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This concept of trying hard immediately resonated with me as the owner of a business that helps writers. I’m always getting emails from writers who tell me they’re having trouble making it work even though they’re trying really hard, really-really. But when I ask them what they actually did this week towards building their writing business, they draw a blank.
Naomi pointed out that you’re only trying hard in the moment, well, when you are physically trying. You’re not trying hard when you think about doing something, or worry about it, or plan it, or contemplate it. If you were to watch someone on a screen when they’re trying hard, you would know that’s what they’re doing. There would be visual clues that would make you say, “Wow, they’re really working hard.”
For example, if you want to get articles published in magazines or on blogs, “trying hard” means actively, physically being in the act of generating ideas, writing pitches, editing pitches, and sending pitches. It doesn’t mean reading books about writing, or taking courses on writing, or planning your writing schedule for next week, or going to therapy to rid you of your deep-seated fear of rejection. It means doing those activities that will get you published in magazines (or wherever you want to be published), and trying your very best at them.
How many of us really try our very best…at anything? How many of us truly work hard?
Sure, we SAY we’re trying hard, but that’s because we’re expending so much mental effort in doing everything BUT the thing that will get results, that it feels like hard work. It exhausts our brains!
But the only way to get actual results — money, assignments, clips, bylines, fans — is to do actual work.
What Does Working Hard Look Like?
It may be difficult to recognize what trying hard looks like, since we’re so used to creating mental smoke and calling it “work.” So let’s do a thought experiment and imagine what working hard as a writer would look like in each of these areas:
If you’re trying to come up with an idea for an article or blog post, what would it look like if you were working super hard? What would you PHYSICALLY be doing? If someone were watching you on a screen, what would they see that proves to them that you’re really trying? Would you have a stack of magazines nearby, and be scribbling furiously into a notebook? How is this different from the way you usually look when you need to come up with an idea?
If you want to break into your dream publication, how would it look if you worked really hard at it? Where would you be, and what would you PHYSICALLY be doing? (And no, thinking doesn’t count.) Maybe you’d be pre-interviewing sources for a query, or calling editorial offices to get an editor’s contact info, or actually stringing words together to complete a query or letter of introduction. How is this different from the way things usually look when you’re trying to crack a juicy market?
When you have an assignment to write an article or blog post (yay!), what would trying hard look like? Would you be spending more time tweaking your word choices to make sure the cadence of your writing is just right? Would you be on the phone calling source after source until you get the interviews you need? Would you be transcribing interviews? How is this different from the way you usually look when you’re working on an assignment?
If you’re building your writing business, what would THAT look like if you were trying really hard? Not staring off into space planning what you’ll do with your future riches, or telling yourself you really, really need to write a business plan, or beating yourself up because once again didn’t get around to writing — but actively trying hard to build your business. How is this different from the way it usually looks when you’re building your business?
A Mantra and the Screen of Reality
For the last several days, I’ve adopted the mantra “Work hard.” Not just for my business, but in every aspect of my life. When I’m working out I tell myself, “Work hard.” When I pass a kitchen counter that’s piled with dishes destined for the dishwasher, and I’m tempted to just keep walking, I think, “Work hard.” As I’m critiquing ideas and queries in the forums of Pitch Clinic class, and am ready to throw in the towel for the day, I remind myself, “Work hard.”
I find that with this mantra, I can eke out a few more reps, I can keep my house and life in order, I can get a lot of work done.
What if you adopted this mantra for yourself, or one like:
“Always do your best.”
“Could I be doing something better right now?”
“What would it look like if I were trying really hard right now?”
“Am I trying my hardest…really?”
Try it…and let me know how it goes! I’d love to create a post out of the stories I get from writers who push themselves, try really hard, and see what happens. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Saturday I attended a signing event, and I saw some things that really bothered me as an author. Several of the authors in attendance left early due to poor sales. Now it was a gorgeous Saturday with sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. Plus we were competing with Comic Con being held in this area for the first time ever. So yes, attendance at the event wasn't great. However, I don't blame that on why these authors weren't selling. I saw some things I want to warn you all against.
Lack of displays You don't have to be Martha Stewart to make your table of books look nice. But I saw authors literally throw copies of books on the uncovered fold-out tables. I'm talking not even in a pile. Just tossed. Others stacked their books and kept nothing but the side of the white pages facing the people walking into the room. The problem with this is it looks like the author just doesn't care. If you don't have a book stand, you can still prop a book up in front of the stack so people have something to look at other than a spine or white edges. And you can purchase a cheap table cloth to cover the ugly folding table. Mine cost me $1.99. I also like to print out the cover of my upcoming or newest release and display it as a poster or in a picture frame. It's simple, inexpensive, and looks nice.
Not being accessible or open to interaction Some authors brought their laptops and worked. Now, I get that people are busy. I definitely am too, but nothing says "Don't bother me" like hiding behind a computer or even your phone. You should want to interact with readers and engage them in conversation. Closing yourself off from them isn't going to make you any sales or potential fans.
Hiding behind a table I'm short, so sitting behind a table means I get lost behind my displays. But even if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't sit behind a table. I stand (unless I'm signing a book—I sit then because I can't write legibly while standing). And I'm either on the side of my table or in front of it. Why? Because I want to talk to people as they pass by. I want to be someone that people see as friendly and approachable. And in a crowded room with other people talking, it's too difficult to talk across a table.
Now I'm not claiming to be an expert by any means, but even with low attendance, I sold well at this event. And even if I didn't, I wouldn't have left early because I believe if you commit to an event, you see it through. Yeah, there will be times when you only sell a few copies or even none. But we are professionals, and professionals don't leave when things don't go their way.
So please, if you are going to an event, go with the right attitude. If you show that you want to be there and engage in conversations with others, you'll have a lot more success as far as reaching potential readers and connecting with other authors.
Anyone who has worked with me knows that I take a pretty hard line when it comes to telling in dialogue tags. Examples are:
“I’m so excited!” she said exuberantly.
“That’s wonderful.” Coldness radiated from his voice.
Nothing bums me out more than reading scenework where the writer has decided to take all the fun out of it on the reader’s behalf. Sometimes I call it “hand-holding,” sometimes I call it “overexplaining,” sometimes I just cross it out.
The reason behind my aversion is that writers who do this are taking something essential away from the reader. The star of dialogue is the dialogue itself. Holding the reader’s hand through each snippet of dialogue says to me that you don’t quite trust yourself to communicate the scene in a way that the reader gets it.
Scene is one of the magic places in a manuscript where characters can be on display, speaking to one another, acting toward one another, and otherwise demonstrating themselves and their relationships. It’s the ultimate voyeur’s paradise (calling the reader a voyeur here). Whenever you tell, instead of show, you take away the reader’s power to interpret and appreciate character.
The first example, above, is there because it’s redundant. You would not believe how many writers do this. If a character says “I’m so excited!” then it can stand alone, with no further explanation. I’d be a wealthy woman if I had $5 for every time I saw:
“I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“Yes,” he agreed.
