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1. How 5 Great Writers Got Started on Their First Books

While working on my book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, I found that even for the best writers in the world, getting started can be the hardest part. Here’s how 5 great authors found what they needed to get started on their very first novels…

(16 things to do prior to sending your work out to agents & editors.)


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Column by Sarah Stodola, author of PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS. She has contributed to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Beast, and Awl, as well as Condé Nast Traveler and Slate, among others publications. She founded the literary journal Me Three and served as an adjunct scholar for Lapham’s Quarterly. Sarah is currently the editorial director of Strolby.


1. Toni Morrison

The Spark: A Writing Group

Morrison was a 35-year-old professor at Howard University when she joined a writing group just for fun. It soon became clear that she couldn’t remain in the group unless she actually wrote something, so she began toying with a story based on an African American girl she remembered from elementary school, who had proclaimed her wish to have blue eyes. Not too long after, Morrison divorced and moved to Syracuse, where she had few friends. To pass the time, she brought the story from her writing group back out and began expanding it into a novel. Five years after she started, Morrison had completed The Bluest Eye.

2. David Foster Wallace

The Spark: A Comment by his Girlfriend

A college girlfriend mentioned to Wallace one night that she’d rather be a character in a book than a real person. The comment hit Wallace, and he found himself turning it over and over in his mind, trying to figure out exactly what she’d meant by it. He pondered the difference between a fictional character and a real-life person, and how language could play a part in shaping our understanding of both. The idea became the catalyst for a story that developed over the course of Wallace’s final year at Amherst College into The Broom of the System, a novel about a woman who doesn’t believe in her own reality. Wallace turned the novel in as his senior thesis and a couple years later, it was published.

3. Zadie Smith

The Spark: The Turn of the Millennium

Fully anticipating a career in academia, the 20-year-old Zadie Smith nevertheless set out to write a novel about a man who comes out of the 20th century in a positive way. She worked on what eventually became White Teeth during her last couple of years at Cambridge University (“when everybody else was getting drunk,” she told The Rumpus in an interview), finishing most of it before she graduated. She showed it to a trusted group of five or so friends periodically along the way, readers she says were crucial in the development of the book. Like Wallace, Smith’s first novel came out when she was just 24.

(Excellent Tips on Writing a Query Letter.)

4. Ernest Hemingway

The Spark: A Trip to Spain

After stints as both a newspaper reporter in Kansas City and Red Cross ambulance driver in wartime Italy, Hemingway returned home just long enough to get married and gather his thoughts. Then he moved to Paris, where his fiction ambitions began in earnest. He showed promise, but nothing more, until a fateful trip to Spain with friends to take in the bullfights. The idea for The Sun Also Rises came to him and he got started before the group even began the return leg of the journey; indeed, the characters in the novel were based closely on those friends who had joined Hemingway on that particular trip. The novel spewed forth—Hemingway claimed to have averaged 2,000 words per day while working on the first draft—and he finished it in well under a year.

5. Joan Didion

The Spark: A Newspaper Blurb

A young Didion came across a newspaper article while working at Vogue in New York City and feeling homesick for her native California. It was a mere blurb about a man charged with killing his farm’s foreman in the Carolinas, but the image stuck. She relocated it to California and turned it into the seminal scene for a novel, which she worked on at night in a sublet Upper West Side apartment. With half the book written, she sent it off to publishers, the lucky 13th of which accepted it and paid her a small advance to write the last half. Run, River came out with Didion was 28 years old.


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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2. How to Write A Plausible Character – 3 Key Tips

There are many elements writers need to pay close attention to when creating a fictional world. There’s setting, plot, pacing, voice, imagery and so on. Everything is important, everything counts. That said, one of my favorite places to focus my writing attention is on my characters.

How do your create a good character? Well, the short answer is that she has to be believable. I tell my students and the people I mentor that this means a fictional character has to closely resemble a living person.

Anne Leigh Parrish, 1

WhatIsFoundWhatIsLost_CoverThis guest post is by Anne Leigh Parrish, author of What is Found, What is Lost. Her debut story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home (Press 53, 2011) won a silver medal in the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her second collection, Our Love Could Light The World, (She Writes Press, 2013) is a Kirkus Reviews recommended Indie title, and a finalist in both the International Book Awards and the Best Book Awards. She is the fiction editor for the online literary magazine Eclectica. She lives in Seattle.

Keep in mind, a character doesn’t have to be nice, or moral, or a pillar of the community. Decent people with no flaws or vices don’t usually make for the most interesting reading. But nor can a character be all bad, with no redeeming traits. In other words, a character has to possess one essential element: complexity.

I don’t mean to suggest that a character should be hard to read (in fact, you don’t want them to be), or super mysterious, or generally murky and unclear. You want the reader to know what makes your person tick, what gets them up in the morning and what wakes them up at night. Your reader needs to know what your character wants, what he’s afraid of losing and willing to fight for.


Once you know what motivates your character, you can flesh her out, so to speak. Keeping with emotional or psychological aspects of personality, think about what makes your person feel guilty, or embarrassed, angry, even terrified. Your plot will bring out these reactions, so it’s important that your character react accordingly. A wooden character who feels nothing isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. On the other hand, a character that goes to pieces all the time can be just as dull – unless, for example, he uses his melt-downs as a way to manipulate those around him.

[Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters]


Now let’s move on to the physical person. The obvious question is, what does she look like? Some authors tend to give a lot of details to the reader – height, hair color, eye color, and so on, but that’s never worked for me. When I read a short story or a novel, I like to fill in the missing pieces for myself, because this keeps me engaged and interested. Keeping that in mind, I give only one or two items the reader can hang an image on – a crooked nose, a missing tooth, a small red mark on one cheek, bitten down-finger nails, a limp, a tendency to slump, mumble, laugh at sudden moments – the list is pretty long, if not endless. The important thing is to mention whatever handful of traits you’ve chosen strategically throughout the piece, sort of as reminders about the person. Someone he’s meeting for lunch can think to herself, there’s that gappy smile again, the one that made me fall for him in the first place, or, I wish I didn’t love that gappy smile so much.


Along with psychology and the physical reality of a fictional character are gestures or habits. Maybe these come out under stress. Maybe they’re a sign of happiness, or anticipation. I love those characters of mine who convey what they’re feeling by doing something we’ve seen them do before – like biting a lip, or twirling a strand of hair. The first time this happens, of course, you need to tell the reader what’s up. If a long period of time passes before the next gesture, and the reader hasn’t yet had a chance to see this has a habit, you’ll need to remind them. Sally always pulled her hair when she lied, or When Davie got an idea, he leaned forward and snapped the fingers of his right hand. I think it’s gestures like these, almost more than any other aspect of a fictional character, that really brings someone to life.

In sum, a fictional character must resemble a living person. Figure out what makes her tick, what he wants and is willing to fight for. Give readers a few solid physical details, and let them fill in the blanks for themselves. Lastly, endow your person with some habits and gestures that will appear more than once, and suggest an emotional state or experience.

Happy writing!

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter


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3. Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction — Jan. 22 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Jennifer Laughran

Middle Grade books are generally defined as being books for children aged 8-12…. and at the moment, these books are hot-hot-hot. From the commercial successes of titles like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and Rick Riordan’s LIGHTNING THIEF saga, to more “literary” award-winning fare, it seems most publishers are seeking the next great Middle Grade success story. But middle grade is also a tough category to write for. Much of what appears in the slush pile is cheesy or derivative, or just lacks “spark.” So what makes a great Middle Grade novel? What is selling? What are agents and editors looking for? And how can you make your book stand out and shine?

In this live webinar, “Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction,” instructor and literary agent Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary) will talk about what’s happening in the exciting Middle Grade market, as well as examine some recently published titles to see what they got right. She’ll also talk revision tips and tricks to help you take your work-in-progress to the next level. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

Screen shot 2014-08-09 at 5.15.20 PM U9476



All registrants are invited to submit EITHER the query letter OR the first 500 words of their complete / work-in-progress middle grade novel for critique. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.


