Get Writing! Attack the block…

Writing is awesome. Of course it is. But it can sometimes feel like heavy lifting—of complex emotions, intricate plot, grounded characters—so it’s always good to keep those creative muscles warm.

SPN Chuck

Even if you don’t have a project you’re working on at the moment, keep writing. And if you are working on a project but you’re having trouble lifting (AKA… writer’s block), here’s a fun exercise that should help keep those muscles loose. In either case you might think that you don’t want to write something random. But here’s the thing: you never know when those small scenes could develop into something larger, or even solve that pesky plot hole.

Your mind is constantly working on story, behind the scenes of your everyday thought processes—that’s one of the cool things about being a writer, everything you do counts as part of the writing process in some way—but in order to make it real, you have to put it down on paper, or get it on screen.

So here’s a way to stay loose, or attack the block:

Try writing a couple of characters you know and love—either your own, or some from your favorite TV show, movie or novel—and make them argue about something. Anything. Debating the merits of a Caramel Macchiato vs. a S’mores Frappuccino (too close to call, right?), who’s the best superhero/YA heroine/character in Star Wars Rebels (Hera, obvi), who would win in a fight between C3-P0 and TC-14 (trick question, they’re classic droid OTP material)… you get the idea. Characters you love, arguing about anything.

Whoever and whatever springs to mind RIGHT THIS SECOND…. go!

image4

 

Get Writing! Warming up…

The winter weather was brutal at times this year. It felt like the clouds would never part, the sun would never shine, the dirty snow piles would never melt… But, finally, the sun started to peak out more and more, and spring finally arrived, bringing with it new buds and greener landscapes.

Spring 2

Spring is the season of birth and revitalization, and that doesn’t just apply to your garden. The air is full of ideas and inspiration, all you need to do is take the time to look for them. But ideas, like your garden, need tending to.

garden

Since writing requires talent, skill, and constant practice, we’ve decided to launch a new series of posts for inspiration and cultivation.

So throw open the windows and let the fresh air and inspiration in, as, first up, we have a warm-up exercise…

Spring 1

Write a conversation between two people, where they each find a way to tell the other one they love them, without actually saying anything that could be found in a Hallmark card.

Couple

No “I love you”s, no generic flattery. So, although, yes, this is probably the greatest love you scene in cinema…

I love you I know

… you have to do it without using those words! Just make sure your characters know by the end of their conversation that they are truly seen and cared for like no one else has cared for them.

Get writing!

What to read while you wait for Philip Pullman’s THE BOOK OF DUST

It’s been a long time—14 years to be precise—since Pullman dropped THE AMBER SPYGLASS and concluded the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. There have been occasional glimpses of hope… short stories set in that world showed up here and there, but the big rumor was for a some sort of sequel called THE BOOK OF DUST.

It’s a rumor no longer. It’s officially a new trilogy, set before and after the events of HIS DARK MATERIALS, and volume one comes out in October 2017!!

That feels like a long way off though… So here are 6 books you should be reading while you wait, including titles by Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle and Garth Nix.

Book Of Dust

 

Beyond self-publishing

Last time, we looked at ways to get your self-published novel out into the world. For those of you who aren’t novelists, we wanted to spend some time on you! We’re nice that way.

SPN Dean Nice

If you write short stories, or scripts, or songs, just for example, there are other things you can do to get your work noticed.

For screenwriters, competitions are definitely something you should look into. There are some notable and reputable comps out there: PAGE Awards, Scriptapalooza, the highly prestigious Nicholl Fellowship (run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, AKA, the Oscars!), Final Draft’s Big Break, the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, the Set In Philadelphia Screenplay Competition, etc. What these have going for them is a combination of great reputation and judges who are working in the film and TV industry. Winning is nice, of course it is. We love winning. But if someone in the industry likes your script and wants to meet you and read more, that’s even better. The huge, almost unsurmountable challenge you face as a screenwriter attempting to break in is getting your work read. Competitions like these will help that happen.

Another route you can take is uploading your script to The Black List. You’ll pay a small fee for hosting, you can pay a larger fee for evaluations (which give you detailed coverage on your script, plus it adds to your ratings—yes, people will rate your scripts on there). It’s another way to potentially get more industry eyes on your work. If your scores are high enough, you’ll be included in an email that gets sent to industry subscribers on weekly basis, highlighting the top scripts on the site.

Now, you might be a songwriter. In which case, we’re going to recommend competitions again. If you’re inclined in a country direction, you have to go for the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Annual Song Contest. You can enter your song as a performance, or on a lyric-only basis. Well worth it (as is joining your local NSAI chapter).

