Give yourself the gift of writing

As writers, we all dream of an unending vista of available writing time. No breaks, no interruptions—other than spending 40% of our time compulsively checking Twitter of course—just one neverending sweet, sweet writing zone. Wide open spaces like this are normally a good thing. It’s what we think we want. But when it comes to creativity, sometimes too much space allows for too much procrastination (so we’ve heard… *checks Amazon Prime to see if the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has dropped yet*). When there’s no specific destination, you can end up spinning in circles, getting nowhere, making yourself dizzy with all the possibilities.

cat choices

Contrary to what most of us might think, deadlines are not creativity killers. Deadlines provide direction and structure. A deadline gets the heart pumping and silences the inner critic that might otherwise go on for days like someone that’s just discovered how to thread their 280 character tweets. And a deadline provides a much needed sense of accomplishment in a field in which it’s virtually impossible to receive unanimous praise… and when you’re trying to make it, it’s a field in which even the most basic of recognition or validation is hard to come by.

validation.gif

This is one reason why NaNoWriMo is so popular. Suddenly, during the month of November, ALL THE WRITERS are inspired to hit the goal of writing the novel that’s been in their mind for months, years, or even decades. At first, you hit the laptop full force. You go HAM on that draft. You put off the laundry, skip happy hour, survive on leftovers and keep to your writing schedule. But then the laundry starts to pile up, co-workers and friends start wondering where you are, and suddenly you need to make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. So your novel takes a reluctant backseat to errands, dinner dates, family… and, well, life.

Sad Stitch

This is how your novel feels when you’re not writing it.

And as the holiday lights go up, your laptop can just get buried under wrapping paper, gift tags, and tiny sparkly trees. The novel becomes a file in a folder in another folder that maybe won’t get opened until you need to look for those old pictures your dad sent you of family members you’ve never met (remember those? The ones you promised you’d print for him?).

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Remember the excitement of the last few days of October? The dedication and verve you felt on November 1st? That sense of achievement when you hit save on those first thousand words? That feeling when you went from writing a page or two per month to writing twenty, thirty, forty… You can have all those feels again! You deserve them!

Rey lightsaber

How it feels when you OWN that word count target

All you need is a new deadline. NaNoWriMo may be ending today, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing and achieving. If you didn’t finish, or meet your goals, give yourself another deadline. Make it as small and realistic for your schedule as it needs to be. That could be 500 words per day, or 1,000 per week. Or 5,000 by New Year’s Day. You can even just commit to 10 or 15 minutes per day, or say you want to write 5 lines per day. Whatever it is, make sure it fits your schedule and your life… and commit to it. Hit those goals! And if you don’t, create new ones that you can hit. Not only will you find your word count steadily increasing, but the more you write, the easier it is to write. If your brain is in Writer Mode every day, the writing will flow. The longer you leave it between sessions, the more work you’ll have to do to crank the Writing Machine back up again.

Chewie Falcon.gif

November may be National Novel Writing Month, but December is the month of gift giving. So give yourself the gift of getting your novel down and on the page, and done. And remember, writing novels is forever, not just for Christmas. Make it your resolution in January to complete it. Make February “editing the first 30%” month. Make March “solve this character’s arc” month. Make April the “make it funny” month.

You get the idea. Find out what works best for you, and do it! And keep doing it.

Now stop reading this and get writing!

Advertisements

5 bite-sized writing insights from Patrick Ness

At a recent Barnes & Noble event for his beautiful and extraordinary new novel RELEASE, Patrick Ness shared some great writing insights:

  1. It’s always interesting hearing writers talk about writing… but ultimately, no two writers write the same way, so find the way and the process that works for you.
  2. Everything in writing is world-building, whether you’re writing sci-fi or contemporary YA. The things you’re writing about don’t have to be true, they just have to be convincing. You just have to create a world in which those things could logically happen.
  3. A book is not a song. A book is a performance of a song. It’s how you sing it that counts.
  4. You can write about anything in YA as long as you earn it. The only time things are harmful is if they’re cheaply handled.
  5. He doesn’t outline, but he usually knows the last line, and some general story beats. Everything else is discovery. (But see tip #1 above — he was very clear, that’s just what works for him! It may not work for you).