— What’s selling in Middle Grade… and what just isn’t.
— The all-important “Hook”, and what “High Concept” looks like
— Finding the elusive Middle Grade Voice
— Common mistakes of Middle Grade submissions
— Overused beginnings and clichés that can drag down a work
— How to polish your work and stand out from the slush pile
— What “core curriculum” guidelines for schools might mean for your book. Sign up for the webinar here.


Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the oldest children’s-only agency in the US. Before she joined the agency in 2008, she spent about a decade as a children’s book buyer and event coordinator for various successful bookstores. Her many years of experience in the children’s book field have made her one of the top kid’s book agents working today. She reps picture books through YA, but has a particular love for Middle Grade novels — the warmer and funnier the better. Clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Jo Whittemore, Linda Urban, and many debut authors whose names you’ll know soon!

Sign up for the Jan 22 webinar here.

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4. New Literary Agent Alert: Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


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About Caitie: Caitie Flum joined Liza Dawson Associates in July 2014 as assistant and audio rights manager. She graduated from Hofstra University in 2009 with a BA in English with a concentration in publishing studies. Caitie interned at Hachette Book Group and Writers House. She was an Editorial Assistant then Coordinator for Bookspan, where she worked on several clubs including the Book-of-the-Month Club, The Good Cook, and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. She is taking on her own clients in 2015. Caitie grew up in Ohio where she developed her love of reading everything she could get her hands on. She lives in New Jersey with her husband where, in her free time, she can be found cooking, reading, going to the theater, or intensely playing board games.

(Hear a dozen agents explain exactly what they want to see the slush pile. See if your work is a match.)

Caitie is seeking: Commercial and upmarket fiction with great characters and superb writing, especially historical fiction, mysteries/thrillers of all kinds, magical realism, and book club fiction.

“In historical fiction, I would love to see unusual perspectives and stories told in a unique way. I am eager for police procedurals, cozy mysteries, psychological thrillers, and amateur sleuths, especially those with series potential. I love book club/women’s fiction that shows characters that have made the hard or unpredictable choice or are funny yet poignant stories. Please send me books of all these genres that have diversity!

“I am looking for Young Adult and New Adult projects, particularly romance, historical fiction, mysteries and thrillers, and contemporary books with diverse characters.

“In nonfiction, I am looking for memoirs that make people look at the world differently, narrative nonfiction that’s impossible to put down, books on pop culture, theater, current events, women’s issues, and humor.

“I am not looking for science fiction, fantasy, westerns, military fiction, self-help, science, middle grade, or picture books.”

How to submit to Caitie: Email your query in the body of the e-mail to querycaitie [at] lizadawsonassociates.com.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)


2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Add a Comment
5. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by percy jackson

hi this is my first prompt so feel free 2 criticise.(btw my name is rafay i am 11 years old)

it was 5 millenia ago that it happened , this place , this time , this life
O how i miss those two , my daughter Altheia…her art,her wisdom. it was all copmparable with the godess Athena… in fact better.
My son Demitrius, he was nine… 5 days away from his tenth birthday.
he was such a good strong boy, always making his Mama proud.
he had A future ahead of him.
my daughter O her sculptures were the finest in all of Greece!
but that , thats all over now beacause Hera killed them
KILLED THEM. just beacause Zeus the king of all the gods prefered marrying me.
none of it was my fault all hers.
she deserves to rot in tarturas NOT ME!
I remember that day… demetrius was in my lap and Altheia at my side i was telling the story of Heracles
when the palace doors flung open and that little pregnant goldfish Hera came in with a long staff
and she smashed it on the ground and the lifeless bodies of my beautiful children laid at my feet
and hera walked towards me and screamed
this will be a lesson to you for marrying my husband
and everything blacked out
and when i woke up i was in tartarus and i looked at myself
i was a monster my nails had become long talons
my eyes were glowing red i had long leathery wings with spikes all over
and she turned me into the monster world calls Lamia
and i would like too tell my children who might have reincarnated or might be in elisium
that they should stay strong and know mama is watching them
but what am i going to do?
one word

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6. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

And now for the one in the spirit but not the letter of the prompt. I’m sure I will upset some people with this one, but I gotta be me.

Oh Captain My Captain

You were in my life but I was not in yours. Not beyond that basic connection we all share anyway. Why has it taken me so long to speak to you, to speak of you? Because you were one of my heroes. You were one of the giants treading the world with an I don’t give a shit attitude and a devil may care smile. Then you did the thing I have never been able to forgive. You made yourself into a coward when you had it all.

No matter how unfair it is that stigma will taint my memory of you. My father taught me that suicide is the coward’s way out. Every religion tells me it is the one unforgivable sin. I know I overstate but most of them say it at least conditionally. That was who you became to me. You were a giant and became your own unruly David. How could you do that to yourself? You had so much to live for. How could you do that to us? You brought us so much joy and now we had to mourn you. How the hell could you do that to me? I needed men like you in the world.

A quirky entertainer. An actor who openly gamed? I don’t mean played video games, now every actor does that but you were the first big name to admit he table topped! You gave me hope for the world, for humanity, for everyone who was different. Then you took it away in a moment of shameful weakness. I will never forgive you. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I don’t need to.

I don’t understand your battles. I know, and looking back I see how much pain there was inside. A desperate man battling the same fights we all must endure. How much harder was it for you with such a sensitive soul? How heavy did it weigh on you that we all looked to you for a laugh, to help us escape our every day pains when all you wanted to do was heal yourself? You tried, but still you were our golden calf, our doorway to a different place. I know you tried and I wonder if maybe we had just let you if things could have been different.

You gave us so much and we could not even give you privacy. You overcame your addictions, more than once, and yet you tried to stay healthy. How hard was it for you when you were warring with the feelings that finally overtook you and we splashed it on the internet and ate it up. In the middle of your struggle you had to pause and reassure us that you had not started using again. Time you could have been using to heal and we just weighed you down.

I cannot forgive the act but I can focus on your legacy. Nobody can replace you but I can live my life to bring entertainment to others as you did. I hope that is a fitting tribute. I hope that can help make those religions wrong and let you rest in peace. I hope you can forgive yourself.

I hope because it is all I have and there is less of it in the world without you. Thank you for everything you gave us.

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7. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Wow, I’m starting to think your music career may be in country. Again, this is beautiful and touching and just makes my heart ache. There are so many things I want to say but about certain things any advice no matter how well intentioned can only make it worse. Not your fault but you can’t believe that until you reach it yourself and I’m sure many others have already told you that. The simple act of securing the planes speaks more of love than most anything I can think of.

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8. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Very beautiful story. You captured my own sentiments and reactions around this prompt in here. Well done.

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9. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Gorgeous. I’m not going to ask because these are so personal but I want to know. If this is fiction it feels just too real.

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10. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Wow, if anyone had asked me I would have been sure this was fiction. Very touching and I echo Tim’s sentiments.

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11. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Powerful fiction that speaks of real emotion. Well written there. In the end art imitates life just as life imitates art. An original thought is not one nobody has ever had before but one you came to on your own before discovering another has had it. That is not to say this would have been any less powerful if you had seen the story first. It just means that would have been a tribute but as it is this is an original thought that resonates with something so deep in the collective soul of humanity that someone else did it. Okay, stupid prompt has me way to philosophical for my own good. Beautiful story.

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12. Comment on Letter to a Lost Loved One by Reaper

Okay, these are really hard for me. I have had this idea for a book called Lessons on Being a Man: Shit I learned from by dad for a long time now. When I looked at this I thought a letter? Bullshit! And I wrote a chapter for it about my great grandfather. Problem is it was about 3.5k words so I’m not going to post that here. If you want to see it you can go look at my blog which is mostly reposts of stories from here and mad political rantings. When you get there it will be below this letter. Oh, and my dad’s still alive so you can guess who the dead one is in there. http://patrickelliottwrites.blogspot.com/

I’m still uncomfortable with this but I’m going to post it anyway. I have another idea for one that will probably shock and horrify and is in the letter of the prompt but not the spirit. I’ll do and post that one soon too is my guess. I think I’m a masochist since I keep going with things that are opening old wounds. Anyway! To the letter, no editing on this one since both this and the other one are just too raw for me to reread.