If you write outside of country, there are other contests you can look at: The Great American Song Contest, and the International Songwriting Competition, are just two notable examples.

Of course, you also have to just get your music out there, which means putting your songs on YouTube, SoundCloud, or your own site, tweeting them out, Instagramming clips etc. And, if you’re a performer too, start playing wherever and whenever you can. Bars, pubs, clubs, whatever works.

Last but not least, short stories. There are probably thousands of journals and publications that accept short stories. Your job is to research them and find the ones where your stories might fit. Great resources for research are Duotrope and ShortStops. Look for journals, magazines, quarterly or yearly anthologies, standalone anthologies. Of course, you have to try The New Yorker. Send copies of your story to competitions. Keep sending. This is a raw numbers game. Send hundreds or even thousands of times. Set them free!

Fly my pretties

Much the same applies to the poets among you. The New Yorker has online submissions for poetry, and there are many other outlets too. Find them and send them your work.

The common thread to all of this is research and legwork. You have to find the places that seem like they’ll be receptive to your work, and then get  your work to them. More often then not, you’ll be sending your creations out to hundreds more places than will actually accept them, but that’s the life. That’s the game. Just keep creating, keep enjoying creating, be super organized about your submissions, and don’t. Ever. Stop.

You can do this!

You Got This

YA vs. the Multiverse

You know how it is. You’re just moseying along, minding your own business, when you stumble into a whole multiverse situation. Universes everywhere. They look the same, but some things are slightly different…. Ugh. Should’ve stayed in bed today and read a bunch of books instead.

You know how it goes. You’re moseying along, minding your business, when you find yourself in a total multiverse situation. Universes all over the place. They seem the same, but they’re not quite the same. Should’ve stayed in bed this morning and… uh, wait a minute…

Check out our guide to 5 YA novels that dive deep into that messy world of parallel universes and alternate realities.

Parallel Cover

Steps to self-publishing, Part 4: Marketing

Still feels good, doesn’t it? Checking Amazon or Barnes & Noble to look at your book listing. Realizing all over again that you wrote a book, damn it! You wrote it, and you did the work necessary to get it out there to the world.

You’re all kinds of awesome, you know that?

dean-awesome

But, and there is a but, what you’re going to find is that listing your book on Amazon isn’t nearly enough. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people have books listed on Amazon. You need to stand out from the crowd. You need to get noticed. You need people to care.

There are many ways to shine a light on your work. One way is a good social media presence. Social media is simultaneously one of the best, and worst ways to try to market your work. It’s very, very bad, for example, to keep tweeting about how awesome your book is and telling people to buy it. People don’t like being sold to, especially in their social media feeds. So tweeting the price of your book over and over is likely to get you unfollowed and consigned to the social media phantom zone.

phantom-zone

Seriously. No one wants that. Also, spoiler for Superman, I guess.

The best way to get people interested in your book, is to pretty much never mention your book. Yeah, it sounds weird. But trust us. Just be you. Be authentic. Offer something, whether it’s funny cat GIFs, cool writing advice, humorous observations, sharing interesting or unusual news stories… Basically, curate a feed that you would want to follow, and make sure it reflects who you are as a writer. Authentic is the key word here. Find the channels that work for you, don’t do a bunch of Snapchat dog or star filters if that’s not you, and fill them with cool stuff. Interact with others genuinely. This isn’t to say you can’t ever mention what you do. It’s fine to drop it in here or there, but don’t make that the point of being on social media. If you put your book on sale, it’s fine to tweet or post about it a couple of times, but keep the other stuff coming too.

Paid social—paying to have your posts appear in the feeds of people who don’t follow you—is challenging to pull off successfully, if you’re too on the nose about it. If the tweet or post is compelling, hilarious, and not exactly about telling people to buy your book, you might get people to respond, but on the whole, you’re better off spending your money on other things.

Paid ads on blogs and Goodreads and the like might work for you. They can be hit or miss, and will be expensive. Think about your behavior on websites… do you ever click on banner ads for books you’ve never heard of? Again, it all comes down to the ad itself. If it’s visually astonishing, genuinely hilarious, or just utterly fascinating, you might get people to click through. But it’s not the most compelling way to increase sales.

However, what can work is a good review from a book blogger. Reach out to your favorite book blogger and offer them a copy of your book in exchange for a review. It is a legit and great way to get word out there about your book. Book bloggers are awesome, and that community is a wonderful place.

Giveaways on Goodreads work well too. They’re really easy to set up, and you just have to follow through when winners are selected, by mailing your book out to them (including a personal note is a nice touch too, as long as it’s simple and polite!)