The second example is more subtle. Your character is saying one thing, but there’s an undercurrent of tension and the suggestion that they mean something else. Delicious! Instead of describing tone of voice (sneaky telling), maybe match up the dialogue with action to color it:
“That’s wonderful.” He crossed his arms.
Or, maybe even better yet, leave it up to reader or POV character interpretation:
“Oh yeah? You think so?” The last time he’d used that descriptor, he was watching a snake choking the life out of a mongoose.
Let the character react, which will help guide reader feelings. Dialogue tags exist to communicate information. The two biggest things they should clarify are:
Who is speaking?
Is there anything going on in narration or action that’s not implied in the dialogue?
But too many tags tell about emotions, tone of voice, and tension when those are better uncovered by the reader for lasting character and relationship understanding. Next time you’re working on a scene and you want to try something hard, take out ALL of your dialogue tags and see how it reads. If it’s totally confusing, layer back 25% of what you had before and see if you can make it work.
If you’re one of those writers addicted to dialogue tags, especially in scenes with only two characters, where you theoretically don’t even need them, I bet this will be a revelatory reminder that you’re explaining too much.
…for one reader who thought I was selling writers a false bill of goods by suggesting they could possibly earn that much.
He was so upset that he started trolling the reviews on Diana Burrell’s and my e-books, trying to bait writers who left positive reviews by posting inflammatory comments.
In one of those comments, he wrote something like, “By Linda’s reasoning, you should be able to make six figures working 10 hours per week.” He said this as if it was clearly in the realm of the ridiculous.
Last year I earned six figures working an average of 10 hours per week. (Some weeks I worked more, some less. Some I worked a ton, some I didn’t work at all.) 2014 was a banner year for me. In previous years, I’ve earned anywhere from $70-90,000 working those same hours. (And you have to remember that not all working hours are billable writing hours.)
When I saw this disconnect between the troll’s belief and the reality, I realized this is a HUGE problem for freelance writers (and people in general). Everyone feels as if their own experiences are the rule. If THEY can’t imagine themselves earning super well, then they believe that NO ONE can do it.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
The Two Kinds of Writers
Writers are split into two camps:
On one side, we have the writers who see someone who says they’re doing great, and they become angry. “That can’t be true! They’re scamming us! It’s impossible! No one makes THAT much writing! Prove it!” And at the same time they’re crying foul, they’re a little jealous.
On the other side, we have writers who see people doing well and are INSPIRED. They hear another writer is earning six figures and they become determined to do it themselves.
Not only that, but the writers in this camp are happy for the freelancers who’re out there kicking ass. They know writing is not a zero-sum game and one writer’s success doesn’t take away from THEIR chances. In fact, it makes their chances even greater: A writer who’s doing well proves it can be done, and that’s a good thing.
Guess which writer is going to be more successful — the one who feels it’s impossible to do amazingly well, or the one who’s inspired by other freelancers’ successes to work harder and achieve more?
If you believe it’s impossible to make a good living as a freelance writer, then you almost certainly are not going to earn well. That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophesy. And it’s also flat-out wrong. For every writer who grouses that it’s impossible to earn well, there are dozens of writers who are making it a reality.
But if you see someone doing what you thought was impossible and use it as motivation, you can do anything.
“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.”
Write, Don’t Gripe
I have a writer friend who makes three times what I do. Hearing that just makes me want to work harder. Another friend — who had never written anything before — wrote his first novel, pitched it to an agent, and just received an almost-6-figure advance from a major publisher. YES!
Many writers would say these people are lying. They would demand to see the novelist’s contract, or the freelancer’s tax forms. And they would work themselves into a lather trying to prove these feats are impossible — while the writers in question are laughing all the way to the bank.
Which writer do you want to be? The one who believes making a good living writing is impossible? Or the one who shows the world it IS possible?
It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Anne Bustard today, in celebration of the release of her new Middle Grade book, which comes out today. Anne, a part of Egmont’s Last List, has graciously agreed to indulge my questions about her writing process with her brilliant answers. So without further ado, welcome, Anne!
Set in 1960 Hawaii, Anywhere But Paradise is the story of reluctant seventh-grade newcomer Peggy Sue Bennett, who is baffled by local customs, worried about her quarantined cat and targeted by a school bully because she is haole, white. At first, Peggy Sue would rather be anywhere—anywhere but paradise. But a new friend, hula lessons, the beauty of the islands and more, help Peggy Sue find her way. This is a story about fear and guilt. About hope and home. About aloha, love.
I’ve read that Anywhere But Paradise was inspired by your growing up in Hawaii. Can you tell us more about that? Did you do a lot of research on Hawaii in 1960 or mostly rely on your personal experiences?
I was born in Honolulu, moved away when I was a toddler and returned to paradise after fifth grade. I have wonderful memories of hiking to waterfalls with my cousins, aunt and uncle, eating lilikoi (passion fruit) shave ice on the bench outside the Matsumoto storefront on the North Shore, stringing lei from plumeria flowers from our yard and listening to the ocean.
I did not live in the islands in 1960. But even if I had, research would still have been a gigantic part of my process. I couldn’t have written the story without delving deeper and double-triple checking details. I love research, so this part of the writing process was particularly fun! I needed to verify the animal quarantine requirements, when the night-blooming cereus flowered, stories about Madame Pele and dozens of other facets of the novel. I did a lot on my own, but so, so many generous people helped me along the way. I am exceedingly grateful.
Small moments of my personal experience flavor the narrative. I know what it’s like to hear a tsumani warning siren wail and evacuate to higher ground, to be verbally threatened by a bully (though unlike Peggy Sue, it happened to me only once) and to be enchanted by the beauty and rhythms of the islands.
Writing about a character’s problems can unearth a ton of old ghosts of our own. How did you go about navigating your past and finding the inspiration for the character of Peggy Sue? Did you ever find her problems difficult to confront due to them being too close to home?
All writers draw upon some portion of ourselves, no matter how small. Part of my own journey was to recognize that I was holding back. In a pivotal conversation with the wonderful children’s and YA writer, Janet Fox, it occurred to me that Hawaii was the antagonist of the story. I love Hawaii. It is my home. I told Janet that I did not want it to be the antagonist.
“I know,” she said in a soft voice. “But in the end,” Janet said brightly, “Hawaii isn’t the antagonist.”
True. But. I realized not only had I been protecting Peggy Sue, I’d been protecting Hawaii. In the end, both would have to stand up for themselves.
What advice would you give to a writer who is struggling to separate their reality from their fictional character? How can we protect ourselves emotionally if a character reminds us too much of ourselves?
You are not your character. But there may be parts of her that resonate with you.
So my answer may surprise you—don’t separate. This is where you will find the gold.
It’s way scary.
It took me years to get to the point where I could do this. Years.
What was the most useful lesson you learned while writing this book? If you could go back and talk to the you who is about to begin writing, how would you warn or arm her against the difficulties ahead?
My big takeaway? Go there emotionally.
Breathe. Trust the process. It’s going to take as long as it takes. It’s all about revision, going deeper. About finding the heart of the story. About discovering what your characters really want.