Dear Granddad,

What I remember most is the fishing. At your funeral I remember the phrase, we don’t miss the years we miss the minutes. I remember thinking how catchy that bullshit was but I still miss you every day. I still hated the fishing though. Up before the sun because that was when the worms woke up. You told me that, remember? Then we went down to a river and stood in cold water. I never caught a damn thing. All I wanted to do was talk to you because I loved you but I had to stand there and be quiet to not scare off the fish. Later I decided you wanted to spend time with me when I was quiet since that was rare. Later still I realized you were teaching me patience and the value of quiet time with your loved ones. You taught me a lot and I didn’t even realize it.

I don’t want to tell you my life, you know it. You know I am okay because you made sure I would be. As one of the two oldest grandkids I was more like your child than grandchild. For a long time I envied that but now I know the rest of them envy the strong connection I had with you.

I want to say two things.

Thank you for being there. When I tried that stupid door to door sales job and you let me come and do the pitch for you even though I wasn’t really talking to you then. That you didn’t think you needed it but you wanted to buy it to help me out meant the world to me. That you always knew I was busy and asked about me even when that wasn’t why I didn’t come by… You were a better man than I can hope to be. Your faith in me kept, hell keeps me going. Thank you for everything.

The second is I’m sorry. The years I stayed away because in the middle of my parent’s divorce grandma said something nasty about my father. She was defending her daughter but I didn’t see that. I know you didn’t like my dad but I also know you understand I love him. That was part of who you were. I’m sorry I let my petty anger rob me of years with both of you. The year before you died when you hurt yourself you talked to me more deeply and openly than you ever had. Even when you didn’t know who I was you were there for me. I’m sorry I took so much of that away from us.

Mostly I’m sorry about the fishing. I had this plan to get two licenses and borrow some gear. I planned to do it the next summer. I wanted that time with you and to give you the gift of memory. Then you died and I’m sorry I didn’t do it the year before.

I love you always.

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13. Comment on Get a Literary Agent in 2015: My New Book Features Advice From More than 100 Agents (and a GIVEAWAY CONTEST!) by phloxy

I’m a new writer, so resources like this are exceptionally valuable. I’m hoping for exciting things in 2015. Thanks for making this available and sharing your expertise!

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14. Comment on Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 293 by De Jackson


She’s got this smile, see?
Makes you want to stay awhile, hang
your hat on the corner.

She’ll beguile you
with silvered kisses,
moody phase
and days and days
of waiting for her
to get her fill
of sky.

We’re all looking
for something,
       Love –
wide as the whole world,
and deeper
than this bright skin.


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15. 30 Tips For Writing a Book in 30 Days

Sometimes it’s a lone writer who’s been putting off a story idea for too long, and decides it’s now or never. Sometimes it’s a pair or a group determined to find out what they can achieve by sharing self-imposed deadlines and strong pots of coffee. Sometimes it’s peer pressure or curiosity about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org), that challenge that rallies ever-increasing numbers of writers around the globe every November to band together in pursuit of a 50,000-word “win.”

Jessica Strawser

This article is by Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest. For more great writing advice, follow her on Twitter @JessicaStrawser.

Book-in-a-month challenges take all forms, fueled by all stripes of writers with all manner of motivations—make the most of that time alone in a borrowed cabin, hunker down for the winter, stop procrastinating, have something ready to pitch at that conference, prove to yourself you can do it, prove to someone else you can do it, get a fresh start—and in this hyperconnected age of 24-hour fingertip resources and networks, of tiny portable keyboards and glow-in-the-dark screens, they’re more popular than ever.

What do writers really glean from these write-a-thons? What have those who’ve set out to achieve the seemingly impossible learned, good or bad, and what advice would they share with others thinking of setting out with that same single-minded focus? We asked the WD writing community, and responses came in waves—with refreshing honesty, admitted mistakes, tales of redemption, palpable pride, self-deprecating humor and, above all, contagious enthusiasm. We’ve collected an array of the best insights here—one for every day of the month—along with a roundup of resources offering more help along the way. Because who knows? It’s so crazy, it just might work.

1. Embrace a new mindset.

After working five years on perfecting a novel, I sent out a round of queries, received some requests for the full manuscript, but ultimately was rejected every time. I’m not one to give up, but I also knew my novel still wasn’t right. I decided to shelve the manuscript and start a new book. That date was Oct. 30, 2010.

For years friends had been trying to get me to participate in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t want to spend five years writing my next novel, so I decided this time I’d give NaNoWriMo a shot, but without putting pressure on myself—either I’d complete 50,000 words in 30 days or I wouldn’t. That November was crazy busy: I was chairing a big awards banquet, raising two boys and juggling a host of other responsibilities that I couldn’t set aside. But writing is my dream. So, on Nov. 1, I set out to write 1,667 words a day.

The results were amazing. I forced myself to write with a new mindset (no editing, not even for misspellings), and the more I just let the words pour forth, the better my story became. It was easier to keep track of plot and I was able to delve deeper into my characters because I was spending time with them daily. I ended that first 30 days surpassing 50,000 words, and, despite hosting two major family holidays among other commitments, I used that momentum to complete the first draft of my 90,000-word thriller by early January. That novel has since been revised numerous times and is currently being read by four literary agents at top agencies considering it for representation.

[21 Fast Hacks to Fuel Your Story With Suspense]

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo every year since, and now share what I’ve learned from writing quick first drafts. I teach a “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days” seminar at The Carnegie Center, Joseph-Beth Booksellers and Kentucky libraries. Also, I’ve helped establish a new event—the Overnight Write-In—which I’ll host for the second year at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington this November for local NaNoWriMo participants.

I had no idea in 2010 that so much would happen just because I embraced a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My life has improved, as has my writing. What do you need to do to pursue your dream? Give yourself a 30-day gift, and as the folks at NaNoWriMo proclaim, “write with literary abandon.”

Jennifer Hester Mattox, Paris, Ky.

2. Answer yes.

Before you jump in, think about it long and hard. Do you want to spend hours sitting in front of your computer? Do you want to have characters and plot twists swirling around in your head at every turn? Do you want the daunting task of placing the perfect words in each and every sentence? Do you, at times, want to smash your head against your keyboard? If your answer is yes, and not a mousy yes, but a standing-on-the-couch-Tom-Cruise yes, then maybe you’re just crazy enough to write a novel in a month.

Jocelyn Frentz, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

3. Do the math.

Daily or weekly word count goals help you track your progress toward your end-of-month goal, regardless of whether you average the same number of words every day. For instance, NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50,000-word novel, and provides word count trackers to help you log and measure your progress as you go—but it’s worth noting that in most genres, 50,000 words doesn’t constitute a commercial book-length manuscript. So no matter when your write-a-thon takes place, know what you’re setting out to accomplish. A rough draft of a draft? A full-length manuscript? Then do the math. For an 80,000-word novel, for instance, that’s 2,666 words/day for 30 days—or, if you prefer weekly goals, 20,000/week for four weeks.

Writer’s Digest

4. Plan to make sense.

My advice is simple: Plan ahead and outline. It’s possible to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but what is really difficult is having a finished product that really makes any sense. When you’re in the heat of the moment trying to crank out thousands of words every day it is very easy to get off track. That’s where your planning and your outline can save you.

Andrew Setters, Cincinnati

5. Just start—and keep going.

NaNoWriMo? It looked like a text message. What the heck was it? I discovered the challenge just two days before Nov. 1, opening day. I had no idea what I would write about, but I was determined to do it, just to see if I could.

This was 2009, and my first time writing any length novel in any length of time, let alone 50,000 words in one month. Up to then, I’d written a few magazine articles, a how-to book, a children’s book and untold numbers of unpublished short stories. And now for something entirely different.

I did finish that year, and went on to finish every year since. You never know what you can accomplish until you try. Everyone tackles the job in a different way, some with a meticulous plan or a detailed outline—but not me. Here’s my advice: If you have an idea in mind, it helps. Otherwise, pick it out of the air and start writing. The key is to keep writing and let everything else fall by the wayside. Turn off your phone. Disconnect the TV. Buy paper plates; send out for pizza or stock frozen tacos, whatever—just don’t take time to cook. Or clean. Or shop.

