but only if they sacrifice one of the members aboard.
The gods have made a vow never to interfere with the dealings of mortals. War breaks out among kingdoms, and one of the lesser gods falls in love with the princess on the losing side. What happens next?
A monster has been stealing a farmer’s crop for weeks. The farmer hires a mercenary in town to investigate the source of the disappearance. Write from the perspective of the monster who has been stealing the crops.
One family barely escapes the devastation of their kingdom and seeks refuge in a strange, well-guarded town far from home. They soon realize something is wrong with the townspeople here, and maybe they aren’t as safe as they thought…
Two knights vie for the hand of the princess in a series of athletic challenges, but end up falling in love with each other.
Students on a field trip get locked in a crypt overnight. Settled to wait for morning workers to unlock it, they soon realize they’re not alone.
A princess mage meets someone in her dreams every night. She realizes it’s more than a dream, and she’s communicating with a farm mage in a neighboring kingdom. Why are they linked?
These five elements are what make a story interesting, understandable, and complete.
Let’s look at some different types of short stories and the lengths of each.
How long is a short story?
There are different types of short stories, categorized by length–standard short stories, flash fictions, and microfictions. We could also consider longer pieces of prose that aren’t quite novels, like the novella and the novellette.
Examples of short story lengths
Different categories of short stories can vary greatly in length, depending on who you ask. Here are the standard ranges for each, with examples.
A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The consensus for word counts on novellas is a pretty wide range! It usually lies between 15,000 and 50,000 words.
Here are a few novella titles you’re likely familiar with:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote is 26,433 words
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is28,912words
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is 30,000 words
There’s also the novella’s little sister, the novellette, which is considered to be between 7,000 and 15,000 words.
An example of a novellette is Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at 13,500 words.
Your standard short story is essentially anything shorter than a novellette. In general, anything under 10,000 words is considered to be a short story.
Here are some stories you’ve likely read that fall into the “short story” category:
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe at 2,030
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is 6,000 words
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson at 3,775
(These are all fantastic, and if you haven’t read them before, you should.)
A flash fiction is a particularly short short story, typically considered to be between 300 and 1,000 words.
From Little Birds, this flash fiction is called He Wrote Me a Song:
I knew this guy in school. His name was RJ–I don’t know what it stood for–but he used to sit with his back flat up against walls. He had to move his desk every class, but the teachers didn’t bother him about it.
RJ and I didn’t speak, but we had a routine from middle school to tenth grade where he’d hold the door open for me, we’d smile at each other, I’d loan him a pencil, we’d smile at each other. He never asked for the pencil, but the first time I saw him, he was being fussed for not having one. I slipped it into his hand that day and brought two every day after.
One day we had a fire drill. RJ stood very still next to me on the lawn. I smiled, he smiled. We didn’t say anything, but we never did. Just when the teachers were rounding us up again, I felt him slip something into my hand, and by the time I realized it was a folded piece of paper, he had disappeared into the crowd.
I waited until I was home to read it. It was a song about me. He wrote about how brave I was, like a warrior marching off to fight some great evil. The writing wasn’t great and his rhymes were forced–my name is a stupid word to rhyme with–but it was sweet. When I handed him his pencil the next day, I said, “Thanks.” He smiled.
They told us on a Wednesday, fifth period Geometry. They thought it was suicide, but I never heard for sure. I ran all the way home. I sat on my bed, hands in my lap. I remembered the warmth of his palm, pressing the slip of paper into mine.
Then I walked to my desk and pulled open the top drawer. Then the second, then all of them. I ripped clothes out of the closet, flipped my mattress. I tore my room apart, but I never found the song. And if you asked, I couldn’t recite a word.
A micro fiction is a flash fiction that doesn’t extend past a few sentences, typically fewer than 100 words.
The micro fiction everyone knows is the six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Another is Dandelions, Actually by R. Gatwood: “He showered her with roses but never asked her favorite flower.”
A longer micro fiction piece is Gator Butchering for Beginners by Kristen Arnett:
It’s easy enough to slip the skin. Wedge your knife below the bumpy ridge of spine to separate cartilage from fat; loosen tendon from pink, sticky meat. Flay everything open. Pry free the heart. It takes some nerve. What I mean is, it’ll hurt, but you can get what you crave if you want it badly enough.
Start with the head…
Short stories are great to experiment with, even if they aren’t your story form of choice. It’s easier and more effective to learn and practice specific writing techniques with shorter forms. Short stories also allow a special emphasis on imagery and language–those skills transfer easily to novels and longer pieces.
WRITING EXERCISE: try writing the same story with each type of short story. See what details are important enough to retain as your story gets shorter and shorter! How do you have to rearrange things to fit it into the limited space?
A colloquialism is a literary device that utilizes informal words or phrases, typically words or phrases that are only used under certain conditions such as: specific regions, eras, or demographics of speaker. In writing, the intentional use of colloquialisms can ground your writing in realism by giving a genuine and convincing voice to your narrative and characters.
“Colloquialism” comes from the Latin “colloquium” which simply means “conversation.” Colloquialisms are one of the elements that give fictional voices that feeling of realistic conversations.
A writer might use colloquialism to express the location, era, and society of the story. It can also be used to give believability and context to a character within that setting.
Sometimes writers use colloquialism unintentionally, just by virtue of the way they were raised, where they’re from, and their education level affecting their writing style. For example, one of my writing partners is from Texas–I started marking her writing with “cowboy verbiage” because it was so strongly Texan. She didn’t even realize some of the words and phrases were colloquial.
Let’s look at some examples of colloquialisms.
Examples of Colloquialisms
Some colloquialisms are just common abbreviations of phrases, like these:
Wanna (want to)
Gonna (going to)
Boutta (about to)
Y’all (you all)
Ain’t (am not/are not)
Some are different phrases entirely:
Score (getting something you want)
Ruckus (a disturbance, usually funny)
Buzz off (“go away” in the US)
Piss off (“go away” in the UK)
Flake (cancelling plans last minute)
Here are a few examples of colloquialisms in literature, from the short story Cane Sprouts in the collection Little Birds. In this story, Natasha returns to her southern home after living in New York for several years.
“Don’t catch me no more bullheads,” Granny calls after us. “Sick to tired of them damn fish.”
In this example, you can see the socioeconomic and educational state of the character in the double negative of “don’t catch me no more.” The way Granny change the phrase “sick and tired” by saying “sick to tired” is because her first language is French. These colloquialisms characterize her.
“Grandpa,” I try again. “It’s Nat.”
“Yeah, we got gnats ‘cause everybody leavin’ the damn door open.” He sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “No, it’s Natasha,” I say. He peeks an eye open. “My Natasha?” He grins and strains to sit up. “Come here, mais cher!” He pulls me into a hug, roughly patting my back. “How you been?” He holds me at arm’s length. “You eat?”
In this excerpt, we characterize Grandpa the same way we characterized Granny. His first language is French, he isn’t extensively educated, and he’s clearly from southern United States.
Throughout the story, Natasha goes from speaking with syntax typical of someone from a northern state and of higher education, to using phrasing and verbiage more similar to the other characters who never left the south.
“You know,” I say. “The Coopers always have a litter of kittens running around. I could probably snatch one for you.”
Natasha using the word “snatch” to mean “catch” is an example of her slipping back into homegrown colloquialisms.
The transition shows how she’s changed over the years, but once she’s back home, she slips in with everyone else by using southern-specific terms (“Where’s the folks?”) and dropping words from sentences (“Cam, why they burn the cane?”). That characterizes her, but also gives context for how she’s changed, how long she’s been gone, and how returning home has affected her.
How to Use Colloquialisms in Writing
Now that we know what colloquialisms are, have an idea of how they’re used, and have seen a few examples of them, let’s talk about some tips for using them in your own writing.
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use colloquialisms in their stories. What does it show about the setting? What do readers learn about the characters without even realizing they’re learning it?
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak and the colloquialisms they might use. Employ it to let your readers get closer to your characters.
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
Don’t overdo it! Like anything else, aim for a balance. If you overuse colloquialisms, your writing might sound unintentionally campy or silly, and that will make your world less believable.
Colloquialisms are a fun element to incorporate into your story to give it color, believability, and a credible setting.
Diction is a literary device that refers to a specific way of speaking. Writers utilize diction through things like word choice, vernacular, turn of phrase, and style.
The diction of a piece of writing can be used to convey the upbringing, education, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and lots of other things of the narrator. A good fiction writer takes the voice of their character and lets it influence the diction of their prose.
The largest role of diction is to indicate whether a piece of writing is formal or informal. From there, let’s discuss a few different types of diction.
Types of Diction
Here are some of the different types of diction. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a fuller picture of what diction is and how it can be used.
Formal diction – Think of the last speech or debate you heard. The words were likely carefully chosen, enunciated, and grammatically correct. Formal diction is used in academia, reporting, and other forms of media that require direct and clear language for understanding and credibility.
Think of the famous George W. Bush quote: “Rarely is the question asked–is our children learning.”
That silly grammar error makes it harder to take him seriously, doesn’t it? That is a good example of how well-executed formal diction lends to credibility.
Informal diction – You’ll see informal diction in real life conversations. In fiction writing, it will often appear in dialogue and in description if we are narrating with a character’s voice.
Informal diction is more relaxed, but still considered a “standard” way of speaking.
Colloquialism – Colloquial diction is a kind of informal diction. A colloquialism is a term or phrase used in familiar conversation, and it is typically regional.
For example, you might write a conversation between two characters from Utah and two other characters from Alabama. With the exact same conversational context and content, the verbiage will differ between the two. Each region has different patterns of phrase and different vocabulary. This distinction is a colloquial difference.
Slang – Slang is important to consider under diction because it can say a lot about the speaker, like where they’re from, their education, how much they respect the person they’re speaking to, their comfort level, their street smarts, and their life experiences in relation to the subject matter.
Concrete diction – Concrete diction is literal and direct. This type of diction leaves no room for interpretation. For example, directly stating the color, size, or shape of something without using metaphor, symbolism, or flourish. The table is brown.
Abstract diction – Abstract diction is intangible. It doesn’t relate to any of the senses and is often an expression of an idea or emotion.
As you can see, all forms of writing are affected by diction, whether the writer realized and used it intentionally or not.
Examples of Diction
As we speak in real life, we change diction all the time. I’m writing this blog in one tab while I have a conversation with my friends in another. Here, I’m making an effort to be grammatically correct, clear, and concise. With my friends, I’m typing fast without reading it back, using slang and inside jokes, and not worrying about how I come across. Those are two different styles of diction.
Let’s look at examples of how we can change diction in writing.
Formal vs informal
Formal: “I’m not thrilled with the circumstances.”
Informal: “I’m pissed.”
Formal: “Can you repeat the question?”
Formal: “She’s out of office at the moment.”
Informal: “She’s not here.”
Formal: “In reference to your last email,”
Informal: “But you said,”
Formal: “Submit inquiries via the designated method.”
Informal: “Send in questions.”
In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, we see Atticus Finch as a lawyer, speaking formally in court with lines like:
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by a majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
We also see interactions between he and his children, like this one:
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat.”
This shows a different side to Atticus–he’s a serious lawyer, capable of holding his own and gaining respect in court, but in the first example, we also see Atticus simply being a father. The contrast in his diction fleshes him out as a character and makes him feel more real.
“Well, he sot up a bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would get fo’ dollars mo’ at de en’ er de year.”
Jim’s upbringing (within the context of the story) is crystal clear in every line of dialogue. While this can get annoying to read (and is, uh, of questionable taste with a modern lens), this is a classic example of using diction to show who a character is and where they come from.
Why Use Diction
Diction is a way writers can influence the mood, interpretation, atmosphere, and tone of their story.
Diction can establish setting. The writer’s use of language supports story elements like setting. It grants realism and believability if the story’s diction matches its geography, era, and voice of the characters.
It can also lend to character realism. Using diction and dialect appropriate for your character brings them to life and makes them feel authentic.
The formality or informality of a piece’s diction influences tone, possibly more than any other literary device can. You can express the same idea or tell the same story a thousand times over using different tones, and the reader takeaway will be unique with each different version.
How to Use Diction in Writing
So now we know what diction is, what it’s good for, and have seen several examples of it in practice. How do we apply this to our own writing?
Here are a few tips for using diction:
Pay attention to how your favorite writers use diction in their stories. How does it change the way you see the characters and setting? Does it deepen your understanding–if so, can you express why? How would changing the tonal diction change your perception of the story?
Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
If you enlist beta readers, include a question about diction. Ask how it made them interpret the tone to see if you’ve accomplished your intent.
Get to know your characters and consider how they’d speak to different people. Try switching their diction based on the situation for realistic dialogue.
Diction is a fundamental element of writing style. It affects the tone, realism, and believability in any genre of writing, so take care to understand it and use it well!
If you want your writing to grab your readers, to call them to the emotions you want them to feel, you might try utilizing the literary device I just used twice in his sentence: personification.
What is Personification
Personification is a literary device where a nonhuman object or idea is assigned human characteristics.
An example of personification is saying a hyena laughed. Hyenas don’t laugh–laughing is a human characteristic–but that description paints a clear picture of the sound a hyena makes.
Personification pretties up a sentence. It adds layers of vividness and human perspective. Bringing an object to life by comparing it to human behavior makes it easier for human readers to connect with the object and immerse deeper into your story. You could say personification helps your words to jump from the page. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Let’s look at some examples of personification, then talk about how you can use it in your own writing.
One of my favorite books, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, utilizes personification more often than any other book I’ve read. Most of the book is seen through the eyes of Anne, an imaginative orphan who loves to pretend everything is her friend–from trees, to rocks, to ghosts she believes live in the woods, to rivers, to the wind: everything is Anne’s friend, so everything is personified. Here’s a paragraph that personifies a brook:
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.
Montgomery describes the brook quietly sneaking past Mrs. Lynde’s house like it’s a person with thoughts and manners.
Here are some shorter examples of personification:
The wind whispered
The sky wept
The shadow of trees swallows me
The grass danced in the sun
The storm lashed out
The computer monitor blinked awake
Personification is pretty cool! You can see how it brings life to description by bringing life to the object being described. So how do we use personification in our own writing?
How to Write with Personification
Read personification! When you’re reading, pay attention to personification and how other writers are using it. What do you like? What don’t you like? Do some methods seem more effective than others? Just like with any literary device or type of writing, the more examples you consume, the more you can pull from to develop your own style and voice.
Pay attention to connotation and mood. Your personification should help your reader to better understand what you’re trying to convey. For example, if you’re describing the sun and you want your reader to feel positively toward it, you might write something like:
“The sun weaved its fingers through her auburn curls.”
If you describe the sun and want your reader to feel negatively, you might write something like:
“The sun scraped its claws against her scalp.”
Both examples are how the sun feels on a character’s head, but the second is significantly more hostile. We might assume the character hates being outside, or maybe it’s just a particularly hot day. Don’t personify for the sake of personification–utilize it to help your reader connect to the story in the way you want them to.
As with any writing device, use it appropriately. Don’t slather personification onto every object you describe–use it where it is most effective, or it might become overbearing.
Personification is one of my all-time favorite forms of figurative language. It allows your reader to empathize with the setting of your story, which gives them a closer tie with your characters. Try it out!
“Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was the same as putting a red flag to a bu–the same as putting something very annoying in front of someone who was annoyed by it.” — Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a literary device that directly refers to or describes a thing by comparing it to something it is not, showing a comparison between the two items to give the reader a deeper understanding.
A metaphor states that something is another thing, when it isn’t literally the other thing. It doesn’t mean they’re actually the same–it’s just drawing the comparison.
Metaphor is one of the most common literary devices, and for good reason! It adds layers of understanding and poetry to your prose and helps readers connect with your story in a more relatable way.
Like Pat Benatar said, love is a battlefield. Is love literally a battlefield? No. Figuratively? Sure!
There are many different types of metaphors. Let’s look at a few.
Types of metaphors:
Primary – a primary metaphor is the most basic type. It directly and simply compares one thing with another. Example: War is hell.
Complex – a complex metaphor is a combination of primary metaphors. Example: “The mist of a dream had passed across them.” — A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Implied – an implied metaphor compares two things without mentioning one of them. Example: Gloria flew down the hall. Gloria is being compared to a bird without a bird being mentioned. (Suspend your disbelief and accept that Gloria is not, in fact, a bird.)
Extended/Sustained – an extended or sustained metaphor is a metaphor that stretches through multiple sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes they can show up numerous times in a work of writing. A classic example is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, Who is already sick and pale with grief. That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
Absolute – an absolute metaphor pairs two things that have nothing to do with each other to create a striking and distinct comparison. Example: Love is a battlefield.
Mixed – a mixed metaphor is when you cross two or more metaphors to make an outrageous or silly comparison. They’re usually funny. Example: We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
Dead – a dead metaphor is essentially a cliche. It has been overused, and it’s tired and boring. Using dead metaphors in creative writing isn’t advised. Example: Dead as a doornail.
Metaphors in writing
Metaphors are used in novels, nonfiction, songs, poetry, and everything else. Here are some examples from writers you’re likely familiar with.
“The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” — Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“But a bird that stalks / down his narrow cage / can seldom see through / his bars of rage / his wings are clipped and / his feet are tied / so he opens his throat to sing.” — Caged Bird, Maya Angelou
“Time is the moving image of eternity.” — Plato
“Life’s a climb, but the view is great.” — Hannah Montana
“The parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl
“Sit down, Montag. Watch. Delicately, like the petals of a flower. Light the first page, light the second page. Each becomes a black butterfly.” — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” — The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
“My breath bleeds. My heartbeat drowns my ears.” — I Am the Messenger, Markus Zusak
Simile versus metaphor
There’s a lot of confusion around similes and metaphors. Which is which? Are they the same thing? What’s the difference?
A simile is a metaphor that uses an extra word–like, as, or an equivalent word.
So a simile is a metaphor, but a metaphor is not necessarily a simile.
“Ogres are like onions.” is a simile and a metaphor because it uses the word like.
“Ogres are onions.” is not a simile, but it is still a metaphor.
How to use metaphors
When using metaphors in your own writing, you want to be original. Most metaphors that sound familiar to you are cliches. Writing a cliche that you haven’t re-worked in some way is trite and makes your writing look amateur.
However, an original metaphor can bring sharp contrast, color, and excitement to your prose. Here are some tips for using metaphors effectively:
Be original. As I said above, if you’re using a metaphor that’s been done before, make sure you’re bringing something new to it.
Be careful of overdoing it. An unpracticed writer might try to use metaphor and it comes out unintentionally unnatural or forced. Take your time working them into the rest of your prose so it flows well.
Use clear metaphors. If your metaphor makes your point harder to understand, it isn’t doing its job. A metaphor should connect the reader with the message of your writing–it should make a concept clearer and more enjoyable to read. If your metaphor doesn’t accomplish those two things, it needs another look.
Practice using metaphor in your writing by being intentional and original to give your prose an artistic edge and help your reader understand your message through contrast and comparison.
No matter where you are in your writing journey or career, there is always room to grow!
But how do we grow intentionally and in the right ways?
Today we’re going to talk about the fundamental ways that writers improve, and we’re going to try out some fun writing exercises to build your skill level and refine your writing style!
How to get better at writing
There are a few fundamental ways to get better at writing.
Reading. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but if you aren’t a good reader, you aren’t a good writer. Reading is the most beneficial thing you can do for your writing style outside of actually writing. Read tons of content in your genre, but make sure you aren’t pigeonholing yourself to it. Keep your style eclectic and interesting by reading a wide range of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. When I have a student struggling with writing enticing language, I tell them to practice with poetry. If they struggle with narrative voice, I recommend reading autobiographies. The more you read–and the more varied the content you’re reading–the stronger your writing will become.
Critiquing. Reading other people’s writing with a critical eye helps you realize the issues in your own writing. Even if you don’t have a critique partner or group, you can read pieces by other author’s through a critical lens. What would you have done differently? What are the strengths and weaknesses you can find? Maybe even edit another person’s story for your own edification!
Writing. And, of course, the best way to get better at writing is by writing yourself. Anything you write will make you better at it! If you’re a young writer, write whatever makes you happiest–fanfiction, movie reviews, short stories, rambly fantasy novels–if you’re learning the craft, you should write what you enjoy the most. Even professional writers should make time for writing things that they truly love to write just for the sake of writing. Besides writing what you enjoy, you can try some creative writing exercises to intentionally better your skills and style.
Creative writing exercises are great to loosen up the writing muscles, as a warm-up, to practice specific writing skills, or just as a fun activity when your writing project has you feeling stale.
Here are thirteen exercises you can try to sharpen your writer reflexes!
13 Creative Writing Exercises
Write a scene or short story using no adverbs or adjectives.
This exercise trains you to focus on stronger verbs and nouns. I give this exercise to newer writers because they often default to unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as a crutch instead of refining their word choice in core parts of speech. NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs and adjectives effectively! But before you get a hold of your writer’s voice and personal style, they can weaken your writing.
Choose a random object from the room you’re in and write an image-only poem about it.
This exercise will let you practice using imagery and specific description without relying on telling. NOTE: Try using senses other than sight! What does the object feel like? Smell like? Maybe even taste like?
Take a story you’ve already written and write it from the point of view of a different character. Writing the same story from a different point of view can give you an understanding of character motivation and perspective. A story can completely change based on who’s telling it!
Take one of your favorite short stories, either one you’ve written or one you’ve read, and write it in a different genre. For example, take a romance and write it as horror.
This is a super fun exercise, and it lets you practice using tone and perspective! The tone of a story can change the meaning.
Speed-write a story using a writing prompt. Speed-writing helps to release judgment you might put on your stories, allowing for a more natural process. I like to speed-write when I’m stuck on a short story or a particular scene.
REMEMBER: You can always edit and delete anything you write! Don’t be afraid to write with your gut without judging it.
A few writing prompts:
Pull a book from your shelf, open to a random page, pick a random sentence, and use that sentence as the first line of a short story.
Write a story based on the last dream you can remember having.
Write in public (a coffee shop, a library), and eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation. Snatch a line you hear and write a story around it.
Take a memory of something that confused you in your childhood–write an explanation for it.
Listen to a song, imagine a music video, and write the story of the music video.
Write a stream of consciousness. A stream of consciousness is a direct transcript of every thought you have. It’s a bit like speed-writing in that you just dump thoughts onto paper without judging them. Giving yourself the freedom to write without second-guessing it helps to unkink writing blocks.
“Write your dialogue like it’s a script.” – Gloria Russell, critique professional. This is more of a writing strategy, but a lot of successful writers, like Jenna Moreci, suggest outlining your dialogue-heavy scenes that way before you flesh it out fully. Oftentimes, we’ll get so caught up writing descriptions, dialogue tags, and body language cues that it distracts from the important conversation we’re writing. If you can focus on the dialogue itself on the first go, it’s easier to get a natural back-and-forth exchange, then you can write the rest of the scene around it.
Free-write for ten minutes before you begin your writing day. Before athletes train, they warm up. Writing is the same! Loosen and stretch your writer muscles with a ten minute free-write session. It can be a daily journal, a writing exercise, a stream of consciousness, or anything you’d enjoy!
“I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward.” – Micah Klassen, Those Three Words Writing a story out of order is another way to get a fresh perspective. This exercise can also give you insight on things like story structure, progression, climaxes, conclusions, and countless other story elements. It’s a way to dissect a story and see how they’re built.
Edit someone else’s writing. Thinking critically about another writer’s work helps you think critically of your own. It is good practice for problem-solving, critical observation, and revision. You might even glean some inspiration!
Revise the oldest story of yours you can find! Maybe it’s from college, maybe high school, maybe it’s a story you wrote when you were seven–rewrite it with your current skill and life outlook
This is a helpful, fun exercise. It’s good practice, it’s inspiring to see how far you’ve come as a writer, and you might end up salvaging something into a quality story!
Practice a skill with a short story. Choose a specific writing skill you’re struggling with, or just want more practice in, and write a short story focusing on that skill. Can’t nail your dialogue? Write a dialogue-heavy short story and edit it until you’re happy with it. Bad at showing instead of telling? Write a scenic short story and focus on writing with compelling imagery and specific details. Nailing a skill with a short story is quicker and easier than struggling with the same problem throughout longer projects.
Write your MC in a different world/setting. What would your contemporary character do if flung into a science fiction scenario? What would their profession be in a different era of time? What if their socioeconomic status was completely reversed? This is a good exercise for understanding your character at a more complex level. If you’re struggling to connect with your MC, definitely try out this exercise.
Anytime you feel stuck on a story, it’s great to do a little free-write session changing something up, like in exercises 3, 4, and 11. Sometimes you just need a perspective switch to knock the story loose.
The best way to sharpen specific writing skills is to identify the weakness and write short stories, really digging into that skill. I find it’s helpful to share those stories with other writers so they can give you feedback and let you know if you’re getting better with it.
I hope you found these exercises helpful! Feel free to share anything you’ve written from them in a comment below.
There are tons of literary devices and stylistic tricks to use in prose to spice it up. Many involve sound, like alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. Although commonly used in poetry, these devices can be applied to any form of creative writing.
Today we’re talking about alliteration:
What is alliteration?
What is assonance?
Examples of alliteration
How to use alliteration in your writing
What is alliteration?
Alliteration is a literary device where you use a series of words that all have the same beginning consonant sound. The words can be directly next to each other, or just in close enough proximity to be noticeable. As a device used for sound, it is most often utilized in poetry.
NOTE: alliteration and assonance (which I’ll get into later) don’t necessarily have to use sounds at the very beginning of words. Just like “rhyme” usually refers specifically to end rhymes but can use internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance definitionally refers to the beginning of words but can occur in the middle of words as well.
Not every word in an alliterative phrase must be alliterated, but there needs to be at least two words in close enough proximity to create the dynamic sound for it to be considered alliteration.
There are a couple of things that aren’t “perfect” alliteration–let’s call them alliteration adjacent:
Alliteration of mismatched consonants–You might have alliteration through sound and not actual consonant. This is often the case.
For example, here’s a line from Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven:
Closed my lids, and kept them close,
The consonants don’t match, but the sounds do, giving it the same audial effect of perfect alliteration.
Opposite the alliteration of mismatched consonants, you have something similar to a sight rhyme. A sight rhyme is where words look like they should rhyme, but their pronunciation does not rhyme.
Sight rhyme alliteration–Alliteration could be used as a sort of sight rhyme, where it isn’t actually alliterated in sound, but the words begin with the same letter.
Here’s an example from one of my own poems, Reredos:
Your skin drapes
like an altar cloth
across words swallowed
before they’re whispered.