Tim Wynne-Jones says, “The answers are in your writing.” He posits that we give ourselves clues to unlocking the mysteries of our own work. It’s our job to look carefully, to look differently, until we discover them.
Amen to that, Anne. Thank you for your wonderfully insightful answers!
To celebrate the release of Anywhere But Paradise, we are giving away a signed copy to a lucky winner! Enter the draw through the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win this beautifully written book!
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. She is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont Publishing) is out on March 31, 2015. She lives in Austin, Texas.
I’ve written before about generic words that don’t add much in the way of specific emotions. Now I’m on to generic descriptions that don’t add anything to scene. For example:
The teenagers congregated at the store, listening to music on their devices. They wore various outfits, featuring the most popular brands.
I’d imagine this is the type of sentence that would appear in a textbook for an alien about humans. They’d have a lot of knowledge about us, but because they’re outsiders, they’d speak more in generalities than specifics…getting close to an accurate depiction, but without any of the detail that makes the knowledge realistic or engrossing.
The issue with this type of generic description is that the reader will already have a vague imagine their minds. As soon as you say “shopping mall,” the reader paints a place-holder picture that’s very much like my example sentences.
Your job as a writer, then, is to take that vague image and embellish it with detail that’s specific to your world, your characters, and your story. The purpose of description is to take the generic and sharpen the image. So a reasonable replacement for the example would be:
They headed to the shoe store so Nikki could get another hot pink pair of kicks to match her screaming neon yellow yoga pants. Josh cranked his Shuffle. Whatever song came next would be better than the Taylor Swift blaring from the speakers.
Now, I’ve written about specific references in a manuscript (like the Taylor Swift line), but I decided to do that here just because I’m targeting vagueness. I hope that you can see how painting a more specific scene, with some emotional overtones, clarifies the scene more than simply inserting arbitrary-seeming narration.
“Art washes away from the soul the dusts of everyday life” – Pablo Picasso
Believe it or not making art for your own enjoyment actually has its benefits to both your mind and body. We often spend our weeks rushing around focusing on our everyday commitments whether its your job, looking after kids, school or ticking off daily errands, that we never really get the chance to relax.
When you’re overwhelmed with the stresses of a busy lifestyle, actually embracing your creativity can actually reduce anxieties and stresses to clear your mind making you feel better. So art itself is extremely theraputic and to fill you in abit more as to why doodling, colouring or painting should become apart of your weekly schedule here’s 3 reasons why art is good for you!
1. Helps you to slow down- During the week we’re all on the go and so being a little creative whether it’s drawing, colouring, painting or snapping a photo with your camera actually helps you to physically and mentally slow down. Rushing around doesn’t do our bodies internally any good and so making time to do something artistic that you enjoy is healthy to both your body and mind.
2. Youembrace a side of yourself you might not usually -Not all of us work a creative job but this doesn’t mean if you’re an accountant for example you can get inky and doodle away! You may even surprise yourself with the things you create and through that feel a sense of achievement in the things you make which builds up your positivity in mind.
3. Self expressionandletting out your emotions – Much like music and drama making art in whichever form, helps you to express a side of yourself you might find hard to do otherwise. Like musicians who infuse emotion into the music they write, you can place emotions into the art pieces you make. In turn this helps you to acknowledge your inner feelings and let out things you might not find the words to say which you are can through a brush or ink for example.
Featured illustration is by Oana Befort and you can find out more about her work here.
Stuck writing for the content mills and struggling to pay your bills? Yeah, you and a TON of other writers!
Content mill owners and misinformed writers have been spreading the word that if you want to make a living as a freelance writer, you need to start out by writing for cheap-o content mills, bidding sites, and revenue share sites that pay you pennies for your hard work.
And even worse, after spouting this lame advice, they offer no tips on moving on up out of the mills to start earning some REAL money as a freelance writer! So too many writers keep slaving away at the mills for $5 per article, and they burn out before they can rack up a decent amount of pay.
Well, I’m here to change that. One of my passions is helping writers earn a decent living, so I scoured the web for 50 posts that will help you escape the content mills — from motivational posts to basic articles on how to break into more lucrative forms of writing.
Not Convinced You Want to Leave the Mills?
Lots of writers are afraid that if they leave the content mills, they’ll be left with nothing at all — and even $5 per article is better than that, right?
Not so. I rounded up a bunch of posts that will convince you to kick the mills once and for all. They show why content mills aren’t a valid “step up” to real freelancing, how the numbers don’t add up, and more.
A cautionary take about undervaluing yourself as a businessperson…plus great stories about clients who complained about spending $250 on one of his products, only to go out and blow $2,500 on a vacation or $30,000 on a new car. You think you can’t command high rates? This post will make you think again.
A telling quote from this enlightening post: “‘I was completely aware that I was writing crap,’ she said. ‘I was like, I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’ […] ‘Never trust anything you read on eHow.com, she said, referring to one of Demand Media’s high-traffic websites, on which most of her clips appeared.” Be sure to read the comments!
Michelle writes, “Still…work hard on queries and send them out daily on the off-chance of getting a response months from now, or write the toilet vent piece for a guaranteed, immediate $15? I went the mill route. Here’s why I shouldn’t have.”
Not only do content mills not give you the experience you need to become a better — and better paid — writer, but the whole content mill model is at risk of dying. Carol offers these and more reasons why you should steer clear of content mills.
One notable “con” of writing for the mills: “It is a plain, hard truth that you can’t use a lot of your content mill experiences to sell yourself to quality sites once you’re ready. It doesn’t matter how well written the pieces are, the sites themselves have a slight smear on them within the writing community.”
Think everyone’s doing better than you, and it makes you want to just give up and stick with the mills? Love this quote: “People lie. Writers are professional liars. I’ve listened to keynotes from writers and known they weren’t telling the truth. I’ve seen ‘deals’ posted in Publishers Marketplace and known the agent was grossly exaggerating the sale. No one blogs about ‘my career has gone down the crapper.’ Nope. People talk about good things. So don’t let it discourage you when everyone seems to be doing better than you.”
Here are all the intangibles you need to make a living writing, from love to confidence to support. But don’t be fooled — this post goes beyond touchy-feely sentiments to share some key real-world insights.
Here’s how bestselling author went from writer to successful author-entrepreneur. My favorite line from this post: “Stop thinking like needy artists or freelancers living hand to mouth, and start thinking and acting like creative entrepreneurs.”
A sample of the “why didn’t I think of that?” advice you’ll find in this post: “Look where others aren’t–right at the doorsteps of the companies and people you want to work with. Suppose you write about organic gardening. What associations cover that industry? Who are the experts? The PR firms? What publications support the growers, suppliers, manufacturers, or organic landscapers? Go to the sources themselves with your pitch. Do your homework, write your introductory letter, and follow up in a few weeks.”
Are you one of those aspiring writers who says, “I’ll get started as soon as I determine my niche/decide on a business name/learn this fancy word processing program”? Carol tells you how and why you need to just take action NOW.
Spoiler alert: Use your job and educational background to score gigs, even if these aren’t the topics you’re passionate about right now.