There you have it! 5 things to think about when you’re daydreaming or outlining or drafting or editing. Ness also shared on-set Chaos Walking photos of him with Tom Holland and Nick Jonas… by quickly holding up his phone so no one could really see them! Anticipation in the room was high for the movie, it’s fair to say! Ness was also super-focused on the audience — he grabbed a bunch of huge medical textbooks to put on his chair for him to sit on so that the folks at the back could see him. The man is a legend. So, absorb his insights, then make them your own—and kick some serious writing ass!—so that one day your thoughts on writing are the topic of a blog!

Release cover

Get Writing! Characters…

Luna, Dudley, Fred, George, Cho, James, Lilly, Viktor…

You know them instantly. Even though it wasn’t their name on the cover. And we’re willing to bet you can name at least a dozen more of the characters that shaped Harry’s world. (Go on, do it! At least 12. Go!) Another roll of the dice says you know each of those characters’ histories, their arcs, their quirks, and the roles they each played in Harry’s life.

Luna

A good story has a leading character (or more than one) that you can root for, and supporting characters that you can relate to. But how many books or movies have a whole cast that you feel are part of your family? That you’d really want to be part of your family?

Dobby spark

Moment of silence

Of those few that come to mind, how many are some of your favorite books of all time?

Characters play a pivotal role in every good story. Or, at least, they should. This is why you have to go through your work and make sure that every character is memorable; for those characters who are there just to advance the plot or provide exposition, give them something real to do, something to feel, something that makes us feel, or laugh, or recognize something of ourselves in them.

Weasleys

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready. Because our exercise this time is more like an exorcise…

Remove the least significant character in your work.

SPN Adam

Maybe one day Adam will come back to Supernatural.

If they are truly insignificant, removing them will quicken the pace, give another more meaningful character something more to do, and avoid any confusion the reader or viewer may have in keeping your cast straight in their mind.

This should be challenging. If it’s not—and you George RR Martin-ed one of your cast with zero hesitation—then jump right back in there and do it again with the next least significant character.

Be ruthless.

Keep going until all you are left with is your very own Weasley family. (Except Percy)

Percy

Harsh but real. Sorry, Molly.

Get Writing! Find the fire…

Sometimes you throw a log on the fire and it surges; flames reach for the sky and you’re basking in its glow. Other times you throw that log at the wrong time or wrong angle and suddenly you’ve extinguished the flame. It gets dark. Real dark.

GOT dragon dark

Dark, and scary

The same is true for writing. Some ideas send your word count skyrocketing and others have you TBD-ing all over the place. You get lost in the darkness and find yourself ending every paragraph with the dreaded ellipses.

No wants that. No one…

This is where you have to look hard at each of your characters. After all, if plot is the blood of your story, then characters are the heart that keeps it moving. To get momentum, you need the heart to start racing. You have no choice but to turn up the pressure. Basically, you’ve gotta ask yourself: What would George RR Martin do?

GOT Ned

Wait, come back! Don’t kill ALL of your favorite characters!

Whatever your characters are most scared of, make them face it. Give them a moment that will change them, haunt them, motivate them or dissuade them.

A moment that will define them.

GOT zombie

Maybe you’ll realize… they’re a zombie! Or not.

Write that moment, every detail. It’s okay if you feel terrible, or even shed a few tears. Sometimes—actually, a lot of the time—writing is emotionally painful. But the more you feel, the more your reader will feel. The tension should make your actual heart race.

Once the scene is done, you’ve caught your breath, and your character’s shadows have been illuminated, you have to decide if that moment stays in the story. We know, we know—you bled on the page and now we’re saying you might not even be able to use it?! Yep. That moment may not make it into the finished product, but it’s almost certainly going to be a key part of your character—who they were before they became part of the story, why they were that way, etc. This moment could be a critical part of the path that leads you to the greatest version of your story—be ready!

Whichever way it goes, all the tension you created should generate the friction you needed to get the writing fire surging again. Be the mother of word-dragons you know you can be!

GOT dragon fire and khaleesi

 

Get Writing! Spark your inspiration…

We’re finally into summer and there’s no more need for warm-ups. Which means it’s time to get to the real writing. You’ve been here before—the start of something new—but you’ve always arrived with at least one idea at boiling point, ready to spill over onto the page.

But what if you face the blank screen or empty page and there’s no sign of inspiration?

Brutal truth? Too bad.