Each iteration of the letter “a” has a different pronunciation, but it has the same effect of a sight rhyme, where it looks similar. This is technically not alliteration, but it is another tool you can use to craft unique prose.
Also, since it uses vowels instead of consonants, the above example is technically assonance.
What is assonance?
Similar to alliteration, assonance is the repetition of a sound, but it is the repetition of a vowel sound instead of a consonant. Using assonance will give a phrase more of a sing-songy, uplifting tune, while alliteration is more staccato and can be used for harder emphasis.
TIP: You can use assonance and alliteration intentionally by matching them to the tone of the piece. Are you telling a very harsh story? Alliteration might give you the extra hard beat for emphasis. Assonance might suit a story from the perspective of an innocent person, to romanticize an event, or in a soft description.
Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night uses assonance and alliteration in tandem:
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
blinding sight/Blind eyes…like…light
See…meteors and be
Sight rhyme: near death
Examples of Alliteration
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of alliteration is the tongue-twister I had to learn when I was a kid taking speech lessons: “She sells seashells by the sea-shore.” The alliteration in that example is the repetition of the “S” and “SH” sounds.
But alliteration usually isn’t used in creative writing for things as campy as tongue-twisters. It’s used to enhance language, rhythm, and sound in prose and poetry. Alliteration can also be used to emphasize words, phrases, and ideas.
Alliteration is most often seen in cliches, titles, and poetry.
Alliteration in cliches
Cliches are often sing-songy, fun, silly phrases, so you’ll see alliteration and assonance pop up in common sayings, like:
Dead as a doornail
Busy as a bee
Right as rain
Method to my madness
Alliteration in cliches makes them more fun and catchier, which is what a cliche is meant to be.
Alliteration in titles
Using alliteration in titles makes them stand out, makes them more memorable (peep that alliteration), and makes them sound a bit cooler, like:
Mirrors, Messages, Manifestations
Titles are a book’s greatest marketing tool, and alliteration is one more way to make a title stand out.
Alliteration in poetry
Alliteration in poetry lends itself to rhythm and musicality. It’s a unique tool to use for sound, so you’ll see it often in poems.
Here’s another example from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. You’ll find assonance and alliteration in many of Poe’s works, even his short stories: Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore–
Quaint and curious is another example of using alliteration with mismatched consonants.
This is an example from Abigail Giroir’s Summer Offering:
Body bent, devoured, watermelon rind grass and pregnant trees, picked clean.
As you can see in Giroir’s excerpt, alliteration can be two directly connected words, or as far apart as an entirely different line. As long as the words are close enough together that they’re still “ringing” in your reader’s head, it’s alliteration.
BUT, like in this line from Krystal Dean’sMy Roman Stomach-Heart, the more words used and the closer they are to each other, the more noticeable the effect of alliteration: My toga twists as I turn her.
How to use Alliteration in your writing
Alliteration is great to use in shorter pieces of writing, like poetry or flash fiction, where sound and language have an emphatic importance. In something longer, like a full novel, it might seem accidental or out-of-place.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to write with alliteration:
Don’t overdo it! If you read it back and it sound sing-songy or campy (and that isn’t your intent), you probably need to scale it back. Just like with anything, you can have too much of it. If you tip over more than four alliterated words in a row, it might be a little much. BUT it could be fun to have the same consonant repeated in alliterated phrases, spread throughout a piece.
While pelts pattering might sound graceful in a poem,
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers/a peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked/if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
sounds considerably less graceful, doesn’t it?
Consider tone. Like I said earlier, assonance and alliteration give two different vibes. Different consonant sounds can convey different emotions.
For example, the sound of the letter “B” takes considerable effort relative to other consonants. It gives you a feeling of dragging, of heaviness. Take a look at this line from Paradise Lost by John Milton:
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved.
You can see how alliteration used there drags, like the feet of a giant. It’s an appropriate sound for the subject matter.
Opposite, the “S” and “SH” sounds are smooth, like a slithering snake. In this example from Birches by Robert Frost, those sound repetitions are used to describe nature:
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells.
Do you see how those sounds flow into each other? It’s reminiscent of nature, like sunshine pouring and rivers flowing.
The sounds you choose to use can reflect the tone of the subject matter.
Try finishing your piece before you add alliteration. Like a rhyme scheme, devoting a piece of writing to alliteration before you write it will narrow your word choice and restrict creativity. Try fully drafting your piece, then editing in some alliteration where it might fit in more naturally. It’s usually easier to edit writing to be what you’d like it to be than it is to write it that way in the first go.
Experiment! If you’ve never used alliteration before, try it out however you’d like to. Toss out all the rules I’ve laid out so far and go wild with different styles. You can learn to use alliteration more intentionally later, but experimentation is one of the best parts of writing.
Here are a few prompts to get you going:
Write your own tongue-twister
Take a poem you’ve already finished and add a few phrases of alliteration
Take words from this prompter and use them to write a poem
Write an alliterative poem using the first letter of your name
Use one of these prompts and leave the results in a comment!
Alliteration is a fun stylistic tool to practice, tweak, and keep in your writer’s toolbox.
We’ve all heard the terms “trope” and “cliche” before, likely in negative contexts. Did you know tropes and cliches aren’t all bad, and you can apply them in your own writing effectively?
Today we’re going to talk about what a trope and cliche are, look at some examples of each, and learn if, when, and how you should be using them in your writing!
What is a trope?
Examples of tropes in fiction
How to use tropes
What is a cliche?
Examples of cliche phrases
How to repurpose a cliche in your writing
What is a trope?
A trope typically refers to an overused situation or plot in fiction. Using tropes in your writing isn’t necessarily wrong, but you should be careful to write with tropes in a way that isn’t trite or done-to-death. That doesn’t mean you can’t use tropes–in fact, it might be impossible to write a story without any tropes. There are countless tropes present in every story you’ll read–some are done well, some not so much.
Examples of tropes in fiction
There are so many tropes, you’d never be able to list them all. Any work of fiction you can think of has more than one trope.
To illustrate, I’m going to pick random works from my bookshelf and list the first tropes that come to mind.
Pride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen is one of my favorite books. You’ll find many classic romance tropes in Austen’s work–she invented plenty of them! Some tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:
A mother character obsessed with her daughters getting married
Characters having feelings they try to ignore
A rich, snobby male love interest
A female love interest from a more modest lifestyle
The charming villain (Wickham)
The bratty teen daughter (Lydia)
Opposites attract friendship (Darcy and Bingley)
Rich bitch (the Bingley sisters)
As you can see, tropes include characters, dynamics between them, motivations, plots, premises, among others.
I Am the Messengerby Markus Zusak is another of my favorite books (and the one I always reference to teach effective prose!). Some tropes in this book include:
The anti-hero (Ed)
The good bad girl (Audrey)
Rape as drama–Ed has to help the woman whose husband regularly assaults her–this is a great example of an incredibly common trope that has run its course and does more harm than benefit. Time to think up something new, writers.
Will they, won’t they dynamic (Audrey and Ed’s weird romance)
Breaking the fourth wall–When a character or narrator addresses the audience/reader.
“Breaking the fourth wall” is a good example of how even some stylistic choices are tropes.
Let’s look at some examples from film and television.
My favorite scifi/dystopian show right now is The 100. (Must admit I have not read the book series.) Let’s look at the tropes present in the television series:
Bury your gays–This is a notorious trope where an LGBT+ character (often the only one or one of very few) is killed for little to no narrative reason OR in the same way the “rape as drama” trope is used–as a harmful and arguably lazy plot device.
Attractive teenagers in dystopian survival scenarios–The 100 does get better in this respect, even by the end of the first season, by representing what people in these situations might actually look like. The poor kids are never clean again.
Mercy kill–this happens numerous times throughout the series.
Gray morality–a repeated theme in The 100 is how there are no good guys. The protagonists must make hard, unfair, often cruel decisions in order to save themselves and their friends. Everyone is looking out for themselves, and no one is better than anyone else.
Body-count competition–the Grounders keep scars/tattoos on their bodies for how many people they’ve killed.
Machine worship–Jaha and his followers seeing the AI as a deity falls into the machine worship trope. This is a common trope in dystopian fiction, specifically.
Population control–originally shown on the Ark when resources are limited in space, but it also recurs a few times later in the series as a parallel.
Raising a host–Nightbloods raised and collected for the Commander legacy, then in a later season by the Primes as hosts.
Jerk character has a point–this is when the character everyone hates or loves to hate makes the most logical argument (so almost any idea John Murphy has).
For a movie most of us have seen, let’s look at tropes in Mean Girls:
Rich bitch bully
This movie pretty much has a bitch for every bitch trope
Montage of characters introducing another character
Cool losers (Janis and Damian)
Bait-and-Switch–when the edit makes it look like Regina is adding Cady to the Burn Book, but she’s really adding herself
Dumb blonde (Karen)
Character eating lunch alone–bonus points because Cady eats her lunch alone in a bathroom stall.
Girls using Halloween as a cover to dress skimpy
Frenemies dynamic–nearly every friendship at some point in the movie
Most of the obvious Mean Girls tropes are character and character dynamic tropes, because that’s what the movie is about–different personalities blending and clashing.
How to use tropes
As you can see, tropes aren’t necessarily bad things. They’re just common and recognizable story elements.
Tropes should be used intentionally, because your reader will have preconceived ideas about most tropes. Think of a fantasy story with an ogre. Ogres are a creature trope. Every reader will have a different idea of an ogre when they see it presented in a story. Maybe they have an unfounded negative feeling, just because they’re predisposed to an opinion based on the stories they’ve read with villainous ogres. Maybe they have an unfounded positive feeling, just because they’ve seen Shrek.
Consider a writer who is unaware of the “bury your gays” trope because they don’t consume media where it has been portrayed. They might include an LGBT+ character who happens to be killed off, and they might consider that fair representation of a minority group because they simply aren’t aware that it’s a harmful trope that has been thoroughly repeated in all forms of media. Being aware of the tropes you use is imperative, because most readers are aware of them.
You can be aware of tropes by:
Consuming multiple forms of media in your genre
One-on-one conversations with minority groups included in your story that you yourself are not a part of
Hiring a sensitivity reader of that minority
In our writing, we should avoid tropes that promote harmful stereotypes or regressive perspectives on marginalized groups. Tropes are something to be aware of, but we can embrace using them intentionally!
What’s a cliché?
A cliche is a phrase that is overused or stereotypical. Sometimes a trope that has been overdone, is severely dated, or was trash to begin with is referred to as a cliche or a “cliched trope.”
While “trope” is not something to be immediately associated with negative connotations, “cliche” is something to avoid or “fix”.
Cliches are indicative of amateur or lazy writing, but there are ways to write them well! I’ll get into how you can effectively write with cliches in a bit. First, let’s look at an example list of cliche phrases.
Examples of cliche phrases
Head over heels
Only time will tell
The calm before the storm
Kiss and makeup
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed
Avoid like the plague
I stopped dead in my tracks
Stealing candy from a baby
Right up your alley
Play your cards right
All bets are off
All in due time
Batten down the hatches
Read between the lines
Been there, done that
Put out feelers
Rain on my parade
Stabbed him in the back
Fire in my blood
Blood ran cold
Digging yourself into a hole
Get your toes wet
Not the brightest bulb in the box
Pot calling the kettle black
On thin ice
You get it.
How to use clichés
Amateur writers often default to cliches because they’re easy to write with! Cliches have been around for a while, they’ve gathered connotations, most people know what they mean–it’s like a writing shortcut: a set of words that already carry all of the meaning you want to use. However, using cliches as a shortcut just makes you look like a lazy writer. You don’t want to write something that’s already been written.
Good news! You can use cliches and still write strong prose by reinventing or repurposing the cliche.
“…before going with the cliché, give some thought to the possibility of “turning” it, altering it slightly to render the phrasing less familiar. In a celebrated novel we edited, the writer used the phrase “they vanished into thin air” to avoid a lengthy, complicated explanation. We suggested a change to “they vanished into thick air,” which fit the poetic, steamy atmosphere of the European city in which the scene was set.”
If you have a cliche you’d love to use, even swapping one word–like “thick” for “thin”–might be enough to bring new life to it.
You might add to a cliche, like Taylor Swift in the song Endgame: she takes the cliche “bury the hatchet” and turns it to “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps to where I put ‘em.” She achieves the immediate cultural understanding of what it means to bury the hatchet (forgiveness, putting away old disputes) and adds a layer of keeping maps to where they are, so she can retrieve that dispute whenever she wants to.
Another example of adding to the end of a cliche is a line Harlan Ellison wrote, where he took the cliche “she looked like a million bucks” and turned it to, “she looked like a million bucks tax free.” Just a tiny glimpse of a new aspect can make a cliche impactful.
From one of my own stories, I have the line: “A child was raised on stories of crows–dark creatures with black intentions.” While not direct cliches, a black crow and a dark intent are expected. Swapping language like that is referred to as “diverting expectations”, and it is much the same concept as repurposing a cliche.
TIP: if you know a reader will easily guess how your sentence will end, you might be using tired language.
Grab some cliches from the list above and try your hand at repurposing them in a comment!
Another way you can get away with using a cliche is in dialogue. People speak in cliches, so if you have a dorky character who uses cliches, that’s fine! Anything goes in dialogue–in prose, you’re on thin ice.
We know that cliches aren’t all bad–how do we know if we’re using them well?
Repurposing cliches, as we just saw, can you give you an original piece of writing. But a good way to think about if you’re using a cliche for the right reasons it is to ask yourself if you’re using it for clarity of meaning, since cliches are widely known and understood, or if you’re using them for a shortcut. Easy writing is most often lazy writing.
The skinny of it is: avoid cliches unless you can use them in an intentional and creative way.
Now we know the good and bad of tropes and cliches, how to spot them, and how to use them!
There are many genres a story can fall under. One of the most common is contemporary fiction. A contemporary story happens in present-day, under usually realistic circumstances.
However, there are subcategories of contemporary. For example, a contemporary fantasy could be a story set in present-day, and things are pretty realistic, BUT maybe ghosts are real.
Contemporary is one of my favorite genres to write, but writing is hard! Sometimes you need a little push to get started. Here are some prompts to nudge you into momentum. You might try a writing sprint, where you set a timer and must keep writing for the duration of that time span. Don’t judge any of it until the time is up!
Here are 53 of contemporary writing prompts, broken into categories:
Even though this list is categorized, feel free to use the prompts for different genres! Using one from the romance list and writing it as horror will give you a wildly different result, so if you really like one of the prompts, try to write a few different stories with it!
A character has lied their entire life. One lie finally catches up to them.
A group of private school girls are bored and antsy–so they start a fight club.
A character tries and fails to parallel park, while a stranger watches.
A character is playing Cat’s Cradle with a rosary.
A single elderly man has ceramic forest creatures, frilly pink towels, and lacey pillows all around his house because he could never bring himself to redecorate after his wife passed away.
A character comes home, annoyed and exhausted after a long day. They go to hang their keys on the hook, and the hook falls off the wall. The character look at the hook for a moment before tossing the keys onto the floor next to it and walking away.
An old man smokes cigarettes until they burn the tips of his blackened fingers.
A foster child commits crimes to help her new family while they try to teach her not to do that.
A group of friends play a prank on their long-time bully, but it goes wrong and ends in tragedy.
A girl grows up in a cult. She escapes and survives in the forest until someone finds her, and she is adopted. She learns to adapt to mainstream culture.
A character obsessed with serial killers tries to recreate one of their murders but is really bad at it.
A landscaper finds something alarming buried in a new client’s yard.
A character is tripping on drugs at a carnival. They walk into one of the craft tents and are enthralled with the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling.
A character traps a vermin under a cup and leaves it there because they’re afraid of it. They feel bad and start feeding it, still too scared to get rid of it. The vermin becomes a kind of pet.
A group of friends play truth-or-dare. Why is one of them lying?
An immortal being is trapped in one town with advanced degrees from online studying.
Someone undergoes an operation that replaces part of their brain–they have memories of the previous person’s life and decide to accomplish something the brain donor had set out to do.
A student’s science experiment piques the interest of a secret agency.
Strange happenings in a ski lodge prompt a new employee to investigate.
A spelunker explores a new cave and finds a strange creature.
A girl wakes up with no memory of the night before, but she feels…off…and she has a bite mark on her arm.
A character feeds birds in their backyard as a way to destress. Until one of the birds starts talking, and the situation becomes significantly more stressful.
A boy buys a book from a used book store, but when he brings it home, he realizes it’s not a normal book.
A girl is sorting through her dead grandmother’s attic before an estate sale, and she finds an old photo album with confusing implications.
A character moves into a new house and hears a voice coming from a heating vent. The character establishes a rapport with the voice, even though they have no idea what it is.
A character thinks they’ve having deja vu, until they eventually start guessing what will happen next with growing accuracy.
An eccentric man has been digging a hole in his backyard for years–a constant pile of dirt for sale at the end of his driveway. When he disappears, a real estate agent arrives to evaluate the house for sale. When she looks into the hole, she discovers a staircase that leads into an underground world.
Experiments have escaped from a research facility, and a massive search effort disrupts everyone’s daily lives. A character makes a new friend, and they deal with this new world together. Something about the friend is…strange.
A character has hyper-realistic dreams about a fantasy place. The line between it and reality starts to blur–maybe being awake is the dream.
A character has a crush on their coworker and goes to extreme lengths to get their attention.
A character and their significant other are invited to their boss’ house for dinner. The significant other accidentally knocks over an urn of ashes when the boss is out of the room.
A character is driving when they see their crush is driving the car in front of them. They rear-end them to have an excuse to interact.
A soft-palmed office worker inherits their dead grandparent’s country property. They quit their job, move to a tiny town, and learn to work a farm.
A character hates their extended family but feels pressured to attend the week-long family reunion. They hit it off with their cousin’s girlfriend, realizing they have feelings for her a few days in. Good news is, she’s being paid to fake-date their cousin!
A seasonal lodge employee gets in a verbal dispute with someone in town during her day off. Back at work, she realizes it was one of the lodge’s wealthiest patrons. The patron sets out to make her miserable, while the patron’s son has a crush her.
A woman thinks she has a stalker. The stalker eventually speaks to her and says they were lovers in a past life.
A character discovers her cat has another owner. They fight over ownership of the cat, but realize…maybe it brought them together on purpose. (Probably not. It’s a cat. But let’s let them pretend.)
A character receives a box of letters as inheritance from an estranged family member. They research the contents and follow the letters through places their relative had lived, meeting new friends along the way.
A movie theater worker finds a dusty back room with old reels of film. They watch one and immediately regret it.
A fake psychic gets so into her con that she convinces herself and goes insane, thinking the spirits are angry with her for pretending…or is she right?
Nighttime fog, illuminated by an orange street lamp, drops low around a swing hanging from an oak tree. The swing creaks in the wind.
A character walks their dog on a stormy night. A shed in someone’s backyard is lit, quiet radio chatter coming from inside.
A character enters their kitchen and sees something on the floor. They stoop closer and find a tiny white worm wiggling into the floorboards.
An intern for a fashion designer discovers a secret code in a piece of clothing.
A character is in the wedding party for a destination wedding–they arrive early to help with arrangements to find that one of the soon-to-bes has gone missing.
Rain pelts on a flat bayou. The sun is shining through the storm, and a white crane flies parallel against the water.
A character takes a new job as a tutor of a rich only-child in a huge, ancient mansion. The parents are aloof and estranged. Something is going on.
A character is walking on the beach and finds an exotic snake that is obviously someone’s pet. They take it home and make a found pet ad. When they find the owner, they wish they hadn’t.
A character visits their aging parent. Something is different about them…
A group of gameshow contestants are stranded to survive two weeks on an island. By day two, someone has been murdered. The remaining contestants are alone with their cameras and a killer.
An adopted child learns that he has twelve other siblings. He leaves on a quest to find them all.
A character visits their father’s grave and finds a disturbing message written on his tombstone.
A girl moves to New Orleans and receives a strange invitation.
I hope you enjoyed those and get a ton of new stories out of them! Here’s a list of even more writing prompts.
Conversations are an important part of storytelling and are used to reveal a wealth of information: from a bonding moment, to a backstory, to a plot twist, and everything in-between. It’s the writer’s job to ensure that the dialogue used within a conversation not only fits the character speaking, but that it flows in a realistic fashion.
In fiction writing it is vitally important that the speaker within a conversation is easily identified. This is where dialogue tags come into play
What are dialogue tags?
Dialogue tags are markers, little sentence clauses that follow the spoken words and act like a signpost for the reader. Their function is to attribute written dialogue to a particular character. These small phrases indicate speech, telling the reader exactly who is speaking.
“Did you hear that?” Emma asked.
The phrase ‘Emma asked’ is the dialogue tag in the sentence.
The main use of dialogue tags is to keep characters straight for the reader. Writers can also use them for: mimicking the natural rhythms in speech, breaking up long pieces of dialogue and making them more digestible, maintaining, elevating or break tension.
Tags can, and for the most part, should be basic and simple. The words ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are the most obvious and the most used tags. However, dialogue tags can, of course, go beyond ‘said’ and ‘asked’ – we will get to that in a later.
First, let’s discuss how to properly utilize dialogue tags in a written conversation.
How to use Dialogue Tags
Dialogue sentences are made of two parts: the dialogue, which is the spoken portion of the sentence, and then the dialogue tag, which identifies the speaker. The dialogue tag is the telling part of the sentence, while the actual dialogue used is the showing.
Dialogue tags can be found in three places: either before the dialogue, in-between the actual dialogue, or after the dialogue.
The rules for punctuating dialogue and associated tags are quite precise. Commas go in particular places, as do terminal marks such as periods, exclamation points, and question marks. In this article we shall be following the rules for standard American English. (UK English uses a different set of punctuation rules.)
Tag Before the Dialogue
Adding a dialogue tag in the beginning means that the character who is speaking is introduced before the actual quote.
Rising slowly from her chair, Emma asked, “Are we sure about this plan?”
Placing her hands on her hips, Emma said, “I doubt you know more than I do!”
Use a comma after the dialogue tag.
If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter.
End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation and keep punctuation within the quotation marks.
Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue
Dialogue can be interrupted by a tag and then resume in the same sentence. The tag can also be used to separate two sentences. In both cases, this signifies a pause your character takes.
“I thought you cared,” Emma said, “how could you let her leave?”
“I thought you cared.” Emma said, hoping to provoke him. “How could you let her leave?”
When it is one continuous sentence, a comma is used before the dialogue tag and goes inside quotation marks.
A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce the dialogue.
Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation keeping it inside the quotation marks.
When it is two sentences, the first sentence will end with a period and the second begins with a capital letter.
Tag After the Dialogue
Most often you will likely place your dialogue tag after the quote. Therefore, making the quote the focal point of the sentence.
“Are you done?” Emma asked.
“Are you done?” asked Emma.
Punctuation goes inside quotation marks.
Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation.
All the examples given up until this point have focused on using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ as part of the dialogue tags. These are the most common tags, and simply let the reader know who is talking. They serve the purpose without distracting from what is being said.
Often times both ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are overlooked by readers, becoming invisible as they act out the conversations in their heads.
As long as ‘said’ and ‘asked’ are not overused, (repeated in every paragraph of dialogue) they will definitely fade into the background. However, if they are used in every sentence during a section of dialogue, then they will most definitely cease to be invisible.
As a writer, you never want your dialogue tags to stand out and distract, confuse, or slow the read.
Avoid Unnecessary Tags
The purpose of dialogue tags is to identify the speaker, not to draw attention to the writer’s broad vocabulary or their limitless ability to consult with a thesaurus.
Two common mistakes found in the use of dialogue tags are:
Adverbial dialogue tags
Adverbial Dialogue Tags.
An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb used. They are those ‘–ly’ adverbs used to convey emotion and tone. The problem with these types of tags is they are all tell. Readers are being told how a character feels, as opposed to the words themselves showing what is happening.
“This is not your concern,” Emma said angrily.
The adverb ‘angrily’ adds nothing to this sentence. What it does instead is distract from it. A writer should want to evoke the emotion, and using adverbial dialogue tags take that away.
An example fix for the above sentence could be as follows:
“This is not your concern!” Emma said.
By using the exclamation mark you are showing the readers Emma’s emotions. There is no need for extra embellishment. When you tell the reader how a character says something, you remove the power from their spoken words. Try and refrain from using adverbial tags, instead show the reader character emotions though punctuation, dialogue, or action.
More on using action with dialogue tags later.
First, let’s discuss the second faux-pas when it comes to dialogue tags: synonyms
Synonyms as Dialogue Tags
I like to call these types of tags, saidisims. A saidism is a synonym used to replace the word ‘said’ in a dialogue tag. The key to realistic dialogue is keeping it simple. Using distractive synonyms such as ‘exclaimed’ and ‘uttered’ draw attention to the mechanics of the conversation you are writing.
“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.
“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.
“Stop.” Emma said.
“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:
Is the dialogue itself able to convey the expression without the use of the tag?
Can punctuation be used in place of the tag?
The more you write and find your own writer’s voice/style, the less you will not need to pause and question your use of dialogue tags. However, until then it’s vital to take a moment and make sure you’re getting them right.
What happens when a writer has a lot of conversational ground to cover and does not want to overwhelm the reader with repetitive dialogue tags? In that instance should the tags be avoided?
Let’s examine this in detail.
Should you avoid dialogue tags?
Dialogue tags should not be completely avoided, but their use can be reduced so as not to wear about the reader. Make sure that readers always know which character is speaking, but keep in mind that dialogue tags aren’t the only means to identify the speaker.
A safe alternative is the use of action beats along with your dialogue tags.
What are Action Beats?
An action beat is the description of an action a character makes while talking. It serves to let the reader know not only who is talking, but also show the character in motion. An action on the same line as speech indicates that particular person was speaking.
[Dialogue tag] “Leve,” Emma said, “right now!”
[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.
“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.
Whether they’re heated arguments, hand-to-hand combat scenes, or massive battles, fight scenes show up in most genres, and they’re really hard to nail!
Let’s talk about what makes a good fight scene, look at examples, and then discuss some tips for writing your own.
What makes a good fight scene?
Your fight scene shouldn’t just be there for the sake of being there. It should intertwine with your plot and characters, just like any other scene. How does it up the stakes? Why are those characters involved? What are their goals?
BUT it should still be exciting! Just because your fight scene is relevant, doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be boring. Fight scenes are one type that should always be to get your audience hyped up or entertained. They can be dramatic or upsetting, but never boring.