Yeah, But How Do I Actually GET These Lucrative Writing Assignments?
Somehow I knew you would ask that. So I gathered posts that outline the very basics on breaking into several different kinds of writing that can pay well. If one type calls out to you, you can do some Google-fu to dig deeper into the details.
First, a couple posts that outline all your options for writing niches that are worth pursuing:
From ad copy to write papers, this list offers 105 ways for writers to make money, well, writing. My fave quote: “If you aren’t sure where to start, or if you’re worried that there aren’t enough potential writing gigs to go around, consider this: Just about everything involves a writer in some way.”
And now, the newbie guides to breaking into better writing niches:
Freelance copywriters can earn $50, $100, and more per hour for writing ad copy, brochures, newsletters, product descriptions, and more.
Being a successful copywriter is about a LOT more than knowing how to write well. Brian discusses how to differentiate yourself from all the other copywriters out there.
Online Writing 101
Basically any writing for an online market counts here: Web copy, online newsletters, articles, and other types of writing that appear on the web. Pay varies widely, but bigger businesses tend to pay more moolah.
Brian leaves nothing out of this informative post — from websites that list paying freelance jobs to tips on the craft of writing for the web.
Content Marketing 101
Content marketing is writing that’s meant to entertain and educate with an eye to garnering readers, loyalty, and sales — and can include blog posts, e-mail newsletters, and more. Pay varies, but many businesses are learning it’s worth it to pay more for good content.
Ed interviews content marketer extraordinaire Joe Pulizzi (does that name sound familiar? to get the scoop on what content marketing is and why it’s a good market for freelance writers.
Magazine Writing 101
This is MY baby, and let me tell you: Some magazines pay zilch, while top markets can pay $2 per word and up. I’ve actually been paid well over $2,500 for a single article for a newsstand magazine. Other magazine markets that pay include trade publications, custom publications, and online magazines. If you’re interested in breaking into this market, you may want to check out Carol Tice’s and my upcoming Pitch Clinic class. We show you how to write a killer query or letter of introduction, and we two magazine editors on staff to critique your homework!
Allena has some great tips on which editors to pitch and how to flatter your way to success as a magazine writer.
Want write blog posts for clients? Lots of businesses are realizing the value of maintaining an interesting updated blog, and they’re looking for writers who can make it happen. Pay varies, but $50-$75 per post is common, and you typically don’t have to do all the research and interviewing you’d do for a magazine article. You can also earn money from your own blog through selling products, running ads, and doing affiliate marketing.
Lots of advice for the blogging newbie. One great tip: “Once you’ve got some subscribers (a couple hundred would be awesome), don’t submit your stuff to the social media — let your readers do it for you. And they will, if the article is worthy. If it’s not worthy, you don’t want to submit it anyway. The effect of a popular article — or more accurately, a few popular articles — is big, in terms of becoming a freelancer. It gets you noticed by other blogs, and they’re your real market.”
Self-Publishing E-books 101
Self-publishing is tough to earn a lot from, but even so it beats the hell out of the content mills. You own your content and can sell it wherever and however you like, and online booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble make the selling process simple. My Amazon titles earn me a few thou in royalties every year.
This podcasts addresses such newbie questions as: Should I start a blog? What should I blog about? Should I write a full novel or focus on shorter books? Should I break in with a series or release a standalone title first?
JA Konrath makes a living from self publishing, and in this post he gives an overview of what it takes — including a Q&A of common newbie questions and a pro/con list for traditional vs. self publishing.
Ghostwriters can make a mint penning books, articles, and blog posts under their clients’ names. I’ve ghostwritten a couple of small Chicken Soup books that paid $5,000 each, and know from experience that series like Idiot’s Guides and Dummies books (though you’re technically a “co-author,” not strictly a ghostwriter, because your name appears under the subject matter expert’s name on the cover) can pay $10,000 and up.
The authors interview Dean Zatkowsky , who averages $150 per hour for ghostwriting. Lots of great info on what to expect if you want to get into this field.
And that’s 44 posts to help you break out of the content mills, say buh-bye to writing for peanuts, and make a good living as a freelance writer. If you enjoyed this post, please share with all your writer friends via email, on Twitter, and on Facebook!
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. In my work with editorial clients, I often see two types of stories. This can extend to the offerings on the shelves. Sometimes there are stories about making fate, and sometimes there are stories about following it. Both are valid and interesting, but there are unique considerations to each.
What is your protagonist setting out to do in the story? Is their future an open book or are they bound by some sort of mechanism to a specific outcome?
In the example of “making fate,” I’d say that your protagonist has something that they absolutely, positively want (objective) and they set out to get it. They are more active throughout, and they drive the events of the story by pursuing whatever it is. They are the tip of the arrow, and the plot follows from them. They will encounter obstacles, certainly, and they will be frustrated in their pursuits, but if I look on the page, I will see someone who is spearheading the story. The character leads the plot, more or less, with usually some wrenches thrown into the mix.
In the example of “following fate,” I’d say you’re writing about a character who may or may not be in charge of dictating where the story is headed. One very common version of this is the “Chosen One” or “prophecy” story style, where the protagonist has something they’re bound to do, whether they like it or not. This is usually sprung upon them at a very inopportune time in their lives, and has dire consequences if they reject the fate or fail at their mission. In this case, the protagonist isn’t as much the leader of their destiny as they are a follower, and in stories like this, the plot leads the character’s development instead of the other way around.
Both story types are valid. But they have a lot to learn from one another. I think that, in the long run, a strong character has more potential than the one that’s simply following orders, training, learning their mission from a dusty piece of parchment or oracle, etc. etc. etc. So when there’s a “Chosen One” plot on my desk, I suggest that the writer find some agency for the character and let them lead certain events, rather than spend the bulk of the plot being groomed by others to fulfill a prophecy.
If you’re worried that this might be describing your plot, here’s a previous post on how to make the character more active, someone who manages to steer, regardless of their circumstances. And take heart, though this story type has the potential to lie flat on the page, and I see it a lot in aspiring manuscripts, two of the most famous heroes in children’s literature have started in this situation. Katniss in The Hunger Games and a little wizard named Harry both had their destinies planned. Katniss was to die as a Tribute in the Hunger Games, and Harry had the double pleasure of first facing the destiny of being forced into an ordinary Muggle life, then being forced into a very extraordinary wizard’s life. While he does end up filling his extraordinary wizard shoes (the prophecy of the Boy Who Lived comes true), he does it in his own way.
While I don’t often see this issue, a “making fate” character can run into trouble as well. When these stories go south, it’s because they can be all personal conflict (internal) without too much plot tension (external), because that decision-making protagonist tends to be the end-all and be-all within a story.
What’s the conclusion to this line of thought? The usual. It’s all about balance. If your plot is driving your character, give your character some moments of choosing her own destiny. If your character is driving your plot, let their relentless drive forward take a few unexpected left turns, courtesy of an enhanced plot.
With the macro, we talked about the foundations of the story. Or of a house, in our analogy. (Which is going to get pretty wonky, since I’ve never built a house. You’ll just have to roll with it.) So we’ve got the character and motivation, the worldbuilding, and the major conflicts, goals, and stakes.