[Learn the 4 Successful Approaches You Should Consider for the First Chapter of Your Novel]

Get those words onto your page and count them each day. And kick that persnickety editor out of your head. To hell with spelling, punctuation, the precise word, the perfect reference (and I’m a copy editor by profession!). What you need right now is the story and nothing but the story, no matter how outlandish or unorganized.

I wrote a lot of junk, and stuff that had possibilities. What was in 2011 a 51,000-word story-in-the-rough has grown to a 71,000-word novel that will be on its way to an agent soon. But even if you don’t get that far, there is satisfaction in meeting the challenge and finding that you can do it.

Jenny Garden, Seattle

6. Go all in.

Passion will get you started, but discipline will see you through. The only way to succeed is to set a schedule, write like mad and never stop, even if you despair. Get your first draft finished before you pay attention to your feelings, because—in the early stages—most of your feelings will steer you off a cliff like a GPS for lemmings. The first words will rarely be your best, and the fear of bad writing often keeps writers from the initial click on the keys. But writing is like jumping into a cold lake: You squirm less once you’re all in.

Rev. Dr. David McDonald, Jackson, Mich.

7. End a writing session only when you know what’s next.

During my first two Novembers of novel writing, most of my time was spent cajoling characters instead of penning the daily words. But sometime between my second and third year, I discovered words of wisdom from author Scott O’Dell that changed everything: At the end of a writing stint, stop before the ideas run out. Write a sentence or two about what happens next. Next time your fingers meet the keyboard, you already know where the story is headed.

S.B. Roberts, Orlando, Fla.

8-9. Do what it takes to make it feel real. Fill the sandbox, then make castles.

I worship at the altar of NaNoWriMo. Anytime someone says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” I tell them about it.

So often this writing stuff can just feel pretend. It exists in solitude. Some of it exists only in my head. The only thing I have to show for years of work is a huge Word document. Sometimes when I do try to share it with people I feel crazy. So one gift of NaNoWriMo is its tangibility. It’s a concrete, external goal. There are pep talks. You watch your word count widget grow. You share the experience with others. There are rewards. I have a NaNoWriMo poster hanging in the stairwell of my house. It says things like, “The world needs your novel.” NaNoWriMo helps it feel real. NaNoWriMo helps ideas become things.

NaNoWriMo also reminds me of this superpower I keep forgetting I possess. One year I committed potential NaNoWriMo suicide and on Day 8 started over with a new idea. I wrote 10,084 words in one day. It made me feel like I could do anything. I managed to win that year, too.

While being reminded of your superpower is important, I think the biggest takeaway is remembering that you’re not done when you hit 50,000 words. Bask in the glory of victory. But don’t leave it alone forever. Rewrite. Edit. Fix it. Finish it. NaNoWriMo helps you fill the sandbox. It’s up to you to build castles.

Emily Echols, Fort Polk, La.

10–11. Find your rhythm. Learn as you go.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. One day, I’d actually do it—write a complete story. I just hadn’t done it yet. I had plenty of ideas, and many starts, but no completion. Then one day my 10-year-old daughter was given an assignment to write a 15,000-word novel for NaNoWriMo. I was encouraging her, letting her know that she could accomplish anything if she set her mind to it, when I thought I should put my word count where my mouth is and join her. If she could write a book in one month, then why couldn’t I, a grown woman who has aspired to be a published author my whole life?

I had a lot of theoretical time on my hands as a stay-at-home mom, but let’s just say some things suffered. There was no from-scratch pasta sauce that month. November is also the month of my daughter’s birthday, and of course Thanksgiving is an unfortunate timing issue. But I plodded ahead. I was surprised to find that my biggest challenge was finding my writing rhythm. I didn’t have that much creative gasoline when everyone was awake, but after they went to bed I could accomplish anything, and I did. I didn’t, however, sleep much, and one of the things that keeps me awake and engaged is eating and drinking while I write. I put on 10 pounds that month, but I wrote the story—all the way through to that ever-elusive ending. (Sadly, there is no one-month path to publishing … NaNoPuMo, anyone?)

After that first year, I convinced a friend to join me, so I would have a partner to meet and write with in the daylight hours, far from food temptations. I plan to be successful at this writing gig, and I don’t want my jacket photo to look like Jabba the Hutt.

If I can do it, so can you! It helps to have a general idea of your story and characters before you begin, but once the clock starts, get cracking! Don’t fret over word choice or character names. Don’t reread and edit. If you decide to change your protagonist’s nationality 1,000 words in, just do it and move ahead. You can fix it when you sit down with a smile to read your completed draft a month later, red pen in one hand and giant latte in the other (nonfat, of course).

Angela C. Lebovic, North Barrington, Ill.

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12. Don your painter’s smock.

My first finished book is thanks to NaNoWriMo. The experience was a whirlwind of creativity, as I was forced to put aside my Inner Critic and Grammar Nazi (a rowdy bunch that like the last word). By the end of the 30 days, I had a manuscript of which I realized I could only keep less than half, but that was OK. I’d learned a lot about story building. I knew exactly how I wanted to edit my manuscript—and I did, over the next couple months. Forcing yourself to write 50,000 words in 30 days is a bit like putting paint into a shotgun and pointing at a blank canvas. Something will stick, but there’ll be a lot of clean-up.

Himani Shah, Scottsdale, Ariz.

13. Claim every spare minute.

I’d been thinking about this fantasy/thriller trilogy idea for about a year, but hadn’t written anything, not even notes. One day, though, I just felt the overwhelming need to start writing. I didn’t set a deadline of a month, but that’s how it played out.

[Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters]

If you’re like me and work full time, you might be hard-pressed to find time to write. What I did was write at every opportunity. I wrote during breaks at work, on the train in the morning and evening, and—just between us—occasionally at my desk when my manager wasn’t looking.

In the past, I’d spent too long overthinking chapters, characters and plots, to the point of making my stories convoluted. My month-long power session produced far better work, and was the best thing I ever did with my writing.

Gregory Paul Burdon, Melbourne, Victoria, Canada

15–20. Build Your Bookshelf (Resources for Writing a Book in a Month Include …)

15. Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. (WD Books): This book takes an interactive approach to help you complete your
write-a-thon step by step, with expert instruction accompanied by spreadsheets to track your progress.

16. Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden (New World Library): Jaden’s books Losing Faith and Never Enough began with NaNoWriMo, and in Fast Fiction, she shares what she’s learned to help you speed-complete a rough draft you can revise into publishable shape.

17. First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer’s System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript by Karen S. Wiesner (WD Books): Award-winning author Wiesner is a big believer in detailed outlines—and she’ll show you how to create one that will keep you on track for a month and beyond. Includes worksheets, day-by-day planners and brainstorming exercises.

18. No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty (Chronicle Books): The new revised edition of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s guide is stacked with how-tos, week-by-week checkups and trademark motivation to help you cross the finish line on schedule.

19. Write-a-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander (WD Books): Melander teaches the muscle mechanics of writing at a marathoner’s pace. Chock full of brain-stretching exercises, this book will have you running to keep up.

20. Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next by Jeff Gerke (WD Books): This comprehensive guide embraces the process start to finish, from shaping your preliminary ideas to exploring next steps for your completed draft.

Kenneth McNulty, Writer’s Digest Intern

20. Tap into a network.

When I started getting serious about writing, one of the first things I did was seek out like-minded individuals. That’s how I discovered NaNoWriMo, in 2009. I love the idea of banding together with others poised for the same goal. Our competitive streaks help us shine. I’ve met some of my best friends and most trusted literary advisors as a result of participating, and can promise you my writing success (with the publication of my NaNo books Modified Flight Plan, the true story of a triple amputee pilot, and Walk Me Home, about the last execution in Nebraska) is in a large part because of the discipline I learned by undertaking the book-in-a-month challenge.

Lisa Kovanda, Lincoln, Neb.

21. Work ahead.

The trick is getting extra words in the bank early. Things always pop up as the month goes on. You will also be more burnt out by the end of the month, meaning that both the quality and quantity of your writing may suffer.

Michael Young, Eagle Mountain, Utah

22. Silence your editor.

NaNoWriMo is a marvelous tool for the über-editor. Normally I edit my words in my head before the poor things can even get on my computer screen, so it was very freeing to just get it all out because of a deadline.

