Publishing Options: How & Where to Publish Your Book

In this day and age, there are a ton of book publishing options. With the rise of the self-publishing industry (and subsequent dip in traditional publishing), your options to publish are wide and far.

Here at Self-Publishing School, we understand the power of self-publishing, which is why we have our Become a Bestseller program, where we teach people how to maintain control and become a bestseller.

However, there are a ton of other options, and we wanted to make sure you had all the information possible in order to make the decision that’s best for you and your needs as an author.

Which publishing option is the best for YOU & your unique author goals?  Get a full, deep-dive self-publishing vs traditional publishing analysis! Make  an informed decision and set yourself up for success with your book.   Get Your Analysis Here!  <https://self-publishingschool.com/lm-self-vs-traditional-publishing-analysis>

Here are your book publishing options:

  1. Self-Publishing
  2. Traditional Publishing
  3. Hybrid Publisher
  4. Vanity Publisher

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

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:

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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.

Since, he’s published 5 other bestsellers, and he gave all his secrets for doing that away in our Become a Bestseller program.

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.

Creative control:

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!

Marketing responsibility:

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.

Royalty rate:

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!

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#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.

Creative control:

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.

Marketing responsibility:

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.

Royalty rate:

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.

Creative control:

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.

Marketing responsibility:

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).

Royalty rate:

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

CAUTION!!

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.

We wrote a blog post all about vanity press scams here, what they are, and why you should avoid them at all costs.

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.

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how to publish a book

How to Publish a Book in 2020: A Step-by-Step Guide for First-Timers

Historically, if you wanted to know how to publish a book, you needed an agent to get a traditional publisher to look at your manuscript.

In fact, many publishing companies won’t even open a manuscript if it doesn’t come through an agent…

Which makes learning how to publish a book way more difficult.

Not to mention the fact that going through all that work to just land an agent isn’t necessary if you want to publish a book.

What’s worse is even if they do open it, it’s still unlikely that your book will be published and sold in bookstores!

*Cue the groans and grumbles of irritation*

So is there a better method?

Yes! It’s called self-publishing, and as a 6-time bestselling author who’s broken down my system in our Become a Bestseller program, I’m here to go over how to publish a book.

Here’s how to publish a book step-by-step:

  1. Decide Why You Want to Publish a Book
  2. Write Your Book
  3. Get Feedback Before Publishing Your Book
  4. Choose a Book Title
  5. Hire a Great Book Editor
  6. Design a Book Cover that Converts
  7. Create Your Kindle Direct Publishing Account
  8. Format and Upload your Book
  9. Self-Publish Your Book
  10. Price Your Book
  11. Form a Launch Team
  12. Maximize Book Launch Exposure
  13. Celebrate Publishing a Book!

In fact, there is another way for your book to not only be published, but to even become a bestseller! This method has led to the success of many authors and is changing the book and traditional publishing industry.

What is Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing is the act of independently publishing your book on a platform like Amazon without the need of a traditional publishing house.

Personally speaking, I’ve self-published 6 bestselling non-fiction books on Amazon, sold tens of thousands of copies, and continue to collect thousands per month in royalty checks.

The success of my books has been directly responsible for the strong performance of my business, which has grown to over 7 figures in less than 2 years.

Self-publishing a book is done with these steps:

  • Write a book you’re proud of
  • Decide which self-publishing platform to use
  • Get your book edited, a cover designed, and it formatted
  • Upload your manuscript and accompanying assets
  • Hit “Publish” when you’re read
  • Your book is self-published!

It’s really that easy.

Five years ago, in order to achieve this level of publishing success, you would have needed to be extremely lucky to even land an agent who would attempt to find you a deal at one of the “Big 5” publishing houses.

This is no longer the case.

Not only do you no longer need one of the “Big 5” companies to publish your book, now self-published authors are actively turning down offers from publishing companies!

So If you are trying to publish your book and are having no luck landing a publisher, self-publishing could be the best option for you.

Better yet, making the decision to learn how to navigate the self-publishing world the right away can save you countless wasted hours.

Whether you want to do it yourself or work with one of the many self-publishing companies out there, we can help.

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

What’s the Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing?

It’s easy to look at these two publishing routes and get confused. Why would someone self-publish a book when there are companies dedicated to doing it for you? There are actually many reasons.

What is the difference between self-publishing vs traditional publishing?

Self-publishing is a completely independent route with no barriers to entry whereas traditional publishing involves the acts of querying, landing an agent, and getting approved by a publishing house.

Check out the video above for more details on choosing self-publishing or traditional publishing.

Here’s a chart detailing what you receive through self-publishing versus traditional publishing.

What You GetSelf-PublishingTraditional Publishing
Sole control of your book's outcome
X
Sole control of your book's rightsX
Control over the story X
Control over the coverX
100% of royaltiesX
Editing includedX
Cover designX
MarketingXX
DeadlinesX

How Much Does it Cost to Publish a Book?

Pricing to publish a book varies greatly depending on its length, production costs, and the retail price you set.

That being said, it’s important to be prepared when it comes to how much you’ll actually pay to self-publish a book.

There are a number of factors that contribute to how much it costs to self-publish a book:

  • The length of your book (this impacts printing costs)
  • Getting your book edited
  • The book cover design
  • Any promotional ads/materials you want to utilize
  • Another surprising, lesser-known cost I cover in the video below

How to Publish a Book in 2020

So many writers get overwhelmed with the abundance of information about the self-publishing process, what it’ll cost, how to do it right, how to come up with a good book idea, and more.

I’ve created a step-by-step comprehensive self-publishing guide that will walk you through the beginning steps of how to write your book all the way to how to self-publish it on Amazon’s Kindle (KDP) Network.

Let’s get started so you can get started!

#1 – Decide Why You Want to Learn How to Publish a Book

What you need to decide first when self-publishing a book, is WHY you want to write a book.

I encourage going through this brainstorming process as it’s the only way to ensure that you’re 100% committed to writing a book (and you’re doing it for the right reasons).

This is a huge step that’s largely responsible for our Become a Bestseller students to write and publish so quickly.

Here are some questions for you to decide why you want to publish a book:

  • Are you an entrepreneur or freelancer with a new business trying to get a leg up on your competition by publishing a book?
  • Do you want to leverage your skills and knowledge to become a paid speaker or coach?
  • Do you have a well-established business and you want to write a book to diversify your income streams and land speaking engagements?
  • Or do you already have a successful story, and want to build an asset that will share the knowledge and skills you’ve gained over decades of experience?
  • Do you have a larger number of book ideas or prompts you need to start writing?

Action Plan:

Come up with at least 10 valid reasons why you want to write a book. Use the questions above as a starting guide to brainstorm.

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#2 – Write Your Book

If you’ve ever tried to start writing a book, you might have had moments where you’ve stared at a blank page for hours with nothing to show for it. Feeling frustrated, you resort to procrastinating and get nothing done!

This is normal, writing a book is hard work.

In fact, coming up with a book idea in general can be very tricky. But in order to start writing your book, you must develop a writing process.

Here’s are some effective ways to write a book worth self-publishing:

  • Buy a calendar. The best way to have your book complete is to have a calendar that schedules your goals per day/week.
  • Create an outline. An outline is like a map of your book that provides direction to your story. It keeps you on track and ensures that your ideas are organized.
  • Develop a writing habit. Condition yourself to write at the same time every day. With this practice, it will soon become a habit that will make writing a book automatic.
  • Get an accountability partner. You can hold each other accountable to write and finish your by your “draft done” date.
  • Build your writing environment. Yes, this can be a blanket for if you choose to use “build” literally or you can simply find an area where your head is clear, there are no distractions, and where you can write in peace.

To learn more tips on how to write faster, here’s a tutorial video of the simple process I use to write over 1500 words per hour:

#3 – Get Feedback on Your Book Before Publishing

When writing your book, it’s important to get as much feedback as early in the process as possible.

It’s essential to get this feedback in order to improve your writing.

Everything from creative writing to factual, non-fiction works needs feedback in order to produce a polished publication.

As writers, it’s all too easy to retreat into your cave for a long period of time, spend countless hours writing what you think is the perfect first draft, only to find that a) your draft doesn’t make sense to anyone else or b) no one else is as interested in the topic as you originally thought.

Writing tips can come from anywhere and the best usually come from those reading your book for the first time.

Not only can a fresh set of eyes on your book help you catch typos and grammatical errors, but a new perspective can give you ideas for tightening up your story and making the theme more clear, like in the example below.

publishing a book feedback

Giving your book to one (or more) “beta readers” before giving it to an editor and self-publishing can also cut down on the time and cost of paying a professional editor.

You can also use a beneficial piece of writing software like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor so you can learn as you write!

Action Plan:

Reach out to a few friends who could provide good (preferably unbiased) feedback, and ask them if they’ll be willing to read a chapter or two (or the whole book!) as you finish writing

#4 – Choose a Book Title

Contrary to popular belief, you should never decide on a book title until after you are done writing your first draft. 

This is because choosing a book title first often results in you “writing yourself into a corner” because you’re trying so hard to align your story to the title of the book instead of writing what needs to be written.

Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be.

The key to choosing a perfect title is: the simpler the title, the better.

As you’re brainstorming ideas, always remember to keep it simple.

Your title should also be clear on what your readers will receive by reading your book. This is because experts state that a clear promise or a guarantee of results will further intrigue your readers.

It’s certainly what’s made our Become a Bestseller students so successful during their launches.

publish a book title

Here are some questions to consider when creating your memorable book title:

  • Is your title going to teach a high demand skill?
  • Can your title impact someone’s life?
  • Can your book solve a very difficult problem?
  • Is it short enough to read in a thumbnail image on Amazon?
  • Does it elicit an emotional response?

Action Plan:

Once you’ve narrowed down your book titles, send out an email to your friends and family or put a poll up to your audience asking what title they’d prefer. You could also ask a community of other authors what they think.

#5 – Hire a Great Book Editor

Hiring a great book editor can mean the difference between becoming a bestselling author, or self-publishing a mediocre book. Therefore, it’s important to take as much time as necessary during this stage of the process.

To find an editor for your book, begin with your personal network.

Do you personally know any qualified editors?

Start there. If you don’t, then do you know someone who knows an editor? If you don’t have any luck finding an editor within your personal network, don’t worry!

Depending on your budget, you can either hire a professional book editor or hire a more budget-friendly editor from Upwork. But be careful and always check references and portfolios of work.

As a Self-Publishing School student, we will also provide you with a Rolodex of approved and vetted book editors who all do a great job, as you can see in the example below.

how to publish a book choosing editor

No matter how you find your editor, make sure you’re a good fit before committing to the full book by paying them a small sum ($25 or so) to edit a few pages or a chapter of your book.

Make sure the editor is interested in the subject matter, that they can get your whole book edited in 3.5 weeks or less including back-and-forth revisions, and that their edits are both accurate and make sense to you.

If you don’t feel you’re a good fit following a sample edit, then let that $25 go and find an editor who’s going to work out rather than sinking more money into a relationship that might be a mistake.

Whatever you do, don’t give up during the editorial process! If one editor isn’t working out for you or meeting your needs, find another.

Action Plan:

Find a friend or professional editor who can make sure your book is error-free, and start working with them sooner rather than later!

#6 – Design a Book Cover that Converts

When it comes to self-publishing, a high-quality book cover is one of the most important elements that will get your book to convert into sales!

The reason is that your book cover design is what readers see first and will immediately determine whether they want to read your book or not.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” simply doesn’t apply to actual book covers, as much as we wish it did.

publish a book

The hard truth is that everyone judges a book by its cover whether they realize it or not.

So you must make sure that it is created professionally and that it will stand apart from the rest of the books in your genre or category.

What makes a good book cover?

  • Simplistic styling. Too much going on will make readers unable to figure out what your book is about. Keep the cover minimalistic and it will convert more readers.
  • Professionally designed. Book cover designers know how to create book covers that convert. They have industry knowledge and have studied what works and what doesn’t.
  • Clear title and subtitle. The title on your cover does matter. The easier it is to read, the better. This allows your readers to clearly see what your book is about as they scroll through Amazon or other book retailers.
  • A design style that fits your intended audience. If you’re writing a faith-based book intended for an audience of faith, having an overly dark, devilish cover doesn’t make sense.

You can find amazing book cover designers on freelancing sites such as:

Prices will vary depending on what type of service you want, but the end result will be well worth the spend.

Action Plan:

Find a book designer with any of these sites and your book will stand apart from the rest of its competition!

#7 – Create Your Kindle Direct Self-Publishing Account

Amazon has a self-publishing service called Kindle Direct Publishing where you can create and manage your Kindle eBook, paperback, and audio books.

Amazon has recently acquired the well-known book printing company CreateSpace and they’re now merged as one.

self publish a book kdp

This means you can now offer print books to your audience. It’s the best way to learn how to publish a book and start selling quickly, and I’ve used it for all my self-published books.

I highly recommend it for all new self-publishers!

Here’s how to set up your KDP account on Amazon:

  1. Visit https://kdp.amazon.com and create an account with either your existing Amazon account or your email address.
  2. Next, you must complete your tax information. You will not be able to submit your published book if you do not complete this step.
  3. Once your tax information is complete, hit “Finished” and your account is complete!

Action Plan:

Follow these steps to create your KDP account! With this platform, you can figure out how to publish your book within minutes and soon have it appear worldwide!

#8 – Format Your Self-Published Book

If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of resources online that can tell you how to format your book yourself for free. You can start by looking at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing forums where there are plenty of discussions on book formatting.

You can also use KDP’s free resources to help format your book. Formatting can be a frustrating experience for the uninitiated though, so if you have a few bucks to spare, you might consider paying someone to help you.

Also keep in mind that formatting will look different for fiction versus nonfiction books.

Typically, nonfiction books don’t have an indent between paragraphs but instead, they have spaces whereas fiction books are indented with each new paragraph.

Below are formatting examples from Jenna Moreci’s The Savior’s Champion and my book, Published.

how to publish a book fiction vs nonfiction

If you want to pay for formatting, Liber Writeris a low-cost, effective option for converting a Microsoft Word file to Amazon’s Kindle format. If $60 is too much, you can also find people on Fiverr to format your book for Kindle.

Just be sure you hire someone who knows how to format your specific book genre.

Action Plan:

Make sure your book is formatted properly by using the free online resource above or hiring someone who can handle the formatting process for you.

#9 – Self-Publish Your Book

When you feel confident your book is ready for the public, you can create a KDP account and upload your book.

This is how to upload your book on KDP:

  1. On the KDP mainpage, locate and click on “Your Bookshelf”.
  2. Locate and click on “Kindle eBook Actions”.
  3. Then, locate and click on “Edit eBook Content”.
  4. Finally, click on “Upload eBook Manuscript”, and upload your manuscript file from your computer.

Amazon also allows you to select 7 keywords or keyword phrases to make sure your intended audience can find your book when searching on Amazon.

It’s highly recommended you also select two different categories on Amazon your book might fit into so you can reach a broader audience.

To select keywords and categories, look at other best-selling books in your niche and notice what keywords and categories those authors chose.

Once Amazon finishes uploading your file, a confirmation message will be sent and you can preview the uploaded file to check for any errors. Create your Amazon author central account after uploading your book.

self publish a book

Include a bio, photo, and link to your website or blog to help you stand out among authors. After a few more steps, you’ll be ready to publish your book, at which time you’ll click “save & publish” in your KDP book dashboard.

Afterward, you should be ready to publish your book! Just click “save & publish” in the book editing screen!

Action Plan:

Follow these steps to upload your book. You are allowed to upload your manuscript as many times as you want with each upload overriding the previous.

#10 – Price Your Book

One of the most important decisions when it comes to self-publishing a book is how to price it. The most common question I get from new writers is, “How much should my book cost?”

To answer this, my general rule of thumb is to have your book priced is between $2.99 to $5.99. To be more specific, when beginning a launch, I would begin by pricing the book at $0.99 for the launch period. 

Then I would set the price to 2.99, and I would moderately increase the price by $1 every week and measure how well the new price performs. Once you see a sales dip, that will determine the exact price of your book that will guarantee book sales.

Action Plan:

Find the perfect price by using this strategy that will attract your readers and best drive long-term success.

#11 – Form a Launch Team

Your launch team is the group of people who are dedicated to helping make your book successful.

They should be a passionate group of individuals who are eager to make your book launch successful. Remember, one highly skilled team member is better than a group of mediocre ones!

Here’s a video detailing how to use a launch team effectively:

To find quality candidates, here’s a questionnaire you can use to assess applicants and see if they’re qualified to market your book:

  • Why do you want to support my book?
  • What goals are you trying to reach with this project?
  • How would you market this book?
  • Which influencers would you reach out to and why?
  • Do you have a genuine interest in my book and its genre?

Action Plan:

Create an application with questions that align with your thought process. Try to be open-minded with those who think outside the box – they may be the perfect candidates that can get your book to become a bestseller.

#12 – Maximize Book Launch Exposure with Reviews

It’s not enough to learn how to publish a book and be done with it. You still have to take action even after your official launch.

As soon as your book goes live on Amazon, be sure to leverage your launch team and your audience to help you market your book! It may be odd to ask your fans for help, but your fans are there to support your project and want to see you succeed. 

You might be surprised how willing they’ll be to help you if you just ask!

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

  • Share content from your book as blog posts across social media
  • Submit reviews on Amazon (ensuring they don’t make the mistakes in the video below)
  • Help build your book’s website
  • Reach out to influencers for a future guest post or podcast feature
  • Share a book review on their YouTube channel
  • Buy extra copies to gift their friends

The additional exposure generated from your launch team and audience will help push your book up Amazon’s rankings, which will drive more sales! There are even websites that help you with rankings, such as Kindle Ranker. Make sure to have a look at that!

Action Plan:

Create your book marketing launch plan using these methods. Measure each of these methods to see which will best get your book in the hands of new readers and convert into sales.

#13 – Celebrate Learning How to Self-Publish a Book!

Publishing after writing a book is just the beginning. Depending on your goals for your book, self-publishing can get you more customers, free publicity, and establish you as an expert in your niche.

publishing a book celebration

This can help you land speaking gigs and build a business within your area of expertise.

Your book sales can also help fund your lifestyle with passive income.

Dream big about what you want your book to do for you. When you have a vision for where you want your book to take you, it will be easier to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Getting clear on what you want will also help you to be more effective when expanding your network along on your journey.

publishing a book

What to do Now

Now that you’ve learned how to publish a book, it’s time to take action and bring yourself one step closer to your goals and dreams.

If self-publishing a bestseller is something you want to do, and you’re serious about changing your life and your business for the better by getting your book out there in the world, then you need a step-by-step system to follow to take action.

self-publishing companies

Self-Publishing Companies: What to Expect & If It’s Worth it

Working with self-publishing companies is not always what the authors want to do when they start writing a book.

It might not be clear to you yet (we’ll get to it), but you need some help self-publishing your book.

I get it. The concept might seem a little crazy right now. After all, it’s called self-publishing, not self-and-a-company-publishing.

But the thing is… You don’t know everything you need to in order to self-publish…

Okay, that’s not true. You don’t know everything you need in order to self-publish successfully.

That’s the key here. Do you have what it takes to self-publish and actually achieve the level of success you desire?

The truth is that the large majority of self-publishers out there don’t.

And we’re going to cover exactly how self-publishing companies can help you bridge this gap.

Here’s what you’ll learn about publishing companies:

  1. What self-publishing companies do
  2. Benefits of using a self-publishing company
  3. How you’ll keep your rights
  4. How much time you’ll save
  5. How much money you’ll make
  6. Staying accountable with a self-publishing company
  7. You can get 1-on-1 coaching
  8. You’ll make connections
  9. How you’ll create a bigger impact
  10. How you’ll gain more opportunities
  11. How your business will grow
  12. What are the best self-publishing companies?
  13. Self-publishing companies to avoid

What is a Self-Publishing Company?