Subtext and depth
As with all scenes, there should be something deeper than what is happening on the page. What is going unsaid? Why are your characters fighting? Do any of them have a secret goal or agenda that they’re covering with some other excuse? What do they stand to lose? What do they stand to gain?
Fight scenes should have a strong character presence. If you could replace one of your characters with another character and the scene would end up the same, your characterization is not strong enough. Even in a large battle, it should be balanced with closer shots of your main characters (or the characters we should care about most in that fight scene).
Examples of fight scenes
Here’s an example from I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. The main character beating up Gavin Rose for his own good–he doesn’t want to do it. It is very focused, nearly sterile. There is no passion or anger, or really any emotion at all. This is a good example of how tone can affect a scene.
My hands reach down and grab him by the collar.
I feel like I’m outside myself.
I watch myself drag Gavin Rose into the bush and beat him down to the grass, the dirt, and the fallen tree branches.
My fists clutter on his face and I put a hole in his stomach.
The boy cries and begs. His voice twitches. “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me…”
I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them, and I put my fist onto his nose to eliminate any vision he might have had. He’s hurt, but I keep going. I need to make sure he can’t move by the time I’m done with him.
I can smell how scared he is.
It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose.
I see his eyes and make sure not to meet them – he doesn’t want to be associated with this. He is doing it out of duty, for Gavin’s own good. It’s clearly not something he takes pleasure in. He might even be ashamed of it.
I can smell how scared he is. It pours out of him. It reaches up and stuffs itself into my nose. – this description really shows how much the main character does not want to be doing this. The tone is evident throughout that this isn’t something enjoyable or validating. It’s business.
This scene is relevant, exciting, characterizing, and has a subtext and depth.
This next excerpt is from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Four people fight a serpent witch:
The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes.
All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side. But the Prince was just in time. He raised his arms and got them clear: the living knot closed only round his chest — ready to crack his ribs like firewood when it drew tight.
The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked. This held its face (if you could call it a face) about five inches from his own. The forked tongue flickered horribly in and out, but could not reach him. With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give.
Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck. Even that did not quite kill it, though it began to loosen its hold on Rilian’s legs and chest. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.
This fight scene tracks several characters, describing what is necessary. It doesn’t randomly hop around to tell us irrelevant things the characters are doing; it describes the important details of their interactions with each other and with the enemy.
The scene acts as a turning point for Rilian, who was previously under the serpent witch’s spell. It is relevant, exciting, and–since we see Rilian have such a big change–it is characterizing.
Here’s the final battle scene from Redwall by Brian Jacques. This shows a large scale fight scene.
Cluny plucked the blazing torch from Killconey’s grasp. He flung it at the face of the oncoming warrior. Matthias deflected it with his shield in a cascade of sparks and went after the horde leader. To gain a brief respite, Cluny pushed Killconey into Matthias. The ferret grappled vainly but was cloven in two with one swift stroke. Matthias stepped over the slain ferret, whirling his sword expertly as he pursued Cluny. Ignoring his unprotected back, Matthias failed to see Fang-burn stealing up behind him. The rat raised his cutlass in both claws, but, before he could strike, Constance had hurled the net over him.
Fangbura struggled like a landed fish as the big badger picked up the net and swung it several times against the gatehouse wall. Dropping the lifeless thing, Constance plunged with a terrifying roar into a pack of weasels.
The thick tail of the Warlord flicked out venomously at Matthias’s face. He covered swiftly with his shield as the poisoned metal barb clanged harmlessly off it. Cluny tried again, this time whipping the tail speedily at the young mouse’s unprotected legs. Matthias leaped nimbly to one side and swung the sword in a flashing arc. Cluny roared with pain as it severed the tip of his tail. The bloodied stub lay on the grass with the barb still attached. Hurling the Abbot’s chair at his adversary, the rat seized an iron spike. Metal clashed on metal as the Warrior Mouse parried Cluny’s thrusts.
They battled across the green Abbey lawns, right through the center of the maelstrom of warring creatures. Oblivious to the fighting around them they sought to destroy each other, hacking, stabbing, lunging and swinging in mortal combat.
Meanwhile, teams of Sparra warriors were jointly lifting struggling rats and flying high to drop them into the middle of the Abbey pond. Ferrets had cornered a band of shrews and were threatening to massacre them when a column of otters sprang to the rescue. Keeping heavy pebbles locked in their slings, they battered continuously at the ferrets.
Cluny stood in the center of the room, his one eye straining to catch sight of Matthias in the belfry. Blood dripped from the dozen wounds die mouse warrior had inflicted upon him during the course of their battle. But now he knew he had won; the voices had been right; he would soon see the last of the mouse Warrior. “Come on down, mouse, Cluny the Scourge is waiting for you,” he cried.
Matthias stood up on the wooden beam. With one mighty blow from the blade of the ancient battle-scarred sword he severed the rope holding the Joseph Bell. It appeared to hang in space for a second, then it dropped like a massive stone.
Cluny remained riveted to the spot, his eye staring upwards. Before he had time to think it was too late. . . .
The Joseph Bell tolled its last, huge knell. The colossal weight of metal smashed Cluny the Scourge flat upon the stone floor of the bell tower.
Wearily, Matthias the Warrior descended the spiral stairs, sword in hand. He led the sobbing little friar out of his hiding place. Together they stood and stared at the Joseph Bell where it lay, cracked clean through the center. From beneath it there protruded a bloodied claw and a smashed tail.
Matthias spoke, “I kept my promise to you, Cluny. I came down. Hush now, Friar Hugo. It’s all over now. Wipe your eyes.”
Together the friends opened the door and walked out into the sunlight of a summer morning. Redwall had won the final battle.
The bodies of both armies lay scattered thick upon the grass and stones where they had fallen. Many were sparrows, shrews and woodland defenders, but they were far outnumbered by the slain rats, ferrets, weasels and stoats.
Nowhere was there one of Cluny’s infamous horde left alive.
Jacques tells a cohesive, intelligible narrative–he describes in a way that makes logical, linear sense. It isn’t just random description of random characters fighting. We stay on the main characters, we know what they’re doing and why, and he intersperses with description of the rest of the army, so we can feel the tension growing, and, eventually, know who’s winning. This shows a good balance between narrow and wide battle description.
Now that we know what different kinds of fight scenes look like, let’s look at some tips for how to write our own!
5 tips for writing a great fight scene
Make sure you need a fight scene.
Fight scenes are fun, but they shouldn’t be included just for the sake of having a fight scene. Like any scene, it should be imperative to your plot, characters, or (ideally) both. Your character should have an actual motivation to fight. If they don’t, you likely don’t need to include the scene. Even if they’re acting in self-defense, there needs to be a reason that your character is being attacked. Once you make sure you fight scene is necessary:
Nail the pacing.
If your scene is too brief, you might confuse the reader. If your scene is too drawn out, your reader might get bored. Give enough detail for it to make sense and engage, but not so much that it’s a pain to read.
Make it interesting.
Instead of describing every single punch or kick or stab just to make sure your reader is following along for every muscle twitch the characters make, try to describe actions that are interesting and exciting, and actions that characterize.
For example, anyone can slap someone in the face. But if your character is fierce, and maybe a little nasty, they might BITE someone. That is a more unique move, which characterizes, and it’s much more interesting to read than a slap.
Maybe your character is resourceful, so their fight scenes involve heavy interaction with the environment–grabbing weapons or using objects to trip up their opponents.
If your character is prone to panic, maybe they overthink and hesitate too much, inevitably losing the fight.
Think about your character, why they’re fighting, how they’d fight, and then make it interesting.
Work in interior thoughts and dialogue.
This is a good way to break up fight scenes so they aren’t straight action (which can get boring), and it will give you another opportunity to show why the scene matters.
What’s happening with the characters internal struggle? What are they saying to each other? Maybe they have allies they’re communicating with to add a layer of action and interaction?
Their interior thoughts can also help to guide the scene and clarify your characters’ motivations.
Avoid being unintentionally repetitive.
It’s easy just to describe a character, beat-for-beat, in the same sentence structure:
She grabbed a brick. She slammed it into his head. She punched him. She tripped over her own feet. She died.
So make sure you’re varying sentence length, the type of sentence, and the first words and last words of sentences.
Here’s a video that illustrates these five tips with real life examples.
Keep your fight scenes relevant and exciting, and, like with any scene, layer them to be as dynamic and characterizing as you can!
Short stories have been historically seen as a lesser form of prose, favoring novels and longer pieces. But, PLOT TWIST, short stories are THE BEST!
Not only are they fun to read, but they’re an amazing form for writers to learn with. It’s quicker to get feedback turnaround, and easier to focus on specific writing skills in a short story, as opposed to a full-length book.
One form of short story is the flash fiction.
Let’s look at what a flash fiction is, what it’s made of, and how to write a good one utilizing imagery, brevity, and editing!
What is flash fiction?
A flash fiction is a short story that is typically under 1,500~ words. Very small flash fictions (under 75~ words) are called micro fictions. One of the most well-known flashes is the micro fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Flash is a fun format to write, because it’s a real challenge to fit a plot or character arc into such a small space.
Writing flash teaches the importance of making every word the most impactful it can be, so practicing with flash fiction will improve your writing in all forms.
The main elements of a flash fiction are the length, the character, and a bit of a twist at the end.
Length is obvious. The whole point of a flash fiction is that it’s short.
Again, character is obvious. Characters are the core element of any story.
By “twist,” I mean the ending should be very impactful, and usually surprising. Your last line should be a bit of a stab to the heart.
Most flash fictions are going to be sad or tragic because, for the tiny space to have any meaning, it has to carry a very big emotion, but you can utilize any themes or emotions you’d like.
The Elements of Flash Fiction
Let’s break down five elementsof flash fiction to gain a deeper understanding.
Not necessarily all stories need every one of these, and you can probably add several to the list, but these five are a great starting place if you have no idea where to begin formulating a flash fiction.
Emotion – what do you want your story to make your reader feel?
Character – who is your story about?
Imagery – what strong, iconic imagery will your story use?
Inciting incident – where will you start your story? As with all fiction, start late and end early. Start in the middle of your story. Maybe show something strange your character is doing to spark interest.
Hook ending – what will your twist be?
To help you visualize these elements a bit better, I’ve broken down one of my own flash fictions from Little Birds.
Emotion – tragic sadness/regret
Character – an older woman who lives alone
Imagery – dark, drudgey, dead animals, rundown house
Inciting incident – woman collecting roadkill
Hook ending – let’s read the story and see what happens!
You can see those elements and how they’re used in this story. The twist ending was that she collects dead animals to give them proper burials to console herself about not being able to bury her infant son after he burned in a house fire.
The main point of flash fiction is that it’s short–that’s what makes it flash. Writing in a small space is a big challenge. Earlier, I mentioned the six-word story about baby shoes. That’s a micro fiction.
A couple other examples of micro fictions are:
He showered her with roses, but never asked her favorite flower.
Love is Forever
We came around the corner and there they were: young lovers, hands clasped. I drew the outline, Joe directed the crowd.
You can see from these examples that the titles of micro fictions can bring a lot to the story, so keep that in mind.
Your first impression might be that writing micro fiction is easier than writing longer flash fictions, but it’s probably the opposite. It’s often harder to fit a story into twenty words than into 300 words.
So how do we cut down words?
Use strong nouns and verbs rather than excess adverbs and adjectives.
Be critical of adverbs and adjectives. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with adverbs and adjectives, but you should make sure they’re necessary. If the adjective or adverb explains something that the word it’s modifying already implies, it’s not necessary. For example, if you write, “a quiet whisper,” the adjective “quiet” doesn’t bring anything to the noun “whisper”. All whispers are quiet. But “a harsh whisper” does bring something to it–not all whispers are harsh.
Edit for redundant phrasing and concepts. Here’s a video about words, phrases, and scenes you can cut from your writing.
Cut most of your articles. Articles are a, an, and the, and they are almost always unnecessary. Amateur writers tend to slip in unnecessary articles without even noticing, so cut an article and read the sentence out loud. If it still makes sense, leave it out.
Use Imagery in your Flash Fiction
Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses. Instead of just describing sights and sounds, you can get a little more into it with smells and tastes and feelings, you can combine and cross them, and you can work on using relatable imagery. When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it will elicit certain emotions from them.
For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder in a story, that’s a very strong olfactory memory, and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood. If there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and use tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.
The easiest way to practice writing imagery is to show instead of tell. This is one of the strongest writing skills you can develop. Once you really understand what this means, your prose will improve. Showing is especially important in shorter pieces because every sentence and word has to carry more weight.
Telling is when you explain to the reader how to understand or feel something, instead of letting them experience it.
Showing is using description to convey the same things, but in a subtler and more impactful way.
Here’s an in-depth explanation about using imagery.
Editing your flash fiction
Don’t focus too much on writing concisely in the first draft. Write your story however you need to, because most of the process for creating a flash fiction is spent in editing.
There are two basic categories of edits to make on a flash fiction:
To clip your story into a compacted, impactful piece, you should cut out unnecessary words, use impactful synonyms, and make your writing as sharp as possible.
However, you should watch out for superfluous synonyms–the most elaborate is not always the best. Go for precision, not most obscure. A lot of new writers tend to use the most complicated words they can, which can make your writing seem forced and unnatural, and often confuse the meaning. Sometimes simplest is best!
After you’ve left only the necessary words, make the words you do keep as effective as you can. Try out different synonyms, pay attention to connotation, and layer with subtext.
Here’s a video of live flash fiction edits that can show how different a story becomes post-edit.
Now here are a few general tips on writing flash fiction
Don’t make it too complicated–focus on one central theme, idea, or message. Don’t try to pack in too much.
Don’t use too many characters–you should really only have one character in focus.
Utilize your title, but don’t let it give away the ending!
Don’t try to write a flash-sized story in the first go–write it as long as you need, then focus on cutting back to the best of it in editing.
Your last line should reverberate. In the above story, What Remains, I was advised to cut the line “She imagined her son with the raccoon, swaddled in the dirt” to have “The mud she stomped off her boots, the sand in the park” as the last line. Their reasoning was that it was a stronger image. While it may be easier to picture, it has significantly less emotional value–the feeling and thought you leave your reader with is very important.
Which line do you think works better as an ending?
How to publish flash fiction
Once your story is written and edited, you might consider submitting it for publication!
You can publish stories individually, or you can publish them as a collection.
A great resource for individual submissions is Submittable. It’s free to use, and you can filter submission calls by genre, length, topic, theme, etc. It’s quick to find and track submissions, and easy to use.
Traditionally publishing a collection of shorts, especially for an emerging writer, is extremely difficult and rare to accomplish.
If your heart is set on publishing a collection of shorts, good news! Self-publishing exists! I successfully self-published my first collection, Little Birds, and I can definitely recommend that route.
Now we know what a flash fiction is, what they’re made of, how to craft them in intentional and impactful ways, and some options for publication. Go write some stories!
If you’re embarking on the journey of writing a novel, you probably have several questions about where and how to start. Planning and outlining your story in advance can be extremely helpful, but a big question that a lot of new authors have is “How many chapters should I have in my book?”
The short answer is, unfortunately, that there is no one correct answer to that question. The average number of chapters in a novel, not accounting for genres or target audience is about a dozen. However, there is no exact minimum or standard for how many chapters a novel should have. Because chapters are just places where the author decides to break up the flow of their story, you could go a more traditional route and end up with 12-28 chapters or choose to be more experimental and have as many as 200.
Looking at some popular novels, even with similar themes and audiences, there is a great variation in overall length and number of chapters.
The first installment in the Harry Potter series totaled 17 chapters with about 77,500 words total whereas The Hunger Games topped out at 27 chapters with a word count of 99,750. Your story is unique, and the number and length of the chapters inside it will reflect that.
Here are the things you should keep in mind while trying to determine how many chapters YOUR novel should have:
Why Do We Use Chapters?
In trying to determine the number of chapters your novel will have you must first understand WHY you might want to include chapters at all. They aren’t mandatory by any means, but they can be a very useful tool in structuring the overall story in a way that is more easily digestible to the reader.
The end of each chapter gives the reader a solid place to take a moment and process everything they’ve just read. Since it’s not always feasible to read an entire novel in one sitting, they also allow for a practical place for the reader to take a longer break and do other things. But they shouldn’t be so satisfied that they don’t want to come back and read the next chapter.
With that in mind, it makes sense to break up your book into sections that leave the reader both with some level of fulfillment but with an eagerness to know more. No one chapter should wrap up the story entirely except the very last one. At the same time, you don’t want to keep raising questions that never get answered or issues that never get resolved. That’s a surefire way to disappoint or lose the attention of your reader.
Which Books Need Chapters?
Longer novels are likely to have more chapters simply because there will be more opportunities for breaks throughout the story. But what if you’re writing a shorter story? Shorter fiction can be a great way to experiment with flow and pacing and can help familiarize you with the process of writing and dividing a piece into chapters.
Short stories, which are usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words long and very rarely have chapters. They do, however, sometimes include scene transitions and breaks to denote a change in setting or scene, or the passage of time.
Novellas are longer than short stories, but still only clock in at around 20k words at their longest. With these, the line gets a little blurrier. You could choose to forego official chapters in favor of breaks as you would for a short story or break it into defined chapters. This decision will largely depend on the overall length of the novella and the number and lengths of scenes.
Even if you’re writing non-fiction, or another type of book, chapters can be a handy tool in your writer’s toolbelt. For example, a cookbook could even be divided into chapters that focus on a certain type of dish like dessert, or a certain type of cuisine like French.
When Should I Divide My Book Into Chapters?
Now you know why you need chapters, but when is a good time to divide your book into chapters? Should you decide during the outlining phase? Should you wait until the second draft?
There’s no “one size fits all” approach to writing a book. One person may strongly advise against writing without planning your chapters first, while others will tell you it’s illogical to even CONSIDER chapters at all until you have a solid first draft.
What works for you will depend largely on your personal writing style, but these are some methods to consider:
1.Write First, Ask Questions Later
One way to chop your book into chapters is to just write the whole thing as a draft and then go back through later and divide it into chapters where it makes the most sense. This will work better for those who consider themselves to be “pantsers”, or those who tend to write exploratory or “zero” drafts rather than abide by a specific outline.
With this method, you would write an entire first draft without worrying about specific chapter break placement. You can then read it back, making note of where breaks would make sense. This could be after major scenes Look for places where some questions have been resolved, but there is enough tension to keep the reader craving more. You don’t necessarily need to end each chapter with a classic cliffhanger, but you can use chapter breaks to highlight building tension and keep the reader on their toes.
Another way to determine where your chapter breaks should go is by looking for natural pauses in the story. Maybe you’ve reached the end of a major event or plot point. Perhaps your protagonist has just learned something that will change the course of their storyline. Anywhere that it would make sense for the reader to ruminate about what they just read is a great place for a chapter break.
2.Build Chapters Into Your Outline
If you are a staunch outliner and organizational savant, you might consider breaking your story into chapters before you even begin the first draft. This method will probably work best for people who like to have very specific and thorough outlines.
Using this method, you can plan which scenes you want to include in each chapter and have them work intentionally with the overall structure of your story. This should also make the process of writing and editing your first draft easier. You can always rework them if you find out that it’s not working properly as planned, but it will give you a great jumping off point.
3.By the Numbers
If you don’t want to do a thorough outline, but want a good way to gauge how many chapters you should end up with, you can use an average number for whichever genre and category you are writing as a good base and go from there.
For instance, an average YA novel is between 55,000 and 80,000 words long. Most experts agree that 3,000-5,000 words per chapter is a good guideline to follow. So, 12-27 chapters for a YA novel would be a good range to start with.
From there, you can narrow it down a little more by checking out similar books within the specific genre you’re writing. Contemporary stories in the YA category tend to be shorter, whereas fantasy and sci-fi are usually longer and more complex.
Shawn Coyne from Story Grid does a great job at explaining the math of a novel here, including a breakdown of key scenes, word counts, and act structure.
What Makes A Good Chapter?
The most important thing to consider when determining how many chapters your book will have is the content, pacing, and flow of your story. You want to ensure that each chapter starts in a place that engages the reader, keeps their interest throughout, and ends in a way that leaves them wanting to know more.
Generally, you should try to resolve at least one thing by the end of each chapter, in order to give the reader some sense of satisfaction but leave the door open for them to continue reading.
How Long Should Each Chapter Be?
Chapters usually range from about 1,500 to 5,000 words. The length of each chapter will vary throughout your novel depending on how it’s paced and how much information is in each section. What genre you are writing and who you’re writing for could play a part as well. Some genres leave more room for experimentation when it comes to chapter length, but it’s important to keep your reader in mind. One chapter from Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery was comprised of a single word— “Rinse”.
Shorter chapters can greatly influence the pacing of a novel and help to build tension. Conversely, longer chapters may serve to slow a story and can be used to communicate more thoroughly. Both should be used cautiously and intentionally so that readers don’t feel like they are slogging through or being rushed through with little to no respite.
Should My Chapters Have Titles?
Titling chapters is yet another thing that mostly comes down to preference. Chapter titles aren’t usually necessary, but some authors like to include them. Before you decide to give the chapters in your book titles, consider the following:
1.Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Story?
Chapter titles can be beneficial in multiple ways. They can serve as precursory hints of what is coming in each chapter. This could help spark the reader’s interest and spur them forward in the story.
They can also be very useful in differentiating characters in stories with multiple points of view. Each chapter can be titled with the name of the character through which the story is being told.
2.Will Chapter Titles Benefit the Reader?
Giving your chapters titles can be practically useful for your reader as well. If a reader wants or needs to refer to something that happened in an earlier chapter, it can be easier to find what they are looking for if each chapter has a unique title that is indicative of its contents.
They can also be used to give the reader more information or insight. In Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, she uses the names and descriptions of different sailing knots like “Love Knot” or “A Rolling Hitch” which adds to the maritime feel of the story.
3.Can I Just Use Numbers?
If you’re not sure that titling your chapters is necessary, or you don’t think it would be beneficial to the reader or add to your story, you can always just use numbers. It’s simple, classic, and a perfectly good way to label your chapter breaks without distracting from the story itself.
So How Many Chapters Should I Aim For?
As previously stated, there’s no magic number. The best way to know how many chapters you should write is to write an outline or draft and see what feels most natural with your story. Then make sure that it flows properly, and the pacing is on point. Make sure that the position of the breaks adds to the story rather than detracting from it. When you have done all of that, you should end up with a perfectly appropriate number of chapters for your novel.
However, you may want to set a chapter goal as a way to visualize your book’s structure and motivate yourself. In that case, I recommend you shoot for 15 chapters in a first draft. If you write 15 chapters at an average of 4,000 words per chapter, you’ll have a solid 60,000-word manuscript. From there you can add to or edit down to get your desired length.
What is the shortest chapter you’ve read that had a big impact on the story in some way? Tell us in the comments below how it affected the overall story.
You’ve planned out your plot, handcrafted an amazing cast of characters, and you know your major story beats. Now you just have to put pen to paper and let your magic flow.
Only one problem, the actual writing of it.
Scenes are the building blocks of your book. If you can’t write a good scene, it doesn’t matter how good your plot is, the book will fall apart.
That’s why I’m going to walk you through how to create killer scenes from planning to writing.
Blueprint of a scene
If you’ve planned out your book enough that you’re worrying about individual scenes, then you already have all the tools you need to be able to craft a compelling scene.
The devil of it, as with many things, is in the details. You have all the tools you need, but the way you apply them to a scene is a little different.
Every scene is just a miniature story. There is no specific length that your scene has to fill, no set number of scenes that you have to have per chapter or per book. A scene is simply a small story, focused around a specific problem, that moves the larger story along.
All your scene needs is at least one character, conflict, action, and some kind of resolution or change — the same ingredients that any story requires. Your scene may be so long that it spans an entire chapter, or it could be so short that it only fills a paragraph. All that matters is that it is complete and moves the larger story forward.
Keep in mind, once you start writing a scene, you’re no longer in planning mode. The scene is where pen meets paper and your story starts to come alive, but that means we have to focus on the details.
Concentrate on the sensory details. Be specific with the actions your characters are taking. Get the words right.
How do you approach creating a scene?
So let’s focus on the details, and look at how we need to approach a scene.
Robert McKee gives an excellent framework for a scene in his book Story. I’m going to break his framework down into a few questions that you should ask yourself before going into any scene.
What is the conflict? If you don’t have conflict you don’t have a scene.
What is the opening value? Is the character happy, sad, angry? Is everything going good, bad, etc. You need to know how things stand at the start so you know how it should change at the end.
What is at stake? Why is this important to the character? You may not fully reveal this to the reader yet, but you need to know why the characters are doing what they’re doing, and why it matters.
What happens? Break the action into beats. Plan out the major actions and reactions that need to happen in the scene. This will help you keep the pacing interesting and find the turning point, which I’ll describe more in a moment. If you prefer to write by the seat of your pants, you can come back and do this after you’ve roughed out the scene.
What is the closing value? Just like earlier we need to know how things stand after the scene is over. Did things change from happy to sad? Good to bad? etc. If nothing changed, then you don’t need the scene. Something important to the story needs to have changed.
What is the turning point? The turning point is the moment when things irreparably changed to the closing value.
Turning points and change are the most important part of a scene. Without change, the scene doesn’t have a purpose. The change can be in the character’s mind, their circumstances, or something else, but something important needs to change from the beginning to the end of the scene.
How big or life-shattering this change is depends on what the scene is doing — it may be a minor turning point for a minor climax in the middle of the book or the turning point of the scene may be the major turning point of your whole book.
Perhaps more importantly, though, that change needs to be meaningful to the plot. It can be as simple as your character moving a box from one side of the room to another, but that should have an important effect on a future scene.
The effect of the change doesn’t have to be immediate, but your audience should never be able to look back and say, “what was the point of that? That didn’t lead anywhere?”
For instance, when your character moved the box from one side of the room to another. Maybe in a later scene, we discover that the box actually contained some delicate piece of measuring equipment, and by moving it, they broke a piece. So now, when the owner comes to use it they get an incorrect reading which sends the story down an entirely new path.
Even if the scene is focused on a minor character or side plot, it should all be moving the story forward toward the overall climax.
If you can’t draw a direct line from the actions in your scene to the end climax of the book, then it probably shouldn’t be a scene you keep, and at the very least you need to work on it some more.
Laying out your scene
Now that we know what our scenes need, and what we need to know about them, we can start laying out the individual scene beats.
One of the most important things that you need to get right when laying out your scene is the pacing. You want to shoot for a kind of ping pong pacing. An action-reaction kind of pacing.
So instead of:
“He went to the store, bought milk, and went home.”