For me, everything is interconnected. Characters and their choices drive the plot, the world affects how they behave — that sort of thing. So while I’m talking about everything separately, it’s important to remember that adjusting one aspect of the story will likely impact several others.
And what kind of things am I looking at on this level?
a) Characters and their motivations.
I know we did this one in the last post, but since the characters are the driving force of my stories, I check this in every step until there’s no question that my characters are behaving as they should. I take a closer look at individual scenes to make sure the character development is natural and progressing at a reasonable pace. Or regression, as the case may be. I also go through to make sure that they’re never the same person they were at the start of the scene or chapter.
What’s that mean? I mean the characters need to be active. They need to make decisions. Their situation need to change, even if it’s subtly. They can learn something that changes the way they view a problem. They can take action and be faced with the consequences — either good or bad. Action can be taken upon them, and they’ll be forced to react. Or it can be as subtle as an interaction with another character, and maybe the way they view that character is a little different now.
And that needs to happen in every scene.
b) Plot and conflict.
Speaking of scenes, let’s make sure they’re all useful. A long time ago, I was on the receiving end of some advice. Every scene needs to do two things: plot, character development, worldbuilding, or theme, and one of those things always needs to be plot. If plot is not happening, it either needs to be shoved into that scene, or that scene needs to be removed from the story. Every scene has to earn its place, after all.
Furthermore, does the plot make sense? If at any time there’s an easy solution that my characters aren’t taking, it needs to be really clear why. Someone’s breaking into their house, but they’re not calling the police — WHY? Maybe the characters are hiding a dead body in the basement and it would be a shame for the police to find it. Or whatever. But it needs to make sense why they don’t take the obvious actions.
In general, people will look for the simplest solution possible. Plots that could be solved within a few pages, if only the characters took the natural action, don’t make for good books. It’s not believable.
That said, simple, natural solutions can cause further problems. Going back to the stranger breaking into the house with the people who call the cops (because they don’t have a body in the basement after all), what if the cops come and make things worse? What if they’re on the robber’s side? Or the intruder leaves and the police don’t believe that someone broke into the house? What do the characters do from there? We have all kinds of opportunities to make things worse for the characters and find a plot that both makes sense and will fill an entire book.
c) Balance and movement.
Sometimes, I find my drafts have too many discovery scenes in a row. Or too many action scenes in a row. Or whatever. Too much of one thing at a time gets boring. (Yes, even if it’s action.) When you ride a roller coaster, it’s the steady drag upward that makes the steep drop even more thrilling. And if all you did was roll down the hill . . . even that would get boring. Stories need motion. Up and down. Side to side. They need change.
I like to go through my manuscripts to make sure I don’t have too many talky scenes in a row — or if I have several, make sure they all mean different things to the character, or are about different plots. They need to build tension.
Same for action scenes. (Which doesn’t have to mean sword fights, necessarily. They can be sword fights, of course, but they can also be car chases, kissing scenes, or characters putting their plans in motion.) Constant action, without highs and lows and change is pretty boring. A ten-page sword fight is only interesting if the reader cares about the outcome, and the situation changes rapidly. Maybe people are coming to watch. Maybe there’s money riding on the outcome. Then, an airplane is on a collision course with the fighters. And a meteor! And then someone’s delivering a baby! And more things that escalate the tension.
You get the idea. Things change. There’s movement. And there aren’t a lot of back to back talky scenes, or back to back action scenes without some kind of relief.
d) Structure: Beginning, middle, and end.
For this, I can mostly link to other blog posts about beginnings, middles, and ends. But this is another thing I take a look at when I’m revising. Do I have a solid beginning? A solid middle? A solid end? Have I resolved everything that needs to be resolved?
And that’s all I have room for this time. More next month!
If you’re anything like the thousands of creatives out there, you’ll no doubt have something called “GotToHaveEveryArtSupply-itis”and its incurable. We get so excited and enthusiastic when the glorious sound of the art supply shop opens like an unknown force pulling us in against our will (not really), to when there’s a sale online we just have to get them all.Although with this vast growing collection of art supplies, in which we think deep down will bestow upon us great creative talent, comes being practical and responsible to.
Each art material has its advantages and disadvantages, however its actually how you use them that will help you to produce great work.So here’s a few tips to really help you choose your creative weapons of choice wisely and wield them like a true creative warrior!
1. Combine materials that compliment each other – Just because you have an artbox filled with yummy supplies, doesn’t mean you have to throw everything into the mix to make the perfect receipe. Experimenting is key to know what works for you and your style to build your creative process. Look closely at the textures, contrasts and effects each material gives you and which would compliment each other nicely to create the perfect creative dish. For example watercolours and coloured pencil work great together to create colour washes with beautiful tone work.
2. He’s got it so I need to have it to- No doubt you’ve done this to where your inspirational creative idol uses a specific art supply and you feel the urge to possess it to achieve greatness. Although this isn’t to say its not the quality of product that gives them great results, bear in mind they’ve been honing their skills and processes with it for countless hours through “practice“. Not every art supply works the same with every creatives style and process, but experiment with different materials to see if introducing it to your creative making steps will benefit the pieces you create.
3. Invest within your budget- Last but not least investing and budgeting, understandably art supplies often aren’t cheap as they come in so many different brands, qualities and quantities at different prices. There’s also artist and student grade materials, however the key is be wise and stick to your budget. Test materials out and if you feel they have a permanent place in how you make your art then this gives you the option to invest in them further.
Good luck creatives and have fun wielding those art supplies!
Featured image by Amy Van Luijk you can find out more about her work here.
Armed with your sword ( pencil) and shield (sketchbook) there maybe many of you who are soon to leave school education to venture forth into the big wide world. Although like a hero with your map and compass in hand, you now need to start to plot the path you want to take in lifeand especially if you want to pursue a creative career.
It’s a tough decision to make but there are lots of options out there for you if you’re driven and passionate enough to want to be creative. You could be an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, fine artist, fashion designer, pattern designer, ceramist and much more. Although many people will assume that the career path as a creative can be a pennyless one, this isn’t the case if you’re determined and clever in the plans you’re making.
Though these options may differ slightly for each country, university, internships and apprenticeships are some ways in which you can pursue you’re creative aspirations. Each have their benefits and disadvantages, so its important you choose a path that’s best for you. For example university can be expensive but it gives you time, facilities and expertise to hone your creatice practice. Internships and apprenticeships give you hands on workplace experience, but you may not have lots of time to experiment creatively.
These aren’t the only paths to choose, but they’ll hopefully give you food for thought on what to do next. Remember though you can write your creative story however you wish. If you’re not happy with the decisions you make there’s always the option to change the course you’ve set moving towards your aspirations and creative success.
Featured image is by illustrator Arian Armstrong and you can find out more about her work here.
For years I wrote for many of the major women’s and health magazines — Woman’s Day, Health, Family Circle, Oxygen, Fitness, Woman’s Health, Redbook, and more. And part of my job was to always be researching my markets, so I read a LOT of these magazines every week.