A self-publishing company is a business dedicated to helping you achieve your desired level of success within your self-publishing journey.

They detail the process and streamline otherwise difficult avenues you might not be able to maneuver yourself.

But every self-publishing company is different.

Here at Self-Publishing School, our mission is to make the process as easy as possible for you while ensuring you do everything you can to succeed the right way.

Sure, you can throw your book online with a cover you created in Canva and call yourself a self-published author. But will that yield book sales? Will that give you the authority, recognition, and fulfillment you’re looking for?

How is a Self-Publishing Company Different than a Traditional Publishing House?

Self-publishing companies and traditional publishing houses are completely different in the sense that the former does not publish the book for you, but rather, we help you by providing necessary (crucial!) information about how to complete the process successfully.

Traditional publishing houses are where you first land an agent, and then they submit your manuscript, and they take care of the printing/editing/publishing – at the expense of your hard earned royalties, of course.

Here’s a table detailing the differences between self-publishing companies and traditional publishing.

What You GetSelf-PublishingTraditional Publishing
Sole control of your book's outcome
X
Sole control of your book's rightsX
Control over the story X
Control over the coverX
100% of royaltiesX
Editing includedX
Cover designX
MarketingXX
DeadlinesX

Why Use a Self-Publishing Company?

After all, you want to do this yourself, right? Self-publish. But like I mentioned before, you don’t know everything about self-publishing.

Do you know the best method for actually writing your book?

Do you know exactly how to craft your subtitle and book description to maximize sales?

Do you know the best book launch process for getting your book with the coveted orange “Bestseller” banner (that also increases your book’s ranking, and sales!)?

There is far more to self-publishing than simply hitting “publish” on Amazon, and without the right process, your book might end up as one of those stereotypical self-published books that sells 3 copies – to family members.

And that’s why you use a self-publishing company. Someone else has already done the research, the work, and has the experience to guide you through the process.

If you’re someone who wants to see real book sales and achieve other goals, like growing a business or becoming a full-time author, then a self-publishing company will help.

What You Can Expect with a Self-Publishing Company

What does working with a self-publishing company look like?

While not all self-publishing companies are the same or provide the same type of information and training for you, it’s important to understand what you’ll take away from working with one.

This is what you can expect when working with a company that helps you self-publish.

#1 – You keep all rights to your book

Unlike traditional publishing houses, you actually get to keep all the rights to your books.

What does this mean?

It mean that, when you publish, you are the sole owner of the book and all of its contents. It’s copyrighted under your name and the self-publishing companies will not have any of their information inside of the book (unless you want to thank them for everything they’ve helped you with).

This is a major benefit because with self-publishing companies, you can keep the book in print for however long you want.

On the flip side, traditional publishing houses can choose when to pull your book from shelves and simply no longer print or sell it. And since you no longer own the rights, you can’t self-publish that book unless you buy the rights back (which some publishing houses don’t even offer you the option of).

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#2 – You’ll save time

Time is our most valuable asset. It’s the one thing in our lives we can never get back no matter what.

Unless you’re a secret time traveler and have uncovered the secrets of bending and warping time (and if you are, PLEASE SHARE), you have to treat time like it’s precious.

One of the biggest perks of using self-publishing companies to help you get your book published is the simple fact that they tell you what needs to be done, when, and how.

Not only will you save time actually writing the book (assuming the company gives you instructions on how to write faster, like we do here at Self-Publishing School), but you won’t have to go through the hours upon hours of research in order to get it right.

And, you don’t have to waste time making mistakes and adjusting them.

#3 – You keep 100% of royalties

Everything you earn, you keep. Now, there may be self-publishing companies out there who require a percentage of your royalties, since they helped you, but here at Self-Publishing School don’t’ believe in that.

After all, you did the work. You put forth the time and effort. This is your book. Therefore, you keep what you actually earn.

Aside from what Amazon takes for allowing you to use their platform, 100% of your profit is yours to keep.

This is much different than traditional publishing houses in the sense that through them, you’re only pocketing about 10% of royalties (and sometimes even less).

#4 – You’re kept accountable

The hardship is in the name itself: self-publishing.

It’s a very lonely process if you don’t have anyone else going through it with you. And we all know how much easier it is to stay on track when we have someone else rooting for (or hollering at) us.

Many self-publishing companies have some sort of progress tracking, coaching, or community to help keep you motivated and working to achieve your dream.

How we do that here at Self-Publishing School is through all three of those methods, including a Facebook Mastermind Community with hundreds of dedicated current and past students ready to help.

self publishing companies

#5 – You get coached by experts

At least here at Self-Publishing School, you do. Not all programs have this perk, and boy is it a perk.

Our coaches are all experts in their field. You get one-on-one coaching that allows you to take personalized tips and put them to use in your own publishing journey.

Since coaches have been exactly where you are and have come out on top, and maintained book sales themselves, you get a leg up on anyone else doing this without that help.

Take a look at one of our amazing coaches, Lise Cartwright, and how she still manages to bring in $4,000 on her self-published books, all while helping our students learn to do the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOLM_tJgsF

Again, not all self-publishing companies offer this service to their students, but if they do, it can help you understand a side of the industry you likely wouldn’t get to see otherwise.

#6 – You make connections

This is particularly true for programs that include access to a community of somesort.

You never know who you’ll get to know, like, and befriend. These are all like-minded people who are after the same things as you.

You can make dear friends, get even more advice when needed, and maintain a sense of purpose when you’re constantly fed motivation from them.

#7 – You create a bigger impact with your book

What’s the reason you’re self-publishing. Why do you really want to get your book out into the world?

I’m willing to bet it has something meaningful to you. You want to help others, share information, or show the world a theme or message that’s important to you.

By using one of the self-publishing companies out there, you’re able to create a bigger impact with your book.

How?

Because you will write it better, market it smarter, and sell more. And after all, that’s the point. Right? You want to get as many eyes on it as you possibly can.

#8 – You gain more opportunities

Because your book will do better than it would if you didn’t have that outside help, you gain many more opportunities.

Becoming a published author places you as an authority in any field you’re writing in. Not only does this help your business grow, if that’s your goal, but it also helps you sell more books through new and better opportunities than you’d have otherwise.

Take these students of ours for example:

publishing companies

After publishing their books, they have been either contacted or pursued speaking engagements on their own along with other opportunities to grow their book and platform.

#9 – Your business will grow

Leveraging your book to grow your business is one of the best methods out there.

Chandler Bolt, you know him—the guy who built this 8 figure business from his first bestselling book—swears by it.

But he’s not the only expert out there who agrees.

Ryan Deiss, CEO of DigitalMarketer, also uses a book to grow his business. You can check out how he does so in the video above, but the point remains: self-publishing is a perfect way to grow your business.

And if that’s your goal, then you want to make sure you’re self-publishing for success. Otherwise, your book won’t make nearly as big of an impact on your business, which is why working with a self-publishing company can help.

#10 – You have a repeatable, successful process

Many of our students write multiple books with our program – not just one.

As one of our favorite author says, if you write one book and you enjoy it, you will write another book.

self-publishing companies

The most successful self-published authors out there are those who write more than one book. Not only do they maintain a steady stream of passive income this way, but since they have a reliable, repeatable process, it makes it easy for them to publish multiple.

So long as the self-publishing company you’re working with has lifetime access (like we do), you can hop on and go through the system every time you want to.

Plus, imagine how nice it would feel to say, “Yes, I’m a published author of multiple books.” Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

What Are the Best Self-Publishing Companies?

If you’re looking for the best self-publishing companies, here are 11 worth checking out, according to our friends at SelfPublishing.com. 

  1. Kindle Direct Publishing. One of the world’s biggest self-publishing retailers. The easiest way to access Amazon’s many customers.
  2. Barnes & Noble Press. A great option for self-publishers looking to enjoy good retail rates and Barnes & Noble’s print-on-demand service.
  3. Kobo. A retailer with wide international reach. Kobo accounts for around a quarter of all Canadian eBook sales.
  4. Apple Books. Choose Apple’s book retail platform to access the lucrative market of Mac owners.
  5. Reedsy. Use Reedsy to find excellent service providers for your self-published book. Also offers useful educational resources for self-publishers.
  6. Lulu. Lulu has its own online retail and distribution channels as well as a range of author services. Check out a guide to Lulu here.
  7. IngramSpark. Offering wide-reaching distribution channels for your book as well as print-on-demand capabilities. You can learn more about IngramSpark here.
  8. PublishDrive. If you’re looking for an alternative book distribution channel, PublishDrive offers you the option of paying a monthly subscription fee that allows you to keep 100% of your sales revenue.
  9. Draft2Digital. A convenient option for self-publishers looking to use Draft2Digital’s powerful book formatting capabilities as well as International Book Links. 
  10. SmashWords. One of the earliest book aggregators. SmashWords grants your book access to some of the biggest retailers out there, and also provides powerful reporting capabilities. 
  11. StreetLib. A wide-reaching international distributor with dashboard options supporting multiple languages.
  12. Luminare Press. Offers professional, personal, and affordable services to ensure authors get a book that they can be proud of.

Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid

what are the self publishing companies to avoid

Not all self-publishing companies are created equal. Unfortunately, there are some self-publishing companies who only want your money and don’t want to see you succeed.

These are some red flags to keep a lookout for when researching self-publishing companies to help you get your book out there.

#1 – They take a cut of your royalties

Why even self-publish if you don’t actually get to keep your hard earned money?

This won’t necessarily mean that self-publishing company is a scam or fraudulent in any way. However, it is something to think about and be wary of.

You want to make sure you’re actually benefiting fairly for your book’s success. So working with a company that allows you to keep every cent is essential.

Related: SelfPublishing.com’s Book Royalties Calculator

#2 – They make you sign over your book rights

As mentioned earlier, traditional publishing houses technically “purchase” your book from you. It’s why you get that nice big (usually not big, though) advance.

However, self-publishing companies should not require this. Since you are self-publishing, all of the rights should remains 100% yours.

#3 – They maintain creative control

Obviously, self-publishing companies are meant to help you.

list of self publishing companies

That being said, they can certainly offer advice on your book title, subtitle, cover, and even contents, but they should never demand something of your book in order for you to continue with their program.

#4 – Unrealistic expectations

Self-publishing is a varied game. No two authors can expect the exact same outcome and your results largely vary on how much you’re willing to work and how well you’re following their program.

However, self-publishing companies also shouldn’t guarantee crazy expectations—especially without having the proof to back it up.

Guarantees of making $10,000 in the first month are often unfounded. Look for company promises that you feel good about actually being able to achieve them.

#5 – There are a large number of complaints online

Not every self-publishing company can meet everyone’s expectations. Not every single review will be positive – and that’s understandable.

What you do want to lookout for is a large number of negative reviews, complaints, or claims of fraud or scams. These are certainly something to be wary of, but make sure you research some positives as well.

NOTE: We cover everything in this blog post and much more about the writing,  marketing, and publishing process in ourVIP Self-Publishing Program. Learn more  by clicking here!

how to write a novel

How to Write a Novel: 5 Key Steps Every Good Book Needs [Template]

If you misunderstand how to write a novel with the proper story structure, your book will never sell.

Harsh, but true. And that’s why we’re here to tell you the exact methods that skyrocketed the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

Here are the steps for how to write a novel:

  1. Write The Setup
  2. Create The Inciting Incident
  3. Add the First Slap of a novel
  4. Add The Second Slap
  5. End it with the Climax

But before we dive right into those, we have to understand your unique writing method in order for you to understand novel writing in a way that’s best for you.

What is a Novel?

A novel is a work of fiction told through narrative prose focusing on characters and a plot with at least some degree of realism.

Essentially, a novel is a long story in which a message, theme, and plot are revealed slowly over the course of scenes and chapters that make up a bigger storyline.

How Many Words in a Novel?

The exact number of words that make up a novel varies greatly depending on the genre and personal taste, however, a book is considered a novel if it has more than 50,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean your book will be that long. You have to learn how many words are in your novel.

Below is a table detailing how many words make up a novel in each respective genre, as some are typically longer than others.

Type of WritingWord CountPages in a Typical BookExample
Short story100 - 15,000 1 - 24 pages"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
Novella30,000 - 60,000100 - 200 pages"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
Novel60,000 - 100,000200 - 350 pages"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
Epic Novel120,00 - 220,000+400 - 750+ pages"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

Keep in mind that these are a baseline. You want to make sure your novel is in the ballpark word count for your genre and target audience but just remember that you can easily go over or under depending on how well the story is crafted…

…and if it covers our 5 key milestones – it will be crafted well.

How do you plan a novel? Your Novel Structure Breakdown (& Template)

Planning a novel involves coming up with your plot, character development, knowing your audience, and outlining your book.

  1. Coming up with your plot involves knowing which genre you want to write or even utilizing a list of writing prompts to get your thoughts moving.
  2. Character development is one of the most vital parts of your novel. Take the time to know your characters and protagonist well before you start writing in order to better plot your novel to fit how they act.
  3. Your audience will dictate the type of content in your plot. You can always plot first and then decide if you’ll be writing young adult, new adult, adult, or even middle grade. Just make sure you categorize your novel correctly in order to reach the right audience.
  4. Once you know the above, you’re ready to outline your novel. First, however, you have to figure out if you’re a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between before you can outline your book.

If you want to have a solid fill-in-the-blank template, we have a book outline template generator available above for you!

What’s the Difference Between Pantser Versus Plotter

A plotter is someone who plans out their novel with an outline before actually writing, whereas a pantser is someone who writes with seemingly no direction – they write by the seat of their pants.

Are you a plotter or a pantserFiction authors tend to fall into one of two buckets when writing their books.

Pantsers

These are writers who basically only have a few vague elements about the story in mind when they start writing, but nothing else.

One of the most famous pantsers is Stephen King. In interviews, Stephen King has said that he often has an idea of the beginning, the premise, and a vague idea how it’s all going to end – and that’s all he needs to start writing his first draft.

Plotters

These are writers who need to know every piece of their story, down to the minute detail, before they will write a single word. They have full, complete outlines that serve as a guide for their writing.

They will know who each and every one of their characters are, what their motivations are, the chapters needed for the book, chapter sections, and in some cases, even paragraphs. Probably the most famous plotter out there is James Patterson.

Knowing if you’re a plotter or pantser will dictate your entire writing process.

Clearly, it’s possible to be successful whether you’re a plotter or pantser. But here’s the harsh reality: whereas Stephen King and James Patterson sit on opposite extremes of the ‘Outline Spectrum’, most of us fall somewhere in between.

But that still doesn’t answer the question:

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

My best advice is to be something in between. Someone who looks beyond the “outline” of a novel, and identifies something much more important in their story…the 5 key milestones we’re about to reveal to you.

How to Write a Novel with 5 Key Milestones of Every Successful Novel

novel writing milestones

Most novels and movies have five key points that make up the core of their story – it’s a formula that’s been around for longer than books have.

This may not even be something authors do intentionally but rather, these are what make a story (even spoken) good and captivating.

What’s more, these milestones are something that readers have subconsciously been trained to look for when digesting a piece of fiction.

In other words, if you don’t have these five key moments, your reader is likely to turned off of your story because it didn’t meet expectations set by the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories they have already digested before yours.

Let’s get started.

#1 – The Setup when writing a novel

This is where you make your story promise and write an introduction that pulls readers in.

Here’s a solid resource for how to start a story if you need a few more tips.

You tell your reader what kind of story it will be – a comedy, drama, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi – and you give a few clues as to what they can expect. Whatever you said in these initial pages must be followed to the end of your story.

A stone-cold drama cannot turn into a slapstick comedy by the end of the story. That doesn’t mean a stone-cold drama can’t have humor in it, it just means that you can suddenly pivot and become an Adam Sandler movie.

Also, during the setup, we learn a little bit about:

  • The characters
  • Their everyday lives
  • Their challenges
  • The world they live in

We get a sense of where the story is heading.

One mistake made by first-time fiction authors is that they do not properly set up the story expectations and the reader goes in expecting one thing, only to get another.

Nothing annoys readers more, and so it is essential that during the setup phase of your novel, you set the expectations that you will meet during the book or you’ll lose those 5-star Amazon reviews that make such a difference.

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The Setup of a novel Example:

In the Hunger Games, we meet Katniss. From her surroundings, it is obvious that she is poor, and as soon as she steps outside of her wooden shack we see hovering drones.

Within the first few pages of this book, we have learned three essential things:

  • This book is a drama
  • Katniss is our heroine and she has a miserable life
  • SURPRISE! There are drones and other technologies that indicate this to be a sci-fi
  • We are about to read a dystopia set sometime in the future

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Ask yourself these questions:

– What does your story’s setup look like?
– What happens?
– What story promises do you make?

Create a list of everything your reader needs to learn in order to enter your story’s world before crafting your introduction.

#2 – The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterwards will return your hero’s world back to normal.

Katniss volunteers, Neo takes the red pill, Dorothy lands in OZ … the aliens are here!

As soon as your inciting incident happens, your story should be full throttle towards the climax.

The most common mistake first-time authors make is that their inciting incident is reversible. That means that something could happen that would return the hero’s life back to normal.

No, no, no!

how to write a novel inciting incident quote

Your inciting incident should as final as the severing of a limb or a death of a loved one. Nothing should be able to reverse the effects of your inciting incident has on your hero.

Inciting Incident in a Novel Example:

Katniss volunteers! In the Hunger Games, the inciting incident is irreversible because – quite literally – soldiers grab Katniss, whisk her away from her world, and into the world of the games.

There is no escape.

And even if she could get away, she would be hunted by the Capital for the rest of her life. With those two simple words, “I volunteer!” her life has changed forever.

Note: There is an exception to this rule when it comes to romances.

With romances, the inciting incident is almost always when the two lovebirds meet. (Not always, but for the vast majority of romances, this is the case.) With romances, try to create an inciting incident that simultaneously shows how perfect these two people are for each other while setting up the numerous reasons why they can’t be together.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Answer these questions in full and complete the brainstorming activity.
– What is your inciting incident?
– Is it strong enough?
– Are there ways you could up the stakes or shorten the timeline?
– How can you make it your inciting incident as impactful and irreversible as possible?

Brainstorm several inciting incidents… Don’t settle for one. Take a look at your inciting incidents and ask yourself this: Which one of these is the harshest, deadliest inciting incident of the bunch. Then pick that one.

#3 – The First Slap

Now, we are away to the races for writing a novel!

Over the next few chapters, your character should be making a series of gains and losses, where the aggregate result is that their situation is slightly better than what it was at the moment of the inciting incident.

The reason why we need this upward trajectory is because we are setting up the reader for the first slap.

The first slap is the moment when everything that our hero has gained is lost in fell swoop. Your hero is brought down to zero. In other words, all gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker.

The greater the fall, the more engaged your reader will be.

First Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, Katniss’s world is brought down to zero when she actually enters the Games.

Between the inciting incident on the first slap, Katniss has made several gains, garnering the attention of the Capital and making some friends along the way. But none of that matters the moment she enters the Games – and what a moment it is.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm what your first slap can be. Like with the inciting incident, try to come up with 3-5 scenarios and pick the one that is harshest. Take a look at all the events that could potentially happen between the inciting incident and the first slap. This is a loose mind map as you are not committing to anything at this point, but do try to get a sense of whether or not your hero will be making gains and losses (with a net value of gains) and try to assess whether or not the first slap is harsh enough to truly wow your reader.
Remember, you want your readers to hate you for what you’ve done to the characters they love.

#4 -The Second Slap

Your hero has rose to the challenge! They have successfully thwarted the big evil that has been thrusted upon them by the first slap and she is doing well.

…Now it is time to bring her back to 0 again.