We instead want something like:
“He went to the store, but the owner was already closing. He tries to convince the owner to let him in, the owner says no. He starts to leave depressed, the owner relents and lets him buy his milk. He goes to buy the milk, but he realizes he forgot his wallet. He and the owner fight. He runs away and steals the milk.”
That is a much more interesting scene. It has conflict, and it has a turning point.
Action-reaction can be between two characters, your character and nature, or even your character and themselves. But the bottom line is that every action should have a reaction that is the catalyst for more action.
You use this to control the pacing and tone of your scene through the speed of the reactions, and the weight of the reactions.
If you want a light, fun tone, you may speed up the pacing, with very little time between each action-reaction pair, and each reaction may have very little weight.
Whereas for a serious tone, you may slow it down so that the importance of the action and the impending doom of the heavy reaction can be felt by your reader.
How deeply you plan out your story beats will depend on the kind of writer you are, whether you’re a pantser or a planner.
If you’re a pantser, and write by the seat of your pants, you may want to just start writing. And that’s ok, but you should still come back to this step afterward. Lay everything out, and make sure the scene is going where you want it to go. You may find that it needs to be reorganized, or that a part of the scene isn’t necessary.
If you’re a planner, you may want to plan out every little detail. That’s excellent, but don’t let yourself get so bogged down that you never actually write the scene.
There are practically infinite methods you can use to layout the scene itself, but most are some variation on a few tried and true methods.
Three tried and true methods are to:
Write out the story beats with pen and paper or in a word doc. Write in where your scene starts, and what the ending change is, and try out several methods to get from point A to point B.
Storyboarding can be a great method if you’re more visual. You can draw out the major beats as you see them in your head. Even if this is just using stick figures. This can be a great, quick way to picture the scene and fill in the gaps.
Index Cards are another fantastic method. Write your scene beats on index cards. Then physically lay them out, reorder them, or remove some. You can try out many different variations quickly without constantly rewriting.
Regardless of your method once you’ve figured out the pacing and laid out the individual story beats, you’re mostly done. You’ve done the hard part. Now you just need to fill in the gaps.
How to start a scene
I just said that we were practically done, but that’s not entirely true. There are still two big obstacles standing in our way that lots of people get wrong. The beginning and the end.
There’s no exact way that you have to start a scene, but the general rule of thumb is you want to capture your reader’s interest quickly.
Just like the first page and first chapter of your book need to get the reader interested enough to read on, every scene in your book needs to do the same.
So let’s look at a couple of ways you can start a scene. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but probably 90% of your scenes will start one of these ways.
You can start en media res. Start with an action. This is one of the easiest ways to hook your reader early on.
You can also start with dialogue. Dialogue is very similar to action. It should be compelling or entertaining, and just like physical action, you can start en media res. Jumping into the middle of a conversation, just when it gets juicy can be an extremely compelling way to start a scene.
You can also start by setting the stage for the scene. If the setting is very important to what is going to happen, or if it’s particularly interesting, then starting by describing the scene can be very important.
You can start with backstory. Only do this if it’s important to the scene, but backstory can be done with dialogue, or by flashing back to the action as if it were happening now.
Lastly, you can begin in the mind of your narrator or main character and let their thoughts begin the scene. If you go this route, it’s recommended that you do so if there is some internal conflict.
The key to all of these is action. Something needs to be happening, or it needs to be clear that something has just or will just happen. Opening a scene where the characters are just talking about the weather isn’t good unless the point is to throw that normality on its head in a sentence or two.
How to end a scene
Ending a scene, arguably, is much harder and more important than starting a scene.
The biggest thing to remember, like I’ve mentioned a few times by now, is that it must end with change having occurred. There should be a moment where there is no turning back.
However, once you have the change nailed down, the actual ending is very much up to you.
Here is a very incomplete list of several good ways to end a scene.
You can end in the middle of the action with a cliffhanger, similarly to how you may have started en medias res. Be careful about doing this too much. It can lose its appeal and become annoying if overdone.
You can end in a realization of some kind
You can end with a hint of what’s to come
You can end with loss.
You can also end with a victory or a solution to a problem. However, you should only end with a complete victory if it’s the resolution to the final climax of your book. Otherwise, you should always hint at more trouble to come.
Similarly to beginning a scene you want the end of your scene to compel the reader to keep going. Don’t give them a comfortable place to get off the ride until the final scene of the book. Make sure there is some mystery to be solved, problem to be overcome, or loss to be avenged and you’ll have people tearing through your book to get to the end.
Scenes can be difficult to get right, but we often make them more difficult than they need to be.
This is where you really begin to write your book. The planning phase is over. The actual writing of it has started. If you can master creating compelling scenes, then you have the building blocks to create any book you can imagine.
Being a writer seems to be a great talent and an exclusive gift. Moreover, it’s hard work and relentless looking for perfection. But what about a horror writer? How have they managed to make us tremble, fear, and look behind only with their written word? It’s clear how to describe, how to tell, but how to make readers feel what you want? If you are looking for the answer, make sure to check how to show things in your book. You will get to know how they make emotions so real. Yeah, we have a step-by-step guide! Sorry, if we have ruined your image of a miracle when you get goosebumps while reading.
5 Geniuses of the Horror Genre
If things that go bump in the night and riveting tales of the dark excite you, then you’re in luck — you’ve just stumbled upon a gold mine of the 5 best horror authors. Granted, although the ones that made it on the list are our favorite authors, they’re every bit of deserving to be here. Hell, they might just end up being your new favorite by the time you’re finished devouring this list. So, without further ado, here’s our roundup of the best horror authors of all time:
Neil Gaiman. Welcome to cirque de souris!
First on the list is a contender whose imagination knows no bounds. Neil Gaiman is the man behind countless brilliant works of art but is highly acclaimed for two pieces in particular, namely Stargirl and Coraline. The latter is so well-received that it was picked up by Focus Features and turned into a film with an all-star cast to boot.
Coraline explores the story of a feisty young girl who discovers a door to another realm; one where everything is exactly how it is in real life and isn’t.The magical world seems like a dream come true until she’s face to face with a pair of parents with buttons for eyes and a talking black cat that’s screaming at her to run from the impending danger. Will Coraline listen? Or will she dig a hole so deep she won’t be able to escape?
Do not be fooled by the child-like wonder that’s brimming from each page. Gaiman is a master of dark twists and turns and has made every character so lively and detailed it’s scary. Want to become skilful in creating breathtaking protagonists? Be sure to look through our guide on how to boost your main character.
2. Shirley Jackson. Shirley, shimmering, splendid
Miss Jackson’s work is so good that even Netflix couldn’t resist picking it up and running it on their streaming platform. Shirley Jackson’s reputation precedes her. A highly acclaimed horror novelist, she has a long list of work to be proud of. Her claim to fame? A little novel entitled “The Haunting of Hill House” that’s sure to spook even the bravest of souls.
The story kicks off with 4 characters that find themselves secluded within a haunted house in an effort to prove the existence of the paranormal. What happens next, as you can imagine, is a series of unfortunate events that touch on everything from ghostly hands that prey on you in the evening, to ill-tempered spirits that roam the walls of the vast mansion.
The last paragraph is sure to get you in all sorts of moods.
3. Bram Stoker. Don’t let the bed bugs bite
If sinister, latent horror is the name of the game, then Bram Stoker is our man. The award-winning writer has a plethora of pieces to be proud of. His book “Dracula” has made it into the top list of many, and rightly so. When the world fell to its knees in worship of vampirism, Bram Stoker was atop that very pedestal.
The chart-topping classic opens with a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the protagonists. Our clever Count Dracula is on a mission to spread his Transylvanian soil – his source of sustenance and nourishment when in need of rest and energy – to parts of the world in the hopes of having lairs in multiple states. The ship which he boards carry 50 boxes – almost coffin-like – of silver mounds of Earth. Slowly, the men on the ship begin to disappear save for the captain who is stuck at the helm in order to navigate the waters for the count. What ensues after is an adventure of dark magic, withered garlic blossoms, and carnal infatuation that is sure to keep you up at night.
I’ll stop here. Snag the book if you haven’t read this blinding masterpiece yet!
4. Anne Rice. Fangs and whips and shiny things
The undisputed queen of gothic fiction and erotic literature, Anne Rice is a force to be reckoned with. Her line of sensual vampire tales buzzing with lust and carnage has made it into the hearts of many avid readers. Best known for The Vampire Chronicles – which merited two film adaptations! – Rice has been on a roller coaster that only goes up.
In Interview with A Vampire, a wealthy man by the name of Louis de Pointe du Lac is interviewed as he claims to be a vampire. He recounts his past life as a wealthy plantation owner who suffers a tremendous loss following the death of his wife and infant child. A vampire named Lestat is on a hunt and finds Louis. Sensing his dissatisfaction with life, he offers his prey eternal life as a Vampire. What follows after is an adventure you’d like to relive over and over and over again. And what makes the story so attractive you are not able to break away, even to sleep? Of course, dialogues! Our article on how they make dialogues so appealing reveals their secret techniques that keep you awake all night.
5. Stephen King. The King of modern day horror
This wouldn’t be a roundup without the man of modern day horror himself, Mr Stephen King! His work lines the rooms of so many fans it’s incredible. King, now a household name, has produced masterpieces such as Firestarter, It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, Misery, and The Green Mile. There’s only so much this man has contributed. Thank you, Stephen! Now, on to one of his pieces:
From the long list of his work, we’re going to dip into Misery. The film is so simple it’s fantastic. We follow Paul, a writer whose career was launched because of his work based on a fictional character named Misery Chastain. After completing his manuscript where he kills off his main character because of his boredom, he impulsively drives off to Los Angeles instead of New York City and subsequently gets stuck in a snow storm, accidentally driving himself off a cliff.
Miraculously, he survives the crash and finds himself in the home of Annie Wilkes. It’s made known that she is a huge fan of Paul’s and despite his injuries being severe, insists on healing him herself with the use of equipment and painkillers she has lying around the house. Upon finding the final manuscript of Paul, Annie suddenly becomes blind with rage and leaves him alone for two days, visibly angry at the outcome of the story. She returns, adamant that Paul must write a new version. His disobedience and longing to escape only anger her, cutting off his foot and thumb along the process.
Will Paul ever make it out of this hell?
Do you have a story for the world?
Exciting things, yeah? If you have something similar in mind – a breathtaking plot that will make us whooo – don’t hide it from the world! Check our advice on how to start and good luck! Don’t be shy, write exactly what your imagination says, and leave proofreading for the editor. You are a master, open your soul, and tell your story!
These are our favorites. Subjective, but decent. We would like you to share your impressions after reading these masterpieces and, of course, expand this small list with new names and titles.
Are you ready to write a novel?! We have everything you need to know!
What do you need before starting a novel?
Some people start novels with absolutely no plan! Those people are very brave, and often do not finish their books very quickly.
You can prepare as much or as little as you’d like. We’re going to go over some items you could plan out in advance.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to be prepared going into an intimidating project like writing a novel, here are some things you might want to have in place before you start drafting:
Research and worldbuilding
A solid handle on prose before you begin
Having separate profile sheets for your characters is great for plotting character arcs, establishing backstories, and developing unique voices for each character. They’re also helpful during the drafting process because it’s much easier to forget things than you might think (in my novel’s first draft, I think every single character swapped eye color at least once).
What items might you include in a character sheet?
Development tracking (how should they change at what points in the story)
Character story summaries (a paragraph or two about who they are, what they want, where they’ll start and end)
Research and worldbuilding
Most novels require research and worldbuilding, especially if you’re writing historical, sci-fi, or fantasy.
Getting the big chunk of your worldbuilding out of the way before you begin drafting is helpful, because then you know the elements your characters have to work with/against. Knowing the setting helps to decide things like who your characters would be in that world (based on their upbringing and environment), their motivations and goals, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.
Worldbuilding is also helpful for plot development because things like environmental elements, politics, religion, weather, and magic systems can all contribute to conflict. Throwing characters you know into a world you understand will nearly always generate its own plot points with low effort.
Any project is quicker and easier to finish with a plan! A novel’s plan is its outline.
There are countless ways to structure a story outline. Here are a few examples, like the MindMap! It can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like, but in most cases, the more detailed your outline, the easier drafting will be.
You can edit an outline as you write to keep the process flexible and exciting if that’s a writing style you prefer. An outline is simply a writing tool–use it however you’d like.
You might fully flesh your outline into a scene-by-scene summary of your novel, but if you don’t want an outline that detailed, you should at least have an idea of:
Your story’s POV. Will you write in first, second, third limited, or third omniscient? Will you have multiple POV characters, or just one? If you’re writing in third omniscient: what kind of voice will your narrator have, is the voice a character, are they involved with the story?
Your main characters. Whose story is it? Who is your protagonist? Who is your antagonist?
Your setting. When and where does your story take place? Is your world set in realism, magic realism, or magic? What significant worldbuilding elements will come into play?
At least a few plot points or an idea of what will happen in the story.
Besides doing pre-research on your novel itself, you might do some research on the art of writing! Here are some good resources if you don’t know where to start.
Books to read–these three books cover the main categories of writing a book.
This book by Mur Lafferty teaches about honing your craft, the creative process, and how to deal with your own self-critic. It also has in-book writing exercises and story prompts!
Skillshare classes–if you learn better with a teacher, here are a few Skillshare classes that might be helpful! (The links will give you 2 month free trials to Skillshare if you don’t have an account already.)
Writing Flash Fiction – This class teaches how to write flash fiction, which is a great way to practice writing prose, which will make your novel better.
Solid handle on prose
A lot of new writers like to jump straight into writing with a novel, but a novel is a massive undertaking! Planning a book, plot beats, developing characters, and building worlds are some of the easier things to figure out. What takes a while to learn (based on my experience in writing and teaching) is the actual art of prose.
Learning prose is much easier to do in shorter pieces like flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and creative essays. If you learn how to write before you try to write a novel, you will (surprise) write a much stronger novel.
Timeline and Schedule
A common reason books don’t get finished is that they are often side projects for people with careers, families, and other obligations. And often, writers have no one waiting for them to finish the first draft. If you don’t have an agent, a publishing company, and/or an audience demanding a finished product, there isn’t anything holding you accountable to making steady progress on your manuscript. If this sounds like you, you need to master self-motivation!
Whether you have an outside push or not, planning your novel timeline has many benefits–including motivating you to finish.
How to schedule your novel:
Take a look at your outline (that you wrote, right?) and estimate how many words/pages/chapters you expect it to be.
With your estimation, decide how soon you’d like to finish your novel. On average, a traditional novelist will publish a new book every 1-3 years. A lot of writers who self-publish tend to “churn,” which means they write lower quality novels with much quicker turnaround–they might produce a few books per year. Consider how much time and effort you’d like to expend, your expectations for your novel’s quality, and your lifestyle when you’re deciding on a timeline.
Once you know when you want to finish your novel, break that time into sections. How long will you take on your first, second, and third draft? Do you think you might need more drafts than that? How long for beta readers? How long for a self-edit? How long do you need for a professional editor, cover designer, illustrators, and anyone else you might hire? Write out specific deadlines for each piece of production.
Keep your schedule somewhere accessible and make monthly, weekly, and daily goal lists to be sure you’re staying on track. If you fall significantly behind, adjust your schedule as needed. Editors and other professionals need to be booked ahead of time, and everyone has a different window for how much notice they need and how much time they need to finish a project, so do your research when you’re planning your production timeline.
Here’s an example timeline for my next short story collection. I’ve input it into a Gannt chart so it’s more visual, but this shows about a year-long process, from drafting to release.
As you can see, most of the processes happen simultaneously. With a timeline, I know everything that should be happening and when. I made this with MS Excel’s default Gannt chart, but there are lots of different formats you can choose, even just within MS Excel, to structure and track your novel timeline.
Like I said, once you know your timeline for project completion and have broken it into specific durations, you can decide what your weekly and daily task lists should look like. My current phase of developing my short collection involves drafting, beta rounds, and self-revisions/edits.
For example, this month my tasks are:
Turn in a new short story to critique group on the 10th, 20th, and 30th
Revise (specific stories)
Review beta feedback and make final edits on (specific stories)
Once I’m done with drafting, workshops, and self-edits, my tasks will shift to promotion and communication with the professionals I’ve hired.
Timelines put you in control of your project.
Along with a timeline, a crucial planning element on the business side of producing a book is your budget. A budget will look very different between a self-published book and a traditionally published book. If you’re traditionally published, most of the costs will be covered by your publisher. If you’re self-publishing, the responsibility of services like a professional edit and cover design falls to you.
Here’s an example of a book budget:
Again, I just input my information into a MS Excel budget template for a visual. These items are examples of most things you might want to purchase to produce a book. I’ve over-budgeted in every category, so I’ll spend less than what I’ve estimated, but it’s better to overshoot than underestimate and have to eat unexpected costs.
From publishing my first collection, I have a reference for how much everything costs, but I also know my expected income once it releases. Based on those past numbers, I made this budget. The first time around, I kept costs as low as possible because I wasn’t sure what kind of sales I’d make. Now that I have an idea of how well my books sell, I’m freer to make more assumptions about where I can invest in higher quality production.
NOTE: Producing a novel will incur different costs than producing a short story collection. For example, I am only hiring a copy editor. For a novel, you’d do your best hiring a developmental editor as well. A professional edit on a novel typically runs between $1,000 and $3,000.
This is probably the most optional thing you need for the early stages of a novel. Some writers prefer to have their first drafts all to themselves, but eventually, you’d benefit from having a writing partner.
How do you find a writing partner?
Make writer friends! A good writing partner is someone you can trust and get along with, so finding a writing partner amongst the friends you already have is a great option.
If you haven’t been able to make writing friends yet, you can reach out to other writers who have a similar skill level to you. Twitter hashtags are a great way to get into the writing community. Try tags like #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting.
How to plan a novel series
Some writers “pants” all the way through a series with no idea of how many books they’ll end up with or what will happen in each one. That can sometimes work, but it’s also a good way to confuse yourself into awkwardly stapling plot holes together.
A cleaner way is to have an idea of how many books your series will have and to at least roughly outline each book before your first one is published.
A method you might use to track your series is by creating a series bible. A series bible is a compilation of information about your series. It might include:
Character profile sheets
Plot arcs for the series and individual books
Backstory and worldbuilding
Rules about magical, religious, and political systems
A lexicon of made-up words, creatures, concepts, etc.
As far as timelines, schedules, and budgets for a novel series, it’s essentially the same as what we covered for individual novels–just for multiple.
Writing a novel can be as planned or unplanned as you like, but there are certainly things you can work out beforehand to give yourself a creative and professional edge!
So you want to become a fiction author? Maybe you even have some fantastic ideas rolling around in that noggin of yours. Why not just dust off your typewriter and clackity-clack that novel in no-time flat? Seems easy enough, right?
How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.
In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:
Make a Plan: providing an hour-count breakdown through each step of the writing process
Don’t get too intimidated by that! It took them years to work up to that, and dictation is a useful tool for those who can make it work.
Cut to the chase! How long?
Technically, one could write a rough draft is as few as 6 hours but it usually takes 60+. That is only the first step in producing a novel to be proud of.
Let’s take a look at writing and releasing a 50k word novel. It also helps to have specific guidance, like Self-Publishing School, but while you’re here, let’s break down what it takes:
Have an idea and pre-write. When coming up with your idea, save those notes; they may come in handy when writing your book description later. Pre-writing is a great way to streamline your process. It includes such things as brainstorming, shaping characters, mind-mapping, world-building, and outlining. (2-20+ hours) Need help with ideas? Check out these writing prompts!
Write a crappy first draft. This is the hardest obstacle to overcome as a new writer (and sometimes as a seasoned one!) Very few, if any, of your favorite books are first drafts. If you’re feeling really brave, try dictating. (6-100+ hours)
Send it to an editor. There are many types of editing, so this could vary. This prolongs the process by a matter of weeks. Let’s assume you gave enough notice and requested a quick turnaround. (10-40+ hours)
Fix mistakes or rewrite. At this point, you can choose to accept all the changes in a matter of minutes, or comb through each change and comment, likely rewriting several sections. (1-30+ hours)
Have it proofread. Even after this step, errors will still surface later. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for done! Let perfect come with time, if ever. (4-40+ hours)
(Optional but recommended)Sit back, relax, and try not to rewrite it again…yet! To be successful, the real next step is to start the process again with the next book. You can always revisit a book or series after you’ve grown in your craft and received plenty of reader feedback.
Based on those numbers, there is a wide range! In a perfect world—what? You don’t live in Perfectville? It’s pretty nice…or so I hear.
A quality novel can be produced in as few as 25 hours or up to 250 hours.
It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author.
Action Point #1
Place a rough draft deadline on your calendar. Assuming you push hard to write 1000 words per day, your 60k draft could be done in 2 months!
It would also be wise to get an accountability partner and post this goal on a writing group.
GET INSPIRED BY OTHERS (my experience as well as some of the greats)
Let’s hear about a real person, someone I admire sometimes, but more often chastise: myself.
The first book I finished writing took me 30 days using the Self-Publishing School system #humblebrag. Honestly though, without the initial training videos, I would still be staring at a growing catalog of unfinished books.
Let’s get real though. My first novel (starting on my own and finishing with SPS Fundamentals of Fiction) took me two years to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite some more, and publish.
Did I mention rewriting?
Well, I did, at least six times. Most current authors don’t recommend that many revisions. It’s best to move on to the next project, then come back to it if you can later.
Don’t freak out though! Breathe, it’s okay. This will not be you, not if you follow the advice in this post.
With the Fundamentals of Fiction course, I actually wrote the drafts for books 2 and 3 in my series within a year. The latest one was around 60k words and only took me 2 months.
I’ve gotten progressively faster and better; so can you!
Enough about an average guy. Let’s glance at the “greats” for a moment…those are the ones we really care about, am I right?
Share your deadline from Action Step #1 on social media and with friends and family
INVEST IN YOUR CRAFT
Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.
Here are some ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:
Write Every Day! Go back to Action Point #1 to see how to make this happen. Aim for an hour but have grace for yourself if you can only do 15 minutes occasionally. Make mistakes, write rough (emphasis on ‘rough’) drafts, learn how to craft your stories.
Be a Plotter, not a Pantser: You don’t have to be a full-blown plotter, but you need to plan as much as you can. There will still be times to write by the “seat of your pants”—hence: “pantser”—but there’s no denying the benefits of having some direction as you write.
Participate in Nanowrimo. The SPS Fundamentals of Fiction crew has their own ongoing writing challenge called InNoWriLife (International Novel Writing Life) where they strive to write every day, every month.
Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
Learn from It! This is paramount to success and is the main reason to push so hard to get that first novel out there. Not only will the reviews give you insight, but you’ll learn through every step of this journey. The next book will be better, and you’ll write it even faster.
BONUS TIP: If selling more books is your goal, break down some of the top books in your genre to identify popular tropes. Use those to guide your storylines and characters in order to maximize your book’s impact on Amazon.
You’re already on the right track by coming to this site, so kudos to you!
Chandler Bolt has a great write-up on how long it takes to write a book, and Scott Allan is great at inspiring people to finally start. These are geared towards non-fiction, all the principles apply and are crucial to getting your novel done well and quickly!
I wished I had come across SPS a lot sooner, specifically the Fundamentals of Fiction course. Technically, it wasn’t around when I first needed it, but it’s here now and it’s better than ever! I highly recommend it. Ask me for a referral to save some scratch (for you young’n’s, that means money, cash, moula, smackaroonies).
One of its most powerful features is how it connects you to a community of aspiring authors. Besides writing and getting feedback from readers, writers need a network in order to succeed.
Action Step #3
Take an honest look at your weekly schedule, and see what you can drop or rearrange in order to gain an hour a day to devote to writing. Personally, I’d rather replace my Netflix time than wake up earlier, but those are both great time-finders!
invest part of your lunch break
use commuting times to dictate notes or scenes
hire a house cleaning service
write at work, in between responsibilities (be careful here; that’s gotten me in trouble a few times!)
replace video streaming and social media time with writing and/or researching
rearrange your sleeping schedule to find extra time
Before you leave, make sure to go back through the action points as well as devote at least one uninterrupted hour this week to writing and planning your writing. In time, make progressive steps to build that up until you are writing every day.
The world needs to know your story; don’t deprive us of that for fear of failing or falling short. You can do this. You will do this. Let us know how we can help!
What is your biggest hangup when it comes to completing your novel? (Comment below)
When thinking about your publishing options, there are two main avenues to take into consideration: self-publishing and traditional publishing.
We’ll go into more detail in each individual section below, but just know this is one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to decide on if you want to be an author.
The short overview is this:
Self-publishing gives you all creative control, is faster to publish, gives you full royalties, with more upfront investments
Traditional publishing takes a lot longer, no upfront investments, but you make a small fraction of royalties per book
We actually compiled a ton of data on self-publishing versus traditional publishing you can find in this free download here:
Publishing Options: Choosing the Best Type for YOU
Not everyone will be a good fit for all of these publishing options. You have to think about your goals as an author, what you want to make financially, and where you see yourself in the long-term—as well as how many books you want to publish and how frequently.
All of these are important to consider when making your decision, but we want to give you all the information so that decision is easier.
#1 – Self-Publishing
If self-publishing isn’t on your radar, you’re severely missing out on a huge opportunity. We truly believe this is the best publishing avenue for the large majority of people.
This is why Self-Publishing School started in the first place. Chandler Bolt (the founder and CEO) started this company because he had such a massive success with his first bestselling book.
Now, that being said, there are things to think about when it comes to self-publishing.
So what is self-publishing?
Self-publishing is when you have complete ownership and control of your book and its rights, and you can publish on any medium that allows for it (including Amazon publishing, Barnes & Noble, Nook, and more).
Difficulty to publish:
It’s very easy to self-publish a book. In fact, pretty much anyone with access to Amazon’s publishing platform can do it.
But that doesn’t mean everyone should, nor should you publish a book that’s not ready (or not of high quality), which is why we have our programs in the first place.
Timeframe to publish:
Our students publish in as little as 90 days with our process for going from blank page (yes, nothing written!) to a fully published book. You can take longer to publish, and many students in our Fundamentals of Fiction program often do take longer since fiction can be more extensive.
This is the best part! You have 100% of the creative control over everything from your book’s content to its title, cover, everything. Especially the rights to your book!
This is all on you—just like it is with traditional publishing, which you’ll learn more about down below. Thankfully, there are a ton of resources online to learn how to market a book, as well as our Sell More Books program to increase your book sales.
When publishing through Amazon, your royalty rate will be anywhere from 35% – 70% depending on your book’s retail price. SelfPublishing.com has a fantastic book royalties calculator right here that you can check out for a comparison as well.