Tricia Pimental, Zambujal, Portugal

23. Gain insight into your past—and future—writing process.

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I learned:

1) My usual slow pace didn’t make my writing more   thoughtful or grammatically correct. I whipped out 25,000 words in a month, and darned if they weren’t just as good as the 27,000 words I’d previously spent a year and a half on.

2) I should know more about science if I’m going to set my story on another planet.

3) Although I didn’t make the 50,000-word goal, 25,000 still made me happy.

The second year I participated, I learned:

1) Having an outline helped.

2) Setting my story in the here and now eliminated the need for research (which consumes precious writing time).

3) Apparently 25,000 words/month is the fastest I can go!

Marie Millard, Rohnert Park, Calif.

24. Unplug.

That’s ridiculous, I thought. One month to create a story that had been brewing in my mind for years. But what kind of a writer am I if I didn’t accept a challenge?

And it was a challenge. Forcing myself to write when I wasn’t feeling “inspired” was my biggest obstacle. I would berate myself every second I stared at that blinking cursor. It would be a half hour, an hour, as my eyes darted back and forth between the screen and the glow of the TV.

But I soon discovered that just typing away was the key. The more I typed out my grocery list, my “I hate myself, I’m not a real writer” notes, and quirky-things-I-could-be-tweeting-right-now tangents, the more the words just came. And out of the nonsense came a thoughtful sentence, and then another, and another. I had to sift through a lot of garbage to find a few treasures. But I found them.

[Did you know there are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass? Read about them here.]

You know how they say you need to unplug? Well, they’re annoyingly right. Turn off the TV, the iPhone, the Internet, all of it. If I needed a break I picked up a book. Every time I read, I got an idea for what to write next.

Write anything, write everything. Read what you love. And in the end know that you are a real writer. You always had a story to tell. And it may take longer than a month. But you can do it!

Pamela Delupio, Lakewood, Calif.

25. Collaborate.

My co-author Erin McRae and I wrote our first novel (a 70,000-word gay romance) in a month. We didn’t do it as part of NaNoWriMo, and in fact told no one about it.

Having each other as an audience kept us going, and wanting to be able to share it with others kept us going fast. We did the next two drafts in a month each as well, and then submitted. Our book was published by Torquere Press in September, and the publisher has bought its sequel.

My advice: Find someone to work with as a first audience even if you aren’t collaborating, and don’t tell anyone but your partner about it until that draft is done. Sharing it with others is your reward for the work.

Also, if you do have a co-author, find one in another time zone! I was in Europe for my day job for a big chunk of our writing cycle, while Erin was in Washington, D.C. With the six-hour time difference, one of us was working on the story at almost all times.

Racheline Maltese, Brooklyn, N.Y.

26. Don’t force methods that don’t work for you.

I had fallen behind early with my word count, and then started obsessing with trying to catch up. Halfway through the month I asked, “Is this about numbers or words?” There is value in monitoring word count, if not setting word count goals. An apt comparison is running, where one may set out to run four miles a day, but some days runs may be shorter (or longer) based on how the runner feels on the trail. I’m beginning to believe it’s best to write from scratch for a set period each day, a stream of consciousness download, and then to return to works-in-progress and revise, revise, revise.

Jim Breslin, West Chester, Pa.

27. Write fearlessly.

If NanoWriMo taught me anything, it was to not be afraid to try.

Kait Heacock, Brooklyn, N.Y.

28–29. Entice your muse with whatever will make the process enjoyable. think of yourself as a conduit for your story.

In February 2014 I finished the fourth book of my Amazon bestselling series Whill of Agora. I’d been tossing around another story idea and was eager to start the project.

I wanted to try to write the book in 30 days. My plan was 2,000 words a day minimum, and February was a great month to attempt such a feat, as it can reach -20 degrees here in northern New York. I outlined my ideas (most of which never made it in—my work tends to take on a life of its own and not conform to my plans) and made myself comfortable at the kitchen table with my laptop and Bob Marley playlist.

That first week I drank 21 coffees and wrote over 26,000 words, averaging 3,800 a day. The following week I wrote another 24,000 words, averaging 3,400 a day. By now the plot was getting thick, as were my character worksheet folders. I was writing 6–10 hours a day, getting up early so I could do most of my writing while my daughter was in school. (If I work too much while family is around I feel like I’m neglecting them, even though I write full-time.) When I started to lose steam, it would keep me going to log onto the Kindle author boards’ “2,000 words a day club” to find (and offer) motivation.

I finished the book in 18 days at 70,000 words—not a heavyweight, but a good size for my genre. I self-published The Windwalker Archive, Book 1, Talon, on May 7, 2014. As I write this it is No. 4 in Amazon’s Children’s Coming of Age Fantasy Books Kindle store.

My advice: Lure your muse out with some chocolate and pinot noir, grab a hold of her, and tie her to your desk until you are done. Show up every day with your goal in mind and do not leave until you’ve surpassed it. Don’t try to create the story—listen, and let it be told through you. When you take the responsibility of creating the story out of the equation, it becomes quite easy. You are simply a conduit.

Michael James Ploof, Brushton, N.Y.

30. Know that the end of 30 days really marks the beginning.

In September 2010, the idea for a novel fell onto my lap. Knowing NaNoWriMo was six weeks away, I stockpiled mental notes, developing character profiles, plots, conflict. I’m a morning writer. Once my day job invades my head, the brainpower and willingness to work on fiction dries up. So on the evening of Oct. 31, I set my alarm for 4 a.m., excited to write a novel in a month.

Some mornings I managed at least the average number of words I needed to hit 50,000. Others, I struggled and vowed to make it up the next day. Every day, I marveled at the twists my story took from the sparse outline in my head. I typed the last word—58,313—on Nov. 29. Success!

But what I wrote wasn’t a novel. Sure, it had a beginning, middle and end, it had a theme, and yes, the main character’s story had an arc. But it was disorganized, overly ambitious, repetitive and, for some reason, full of foul language.

Four years later, Men of Sorrows is longer, structured, less repetitive, less cuss-laden. And it has a theme readers can relate to: How far will a person go to make life seem worth living?

There has been one deleterious effect of the 30-day-novel exercise: I can no longer sleep past 4 a.m. And what’s worse, I don’t even need an alarm. I spend my early mornings now writing my synopsis and elevator pitch, and researching agents to try to get Men of Sorrows published. Maybe when that happens, I can finally get up after the birds do.

Stephen D’Agostino, New York, N.Y. WD

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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16. Get a Literary Agent in 2015: My New Book Features Advice From More than 100 Agents (and a GIVEAWAY CONTEST!)


My newest writing reference book, GET A LITERARY AGENT, is finally out from Writer’s Digest Books! As the book subtitle says. it’s a complete guide to securing representation for your books. This book has been a long time coming, and it’s a small labor of love, so I’m excited to share it with you now.

Every year, I edit the Guide to Literary Agents, which is essentially a huge database of agents — who they are, what they seek, how to submit, etc. It’s got good instructional articles upfront, but it could have so many more if space would simply allow. That’s why Writer’s Digest Books came to me a while back and said, “Why not compile everything you know about getting an agent into one book? And while you’re at it, loop in advice and opinions from active literary agents — at least 100 of them.” And thus GET A LITERARY AGENT was born. I’ll explain more about the guide in a moment, but first — the giveaway!

GIVEAWAY: I am giving away 3 copies of GET A LITERARY AGENT to random commenters. Simply comment on this blog post anytime before the end of Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. If you want to be entered 3 times instead of once in the contest, simply share this tweet about this giveaway: There’s a Book Giveaway going on at  for the new guide, GET A LITERARY AGENT:  via . Make sure you leave my handle in there so I can see you tweeted it. And include your own Twitter handle below in your comment if you tweeted it.



1. More than 100 literary agents offer advice and guidance in its pages. For this book, I wanted to create something that brought together tips and instruction from as many places as possible. That meant getting tons of literary agents to chime in on all topics. It’s their advice that drives this book. It’s them chiming in on query letter pet peeves. It’s them chiming in on the difference between romance and women’s fiction. It’s them chiming in on why agents reject your work after reading the first chapter. They’re offering advice through every section of the book.