The second slap should be as harsh, if not harsher, than the first slap. This is the moment when the reader should be looking at your book and thinking, “Wow, this author is mean. Diabolical villain mean!”

In the second slap we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an out. In other words, there should be some semblance of hope.

Second Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, the second slap is when the Game Masters announce that two tributes can survive the Games should they both be from the same district.

Katniss goes looking for Peeta, only to find him mortally wounded – he is bleeding to death and won’t survive the next few hours, let alone the rest of the Games. We know enough about Katniss to realize that Peeta dying is the worst thing that could happen to her (besides her own death).

But there is hope!

An announcement is made that there is something at the cornucopia that the Tributes need, and Katniss just knows that there is medicine there for Peeta.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm several seconds slaps and pick the harshest one. Then ask yourself: where is the hope and how will it lead into the climax?

#5 – The Climax

The rollercoaster that you’ve put your reader on is almost over.

How to Write a Novel

The reader has gone from an engaging setup where they get to learn about your characters and world to the inciting incident where everything is turned on its head.

Then they are subjected to the first and second slaps where you embrace your inner sadomasochist in order to punish your hero and give the readers the thrills they so richly deserve.

Now it is time to wrap it all up with the climax.

There is only one rule to the climax. A rule that must be adhered to, no matter what genre you are writing in:

Make it amazing! The climax should be the moment where your reader puts down the book and goes, “Holy S&*%! That was awesome!”

Novel Climax Example:

The climax in the Hunger Games is the final confrontation between Katniss and the remaining Tributes, as well as the monsters that the Game Masters send after her. It is wrought with danger and excitement.

But what makes the climax truly kickass is the poisonous berries at the end.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hunger Games today and read it! You’ll immediately get why this scene is so amazing.

How to Write a Novel Action Step:

Brainstorm your kickass climactic scene! Show us how amazing, smart, resourceful, powerful your hero is when overcoming their final obstacles, but remember to make sure it’s realistic and makes sense for your character.

There you have it: writing a novel is made much easier with your 5 key milestones. This method is particularly effective for first-time authors who are still finding their writing feet (or should I say typing fingers) and is an awesome resource that experienced writers can rely on time and again when planning their stories.

Common Questions About Writing a Novel

Now that you know the 5 key milestones of a gripping novel readers will love, let’s consider some of the common questions people have.

What should I write a novel about?

You should write a novel about any idea or theme that excites or inspires you. 

If you’re stuck for inspiration, consider using a writing prompt to give you an initial story seed your full novel can eventually bloom from. 

Many writers take inspiration for their novel from their own lives. Is there an event you’ve lived through that makes for a compelling story? How about a memorable person you’ve known that you could fictionalize?

You can also take an emotional truth you’ve experienced and apply it to a different context. Even if the situation of your novel differs from your life, the emotional authenticity will shine through. 

You can also let your imagination run riot and see where it takes you. Picture an entirely different world from ours. Go crazy brainstorming ‘what if x happened to y person’ scenarios.

How do I get started writing a novel?

Getting started with novel writing depends entirely on you and your situation.

If you already have an idea in mind, you can start by outlining your plot, or jumping straight in if you’re more of the panster school of thought.

If you don’t have an idea, you could aim to come up with as many as possible using some of the techniques you’ve read here. Coming up with a large number of novel ideas gives you a good chance of finding something you love and want to pursue further.

You can also consider setting out a project plan for your novel. How many writing sessions will you need? When will you schedule them for?

No matter how you go about starting your novel, the important thing is to build momentum and a sense of excitement to propel you forward. 

How do I choose a point of view when writing a novel?

It can be tricky to know which point of view to choose when writing a novel, especially if it’s your first time. 

The most common choices are first person and third person. 

Most published novels are written in the third person. You can read about the different points of view here and decide which is the best fit for the novel you want to write. 

Should I edit my novel as I write?

It’s often a bad idea to edit your novel as you write. Doing so results in a loss of momentum and flow that inhibits your progress towards a complete first draft. 

If you self-edit on the fly, you often end up second-guessing yourself and losing that delicious sensation of being swept away by the story. 

Are there books on how to write a novel?

Yes, there are a large number of books on novel writing. 

Some of the best out there include: 

  • On Writing by Stephen King. A mixture of King’s personal story and actionable advice on the craft of writing. Seeing King’s exact process for drafting and redrafting his work is invaluable for any aspiring novelist. 
  • How to Write Bestselling Fiction by Dean Koontz. A popular guide to crafting fiction novels, recommended by successful novelists such as Jerry Jenkins. 
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This book offers the perspective of Maass, an author who is also a literary agent. This background provides useful insight to guide your next novel.

Are you ready to start your novel writing adventure?

The 5 Key Milestones combined with a spot-on Premise and A-Story will tell you where your story starts, where it is headed and how it will end.

In other words, if you do the novel writing exercises above, you should have everything you need to get your novel to the finish line.

how to make a living writing

Make a Living Writing Books: Building Multiple Income Streams for Authors

Making a living writing is 100% possible and more so now than it ever has been before…you just have to know how to get there.

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood.
I’d type a little faster.”

— Isaac Asimov

It is every writer’s dream: to make a living writing the kind of books you love to read.

But, can really earn an income if you self-publish a book? Is it realistic?

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This is how to make a living writing:

  1. Is making a living writing possible?
  2. Learn why authors fail to make a living writing
  3. Build your author platform
  4. Scale assets and multiple income streams
  5. Use the “multiple book model”
  6. Expand your book formats
  7. Scale income streams
  8. Build an email list of raving fans
  9. Become a full-time author

You may have heard that most writers—Self-published and traditional—are starving artists who never make more than $1000 a year.

The stories are true. Many writers starve. But many sell a lot of books and do very well, if they stick with it and build multiple income streams.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now. Writing a book is hard work. Creating a sustainable platform with several income streams is harder. But, if this were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Making a living from your writing is definitely worth it and, as a writer who wants to earn cash online from their craft, it is one of the most rewarding achievements you will experience in the self-publishing business.

If you are an aspiring writer, or have already published and want to scale up your book business, find writing jobs, get some writing scholarships, or even write for online publications, let’s dive into how to turn your words into income (Yes, it can be done!).

I don’t know what starving authors are doing but, in this post, I’ll show you how to earn a living writing books through creating multiple income streams.

You will see that it is definitely possible.

You can become the top 10% that make money from your books and write from Starbucks, the beach, or that cabin in the woods everyone keeps talking about.

Making a Living as a Writer is Possible

Before the Internet became a thing, the path of a writer was a long, and often frustrating profession, guaranteeing nothing even after years of committed writing.

You have heard the stories of famous authors rejected multiple times before getting published.

As an INDIE author, the days of sifting through rejection slips are over.

You write, you publish, and you build your own book business like Jenna Moreci did creating her full-time author and Youtube business where she now gets to spend her days doing what she loves.

Check out an interview we conducted with her about how she did it:

Or, you build a business from a book. Either way, your writing is the gateway to a better life that you create and have total control over.

If you want to know what it would take for you to bring home a full-time income from your books, check out this book profit calculator. It’ll do the math and show you what you’d need to sell and how much you’d make in total:

STEP 1

Enter Your Information Below To Calculate Your Potential Book Sales

STEP 2

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

CONGRATULATIONS!
Here's What You'd Earn:

Your profit per book:

In 3 months, you'll make:

In 6 months, you'll make:

In 1 year, you'll make:

Why Authors Fail to Make a Living Writing

Do you know why most authors only earn a few thousand dollars a year or less from their writing?

Here are 4 reasons authors fail to make a living writing:

  1. They only write one book. You need momentum with your book platform to generate enough monthly sales to support your lifestyle. This is possible with building out a library of books and maximizing on the earning power for each. We will look at this more later.
  2. They don’t stay current with shifting publishing trends. The self-publishing industry is constantly changing. If you aren’t staying current with what is working (and what has stopped working) your book sales plummet and you don’t reach as wide an audience as you’d like.
  3. They stick with one platform as the only source for earning income. Many authors stay with Amazon only. This makes sense considering they have 85% of the market for ebooks. And Amazon’s exclusivity program, KDP Select, makes it easy to sign over all power to the online digital giant. However, if you keep your eggs in one basket, what happens when that basket falls out of the tree? In other words, Amazon decides to make a major change to their platform overnight and, within a week, your monthly royalties get cut in half. Yes, it happens as we see time and time again.
  4. They don’t invest in the quality of their product. Poorly designed book covers, sloppy editing, a boring book description…equals a product nobody wants. If you want to make a living writing books, invest in your book (particularly getting a good book cover) so that it sells.

Bottom line: Write and publish consistently, write high-quality books people want to buy, expand your reach by publishing across multiple platforms, and stay up-to-speed on the latest marketing strategies that are working.

This is the formula most successful self-published authors are using to make a living as a writer.

Build Your Author Platform to Make Money Writing

You, as an author and creator, needs to form the mindset that this is your business—your book business. Regardless if you are a part-time author looking to get started making some extra income, or your goal is to be a full-time author, when you start making money from your “hobby”, you are turning it into a business.

When it comes to creating income from writing, it boils down to one word: Platform.

Your author platform is the structure of your writing career. It should consist of multiple income streams. This begins with your platform.

According to Michael Hyatt, bestselling author of Platform and Free to Focus, a platform is, “The means by which you connect with your existing and potential fans. It might include your company website, a blog, your Twitter and Facebook accounts, an online video show, or a podcast. It may also include your personal appearances as a public speaker, musician, or entertainer.”

As a writer, even if you are writing a book for the first time, think about what your platform means to you. This will become the structural foundation that your writing author business is built on.

If you want to make a living writing fiction or nonfiction, the approach to how you structure your income streams are similar, although the content is different.

What drives your platform, however, is the one thing that many overlook: Your author mindset. From now on, approach your craft with the mindset that this is your business.

Like every business, you have to be focused on the customer experience and products available to those customers. Delivering the right product, in this case the book they are looking for, is how to convert the curious customer into a paying one.

Components of an Author Platform

Your author platform is made up of:

A Catalog of Books: This consists of published books, and all variations of the book including paperback, hardcover, large print and audiobooks. Your books, aside from bringing in consistent revenue, act as funnels for building your subscribers list and promoting your other products. Your books could be stand-alone reads, as many nonfiction titles are, or a series of thrillers.

Email list: This is your list of raving fans that have given you permission to contact them by providing you with their email address. Your email list is at the heart of making a living, not just as an author but, anyone who is building an online platform.

Wide Distribution Model: As a self-published author, Amazon may be where you make 80% of your income. But if you have more than three books available, you want to consider opting out of Amazon’s KDP Select program and publishing wide with other platforms such as aggregators Draft2Digital, PublishDrive and Kobo. Set your print books up for sale through IngramSpark. You can tap into a huge international market that, not only will drive your book sales but, open up opportunity for international foreign rights.

Courses: As an author you could develop courses based on the content of your books. For example, take a look at what Lise Cartwright has built through her platform Hustle & Groove. Picture a multitude of courses available for when browsers or subscribers come to your site for the first time. Building online courses is a great way to expand this platform.

Website: A critical piece of your writing business is your author website. This where you stage all of your talent. You might have an author blog that brings in leads for your books and courses.

You could create content that you don’t publish on Amazon and make it exclusive to your website only. You can cross promote with other authors and set up an autoresponder email funnel to build a deeper relationship with your readers.

Your author website should include these basic features:

  • A free offer: This is free content a new subscriber downloads after opting in.
  • Featured blog posts: Your blog is an asset and potential income stream as it brings in leads through visitor traffic.
  • Course platform: Highly recommended. These are great assets to build out and easy to scale up.
  • About page: Make a dynamic introduction here.

Scalable Assets and Multiple Income Streams

Let’s get to my favorite topic: Creating multiple income streams to grow your business!

This is what I love about self-publishing. You are at the helm of your own ship and you, and only you, get to choose the direction to take.

We know that, if we write and publish lots of books, potentially our library of books grows and this generates strong passive income.

But relying on book sales only is a lot of work, and it is more work if you are selling on just one platform, Amazon.

Check out how our very own coach Lise Cartwright has built her passive income stream with books (and how she can teach you to do the same when you become a student):

As an authorpreneur, a self-publisher who writes and publishes their own books, you want to always be thinking creatively how to expand your income streams.

Let’s take a look at the list below for book assets.

  1. Book series
  2. Box sets
  3. Audiobooks
  4. Paperbacks
  5. Hardcover books
  6. Large print books

Making a Living Writing with the “Multiple Book Model”

Let’s be honest. Making money from one book can be very difficult. Most authors who earn a living as a successful writer have several, if not many, books in the pipeline.

These authors not only publish consistently but, are focused on delivering a series of books to build a valuable fan base.

The people buying your book series, once they are hooked into your series, crave more. This makes it a no-brainer for scaling up your author platform with every new book launch.

The more books you publish, the more income you can potentially earn and add more subscribers to your list.

For example, check out these popular book series:

We know that publishing consistently brings in more money and builds your platform over the long-term. But why does this model work?

how to make money writing

Your readers love new material, and so does Amazon. When your platform is active with new book releases, sales and reviews coming in consistently, the algorithm is “switched on” to help you sell more by pushing your books into the higher-traffic channels.

As your platform continues to scale up, your platform grows.

It might be slow at first, and you feel like you’re doing a lot of writing without any gains, but…that is the way it is when you begin to build.

Most fiction authors start to see a return on investment after the 4th or 5th book in a series. For nonfiction, this could happen sooner but, I certainly experienced a big shift after launching my 5th book Relaunch Your Life.


Another reason multiple books work is, new readers discovering you are almost always going to buy your other books if they like what they read. If that same reader likes your books, maybe he or she wants the course you are offering as well at 20% off.

Expanding Book Formats to Make More Money from Your Books

Don’t just settle for publishing in a single format.

We’re covering the several different types of book formats you can publish in that will increase your income from writing over time.

#1 – Boxsets

A boxset is a series of books bundled together allowing readers to purchase the series at a reduced cost per book. This is a great product to create as soon as you have 3 or more books in a series.

Check out these boxsets by popular authors:

#2 – Audiobooks

The popularity of audiobooks is on the rise. With less people reading and tuning into digital products while on the run, audiobooks are an income stream you can’t afford to leave on the table.

You can record the audiobook yourself or hire a professional. Once recorded, upload to ACX, Audible and expand into other channels for wide distribution through Find Away Voices.

#3 – Paperbacks

We live in the digital age but, paperbacks are still massively popular. In fact, 30% of my author revenue still comes through paperback sales.

With the power of Print-on-Demand, readers can buy our books through Amazon or IngramSpark, and these sites do all the heavy lifting. No inventory.

#4 – Hardcover Books

You can use IngramSparks’ powerful distribution network to create stunning hardcover versions of your book. Why not? It’s another income stream that, once set up, sells itself. You have to pay a fee of $49.00 per title and you’ll need an ISBN for each version of the book.

#5 – Large Print Books

Did you know you can offer readers another version of your book in large print form? This isn’t a huge market but, depending on the age range of your readers, a great option for children’s books or readers with impaired vision.

Ideally, you are not just selling a book. You are converting a browser into a lifelong customer. That is the real power of building a brand and an author platform.

Right now, take a few minutes to map out a rough plan for your book platform. How many books will you write this year? Is this a series of books or stand-alones? How far apart will you publish your books? Could you compliment your book by introducing a course to go with it?

Creating Scalable Income Streams

Successful 6-figure authorpreneur Joanna Penn accounts for her success to multiple income streams she calls “scalable assets” that bring in thousands of dollars every month.

Check out how she does it in the video below:

In essence, a scalable asset can be anything you create once and continue to sell over and over again.

For example, you put in over a hundred hours to write a book. Now, if you were being paid $30 an hour to write, that would be $3000 to you after the work is done. But let’s say your book sells at $4.99 as an ebook, and $12.99 for the paperback.

You consistently sell 30 eBooks a day at a 70% royalty rate, because your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99.

The paperback priced at $12.99 earns a fixed 60% royalty rate through KDP. That is roughly 182.00 per day for ebook and paperback sales. Making money with ebooks is doable and sometimes the most lucrative way to get paid.

Now, this continues for 30 days and that is: 185.00×30=$5,550. Now, I calculated this just for one book if it does really well. Imagine where you could be with five, ten or twenty books each generating their own passive income streams?

How about if you had audiobooks as well? What about foreign rights sales? A course that goes with the book?

Get the idea now.

Yes, the dream is very real. It is right in front of you, if you want it!

How can you scale up your author business right now?

How many assets can you create over the next six months?

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Build an email list of raving fans

If you haven’t started building an email list yet, you need one. Without a fan base to market your books to in the initial book launch phase, you are left to the mercy of the Amazon algorithm. Your list is the horde of fans waiting for your book release.

When you get ready to launch your next bestseller, these are the people who will help you to make it a smashing success.

A successful book launch is critical. When you Sell More Books, this is a trigger to Amazon that your book is popular and in demand. Amazon steps in to push your book into the also-bought section, the area that recommends popular items to customers when browsing.

How do you create an email list?

You can get started by offering a free gift inside your book.

This is a lead magnet that could be a:

  • Checklist
  • Action Guide
  • Audiobook
  • Free Report
  • Video Series

Your readers give you their email by signing up (what Seth Godin calls “Permission marketing) and they get added to your newsletter list. This is one of the most effective ways to sell books and continue to add to your subscribers list.

Your list is happy because they get to join you on the journey as you keep them in the loop on every writing project. Then, when close to launching, you can invite them to your launch team and offer the book for free to a segment of your list.

This helps to secure book reviews during launch week. In turn, your book sales flow in and your book has a stronger chance of sticking in the marketplace after the initial 30-days is over.

Remember: From the day your book is published, Amazon puts all books in “new releases” category. It is critical you maximize paid downloads and reviews during this 30-day period for the long-term success of the book.

Ready to Become a Full-Time Author?

Okay, you don’t have to be full time to still make money selling your books. But to make money at this, there are three things you should do consistently.

Here is a list of three action items that you, as a real author, can take to scale up your platform, sell more books, and earn good money while you sleep.

#1 – Form a writing habit

I write every morning from 5:30—7:00. This is a consistent schedule I have kept for the past 3 years and during this time I wrote and launched 12+ books.

Developing a writing habit is crucial if you want to make a living writing.

If you still have a day job (and most people do) you’ll need to find the time of day works best for you, establish your most productive writing time and make this a habit of creating content during this peak time.

Once you’ve established your best time for writing, write consistently for five days a week.

#2 – Publish consistently

If you follow the steps above and write with consistency, you can publish frequently, too.

Imagine where your (fiction or nonfiction) platform would be if you put out a book every 3-4 months. This is how you create scalable income.

Do the work now and reap the rewards later.

#3 – Communicate with your fanbase

We looked at the importance of an email list and why you need one. When you are getting ready to launch, you want to be able to shout it out to someone who is listening.

Your team of dedicated email subscribers are ready to help you launch bestseller after bestseller. But, communicating with your list is critical in between book launches.

At the very least, send out an email once every two weeks, and if you can, once a week. Provide tips, strategies, or an update on what you are working on.

Keep your tribe in the loop!

#4 – Determine Your Level of Success

You have to work out the details of what your success means to you.

How many income streams can you build, and what are they? Will you focus on the wide distribution model, or stay exclusive with Amazon?

This is different for every writer and depends on what you are comfortable with in terms of time and financial investment.

Stay focused on the big picture and scale up gradually. With every new book, you are generating potential to earn more and gain wider recognition as an author.

If you write one book and focus all your efforts on this, think of other income streams to tie in with your book and the kind of fan base you want to build. Will you offer coaching? Courses? Outsource your tech skills to help other authors?