Cost to publish:
Self-publishing has a higher upfront investment and cost to publish. These can range anywhere from $300 – $1200+ for high-quality editing, book cover design, and more.
But do keep in mind, you make a lot more in royalties back straight away.
Book production (cover design, editing, etc.):
This is all on you. From the cover design to the book editing (yes you have to get it edited if you want it to do well) all the way to the inside formatting is up to you.
Thankfully, there are resources to help you do all of this right, and we cover this entire process in our programs for our students, as we’ve seen this is one of the most difficult parts of self-publishing.
Questions to ask if you think self-publishing is right for you:
Do you need 100% creative control?
Do you have the ability to invest upfront for a higher royalty rate later?
Can you effectively market your book (even with help)?
Do you want to write and publish multiple books quickly?
If you answered yes to the above, self-publishing is likely your best option, and you can learn more about how to do that with our free training. Just click the image below!
#2 – Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing is what we grew up learning was “publishing”: You get an agent through querying your book, that agent pitches your story to publishers, they choose to buy your book from you, and it gets published a while later!
Let’s look at some details about this traditional publishing option.
Difficulty to publish:
Very high. The traditional publishing industry is really hard to get into. It’s not impossible, but it often takes writers years just to land an agent. And then they have to wait until their manuscript is bought, which isn’t guaranteed.
Many will say traditional produces “better” books or you’re a “better” writer if you publish traditionally, but that’s not true. All this proves is that you have a book idea that’s “hot” and “trending” in the market: remember, publishing houses are after one thing and that’s book sales. If it’ll sell, they’ll purchase it, which means unless it’s a trending topic or book idea, you likely won’t get a book deal.
Timeframe to publish:
If we start the timeline to publish after your agent sells your manuscript, meaning a publishing house has purchased your book rights, it can still take up to 2 years for your book to actually publish.
And this doesn’t take into consideration the time spent trying to get an agent and the time it takes your agent to sell your book. You’re looking at a 2-4 year time period unless you get very lucky or have traditional publishing connections.
You don’t really have much creative control with this publishing option.
Ultimately, the publisher buys your book rights for the idea, but this is subject to change based on what your editor sees as selling the most.
Unfortunately, this can be everything from the main characters, the title, the ending, and even major plot points. The upside is that publishers do know what sells, so this could give your book a better chance of “taking off.”
Just know that you’ll have to make sacrifices with creative control through traditional publishing.
This is on you! Unless you’re a “big name,” (and even then) you do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your book.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the traditinoal publishing industry. Many want to go with this publishing option because they think the publishing house will market their book, and they do, but only to a certain extent.
The bulk of the marketing is up to you, and this is increasingly more evident as book agents continue to ask about your author platform size as a decision criterion for representing you or not.
Many traditionally published authors can expect to make 10% – 12% and (very rarely) up to 15% royalties on their books. As you can see, this is significantly lower than self-publishing due to the publisher taking a big cut to pay for the editing, cover design, and everything that goes into it, as well as your agent taking a cut.
You do get an “advance” if you sign a book deal. This is a large sum of money, usually under $15,000 for new authors, that you have to make back in book sales before you actually get a royalty check.
Many traditionally published authors never see a royalty check because their books never sell more than their advance’s worth after publication.
Cost to publish:
Time. This is the real true cost of the traditional publishing option. If anyone tries to get you to pay them, this is not traditional publishing and is likely a hybrid or a vanity publisher (for the latter, RUN!).
Book production (cover design, editing, etc.):
This is all done in-house at the publisher. They have a cover made, editing completed, formatting finished, as well as book distribution—meaning getting your book in bookstores across the nation.
You can learn more about the main differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing by watching the video below:
Here are some questions to ask if you want to go with this publishing option:
Will you be okay with altering your story, characters, and plot?
Do you want to publish less frequently, at a book every one or two years?
Do you want to relinquish ownership over the cover design and more?
Will you be okay with a smaller royalty rate for your book?
Are you willing to spend a year or more querying just to find an agent?
If you answered yes to all of those, this avenue might be for you!
#3 – Hybrid Publisher
If you’re not sold on either self-publishing or traditional publishing, there is another option called hybrid publishing.
Hybrid publishing is just as it sounds: a combination of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Most often a hybrid publisher will have specific criteria for authors they work with and will have the distribution opportunities self-publishing doesn’t (like nation-wide bookstores).
One distinguishing factor here: the author usually has to make some sort of investment in order to publish through them.
Difficulty to publish:
This depends entirely on the publisher’s rules and regulations for new authors. Most don’t just take anyone in off the street, which means it is more difficult than self-publishing, though usually not as much so as traditional.
Timeframe to publish:
This is another differentiating factor. Hybrid publishers vary so greatly that most of these will depend on the specific publishing house. However, you can expect an elongated path to publishing here as well.
Since the publisher in this case usually deals with the book cover, title, and such, your creative control is at more risk here. However, most of these publishing houses are more likely to work with you to come to an agreement whereas traditional publishing houses don’t give you much of a choice.
Again, as with any publishing option, marketing responsibilities fall to you, the author. Though because this is a hybrid publisher, you’ll have more exposure due to their distribution capabilities (which is a note to make sure this is included if you choose this option).
Since this also varies, all we have is an approximation range: you can expect roughly 40% – 60% in royalty rates depending on the deal you make. This is definitely higher than traditionally published authors make, but you’ll make less than self-publishing simply because the publisher will still get a cut.
Cost to publish:
Guess what, this one depends as well! Different hybrid publishers work on different models, which means their revenue will be earned differently. That said, some authors pay a large sum to work with hybrid publishers, as well as give up a chunk of their royalties.
Book production (cover design, editing, etc.):
This usually goes through the hybrid publisher, and the process is much like that of traditional publishing. This means you don’t have to worry about any of this and that you also don’t get to change or alter any of this.
#4 – Vanity Publisher
We wanted to include this in the options because it is an option you’ll see out there. However, it is not an option to consider.
It’s here so you can know what to look for when a vanity publisher is involved in order to AVOID one. We do not recommend this option.
In other words: you may see people who look like hybrid publishers but are not. Do not work with them!
So what type of publisher is Self-Publishing School?
None! We’re not a publishing option, we’re an online education school that teaches you how to successfully self-publish a book so you can save time, money, (and tears), while earning a steady income from your books.
Chandler Bolt, six-time self-published bestselling author and creator of Self-Publishing School has hit new milestones with his business… including teaching 8-year-old Emma Sumner how to write and publish her first book.
Self-publishing at any age is a major accomplishment. Especially when you have to balance your responsibilities as an author with homework from your 3rd-grade teacher. This is why Emma Sumner is gaining media attention for The Fairies of Waterfall Island, a 10,000-word, 120-page book that is available on Amazon.
So how did this young girl go from no book idea to published without an agent or publishing company? She followed Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School course and took action on these steps to ensure her book would be successful.
Here are the nine steps an 8-year-old took to publish a book as a kid:
When Emma first came to me and said she wanted to write and publish a book, I wasn’t sure if this was just a passing idea in the mind of a bored grade-schooler, or if it was really going to be something she would be passionate. So I started by giving her a challenge.
Complete 1 chapter to her story
Write at least 150 words
Create 3 different characters with backgrounds
Have a plan ready for the rest of the book
She came back with:
A handwritten story in her spiral-bound notebook that had 172 words (she made sure I counted),
Four distinct characters
A plan for a total of 10 chapters and four other characters that she would introduce later in the book.
It was clear from her effort that she was serious — so I was, too!
At that time, the 170-word story was the longest thing she had ever written. It gave her a taste of what was possible if she put forth the effort.
YOUR TURN: How can you challenge yourself? Be creative and find ways to create achievable goals and then turn them into a challenge. You can write them down as a contract with yourself, or even bring on a friend as an accountability partner to encourage and motivate you.
#2 Build a Rewards System
Emma’s first reward was a simple one. We decided that the next morning after she finished her first 150 words I would wake up early and before I went to work I would sit down and give her story my full attention as I read it from start to finish.
The next morning I read her story and instead of giving constructive criticism, I just gave encouragement. I told her how much I loved it and left a small sticky note for her to read when she woke up.
It is vitally important in the beginning to forget about the little things like grammar or spelling and just be proud of the fact they (or you!) completed the challenge. Most children (and adults for that matter) are most vulnerable in the writing process the first time someone reads their words.
Whether you’re reading your child’s, friend’s, or your own work, focus on the good. There will be plenty of time for the rest later when it comes time to edit.
Challenge: Complete detailed descriptions of your top 4 characters.
Reward: We will go onto Fiverr.com and get someone to do a pencil drawing of the characters based off your description.
Challenge: Finish Chapter 2
Reward: I will copy your handwritten notes to the computer and teach you how to use Microsoft Word.
Challenge: Finish Chapter 10
Reward: We will sit down and write an email to a cover designer.
YOUR TURN: What is your reward? Find something that you can get excited about that will also lead to more progress with the book.
#3 Make a Plan
After Emma completed her first challenge of 150 words, we decided that we needed to have a plan for moving forward. Instead of just writing everything out and hoping it would all make sense, we sat down to plan out what we wanted to do.
Each week, we met on Saturday morning, waking up before the rest of the family. During our “strategy sessions,” we would have breakfast together and plan out the week. These planning sessions would often happen at a local coffeeshop. After the first couple weeks, we started to bring my laptop along with us so she could sit down and write for 20-30 minutes.
Here are some of the things that we would do each week:
Decide on goals
Pick out rewards
Talk about the story line
Talk about any struggles
In order to allow Emma to refer back to what we talked about each week, we would record the session with the audio recording feature of Evernote on my phone. With the recordings available to her on our iPad at home, she could just tap on the button for this week’s strategy session and review it whenever she wanted.
#4 Create Accountability [Or as Chandler Bolt calls it: Find an “Accountabilibuddy”]
For Emma, we found a great way to keep her accountable while also promoting her book and making it fun for her. Inspired by Pat Flynn and the group he created to help launch his first eBook, we created a private Facebook group filled with friends and family called “Emma’s First Book.”
Each week she would record a short video to the group and report back on her progress.
The group quickly grew from 20 people to over 200 people within a week as friends and family started to message me asking to add one of their friends or coworkers who was interested in watching Emma’s progress.
As people began to comment on her videos and post encouragement for her, we began to incorporate this as one of her rewards. If she finished the week’s goals she could spend 20 minutes commenting back to the people in her group.
YOUR TURN: Who is going to keep you accountable? Find someone in your life, in person or online, that you can meet with for 10 minutes each week and check in on your goals. They may not be writers, but maybe they have another goal in mind for weight loss or exercise, and you can work together to keep each other on track.
#5 Celebrate Big Wins
As I mentioned earlier, Emma and I would create weekly challenges and rewards to make the week-to-week process more fun and exciting, but beyond that we also celebrated each time she achieved a big milestone.
More important than just the celebration was the fact that we were doing it together. She was able to share her victories and be proud of her accomplishments, and I was there to cheer her on. During these celebrations, we did not talk about strategy and details but we just reflected on how far she had come and what more she could still do.
YOUR TURN: Who can you celebrate with? Find a friend, family member, pet, stuffed animal… anyone who can help you enjoy the wins.
#6 Hire Professional Outsourcers
Based on my experiences with publishing my own books, I knew there were four things we needed to hire professional help to accomplish: illustration, editing, cover design, and formatting.
There’s a wide range of costs for each of these items, so as a family we worked out a budget and made a decision on what we could afford.
Then we contacted outsourcers that fit our needs, based on a list of preferred contractors from Self-Publishing School.
This was a time-saver since we didn’t have to waste time or money dealing with an untested resource. Before starting with each we discussed our project, described the book and Emma’s personality, and asked some questions about their style via email to make sure they were a good fit.
We worked with people from Boston, Michigan, Mexico and even Sweden. Emma was involved in communicating with each of them by both email and video chat.
While working on this project, Emma learned much more than just how to write a book. At each stage we took any opportunity we could to introduce a skill or technology that would expand her knowledge and comfort level.
Here are just some of the programs or skills Emma has learned during the last year:
Typing with Microsoft Word
Using a thesaurus
Typing and sharing documents with Google Docs
Using Skype to do video chats
Posting, commenting and doing live videos in Facebook
YOUR TURN: What new skills are you looking forward to learning? Make a list of things that you want to try and incorporate them as you go.
#8 Remove Barriers
Small points of resistance can keep you from moving the entire book forward. These little things can cause you to stop your progress, lose your inspiration, or even cast doubt that you should be writing at all. If you can identify those small roadblocks and find a way to remove them early on, then you will be more successful.
For Emma, one of her points of resistance was that she often worried so much about her spelling and grammar that she would not make any progress. She would see the red line under the word show up in Microsoft Word and get completely distracted, and then end up feeling discouraged. Then her progress or creative momentum would be ruined.
Our solution was simple: If spell check was the issue, let’s get rid of it! We disabled spell check completely and chose to forget about spelling until the entire first draft was done. Instead of having her worry about it, we let the editor handle it.
YOUR TURN: If you find something that is blocking you from moving forward, take the time to identify it and find a solution. When you think about writing (or completing) your book now, what barriers do you predict? Make a plan to get rid of it!
#9 Build a Launch Team
A launch team is a group of people chosen to help you market the book and spread the word about your book.
By the time Emma was done with her book, she had a large group of people who had been following her progress and were ready to help her by being part of her launch team.
Starting about 2 weeks prior to launch, we began sending emails to everyone who had signed up, letting them know what to expect. One week before our official launch, we put the book up on Amazon and only notified those on the launch team. Many people on the team had never purchased a book on Amazon before, much less read a book on Kindle or left a review, so we had to be very detailed on our instructions.
She had a total of 95 people sign up to be on her launch team, and in just one day after we hit the publish button on Amazon she had 87 books purchased and 16 reviews up.
YOUR TURN: Start thinking about who will be on your launch team and how you will manage it. I strongly suggest signing up for an email service like ClickFunnels, Aweber, or MailChimp so you can collect email addresses and contact your launch team directly.
#10 Give Back
We wanted to make sure that Emma learned more than just how to write a book, and one of the biggest lessons we were able to incorporate was the idea of giving back to charity.
Here are just some of the benefits of giving back with your book:
Inspiration: Inspire others around you to be a part of your journey.
Motivation: When the book will help others either directly or indirectly, then you will have even more motivation to continue.
Satisfaction: Giving back to a charity to which we feel personally connected has given both Emma and me a great feeling of pride and satisfaction that would not have been possible without that participation.
In order to maximize what you can do for a cause, pick a charity that can work with you to help get the word out about the book.
Does the money stay locally or go to a national or international fund?
You may want to find a charity where the money stays to help the local community.
Do they have a local chapter or contact?
It helps to have one person that knows the local area to help you set up speaking engagements
What kind of social media presence or email list do they have?
Part of raising money to donate means getting the book in front of those who will be willing to buy it. If the charity has a large contact list, they can help send that information out to more people — which will help them AND help you!
Does the charity have a marketing team?
Many large charities already have a marketing and PR team in place that can help create engaging posts or advertisements, as well as using their already established network to get your book into the media.
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions when you get in contact with the charity. After all, you want to make sure you are donating your time to the right cause.
Emma and I talked with several charities before finally deciding on Autism Speaks, a wonderful group with both national and local ties.
YOUR TURN: What charities or causes do you feel passionate about or connected to? Start now by using the resources above to evaluate your options.
A Dream Come True
“The Fairies of Waterfall Island” has already exceeded our wildest dreams. Every time we talk about it Emma says “I am just so excited, I never thought it would actually get this far.”
Each new step from writing to editing and now to publishing has been challenging, but the rewards have been incredible — in our relationship, in the growth I’ve seen in Emma, and in the inspiration she’s been to other children and adults.
To support Emma and her book go EmmaLovesBooks.com where you can find a link to purchase the book and more information on Emma and her journey. Remember that all proceeds for the first 3 months go to Autism Speaks.
By following Chandler Bolt’s Self-Publishing School and taking action on the challenges I gave her each week, Emma was able to successful write and publish her first book with flying colors. If an 8-year-old can do it, you can too.
When you make the decision to write and publish a book, for whatever your unique reason is, like growing your business, establishing authority, or just wanting to make an impact, having the right program to assist you makes all the difference.
You can do it all by yourself. But the level of success you have will mostly depend on the strategies you implement.
And if you’ve never done this before, you’d want to work with someone who has to get it right.
We’ll cover some of the best publishing educational programs over a few different fields and certain publishing software programs, along with what you should look for in one to make it worth your time, investment, and effort.
What’s the difference between a book publishing program and a publisher?
A book publisher will basically do everything but write the book for you…including taking the majority of your royalty earnings.
On the other hand, a book publishing program that’s education-based, meant to teach you how to do it, shows you the process and allows you to keep all of your royalties.
If you’re looking for a publishing program like a software that helps you take your book from a document to a published piece of work, that’s a whole other set of needs you can learn about below.
What’s the difference between a publishing course and a publishing program?
Some people use the term “course” and “program” interchangeably but they’re actually very different.
A book publishing course is often pre-made or pre-recorded that you can go through in your own time without the assistance of its creators or support.
A book publishing program, on the other hand, often has the course plus other materials or assistance, like our Become a Bestseller program that has 1-on-1 coaching along with group coaching calls, a community, and more.
So the main difference is the level of content and assistance you get with each. A book publishing program will likely be more interactive with support and interaction whereas a course will likely only be online content with nothing else, unless it’s an in-person course like at a college.
Book publishing program for education or a book publishing software program?
You may be in both camps or you may just be in one. Are you looking for a computer software to help you publish? We’ll cover that here!
But we’ll also go into some book publishing programs that are actually education-based where you’ll learn the entire process, start to finish.
Obviously you want to make sure you get what you need in order to publish a book successfully. But what we’ve learned through working with thousands of students is that most don’t exactly know what they should be looking for.
It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations, and we want to clear up a few things.
Here’s what you should look for in a book publishing program for education:
A community of some sort
Thorough, up-to-date content
Lifetime access to the information
NO royalties taken (if you self-publish, you should never sign over royalties to a company with a publishing program–those are YOURS)
Here’s what to look for in a book publishing program software:
Ease of use
Outlining capabilities (for the writing–a “nice to have”)
Up to 4 additional free coaching calls within the community weekly–including 1 per week with Chandler himself
Expert interviews by industry experts in the Mastermind Community
From blank page to published author, and everything in between
Over $1000 in exclusive Self-Publishing School author discounts for services like editing, cover design, and more!
While we may be biased since this is our program, we truly believe it’s the best, and we continuously upgrade and improve our programs in order to ensure this by keeping track of industry trends, Amazon’s updates, and listening to the needs of our authors.
Check out the image below for a sneak peek of a portion of our program (we don’t share these often!):
Our specialty here is 1-on-1 coaching as well as a Bestseller status guarantee on Amazon (in as little as 90 days if you follow the program!), which increases exposure, boosts your book in Amazon’s rankings, and helps you sell more!
If you’re searching for publishing options and programs, you’ll likely come across Balboa Press at some point.
This publishing program has several options, including “done for you” services that allow you to sit back and let someone else take care of the majority of the work, aside from the actual book topic and contents.
Below is a chart for their services along with price points.
This publishing program has services from hardcover publishing to copyright information, social media setup guides, and more depending on the package you choose to go with.
Outskirts Press has been around for a long time, another publishing company taking advantage of the self-publishing boom since 2002.
They offer a variety of services, including publishing, marketing, and book production assistance.
I had a hard time finding any prices for Outskirts Press and their website was a little hard to navigate, making me think I’d likely have to go through channels to get prices for what they offer, and even find everything they offer.
Below you’ll see a screenshot from their “All Publishing Packages” menu item in the “Publishing” dropdown menu item.
If you do some digging, you’ll be able to find the pricing for specific packages, ranging from marketing information to genre-specific “done for you” services, as you can see in the images below.
As you can see, it looks like pricing for their services ranges widely, from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on what you’re looking for.
On the other side of book publishing programs that are full of educational materials and “how-tos” are the software programs you can use to write, edit, format, and even upload to Amazon.
Let’s take a look at some of the best publishing programs out there.
#1 – Scrivener
If you’re starting to write a book but haven’t heard of Scrivener, I’d be surprised! This is one of the most popular writing softwares out there right now.
If you want to keep your writing highly organized, outline it effectively, and write directly inside the software, this is a great one for you.
We’ve got a video detailing a few of their features below:
#2 – Blurb
If you’re looking for more of a book formatting software, and not necessarily a writing one, BookWright by Blurb.
This publishing program boasts features like customizable templates, really high quality, and that it’s free! You can upload the content you need, add images, and formulate a layout that works for what you want.
If you head to their “Sell & Self-Publish” menu item, it’ll show you the various things you can do with this platform.
Check out the image below for a few ideas:
From what I could conjure, this service really does look free. Blurb doesn’t charge fees for using its platform for distribution. However, if you sell through the Blurb Bookstore, they’ll obviously take a cut of your royalties there, similarly to Amazon and other retailers.
Here’s another handy comparison chart on Blurb’s website that compares its services to other book publishing programs.
#3 – KDP Wizard
KDP Wizard is a publishing program that keeps all your KDP data, books, and information in a single place for you to keep track of it.
It saves data ranging from descriptions to reviews to categories, and more, all in one place.
You can see the pricing and plan options below:
While these are monthly subscriptions, you can actually get the entire thing for a lifetime for $699. So if you’re looking to be a career author, this might be an option worth considering.
#4 – Press Books
If you’re looking for a quick publishing program that allows you to upload, “click a few buttons,” and have a great looking book, Press Books allows for just that.
Here’s an image of their prices if you want the paid options:
As you can see, they’re pretty affordable and according to them, super easy to work with.
College Book Publishing Programs
There are more and more courses being developed at colleges for learning how to publish a book successfully. While you’re probably already aware of creative writing or journalism majors, book publishing programs are newer in terms of their content.
More and more, universities are including content surrounding self-publishing and the know-how surrounding this.
If you’re going to college or you want to and publishing is your focus, know that you can get the information you need with online programs, unless you want to end up at a traditional publishing house. In which case, it helps to have a degree in publishing.
Ultimately, the publishing program that’s best for you will meet your unique needs as an author or author-to-be.
The only reason you’d need to learn how to get a book deal is if you’re pursuing traditional publishing, which means not self-publishing.
Book deals are when a traditional publishing company offers you a contract selling your book to them under certain conditions, like an advance, a specific royalty rate, and other requirements and specifications.
Ultimately, it means you’re going to be a traditionally published author!
But it typically takes a long time to land a book deal and if you’re writing a nonfiction book, it’s even longer with fewer chances you’ll be able to publish. Either way, our hopes are to detail the process for you so you really understand everything that goes into traditional publishing…
Everything that you could avoid if you were to self-publish a book (but that’s a topic for this blog post).
Self-Publishing VS Traditional When it Comes to Book Deals
You only need a book deal if you’re traditionally publishing, so that’s what this blog post will follow. And while we self-publish books here at Self-Publishing School, we ensure to know and understand traditional publishing in order to better help our students (many of whom come to us after waiting years with no word on a book deal).
Here are the main differences between traditional and self-publishing:
What You Get
Sole control of your book's outcome
Sole control of your book's rights
Control over the story
Control over the cover
100% of royalties
How do book deals work?
A book deal works by a writer querying an agent for representation, that agent pitching the project to traditional publishers, and publishers buying the rights to that book from the author.
There are a few main components of getting a book deal we’ll go over in this post:
Creating a book worth buying
Querying an agent for representation
Your agent pitching your book to publishing companies
The publishers either accepting or denying the proposal
This is a very simplified explanation, which we’ll explain in much further detail below.
How long does it take to get a book deal?
It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to get a book deal, so it varies greatly. Because of the long process and subjectivity within the traditional publishing industry, there are many hands your proposal must “pass through” before you can get a book deal.
While you should not query a book that’s self-published, you can pitch a brand new book to an agent and provide details about your book sales, email list, and overall platform size, which can increase your chances of an agent taking interest in you.
More than ever, both agents and publishing companies are looking to your online platform/presence in order to determine if you’ll be a good “bet” to publish.
How much do you get for a book deal?
Most first-time authors with a traditional publishing company will get between $5,000 to $10,000 as an advance. While outliers do make much more, those cases are very far and very few between and their advance is often the result of a “bidding war” between publishers.
The more offers you get for your book, the bigger your advance. This only really happens if you have the next big book idea or series and your agent is very well connected.
But ultimately, your first advance likely won’t be enough to quit your job. You’ll usually have to keep a full-time job while finishing your book and waiting for publication.
How to Get a Book Deal: Step by Step
The time has come! Let’s get into the details about how to get a book deal, broken down step by step so you can ensure the best chance of getting published.
Remember, some of these steps may vary per agent, but the overall structure of the process is the same.
#1 – Be 100% sure of your publishing decision
Nowadays, the biggest publishing decision you’ll make is choosing self-publishing or traditional publishing.
The self-publishing industry is soaring, it’s growing, and it’s very lucrative for people now. It’s nothing like it was when it first started, where books were of poor quality and anyone with Microsoft Word uploaded ramblings they called a book.
So why would anyone want to traditionally publish then?
Well, there’s the lure of the NYT Bestsellers list, for one. As well as the “prestige” still connected to traditional publishing because of the fact that your book has to pass through several hands, making people think your book is “better” than others.
The above is the main reason people still want to traditionally publish.
But if you’re a business owner looking to grow your business with a book or a nonfiction writer in general, self-publishing is almost always the better route unless you’re famous, very highly known, or have a massive platform.
So before going through the work and time to traditionally publish, make sure it will really work for you.
#2 – Write a killer book proposal
You want your book to sell, right?
Then you need to have something that will sell it. In this case, it’s a book proposal. This is what will convince the people with decision-making power to give your book a chance, to prove that it will sell.
You want a combination of your personality, writing skill, and a strong book description in this letter.
This is a really long, arduous path to traditional publishing that does take some luck and situational advantages into account.
The truth is that a lot of the time, knowing someone who knows someone who can get you in touch with an agent is the quickest way to find out. Otherwise, you’ll be left with the old fashioned method, which is somehow finding agents online, getting their contact info, and sending a query letter.
What’s a query letter?
A query letter is something a writer sends to literary magazines, literary agents, or other publications in order for them to request their full work. This query letter is essentially “selling” both you and your work so they’ll want to know more.
There’s a specific structure that works best for query letters in order to better sell your idea.
Here’s a basic structure of a query letter:
Opening: Start with any credentials, awards, and more that would basically “qualify” you as someone worth taking a chance on.