It seemed that every year, each magazine in this niche would run an article on foot health where a podiatrist would recommend several exercises readers should do to keep their feet in good shape. One of these exercises was to toss a handful of marbles on the floor, and use your toes to pick up each one and deposit it in a bowl.
And every time I read this, I asked myself, “Is there a single woman, anywhere in the universe, who actually does this? In a country where the vast majority of women don’t even get the minimum recommended amount of regular exercise, is anyone out there taking the time every day to work on their toe strength?” It baffled me.
This next section may seem like a non-sequitur, but what I’m going to talk about now ties into all this and there is a lesson, I promise.
The Comparison Game
Even though I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to the craft and business of writing, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to just about every other part of my life. I like my house to be beautifully designed and sparkling clean, I stress when my toenails are chipped, I insist that every meal my family eats be as organic as possible and has all the macronutrients in the right amounts, and until my recent back injury, I was hiring a personal trainer to work me out three times per week — and feeling bad that my belly looked, well, like that of a 46-year-old woman.
You know how we tend to compare ourselves to others? Well, in each area of my life I’ve always compared myself to the foremost person I know in that field.
I compared my house to the home of my friend who’s a very successful interior designer.
I compared my energy and fitness to the full-time personal trainers I’ve hired.
How did my eating stack up to the diet of that woman who runs a blog about the evils of processed food? This mom uses a special app while on road trips to find breakfast spots that offer organic, free-range eggs. What would she think, I asked myself, if she saw me pick up $1/dozen eggs at Target?
Our son’s lunches needed to look like the ones featured on healthy mom blogs. (Oh damn, did she MAKE those whole wheat tortillas?)
How did my last e-course launch compare to the marketing genius with 15 employees who broke $1 million on his last launch? Ugh.
Comparing upwards was a recipe for dissatisfaction and stress, but it was so hard to stop. Can you relate?
And Then It All Falls Apart
My back went out in July, and after getting a lumbar steroid injection a week ago, the pain reached a horrifying peak (ironically…aren’t those injections supposed to alleviate pain?). I ended up on the sofa for several days, being waited on hand and foot by my husband, our son, and our exchange student.
I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t clean. I couldn’t even work that well because it was difficult to balance the laptop on my knees as I sat in the one position that didn’t cause agony.
I’ve been grateful for all the help I’ve been receiving, and didn’t want to criticize how anyone did anything for me. Gift horse and all that.
But guess what?
My husband gave our son an apple for breakfast before his dance class — yes, just an apple, before a strenuous hour of ballet — and the universe did not implode.
It took me a couple of days to get back to a client who couldn’t download the materials she bought from me. She was fine with it.
We had family over for my birthday and bought pizza and cake instead of my stressing over a homemade dinner and dessert all day as usual. Everyone had a great time.
I spent half a day surrounded by dirty plates and glasses because my husband got overloaded with to-dos. I survived and so did everyone else.
And that’s when I had my “ah ha” moment:
The Experts Picked Their Battles
The experts we compare ourselves to have devoted their lives to being the best in that one area.
The podiatrist offers magazine readers toe exercises and probably even does them at home because foot health is his entire life. He may eat fast food every day and live in a messy house, but damn, his feet are in great shape.
The famous author who pumps out a bestseller every year — I guarantee she is not on top of her laundry and she probably doesn’t take a shower the entire week before a deadline.
The mom who runs a blog that features beautifully styled photos of her kids’ hyper-healthy, homemade bento box lunches — creating those lunches is what she does for a living. We don’t know about the rest of her life. Hell, maybe her marriage is falling apart and her kids are entitled brats. But all we see is the thing she’s perfect at, and we extrapolate that to the rest of her life.
Personal trainers’ lives revolve around fitness. They run daily and have their split routine down to a science, and that’s what we notice when they train us. We see the thing they’re best at and assume they’re perfect in all aspects of their lives as well. But look a little closer and we see that maybe they’re poor marketers or get behind on their bills occasionally.
I’m not trying to be all Schadenfreude here. I’m not saying we should pick apart experts’ flaws to make ourselves feel better. What I’m trying to get across is that the experts chose one area of their lives to truly shine in, and that’s really all we can expect of anyone else — or ourselves.
Now, Pick YOUR Battles
We see these experts in our lives, and they seem to have it all together and be perfect at the one thing they do, and we aspire to be the same.
But the thing is, despite what magazines and Internet gurus would have us believe, we can’t emulate every professional and expect to retain our sanity. We can’t feel guilty that we’re not doing daily toe exercises and writing bestsellers and crafting bento box lunches and taking our kids on weekly educational field trips and walking around with perfectly coiffed hair and rock solid abs and measuring the macronutrients in our food.
Pick your battles. What is the one thing you do — or want to do — better than anyone else?
Maybe you’re a brilliant writer or entrepreneur. Or you’re a devoted homeschooling parent. Or you always look put-together and beautiful. Or you’re a wonderful host, and your home is a place friends and family love to gather. Or you work hard to rock six-pack abs and upper arms that don’t jiggle when you wave.
Don’t hang your self worth on having it all going on in every aspect of your life — let your self-esteem stem from your own personal superpower.
I’m not saying you can’t be a good parent and a good writer, or you have to let your health go to pot if you want to have a beautiful home. Self improvement is always great, and as humans we’re always striving for better and more. But realize you can’t do it all perfectly, and no one expecting you to. (And if someone is, you probably don’t want them in your life.)
You won’t see any bowls of marbles in my closet. My top skill is writing, so that’s what I’ll focus on. Take a few minutes to think about this today: What’s your superpower, and what do you need to let go of so you can shine?
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my new e-book Commit: How to Blast Through Problems & Reach Your Goals Through Massive Action. Committing is using overwhelming force to solve a problem or reach a goal. It’s pretty much the opposite of the baby-steps approach. When you Commit, you do whatever it takes to make happen what you want to happen. You can use one giant, crazy, unbelievably powerful tactic, but it’s even more effective to combine several tactics at the same time — which we discuss in this self help e-book.
In Commit, we talk about hiring help, creating accountability, and amassing the resources you need to get off to a mighty start. In this concise and actionable personal development e-book, you’ll also find details on how to prepare for your Commit practice…how to troubleshoot common problems…and 20 ideas for reaching your goal or solving your problem through massive action.
Why the Phrase “It Is What It Is” Makes Me Want to Punch People in the Throat
There’s been a cultural shift towards all things Zen — accepting what is, being happy no matter what the circumstances, expressing gratitude for our blessings, and greeting irritating situations and people with a compassionate smile. The phrase “It is what it is” has invaded the vernacular.
That is wonderful. There are many things we can’t control, and it makes sense to accept them rather than rail against what you can’t change.
But in some cases, we put on our Zen faces for things we can and should change, because we’re feeling under-confident about taking charge. We’re afraid that we’ll upset other people if we insist on getting what we want, even if we’re perfectly justified in doing so…or sometimes, we’re feeling lazy or unmotivated and it’s just easier to pretend to accept the way things are.