You are an author, and now is the best time to make a living as a writer.

how to make a living writing fiction

How to Make a Living Writing Fiction: An Easy Guide

There are several paths you can take to learn how to make a living writing fiction. From traditional, to self-publishing, to hybrid publishing: they all have their benefits and letdowns.

But remember: becoming a full-time fiction writer is easier now than it has EVER been before.

But how exactly are they different, and how do you know which is right for you? Then what do you do once you’ve chosen your path?

We’re going to talk about:

  1. Traditional publishing career author route
  2. Self-publishing career author
  3. Hybrid publishing
  4. How to choose between career author options
  5. How to prepare for your author career
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How Much Does a Fiction Writer Make

Fiction writers can expect to make as much as they put into their work, but it largely depends based on their publishing method, book retail price, book sales, and royalty rate.

Self-published authors can expect to make up to 60% royalties on each sale whereas traditionally published authors typically make around 10% royalties after their advance is paid out.

What this mean for averages is that a self-published author can expect to average around $4.50 per book sale and a traditionally published author can expect around $1.50 per book sale.

What this means is that for a 300-page paperback book self-published on Amazon, retailed at $14.99 with a 60% royalty rate and Amazon charging $4.45 for printing, leaves the author with $4.54 per book sale.

This is Amazon’s formula for printing cost:

$0.85 (fixed cost) + (300 [page count] * $0.012 [per page cost]) = $4.45 (printing cost)

This is Amazon’s formula for royalties:

(Royalty rate x list price) – printing costs = royalty

0.6 x 14.99 = 8.99 | 8.99 – 4.45 = $4.54

The amount you fully earn as an author depends on how many books you have, how many sales they get monthly, and how heavily they’re marketed. A full-time fiction author running successful Amazon ads, for example, can expect to make more than a self-published author without ads.

How do you become a successful fiction writer?

To become a successful fiction writer you have to write consistently, read often, find a process that works for you, and publish at least 1 book a year on average.

This may sound like a lot, but if you truly want to have a career writing fiction, there is a good amount of upfront work, consistency, and learning the methods that lead to success in the first place.

Think of it this way: maybe people spend thousands and thousands to go to college for 2-4 years and get a degree in their field, so they can become successful in their field. You may have to put that much time in upfront, but not necessarily that much work.

If you want to learn how to become a full-time author, check out our Fundamentals of Fiction program to get started.

How to be a Full-Time Traditionally Published Fiction Author

Traditional publishing is probably the method you’re most familiar with. It’s when a book is published through a traditional publishing company, typically having gone through an agent acquired through a query process.

Publishing houses you’ve heard of might include Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Hatchette Book Group, and Macmillan. There are HUNDREDS more, but these three are a part of what’s referred to as “The Big Five.” Publishing with one of The Big Five is often seen as a mark of success for an author.

Most authors you know are traditionally published. Stephen King, Alice Walker, Anne Tyler, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaiman…

But is traditional publishing the route for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros of traditional publishing:

  • Money upfront! Most traditional publishers offer an advance payment for the right to publish your book. For a debut author, the average advance can be around $5,000 to $15,000. As writers grow and get more publications under their belt, this advance can be much higher.
  • Little monetary investment. If you publish traditionally, the cost of editors, designers, printing, and such are covered by the publisher.
  • Clout. Like I said, being published traditionally–particularly by a company in The Big Five–is seen as a mark of success. Many people perceive traditional publishing as the more, or only, “legitimate” form of publishing.

Cons of traditional publishing:

  • Likely no royalties/lower royalties. If and when your book has sold enough copies to surpass the advance you were paid, you may start to receive royalties per book sold. Most books will never reach this threshold. The royalty rate for traditionally published books can fall between 8% and 15%, depending on the format (ebook, paperback, hardback) and the number sold. But like I mentioned, few books reach that threshold of sales to begin receiving royalty payments in the first place.
  • Less creative control. If you have ideas for covers, formatting, marketing, or even the specific content of your book, you might be disappointed with the traditional publishing process. The creative decisions will be in the hands of your publisher, and it will be marketed in whatever way they see fit. Some publishers might ask for your input, but ultimately, the decision is theirs.
  • More barriers to entry. Like they say, if publishing a book was easy, everyone would do it. The barriers to entry for traditional publishing are extremely high. Even if you write a strong, compelling book with amazing characters and sparkling prose, that genre might not be what’s marketable right now. Publishers usually have specific types of books and authors they’re looking for–very few people are going to fit that mold. It’s very common to get rejected due to no fault of your own or your book’s–it’s just not what they’re looking for right now.
  • Longer process. Traditional publishing is a long, long, winding road of querying, rejection, revision, repeat. A manuscript could be rejected a hundred times before being accepted, if it ever is. Even after acceptance, it can take years from then until you see your book on shelves. This is why writers often have several projects going on at once in various stages.

Traditional publishing is likely the safer, more widely approved way to publish–if you can get in.

Self-Publishing for a Full-Time Fiction Career

Self-publishing has flourished into a thriving industry in the last few years. It has shifted from low-quality, cringe vanity projects to a legitimate and respected publishing option.

Self-publishing might be for you if you’re just starting out, interested in a lot of creative control, or have a special (not particularly trendy) project in mind.

It’s also an excellent option for entrepreneurs, life coaches, and other professionals to showcase their expertise, add to a product offering, supplement an online course, and countless other purposes.

Some self-publishers you may have heard of: Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Charles Dickens, Stephen King, Anais Nin, E.L. James, Rob Dircks.

Some of these authors have gone on to be traditionally published. Self-publishing can be your foothold to a traditional book deal, or it could be a main or supplemental income for as long as you’d like.

Success rarely includes fame, and there are tons of writers making a living self-publishing their books. Don’t think that self-publishing isn’t lucrative if you can’t list famous self-published authors off the top of your head.

So is self-publishing for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros of self-publishing fiction:

  • Creative control. You decide what happens with every aspect of design and promotion. If you’re a creative person with tons of ideas, this can be a great opportunity to have your hands in every part of the process and make it exactly what you want it to be. No one to answer to, no one to say “no”.
  • Higher royalties. Like I said, IF a traditionally published book sells enough copies to reach the threshold to receive royalties, the royalties are low. With self-publishing, your royalty rate can easily be 10 times as high as traditional royalty rates.
  • Fewer barriers to entry. The only thing stopping you from self-publishing is yourself. Everything is within your reach and control, and there are no industry barriers to publish.
  • Business control. Much like creative control, the way your book is handled and promoted is up to your publisher. If you’re your own publisher, that means it’s up to you!
    The first example to come to mind when I think about business control is my decision to offer free ebooks during the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns. If I’d traditionally published my collections, things like that wouldn’t be an option for me. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be in control of business decisions, self-publishing might be the route for you.
  • Quicker turnaround. Like we discussed earlier, traditional publishing is a LONG journey. Self-publishing can be as quick as you’d like. I know romance authors who drop an ebook once or twice a month–and make bank doing it. The process and steps of self-publishing are completely up to you, and if you want to speed produce books, there’s nothing stopping you.

Cons of self-publishing for fiction:

  • You drop the money upfront. Unlike traditional publishing, all costs of production fall to you. Editors, designers, artists, marketing–any and all costs are yours to bear.
  • No guaranteed profit. As we mentioned, most traditional publishers offer an upfront payment, regardless of how your book performs. With self-publishing, your paycheck hinges on sales.
  • Stigma. Even though self-publishing is becoming a more lucrative option for authors every year, there is still stigma around it because of the lack of barriers to entry. It’s easier, sure–but everyone knows it’s easier.

Hybrid authors

A hybrid author is the best and worst of both worlds. They self-publish and traditionally publish.

This is what I intend to do myself. Why? Because I write short story collections, a genre that is particularly impossible to catch a publisher or agent’s interest. I fully intend to continue publishing collections while I query my fantasy novel for traditional publishing. Maybe I’ll hate traditional publishing, maybe I’ll love it!

There are plenty of authors who hybrid publish.

So which publishing option is right for you?

It depends on you! Are you so excited to have creative and business control of your publications that you don’t mind the initial investment? Maybe you’re a self-publisher.

Are you in it for prestige and the potential comfort of one big paycheck? Traditional publishing might be for you.

Like me, are you a multi-genre author? Maybe you’re a hybrid!

Consider your options carefully, but let’s talk about the steps you should be taking now, regardless of your publishing route.

5 ways to prepare for your author career

Here are five things you can be doing right now, even without a finished book, to give yourself a competitive edge in your writing career.

#1 – Practice the craft

The most worthwhile time investment for a writer is, surprise, writing! Even if it isn’t to produce new content you intend to monetize, writing for practice is a great use of your time. There are loads of writing seminars you can take online. And check out free writing tutorials on YouTube!

#2 – Learn the industry

Get involved with the writing and publishing industry. Connect with writers who have found success in the publishing route you’ve chosen, as well as writers who are at your level.

See what they’re doing, note what’s working and what isn’t.

#3 – Build your platform

No matter how you’ve published, all writers benefit from a platform.

Build your readership, even before you have a book to sell, by doing the following things:

  • Social media – Set up your professional online presence with consistent branding, high-quality profile images, and regular content. Engage with readers and other writers!
  • Produce content – Before you have a book to offer, think of other things you could create to attract an audience. Here are a few ideas:
    • Start a YouTube channel – Maybe your videos are about writing, or maybe they’re not–just make sure to mention your writing projects every now and then!
    • Write a blog – Posting regular content can draw traffic to your website, putting your books, services, mailing list, and brand in front of new people.
    • Develop a course – Show your expertise in writing or another area to build credibility and establish an extra income stream. I publish classes through Skillshare, and based on the current rate of growth, those courses will be 10% of my income by the end of the year.
    • Create an aesthetic Instagram or Pinterest account – Writers and readers love aesthetics. If you’ve got a knack for it, create a post schedule, log some back content, and make a thing of it!
  • Remember to include an email list signup on your website! A mailing list is a powerful author tool.

#4 – Build a network

You’ll eventually need to know people in the industry, like editors, agents, designers, other writers, readers, reviewers–it’s great to connect with people before you need them.

Even if you don’t hire or work for a connection directly, the more people you know, the more opportunities you and your writing will be thrown in front of.

Here are some tips for building your author network:

  • Follow people in your industry on social media.
  • Be friendly! Reach out, but be mindful that writers with sizable followings get a LOT of messages every day. Smaller creators and writers are much more willing to give cold call messages a read and response.
  • Create content. Creating something other than books so you can share things more regularly can help to build your platform and network. Make something cool, and other people will notice!
  • Remember that not every connection has to be a two-way street. Make sure to follow people just for the sake of learning and being plugged in. If you’re new to Twitter (the social media platform of choice for most writers), here’s a list of starter follows you might like–
    • Writers
      • Kayla Ancrum is an amazing writer with an active, hilarious Twitter feed.
      • Joyce Carol Oates has a huge following with witty and informative tweets.
      • Aiden Thomas’ feed is always hype, colorful, and a fun place to be.
      • Terese Mason Pierre shares a ton of resources for writers, like open calls for submissions.
      • Kelly Quindlen sets a good example of how to interact with other writers. Give her a follow and see how she replies to other writers and their content.
      • John Meehan offers a perspective from the place of academic writing, as well as thoughtful takes on current issues in publishing.
    • Reviewers  
      • Fadwa is a booktuber with great videos and a topical Twitter feed.
      • Mina’s following has skyrocketed recently, and with good reason! Her stuff is insightful and funny. She’s also a booktuber.
      • If you’re more into blog reviewers instead of videos, Karina’s the one for you.
    • Other industry types you might want to follow are editors, agents, and publishers, and readers of your genre!

#5 – Ask for help when you need it

Ask for help when you need it!

If you’d like a team to guide you through the process of writing and self-publishing your book, look no further. Take the first step by scheduling a consultation with one of our Publishing Success Strategists now!

Whether you choose traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a mix of ‘em, use these tips to build a strong path into your author career.

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self publishing companies to avoid

Vanity Press Scams and Self Publishing Companies to Avoid

The awful news for authors out there today is that there are plenty of vanity press scams and self-publishing companies to avoid… Unless you want your money stolen, that is…

If you are a self-published author, publishing your book today has never been easier. With a quick Google search, you’ll come across dozens of self-publishing companies offering publishing services for authors.

But, how do you know if the company isn’t just another vanity press scam?

Before making any decisions, you want to check out all your options carefully. If not, you could find yourself the victim of a self-publishing scam, forking thousands of bucks over to a shady publishing company with nothing to show for it.

Which publishing option is the best for YOU & your unique author goals?  Get a full, deep-dive self-publishing vs traditional publishing analysis! Make  an informed decision and set yourself up for success with your book.   Get Your Analysis Here!  <https://self-publishingschool.com/lm-self-vs-traditional-publishing-analysis>

In this post, you’ll learn how to recognize the self-publishing scams when they cold call you…and the companies you can really trust to get your book published!

Here’s what we’ll cover in this post on self-publishing scams:

  1. Why authors fall for vanity press scams
  2. Early warning signs of self-publishing scams
  3. Your self-publishing options
  4. Taking down the scammers
  5. Red flag list: Self-publishing companies to avoid
  6. Writers beware and watchdog groups
  7. Educate yourself in self-publishing
  8. Are you ready to self-publish your book?

As with any lucrative industry, there are a wide range of self-publishing scams in business for one reason: To take your money.

A Vanity press publisher charges sky-high prices for author services that includes editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. 

But, all of this is outsourced to the lowest bidder and in the end, the author is left with a poor quality book and no way to market it.

“You get what you pay for” doesn’t equate when it comes to vanity press and the publishing scams they represent. You do pay top dollar, often tens of thousands, and what you get back for your investment lacks anything of value.

So, how can you avoid these self-publishing scams?

Let’s take a look.

Why Authors Fall for Vanity Press Scams

There could be many reasons why someone would sign up with a scammy publishing company that wants you to pay big money upfront.

There is no shortage of scams out there when it comes to self-publishing. The biggest reason authors fall into these scams is because… Well, they don’t know what they should know to avoid being scammed in the first place.

The fact that you have to pay a publisher to get your book published is warning sign enough: The lies are on the wall. Most authors who fall into this trap are not published authors yet.

You are either thinking of writing a book, you’ve started writing it, or you’re done and can’t wait to get it out there.

So, when a publisher comes along offering to get their “just finished” manuscript into the hands of thousands of readers and sell millions of books worldwide, I would grab at it, too. Who wouldn’t want that?

As a first time author, you are most likely not going to write a book that sells thousands of copies. And if you do, it will not be through a company that you just paid $5,000-$10 to for this to happen.

Most soon-to-be-published self-publishers fall into the lap of predatory publishers because they need help.

For someone who wants to become a successful author, your passion to publish is so strong that it overrides the sudden impulse to take the first offer on the table. 

Here are several reasons why you might fall for the vanity press trap:

  • You are desperate for the know-how of book publishing.
  • The publishing process is too complex.
  • You are scared of “not publishing” and want it done right now.
  • You are not tech-savvy and would rather pay someone to overcome the hurdles.
  • Your friends keep asking you “When is your book coming out?”
  • You know nothing about book marketing and need to hire the experts. Guess what: Vanity publishers don’t know much about it either and you’ll have to market no matter the avenue of publishing you choose.
  • You watched a video of a self-published author who just signed a 6-figure deal with a large publisher…and you think that is what usually happens.

Before you make any hasty decisions, stop and breathe. If you need help with publishing your book [and everyone does] there is a right way and…

The other way that steals all your hard-earned dollars.

My hope is that you read this post before signing anything. If you can know the danger signs to watch for, you’ll pull yourself back from making a decision that costs you thousands of dollars, not to mention the heavy burden of regret later.

whats a vanity press

Early Warning Signs: The Lies of Vanity Press

Vanity presses are generally a bad idea all around, but we’ll cover some specific ways they can scam you and why they’re often on the list of self-publishing companies to avoid.

How Vanity Press Publishers Scam You

It is actually easy to spot a predatory publisher. I only hope you get to this post before they get to you. Here are the 5 big signs you are at risk of being scammed.

#1 — The company asks for publishing fees. This should be enough right here. Although Hybrid Publishers require authors to pay for all the publishing services upfront, they usually split the fees later.

A vanity press publisher will charge thousands for a publishing package. You are told that the book sales will be recouped later through book sales…which almost never happen. Don’t listen to the so-called “reviews and testimonials” on the websites. These are rigged, of course.

#2 — “We will publish your book for you on Amazon.” Let me be clear about this: Publishing on Amazon is super easy, even if you have limited tech skills. Not to mention Amazon has an excellent support system in place. The response time to inquiries is less than 24 hours and they are very detailed when it comes to responses.

A vanity publisher will make this sound more complicated than it really is. They will “take care of everything” and upload the book for you. What this also means is you lose control over making any future changes to the book. The only person that should be uploading the book to Amazon is YOU under your own account.

#3 — Charges for A Reading Fee. Never. This just isn’t done. A traditional publishing house never asks for this. If you are told by the sales rep they will read your book for a certain fee, red flag this. The “reading fee” scam is less common today, but just in case you do run up against a company that tries this old scam.

With a real publisher, nobody makes money until the book is selling. Actually, this practice has fallen the wayside these days and it would be rare to come across. But there is always someone willing to try…

#4 — The publisher will buy you an ISBN [because they are so hard to get]. You can buy an ISBN through Bowker.com if you reside within the USA. The cost is $125.00. In the U.K. you go through Nielson. In Canada ISBNs are free through ISBN Canada. If you buy this through IngramSpark they offer a slight discount. Again, this is just another ploy to make you think it is a difficult process that is better off left to the “professionals.”

#5 — “We will take care of all the marketing, because we know how difficult it is.” Yes, marketing is difficult, especially for authors. But a vanity press company won’t market the book to sell, they will do the bare minimum required so it appears as if the book is being placed in the proper channels.

My advice: Grab a book on marketing for authors or enroll in a course. Learn it. You can even outsource it out so that you do Sell More Books. But in the end nobody is better at marketing their own book than the author.

#6 — Excessive use of flattery. The first time I spoke to a vanity press sales rep I remember the praise she gave me for my book. I felt as if I had written a book that was going to sell thousands of copies in the first week.

The rep was quoting passages from the book and referencing everything from the first page. Mind you, I later realized, everything she was quoting was from the first few pages. So did she read it? Of course not.

#7— A sales rep calls you several hours after you sign up to their newsletter with a sales pitch. I tested one of these sites by enquiring about their services, and I downloaded a freebie. The next day I received a call from my “Publishing consultant” ready to help me fulfill my dreams as an author. Wow. The sales pitch was impressive, but if you already knew the situation, it was a total scam. You can smell it.

But, for a new author excited to be part of the publishing journey, listening to someone else tell you how excited they are to publish your boom is a very tempting catch. In the end, they don’t care about your book or you. Whether it is Author Solutions or another of the dozens of publishing scammers out there, they get your money and keep milking it with constant upsells.

#8 — Make “over the mountain promises” to get you endorsed by Hollywood. It is not unusual for these companies to tell you that your book has a shot of being featured in Oprah’s book club, or that they will send your manuscript to one of their agents in Hollywood for review.

I can promise you one thing—Your book will never see the inside of a movie studio. Not unless you are a well-established author who has already proven themselves, and even then, it will not be through a vanity press company that you get there.

#9 — Promises to get your book into barnes and noble and other bookstores. In this case what happens is, they put your book into a large catalogue where bookstores and libraries can order it. But realistically, you’ll be hard pressed to sell a single book in any bookstore if you publish through a vanity press company. Libraries and bookstores won’t even consider it in most cases.

#10 — Insists you sign a contract handing over exclusivity. If this final dose doesn’t make you run the other way, I don’t know what will. By any and all means, as a self-published author, you do not sign over your material rights to anyone. This gives the vanity publisher the right to further exploit your work and profit from all sales. The author, in this case, gets a lower end percentage.