Describe your book, but the main hook! What will set your book apart from something else? Make this concise and yes, you can include some spoilers here. Overall, you should communicate who the main character is, why we care about them, and what the overall plot is.
Write a short bio with details like other published works, self-published books, what you do, maybe even a fun fact about you.
Conclude the letter with some more details about if you have a series in mind, and any other requirements listed if there are guidelines for that specific agent available.
Follow. The. Guidelines. You should do enough research about the agent to know if they have certain guidelines. Follow these. It only increases your chances.
If you want to increase your “luck” in terms of landing an agent, network. Figure out where these agents and editors are hanging out and make yourself available to connect with them.
Tips for networking to find an agent:
Go to writing conferences where editors frequent
Ask great questions at panels
Get on Twitter! So. Many. Agents.
Participate in writing-related hashtag games on Twitter
Embed yourself in the publishing world
Guest post on authority websites around writing and publishing (to increase credentials)
Ultimately, querying can be difficult and it’s all up to whether or not the agent is interested in your idea…or how well connected you are to people in the publishing world.
#4 – Wait…and wait…and wait some more
It’s a torturous part of the book deal process, but you do have to wait a while.
For the agent to check their email and get back to you.
For any agent to show interest.
And even for the agent to read your full manuscript if they requested it, which is something that may happen and is a great sign! It means they liked your query and book idea and want to see your overall writing abilities and how the story you told them about plays out.
If you get an agent, congratulations!!! That is a very difficult step some writers never, ever get to. Many give up before this happens.
Having an agent means that you will most likely sell a book, but not necessarily the one you pitched to them. After you land the agent, the ball is in their court and now they get to do what they do best: their job, selling your book.
#6 – Push your proposal out via your agent
You do nothing right now, except maybe work on the second book (if this is a series) or move on to your next project.
Let your agent do their job, check in with them to see if they need anything, and keep doing what you have been and keep writing!
#7 – Wait and wait for a publisher to pick up your book
It’s a waiting game, like I said earlier. I’m not an agent and have not worked with an agent, so I don’t have all the details about how they go about selling your book, how long this takes, and what that process looks like.
The overall process is this: the book agent typically knows editors at publishing houses that specialize in the books they usually represent (which is also your book). They send these manuscripts off to them in order to gauge interest in the project based on market trends, current events, and what’s simply “hot” right now.
#8 – A deal has been offered!
If your book has interest from a publishing company, your literary agent will do the negotiating. This is another thing that comes in handy with an agent: they have the sales skills to get you the best deal.
And they will, because their pay comes as a result of your overall deal. The more you get, the more they get.
If your book has interest from more than one publishing house, a bidding war could commence! And this is great, because that’s how you get those massive, 7-figure advances.
#9 – Book deal acquired
Once you and your agent are good with the contract, you sign and BOOM, you now have a book deal!
After this, you’ll likely work with an editor, meet deadlines, and then wait until your book is up next in the publishing queue. This can take up to two or three years at times, depending on how much work the book will take to get publish-ready.
Usually, you’ll have to wait over one year minimum after you have a book deal in order for it to launch.
That’s how you get a book deal. Remember, it can take years to get a book deal for a single piece of work. Oftentimes, writers query a project while working on another project so if they don’t hear back, they can query another project.
This is one the longest processes for publishing a book and usually, publishers don’t take nonfiction books unless you have serious clout or backing.
So good luck, and let us know if you have any tips below in the comments!
The time has never been better to write and publish a book. If you are thinking of writing a book but you are stressing out over all the steps to write, publish and launch to market, you should seriously consider enrolling in one of the best self-publishing courses available today.
Although all the best online courses here come highly recommended, the course content and purpose of each course varies depending on:
What you need as an author.Are you writing your first book? Scaling up your author platform to 6 figures a year?
Your budget.How much cash are you willing to invest in your self-publishing business?
Your expectations. What are you expecting by taking an online publishing program? A strong return on ROI? Can the course deliver on its promise?
If you’re a business owner looking to make a solid ROI and see how a book can help grow you business, just fill out the ROI calculator below.
Book Launch ROI Business Calculator
Just input your core offer product or service average order value to see just how much you can scale your business in the next 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years by writing and self-publishing a high quality book with Self-Publishing School!
*These results are calculated based on Self-Publishing School's Become a Bestseller and Sell More Books program costs in the ROI calculations and with our students' average books sold per day at a 5% book to appointment (or landing page) conversion rate and a 20% closing rate—book sales profit not included in final numbers. Individual results may vary.*
Want to receive personalized tips on how to sell more books right in your inbox?
But, before we dive into the best self-publishing courses on the market today, let me ask you this:
Thousands of authors—just like you—have a dream to see their books in print, on a bookshelf, or for sale online in the Amazon store, the largest ebook retailer in the world.
To get your book to the publishing stage takes a lot of work. If you are not familiar with everything needed to self publish a book, you could end up spending more money than planned or, unknowingly fall into the hands of a deceiving vanity press publisher that waits for new authors desperate to publish.
Don’t let haste or desperation lead you to a bad decision. Check out the best courses here and any questions, contact support through the course so you can be confident you’re making the right decision.
Why Self-Publish Instead of Traditional Publishing?
So yes, self-publishing can be a great path to launch your writing career. You can work from home, set up a writer’s temporary workstation at your local Starbucks, or hunker down in a library hammering away at perennial bestseller after bestseller.
Now, you might be thinking to just do it yourself without any help from a self-publishing course. I did this too, and I made a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided had I invested in a course with a built-in blueprint.
This is why I have put together a solid list of the best self-publishing courses on the market today. Only the best made this list because I know what it is like to waste money on courses that went nowhere.
I have personally been inside each of these courses so I can share with you first hand the pros and cons of each.
Why take a self-publishing course?
Good question. Take into account the marketing, networking, and getting the book ready for print. The steps are many and it is a big investment of your time and effort.
Do I need a course to write a book? Can’t I do this myself?
Yes, you can. But…
Publishing can be difficult with lots of moving parts. You start to feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air! And if you’re already spending the time to get it done, why not do it right.
The good point of joining a course is, you are not alone. And, without support, a launch teamto help launch your book, it is easy to make a lot mistakes could otherwise be avoided.
So, this is why we bring you this list of professional experts, each with years of book writing experience and marketing confidence, sharing with you the best strategies for writing, launching and selling more books. And yes, despite the flood of material out there these days, you can make money from self-publishing…if you do it right and learn from the best.
Making the Cut: The 7-Point Criteria for Choosing the Best Self Publishing Course
The instructors for each course are multi-bestselling authors with the sales and platform to show it. They are trusted by the industry with solid reputations for being honest and driving their business with integrity.
The course content is current and up to date. In an industry that is constantly changing, publishing courses can become outdated within a year. The courses here are updated regularly with additions and updates every few months.
Based on industry reviews and student satisfaction, the courses are praised and recommended by authors who have been through the programs.
The strategies and business practices of the owners do not break any rules pertaining to Amazon’s rules and are morally sound.
I have personally taken these courses and recommend each one.
The material, content and overall course is professionally packaged and high quality.
Support: When you run into trouble, you want to know that you can talk to someone and get everything sorted quickly and efficiently. No-fuss.
Take note: Several courses are open for a limited time only at certain times of the year. The enrollment period is usually every three months, but this varies.
Self Publishing School with Chandler Bolt
Self-published entrepreneur and bestselling author Chandler Bolt quit college back in 2014 and set out to write a book called The Productive Person. The book was hugely successful and Chandler soon set up an online course to help authors self publish their books…in just 90 days!
With this comprehensive go-at-your-own-pace blueprint, the school has created an easy-to-follow system to take you from first time author to course creator with three pillar courses available.
Breakdown of Course Content
When self-publishing school first started out they had a basic course for writing and publishing a book. There are now four premium courses to choose from on the platform, including a full fiction course piloted by successful self-published fiction author RE Vance.
Become a Bestseller—Blank Page to Published Author and Everything Inbetween: From blank page to published author, write your book in 90 days with this course. There are 3 modules to walk you through the program with over 4 hours of video, bonus content and an outsourcer rolodex to assist with hiring professionals for all phases of the book production along with over $1,000 in exclusive Self-Publishing School student discounts and specials.
Mindmap / Outlining
Target Audience Deep-Dive
Book Production Instructions/Guides
Marketing and Publishing
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Fundamentals of Fiction & Story: For all the fiction writers looking to learn everything you need to in order to write a high-quality fiction book that actually sells! Fiction is a different game than non-fiction, and Self-Publishing School knows that, employing a bestselling fiction coach to work through plot, the craft of writing, and selling.
Writing, editing, and mindset
Launching your book
The business of writing
Children’s book module
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Sell More Books: For authors that have already published a book and are focusing on book marketing and promotion to achieve sales results. Most often, these are business builders using their book to grow their business or those looking to make being an author their full-time job.
Email Marketing Strategies
Author Brand Strategies
Advanced Marketing Strategies
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Course Building for Authors: Building a course from your book? This premium course is made specially for those authors ready to take their platform to the next level.
Plan & Develop Your Course
Create and Upload Your Course
Market and Sell Your Course
Expert Interviews with Industry Experts
Milestones to Track Your Progress
1-on-1 Tailored Coaching for YOUR Book
Each course comes with its own customized, professional workbook. The best part of these courses is that you will be assigned a personal coach after being accepted into the program.
Cost to Enroll: Speak to an SPS representative to discuss best course options and pricing, as each program price varies.
Availability: If you meet the course requirements you can start right away
Target Author: Writing your first book, advanced or pro authors, business owners or future business owners. SPS has courses to cover any level.
Enrollment Availability: If you qualify for access to the course, you will speak to a self-publishing representative who will set you up with the best course to meet your publishing goals.
The one-on-one personal coaching that comes with each course. You will get the best results by working with a professional student success coach.
One hour clarity call with your coach to drill down into your book idea.
Up to 4 weekly live online mastermind group trainings & Q&A, one with Chandler Bolt himself
Customized workbook comes with each course
Mastermind Facebook Community of 2500+ active participants.
4 premium courses to meet your publishing goals
Self Publishing School has a long track record of successful students that have written, launched and turned their dreams of being published into a reality. The course is fast-paced and doesn’t waste time on details.
Authority Pub Academy With Steve Scott and Barrie Davenport
Steve Scott [also known as S.J. Scott] is one of the biggest names when it comes to self-publishing. He has been marketing online for a long time and when the eBook craze started back in 2011, Steve was one of the first authors that as in there doing it.
With the combined talents of two bestselling authors, Authority Pub is everything you would expect it to be: A self publishing course that is focused on teaching authors to write and publish, not just a book, but focuses on building out an author platform.
In today’s overwhelming jungle of books, with thousands being published daily, Steve Scott recognised the importance of turning your book platform into a brand and a book business.
This is the strength and focus of this course, and there is loads of videos, downloads and information taught from two authors that have been engaged in the self-publishing business from the beginning.
Module 6: Advanced marketing and Scaling Up Your Author Library
Authority Pub is a plethora of knowledge and both Steve and Barrie have learned everything through years of trial and error. Authority pub is a “one-stop resource to help writers streamline the whole process.”
Cost to Enroll: $597 or 2 payments of $348
Target Author: If you are just writing your first book, or already published and looking to scale up your author platform with more content and strategies that increase long term growth, Authority Pub is for you.
6 Reasons to Enroll with Authority Pub Academy:
Advanced supplementary materials includes WordPress blog setup mastery, Canva tutorial, email walkthrough using Aweber and Evernote tips for productive writing
Course content professionally delivered via high definition videos supported by quality downloads
Solid case studies and examples of writers who have made it work
Effective advanced marketing strategies to scale up your books
The course removes any guesswork and provides students with a clear roadmap
30 day “try it, test it, apply it” money-back guarantee
As a traditionally published author who used to write for a big firm, Mark Dawson started self-publishing his action and thrillers and, to date, has sold over a million copies. Mark has published 25+ books, has three series in the works, and is constantly launching bestseller after bestseller. His monthly earnings in 2015, according to an interview in Forbes.com, Mark Dawson was being paid $450,000 a year for his works.
So, who better to learn the craft of self-publishing than an established author with both a library of successful bestsellers and the income to show it. This brings us to Self Publishing 101, Mark Dawson’s course for authors.
If you are new at self-publishing or have been publishing for a while, this course has something for everyone. You will learn the basics as well as advanced marketing strategies to scale up your author platform.
With Self Publishing 101, you’ll write, launch and market a quality book that sells. Although Mark Dawson is mainly a fiction author, the course can be customized for nonfiction writers. The same marketing strategies apply to both.
Breakdown of Course Content
Inside Self Publishing 101, the course is broken up into 8 modules that includes:
As additional bonuses, there is also a tech module that walks through how to build a website, lead magnets, email service providers, and formatting your book.
The best part of this course is the system Mark teaches for email list building through an author website. Building an email list is critical to the success of any author, and Mark and his team have these bases covered.
Cost to Enroll: $497 or 12 monthly payments of $49.00. Comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Availability: Closed after enrollment begins. Cycle is every 3-4 months.
Target Author: Beginner, intermediate and advanced authors looking to build a rock-solid fan base through email list building and advertising.
6 Reasons to Enroll with Self Publishing 101
Deep dive into the Amazon algorithm
Focuses on subscriber communication and building an email list
Bonus tech library with an introduction to using advanced apps and tools
Active Facebook group with high response time
Additional “Writing Copy for Facebook Ads” module
Reasonably priced course for the value it delivers
Your First 10k Readers with Nick Stephenson
If you are looking for a comprehensive, in-depth, no-holds-barred course on marketing tactics, Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers is that course.
The course assumes you already have a book, or a library of books, and now you want to take what you’ve got and line it all up in order to grow your list to a 10k readership…and beyond.
Your First 10k Readers is really better suited for the more seasoned author. It gets into the nitty-gritty of the Amazon algorithm, merchandising, keywords and niche marketing, email marketing, landing pages, giveaways, and what Nick calls “You’re secret sauce.”
So yeah, there’s a lot going on here.
Let’s take a look inside.
Breakdown of the Course Content
The course consists of 6 modules that you can work on at your own pace. The modules are:
Module 1: Rule the Retainers.
This includes Amazon Algorithms, Merchandising, Broad Reach VS KDP Select, and Pricing.
Module 2: Generate Endless Traffic.
This includes Keywords & Niches, Using Free Books, Smart Promotions, and The Author Dream Team
Module 3: Convert Traffic Into Fans
This includes Traffic Funnels, Optimize Your Website, Giveaways, and Events Marketing
Module 4: Build Engagement and Sell—Without Being “Salesy”
This module includes Why Readers Don’t Buy, Priming the sale, Scarcity, the Secret Sauce, Social Media Mastery, Getting Reviews, and Auto-Responders
Module 5: Launch Strategies
This module includes Launch Teams, Building Buzz, and Launch Day
Module 6: Facebook Advertising
This module includes Intro to Power Editor, How to Track Results With Pixels, and Ninja Tricks.
In addition to the 6 core modules, there is also a wide range of bonus content that includes rock star author interviews, email swipe files, and tools of the trade bonus section.
Cost to Enroll: $597 or 12 monthly payments of $59.00. Comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Availability: Enrollment anytime.
Target Author: Intermediate and advanced authors needing advanced tactics to scale up author platform and build your publishing business into an empire
With a successful blog and five bestselling books, it isn’t any surprise that Jeff has a writing course to market to his raving fans of authors: Tribe Writers.
Jeff’s course is packed with material. With the formula presented in Tribe Writers, you as the author can create your own path to creativity. There are twelve steps of a tribe writer that allows you to tailor fit the best plan while keeping your unique voice.
Tribe Writers is broken up into four individual modules:
Module 1: Honing Your Voice
Module 2: Establishing a Platform
Module 3: Expanding Your Reach
Module 4: Getting Published
In addition to the four modules, you also get:
Exclusive interviews with over a dozen authors, bloggers, and publishing experts
Access to the Tribe Writers community of 6000+ members
Live conference calls to ask questions and get help
Downloadable PDF workbook that summarizes every lesson
Admission to a private Facebook group only for students
The modules take about 2 weeks to get through but you can move at your pace.
This course comes with five additional bonuses to support you including You Are a Writer eBook + Audiobook and The Perfect Book Launch.
Where Jeff’s Tribe Writers is different from the other courses is, a strong emphasis on honing your ideas and creativity as a writer to create a unique brand. There is a strong foundation for support and networking with hundreds of other authors.
Best 6 Reasons to Enroll with Tribe Writers
Loaded with tools to help get you started
Community of writers to help you when you get stuck
Lots of valuable content and expert interviews included
Designed to show you how to find your voice and audience
Monthly conference calls to keep you on track
“12 steps of a Tribe Writer” that clearly outlines the expectations of the course.
Ready to Write and Publish Your Bestseller?
All of these courses are excellent in their own way. Depending on your budget and writing goals, you might choose one over the other.
Now that we have taken an in- depth look at the best self publishing courses for you to write your bestseller, you have a solid idea of what to expect from each course. The question is: Are you ready to write your book?
The best writing course you decide depends largely on your goals as a writer.
Do you want to build a solid library of books and focus on your author platform? Authority Pub Academy could be your best match. Let Steve Scott and Barrie Davenport guide you towards your success of being a multiple bestselling author.
Do you want to learn the essence of email list building, creating an author website and setting up landing pages that convert readers into subscribers? Self Publishing 101 could be the best choice to make.
Need more advanced marketing tools from one of the best in the business? Your First 10k Readers is the path you might consider, and…
Interested in a course that focuses on honing your creative writing talent while showing you how to connect with your unique voice? Tribe Writers with Jeff could be the best option.
Or, you might decide you need two courses and combine together for maximum impact. Self Publishing School can show you how to go from blank page to published author in 90 days. But Nick Stephenson’s course can teach you the more advanced analytics and how to really build out an online book business.
So now, make a choice. You have been sitting on this long enough. Your book won’t write itself and if you have written it already, take it to the next level.
Life is short.
Take action now.
It’s your time to write that next perennial bestseller!
An author bio is a paragraph or so about you, your credentials, your hobbies, and other information you wish to share with readers.
It’s how readers get to know you beyond the pages of your book. While your books are a great way to introduce yourself, an author bio can set you apart, bring in more fans, and even sell more books if you know how to write it correctly.
That’s what we’ll teach you here today.
How to Write an Author Bio That’s Impactful
So you’ve finished your draft and are ready to tackle the next steps of putting it out there in the world. (Promise me that you’re not procrastinating by reading this blog! If you are, get back to writing right now!)
The first step is to figure how who you want to be perceived, how you want to brand yourself, is in your author bio.
This is the blurb that will go on your Amazon author page, your Book Bub author profile, your Goodreads page, your author web page, on the back of your book and so forth. It’s a really important little piece of work that you want to get right!
While your book cover design is the most important tool when marketing a book, your author bio is easily number two. This is where you convince your audience why you are the best person to tell them about the matter at hand.
It’s a place to connect with your readers and build your legitimacy.
You’ll want to stay factual while interesting. You want to make yourself approachable and toot your own horn, just a little bit.
Here are some tips to master these.
#1 – Author Bio Formatting
Although you are writing the author bio, it still needs to be written in the third person no matter how quirky it is. In other words, avoid using “I” as your sentence subject but utilize your name or last name instead.
Additionally, you’ll have many drafts and varieties of this author bio. You’ll want to change it up depending on the application.
You may have a punchier version on your website while your bio for that speaking engagement session at a writing conference that you’re leading (and we’re confident that will happen for you!) will be more serious.
Today, we’re working on the basic draft that you can tweak as needed.
Remember to keep the bio short, less than 300 words. It seems that three sentences is a well-tested length (more on this later). Your author bio is not an entire list of every single award you’ve won or your life story.
Even if you did win the “Young Writer’s” award in middle school, unless you’re still in middle school, this little known fact probably doesn’t deserve to be on the back of your book.
Feel free to have a “full accolades” section on your author website where you can list every single thing you’ve ever done, won or written.
Your mom will be super proud of this list but readers browsing Amazon don’t need to get into the major details.
Here’s how to format an author bio wrapped up:
Use third-person POV when writing it
Keep it under 300 words
Add relevant/recent achievements
Minimize the number of sentences within those 300 words.
And remember: an author bio longer than 300 words or so will take up too much space and become an oversell.
#2 – Know Your Readers
Your bio is an extension of your book.
Write it for your audience. Keep the same writing style and connect this text to your subject matter.
If you wrote a book on productivity, a lengthy sentence about your lazy vacations doing nothing is not relevant and in fact, can persuade readers to avoid your books because they’ll think you to be uncredible.
Here are a few tips for getting to know your audience:
Interact with your readers on social platforms
Listen intently to the feedback during the beta reading process
Run your author bio by a group for feedback and adjustments
Ask people close to you if the bio embodies your personality and is accurate
#3 – Include Your Background
In order to sell yourself to new readers, you will want to include your pertinent background. If you happen to have other books, do include their titles and how many languages they have have been translated into or how many countries they’ve been sold in.
List your related education and memberships. Any higher education beyond college is usually noteworthy too.
Keep your lists short though. Only list three books, for instance, and a couple of memberships. A list of ten books, three degrees, and five memberships will only be skimmed by potential book buyers at the very best.
A huge list like this will become white noise so only include the most important and interesting stuff.
Your fanboys and girls (and your mom’s friends) will look to your aforementioned author website for more info and you can keep the tidy, complete list there.
#4 – Stay Factual
Statements like, “has always dreamed of writing a book,” while certainly may be true, are hard to back up and aren’t going to help sell your book.
Stick to the facts and to what you can prove.
Another reason for this is if you claim achievements that aren’t true or invalid, there will always be someone there to point it out in an attempt to cut you down.
This can reduce your credibility, and therefore, readers’ trust in you.
#5 – Use your personality
One of the best things about being an author is that you get to put your personality, views of the world, values, and more into your writing.
What some don’t understand about authors is: if a reader likes you, they’re very likely to enjoy what you write, because your essence bleeds into the pages.
Being able to showcase this with your personality can do worlds for your readers connecting with you and wanting to read your book out of curiosity if nothing else.
Here are a few tips to add personality to your author bio:
Exaggerate your tone just a little in order for it to be more evident
Be goofy and creative with how you describe yourself (See Jenna Moreci’s example in #11)
Have fun with it!
Throw a joke in your bio
#6 – Include an achievement or award
In addition to your backlist of books, your awards, and education, you’ll want your readers to know any higher-profile stuff you have going on.
Be sure to cover your awards, your following, and any big deal author interviews or features.
Again, if any of these this happened decades ago, it may not be relevant. But if you have a quarter-million followers on Twitter or on your blog, this will sell your authority (and yeah, a quarter-million sounds better than 250,000 but are the same number!).
If your writing has been nominated for awards but didn’t make the cut, that is often fitting for an author bio too. “Award-nominated” anything is pretty cool!
#7 – Get personal in your author bio
Provide a bit of personal information to connect with your audience. The reason for this is if a reader sees something they have in common with you, it’s an automatic bond and gives them more of a reason to buy.
It’s standard for authors to share where they live and what their family make-up is.
A few non-divisive hobbies and interests are also often included. If you have experiences that are related, such as extensive travel or extreme situations, they may relevant to share as well.
Again, know your audience and choose wisely. Maybe (terribly) you were part of a cult as a child?
That’s really interesting but unless you’re sharing this story in the book or proves your authority on the subject at hand, skip including it in your author bio!
Bonus Author Bio Tip: Keep these bits broad enough to include a larger number of people. For example, if you play the flute, simply mention that you’ve been playing an instrument for however many years as this is more inclusive, and there’s a higher chance of others connecting with you.
#8 – Author Bio Example – Chandler Bolt
We all known and love Chandler Bolt, Self Publishing School Founder. We wouldn’t be here learning about writing without his hard work and book writing methods. Chandler’s author bio on the back of his book Published is only three sentences long but packs in a lot of authority building, states facts plus toots his horn a bit.
These three sentences along with the killer book cover art work well to sell Chandler’s mastery of book publishing.
Chandler’s Amazon Author Page is another version of his author bio. Here, Chandler gets really personal stating that his birth was almost miscarried!
He also gives some background about his entrepreneurial experience and awards.
#9 – Author Bio Example – Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller and nonfiction author who also writes under the pen names of JF Penn and Penny Appleton.
She’s written and self-published nearly 30 books so she really knows what she’s doing. On her Book Bub author page, Joanna’s short bio is only (surprise!) three sentences.
It concisely tells potential readers a short version of her accolades and narrows down her writing style quickly. Then it tells us where she lives and one of her favorite drinks.
On her own website, The Creative Penn, Joanna provides a different three-sentence version of her short bio and then gets into the details about all her books, the many awards and best-selling experience she’s had plus where she lives and her favorite wine (a different drink mentioned here!)! Joanna’s short bio on her page is three sentences and shoves in a ton of accolades into a small space.
Here she tells about her family, her gymnastic prowess as well as her authority and love of athletic mental training. T
his all builds strong authority for her book and brand.
On her Goodreads page about the same book, she sells the book by telling prospective readers that she’s been where they are and know “what it feels like to try your best and to fail.
I also know how it feels to work hard to achieve your goals.” She sells her wisdom and experience. Note that it is the norm to write in the first person on Goodreads but this is a big rule breaker everywhere else.
All of these examples have variations of author bios written in just a slightly different way for different applications. They all say very similar things about the same person.
Not only does Moreci have ample experience when it comes to self-publishing, but she’s also among one of the best examples of how to market your book effectively, including how she’s written her author bio.
Here’s an example of her Amazon author page with her bio:
Notice how Moreci keeps it short, brief, but very clear with who she is, what she writes, and even has enough personal information to let readers into her life at an appropriate level.
If we take a look at her personal author website’s “about” page, we’ll see she has something similar, but with a few more additions, including her books and more.
In this example, Jenna has also doused us with her personality, giving us insight into how she operates and therefore, the tone of some of her books.
More Ideas for Writing an Author Bio
Know the very essence of your book and find keywords that your readers may search for to find your book. When crafting your author bio, use these keywords that search engines can catch.
Although it may be irrelative in some bio spaces, add links to any free giveaways (we’ve got some ideas on that here..) on your website, your newsletter, social media or whatever web presence you have.
Also, feel free to add a call to action where applicable.
Final Author Bio Thoughts
Remember that there is no perfect bio, and there are no two alike. Although these are all good ideas, it’s not an exact formula. Your author bio will be unique and will change as you write more books and gain more accolades (because we know you will!).
Now tell me the truth. Is your book really done? We can help you finish your manuscript and really make use of this carefully crafted author bio! Schedule a webinar with Chandler today to get started!