Another route you can take to get the word out there is to submit to contests. Some examples include the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Award, and the Bath Novel Award. Getting long- or short-listed (or, you know, actually winning!) one of these helps make your novel a little bit noisier out there.

So far, we’ve focused on the online side of things. But, of course, that’s not the only way to get your book the attention it deserves.

yoda-another

There is another…

We’re talking about bookstores. Actual real-life, wonderful bookstores.

We love bookstores. They can be beautiful and transcendent temples to other worlds. Ann Patchett owns one of our faves, Parnassus Books in Nashville; check out her incredible guide for bookstore lovers, and then spend a small fortune in plane tickets to all those cities.

We digress. But just mentioning bookstores got us all dreamy-eyed…

Now, to get your self-published book into a bookstore takes legwork, and, way more importantly, also being a nice human being. Build relationships with your local store, genuinely. Support them by buying books from them. Be nice. Talk about books in general, because it’s always fun to talk about books. And, then, in a reasonable, non-creepy way, ask if they’d consider stocking books from a local author. The local author being you. To be honest, quite a few indie bookstores are set up for that anyway, and are happy to if you just pop in and make the request. Some will ask for you to bring in copies, so it’s good to have a few extra copies on hand. Others prefer to order via their distributor. But you gotta get out there and ask. You have to build your career, one book at a time, one sale at a time. No shortcuts.

In the end though, when all’s said and done… the best way to market your book is to write another book. And then another. And another. The more books you have available, the more you’ll sell, and the more the sales of each title will impact all the others.

In other words, just keep writing.

 

 

Escaping the winter blues

Winter, huh? Ugh. If you’re suffering with the dark, the cold, and maybe the coming apocalypse, you might need a little escapism. Nothing wrong with a little me-time. Even Harry and Hermione found time to dance while Voldemort and the Death Eaters took over the Ministry, tore up the rules to society and civilization, and terrorized the world. Just a completely random example.

harry-hermione-dance

 

So what better way to escape than with some awesome 80s—and 80s-inspired—novels? Here’s your guide to escaping those winter blues.

the-princess-bride-novel

 

Steps to self-publishing, Part 3: Prepping your book

So, you’ve written your thing and decided to put it out there yourself, indie-style.  You’ve picked the best platform(s) for your work and now you have to make sure your book is fully ready to be uploaded and released into the wild.

Step one, which we’ve discussed before, is professional editing. Get your pages to an editor you trust. Most of the better ones offer different levels of editing, e.g. proofreading (checking for typos) vs. big picture editing (where they look at things like consistency of character, plot mechanics etc).  Choose your service (be honest with yourself about what your work may need), send it out, and receive their notes with an open mind. Getting a new set of eyes on your story is invaluable. Doesn’t mean you have to make every single change; with any notes, you have to be able to translate them into what’s relevant for your work. Sometimes the specific note/suggestion wouldn’t work, but whatever’s underlying the note is something you need to look at (e.g. you may hear a certain character needs more page time, which might destabilize your plot… the underlying issue might be that when that character does appear, it’s not in an impactful way, so you’ll actually need to make their few scenes hit harder, mean more emotionally, that kind of thing).

Once you’ve made your changes, your book really is at its final draft. That’s exciting!

Now you’ll need step two: cover design. If you’re handy with Photoshop,  you can take a shot at this yourself, using each platform’s size/design guidelines. Or, you can use a professional designer. The goal is to create a cover that looks professional, slick, and impactful in color, black and white, and at thumbnail size (since that’s how most people will first view it). So, you decide. If you have the chops, that’s awesome. We’ve done both, and often use ebook launch, since they produce awesome work like—#shamelessplug—our covers below.

Step three is formatting. Each platform will require your book to be formatted a specific way. While this is something you can do yourself—and if you want to, please have at it!—there are many places that will do that for you. We use 52 Novels, since they’re quick, reliable, cost effective, and very easy to work with, but there are many other options available too (e.g. Bookbaby, Lulu, etc.). They’ll prepare your manuscript so that when you upload it to the publishing platform, it’ll be accepted first time and published forthwith. Which is nice.  They’ll usually ask for the cover as well as the manuscript, since some of your files will need the cover to be included “inside” the file, attached to the manuscript.

Once you get your files back from the formatter, you really are ready.

Are you though? Are you ready? Because once you upload your files, write your book’s blurb for the site, add all the tags so that people can search for it, include your financial info so they can, you know, actually pay you… then the only thing left for you to do is hit the button that says PUBLISH.

Eek!

Go on. Do it. It’ll feel great.

We’ll let you coast on that beautiful feeling of having the book you wrote out there for people to read for a while… but soon, we’ll  cover what comes next (spoiler: marketing!).

So go enjoy being published! You did great!