Now that you’ve seen the red flags, you are well-informed to make a decision if you come across what appears to be a shady publisher. You don’t need to sign anything  or pay huge amounts of money for the publisher to “publish you to Amazon” or set you up with a movie deal.

Here’s an image that you can use as a reminder:

Self-publishing school image graph with information on what self publishing companies and vanity presses to avoid

Now, let’s take a look at…

Your Self-Publishing Options

We are not living in the 1990s anymore. Back then, choices to self-publish were limited. You either paid a company—like a vanity press—a lot of money. Or, you went on your own and hired a printing company to run off tons of copies that were not cheap. 

Today, you will see that you have many good choices these days that make it easier for you to get your book published.

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#1 — Self-Publishing Courses

There are quite a few reputable self-publishing courses out there. You buy the course, and work through the modules to write and ultimately publish your own book.

There are costs to publish your book, including creating it, cover design, editing, and launching your book. You still have to pay for these services, but at least you get to choose who is working on your book.

It is up to each individual author to outsource his or her own book. Publishing courses provide the content you need to get it all done, but you do all the work and take on additional costs outside the cost of the course. 

You have to pay for the basics that any author pays for: A good cover design, hiring an editor and formatting, and maybe a budget for marketing services such as book promo sites or a media package.

But many new authors are weary about self-publishing and think uploading to Amazon— or other publishing companies—is a complex ordeal. It isn’t. I have been coaching authors for years and, nowadays, the system is built in that all you have to do is plug your book info into the Kindle Direct Publishing Bookshelf and away you go. The cost for actually self-publishing your book is O.

The production cost for the average book is about $1500. If you pay $1000-3000 for a course + $1500 for the book production, you are still under $5,000. If you continue to write more books, you’ve already paid for the course that usually gives you access for a lifetime. 

Taking a self-publishing course is the best option we think. You learn how to do so much of the process yourself, and can rinse and repeat for future books. You still pay for everything but, who you decide to hire is up to you and the creative decisions are all yours.

#2 — KDP [Kindle Direct Publishing]

The KDP platform is Amazon’s book publishing platform. Publishing a book is so much easier now than it ever used to be, especially with Amazon self-publishing.

You no longer need to go through painstaking efforts to land a book deal which locks you into unrealistic deadlines and cuts you out of most of the earnings. You don’t have to sign up and fork over thousands to a vanity press company. 

You can now have complete control of your book – and its revenues – by publishing directly through Amazon self-publishing.

Setting up your KDP account is easy, and should be the first step you complete.

Here’s how to set up your Kindle Direct Publishing account:

  • Go to https://kdp.amazon.com and register with either your Amazon account or with your email address.
  • Next, click “Update” in your account information and fill in your tax information. It’s important to note that you need to complete your tax information BEFORE you can publish your first book. So don’t skip this step!
  • Once your tax information is complete, click “Finished” and return to the main page.
  • Your profile is complete!


#3 — Print On Demand

If you are a new author reading this, with the print on demand services offered by Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingramspark, you can order your own author copies and pay print costs plus shipping to your location. Buy your own ISBN, copyright your book, and own what you create.

To start printing your own books with IngramSpark, visit their website and set up an account. Do the same with Amazons’ Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Do it yourself. It’s not the difficult process many would have you believe, and there is lots of support on these sites ready to help you right away.

How much is the cost to print a book?

It depends on the book size but, for a book that is 30k in length with little to no photos or graphs and text only, expect to pay less than $4 per copy. The average scammy publisher will charge new authors $15-20 dollars per copy.

But for them, they print the books at the same cost as an author who sets this up through KDP or IngramSpark.

In fact, many vanity press publishers use IngramSpark for the print-on-demand service only just to sell the books back to the author at 5x the print cost.

#4 — Vanity Press Publisher

Vanity press publishing, also called subsidy publishing, differs from selfpublishing in that the author assumes all the risk and pays the publisher for everything.

vanity press

The editing, formatting, cover design, and even marketing the book are paid for by the author through the various packages offered when an author signs up.

But, there is a trap here: The costs are more than you initially pay for, and they don’t tell you this until later when you’re mired deeper into the project. Once invested, most authors are compelled to publish the book no matter the costs.

The emotional investment is what these companies prey on. Knowing how you feel about your book, they are ready to help you do anything to get it to market… And that means offering more expensive services.

By the time you are done and the book is published, potentially you have just spent $10k. With close to 0 book sales.

Vanity publishers make money, not from selling books for you, but from the author buying their own books back from the publisher. It is a scam where the author always loses.

#5 — Traditional Publishers

This is not a self-publishing route but, if you want to take the traditional path, you can begin by querying your manuscript with agents. Keep in mind, you may not see your book in print for a couple of years due to the lengthy process of first finding an agent, and then having them submit it to publishers to buy.

What is a traditional publisher?

“A traditional book publishing company buys the rights to an author’s manuscript. Buying rights from the author is how book publishers have traditionally acquired books. …The advance is deducted by the book publisher from any royalties the author receives from the sale of the book.”

That’s right, they pay you an advance for the book. You don’t pay them anything. It depends on the publisher’s contract but they will pay for [some] marketing.

The editing, cover design and formatting is taken care of by the publisher [in most cases].

There are a lot of nightmare stories of authors signing on with traditional publishers, but that usually equates to the publisher not trying hard enough to sell any books. In this case the author may end the contract and, after that, many authors take up with self-publishing and find better success. After all, why not be in charge of building your own book business?

#6 — Hybrid Publishers

A hybrid publisher is what you will find between a traditional publisher [pay nothing upfront but get paid an advance] or a vanity press publisher [pay for everything upfront and keep all royalties.

The hybrid publishers model is simple: An author pays for everything upfront but gets a bigger cut of the royalties after book sales, upwards of 50%. The initial cost means that the author assumes all the financial risk in order to get the book to market.

One other difference between traditional and hybrid publishing is, the hybrid has to pay the author a higher percentage of royalties than a traditional publishing house.

In order for a company to be called a hybrid publisher, there are 9 criteria set out by the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) that must be adhered to:

  • In order to not be classified as a vanity press, ALL book submissions must be reviewed. This means if your book does not meet the criteria, it should be rejected. A vanity press doesn’t care. Anything and anybody will do.
  • Hybrid publishers must clearly define a vision to follow for their company.
  • Must report reputable sales on all titles they publish.
  • Authors who sign with hybrid publishers must be paid a higher royalty than that of standard traditional publisher rates.
  • The quality of the production—cover design, editing and formatting—must meet industry standards.
  • The publisher must publish as its own defined imprint and request its own ISBNs.
  • Manage all distribution services for the works.
  • Hybrid publisher must manage the rights of the works they publish as well as any subsequent rights acquired.
  • Hybrid publishers must meet the standards and best practices set out by the publishing industry.

But…the vanity press publishers are bad seeds. Lately, they are disguising their services as “hybrid publishers” but still operate with the same scammy tactics.

Take caution here that, while a hybrid publisher might look legit on the surface, there is a possibility you could get ripped off if you are not 100% sure.

Taking Down the Scammers

As a coach and self-publishing authority, I have worked with at least a dozen authors who’ve come away from a vanity press publisher broke, not just financially, but emotionally as well.

Like most authors, they just wanted to fulfill a dream and publish a book. But as soon as you sign up with a self-publishing scam company, your dreams are ripped apart and so is your bank account. By the time the not-yet-published author realizes it, they are invested by thousands of dollars and bound by a contract.

Over the years several class-action suits have been launched against scammy publishers for bad business practice. The worst of these publishers is Author Solutions, a company with a bad rap and a long history of complaints targeted against it by authors who have been exploited.

This company boasts on its website “300,000 authors published.” I would be hard-pressed to believe this and to go a step further, the percentage of those authors who would use Author Solution service again?

Chances are if you have been down this road, you realized before you were halfway there that you’d taken a bad path. 

Author Solutions is at the top of the chain of seedy publishing houses promising to get your book to market because the world needs to hear your story. And for a publishing package upwards of $5999 it could all be done for you. Well, initially you are led to believe.

Author Solutions is the parent company of several subsidiaries that operate, not only in the US but now have an International reach as they have set up in countries worldwide.

How do they make their money?

It isn’t from helping authors to sell books.

The authors usually end up selling nothing. Instead, they are made to buy the books they want from the publishers at a high cost just so they can have their own copies to sell or giveaway.

Recently, several companies have been shut down in class action lawsuits, and this is still continuing today, with authors taking a stand and fighting back against the book publishing thieves.

Fortunately, authors are better educated these days on the publishing options available. Vanity publishers are disappearing. But do return “wearing different clothing”, disguised as the next best company to get you that bestselling book.

Red Flag List: Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid

I have compiled a list of publishing companies you should avoid at all costs. This is not a complete list but includes names of the major companies flagged by Writer Beware and Alliance of Independent Authors.

For a very thorough listing, I would recommend you check with the Alliance of Independent Authors. ALLi stays up-to-date on the scammy reports, warnings and lawsuits taken against bad publishers.

what are the self publishing companies to avoid

Here are some self-publishing companies that have made the list of those to watch out for:

Writers Beware and Watchdog Groups

Remember: Always do your homework. To make sure if you are buying into a legit business you should check in with these sites listed below.

Writer Beware

“Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.”

Preditors and Editors

Providing up-to-date action against possible publishing scammers.

ALLi [Alliance of Independent Authors] / Watchdog Posts

“Each month on the ALLi blog, the excellent Watchdog John Doppler explores key issues regarding the provision of self-publishing services around the world.”

The Independent Publishing Magazine / Publishing Service Index

A detailed breakdown of self-publishing companies and their ranking based on service and reliability.

Educate Yourself in Self-Publishing

Publishing scams will always be around as long as authors are paying for their services.

How do you, as an author, avoid falling into this trap?

The self-publishing arena is like a vast oasis of information and a never-ending learning process. Vanity press publishers are banking on you having no idea what to do, which is why you might consider turning to a publishing company in the first place.

Our advice at Self Publishing School is this: Educate yourself on how to publish a book. You’d be surprised the things you actually don’t have to pay for.

Take control of your self-publishing career today.

Are you ready to self-publish your book?

Enroll in an online self-publishing course

You can check out this list of best self-publishing courses. I highly recommend joining an online self-publishing course for achieving all your publishing goals.

You will learn how to write and market your book your way and all of it within your control. You won’t have to give up anything or sign your book rights over to a publisher that will exploit your creativity.

If you are uncertain as to whether you should spend money on a course or not, but you want to know the ins and outs of self-publishing, grab a $5 book and start here.

Meanwhile, the scammy publishers are on the phone right now with a future author that isn’t doing these things.

Read Books on “How to Write” and Self-Publishing

Reading is a cheap way to educate yourself on writing. Make it a habit to read for 30 minutes a day. Educate yourself on the publishing industry.

Top 10 Book Recommendations on Writing and Self-Publishing:

#1-Published by Chandler Bolt

#2-The Miracle Morning for Writers: How to Build a Writing Ritual That Increases Your Impact and Your Income by Hal Elrod and Steve Scott

#3-Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant 

#4-Why Authors Fail: 17 Mistakes Self Publishing Authors Make That Sabotage Their Success (And How To Fix Them) by Derek Doepker

#5-The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn

#6-You Must Write a Book: Boost Your Brand, Get More Business, and Become the Go-To Expert by Honoree Corder

#7-Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran

#8-You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

#9-On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

#10-Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox

Now that you are totally aware of what to watch out for, it’s time to take control of your own author career

More Resources

Which publishing option is the best for YOU & your unique author goals?  Get a full, deep-dive self-publishing vs traditional publishing analysis! Make  an informed decision and set yourself up for success with your book.   Get Your Analysis Here!  <https://self-publishingschool.com/lm-self-vs-traditional-publishing-analysis>

how long does it take to write a book

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

The most valuable thing a writer can learn is how long does it take to write a book.

And while most sources say it depends, we break it down for you.

Many authors, when asked how long it took to produce their debut novels, gave answers ranging from four years to a decade.

In other words, a very long time, BUT…

We’ve focused the process of writing and publishing a book, and our students are able to complete their drafts in as little as 60 days, publishing in 90 days…and we’ll teach you how.

But there is amazing news:

Writing your book can take far less time than you think. You just need to have the right mindset, a reliable system, and to stay motivated to write.

Here’s what you’ll learn about how long it takes to write a book:

  1. How to create a deadline
  2. The average time it takes to write a book
  3. How long it takes to write a 100 page book
  4. How long it takes to write a 200 page book
  5. How long it takes to write a 300 page book
  6. How to write a book faster
  7. Prioritizing to take less time to write a book
  8. Create word count goals
  9. Find accountability to write a book faster
  10. Set challenges to finish writing your book

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:

  • 30,000 – 50,000 words: 500 words/day = 60 – 100 days
  • 50,000 – 80,000 words: 500 words/day = 100 – 160 days
  • 80,000 – 100,000 words: 500 words/day = 160 – 200 days

Essentially, the length of time it takes can be anywhere from two months to 7 months (or even longer!) depending on how often you write and how many words you write per session.

If you want a quick way to find out, fill out this word and page count calculator below and it will tell you the average time it takes to write that book:

Choose your book type, genre, and audience for a word count and page number total.

Your book will have

words

pages

*These results are based on industry standards. The total word and page count will vary from book to book and is dependent on your writing and overall book formatting*

Average Time to Write This Book: 60 days

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.

self publishing school graph informing how long it takes to write a book

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:

  1. Define realistic deadlines. Set short term and long term deadlines for each portion of your draft that breaks down your entire book.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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#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

Action Step:

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:

how long does it take to write a book

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!

Action Step:

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.

This is done through our Mastermind Community, so everyone has the same goal in mind: start writing a book and finish by self-publishing a book.

It’s a great motivating tactic and helps our students complete their books on time.

Action Step:

Find an accountability partner who is willing to encourage and hold you accountable to meet your deadlines!

#5 – Setting Challenges for Yourself

Following the same routine can get old quickly especially for something lengthy like writing the first draft of your book.

To combat the fear of boredom and add more spark to your writing project, we encourage you to set challenges for yourself!

Here are some simple challenges to set to write your book faster:

  • Double the word count you’ve originally set daily, monthly, yearly
  • Purposely tighten deadlines to increase pressure
  • Ban the use of your phone or all forms of distractions to make time for writing
  • Read your unfinished draft out loud to someone new for feedback

Action Step:

Include a few of these challenges every so often to increase the intensity of your writing. You may tack on even better rewards for each successful challenge you’ve completed.

If you ever dream of becoming a self-published author, now is the time to finally make it a reality.

By following these guidelines on how to develop a robust writing process, you will have your first book ready to self-publish in no time.

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How to Survive NaNoWriMo in 2020: 17 Top Tips for Success

You might not like to hear this.

But NaNoWriMo can often take a toll on you mentally and even creatively.

It might not make sense to you now, but you’ll understand just how much NaNoWriMo can affect you in a little bit.

First, let’s talk about what makes NaNoWriMo unique and special.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.

It’s an event that takes place over the course of November where writers from all over commit to writing 50,000 words during the month. That’s the main goal and if you accomplish this, that’s how you WIN NaNoWriMo.

So unfortunately, no, NaNoWriMo not some sort of nanobot that you can implant in your mind to write your book for you.

The entire point is to help writers have a month of very high productivity so they can get the first draft out of the way in order to pave the way for editing, rewriting, and overall polishing.

What can take writers months to accomplish (50,000 words) only needs to take one so the book gets finished faster.

Here are your daily, weekly, and total goals for NaNoWriMo. If you’re someone who likes to work on a weekly basis instead of a daily, this will help you.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

One of the best things you can do if you want to win NaNoWriMo is to prepare properly. There’s a reason those who participate dub October as Preptober.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re ready when NaNoWriMo comes to town.

#1 – Download your survival guide!

When it comes to making it through NaNoWriMo, you might need help. It’ll be a tough month and that’s why we put together this survival guide for you to follow.

It covers expanded preparation steps as well as resources to help you get through the month.

Make sure to download this if you want to win NaNoWriMo this year!

DOWNLOAD HERE!

nano cover photo

#2 – Pick a story

If you haven’t already, you have to decide which story you’re going to write. If you’re anything like me, you might have tons of book ideas bouncing around inside your head.

So how do you choose which to write and which to save for later?

Here are a few questions I like to ask myself when deciding which story to try first:

  • Which do you think about the most?
  • Which is developed the most?
  • Which one is a book you’d be most likely to pick up and read yourself?
  • Which one have you been thinking of as you read these questions?

Chances are, there’s one idea that stands out to you above all the rest. Even if the others are good, the story you’re most connected to and think about the most is the one you’ll actually enjoy writing the most.

And since you’ll be spending a great deal of time on this book over the next month, actually enjoying it is very important.

Pick the one that has your passion and run with it.

#3 – OUTLINE

I’m a personal advocate of outlining. My outlines are very detailed and I want to basically have an instruction manual for my book.

That being said, it’s understandable that not everyone works well with an outline. Maybe it’s not for you.

However, going into NaNoWriMo completely blind is a mistake.

You at least want to have an overview of the plot and the major plot points figured out so you have a direction in which to write.

For those of you who need outlining, make sure it’s done before November starts!

That clear, step-by-step overview of your book will be extremely helpful for saving time. You’ll be able to sit down and get to writing instead of spending so much time trying to figure out where your story is going.

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#4 – Join support groups

Going through something as arduous as NaNoWriMo requires some backup…preferably in the form of friends or just other people participating as well.

You all know that it’s going to be hard and therefore, you can count on support groups to help propel you through the tough times.

Support groups are your best bet to stay motivated throughout the entire month. Plus, anyone who’s a part of those groups is usually more than willing to help when you get stuck on your story, too.

So where do you find groups like these?

You can follow specific hashtags or accounts on Twitter, or you can join Facebook groups dedicated to NaNoWriMo.

Here are a few Facebook groups you can join right now to help you make it through:

#5 – Get in the right mindset

The reason NaNoWriMo is so difficult isn’t because of the fact that you’re writing a book; it’s because you’re writing so much of your book in such a short amount of time. It’s scary.

And that can be intimidating to a number of people – most of us, I’d wager to bet.

That means one of your biggest obstacles isn’t plotting your novel or making sure you’re physically prepared, it’s making sure you’re mentally ready to complete such a tough goal.

That means focusing on your inspiration, motivation, and staying positive!

You can find other methods of maintaining the right mindset in our NaNoWriMo survival guide.

#6 – Schedule your writing time

This is one of the absolute best ways to ensure you actually make it through NaNoWriMo in one piece – and even win!

It’s as simple as making a schedule for yourself and then sticking to it.

Anyone can mark their days to write on a calendar but it takes a special kind of writer to sit down daily and hit those word count goals.

We actually put together a progress tracking and planning spreadsheet that calculates your percentage completed in our NaNoWriMo survival guide! You can find what that looks like below.

You can use this all year round, not just in November. Give it a download if you want to make some real progress this month.

NaNoWriMo-Winning Habits

Being able to win NaNoWriMo is the entire goal of entering. You want to complete 50,000 words in a single month. But that’s much easier said than done.

I decided to pull out the big guns and ask for some help from my personal Twitter followers since I know many of them participate in this yearly.

Here are some of the tips I received on the thread of this tweet along with some extended tips to help you make the most of NaNoWriMo this month.

#1 – Pick a daily word count and focus on hitting that only

When you think about the overall goal of writing 50,000, you might begin to sweat, get anxious, and even feel discouraged.

Because it is a lot of words to write in a single month.

But one of the biggest tips experienced NaNoWriMo-ers have for anyone venturing to accomplish such an audacious goal is to only focus on hitting your daily goal.

So instead of thinking about it as 50,000 words a month, think of it as 1667 words a day.