WW diving

The sun is shining, so dive into some awesome new writing!

Writing isn’t a desire, it’s a practice. There are fun aspects to it, which without a doubt improve it, like daydreaming about winning Oscars, reading the new Leigh Bardugo Wonder Woman novel (which isn’t out until August 29 so mark that day off for some serious not-writing), watching the new season of Orange Is The New Black (it’s SO GOOD), and probably Wonder Woman again because it rocks… All of those things (and any you’d like to add to the list) are great for studying plot construction and character development. You gotta read and watch and consume to learn and get inspired. But.

Nothing is as important as getting the words. on. the. page.

OITNB Writing

Put the words down, baby. Drop ’em like they’re hot. It’s the only way to be a writer.

We’re not total tyrants though; we’re here to help!

So, here are three metaphorical matches for you to strike and spark your inspiration.

It’s been fifteen years and she doesn’t look any different, except for the fact that the last time I saw her, she was dead.

“Whatever you do, do NOT eat—” “…oops…”

Either I die. Or they all die.

In a future post, we’ll get into some hints on how to keep the story burning.

For now… get writing!

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

 

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

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.

 

 

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!

 

Steps to self-publishing, Part 2: Platforms

You’ve written your book, and it’s awesome (we just know). You went through whatever process you needed to, in order to arrive at the point where you want to self-publish it.

Firstly, go you! In just about every art form, the creator—that’s you!—is expected to share their work. Bands record songs and albums and put them on Soundcloud. Movie makers film shorts and features and upload them to Vimeo or YouTube. Artists create their works, photographers take their pictures, and they try to find ways to display them online and in galleries, or even at cons. So, you’re just doing what everyone else does! There can be a little bit of a ‘tude in some circles when this is applied to books, but you can ignore that. Art is art, whatever form it takes. Those dudes in the caves way back when didn’t wait for permission or approval to share those extraordinary drawings for generations to come. You don’t need to wait for permission to display your art either. Again, some folks might want to tell you otherwise… but nah. People want to make things, other people want to see and experience those things… The trick is to figure out how to connect the two.

In this case you made a thing—your book—and now you need to get it out there to the world.

So, the question becomes, where ya gonna put it?

There are many platforms and options available. Your first major decision is format. Do you want it to be an ebook, or just a paperback, or both? If you’re thinking ebook-only, you can focus on one or all of services like Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo (Sony and other devices), and Smashwords (which covers everything else, including Apple’s iBooks). In some cases, Apple will let you upload directly to iBooks (more on that here), but if you find it all a bit above your technical knowhow, you can use a service that does it for you. Smashwords is one, but there are others, like Bookbaby, which does print as well as ebooks. Here’s a resource on Apple’s site to help you find one that you like.

Knowing where you want to put it is important for the next phase, which we’ll talk about in the next installment (professional editing, interior formatting, and cover design), as each service can have its own specs for how the text should be formatted, what size the cover image should be, etc. So if you choose ebooks, do your research for each platform to see what exactly they need from you.

The same applies if you want to hold your masterpiece in your hand (not a euphemism). There is something magical about actually picking up the BOOK THAT YOU WROTE and turning the PAGES THAT YOU MADE. It’s kind of amazing, tbh. So, if you dig that idea (and also want your book to have any kind of chance of being stocked in a physical bookstore, which we also recommend, because holding that book is a lot sweeter when you just picked it up off a bookstore shelf where it was sitting next to a Leigh Bardguo novel, for example), then you have to look at the various options for printing your book.

bookshelf

Subtle

There’s CreateSpace, of course. The big kahuna. They print on demand, which is probably the most efficient way to go. Before POD, you would have to essentially choose how many copies of your book you wanted to be printed, have those shipped to you, and then deal with the rest of it yourself. With CreateSpace, they store the digital version and whenever anyone orders it, they print and send it. They also offer “expanded distribution” so that bookstores and libraries can see your title available from their distributors. Lulu is another option that offers a range of services including distribution, and there’s Bookbaby too, who we mentioned earlier; they offer the full spectrum of editing, formatting, printing and distribution services.

You just need to decide which one of these feels right for you, and your project. Each service has its pros and cons, its quirks and restrictions. But they all give you what you need: your book, ready to be read!

Next time: everything you need to know about getting your book ready to upload…