Do you have more author bio tips to share with our writing community? Do you think bios should be longer than three sentences or do you like this standard size?
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.
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.
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.
Book Marketing Platform
What to do
- use appropriate hashtags
- post relatable tweets to increase shares
- engage by liking and replying to others
- search common hashtags to find your audience
- use appropriate hashtags
- post photos related to the content of your book
- engage by liking and replying to others
- ask questions in photos to increase engagement
- search common hashtags to find your audience
- create a page for yourself or your book
- post video content
- go Live to answer questions or discuss your book
- post blog posts supporting your topic/ideas/book
- create pins linking back to your website
- repin content related to your genre
- create appropriate boards for your content
- optimize pins with keywords
- join group boards
- connect with others who pin similar ideas
- great for business-related topics
- share insights/stats
- share blog posts supporting your ideas/topics
- connect with leaders in your industry
- create a website
- maintain a blog with posts about your main topic
- use this to create an email list
- keep this updated regularly
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:
Pre-Launch: Building Your Book Marketing Launch Team
Pricing Your Book for Maximum Sales
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.
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!
#2 – 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 thatQUALITY 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.
#3 – 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.
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!
#4 – 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!
#5 – 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!
#6 – 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.”
#7 – 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.
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.
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.
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 tosomeone 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.
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:
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.
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:
#amwriting (as in, “I am writing”)
#fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
#amwriting (as in, “I am writing”)
#fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
#fantasywriter, #scifiwriter, #contemporarywriter, etc.
Choose two social media platforms and commit to publishing content regularly. If you only want to focus on one, master it, and then move to another that is perfectly fine! It is better to do one thing and get it right then do two things poorly.
#5 – 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.
Go here for Bookbub submission requirements. You can also check out the pricing here and submit your book here.
#6 – 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!
What are three podcasts or radio shows you could go on to talk about your book? Find their contact info and reach out with a pitch about having you on.
#7 – 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.
Are there any book clubs you could join? Look on Facebook for groups that would be a good fit for your book.
#8 – 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.
How many people can say they wrote a book detailing the most impactful moments of their lives?
And by taking this leap and diving headfirst into your memories and entire life, you’re reaching new heights for yourself and you may even enlighten others by the end of your journey.
What is a memoir?
A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources. It’s a book about your life, the lessons learned, and key moments that shaped who you are.
We all typically think of a memoir and cringe a little at the idea of a book about someone else’s life. But that’s not all a memoir is!
Essentially, this is a book written by you about key moments in your life. You bring your memories to life in order to touch on an overarching message others can learn and grow from.
It’s like the highlight reel from your diary (if you ever had one) about the experiences that shaped your life.
And even though you’re technically writing a nonfiction book, memoirs should be more in the category of “fiction” when it comes to the style and flow of the book. It’s an entertaining read fashioned like a story…it just so happens to be true.
A memoir is unique in the fact that it covers your life’s events in a more story-like structure with an overarching theme or messaged written in.
This means that “how tos,” “motivational books,” and other topics don’t qualify as a memoir. Memoirs are very specific in the sense that it accounts for the entirety of your life with an emphasis on stories and impactful moments that lead to a great purpose.
Yes, anyone has the ability and experience to write a memoir. The biggest misconception is that you have to be famous or have to have experienced something major in order to write a memoir. But that’s not needed.
In fact, some of the most powerful memoirs can come from the “average” person detailing the biggest lessons in their life.
You have a story. Everyone has a story, and what we do here at Self-Publishing School is get that story out and into a book you can pass down for generations.
Now that you know the overall theme and message of your memoir and what will set it apart, you have to connect the dots of your life to that core focus.
Here are a few areas to think about specifically to help jog some of those memories in order to help you know how to write a memoir worth reading:
College/post high school
Hopes and dreams
There are so many areas that have a direct influence over how you perceive life as a whole. You just have to do a little digging to spark some specific memories that can circle back to the overarching theme of your memoir.
I know this is a book about yourlife but it never hurts to back up your own experiences with someone else’s – or many other people’s.
Knowing how to write a memoir involves knowing when your message will be loudest. And that’s often with additional stories from others.
Sometimes you can’t always get the message across if only you have experienced it. To get readers to relate, you might have to show them that many people experience the same thing.
One of the most powerful connections you can make to benefit from the message of your memoir is to show your readers that it’s not just you.
Others have gone through the same situations you have and came out with the same perspective.
This one requires some extensive research (and maybe even an interview or two), but possessing the ability to be credible in your readers’ eyes is crucial. And obviously, you’ll want to make sure you’re using their experiences legally in your memoir.
You can even interview family or friends who might see an experience you share differently than you.
Adding those details will strengthen your core message.
Here’s a checklist of what your memoir should include in order to “complete” and at its best:
Elements of a Memoir
A snippet of what your life is like now and why you're writing this memoir
Each memoir should have an overall theme or message that one can take away when they've finished reading.
Writing a memoir without honesty will come across on the pages. Readers will be able to tell and will be pulled out of the book because of this.
Nobody wants to read a memoir that's written like a textbook. Create entertainment value through the stories you tell.
Because you have an overall theme, it needs supporting stories from your life to back it up.
Once again, a memoir is still a book and therefore, it cannot read like a textbook. Great writing is necessary for a great book.
Your life has an arc and your memoir's purpose is to show this through lessons learned from start to end.
#4 – Write truthfully
One of the hardest parts about writing a memoir is the fact that we tend to be a wee bit biased with ourselves.>
*Gasp* You don’t say!
It’s true. Nobody really likes to admit their faults.
It’s one thing to recognize when you were wrong in life, it’s another to actually write it down for the world to see.
It’s hard. We want everyone to see the best version of ourselves and therefore, we leave out details or flat out lie to seem “better” in their eyes.
But that’s not what makes a good memoir.
In order to learn how to write a memoir that really touches people in deep, emotional ways, you have to learn to be honest.
#5 – Show, don’t tell in your memoir writing
No, this doesn’t mean you have to write a picture book. That’s not what “show” means in this case.
When it comes to creating intrigue with your writing – and trust me, you want to do this, especially for a memoir – you have to write by showing, not telling.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just give you an overview of this writing technique, but if you’re interested in mastering the ability to pull readers in, you can check out this detailed explanation.
Essentially, showing versus telling is the way in which you describe your experiences with an emphasis on emotion.
But that doesn’t mean you should write down every feeling you had during a specific time. In fact, that’s what you want to avoid.
We’ll cover this in more detail below, but here’s a great video outlining this method ↓
#6 – Get vulnerable
Memoirs are not a time to distance yourself from your inner feelings.
You want your readers to gain a sense of who you are not only through your stories but through the voice in your writing as well.
#10 Write a memoir you’d want to read
How do you ensure others will like our memoir? Write it in a way that makes it an entertaining read for yourself!
This has a lot to do with putting your own personality into it but it’s also about crafting the structure of your novel in an entertaining manner, too.
Even though this is a memoir, there should still be a climax to keep readers intrigued. This would be when your life came to a head; where you struggled but was able to pull yourself out of the trenches and forge your own path.
That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you learn how to start a memoir that’s captivating and intriguing.
Let’s draw those readers in!
#1 – Be relatable
Nobody wants to read a book that’s preachy or condescending.
One major mistake many make when writing a memoir is not starting it off in a way that makes the readers connect with them.
This is one of the most important aspects of your memoir.
Do you really think people will want to read about a person’s life if they can’t relate to them?
Think about when you were most invested in a book (or even a TV show or movie). What did you like most? Could you relate to the author or the characters?
Did you understand their pain and triumph and hardships?
This is typically the best way to not only create invested readers but to gain fans. When others relate to you and see themselves in your journey, they’ll want to stick around to see how it plays out.
And that means they’ll read your whole book and any others you write.
#2 – Use emotion by showing, not telling
If you want to give a play-by-play of your life with nothing more than a list of experiences you’ve gone through, that’s fine.
Just know that doing it that way won’t hook your readers and it certainly won’t keep them.
A memoir can be a powerful tool for educating others through your life journeys, but if they’re not intrigued enough to keep reading, it’ll render your memoir pointless.
And we don’t want that.
showing and not telling, you’ll put more emotion into your writing. This technique might sound confusing but it’s actually quite easy once you learn how to do it.
Here are the basics for showing versus telling:
Use fewer tell words like “I heard,” “I felt,” “I smelled,” “I saw,” to bring readers closer
Stop explaining emotions and instead explain physical reactionsof those emotions (If you want to say “I was scared,” describe your heart hammering against your chest or the sweat beading your forehead instead)
Describe body language in more detail
Use strong verbs that coincide with the emotions you’re trying to convey (writing “crashed to the floor” instead of “fell to the floor” creates more impact)
This writing method can be tricky to master but thankfully, there are countless resources to help you figure it out.
Everybody has an interesting life if you look deep enough. What you have to determine is how your life experiences can aid and shape the lives of others.
Think about how that will manifest from what you’ve lived through before and make sure your readers know what it is from the start (which can also be done through a powerful book title).
How to Write a Memoir Tips from Experts
The best advice you can receive is from someone who’s done it before. These Self-Publishing School students (and graduates!) have first-hand knowledge when it comes to the difficulties of writing your life down on paper.
Here’s what these memoir writers want you to know.
#1 – Write from the heart
Christopher Moss, author of Hope Over Anxiety, says the best way to write your memoir is to be open about your experiences.
“Write from the heart. Show people your experience. Be as vulnerable and honest as you can. If it scares you a little, what you are writing that’s good. The reader has to feel what you are going through.”
#2 – Don’t be afraid to go with the flow
Lou A. Vendetti, who’s in the thick of writing and working toward publication of his memoir, has a few pieces of advice for you.
“Do not be afraid to deviate. If your book doesn’t follow your outline one hundred percent, then that’s okay! Don’t feel like you have to only talk about what’s in your outline. You are the author; you are the publisher, so you are the one making all of the decisions (sounds scary, huh?). In the beginning, I thought it was.”
“Don’t think that the memoir is supposed to be ‘formal.’ As an example, I use contractions in mine, which would not necessarily be used in a nonfiction book. Yes, I wanted my book to be professional, but I didn’t want to make it sound like I’m not ‘on my audience’s level.’ I wanted to keep my voice and make it as if I’m talking to my audience; as if I’m having a conversation with them.”
#3 – Review old photos and videos
Toni Crowe, author of Never a $7 Whore, says it’s best to relive your memories the best you can through photos and videos.
“My advice to new memoir writers is to take the time to review any old documents or photos that exist and to pull those memories out to examine. Doing this during the map mapping process helped me immensely.”
Famous Memoir Examples to Emulate
Sometimes it’s easier to learn by example. That way, you can fully comprehend what a memoir is in order to write your own.
These are famous memoir examples:
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses Grant
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Memoir examples by our own students:
Mile-High Missionary: A Jungle Pilot’s Memoir by Jim Manley
Walking My Momma Home: Finding Love, Grace, and Acceptance Through the Labyrinth of Dementia by Kathy Flora
Prayers, Punk Rock and Pastry by Chris Stewart
Bare Naked Bravery: How to Be Creatively Courageous by Emily Ann Peterson
Shift Happens: Turning Your Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones by Jill Rogers
Hope Dealers: The Calling, The Struggles, The Breakthroughs and The Community of Believers by Nadine Blase Psareas
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a 13-digit code used to uniquely identify your book amongst the millions out there.
What Is an ISBN Number Used For?
Essentially, an ISBN number, or International Standard Book Number, is a regulated 10- or 13-digit identification number which allows libraries, publishers, and book dealers to locate and identify specific books.
But where did these ISBN numbers even start and why do we have them?
In the early days of World War 2, the Japanese military sent messages back and forth and the Allies needed to crack their intricate numbering system to get an edge in the war and turn the tables.
But how did they crack this complex system?
MI6 recruited a young mathematician named Gordon Foster to work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, where he scanned millions of numbers looking for patterns in the code.
Decades later, when the book industry needed a standardized tracking program in order to coordinate the increasing number of titles being published each year, Gordon Foster was approached by WH Smith, a British retailer, to write a report on how to create such a system.
This report led to the 9-digit standard book number which went live in the UK in 1967 and eventually led to the ISBN system used worldwide.
Several years later, this turned into a 10-digit numbering system when a policy was needed for new editions and variations. Then, in 2007, the ISBN switched to a 13-digit format and is now the standard used everywhere.
How Much Does an ISBN Cost?
ISBNs cost about $125 for one number in the US. However, if you purchase more than one at a time, this cost could be lowered.
Let’s unweave the intricate web of how to get an ISBN and how they work in the publishing industry.
How to Get an ISBN
ISBNs are free in many countries, provided either by the government or a publicly administered branch. However, in the US and the UK, ISBN numbers are administered by Bowker and Nielsen respectively and require you to pay.
If you’re located outside the USA you can find out your local ISBN Agency here. While ISBNs are assigned locally, you can use them internationally.
If you live in the USA, you have to get an ISBN through myidentifiers.com, run by Bowker, the only company that is authorized to administer the ISBN program in the United States. You can purchase ISBNs as a single unit or in bulk of 10, 100 or 1000.
How Long Does It Take to Get an ISBN Number?
You will receive your ISBN number five business days after Bowker receives your non-priority application. Choosing priority processing reduces the time to two business days, or you can get your ISBN within 24 business hours if you choose express processing.
How to Register Your Book and ISBN Number
As soon as you purchase your ISBN through Bowker or the International equivalent in your local area, and you publish your book, you should register here at Bowkerlink.
This is an automated tool that will add your book to Bowker’s Books In Print and Global Books In Print.
You can only use an ISBN once. The ISBN is a unique number for that particular book, and can be assigned once, and only once, to that title. It can’t be used with any other book in the future, even second versions of the same book.
You don’t need an ISBN to sell in each individual country. ISBNs are international, they are just assigned locally. A US-based publisher can purchase their ISBN through Bowker, but can stock their book worldwide using that ISBN.
You need an ISBN for every specific format of the book and any new versions. Want to sell your book in print, as an eBook, and also as an audiobook? That’s great, however, you need a different ISBN for each one. If you want to publish a revised and updated version you’ll also need a new ISBN. (This doesn’t cover fixing some typos and errors).
We mentioned that in the USA you can buy ISBNs as a single unit, a bulk of 10, 100 or 1000. Here are the prices:
Number of ISBNs
First off, it rarely makes sense to purchase a single ISBN. A single ISBN would cost you $125, but a bulk of 10 only costs $295. Meaning if you purchased 10, each ISBN would cost you $29.50, a 76% discount.
Buying a single ISBN might seem feasible if you only want to publish one title, but remember that you need an ISBN for each format. So if you want to publish your book as an audiobook, you’d need a brand new ISBN for that. As well as needing different ISBN numbers for your eBook and print versions.
Not to mention that you’ll need an ISBN number for any future books you publish, perhaps as sequels to your book.
We recommend that if you’re serious about making book sales, you should purchase at least a bulk of 10 ISBNs. That gives you 3 ISBN numbers to use for publishing as an eBook, in print, and as an audiobook. You can keep the remainder for any future books you might publish.
Do ISBNs Expire?
No, ISBN numbers never expire or go bad. In fact, if you have one from a long time ago, you can simply reconstruct it for use.
But what if my old ISBN is really old and only has 10 digits?
The Book Designer also has a great resource for learning how to reconstruct an ISBN if you finally decided to write and self-publish the book you’ve been thinking about since you bought the ISBN.
How to Read an ISBN Number with an Example
As of 2007, the ISBN is a 13-digit number. This came about in part because of the large volume of eBooks now being published every year.
Knowing how to break down and interpret these 13 digits aren’t of much use and interest to most book readers, but for publishers and distributors, it’s a necessity.
If you want to publish lots of books under your own publishing name then it’s something you may want to pay attention to. You can tell a lot about a book and its author by reading the ISBN number.
The 13 digit ISBN number helps:
Identify the specific title
Identify the author
Identify the type of book they are buying
Identify the physical properties of that particular book
Identify the geographical location of the publisher
Let’s break it down and look at what all these numbers mean.
Here is the ISBN for a particular book:
You’ll notice this sequence is divided into 5 number combinations. But the first three digits “978” indicates that this string of numbers is for an ISBN. If we remove these digits we have:
First is the initial digit, in this case: 3
The 3 is the language group identifier which here indicates German. For English speaking countries a 0 or 1 is used. Numbers for language identification generally range from 1-5.
Here is a list of the most common Group identifiers:
0 or 1 for English
2 for French
3 for German
4 for Japan
5 for Russian
7 for People’s Republic of China
It’s worth mentioning that the rarer the language, the longer the number identifier will be. For example, Indonesia is 602 whereas Turkey is 9944. You can reference the complete list at the International ISBN Agency.
Next is “16”. This is the “publisher code,” and it identifies the publisher on any book that has this number. This number can be as long as 9 digits.
“148410” — This six-digit series represents the title of the book. The publisher assigns this to a specific book or edition of the book, such as a hardcover version or paperback. This could be a single digit or stretch to multiple digits.
“0” is the last digit and is known as the “check digit”. This number is mathematically calculated as a fixed digit. This is always a single digit.
This number indicates that the rest of the ISBN numbers have been scanned and is calculated based on the other digits in the code.
Where Is the ISBN Number on books?
The ISBN is usually found above the barcode on the back of the book. However, they’re not the same.
The barcode is much different than the ISBN number.
This is an important distinction because:
When you purchase an ISBN you don’t automatically get a barcode
The barcode of your book can change, while your ISBN can remain the same.
We’ve already discussed what data the ISBN carries, however, the barcode includes extra information such as the book’s fixed price and the currency it’s being sold in.
Barcodes are a necessary element of your book as they allow for most retailers and distributors to scan your ISBN for retail and inventory reasons.
If you want to look up the ISBN of any book out there, you can do so easily by visiting the website ISBNSearch.org.
You’ll be greeted with a screen like the one above where you will be prompted to type in the ISBN, author name, or book title.
After hitting “search,” you will have a list of books matching your searched items with the both the 13-digit ISBN and the 10-digit, like in the example below.
How to Read a Barcode
If you look at the picture of a standard barcode, you’ll notice two barcodes side by side. The barcode that appears on the left is the EAN generated from the ISBN number.
The other number appearing on the right is a 5-digit add-on, called an EAN-5, that contains the price of the book. The first digit is a 5 and is a must for scanners to read. The 4-digits after the five indicates the price of the book.
For example, if the number reads 52995, this means the price of the book is set at $29.95. If the price of the book changes, a new barcode must be used, though the ISBN wouldn’t change.
This would only be replaced by a new ISBN number if the book is published as a new edition or as a new version.
To buy a barcode you must first purchase an ISBN. You can buy your barcodes at Bowker and they even offer a barcode-ISBN combo:
1 barcode + 1 ISBN is $150.
1 barcode + 10 ISBNs is $320.
The Difference Between ASIN and ISBN
If you’ve used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program you’ve probably come across an ASIN. ASIN numbers are used by Amazon to manage and identify the products they are selling on their site. It’s a 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier that’s assigned by Amazon.com and its partners.
You can find this on your book page. In your browser, the Amazon ASIN will be after the product’s name and “dp”. The next place to find this is in your book or product details area of your book page.
However, an ASIN is not the same as an ISBN. You can only use it with Amazon. If you want to sell through other platforms or in brick and mortar stores, you’re going to need an ISBN.
Do I Need an ISBN?
If you want to publish and sell your eBook on Amazon, then the quick answer is no, it isn’t necessary. Amazon will assign your eBook an ASIN number which will be used to identify and track your title.
However, that’s only with Amazon, and only with eBooks.
This might be important if you have a brick and mortar marketing strategy, or if you want your book to be accessible through libraries (more on this later), or if you’re looking to deal with wholesalers or other online retailers.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if you want to sell your book by means other than as an ebook on Amazon, then you’ll need an ISBN.
How Do You Buy an ISBN Number?
You might not even have to buy your ISBN number because of services offered to self-published authors. You can get assigned a free ISBN by Createspace, the On-Demand publishing company that has now merged with Amazon.
If you can get a free or cheap ISBN with them, then what’s the use in paying for your own one?
Here’s the problem: most of the time, you can only use those free ISBNs with the channels those companies distribute through.
Let’s say you get a free ISBN with Draft2Digital, but then you notice that there are some retail channels you can access through Smashwords that you can’t with Draft2Digital.
You can’t use the Draft2Digital ISBN with Smashwords.
Smashwords will only let you use your own ISBN or an ISBN they assign to you. So what do you do?
You get a free ISBN with Smashwords.
And now you have two ISBNs for the same book. Same book title, same book format, but two ISBNs.
You then hear of some exclusive channels you can get through eBookPartnership. The only wrinkle? You need an ISBN and they won’t take your Smashwords’ or Draft2Digital’s ISBN. So you sign up for their free ISBN instead.
Now you have three ISBNs for the same book.
Should You Buy Your Own ISBN Number?
This problem can repeat itself again and again as you discover more ways to distribute your book. Sometimes you’ll have to pay for the ISBN, sometimes you won’t. But it leads to you having several ISBNs, all from different publishers, for the same book.
Can you picture how unprofessional that looks to a bookstore?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to start off by buying your own ISBN? Wouldn’t that make you look more professional?
All of these issues can be sidestepped by simply purchasing your own ISBN through Bowker.
Libraries and ISBN Numbers
We briefly mentioned that if you want to stock your book in libraries, you’ll need an ISBN. However, that might be the furthest thing from your mind. You might have decided to focus purely on eBook publishing and what part do libraries play in eBooks?
A big one.
Libraries are becoming more important to the distribution of eBooks. Overdrive is the largest supplier to schools and libraries in the world (serving more than 30,000), and they circulated more than 105 million eBooks in 2014, a 33% increase from their previous year. They also supply to retail stores globally, making $100 million in sales in 2013.
And guess what you need to be able to partner with Overdrive? Yup. An ISBN.
How to Get an ISBN Final Steps
Now that you have a very good idea how to buy and use ISBNs for your own books, all the best on setting this up. If you want to be recognized as a publisher and have your books available to a larger global audience by registering through Bowker, consider investing in your own ISBN numbers.
Think of it as buying a piece of property: You own it and it is registered in your name.
If you publish your paperback through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can fill in your number in the “Paperback Content” section of your book when you log into your bookshelf. If you choose to have Createspace assign you an ISBN, KDP will ask for your 13-digit number if you are transferring your physical version over to KDP.
In the writing world years ago, you only had one option: find a publisher who wants it. If no one wanted to buy and publish your book, you were out of luck. Onto the next manuscript, toss that one in the bin.
Fortunately, things are different today.
The great thing about being a modern author is that you’ve got options! Gone are the days of mandatory querying, submitting, waiting, rejections, and repeat. Now you can take your book and your publishing experience into your own hands with self-publishing.
So which one is better? Traditional publishing or self-publishing?
It really depends on your goals and resources. In this blog, we’re going to discuss the differences between traditional and self-publishing, the pros and cons of each, and what you should consider when making this decision.
Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing: A quick overview
Self-publishing might seem like way too much work! Or maybe it seems like an amazingly fun adventure of choosing your own fate, expressing your creativity, and making your own choices.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of self-publishing your book.
Pros of self-publishing a novel:
Creative control. With self-publishing, it’s all up to you! You maintain all creative control. Write any story you want, include whatever characters you want, market however you want, put your own face as the book cover if you want—it’s all your decision.
Business control. You get to decide everything on the business side too! Cover design, marketing, book trailers, promotions, advertisements—you’re in control and can do whatever you’d like. For example, I was able to offer a free ebook of my short story collection to encourage people to stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak. My goal was to calm people down and provide a distraction. But some unexpected benefits for me were extra Amazon reviews, hype about my next book, purchases of the physical copy, and word-of-mouth advertising that I couldn’t have created on purpose. This isn’t something I could have done with a traditionally published book, because the publisher has control of pricing and promotions. NOTE: Business control could be a con if you don’t have a background in business, don’t take the time to research beforehand, or if you’re just not interested in running the business side of a writing career—so keep that in mind.
Higher royalties! Book royalties for a traditionally published book usually range between 8% to 12%. For self-published books, the range is much higher. For example, publishing a paperback with KDP gives you a royalty rate of 60%. That’s a significant difference, and certainly something to keep in mind.
You pay for everything.Editor, cover art, marketing, copyright—all you, boo. There’s no publisher there to pick up any of the financial slack.
No advance, so no guaranteed payment. With traditional publishing, as we’ll cover in a little bit, you typically receive an advance, which is an upfront payment for your book. This guarantees you make something for your efforts, at least so long as your book sells (otherwise you often have to give that advance back). No such luck with self-publishing. You either sell enough copies to recoup costs, or you eat the loss.
Self-publishing your novel might be the route for you if you:
Want to retain creative and business control
Have the money to invest in producing the book
How to self-publish your novel
If you’ve discovered this is the right direction for you, here are some steps to get you there.
1. Produce the book
Write the book
Whichever publishing path you choose, ya gotta write the book. There are many processes and strategies, and it will look different depending on the author and their preferences.
Edit the book
Just like writing, there are several different processes and strategies available for editing your book. Ideally, you’re going to go through multiple rounds of edits. For example, a lot of writers will edit their book in this order: developmental edits, line edits, and copy edits.
You might try in-house editing. This isn’t recommended. Even writers who are also professional editors would be better off hiring an editor for their book. It’s just so easy to miss things when you’re close to a story. It takes an outside perspective to spot mistakes, especially in developmental edits.
You might do this in-house, or you might hire someone to do it for you. If you have the ability to invest in something, I recommend investing in a cover. This is your customer-facing element and a major marketing tool, so investing makes sense!
This is something else you could do in-house, but you should consider your skill level and amount of time you’re able to invest. Think about what you have more of: time or money. If you have more time, maybe it’s worth it for you to learn to format the book yourself. If you have more money and less time, it might be worth the financial investment.
Publish the book
There are many options for indie authors to self-publish with. KDP, IngramSpark, iBooks, Kobo, and more. Each has different levels of accessibility, different learning curves, and different requirements. There are also differentiation between your publishing and licensing rights between them, so research carefully before making your selection.
Self-Publishing School also has step-by-step processes for publishing through each of the above in their Become a Bestseller program so you don’t have to waste the time learning on your own.
2. Market the book
Build a platform
Possibly the most powerful marketing tool to sell your book is having an audience—your author platform—ready to buy it before you’ve finished writing it. There are many things you can do to build a platform for your book. Jenna Moreci’s Skillshare class is a great place to start.