This helps your mind process the amount better so you don’t get so overwhelmed.

#2 – Put together writing playlists

Inspiration doesn’t just exactly come around whenever you want it to. Sometimes it hides away like you might when winter comes around (just me?).

But the thing is, if every writer waited for inspiration to find them in order to write, hardly any of us would get our books done and we’d definitely not make it through NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words accomplished.

So instead, you might have to coax inspiration from the outskirts of your mind and one way many writers do this is through music.

Create a playlist that fits with the style of your story and turn it on whenever you sit down to write. It can serve as inspiration and a mental cue for your mind to get ready to work.

#3 – Have writing motivation and inspiration handy

Just like I mentioned above, you won’t always want to write but in order to hit your goal for November, you need to write daily (unless you want to sit and write huge chunks of words a couple days a week).

When you keep visuals, quotes, and even other novels that have inspired your own writing journey handy, it’s much easier to get in the mood to crank out some high-quality words.

#4 – Commit to NOT editing at all

This is one of the hardest parts for many who’ve done NaNoWriMo before.

They can get the words down, but only if they don’t stop to edit as they go.

Your first draft is better done than perfect, which is the entire point of NaNoWriMo in the first place. So put the editor part of your mind on hold and let your writer-brain take full ownership over the next month.

#5 – Ask friends/family to leave you alone

I realize this might sound harsh but NaNoWriMo is a commitment. You can’t have friends and family bugging you when it’s your designated writing time.

In order to succeed with NaNoWriMo, it’s best to make it clear to everyone around you that you’ll be unreachable for a specific amount of time whenever you write.

If you set that expectation early on and be stern about it, it’ll be easier to avoid this type of distraction throughout the month.

#6 – Recruit a close accountability partner

If writing groups don’t work for you because your posts get lost in the mix, pairing up with someone for one-on-one accountability might be a better option for you.

You can check-in daily and give each other support and encouragement when it gets tough.

And trust me, by the second week, you’ll need someone there to push you along and remind you why you started this lofty task in the first place.

#7 – Use a distraction-free writing app

There are a ton of writing software and apps out there designed to help you write – and write faster.

One of the best to use is an app called Freedom.

What this app does is cut off access to certain websites or apps for a determined amount of time. Whenever you try to visit those sites (like Twitter) during the time you have scheduled to write, you’ll receive this message:

This prevents you from procrastinating or getting too distracted, which hinders your word count progress.

The idea here is that this app “frees” you from the addiction and distraction of sites you know you get sucked into easily.

#8 – Turn your notifications off

This is for your phone, social media, email, and any other notifications that might pop up during your writing time.

If you use the app mentioned above, this will be a little easier, but you also have to manually keep your phone far away from you so even text messages won’t break through your concentration.

Just me, those messages will still be there by the time you’re done with writing.

#9 – Never guilt-shame yourself

This will be very hard if, for whatever reason, you don’t end up hitting your word count goal daily. You’ll start to shame yourself, even if only internally.

This isn’t productive in any way, shape, or form and it’ll only slow you down further.

Instead, you should recognize when you’re behind, and then schedule the time to catch up if hitting that 50,000 words is truly important to you.

And if you need a little bit more to help you out with this one, just remember that no matter what, you’re making progress on your book and that alone is a major accomplishment.

#10 – Just write

NaNoWriMo is all about just making progress. That progress doesn’t have to be the best version of what you can do, it just has to be progress.

You can forget all about making your manuscript all shiny and perfect. Instead, just focus on pumping out those words.

Write to the best of your ability given the time you have to hit those words.

After all, the large majority of us tend to write best once we get into the groove of just writing anyway. And that means if you shut off the self-critical part of your brain for a while, you can make some major strides.

#11 – Go easy on yourself

Cut yourself some slack. You’re not perfect and writing can be very difficult.

If something comes up and you’re not able to write for a day, just forget about it and get back on track the next.

There’s no point in driving yourself crazy over missing a few thousand words because like I said above, you’re still making progress on your book and that’s the entire point of NaNoWriMo in the first place.


Book Mockup Generators: 5 FREE Tools

If you’re already in, or getting your start in, the book publishing game, you know you need solid book marketing to succeed, and that includes book mockups.

Maybe that’s scary for you, maybe it’s exciting, but one thing is for sure: it’s necessary.

Marketing can be a huge, scary hill to climb. In a constantly changing market with shifting focus, thousands of niches, and readers with low attention spans, it might seem impossible to get readers.

But let’s start small.

Here’s what you’ll learn about book mockups and generators:

  1. What is a book mockup?
  2. Different types of book mockups
  3. What are book mockups used for
  4. Adazing Book Mockup Generator
  5. Media Modifier book mockups
  6. DIY Book Design mockups
  7. Smart Mockups
  8. Book Brush mockup generator
  9. DIY Book Mockups

What is a book mockup?

A very basic tool in book marketing that all writers need is the book mockup. A book mockup turns your cover into a 3D rendering or a full advertisement.

A 3D rendering catches eyes and lets your readers picture themselves holding your book far more effectively than a standard 2D cover image would.

I could show you this plain depiction of my book cover next to a 3D book mockup rendering so you can see the difference:

Which one helps you imagine my book in your house? Which one makes you want it?

“Wow, Hannah,” you say, “that looks great! I wish I could do that with my covers, but…I don’t know how.”

What if I told you creating eye-catching marketing imagery is actually incredibly easy? That mockup of Little Birds took me literally less than four seconds to make. 

Types of Book Mockups

If you’re not a super wiz in Photoshop, there are easier and faster alternatives called book mockup generators that we’ll cover in more detail below.

Book mockup generators help you create essential marketing imagery to promote your books.

Most of these give you several options for types of book mockups, including paperback, ebook, and even audiobook.

Audiobook Cover Mockups:

Here’s an example I made with a mockup generator for my audiobook:

3D renders bring your book to life. I added headphones to emphasize that it’s available in audiobook. You can add elements to your mockups that help your reader imagine a situation in which they’re likelier to enjoy your book–get creative!

Is it a romance? Generate a mockup with someone holding your book next to a fire with a glass of wine. Is it a horror? Make the backdrop a spooky abandoned building.

You don’t need photography skills, a fancy camera, a hand model, or editing prowess to create book mockups. All you need is your cover and a book mockup generator!

Banner Book Cover Mockups:

Banners are useful for almost every social media cover image, as well as any in-text advertisements for your website’s blog posts.

The banner above also only took me four seconds to make. It’s attractive, attention-grabbing, and did I mention it only took four seconds to make?

Even if you don’t want to make a full scene image like that, simply turning your cover into a 3D mockup will up your marketing game tenfold.

Full 3D Book Cover Mockup:

As mentioned above, you can use a plain flat image of your cover, but a 3D rendering makes it feel more real, and is far more eye-catching.

Turn this:

Into THIS:

Isn’t a 3D render just a tastier experience? Let your reader see your book for what it is–a book!

The great thing about these 3D mockups is that you can also place them within other marketing images, which allows you to pick and choose which types of mockups to promote on specific platforms.

This leads us into the next point of what book mockups are used for…

What are book mockups used for?

Book mockups can (and should) be used in most of your promotional materials, branding, and platform elements.

If you have an author platform of any kind, your book mockups should be easily available to see when someone clicks on your profile.

A fun marketing statistic I often reference is that a consumer has to be exposed to a message, on average, seven times before they’ll act on it.

With that in mind, you could say you need to put your book cover in front of your readers at least seven times to make a sale. If you’re not showing them your book, how will they know it’s there?

Get those mockups generated and in front of your readers!

Having consistent elements, like book mockups, that you use on most or all of your materials can help to establish your brand. Let’s look at places you will likely put those elements.

Social media posts:

No matter the social media you use, algorithms favor images. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat posts are all heavily based on visuals.

Incorporate mockups to give your audience a tangible experience of your books.

For example, this is an image I used on Instagram to promote my book tour stream. Including a 3D render of the book on all of my promotional materials helps to instill the book and brand in my audience’s mind.

Anytime I mention my book, a sale, or an event, I make sure to include a 3D mockup of the cover.

Advertisements:

This is an ad I made when I released my audiobook, so obviously I wanted to include a cover mockup on it. Imagine a book advertisement that didn’t include a cover.

There’s nothing to catch the reader’s eye, so they’ll scroll right past it. Any advertisements you create should absolutely include the book cover.

Author websites:

There’s no point in having an author website if you don’t spotlight your books on it. You might use your mockups on a front page banner, a gallery, or a project page.

This is an example of the Starlight page on my website. Some elements you might include on a book or project page are reviews, buy buttons, descriptions, excerpts, and a 3D mockup!

Banners, endscreens, platform material:

I use 3D renders of my book covers on all of my social media platforms. Like we mentioned earlier, a consistent brand and repetition are important elements in book marketing.

Here’s an example of my Twitch background, and you’ll see an endscreen I use in my YouTube videos later on. This is a small, subtle use of a 3D render that I don’t even call particular attention to–it’s just in eyesight during every Twitch stream I host.

Remember: seven exposures = one sale.

Merchandise:

Double-dip into your book income by expanding your product offering. Get yourself a 3D render to slap on T-shirts, mugs, and other swag for a bonus income stream.

Having products out there with your name and books on them is also great for marketing and building your brand.

Now that we see the various ways book mockups can help with marketing, let’s look at some options for generators to create those book mockups.

Five Free Book Mockup Generators

All of the following mockup generators allow you to create imagery for free, but premium versions will most often give you access to things like extra features, more downloads, or watermark removal.

Some book mockup services will mass produce hundreds of images at once, while some only let you produce one piece at a time.

Some services are completely free, while some will cost a premium to access their full suite offering–if you decide to invest in marketing software, it’s likely worth your money. Like any business research, just do a little research to make sure it’s a good move and will show a return on your investment.

#1 – Adazing

Adazing is a free, quick, and easy service to produce book mockups. The drawbacks I see with Adazing are that you can only produce one at a time, and that they aren’t the most realistic-looking renders out there.

Here’s an example I made with Adazing for Gloria Russell’s collection The Graveyard Three:

As you can see, the framing is a little unnatural–it looks like a 3D render instead of a physical book.

Adazing also offers other services like title generation, banner ads, and media kit templates.

#2 – Media Modifier

Along with mockups, Media Modifier lets you design logos, apparel, and products. Media Modifier allows more precise customization with their mockup generator, like the ability to edit backgrounds and drop shadows.

They do require sign-up to remove the watermark on downloads, but here’s an example of a mockup I made with Media Modifier, again using Gloria’s collections:

While Media Modifier does offer more customization than Adazing, I still don’t find they look particularly realistic.

#3 – DIY Book Design

This is another quick, easy, and free service–it has the same issue as some of the other mockup generators where you can only produce one at a time.

Here’s a mockup I made of Rilie Kaye’s ebook with DIY Book Design:

I find this render to be higher quality and a good deal more realistic than Adazing or Media Modifier.

#4 – Smart Mockups

This one provides a very limited selection of free options, but you can access many more formats and customizations with a premium account. Smart Mockups provided the most realistic-looking mockups of all of the generators I’ve tried.

Here’s an example I made of my own book with the free features on Smart Mockups:


#5 – Book Brush

Book Brush is a service I use regularly for creating covers, mockups, videos, and more. They’re constantly expanding their service offerings and templates, so I like to check up to see what’s new.

I love that you can make a bulk amount of hundreds of mockups at once with their Instant Mockup tool. Here’s a brief rundown of how to use Book Brush’s tools and platform.

And these are a few mockups I made instantly with Book Brush’s mockup tool:


Book Brush has a ton of tools available with their free version, and I’m always happy with the quality, so I definitely recommend checking them out!

These are only five of the book mockup generators I found with free options, but there are LOTS more if you dig around. My favorites of the ones listed are Book Brush (for the Instant Mockup tool) and Smart Markups (for the amazing quality).

But maybe you’re not interested in an easy breezy mockup experience. Maybe you’re the kind of pal who wants to roll up your sleeves and get in there with 100% customization.

Let’s talk about how you can do it yourself.

DIY Options for Book Mockups

You can skip the immediate results and manually make your book mockups with a program like Photoshop (or a free alternative, like Canva).

For example, this is my YouTube endscreen I made with Photoshop:

I used the Starlight mockup from Book Brush, but I inserted the Little Birds cover directly into my PSD file. This allowed me to customize the dimensions to fit the YouTube endscreen elements on top (like putting my subscribe button in the coffee cup).

You can also make great marketing imagery with free services like Canva, PicMonkey, or Gimp.

For example, this is an Instagram post I made using a 3D mockup from Book Brush in Canva:

But here I’ve done the same thing without the 3D mockup, and it still looks pretty nice:

You can make marketing imagery with 2D book cover images, but it just lacks the spice of a 3D render.

I’ll manually make my marketing imagery for specific items, like livestream promotional pieces, but I love using mockup generators for base imagery (like those adorable coffee table pieces from Book Brush) and 3D cover renders.

Whether you go manual or use a book generator, a book mockup is one of the most important marketing tools a writer has for selling copies. Take advantage of the tools I listed above and get started on creating your own book mockups for social media, advertisements, websites, merch, and branding!

Do you have a favorite tool or method for building book mockups? Let us know in a comment or tweet us @Self_Pub_School!

social media for authors

Social Media for Writers & Authors: Full Tutorial Guides

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.

Here’s how to do social media for writers:

  1. Do writers need social media?
  2. The difference with social media marketing
  3. What’s the best social media for writers?
  4. Twitter for authors
  5. Instagram for writers
  6. Facebook for writers
  7. BONUS: Youtube for authors
  8. Author platform growth on social media
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Do writers need social media?

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.

Demographic: 34% female, 66% male — 44% ages 18-24, 26% ages 30-49

Posting frequency: several times a day, 7+

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).

Examples:

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:

social media for writers example

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.

social media for authors twitter example

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

Example:

social media for authors instagram example

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.

That being said, there are strategies that still work for Facebook for authors.

HOW TO USE FACEBOOK FOR AUTHORS:

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.

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self-publishing

Self-Publishing in 2020: A Complete ACTIONABLE Guide

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.

Here’s how to self-publish a book for success:

  1. What is self-publishing?
  2. Is it a good idea to self-publish?
  3. What are the best self-publishing companies?
  4. Cost of self-publishing a book
  5. The BEST way to self-publish a book
    1. Create a self-publishing plan
    2. Choose the right book idea
    3. Mindmap your idea
    4. Outlines your book
    5. Write & produce your self-published book
    6. Get an ISBN & Copyright
    7. Decide where to print & distribute
    8. Set up your Amazon Central profile
    9. Set up your launch team
    10. Create a launch plan
    11. Upload your book to KDP to self-publish
    12. Launch!

Learn How 100 People Have Published in the Last 60 Days!  Learn the exact step-by-step methods 100 of our students have used the last 60  days to publish their books--and how YOU can do it too, just as easily!   Start Here!  <https://selfpublishingschool.lpages.co/organic-eg-bab-how-100-people-have-finished-their-books-in-the-last-60-days/>

What is self-publishing?

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.

We have a handy self-publishing vs traditional publishing blog posts that really dives into specific differences you can check out. But really, self-publishing is all independent.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Do you want to simply write and let others dictate the rest?
  3. Do you want to market your own books? SPOILER: this is required for BOTH publishing avenues.
  4. 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.

What are the best self-publishing companies?

There are a couple of different ways to look at what “self-publishing companiesmeans.

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

That being said, we have an entire post about how much it costs to self-publish, so we’ll keep it brief here.

Here’s how much it costs to self-publish a book:

  • Writing: free, but costs time
  • 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.

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#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.

Our recommendation? Get a calendar, get an author planner (we actually have a GREAT one with author-specific prompts here).

Here’s how to plan to self-publish a book:

  1. Give yourself 1 full day for ideation (if you don’t have a book idea yet)
  2. 2 – 3 days for mindmapping
  3. 1 day for outlining (planning a novel may take longer)
  4. 3 – 8 months for drafting (this depends on your type of book. Fiction will lean months-long, nonfiction can be done in 90 days with the right system) but SCHEDULE writing days.
  5. 1 month for self-editing, revising, or beta readers
  6. 1 – 2 months for a hired book editor (book this out as early as you can so you’re not waiting forever on this!)
  7. 1 month for cover design (can be done along with hired editor)
  8. 2 weeks for formatting (can be done AFTER the final book edit)
  9. 1 week for ordering author copies + any time for revisions in formatting here
  10. 1 week for uploading, creating your Amazon description
  11. 3 weeks for launch team initiatives (can be done while cover is being done, etc. so long as you have a PDF copy they can read)
  12. 1 week for the full launch!
  13. At least 1 full day of celebration (far more preferred 🎉 🎊)

This seems overwhelming, and that’s because doing this process well takes time, planning, and focus.

#2 – Choose the right book idea to self-publish

Now’s the time to determine if you want to write whatever type of book you want OR if you want to write-to-market in order to build a full-time writing career.

Both are equally as lucrative if you know how to do them well.

But ultimately, you have to decide which avenue to take, and this will help you develop a plan for book ideas you want to write.

Here at Self-Publishing School, we teach our Become a Bestseller and Fundamentals of Fiction students to choose their first book idea based on a few key criteria:

  1. Which will be the easiest to write?
  2. Which do you have the most passion for?
  3. What can you write and publish the fastest?
  4. Which idea has the most need in the market?

Now, obviously the above questions are for those of you who have many ideas already. But what about if you don’t have a full, developed idea just yet?

Here are some tips if you don’t know what to write about yet:

  • Do you want to write a nonfiction book or write a novel?
  • 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:

mindmap example
mindmap for a book example

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:

  1. Start writing, and follow our outline IN ORDER
  2. Maintain a writing schedule to finish your book
  3. Once the first draft is complete, let it “rest” for a week or so
  4. 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 🙂)
  5. Self-edit the book chapter by chapter, rewrite, and make any changes
  6. OPTIONAL BUT 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)
  7. Book a formatter and cover designer (some services have packages that include both)
  8. 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
  9. Send to the formatter when it’s 100% edited
  10. Get your ISBN and copyright your book
  11. Work with the cover designer on tweaks (they’ll also need the barcode, ISBN, etc.)
  12. Order proof copies and review, adjust if needed
  13. DONE 🎉

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).

Here are the quick steps to get an ISBN number & copyright your book all in one step, bundled at Bowker.com (or you can click that highlighted text to read a full blog post):

  1. Go to myidentifiers.com
  2. First, make an account (you need this to check out)
  3. At the top right, under “Register and copyright your book” hit “CopyrightsNow!”
  4. 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
  5. Click “go to cart” from the pop-up screen
  6. Click “checkout”
  7. 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.

#7 – Decide where to print / distribute from

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)

Retailers included: Just Amazon.

LEARN HOW TO USE IT: KDP Print Guide & Review

IngramSpark

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.

Retailers included: They have global distribution, you can read the full list here.

LEARN HOW TO USE IT: IngramSpark Guide Review

Draft2Digital —

Ease of use: 4.5/5

Cost to publish: They take 10% of the retail price of a book for a sale. (if you price your book at $14.99, they will receive about $1.50 per sale)

Retailers included: Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (including Kobo Plus), Tolino, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Scribd, 24Symbols, Baker & Taylor, Hoopla

FULL REVIEW: Draft2Digital vs Smashwords

BookBaby

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.

Retailers included: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM!, BookShop, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Powells

LEARN MORE: Full BookBaby Review

Smashwords —

Smashwords was one of the first alternative options for self-publishers, that made sure authors could get their books distributed to other online retailers other than Amazon.

Ease of use: 3.5/5

Cost to publish: You can make 70% – 80% royalties from retail price, while Smashwords keeps the rest

Retailers included: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BAM!, BookShop, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Powells, Blio, Hive, Overdrive, Tolino, Scribd, Odilo, Apple iBooks, and more

FULL REVIEW: Draft2Digital vs Smashwords

#8 – Set up your Amazon Central profile and account

Your Amazon profile does matter. It can help people find you, and you can optimize it in order to sell more books as well grow your author platform.