2. The book truly is a one-stop resource. I try to cover everything that you’d possibly need to know when seeking a literary agent. If you’re just starting out on your writing journey, the book is an ideal for you because it addresses the entire process of submitting your book to agents for consideration. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing — nonfiction, fiction, books for adults, books by kids, self-published books — GET A LITERARY AGENT addresses your concerns.


  • What literary agents do on a daily basis, and what they can do for you
  • How to polish/revise your own writing and understand when you can stop rewriting your work and finally submit with confidence
  • How to find the most agents to query through researching both books and the Internet
  • What word count guidelines (low and high) may make some agents balk at your submission
  • How to write a compelling query letter that gets attention
  • How to write an effective synopsis that conveys your plot
  • How to write a thorough nonfiction book proposal that makes your title seem timely and interesting
  • Several ways to contact literary agents that don’t involve a query letter
  • The pros and cons of signing with a new literary agent
  • How many agents to submit to at one time
  • How to prepare a complete Submission Checklist to consult before sending out your work
  • How to write an interesting Chapter 1 that pulls agents (and readers) in quickly
  • The basics of writer platform and marketing yourself
  • How requests for an exclusive submission work
  • What questions to ask an interested agent when they call you
  • How to work well with an agent and foster a long-term, multi-book relationship
  • How to tell what genre you’re writing in
  • How to get a literary agent interested in a self-published book
  • And much more! Buy the book here!


GIVEAWAY: I am giving away 3 copies of GET A LITERARY AGENT to random commenters. Simply comment on this blog post anytime before the end of Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. If you want to be entered 3 times instead of once in the contest, simply share this tweet about this giveaway: There’s a Book Giveaway going on at  for the new guide, GET A LITERARY AGENT:  via . Make sure you leave my handle in there so I can see you tweeted it. And include your own Twitter handle below in your comment if you tweeted it.

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17. How to Promote Your Work Like a Pro

Writer's Digest February 2015Now more than ever before, there are so many things we can do to promote our books, articles, stories, essays, services, and other creative works and skills—regardless of whether we’re self-published, traditionally published, or even not-yet-published. Bookstore and library events remain staples, of course, as do reviews, mentions and bylines in prominent media. But add to the mix blog tours, home pages, social networking sites, free promos, cheap promos, paid placements, Web ads, print ads, Goodreads giveaways, email lists, indie author coalitions, and the myriad services claiming to increase “discoverability,” and one thing becomes clear:

You can’t do them all.

And even if you could, who would want to? Just reading that list is enough to make even a savvy marketer’s head spin.

What you need is a strategy—one that’s developed through a solid understanding of what makes the best sense for you and your work, while allowing flexibility to bend with the changing winds.

I don’t need to tell you that self-promotion and platform building are important. In a reader survey we conducted in 2014, 61 percent of respondents listed “to learn how to promote myself and my work” as one of the primary reasons they read Writer’s Digest magazine, and 45 percent of readers requested even more coverage of the topic.

The February 2015 Writer’s Digest delivers. It’s our best and most up-to-date resource on how to promote your work—and it’s hot off the press and on newsstands now. Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at what’s inside.

Keys to a Successful Promotional Strategy

In creating this issue, first, we identified two key areas worth focusing on: your author website (essential for scribes of all stripes, from freelancer to novelist, from beginner to multi-published author) and Goodreads (a must for book authors in particular). We enlisted experts to deconstruct what you need to know to make the most of each medium. Digital media pro Jane Friedman’s “Your Author Website 101” and bestselling hybrid author Michael J. Sullivan’s “Get in Good With Goodreads” are comprehensive guides ripe for earmarking, highlighting, and referencing again and again. Whether you’re just starting to investigate how to promote a book or you are looking to create a Web presence that will be the foundation of your career, these articles are a great place to start.

Then, we put a call out to the writing community asking for “Success Stories in Self-Promotion”—and we got them, in droves. Learn through the real-life trial and error of writers whose promotional efforts ultimately yielded impressive sales, further opportunities, and, in some cases, even agents and book deals.

Best of all, as those authors share their secrets and tips, you’ll notice one key takeaway that comes up again and again:

If they can do it, so can you.

Doing What Works for You

That underscores the point that in working to improve both our craft and our career, it can help for us writers to stick together—to use one another as the valuable resources we are. The February issue also features a WD Interview with Garth Stein, best known for his runaway bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain and his latest novel, A Sudden Light. Stein had more great insights than we had space to print, so in our online exclusive outtakes from the interview, he talks about how he came to co-found the literacy outreach group Seattle7Writers, and why every writer should have a writing friend.

The February 2015 Writer’s Digest is already getting some great buzz on Twitter, Facebook and blogs from other writers who likely share in the same platform and promotional challenges that you do. If you’re looking for fresh tips on how to promote your work—plus the usual doses of writing inspiration and craft advice we put into every issue of WD—you won’t want to miss it!

Happy Writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser.

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18. Your 2015 Blogging Roadmap

Blogging for Writers by Robin HoughtonThinking of starting a blog in 2015 to build your writer platform and gain a readership for your work? All the best journeys start with a bit of planning. Even if you’re not one for planning and would rather dive in right away, bear with me! In this exclusive excerpt from Blogging for Writers, Robin Houghton asks six crucial questions about your blogging goals, audience, and plan. Be honest with the answers as you write them down—they’ll serve as good reminders and motivators later on. When you’re finished, you’ll have the beginnings of a blogging roadmap that will assist you throughout 2015 and beyond.

1. Why do you want a blog?

What appeals to you about blogging? Is it something you can see yourself getting into, enjoying, and looking forward to doing? What do you want to get out of it? Promotion? Community? Sales?

It’s important to have goals for your blog, and those goals should be linked to your goals as a writer. All the same, the more open you are to seeing the fun in blogging, the more likely you are to stick with it and have it work for you.

2. Who do you want to read it? 

An interesting question, and linked closely to your blogging goals. It’s no good saying, “I want the whole world to read it!” Of course there are ways to go viral or hijack an audience, but the most successful bloggers are in it for the long term and are interested in becoming notable rather than notorious.

So, who is your audience? Your readers and fans (actual or potential)? Your peers? Industry influencers? Prospective publishers, agents, editors, gatekeepers? Perhaps, if you write for children, it’s the parents of your readers. Perhaps you write for two different markets with very different readers. The reason for this question is to get you thinking about what your blog will be about, what it will look like, the tone of voice you will adopt, and so on.

3. What are you prepared to put into it? 

Sorry to sound harsh, but the vast majority of blogs are abandoned within the first year. Don’t let that be yours! You can blog for free, but there will be costs associated with it—some financial, but mostly in terms of your time and effort.

Do your research—check out other writers’ blogs, especially (but not exclusively) those in your genre or niche. Look at the top industry blogs and websites—the annual Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers is a great place to start. Not only will you draw inspiration from them, but by subscribing to other blogs you’re starting the process of connecting with the blogosphere. It’s never too soon to start commenting, sharing, and engaging with other bloggers. When your blog is up and running, it’s just as important to keep engaging with others as well as nurturing your own blog community.

4. What’s your blogging persona?

A blog is unmediated—it’s you talking directly to people—so it’s worth thinking about your “persona,” or the face you present to your blog readers and anyone else who may come across your blog. Here are some considerations:

  • Professional vs. Personal: Let’s say you are approaching blogging primarily as a business tool—for example, your goals might be to network with influential industry people, demonstrate your authority/ability/talent, or promote yourself to an audience of readers or potential readers. In this situation, you are presenting yourself and your work as a brand, and your blog will reflect that, both in how it looks and in the nature of its content. But this is a blog, not your author publicity page. Take advantage of that and inject your personality into it, too.
  • Transparency and Consistency: Will you talk about both your successes and your failures? Not everyone wants to lay themselves bare by mentioning rejections, spats, loss of motivation, or other negative aspects of their writing life. Others revel in it and find visitor numbers and comments increase when their blog posts are at their most raw and honest.

5. What will you name your blog? 

What will your blog be called? An obvious choice might be your name, writer name, or something that incorporates your name, such as “Seth’s Blog” or “Neil Gaiman’s Journal.”