The Gratitude Trap
In early 2008 I suffered from daily, debilitating panic attacks, and I complained to my therapist that I hated being on antidepressants…and while I was at it, I wasn’t thrilled with my Tourette’s medication either. They made me tired, and both boasted a long list of scary-sounding side effects; for example, the Tourette’s med can cause tartive dyskinesia, a permanent condition that causes — wait for it — uncontrollable movements such as “wormlike motions of the tongue.”
The therapist said, “Instead of being angry that you’re on these medications, why not feel grateful that medications like this exist that can help people live normal lives?”
I couldn’t argue with that, so for years I practiced gratitude. “Hey, I just saw a report that my Tourette’s med is causing men to grow breasts. Oh well, I’m grateful this medication is out there helping people.” And “Wow, I just read an article on how antidepressants aren’t nearly as effective as we think, but tapering off them can cause horrible withdrawal symptom — but I’m grateful because who knows…this medication may be what stopped the panic attacks.”
After reading one too many articles about the dangers of these medications, it suddenly hit me that “be grateful” can be just another phrase for “suck it up,” and decided to wean myself from the drugs. I researched methods for tapering them down to minimize withdrawal symptoms, and bought books on natural Tourette’s relief. These are actions I could have taken in 2008 and saved myself a lot of grief, but instead I was placated by the Zen-like idea of gratitude. Now, I feel like I am the one in control of my body and my health.
Being thankful for our blessings is important, but gratitude can be dangerous if it’s used to keep us stuck and take away our control over our lives. Think of the unhappy worker who says, “I’m lucky to have any job in this economy.” Or the wife who says, “I’m grateful to have any husband at all, with all these kids to take care of…so what if he’s emotionally abusive once in awhile?” Or the writer who says, “This content mill pays me only $10 per article, but I’m lucky to make money doing what I love.”
Not Accepting What Is
Accepting what is can translate as settling for less than you deserve or making do with less than you need. When you settle or make do, you’re giving up and letting the situation control you. You’re saying other people are in charge of you, and you’re going to just roll over and learn to deal with it. The philosophy of accepting what is, when used at the wrong times, results in a sense of loss of control. And my philosophy is that what we humans most desire is a feeling that we’re at least somewhat in charge of our lives and what happens to us.
Instead of trying to impress others with our Zen-like attitude when faced with a challenge, we should make sure that what we do and what we get is what we want and need.
An example: My web hosting service (I’m looking at you, WP Engine) was dinging me an extra $50 per month in overage charges due to search engine web robots that were indexing my site hundreds of times per day, which pushed my site over its visitor limit. I worked with the web host for months to block the bots, and the best they could do was offer a lame suggestion to sign up for their next-higher plan, which cost $70 more per month than the one I was paying for. I finally gave up, thinking “Oh, well. You’d think that a web host that charges premium prices wouldn’t be so petty as to penalize me for every bot that visits my site, but I’ll just learn to live with the $50 per month overage fee. It is what it is. Ohm.”
Finally, one morning I woke up with yet another $50 invoice sitting in my inbox and I had the sudden realization that I don’t have to deal with this. It took all of 30 minutes to research cheaper web hosts that allowed unlimited visits, to sign up with a new host, and hire them to move my websites over to their service.
The sense of control and satisfaction I felt when I was done was enormous. Before, I was letting my web host control my money, my time, and my emotions. Now, I was in charge again. Never again would my morning be ruined when I checked my email and found a $50 invoice waiting for me.
The phrase “It is what it is” often means “Shut up and deal with it” when someone says it regarding a situation we can change. If we want to gain a sense of control over our lives, we need to insist on getting what we pay for, being treated well, and feeling worthy of other people’s best efforts. We need to speak up confidently, though kindly, when we’re getting less than we deserve. Saying “It is what it is” when something you bought doesn’t work the way it should, or you’re asked to sign a contract that goes against your best interests, or someone mistreats you, or you receive something that’s not up to par…that’s handing over control of your money, time, and self respect to people who don’t deserve it.
When your favorite contestant on American Idol comes in second place, that’s a good time to say “It is what it is.” When you are, say, cheated out of money by someone or asked to sign an onerous contract, saying “It is what it is” is a sign of laziness and lack of control couched in Zen terminology.
Here are a bunch of clichés, all of which are apt: You are in charge of your life. You hold the steering wheel. Why should you settle for less in your life because you don’t want to rock the boat? Zen platitudes like “It is what it is” and “be grateful for what you have” work when you’re facing the inevitable…they don’t work when you have even the smallest possibility of making a change for the better. [lf]
There have been a lot of posts covering the revision process, but since every writer is different — and every book is different — there’s always room for anther revision post. The request for this post came with a mention of revising a Nano project, so I’ll start with sorting out the most basic first draft a person can write. Like, it’s just a collection of words on paper. Things happen. To people. Maybe it makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.
1. Start with the macro.
That is, make sure the structure of the book is solid. There’s no point in moving furniture around a house that doesn’t have a stable foundation, or has missing walls. I mean, you can’t even put a window in when you don’t have a wall.
So first, identify the things that are important to you. Those will be what you come back to in order to ensure you’re staying true to the story you want to tell. What is the story you want to tell? What’s the most important aspect? What’s the thing that drew you to the story in the first place?
Once you know all that, you can work toward bringing what you have closer to your vision.
What are these macro things you need in place? (Since you’re writing a book, not building a house.)
a) Character and motivations.
Make sure you know your characters. When they take action — or react to something — make it consistent with what you’ve already set up. Or if someone acts out of character, be sure the reader understands why they’re doing that.
Deciding a few things early on might help. “Gabrielle never runs from a fight,” or “Alexia chooses sneakiness over directness every time,” or “Sarah always sees the good in people.” If you can figure out some basic, character-defining statements early on (just for yourself, not to state in the book), then you’re going to have a much easier time building (or reinforcing) the foundations of your character.
As you go through the draft, make sure that every decision your characters make is true to what you’ve laid out. If every single one of your character is doing this, then you’re more likely to have a solid foundation for the story, with fewer “but wait, I thought–”
Speaking of “but wait, I thought–“, make sure your worldbuilding is in order. If you haven’t done so already, lay out your rules. Check them for logic. I don’t care if you’re writing space opera, steampunk, or contemporary: your world has rules and you need to know what they are.
If you’re writing something set in the real world (or real world with a twist), make sure you know all there is to know about the locations where your story is set. (Laws — written and unwritten — history, driving distances, etc.) Research is your friend for making the reader feel like they are living in your world along with your characters.
If you’re adding an element of magic to the real world, make sure your new rules are logical and consistent.
And if you’re building a whole new world . . . same thing, but you’ll have to go through and invent not just the laws and elements of magic, but the geography and cultures and even the stars in the sky. Get your macro worldbuilding solid so the micro makes sense.
c) Major conflicts, goals, and stakes.
Pull out the biggest problems for your characters. Is it getting a date to Prom? Is it saving the world? Something in between?
Make sure you’ve identified the main issues. Often you’ll find a few main plots — a couple external and an internal. (Obviously there can be more plots than that, but we’re talking main plots/basic structures.) Do your characters work toward their goals? Are the goals and conflicts connected?