And best yet? It’s free! You can create one and it’s the space all of your books will be hosted on Amazon’s platform.

Here’s how to make your Amazon Author Central account to self-publish your book:

  1. Log in here
  2. Follow the prompts to set up your page
  3. You’ll receive a confirmation email to finish setting up your account

If you want a more comprehensive guide to Amazon’s Author Central page, click here.

#9 – Set up your launch team

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:

  1. Create a social post, email, or announce it anywhere else you see fit
  2. Offer a FREE version of your book (a PDF copy is usually fine) to get people to sign up
  3. If you have an email list or a website, use a form to capture their information for use later
  4. 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
  5. Set up a list of tasks, challenges, or other initiatives to ensure your launch team is invested in helping you market the book
  6. Set them up for success by clearly communicated and listing DATES you expect things completed by
  7. 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.

We have a book launch checklist available to download here to help you get started on this.

We also have an entire blog post dedicated to running a book launch, which we think should be a topic on its own. Check it out right here and keep this page open to come back to.

#11 – Upload your book to KDP to self-publish

There are many steps in this process. You’ll have to have your cover, your manuscript file formatted effectively, and more.

Typically, it can take a few days for Amazon to approve your book being uploaded.

For a step-by-step guide here, we wanted to point your toward the experts over at SelfPublishing.com for a complete set up, with all the information you could need to get this right.

Read how to upload your book to KDP to self-publish here.

#12 – Launch! And celebrate!

Once you set your date and click “publish,” THE CELEBRATION BEGINS!!

It’s a huge milestone to write a book. Let alone go through the process of editing, cover design, formatting, and actually self-publishing it.

BE PROUD!

And let us know how it went in the comments below!

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37 Dystopian Writing Prompts

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

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

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

Here are 37 dystopian writing prompts to get you started!

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

38 Mystery Writing Prompts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

How to Write Descriptions: Powerful Formula

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

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

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

Here’s how to write a scene description:

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

#1 – Utilize the five senses

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

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

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

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

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

Sight:

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

Sound:

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

Touch

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

Taste:

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

Smell:

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

Combo moves:

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

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

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

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

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

#2 – Include what’s relevant

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

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

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

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

Original:

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

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

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

Revised version:

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

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

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

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

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#3 – Remember the point of view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4 – Spread out your description

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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!

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romance novels

34 Romance Writing Prompts

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!

Here are 34 writing prompts to get you started:

  1. 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.
  2. A distant member of a European royal family crashes their car outside a woman’s house in a rural area.
  3. Two high schoolers who hate each other get stuck doing community service together after a senior prank goes wrong.
  4. 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.
  5. Write a love story between two patrons at a cafe from the perspective of the barista.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. A caterer regularly works at a CEO’s lavish parties and falls in love with a recurring guest.
  15. 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.
  16. 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?
  17. 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?
  18. A high school student’s best friend and crush reveals herself to be a werewolf.
  19. 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…
  20. While her partner is at work, a woman decides to try to cook dinner as a surprise for them. It goes spectacularly bad.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. On a road trip across the country, a woman meets an intriguing traveler at a rest stop.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. A woman dresses to attract a man who won’t pay attention to her, but draws the attention of his best friend instead.
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. 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.
  32. After months of building up the courage to ask out a coworker, the date goes horribly wrong.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.

Happy writing!

how to write a memoir

How to Write Flashbacks: With Examples!

Sometimes a story requires a flashback—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.

Here’s what we’ll cover for how to write flashbacks:

  1. What are flashbacks?
  2. How to write flashbacks
  3. 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 write flashbacks.

#1 – 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.

#2 – Make sure the flashback is 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

#3 – Use the flashback sparingly

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.

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#4 – Keep the flashback 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.

#5 – Make the flashback meaningful


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.

Flashback examples

Flashbacks most often occur in visual storytelling, like movies, TV shows, and comic books. Let’s look at some examples.

Flashbacks in movies examples

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 examples

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 examples

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.

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High Fantasy With Jenna Moreci

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 novel The Savior’s Champion, and its upcoming companion novel, The Savior’s Sister (pre-order here!).

Here’s what you’ll learn about writing high fantasy:

  1. What is high fantasy?
  2. How to write high fantasy
  3. High fantasy vs low fantasy
  4. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Religion – Monotheistic, polytheistic, actual, interpreted, proven false? Are there different religions? How do your character’s religion influence their outlooks and behavior?
  3. Economy – Is there a system of currency? Is it trade or barter?
  4. 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.
  5. Species – Are your species human, humanoid, fantasy, a mix?
  6. Magic system – What are the rules, capabilities, and limitations of your magic system?
  7. Culture – What do your people value? How do they think, and why do they think that way? What kind of traditions and norms exist?
  8. History – What’s happened in the world before your story takes place? How has it impacted the present?
  9. Flora and fauna – The plants and animals that live in your world.
  10. 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.

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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.

Here are examples of high fantasy books:

Here are a few other examples of novels in different fantasy subgenres:

This is contemporary fantasy because it’s set in modern (or what was modern at the time) day, everything is realistic, but there happen to be magical rings that can transport you to other realms.

  • Comic fantasy – The Mis-Adventures (An Almost Epic Tale) by Steven Partridge
    This is a comedic story of a band of friends going on a wacky adventure, set in a high fantasy world.
  • 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!

You can find Jenna on her YouTube channel, Writing with Jenna Moreci, as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to thank her for taking the time to speak with us about high fantasy.

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46 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. It’s like the olympics, but on another planet and 14 solar systems are competing.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Thousands of homeless people in a usually packed city have vanished overnight.
  11. A man disappears for thirteen years and returns with a special ability.
  12. Everyone in town falls asleep simultaneously, except one family.
  13. On an alien planet, earth is merely a farm to harvest meat.
  14. A group of animals go through a series of experimental trials that ends with them possessing comparably human intelligence. They plot escape.
  15. Horrifically realistic dolls are manufactured as children’s toys. Their lifelikeness prompts a lonely woman to adopt one.
  16. 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.
  17. An ancient tribe that disappeared suddenly from history returns in modern day.
  18. 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.
  19. A tourist in an Egyptian tomb accidentally activates ancient, but far advanced, technology when she bleeds on a stone.
  20. 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.
  21. A tattoo appears when a person comes of age, dictating the beginning of their life’s quest.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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. 
  25. 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… 
  26. 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? 
  27. 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. 
  28. 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? 
  29. The internet suddenly crashes completely and cannot be recovered. What does society look like ten years from now without it? 
  30. 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. 
  31. 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?
  32. 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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. 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.
  36. 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?
  37. 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.
  38. 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?
  39. 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.
  40. 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?
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. Write the travelogue of a mechanic who’s been abducted by aliens in the hopes that she’ll fix their ship.
  44. 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?
  45. 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.
  46. 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?

Happy writing!

33 Fantasy Writing Prompts

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!

  1. Characters fall through a mirror and land in a lake of a new universe.
  2. 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.
  3. Write a short story about a messenger delivering love letters between a prince and princess on opposite sides of a war.
  4. 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.
  5. An unmarked letter arrives in his mailbox. No address, no stamp. Just a key and a train ticket to his mother’s hometown.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Write a flash fiction about a god who is struck down into a tiny fishing village where no one recognizes him.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Two girls find a dragon with a massive horde of treasure in a cave. Write from the perspective of the dragon.
  13. A village boy harasses an elderly man. The next day, he wakes up as the man.
  14. A cult prays to their god in a forest, and the god appears. How does the god appear, and what is their answer?
  15. A kid in modern day sees a symbol everywhere they go. It appears more and more often. One day, they realize what triggers it.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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?
  23. Write a story from the perspective of a werewolf attempting to live a “normal” life amongst humans.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. A young woman seeks treasure hidden by her pirate ancestor.
  27. 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.
  28. 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?
  29. 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.
  30. 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…
  31. Two knights vie for the hand of the princess in a series of athletic challenges, but end up falling in love with each other.
  32. 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.
  33. 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?

Happy writing!

How Long is a Short Story?

Short stories are fun and easy for readers who don’t have a lot of time on their hands, but they’re also a versatile and compelling form of art!

Writers who want to practice specific skills can do so efficiently by writing short form stories.

Let’s talk about how long short stories are, the different types, and how they differ from novels.

What is a short story?

A short story is a story with a character, a plot, and a fully developed theme. Short stories are significantly shorter and less involved than novels.

Even though a short story has a smaller space to do so, it should still hold a character or story arc, use strong imagery and language, and do its best to make the reader feel something.

What are the elements of a short story?

Stories, including shorts, have five basic components:

  1. Character
  2. Setting
  3. Plot
  4. Conflict
  5. Resolution

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.

Novella

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 is 28,912 words
  • 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.

Short story

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.)

Flash fiction

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.


Micro fiction

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?

What is Colloquialism?

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)
  • Deadset (determined)
  • 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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
  4. 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.

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What is Diction?

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.

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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.

#1 – 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.

#2 – Informal diction

You’ll see informal diction in real-life conversations. In fiction writing, it will often appear in dialogue and in the description if we are narrating with a character’s voice.

Informal diction is more relaxed, but still considered a “standard” way of speaking.

#3 – 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.

#4 – 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.

#5 – 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.

#6 – 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?” 

Informal: “What?”

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.”

Diction In literature

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.

Jim’s diction in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn indicates his background.

“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:

  1. 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?
  2. Use it intentionally. Just like any literary device, know what you’re doing, why, and how it affects the reader experience.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

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How to Use Personification in Your Writing

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.

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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.

Personification Examples

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

Writing with personification can make your writing that much stronger and that much more vivid.

You should definitely be using it in your writing.

#1 – 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.

#2 – 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.

#3 – Use it appropriately

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!

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Metaphor: Definition and Usage

“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.

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Metaphor examples

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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creative writing

13 Creative Writing Exercises: Become a Better Writer

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

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

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

How to get better at writing

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

  1. Reading. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but if you aren’t a good reader, you aren’t a good writer. Reading is the most beneficial thing you can do for your writing style outside of actually writing.
    Read tons of content in your genre, but make sure you aren’t pigeonholing yourself to it. Keep your style eclectic and interesting by reading a wide range of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
    When I have a
    student struggling with writing enticing language, I tell them to practice with poetry. If they struggle with narrative voice, I recommend reading autobiographies. The more you read–and the more varied the content you’re reading–the stronger your writing will become.
  2. Critiquing. Reading other people’s writing with a critical eye helps you realize the issues in your own writing. Even if you don’t have a critique partner or group, you can read pieces by other author’s through a critical lens. What would you have done differently? What are the strengths and weaknesses you can find? Maybe even edit another person’s story for your own edification!
  3. Writing. And, of course, the best way to get better at writing is by writing yourself. Anything you write will make you better at it! If you’re a young writer, write whatever makes you happiest–fanfiction, movie reviews, short stories, rambly fantasy novels–if you’re learning the craft, you should write what you enjoy the most. Even professional writers should make time for writing things that they truly love to write just for the sake of writing.
    Besides writing what you enjoy, you can try some creative writing exercises to intentionally better your skills and style.

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

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

13 Creative Writing Exercises

Becoming a better writer can’t be done by just reading and learning. You have to put these things to practice in order to see your own weaknesses as well as where you can improve.

The more you write, the better writer you’ll be.

#1 – Write a scene or short story using no adverbs or adjectives

This exercise trains you to focus on stronger verbs and nouns. I give this exercise to newer writers because they often default to unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as a crutch instead of refining their word choice in core parts of speech.

NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs and adjectives effectively! But before you get a hold of your writer’s voice and personal style, they can weaken your writing.

#2 – 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?

#3 – 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!

#4 – 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.

#5 – 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.

#6 – 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.

# 7 – “Write your dialogue like it’s a script.”

This one comes from 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.

#8 – 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!

#9 – “I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward.”

This exercise is from 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.

#10 – 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!

#11 – 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!

#12 – 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.

#13 – 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.

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writing space

How to Use Alliteration in Your Writing

Do you ever play with sound in your writing? 

There are tons of literary devices and stylistic tricks to use in prose to spice it up. Many involve sound, like alliteration, assonance, and rhyme.

Although commonly used in poetry, these devices can be applied to any form of creative writing.

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Today we’re talking about alliteration:

  1. What is alliteration?
  2. What is assonance?
  3. Examples of alliteration
  4. How to use alliteration in your writing

What is alliteration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closed my lids, and kept them close,

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

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

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

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

Your skin drapes

like an altar cloth

across words swallowed

before they’re whispered.

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

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

What is assonance?

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

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

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

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

Assonance:

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

Sight rhyme: near death

Alliteration: blinding…Blind…blaze

Examples of Alliteration

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

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

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

Alliteration in cliches

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

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

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

Alliteration in titles

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

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

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

Alliteration in poetry

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

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

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

This is an example from Abigail Giroir’s Summer Offering

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

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

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

My toga twists as I turn her.

How to use Alliteration in your writing

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

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

#1 – Don’t overdo it!

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

While pelts pattering might sound graceful in a poem,

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

Sounds considerably less graceful, doesn’t it?

#2 – Consider tone.

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

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

Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved. 

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

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

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

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

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

#3 – 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.

#4 – 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:

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.

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Tropes and Clichés in Writing

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

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

Here’s what you should know about tropes and clichés in writing:

  1. What is a trope?
  2. Examples of tropes in fiction 
  3. How to use tropes
  4. What is a cliche?
  5. Examples of cliche phrases
  6. How to repurpose a cliche in your writing

What is a trope in writing?

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

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

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

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

Some examples of tropes from Pride and Prejudice are:

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

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

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is another of my favorite books (and the one I always reference to teach effective prose!).

Some tropes in this book include:

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

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

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

My favorite scifi/dystopian show right now is The 100. (Must admit I have not read the book series.)

Let’s look at the tropes present in the television series:

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

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

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

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

How to use tropes in your writing

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

Tropes should be used intentionally, because your reader will have preconceived ideas about most tropes. Think of a fantasy story with an ogre. Ogres are a creature trope. Every reader will have a different idea of an ogre when they see it presented in a story.

Maybe they have an unfounded negative feeling, just because they’re predisposed to an opinion based on the stories they’ve read with villainous ogres. Maybe they have an unfounded positive feeling, just because they’ve seen Shrek. 

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

Being aware of the tropes you use is imperative, because most readers are aware of them.

You can be aware of tropes by:

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

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

What is a cliché?

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

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

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

Examples of cliche phrases:

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

You get it.

How to use clichés in writing

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.

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However, using cliches as a shortcut just makes you look like a lazy writer. You don’t want to write something that’s already been written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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53 Contemporary Writing Prompts

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

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

Contemporary is one of my favorite genres to write, but writing is hard! Sometimes you need a little push to get started. Here are some prompts to nudge you into momentum.

You might try a writing sprint, where you set a timer and must keep writing for the duration of that time span. Don’t judge any of it until the time is up!

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

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

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

General Contemporary Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Fantasy/SciFi Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Romance Writing Prompts

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

Contemporary Horror/Mystery Writing Prompts

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

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

how to write dialogue

All About Dialogue Tags

Conversations are an important part of storytelling and are used to reveal a wealth of information: from a bonding moment, to a backstory, to a plot twist, and everything in-between.

It’s the writer’s job to ensure that the dialogue used within a conversation not only fits the character speaking, but that it flows in a realistic fashion.

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

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What are dialogue tags?

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

For example:

“Did you hear that?” Emma asked.

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

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

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

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

How to use Dialogue Tags

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

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

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

#1 – Tag Before the Dialogue

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

Examples:

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

or

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

The rules:

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

#2 – Tag in the Middle of the Dialogue

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

Examples:

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

or

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

The rules:

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

#3 – Tag After the Dialogue

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

Examples:

“Are you done?” Emma asked.

or

“Are you done?” asked Emma

The rules:

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Unnecessary Dialogue Tags

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

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

  1. Adverbial dialogue tags 
  2. Synonyms 

#1 – Adverbial Dialogue Tags

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

Example:

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

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

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

“This is not your concern!” Emma said.

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

More on using action with dialogue tags later.

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

#2 – Synonyms as Dialogue Tags

I like to call these types of tags, saidisims. A saidism is a synonym used to replace the word ‘said’ in a dialogue tag.

The key to realistic dialogue is keeping it simple. Using distractive synonyms such as ‘exclaimed’ and ‘uttered’ draw attention to the mechanics of the conversation you are writing.

Example:

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

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

Example:

“Emma,” she said, “please listen.”

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

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

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

Example:

“Stop.” Emma said.

Versus

“Stop.” Emma muttered.

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

Substitutes for ‘said’ should be used sparingly and when they are used they need to elevate the dialogue, not distract from it.

When you find yourself using a saidisim, pause and ask yourself these two important questions:

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

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

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

Let’s examine this in detail.

Should you avoid dialogue tags?

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

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

What are Action Beats in dialogue?

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

Example:

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

versus

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

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

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

Example:

 “I’m gonna kill him,” Emma said.

Victoria grinned. “Want some help?”

“I’ll need to hide the body.”

“I know the perfect place, very isolated.”

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

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

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

Remember, dialogue should sound real.

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

how to write a book messy office example

How to Write a Fight Scene

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

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

What makes a good fight scene?

While all writing, and what makes it good, is typically subjective, what you can find are similarities and “rules” that primarily make for an exciting fight scene.

#1 – Relevance

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

Why are those characters involved? What are their goals? 

#2 – Excitement

BUT it should still be exciting! Just because your fight scene is relevant, doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be boring.

Fight scenes are one type that should always be to get your audience hyped up or entertained. They can be dramatic or upsetting, but never boring.

#3 – 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?

#4 – Characterization

Fight scenes should have a strong character presence. If you could replace one of your characters with another character and the scene would end up the same, your characterization is not strong enough.

Even in a large battle, it should be balanced with closer shots of your main characters (or the characters we should care about most in that fight scene).

Examples of fight scenes

One of the best ways to learn what works is to dive in and learn from examples. Below are some examples of great fight scenes along with what makes them great.

When reading, start to notice what is working with a fight scene, what you like and how you can emulate it.

Fight Scene Examples #1

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.

Fight Scene Example #2

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.

Fight Scene Example #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLANG!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 tips for writing a great fight scene

Want to write an epic fight scene of your own? These are some top tips to make sure your scene is received with sweating hands and hammering hearts.

#1 – Make sure you need a fight scene

Fight scenes are fun, but they shouldn’t be included just for the sake of having a fight scene. Like any scene, it should be imperative to your plot, characters, or (ideally) both.

Your character should have an actual motivation to fight. If they don’t, you likely don’t need to include the scene. Even if they’re acting in self-defense, there needs to be a reason that your character is being attacked.

Once you make sure you fight scene is necessary:

#2 – 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.

#3 – 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.

#4 – 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.

#5 – 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! 

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romance novels

Flash Fiction: How To Write Mini Short Stories

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

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

One form of short story is the flash fiction.

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

What is flash fiction?

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

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

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

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

Length of flash fiction

Length is obvious. The whole point of a flash fiction is that it’s short, very short. Flash fiction can be as short as a sentence if you want.

Character in flash fiction

Again, character is obvious. Characters are the core element of any story. Since this type of fiction is really short, the characterization will really be developed through very concrete imagery of that character’s perspective.

Twist in flash fiction

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

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

The Elements of Flash Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Briefly

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

That’s a micro fiction.

A couple other examples of micro fictions are:

Dandelions, Actually

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

–R. Gatwood

Love is Forever

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

–Merrilee Faber

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

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

So how do we cut down words to make flash fiction?