You might prefer your blog’s name to say something about the content, or its purpose, so that it’s separate from your name. This could work well if it’s not your only blog, or if you’ve already got a website with your name associated with it and the blog is in addition to that, or if you are planning to have regular guest bloggers or contributors.

Your blog’s given name or title doesn’t necessarily have to be its domain name (the address that appears in the browser bar). You may choose to register your writer name as your domain name, then call your blog something different. As a rule, you should try to register both your writer name and your blog name (if different) as domain names, even if you’re not sure you will use them right away.

6. What blogging platform will you use? 

A blog platform refers to the software that powers a blog. You could think of it as the underlying construction, like a house—is it timber-framed or brick-built? Once the house is built, you may not be able to tell. Most blog platforms do pretty much the same job. But it’s worth understanding the key differences—the choices you make at this stage will affect what you can do with your blog further down the line, so it’s worth taking the time.

The most popular blogging platforms are WordPress and Blogger, and Blogging for Writers goes into both of these in depth. Do your research and make a decision based on your needs, comfort level, and personal preferences.


Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton is available here.

Rachel Randall is the managing editor for Writer’s Digest Books.

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19. 6 Tips for Writing Fiction Based on True Events

You are there. You see it. You’re a writer, so, of course, you want to write about it. Now what? Writing fiction springing from an actual event, maybe one of your own personal experiences, requires a finesse for your reader’s benefit, your friends’, your enemies, and yourself. There is a way to handle the truth because you’ll begin as if you are wearing kid gloves, but suddenly they will plump into boxing gloves, and before you know it, you are ready to deliver that punch right to your beloved, old auntie’s face.

216871LorieAnnGrover-hitGuest post by Lorie Ann Grover, author of Hit and co-founder of the influential site readergirlz, where she is a visible advocate for teen literacy and activism. In addition, she is the author of three acclaimed novels: Hold Me Tight, a VOYA pick; On Pointe, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year; and Loose Threads, a Booklist Top 10 Youth First Novel, and a 2003 Washington State Book Award Finalist.


1. Begin with the truth.

Truth is stranger than fiction, so there is certainly much to mine. Each of my contemporary novels sprang off the pages of my own life. Consider writing that first draft close to what happened, what you saw, and what you felt. Capture it.

2. Get permission.

Are others involved and do you want to stay close to the facts? If you know this is the case, run and get permission. Do your best to describe that this will be a work of fiction with strands of truth woven through it. Explain to those involved that they will see themselves reflected, but it will be as if they are standing before a curved mirror in an amusement fun house. You might offer assurance their story could be a great benefit to readers. If they are willing to have you share the essence of what happened to them, go forward and write.

However, if you think the final work will be far from the truth, get to writing first. If you aren’t sure and just the thought of asking permission is hindering your process, begin to write with the intention to either:

  • ask the involved parties in the future, knowing you may be denied permission to publish your work, or
  • be firm in your design to spin the story far away from the facts.

3. Take pause.

Whether you’ve written a first draft of the facts or are simmering on what truly happened in your mind, take a step back. Once the story is caught in your net, as a writer you have an opportunity to now ask: how could it be made better? What is the theme burning beneath it, and what can I do to feed the flames? Behind my novel, Hit, was the true story of my daughter’s best friend who had been struck by a vehicle in a crosswalk. But the writer in me begged the question: what if instead of a stranger hitting her it was someone she knew? And then I ramped up the tension in my version of the story and made that person a grad student teacher she was crushing on. (It did take two years and several drafts for this plot point to rise to mind.)

[Do you underline book titles? Underline them? Put book titles in quotes? Find out here.]

4. Let go.

Let the story run, bettering the facts or leaving them completely behind. This is the draft where you open your hand and let go. You are able to silence the voice saying, “That’s not what happened!” And you let your characters run. Let them run through their own blossoming story.

5. Fact can feel fake.

One caveat to be aware of is that not all facts are believable. The best, juiciest fact may not make it into your story because again, truth is stranger than fiction. When I wrote Hold Me Tight, I was not able to include that the man who molested me was soon afterwards in a car accident and paralyzed from the waist down… the waist down. My novel would have felt contrived and unbelievable had I included this. Be ready to lay those facts aside with a settled satisfaction that you know what truly happened.

6. Share the work’s completion news.

Finally, your draft is done and ready to be submitted. Consider letting the people involved in your story know you have completed your work. Even if you didn’t need to ask for permission to write the book, be kind and give those who inspired your story a chance to process the thought that you have written about the event. On occasion, I will share my text with those involved after the work sells, following copy-editing. It is a chance for them to wrestle through how I’ve changed what happened, and it gives them an opportunity to come to terms with the fact others will be reading the material. It helps your little, old auntie prepare herself for that punch.

Writing from personal life offers rich material. With a few cautions, permissions from yourself and sometimes others, you may write a story to be shared far beyond the few people who lived the moment. That can be rewarding to many readers. So, be brave. Write, and let your story run.

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Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter




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20. The Best Way to Make a Living as a Writer

Editor’s Note: The following content is provided to Writer’s Digest by a writing community partner. This content is sponsored by American Writers & Artists Inc. www.awaionline.com.

Ready To Get Published“You’re a good writer if you can write a story that can make people cry …

“You’re a better writer if your writing can make people laugh …

“But, if your writing can persuade people to take action — that’s when you know you can be a very wealthy writer.”

Mark Morgan Ford (formerly known under his pen name Michael Masterson) – a Master Copywriter who has mentored hundreds of up-and-coming writers – said those words some years ago – and they’re still true today …

If you can effectively use words to persuade another to act, you stand to make a lot of money.

The secret … is direct-response copywriting.

And while in this blog I talk about lots of ways to make a living as a writer, when it comes down to it, most well paid writing opportunities are just variations of copywriting.

The Truth About Copywriting

Simply put, copywriters write words – in the form of advertisements and promotional materials – to persuade people to take action.

That action might be to support a cause, read a special report, buy a product, request some more information, and so on.

Copywriting can be found everywhere…

  • Letters and advertisements you get in the mail.
  • Company websites including home pages, landing pages, blog posts, and more.
  • Marketing emails sent to potential customers.
  • Newsletters, magazines and special reports.
  • The text on brochures, billboards, and sometimes, even business cards.

You see the writing of copywriters every day. And today I want to show you how copywriting may very well be your best choice for achieving what we call the writer’s life …

Making a Living As a Writer?

You might think you need to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling to make a living as a writer, but …

Nothing could be further from the truth!

In fact, many copywriters make a very good living working full-time. Others work just part-time, and still earn a full-time income. So, yes, the compensation can be quite good … and depending on how much you work and the types of projects you land, a six-figure income is definitely attainable (if that’s your goal).

Here are a few stories from the writers I’ve worked with:

  • There’s Krista Jones, who used copywriting to replace her income from an 18-year engineering career … she said, “I feel like I’m finally leading the life I was meant to live. I can’t thank you enough!
  • There’s copywriter, Joshua Boswell, who says, “I know that at almost any given time I can pick up assignments worth $3,000, $4,000, $10,000, $20,000 or more and that I don’t have to sacrifice one minute of family time to successfully complete these assignments.”
  • And, there’s Penny Thomas, who was let go from her job due to downsizing and turned to copywriting instead. Penny says it really hit her that she was living “the writer’s life” when she was watching a neighbor digging his car out to drive to work after a snowstorm – and all she had to do was walk to her home office and turn on her computer.
  • There’s also copywriter, Cindy Cyr, who says, “I don’t have to wear pantyhose, can work barefoot, and I get to take naps whenever I want. I eat better. Drive my car less (A LOT less), see my friends and family more, and never worry about running out of vacation time.”

And of course, there’s Pat McCord, a once struggling novelist who learned to support herself and her creative passion by becoming a copywriter. (You may have heard from Pat if you’ve been with Writer’s Digest for a while … we sometimes share her story and a letter she wrote about our copywriting program.)

I could keep going because I actually have hundreds of stories like these. But, I’ll move on so we can get to the real point of today’s blog …

Why Copywriters Make So Much

I’ve often said, “If you can write ‘copy’ that persuades, there isn’t a business in the world that won’t beat a path to your door to get you to work your magic for them.”

That’s not going to change any time soon.