The most crucial time frame to market your book is before and during its release. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to hype the art you’ve been working so hard to create! Jenna has another great SkillShare class all about book launches.
Giveaways and promotions
Hosting giveaways on social media is a great way to build hype for your book and platform.
You might buy ads to run where your demographic might see them. For example, if you’re writing romance novels for the age demographic of 40+ readers, a Facebook ad might be a great investment. If your target demographic is teenagers, a Facebook ad would be virtually useless (unless you’re targeting their parents!).
Does self-publishing work? Of course! Is it worth it? That’s up to you. Let’s look at traditional publishing to see if that’s a better fit for your writing goals and resources.
Pros and cons of traditionally publishing a novel
Traditional publishing might seem like an unattainable dream. Or maybe it seems like the PERFECT way to launch your writing career! Let’s look at it objectively with some pros and cons.
Pros of traditionally publishing a book:
Less financial investment up front. Your publisher will cover expenses like editing, cover design, and interior formatting. You don’t have to worry about putting your own money on the line. If your book doesn’t sell, you still make off with your cashbag.
The cashbag (guaranteed paycheck). While self-publishing provides you with significantly higher royalties, traditional publishers often offer the incentive of an advance payment, which typically ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Advances are not a guarantee with every publisher, so always be sure to read your contract. Royalty payments for traditional publishers kick in if and when the book has sold enough copies to surpass the advance. (Most books never meet that threshold and never start paying royalties to the author.)
Cons of traditionally publishing a novel:
Traditional publishers don’t have your best interest at heart. They’re a business. They have goals and standards that have nothing to do with you. Sure, they’re there if you have questions, and they have the industry know-how, but your book is just another product and you’re just another writer. In some cases, publishers will buy rights to a book they never intend to publish, just to keep another publishing company from getting their hands on it. This is a business practice in many industries—it’s a way to minimize competition. While this isn’t the likeliest drawback of traditional publishing, it is an example of how they’re not “on your side”. They’re running a business. NOTE: Vanity presses are technically publishers, and they certainly don’t want what’s best for you and your book. Vanity presses are publishers who charge writers to publish their book—they don’t care about quality because they’re not making their money off of readers: they’re making their money off of you.
Publishers maintain creative control. If you have specific ideas about how you want your book to be presented or marketed, if you have a picture of what you want the cover to look like, if you want to write about something extremely controversial or that there may not be a market for—you’re going to be disappointed. Publishers know the industry, and they have their own goals with your book: they’ll do what they want with it. They can even control the content of your story. If that bothers you, this probably isn’t the publishing option you should take.
Publishers maintain business control. Just like creative control, the business control lies with your publisher. Like I said earlier, I was able to offer my ebook free, just because I felt like it. With traditional publishing, you don’t have a say in how your book is sold.
While you typically have a guaranteed paycheck in that initial advance, it often isn’t much! If you’re getting $10k per book, and that’s all, you have to have a day job or make sure you stretch that $10k until you can rip out another book fast. While self-publishing doesn’t promise a lucrative life right away either (unless you know how to work the algorithm and gain exposure, which is taught in Self-Publishing School’s Sell More Books program), keep in mind that advances—especially early on—just aren’t that much.
Traditionally publishing a novel might be for you if:
You don’t mind giving up creative and business control
You don’t have the money to invest up front
You’re okay with receiving smaller royalties in exchange for the publisher covering production costs
You understand that they don’t have your best interests at heart, and you’re ready to proceed with a business frame of mind, taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your work
How to traditionally publish a novel
If you think traditional publishing might be the right move for your book, let’s look at the steps to do it!
Most of the traditional publishing process is spent waiting. Some writers can wait for months or years trying to snag a literary agent. You might even end up tossing your manuscript and trying again with the next one.
TIP: Try to use this time productively, like by working on your next manuscript!
If/when you find an agent, you’ll go back and forth with your agent and editor to edit your manuscript over and over again, until it’s right!
Once your book is edited, you wait for publication. Again, this could be months or years, but once it happens, time to market.
Unfortunately (and contrary to popular belief), being traditionally published does not guarantee that your publisher will market the book for you. In fact, they almost definitely won’t.
Unless you’re an established author, publishers really don’t benefit from spending money making sure your book sells. They’ll invest their marketing budget on authors who have already proven to be profitable.
The one guaranteed element from a publisher that you might consider marketing is the book cover (which you have no say in designing). This doesn’t mean publishers are evil and they want you to fail, but they have no incentive to spend any of their marketing budgets on a new author or a debut book—it won’t make them any money, and they’re just running a business.
To sum up, there’s no one-size-fits-all publishing solution that will work for every writer. Consider your goals, your expectations, your strengths and weaknesses, and the amount of time and resources you’re ready to commit to publishing your book.
Do you want to invest less time and money for a smaller reward? Traditional publishing might be your route.
Do you want to invest a little more initially for potentially a more profitable long-run? Self-publishing might be your route.
What’s the difference between a book blurb and a synopsis?
A blurb serves you on the consumer marketing front, giving a glimpse into your story with just enough information to entice, holding back enough to avoid spoilers. It’s a teaser of your book, not a summary.
A synopsis will be part of your press kit and applications for things like reviews, interviews, literary agents, editors, and publishers. A synopsis summarizing the twists, turns, and conclusion of your story.
It’s essentially a condensed version of your book.
Book Blurb and Book Synopsis Examples
This is often easier seen than taught. Below are a couple of screenshots of the Amazon page for both a fiction and nonfiction book.
As you can see, the content readers use to decide whether or not they want to purchase the book is actually a blurb.
Oftentimes, synopsis (where there are spoilers and deeper detail) is usually used more to sell the book to a traditional publisher than for selling your book to readers (or for a homework assignment from school!).
What is a book synopsis?
A synopsis is a one to four page summary of your novel. The synopsis should explain the plot, main character arc, and conclusion of the book.
A common method of writing a synopsis is in a three-paragraph format.
First paragraph: introduction of character, setting, and conflict/inciting incident.
Second paragraph: major plot points, conflicts, and characters that are required for the conclusion to make sense.
Third paragraph: how the conflict is resolved, how the character changes from the start of the book.
Tips for writing a novel synopsis:
Use active voice instead of passive voice. This makes the synopsis more interesting and engaging.
Use third person point of view. This is standard.
Consider your synopsis as a representation of your writing skills. Don’t just summarize the book–summarize it in a way that portrays your writing style.
Write clear and concise copy. If your synopsis is too long or rambly, you’ll lose the reader’s interest and they might assume your novel is also too long and rambly.
Don’t try to cover too many things or include too many details. Your main plot points and character arc are all you need in a synopsis. Don’t try to include every beat and character in the book.
Don’t try to write an intriguing or mysterious hook–simply give the information required. Don’t hold something back to be mysterious. That’s something for your book blurb, which we’ll tackle below.
What is a blurb?
Often referred to as a “book description,” a blurb is a short piece, around 150 words, to promote your novel. You find blurbs on the back cover of paperbacks, the inside back cover of a hardback, and on book description pages in online stores.
Think of this as the elevator pitch of your book.
Unlike a synopsis, a blurb does not outline every major plot point of your story, and it doesn’t give spoilers.
Blurbs are extremely important to market your book. They’re for “selling” the book to the consumer.
How to write a book blurb
Let’s go over the structure, formula, and some tips for writing a good book blurb.
Here’s the structure of a book blurb:
Snappy opener. You usually have to catch the reader’s interest within the first sentence for them to continue reading the blurb.
Character introduction. All you need is your main character! Don’t worry about introducing every named character in your book. Don’t include more than two characters.
Presentation of stakes. What’s at risk in your story? What questions can you present that will make people want to read your book to find the answer?
Keywords. Especially if you’re selling online, keywords do a lot to help potential readers find your book. Make sure you’re using accurate and effective keywords for your book and genre.
A hook–why should readers buy this book? What’s the cliffhanger?
Book Blurb Formula
Most fiction blurbs you’ll see follow this kind of format:
Situation–introduce your character. Who are they, where are they, what are they up to?
Problem–what pressing issue does your character have to face? This is often the inciting incident.
Obstacles–what’s stopping them from solving the problem?
Stakes–what does the character have to lose? The last bit should also set the mood for your book.
Here are some more tips for writing a book blurb:
Read a ton of blurbs, especially blurbs from successful books in your book genre.
Work on a great first sentence. Like I said earlier, if you can’t catch interest with the opener, your reader likely won’t finish reading the blurb.
Use audience-catered language. This includes keywords, but also the way your blurb can relate to your audience. Age demographic is a great thing to consider when you’re crafting language for your particular target audience.
Offer setting. With description, word choice, and tone, let the reader know when and where the story is set.
Keep it concise. 200 words max!
Get others to read and critique your blurb. Feedback on any piece of writing is important, especially something that can make or break book sales like a blurb. Get several sets of eyes on it, and listen to the notes people give you.
Write a few different versions and experiment. You might surprise yourself with how creative you can make it.
Don’t give spoilers! That’s synopsis content.
Avoid comparing your work to a famous author’s work or a famous piece of literature. If you welcome a comparison, people will take you up on it…potentially in the reviews, and you don’t want that.
Good Book Blurb Examples
Let’s look at a few examples of blurbs from popular novels.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
The first paragraph introduces the situation. The character, her current state, the premise, and the setting.
The second paragraph gives us the problem (she sees something shocking), the obstacles (she only gets a glimpse, she might be unreliable), and the stakes (has she harmed something?).
Some genre keywords we get are: police, investigation, shocking
And what mood are we left with from this blurb? Intrigue, mystery, and the promise of a possibly unreliable narrator make this an exciting blurb.
Sometimes a quote from the novel works as a blurb itself. Let’s look at this example.
Second, there was a part of him—and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be—that thirsted for my blood.
Third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
The situation is that our character lives in a world where vampires exist, and they’re in close proximity to one. The problem is that the vampire wants to eat them. The obstacle and stakes (ha ha) is a wrap-up in the fact that they’re in love with the vampire that wants to eat them.
Some genre keywords we get are: vampire, blood, and love.
The mood this blurb gives us is, “Oooh, dangerous. But like, in a sexy way?”
Tobias Kaya doesn’t care about The Savior. He doesn’t care that She’s the ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn’t care that She’s of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.
Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting – and killing – for the chance to rule at The Savior’s side. Instantly, his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.
Situation: Tobias is to compete for The Savior’s hand in marriage, and he absolutely doesn’t care.
Problem: Tobias has to fight for his life in a tournament.
Obstacles: Everyone’s trying to kill, manipulate, and betray him.
Mood: This blurb leaves us with a sense of urgency and danger.
If you plan to sell a book, you’ll become intimately familiar with the process of writing a compelling synopsis and blurb. They’re essential elements in a book marketing plan, and they are cornerstone elements of presenting your book to multiple levels of the book publishing industry.
It’s a tough, yet brave decision. Sitting down to get your message out in the world will be one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you do.
But now that you’ve made this decision, you may be wondering:
Should I approach a publisher and go down the traditional route? Or should I self-publish and become an indie author? Which is better, traditional publishing versus self-publishing?
Before the age of the internet, the only way a writer could get their book in front of millions was to send a book proposal and a query letter to a traditional publisher or agent. The writer hoped that day’s gatekeeper had drank their morning coffee, woken up on the right side of the bed and actually given your letter and proposal more than a 10-second glance.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening was slim to none.
This resulted in brilliant people like yourself being denied the opportunity to share their experiences, stories, and knowledge with the world.
Thankfully, this industry is changing for the better – at least for those of us who are savvy in self-publishing.
With the development of online marketplaces like Amazon, the publishing process has changed. You can distribute your book to everyone, regardless of what some traditional publishing house thinks about your idea.
You have a book inside of you and the world needs to read it!
Is it better to self-publish or get a publisher?
Whether or not self-publishing or getting a publisher is better relies entirely upon your own goals and resources. For you as a person and a writer, one or the other will be better.
If you want to have far more creative control but pay a little more upfront (with the knowledge you also make a lot more in royalties), self-publishing is the best route.
But if you want to put in a year—sometimes two—more to find an agent, write a great book, and get a deal in exchange for that $5,000 – $10,000 first-time advance, it might be better for you.
The truth is that you have to inform yourself of each and make the decision for yourself, which is why we put this comprehensive blog post together for you.
Let us know which you’re going for in the comments too!
How much can you make from self-publishing?
The amount you make from self-publishing depends on your royalty rate, how much you sell the book for, and how much time you’re spending marketing the book.
But also keep in mind that you have to know how to self-publish the book correctly if you truly want to see high returns.
Thankfully, self-published books have a much, much higher royalty rate than traditional publishers because you get to keep anywhere from 50-70% of your book’s profits.
With a traditional publisher, they take much more and you only end up with 10% maybe 12% after years of proving yourself as an author.
Want to see how much you’d need to sell in order to make a specific amount? Fill out the calendar below so you know exactly that!
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Does self-publishing hurt your chances with a traditional publisher?
Self-publishing does not hurt your chances with a traditional publisher at all. The opposite is true, actually. Self-publishing a book and having success can make it more likely you’ll publish with a traditional publishing house.
Major publishers like their authors to have an edge. The more successful you are on your own, and the bigger your author platform, the more likely it is a traditional publisher will publish your book.
So by having success and building your following as a self-published author, it makes landing an agent and a book deal that much easier. And it also saves you a ton of time searching for that agent too!
Some literary agents may actually approach you if your book does well enough. Does the book The Martian ring a bell?
It does happen. But first, your book has to sell and be successful much like The Martian was.
The publishing world has changed, and it’s time for you to reap the benefits. Here are seven reasons why self-publishing is the best route to take—and why you’ll think twice before dealing with a publishing company again.
#1 – You Don’t Have to Wait for Permission
With self-published books, you do not have to wait for anyone to give you the green light.
You decide when and how to publish a book.
You decide whose hands your book gets into.
You decide how successful you are.
In other words, you don’t have to convince any gatekeepers to allow your book to reach the global market.
“But, don’t traditional publishers have a good idea for what will sell or not? I mean, if they reject my book, they’re probably right that no one would want to buy it.”
Have you ever heard of Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek”? It has been a New York Timesand Wall Street Journal bestseller for over four years. It sold nearly 1.5 million copies and has been translated into 35 different languages.
Oh, and get this: It was rejected by the first 26 publishers it was presented to.
Maybe you’ve also heard of a certain children’s book, the one about a young boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead who discovers he is a wizard. The ”Harry Potter” franchise is a patent bestseller, with the last four books in the series being the fastest-selling books in history.
Yet it was rejected by 12 publishers in a row, and was only picked up because the eight-year-old daughter of an editor demanded to read the rest of the book. Even then, after the editor agreed to publish, they advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job as she had little chance of making money in children’s books.
Little did they realize the publishing success they had stumbled onto.
Now, just imagine all the other authors out there who stopped after the first 10 or 20 doors slammed in their faces, believing the lie that they didn’t have a profitable idea.
You cannot allow other people to determine your success.
Self-publishing gives you the avenue to do that. You and your readers decide the worth of your words, rather than one person at a publishing firm who may not realize the potential publishing success in their hands.
#2 – You Can Publish Your Work Quickly
If you were to take your book to a traditional publisher, it would take years to publish.
For example, it may take up to six months for you to even hear back about the book proposal. And assuming they accept your proposal, it will take at least another year before the book is actually published.
With self-publishing, you can produce your content as quickly as you want. And in the Amazon Kindle store, you can publish a new book whenever you want. That way, you can share your work as quickly as you create it!
#3 – Bring Home the (passive) Bacon
Traditionally-published authors are typically paid an amount of money up front. However, once the sales come rolling in, they only get a small cut of the earnings.
Why? Because they have to pay the publishing house, the editor, the marketers, the designers, etc.
But when you self-publish, you take in most of the earnings (save for the money you actually choose to spend on marketing, book production and publishing). On Amazon, for example, self-published authors receive 70% of the royalties for an eBook priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Now that isn’t bad!
#4 – You Form Invaluable Connections
Self-publishers around the world have gathered online and in person to provide a community that supports one another in publishing their work.
These connections become priceless as you meet other up-and-coming influencers like yourself.
“Wait—so where would I meet these people?”
Because self-publishing requires that you find your own editor, cover designer, formatter and launch team members, you end up connecting with people throughout your whole writing experience.
Self-published authors also gather on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.
The camaraderie allows people to expand far beyond what they could have done on their own, or what they would have been limited to with a traditional publisher.
#5 – You Control Your Objective
So much of a book is influenced by the motive that fuels it.
Is your motive to make money?
It is to launch a new career?
Is it to share your story?
Is it to become a public speaker?
Or, is it simply something to cross off your bucket list?
Remember, writing a book is hard work. And nothing is worse than seeing your hard work be transformed into something you didn’t want. When you self-publish, you are able to preserve the dignity and genius of your objective. No one is pressuring you to sell more books, or to taint your message so that it will reach wider audiences.
You are not pigeonholed or made to become someone you’re not comfortable with.
You write as you, and for you. And that is liberating. That is self-publishing freedom!
#6 – You Control Your Creative Concept
There are horror stories about authors whose ideas and voice became unrecognizable after they went down the traditional route.
When you work with a traditional publisher, you don’t just sell them your manuscript, you sell them your idea.
Your book may become something you are not comfortable with. Or, your dreams for a sequel or a revision may be completely squandered if it does not comply with the motives of the traditional publisher.
But as an independent author, you retain total creative control.
You are free to be expressive with your work. You are free to be vulnerable and controversial. You are free to be you.
When you self-publish, you also control who you write for. If you sell via the Amazon Kindle store, you can choose, and then tweak, your categories and keywords. You determine your marketing efforts.
Most people looking to write a book want to earn more money, gain more freedom or have a platform to share their ideas.
When you self-publish and have complete ownership over your ideas, you also have complete ownership over your future.
There is no traditional publishing firm to stop you from selling a supplementary online course that includes material from your book, starting a speaking career, re-releasing your book with a hardcover or audiobook, or even releasing an updated version of your book.
You determine the trajectory of your book, your ideas, and your publishing career when you self-publish.
Even Big Names Choose Between Traditional Publishing VS Self-Publishing
Though there are some benefits to traditional publishing, even some well-established and successful authors admit that the joys of being an indie author outweigh a traditional publishing deal.
So much, in fact, that big name entrepreneurs who have large followings and could easily get a traditional publishing deal are opting to go the self-publishing route.
It really is…but only if you’re dedicated and have the right process to get you results.
The fact is, a lot of misinformed people judge self-publishing as being a waste or that you won’t make money. Those people just don’t know how to properly position their book on Amazon, market it, or even title their book to sell.
That’s why so many of our students are successful; they follow our program and with the help of their coaches to tailor their strategy, they make money and have major success with their books.
Why Go With Traditional Publishing?
As you can probably tell, we here at Self-Publishing School are huge advocates of being in control and ensuring you get all the money you deserve for the work you’ve put in.
That being said, sometimes traditional publishing will be the best option to fit your needs.
Here is why some people might opt to go with traditional publishing instead of reaping the rewards of self-publishing.
#1 – You have connections in the publishing industry
The chances of landing and agent and making it in traditional publishing is very low.
Because this market is very saturated and publishers really only publish certain types of books, those who have better luck with traditional publishing are those who have connections within the industry.
Bascially, if you know someone who is an agent or an editor at a publishing house, it might be beneficial for you to work with them in order to get published through that house.
#2 – You want the label
The best perk when it comes to traditional publishing is typically the fact that you can say you’re a traditionally published author.
Because you have to go through a number of different processes and rejections in order to “make it” with traditional publishing, it can be seen as a sign that you’re a better writer than others.
However, as much as it can sound impressive, it doesn’t always mean it is.
#3 – Distribution
Book distribution is much easier as a traditionally published author, mostly because you don’t have to deal with any of it.
Traditional publishing houses have very wide reaches and because of this, your book can reach a lot more stores in more places than if you traditionally publish.
#4 – Less responsibility on your part
If you’re the type of person who just wants to write the book but don’t want to worry about the title, book cover design, editing, or more, then traditional might be for you.
Keep in mind that traditional publishers do purchase the rights to your book when you get a book deal and therefore, can make you alter anything in it to meet their needs.
Meaning, your plot and characters can drastically change. If you’re okay with that, then traditional publishing works for you.
#5 – No upfront costs to you
Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean traditional publishing is necessarily “free.”
Typically, those who get traditional book deals receive an upfront payment of varying amounts. From there, the rest of the expenses fall on the publisher.
However, those upfront payments aren’t often big enough to cover your living expenses for the length of time it takes to get your book finished and out into the world. And that means you’ll still have to continue to work another job while writing and meeting deadlines in order to get your book done.
#6 – A slow and steady process
This can be both a pro and a con. If you’re not in a rush to get your book out into the world, then the slow and lengthy traditional publishing process might be a good thing for you.
Ultimately, Self-Publishing Will Change Your Life
It may be that, like quite a few writers, you’ve dreamed about working with a big-name publishing house all your life, and nothing will satisfy you until you get that experience. There is nothing wrong with that.
If you’ve identified this need early on, then maybe it’s best for you to go down the traditional publishing route.
But let’s say you win the book lottery and get published. There is still no guarantee that your publisher’s efforts will get your work in bookstores or into the hands of the editors of your favorite literary magazines and newspapers. There’s also no guarantee in sales volume.
However, self-publishing gives you an alternative path. It gives you an assured chance of getting your book out there. You have a better chance of seeing success in your sales and making an impact if your message resonates with enough people. Not to mention, you get to stay true to the vision of your book.
Self-publishing allows you the freedom, money, community and control to shape your life into one that you adore.
Here at Self-Publishing School, our goal is to improve this arduous writing process. Right now, we coach our students to routinely complete a new book in just 90 days, finishing their first draft in as little as 30 days!
They are able to accomplish this by following a simple step-by-step guide that we’re going to share with you today.
How long does it take to write a book?
It can take anywhere from 2 months to a full year to write a book depending on the word count, how often you write, and how much you’re actually writing each session. A good rule of thumb is to allot at least 4 months to write a book.
Many authors report that it takes up to a year to write a book, but more recently, authors are finishing their books in as little as a month to 90 days with our specific system.
How long it takes to write a book largely depends on how much time the writer puts in to actually writing it, though.
The truth about how long it takes to write a book depends on how many words are in it.
Here’s a guideline for how long it takes to write a book:
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Following the guidelines below, you can learn to supercharge your own book writing process, and you’ll become a published author much faster.
What is the average time it takes to write a book?
The average person writing a book for the first time can expect to spend anywhere from 4 months to over a year writing a book. While this might seem like it takes a long time to write a book, there are always methods to shorten this.
Taking everything above into account, the truth is that most people don’t write every day, especially if you have a family and a full-time job.
So let’s break this down a bit further for the average person living an average life that doesn’t allot daily writing time (& they don’t have our system for getting more done with less time):
30,000 – 50,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 4 months – 7 months
50,000 – 80,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 7 months – 11 months
80,000 – 100,000 words: 500 words 3 days per week = 11 months – 1 year +
As you can see, if you maintain an average of 1500 words written per week, writing your book can span from 4 months to over a year without the right system to get it finished quickly.
How long does it take to write a 100 page book?
A 100 page book is about 30,000 words. If you write more than 1500 words per week, you can expect for it to take 2 – 4 months to write a 100 page book.
How long does it take to write a 200 page book?
The average person can expect to spend 3 -7 months writing a 200 page book if they focus on writing more than 1500 words per week.
Now, this would equate to roughly 50,000 words. Many of our students can actually finish their draft of this length in only 30 days with our process.
How long does it take to write a 300 page book?
A 300 page book can take 4 – 9 months to write at an average of about 80,000 words, writing 1500 or more per week.
The average fiction book that’s at a higher level than middle grade will run about this length. In fact, the large majority of young adult books are 70,000 – 90,000 words and can take a bit longer for the full writing, revising, and self-editing process.
How to Write a Book Faster so it Doesn’t Take as Long
If you want to know how to write a book faster so it doesn’t take as long, here are our best tips.
#1 – Establishing a Strategic Deadline
Deadlines are designed to help you inch closer to completing your book by giving yourself a writing habit. It also encourages you to work every day hitting both short-term and long-term goals.
However, you won’t find success by setting arbitrary due dates. They must be set up for your book’s success.
Here are 3 ways to establish strategic deadlines:
Define realistic deadlines. Set short term and long term deadlines for each portion of your draft that breaks down your entire book.
Set honest expectations. If you’re only able to write 500 words a day, so be it. Don’t push yourself into thinking that you can complete an unrealistic task. Be honest with your abilities and align it with your deadline.
Implement rewards. Don’t make writing a book feel like a tedious job. Reward yourself for achieving your goals! Attaching rewards to each accomplishment will make finishing your book much more aspiring to complete.
#2 – Prioritizing Your Writing Into Tasks
What separates those who can write multiple books to those who can barely write a page is the ability to prioritize. Because there are so many competing factors that pull away our time and energy, prioritizing is actually a very hard concept to implement.
But in order to write your book, you need to establish clear priorities to get anything done.
Here are some ways to prioritize your work:
List out every detail of your book and turn them into tasks
Assess each task to identify what carries the biggest value to completing your book
Order tasks by its immediate priority and length of time to complete
Anticipate unexpected changes to your schedule, and plan an alternative schedule to stay on track
Make the effort and spend a few hours prioritizing your writing process. You will be surprised with how much writing you can accomplish with a well thought out task plan.
#3 – Creating Word Count Goals
One of the best ways to accelerate the writing process is to set word count goals. Like training intervals, setting up word count goals will pace how many words to write a day.
First you have to understand how many words in a novel for your genre. Once you know this, you can work backward to figure out how much you have to write each day in order to reach your deadline.
By establishing these parameters for your own success, not only will you be more likely to accomplish these goals, but you will also notice improvements to your writing.
Here’s an example of a tracking sheet you can set up in order to accomplish your word count goals:
We recommend writing down your daily, weekly, and monthly word count goals to not only show your current progress, but to keep you motivated until you reach the end.
It also helps to include rewards for every new milestone!
Start your daily word count goal to 500-1,000 words per day. By completing 1,000 words per day, you’ll be looking at your completed 30,000 word first draft in one month!
#4 – Finding Your Accountability Partner
A supportive partner can be a great soundboard, a first pair of eyes, and a protector of your sanity. They can also be the extrinsic motivation you need to meet your own deadlines and word counts.
When you have an accountability partner backing you up, it makes it harder to procrastinate because they expect great results from you!
At Self-Publishing School, we believe in the accountability system and encourage our students to pair up with other like-minded students to encourage one another and hold each other accountable for reaching goals and deadlines.