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

Use Imagery in your Flash Fiction

Using imagery in your writing means writing tangibly with the five senses. Instead of just describing sights and sounds, you can get a little more into it with smells and tastes and feelings, you can combine and cross them, and you can work on using relatable imagery.

When you use imagery of something familiar to someone, it will elicit certain emotions from them.

For example, if someone had a younger sibling and you describe the smell of baby powder in a story, that’s a very strong olfactory memory, and they’ll likely have memories of their childhood.

If there’s a new baby in the house, what do older children typically feel? Usually either happiness or jealousy. So depending on how you frame it and use tone, you can purposely make certain readers feel something you want them to feel.

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

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

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

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

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Editing your flash fiction

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

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

Condensing

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

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

Polishing

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

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

General tips on writing flash fiction

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

Which line do you think works better as an ending?

How to publish flash fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Many Chapters Should Your Novel Have?

If you’re embarking on the journey of writing a novel, you probably have several questions about where and how to start.

Planning and outlining your story in advance can be extremely helpful, but a big question that a lot of new authors have is “How many chapters should I have in my book?”

How many chapters should be in a novel?

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.

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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. 

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

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

Only one problem, the actual writing of it.

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

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

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Blueprint of a scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you approach creating a scene? 

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

Robert McKee gives an excellent framework for a scene in his book Story.

I’m going to break his framework down into a few questions that you should ask yourself before going into any scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying out your scene

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

Pacing

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

So instead of: 

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

We instead want something like: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outlining

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

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

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

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

Three tried and true methods are to:

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

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

How to start a scene

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

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

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

So let’s look at a couple of ways you can start a scene.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but probably 90% of your scenes will start one of these ways.

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

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

How to end a scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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A Roundup of the Best Horror Authors of All Time

Being a writer seems to be a great talent and an exclusive gift. Moreover, it’s hard work and relentless looking for perfection. But what about a horror writer? How have they managed to make us tremble, fear, and look behind only with their written word?

It’s clear how to describe, how to tell, but how to make readers feel what you want?

If you are looking for the answer, make sure to check how to show things in your book. You will get to know how they make emotions so real. Yeah, we have a step-by-step guide! Sorry, if we have ruined your image of a miracle when you get goosebumps while reading.

5 Best Authors of Horror Books

If things that go bump in the night and riveting tales of the dark excite you, then you’re in luck — you’ve just stumbled upon a gold mine of the 5 best horror authors.

Granted, although the ones that made it on the list are our favorite authors, they’re every bit of deserving to be here. Hell, they might just end up being your new favorite by the time you’re finished devouring this list.

So, without further ado, here’s our roundup of the best horror authors of all time:

#1 – Neil Gaiman. Welcome to cirque de souris!

First on the list is a contender whose imagination knows no bounds. Neil Gaiman is the man behind countless brilliant works of art but is highly acclaimed for two pieces in particular, namely Stargirl and Coraline.

The latter is so well-received that it was picked up by Focus Features and turned into a film with an all-star cast to boot.

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

Will Coraline listen? Or will she dig a hole so deep she won’t be able to escape?

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

#2 – Shirley Jackson. Shirley, shimmering, splendid

Miss Jackson’s work is so good that even Netflix couldn’t resist picking it up and running it on their streaming platform. Shirley Jackson’s reputation precedes her. A highly acclaimed horror novelist, she has a long list of work to be proud of. Her claim to fame?

A little novel entitled “The Haunting of Hill House” that’s sure to spook even the bravest of souls.

The story kicks off with 4 characters that find themselves secluded within a haunted house in an effort to prove the existence of the paranormal. What happens next, as you can imagine, is a series of unfortunate events that touch on everything from ghostly hands that prey on you in the evening, to ill-tempered spirits that roam the walls of the vast mansion.

The last paragraph is sure to get you in all sorts of moods.

#3 – Bram Stoker. Don’t let the bed bugs bite

If sinister, latent horror is the name of the game, then Bram Stoker is our man. The award-winning writer has a plethora of pieces to be proud of. His book “Dracula” has made it into the top list of many, and rightly so.

When the world fell to its knees in worship of vampirism, Bram Stoker was atop that very pedestal. 

The chart-topping classic opens with a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the protagonists. Our clever Count Dracula is on a mission to spread his Transylvanian soil – his source of sustenance and nourishment when in need of rest and energy – to parts of the world in the hopes of having lairs in multiple states.

The ship which he boards carry 50 boxes – almost coffin-like – of silver mounds of Earth. Slowly, the men on the ship begin to disappear save for the captain who is stuck at the helm in order to navigate the waters for the count. What ensues after is an adventure of dark magic, withered garlic blossoms, and carnal infatuation that is sure to keep you up at night.

I’ll stop here. Snag the book if you haven’t read this blinding masterpiece yet!

#4 – Anne Rice. Fangs and whips and shiny things

The undisputed queen of gothic fiction and erotic literature, Anne Rice is a force to be reckoned with. Her line of sensual vampire tales buzzing with lust and carnage has made it into the hearts of many avid readers.

Best known for The Vampire Chronicles – which merited two film adaptations! – Rice has been on a roller coaster that only goes up.

In Interview with A Vampire, a wealthy man by the name of Louis de Pointe du Lac is interviewed as he claims to be a vampire. He recounts his past life as a wealthy plantation owner who suffers a tremendous loss following the death of his wife and infant child. A vampire named Lestat is on a hunt and finds Louis. Sensing his dissatisfaction with life, he offers his prey eternal life as a Vampire.

What follows after is an adventure you’d like to relive over and over and over again. And what makes the story so attractive you are not able to break away, even to sleep? Of course, dialogues! Our article on how they make dialogues so appealing reveals their secret techniques that keep you awake all night. 

#5 – Stephen King. The King of modern day horror

This wouldn’t be a roundup without the man of modern day horror himself, Mr Stephen King! His work lines the rooms of so many fans it’s incredible. King, now a household name, has produced masterpieces such as Firestarter, It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, Misery, and The Green Mile. There’s only so much this man has contributed.

Thank you, Stephen! Now, on to one of his pieces:

From the long list of his work, we’re going to dip into Misery. The film is so simple it’s fantastic. We follow Paul, a writer whose career was launched because of his work based on a fictional character named Misery Chastain. After completing his manuscript where he kills off his main character because of his boredom, he impulsively drives off to Los Angeles instead of New York City and subsequently gets stuck in a snow storm, accidentally driving himself off a cliff. 

Miraculously, he survives the crash and finds himself in the home of Annie Wilkes. It’s made known that she is a huge fan of Paul’s and despite his injuries being severe, insists on healing him herself with the use of equipment and painkillers she has lying around the house. Upon finding the final manuscript of Paul, Annie suddenly becomes blind with rage and leaves him alone for two days, visibly angry at the outcome of the story. She returns, adamant that Paul must write a new version. His disobedience and longing to escape only anger her, cutting off his foot and thumb along the process. 

Will Paul ever make it out of this hell?

Do you have a story for the world? 

Exciting things, yeah? If you have something similar in mind – a breathtaking plot that will make us whooo – don’t hide it from the world! Check our advice on how to start and good luck! Don’t be shy, write exactly what your imagination says, and leave proofreading for the editor.

You are a master, open your soul, and tell your story! 

These are our favorites. Subjective, but decent. We would like you to share your impressions after reading these masterpieces and, of course, expand this small list with new names and titles.

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How to Plan a Novel: Tools & Tips for Success

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.

To learn how to plan a novel, we will cover:

  1. Prepare your character sheets
  2. Carry out research and worldbuilding
  3. Outline your novel
  4. Choose your educational resources
  5. Create a timeline and schedule
  6. Calculate your budget
  7. Find your writing partner
  8. Plan your novel series

Planning a Novel #1 – Characters

Having separate profile sheets for your characters is great for plotting character arcs, establishing backstories, and developing unique voices for each character.

They’re also helpful during the drafting process because it’s much easier to forget things than you might think (in my novel’s first draft, I think every single character swapped eye color at least once).

What items might you include in a character sheet?

  • Physical descriptions
  • Development tracking (how should they change at what points in the story)
  • Character story summaries (a paragraph or two about who they are, what they want, where they’ll start and end)
  • Background information
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Planning a Novel #1 – Carry out 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.

Planning a Novel #3 – Outline

Any project is quicker and easier to finish with a plan! A novel’s plan is its outline.

There are countless ways to structure a story outline. Here are a few examples, like the MindMap! It can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like, but in most cases, the more detailed your outline, the easier drafting will be.

You can edit an outline as you write to keep the process flexible and exciting if that’s a writing style you prefer. An outline is simply a writing tool–use it however you’d like.

You might fully flesh your outline into a scene-by-scene summary of your novel, but if you don’t want an outline that detailed, you should at least have an idea of:

  • Your story’s POV. Will you write in first, second, third limited, or third omniscient? Will you have multiple POV characters, or just one? If you’re writing in third omniscient: what kind of voice will your narrator have, is the voice a character, are they involved with the story?
  • Your main characters. Whose story is it? Who is your protagonist? Who is your antagonist?
  • Your setting. When and where does your story take place? Is your world set in realism, magic realism, or magic? What significant worldbuilding elements will come into play?
  • At least a few plot points or an idea of what will happen in the story.

Planning a Novel #4 – Research and learn

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.

You can start with our FREE training for how to write a novel, here:

Books to read:

If you’re looking to learn the main elements of writing, try these three books:

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish

Plot & Structure deals with, shockingly, plot, and structure in novels. Knowing the technicalities of formulating a novel before you even start outlining makes the writing process much smoother.

The Elements of Style

If plot and structure are a story skeleton, prosaic style is the flesh. This book breaks down how to take your story idea and write it well.

I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop

This book by Mur Lafferty teaches about honing your craft, the creative process, and how to deal with your own self-critic. It also has in-book writing exercises and story prompts!

Skillshare classes:

If you learn better with a teacher, here are a few Skillshare classes that might be helpful! (The links will give you 2 month free trials to Skillshare if you don’t have an account already.)

Novel Writing 101 – This class breaks down the absolute basics of writing a novel.

Story Structure: 8 Essentials for Outlining Your Novel or Script – This class gets into the more specific steps of outlining a story.

Plan Your Novel in 30 Days or Less! – This class holds your hand and guides you through planning each element of your story.

Writing Flash Fiction – This class teaches how to write flash fiction, which is a great way to practice writing prose, which will make your novel better.

Solid handle on prose

A lot of new writers like to jump straight into writing with a novel, but a novel is a massive undertaking! Planning a book, plot beats, developing characters, and building worlds are some of the easier things to figure out.

What takes a while to learn (based on my experience in writing and teaching) is the actual art of prose.

Learning prose is much easier to do in shorter pieces like flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and creative essays. If you learn how to write before you try to write a novel, you will (surprise) write a much stronger novel.

Planning a Novel #5 – Create a timeline and schedule

A common reason books don’t get finished is that they are often side projects for people with careers, families, and other obligations. And often, writers have no one waiting for them to finish the first draft. If you don’t have an agent, a publishing company, and/or an audience demanding a finished product, there isn’t anything holding you accountable to making steady progress on your manuscript. If this sounds like you, you need to master self-motivation!

Whether you have an outside push or not, planning your novel timeline has many benefits–including motivating you to finish.

How to schedule your novel:

  1. Take a look at your outline (that you wrote, right?) and estimate how many words/pages/chapters you expect it to be.
  2. With your estimation, decide how soon you’d like to finish your novel. On average, a traditional novelist will publish a new book every 1-3 years. A lot of writers who self-publish tend to “churn,” which means they write lower quality novels with much quicker turnaround–they might produce a few books per year. Consider how much time and effort you’d like to expend, your expectations for your novel’s quality, and your lifestyle when you’re deciding on a timeline.
  3. Once you know when you want to finish your novel, break that time into sections. How long will you take on your first, second, and third draft? Do you think you might need more drafts than that? How long for beta readers? How long for a self-edit? How long do you need for a professional editor, cover designer, illustrators, and anyone else you might hire? Write out specific deadlines for each piece of production.
  4. Keep your schedule somewhere accessible and make monthly, weekly, and daily goal lists to be sure you’re staying on track. If you fall significantly behind, adjust your schedule as needed. Editors and other professionals need to be booked ahead of time, and everyone has a different window for how much notice they need and how much time they need to finish a project, so do your research when you’re planning your production timeline.

Sample novel schedule 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.

how to plan a novel chart

As you can see, most of the processes happen simultaneously. With a timeline, I know everything that should be happening and when. I made this with MS Excel’s default Gannt chart, but there are lots of different formats you can choose, even just within MS Excel, to structure and track your novel timeline.

Sample novel writing schedule:

Like I said, once you know your timeline for project completion and have broken it into specific durations, you can decide what your weekly and daily task lists should look like. My current phase of developing my short collection involves drafting, beta rounds, and self-revisions/edits.

For example, this month my tasks are:

  • Turn in a new short story to critique group on the 10th, 20th, and 30th
  • Revise (specific stories)
  • Review beta feedback and make final edits on (specific stories)

Once I’m done with drafting, workshops, and self-edits, my tasks will shift to promotion and communication with the professionals I’ve hired.

Timelines put you in control of your project.

Planning a Novel #6 – Calculate your budget

Along with a timeline, a crucial planning element on the business side of producing a book is your budget. A budget will look very different between a self-published book and a traditionally published book. If you’re traditionally published, most of the costs will be covered by your publisher.

If you’re self-publishing, the responsibility of services like a professional edit and cover design falls to you.

Here’s an example of a book budget:

planning a novel 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.

Planning a Novel #7 – Find your writing partner

This is probably the most optional thing you need for the early stages of a novel. Some writers prefer to have their first drafts all to themselves, but eventually, you’d benefit from having a writing partner.

How do you find a writing partner?

Make writer friends! A good writing partner is someone you can trust and get along with, so finding a writing partner amongst the friends you already have is a great option.

If you haven’t been able to make writing friends yet, you can reach out to other writers who have a similar skill level to you. Twitter hashtags are a great way to get into the writing community.

Try tags like #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting.

How to plan a novel – series

Some writers “pants” all the way through a series with no idea of how many books they’ll end up with or what will happen in each one. That can sometimes work, but it’s also a good way to confuse yourself into awkwardly stapling plot holes together.

A cleaner way is to have an idea of how many books your series will have and to at least roughly outline each book before your first one is published.

A method you might use to track your series is by creating a series bible. A series bible is a compilation of information about your series.

It might include:

  • Character profile sheets
  • Plot arcs for the series and individual books
  • Backstory and worldbuilding 
  • Rules about magical, religious, and political systems
  • A lexicon of made-up words, creatures, concepts, etc.

As far as timelines, schedules, and budgets for a novel series, it’s essentially the same as what we covered for individual novels–just for multiple.

Writing a novel can be as planned or unplanned as you like, but there are certainly things you can work out beforehand to give yourself a creative and professional edge!

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How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

So you want to become a fiction author? Maybe you even have some fantastic ideas rolling around in that noggin of yours. Why not just dust off your typewriter and clackity-clack that novel in no-time flat? Seems easy enough, right?

Wrong! 

How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.

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In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:

  1. Make a plan for your novel
  2. What are the stages of writing a novel?
  3. Action Step 1 – Plan your rough draft
  4. Get inspired by others
  5. Action Step 2 – Get accountability
  6. Invest in the craft of novel writing
  7. Action Step 3 – Find more time
  8. Plan your future steps

By applying things you learn in this post, you’ll be shaving months (or years) off your writing time all while getting inspired to accomplish your goals.

Realistically, what are we talking here: a month, a year, two years? Ah, not so fast there, hotrod! I’ll give you a hint: it completely depends on your commitment and incorporating a solid plan.

Make a plan for your novel

Books take time, and it’s better to think about them by word count rather than the number of pages. 

Novels tend to range from 40,000 words to 150,000. Breaking that down to hours will depend on your writing speed (which will increase as you plan better and gain experience). 

Most starters are capable of writing 500 words per hour, though some have achieved mythical status such as Joanna Penn and Chris Fox with his book, 5,000 Per Hour.

Don’t get too intimidated by that! It took them years to work up to that, and dictation is a useful tool for those who can make it work.

Cut to the chase! How long?

Technically, one could write a rough draft is as few as 6 hours but it usually takes 60+. That is only the first step in producing a novel to be proud of.

What are the stages of writing a novel?

Let’s take a look at writing and releasing a 50k word novel. It also helps to have specific guidance, like Self-Publishing School, but while  you’re here, let’s break down what it takes:

  1. Have an idea and pre-write. When coming up with your idea, save those notes; they may come in handy when writing your book description later. Pre-writing is a great way to streamline your process. It includes such things as brainstorming, shaping characters, mind-mapping, world-building, and outlining. (2-20+ hours) Need help with ideas? Check out these writing prompts!
  2. Write a crappy first draft. This is the hardest obstacle to overcome as a new writer (and sometimes as a seasoned one!) Very few, if any, of your favorite books are first drafts. If you’re feeling really brave, try dictating. (6-100+ hours)
  3. Read aloud and self-edit. This is an optional step but highly recommended for new writers. (2-20+ hours)
  4. Send it to an editor. There are many types of editing, so this could vary. This prolongs the process by a matter of weeks. Let’s assume you gave enough notice and requested a quick turnaround. (10-40+ hours)
  5. Fix mistakes or rewrite. At this point, you can choose to accept all the changes in a matter of minutes, or comb through each change and comment, likely rewriting several sections. (1-30+ hours)
  6. Have it proofread. Even after this step, errors will still surface later. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for done! Let perfect come with time, if ever. (4-40+ hours)
  7. (Optional but recommended) Sit back, relax, and try not to rewrite it again…yet! To be successful, the real next step is to start the process again with the next book. You can always revisit a book or series after you’ve grown in your craft and received plenty of reader feedback.

Based on those numbers, there is a wide range! In a perfect world—what? You don’t live in Perfectville? It’s pretty nice…or so I hear.

A quality novel can be produced in as few as 25 hours or up to 250 hours.

To be honest, even those are ambitious numbers. Based on an article that also breaks it down to hours, the range is closer to 100-500 hours. 

It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author. 

Action Step #1 – Plan a rough draft

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

Let’s hear about a real person, someone I admire sometimes, but more often chastise: myself.

The first book I finished writing took me 30 days using the Self-Publishing School system #humblebrag. Honestly though, without the initial training videos, I would still be staring at a growing catalog of unfinished books.

Let’s get real though. My first novel (starting on my own and finishing with SPS Fundamentals of Fiction) took me two years to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite some more, and publish. 

Did I mention rewriting? 

Well, I did, at least six times. Most current authors don’t recommend that many revisions. It’s best to move on to the next project, then come back to it if you can later.

Don’t freak out though! Breathe, it’s okay. This will not be you, not if you follow the advice in this post.

With the Fundamentals of Fiction course, I actually wrote the drafts for books 2 and 3 in my series within a year. The latest one was around 60k words and only took me 2 months. 

I’ve gotten progressively faster and better; so can you!

Enough about an average guy. Let’s glance at the “greats” for a moment…those are the ones we really care about, am I right?

If you’ve searched this topic at all, surely you’ve seen this infographic that shows how long it took famous authors to write their wildly successful novels. I found this both encouraging and intimidating!

how long to write a novel

The thing to remember is that not all—very few in fact—were first or early novels for those authors. If you really counted the hours they invested in their craft, it would be astounding. 

That’s step one for you! (after you finish reading this post, of course)

Action Step #2 – Get accountability

Get accountability for your own writing by doing one or all of the following:

Invest in the craft of novel writing

Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.

Here are seven ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
  5. Publish a Book! SPS is a perfect program to get you there (save $250 right away with my referral, ask anytime!) The most powerful thing you’ll get is real reader feedback. By understanding and managing reader expectations, you get better all around.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 – Find more time