Consider this: As a copywriter, you can realistically write a promotion in a week. Let’s say you charge $5,000 for your service. Let’s also say your promotion brings in $100,000 for the company who hired you …

There’s no downside. Everyone is happy – you got paid, the client made money – and, because you did well, they’re likely to hire you again and again.

Now, if you’re just getting started, that figure might seem like a lot. But, experienced writers – those with just a few successful projects – can charge between $5,000 and $10,000 (and more) per sales promotion.

Even if you only write one promotion per month, you could easily bring in $60,000+ (working just part time)! And that doesn’t even take into consideration any royalties that are very common with direct-response copywriting …

Typical rates are around 2-3% of sales, but I’ve seen them go as high as 10%. And because companies will mail your letters again and again, you could continue to get paid on one single letter for years and years.

What It Takes to Succeed

People often think they need a lot of qualifications to become a copywriter. But, the truth is, you can learn copywriting just as easily as you could learn any other type of writing.

Also, you don’t need a special education to succeed in this industry. There are successful copywriters with college degrees and some who didn’t finish high school.

Age … experience … location … none of that matters …

Some copywriters are only 18 and some are retired. Some copywriters are stay-at-home moms and some left six-figure corporate jobs.

The only thing you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Everything else can be learned.

How to Get Started Now

While you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a copywriter, you do need someone to show you the ropes.

That’s why American Writers and Artists Inc. created the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

All the copywriters I’ve met—like the ones mentioned above—started their successful freelance copywriting careers by taking this program. Its step-by-step instructions prove anyone can quickly go from asking “What is copywriting?” to learning how to be a freelance copywriter.

Of course, I’m partial to it because I work at AWAI, know the program inside and out, and have personally met and worked with hundreds of people who started successful freelance copywriting careers by taking it.

But if you’re new to the idea of copywriting, and would like the opportunity to learn some basic copywriting techniques for free, I recommend you check out our report, Copywriting 101: An Introduction to Turning Your Writing Passion Into a High-Paying Career.

Along with giving you an inside look at the life of a copywriter, you’ll learn a few copywriting principles that you can put to work for you right away.

Just remember, no matter how you get started, the fact remains: You don’t need to get a degree or pay a lot of money for expensive training to become a successful freelance copywriter.

If you can write a simple e-mail to a friend, and you like to share ideas with other people… you have all the qualifications you need to become a successful freelance copywriter.

rebecca_matter-150And if you were to ask me the best way to make a living as a writer …

I would say with 100% certainty – copywriting.

No other opportunity offers writers more variety, more freedom, or more income potential. And it’s the one thing I recommend every writer consider when looking to make a living.

To your success,

P.S. If you have any questions for me, feel free to connect with me on Facebook, or reach out to me any time through my website at rebeccamatter.com.



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21. Help for Goodreads Authors

In the February 2015 Writer’s Digest feature article, “Get in Good With Goodreads,” fan favorite Goodreads Author Michael J. Sullivan shows you how to make the most of this popular online reader hub. For authors needing even more detailed technical assistance setting up their profiles, he’s created a free PDF download.

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22. Your Website Made Easy

In the February 2015 Writer’s Digest, digital media expert Jane Friedman lays out the best website options for different writers and their needs in “Your Author Website 101.” If you choose the self-hosted route, don’t miss her free 10-minute video tutorial.

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23. New Literary Agent Alert: Cynthia Kane of Capital Talent Agency

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Cynthia Kane of Capital Talent Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


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About Cynthia: “I’ve been involved in the publishing industry for more than ten years. I have worked as a Development Editor for different publishing houses and individual authors and have seen more than 100 titles to market. I worked with Michael Gross, New York Times best-selling author, as a researcher on 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building and Rogues Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. I have also written for national and international publications and have served as a writing instructor at the Writopia Lab in Washington, DC, and have run several writing workshops at public libraries in the area and Politics & Prose Bookstore. I received my B.A. in Literature from Bard College and M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College.

(Learn how to start your novel strong.)

“The new literary division of Capital Talent Agency is a wonderful home for authors who are looking for a supportive and hands-on agency. We want nothing more than to see our authors achieve their dreams, and we do everything we can to make that happen.”

She is seeking: young adult, children’s, nonfiction, memoir, commercial fiction (but no science fiction or fantasy).

How to contact: “Submissions should be sent to literary.submissions [at] capitaltalentagency.com. We accept submissions only by e-mail. We do not accept queries via postal mail or fax. For fiction and nonfiction submissions, send a query letter in the body of your e-mail. Attachments will not be opened. Please note that while we consider each query seriously, we are unable to respond to all of them. We endeavor to respond within six weeks to projects that interest us.”

(Are you writing middle grade, edgy paranormal, women’s fiction or sci-fi? Read about agents seeking your query.)


2015-GLA-smallThe biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

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craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
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find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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24. Your 2015 New Year’s Resolution Top 10 List

Make a New Year’s resolution list that includes 10 goals. They don’t all have to be writing-related, but at least 3 of them do. Then refer to this post often this year and update it as you complete your goals.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.


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25. 50 Articles on Writing to Help You in 2015

Over the past year I posted articles on this blog that covered everything—from grammar to writing better characters to getting published and more. Here’s a cheat sheet linking to what I consider the 50 best articles that can help you reach your writing goals. My goal is to help you move your writing career forward, and, by making this easy-to-reference guide, you’ll have a chance to bookmark it and have a one-stop place to help you have a successful year of writing.

Here’s to your best year of writing! ~Brian

8 Articles on Starting Your Novel

4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel

7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line For Your Novel

Important Writing Lessons From First-Time Novelists

7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story

The Keys to Good Science Fiction & Fantasy Storytelling

Writing Dystopian Fiction: 7 Tips

How to Destroy Your Initial Idea (& Make Your Story Better)

How to Harness Creativity to Empower Your Writing

9 Articles on Structure, Plot and Character

The 7 Tools of Dialogue

The 5 Essential Story Ingredients

The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel

Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters

Write Better: 3 Ways To Introduce Your Main Character

3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense

When Flaws Go Too Far: Avoiding Unlikeable Characters

5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters (& Stories) Better

5 Articles on Nonfiction Writing

25 Tips To Make You a Better Nonfiction Writer

5 Lessons I Learned From Writing A Memoir

8 Ways to Prepare to Write Your Nonfiction Book in a Month

Memoir or Novel? 8 Issues to Think About Before Writing Your Own Story

9 Ways to Crack Into Major Markets With Personal Essays

2 Articles About Grammar

Alright vs. All Right

Are Subjects Joined by “And” Singular or Plural? – Grammar Rules

6 Answers to Frequently Asked Publishing Questions

How Long Until You Can Follow Up on Query Letters?

Do You Have What Publishers Really Want?

How Book Advances Work – A Simple Explanation for Writers

What Writing Expenses Are Tax Deductible?

What Are the Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript?

Will Publishers Buy a 200,000-Word Novel?

5 Articles on Freelance and Copywriting

What Magazine Editors Want (& Don’t Want)

The Secret To Writing Stronger Feature Articles

Copywriting: A Crash Course for Writers Looking to Break In

Is a Freelancing Career in Writing Feasible?

8 Strategies to Build Your Freelance Writing Career

4 Articles on Finding an Agent

How to Write the Perfect Query Letter

8 Unexpected Lessons From Working with a Literary Agent

5 Things Writers Should Ask Potential Agents

How to Be a Writer Literary Agents Want

3 Articles on Publishing

The Pros and Cons of Publishing With a Small Publisher

How to Sell Your Picture Book

Is It My Writing or Is It My Editor?

5 Articles on Finishing Your Novel (and Other Advice)

How to Finish That Novel

6 Lessons Hemingway (& Others) Can Teach Us About Being a Writer

8 Reasons Every Book Needs a Business Plan to Achieve Success

3 Writing Tips from Brat-Pack Star-Turned-Writer Andrew McCarthy

5 Writing Lessons Inspired by Famous Writers

3 Articles on After the Book is Finished

6 Things to Keep in Mind When Gathering Testimonials/Book Blurbs

How to Make the Most of Any Writing Conference

9 Steps to an Effective Virtual Book Tour



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