A quick way to weed out useless scenes is to figure out whether or not the scene drives the plot. If a scene doesn’t get the characters closer to — or farther from — their goals, chances are you can cut it. (Or find a way to make it work.)
Sooooo . . . this is a lot of just identifying what you have on the page, and I’m already at a fairly good-sized post. I guess that means I’m breaking this topic up into parts. How many parts? I don’t know.
Anyway, I hope this is helpful for getting some of the big-picture items in order! Anyone have anything to add?
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). *A Kippy is a cat.
Hey guys! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry–which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.
I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!
I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.
The truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.
Books were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).
When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.
I actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.
I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!
And it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.
Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.
Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…
When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?
Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.
I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.
So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.
Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.
In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!
Being a creative at times can be hard, whether you love to scribble, paint, take a picture, shape clay and more all you know is you’re passionate about what you do. No one said it was going to be an easy path to follow when you start out, taking each day as it comes trying to direct your creativityin so many ways for opportunities to come your way.
Although there is that one bump in the road we all come across countless times called the “pennyless art believers”. Many of us have no doubt been there and got the t-shirt when we’re asked “What do you want to do as a career?”.
With a huge cheesy grin and sketchbook in hand we enthusiastically reply… “I want to be an illustrator” or fine artist , ceramic designer or any other type of creative professional. Its then that you suddenly see the person cringe with the assumption you’re going to struggle to make it as a creative. Yes its easy for others people to assume in the comfort of their everyday job that you’ll be a pennyless artist.
However if you’re wise about how you do things you can achieve great things, avoiding the assumption of being a pennyless artist drawing doodles for macaroons and a starbucks ( or is that just me?). If you encounter people with a negative view of your career path , don’t let that upset you and take this advice:
“Be around the right kind of people who will help your creativity grow and who believe in what you do. Believe in yourself and the right people will support you on your journey to do and achieve great things”.
Image is by Leah Bergman and you can find out more about her work here.
The Eerdmans Books for Young Readers team has shot a Social Media 101 video for their YouTube channel. The video embedded above features “Facebook Tips for Authors.”
Follow this link to read the publisher’s social media and internet marketing guide for authors. Most successful authors know that their job is not limited to just writing. Last year, Jarrett J. Krosoczka verified this during an interview with MassLive.com.
Krosoczka explained: “You know people who are authors-only? Could I meet them? Because even though I, along with many of my peers, make my living from putting my imagination to paper, so many other roles are expected in today’s publishing landscape. Authors must also be speakers, performers, online marketeers and social-media mavens.” What do you think? Do you have any social media advice that writers would find helpful?
I thought the above illustration was a good fit with today’s post. Since I feel that this post will help you stir up you manuscript to keep your readers reading, just like illustrator Alik Arzoumanian did letting her cute lady stir up the sky.(Note: I am looking for artwork to show off)
1. Keep solving problems and adding new ones. Mix up the problems by using physical, logistical, and ones with other people.
2. Make your MC be in a worse place than before the last problem.
3. Beware of the “one Darn Thing After Another” Syndrome. You don’t want your MC to always be stuck dealing with things that don’t change their circumstances.
4. Deliberately shorten your sentences in tense scenes.
5. If you keep your chapters short, you will lore the reader into reading a little more before taking a break.
6. Stun your protagonist with a negative surprise that comes out of the blue. Shock your hero and you will shock your reader into reading more by ramping up the tension.
7. Delay revealing important information to ratchet up the tension. Let your readers worry about unanswered questions.
8. Contract you protagonists universe by making sure their are consequences for each choice. Lost opportunities add tension. When he chooses one option, he will no longer be able to purse the other good things he might have bee able to do.
9. Make an ally into an oppositional character with a conflicting goal.
10. Use dialogue to imply thing that are not directly said. Add in ironic statements to keep the reader wondering.
11. Make sure all the actions are built upon, leading to something. Look for places in your story that are dead ends.
12. Each scene must have a purpose – pointless events – excessive explanations – backstory. You might want to note the purpose after the first draft to remind you why you included it. This will make it easier to see if you need to eliminate it in later revision.
Do you have any other things you do to avoid reader boredom?
I often tell writers that good writing is about the balance of action and information. I’m also always telling writers about mimetic writing. The other day, with an editorial client, I thought of a great image that helped them conceptualize these ideas in a way that made sense.
Let’s say that we have a getaway car. It’s assumed that it will be used in a chase sequence, which is primarily action. Per the idea of mimetic writing, the narrative style of this passage should be quick and to the point, since we’re dealing with a scene that’s meant to move quickly.
Now think about a camera taking a picture of the getaway car in order to convey what it looks like to the reader. This camera can take amazing high resolution images, or it can take grainy “potato quality” shots like you’d find coming from a middle-of-the-line cell phone. In this case, a many-megabyte high resolution picture of the getaway car might be beautiful, but if we try to work with that picture or send it to someone (the reader), it’s going to be a huge attachment, it’ll take time to upload, and it’ll clog up their email bandwidth. (Unless they have fiber, in which case this analogy is useless!)
For the chase sequence, then, we’d be fine with a quick, grainy snapshot of the getaway car so that we can get on with the action and not get bogged down with information. Here the balance swings to action rather than information. If we’re establishing a very important setting, then the beautiful high res image is very appropriate, and the balance swings to information. The reader wants to know the delicate details, and you can dwell on them more, taking your time.
I hope this short but effective reminder helps you craft tight and effective prose as you start a new year of writing!
A lot of times, when people get stuck in the middle of their book, it’s because they’re not totally sure what the middle is supposed to do.. Obviously the beginning sets up conflicts and the ending resolves them, but the middle? The middle is all opportunity to make things worse.
Here’s a handy numbered list.
1. Build on established conflicts.
Take a look at what you’ve already done. Build on that by reinforcing something the characters already know, or the reader knows, and show something in action.
If there’s a monster marauding through the city in the first part of the story but we haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to give us a peek. (Cue JAWS theme.)
If someone’s threatened war, let them announce the war is on.
If there’s a plague, start killing side characters right in front of your main characters.
Show the reader that these conflicts you’ve set up are that serious by giving everyone a hint of what’s to come. The middle is the perfect spot for making everything real
2. Complicate established conflicts.
Yep, I’m counting this as different than building, because by complicating conflicts, you can use twists and reveals and other things to make everything worse.
Someone betrays our main characters.
Another character appears to shake things up.
The characters attempt to solve the problem and they make it worse.
Information is revealed and suddenly everything we thought was true is an awful lie.
I always feel like the middle is my last chance to introduce new complications to the story, be it characters or events. For me, introducing those later starts to feel a bit contrived, unless there’s a sequel and something at the very end happens to complicate the situation for the next book.
3. Nudge your characters toward the end.
You’ve just made everything awful. Give them something useful.
Information that can help them later (even if they don’t know it yet).
A hint about how they might solve the big problems.
Even give the poor characters a chance to plan to take some kind of action.
This is your chance to line up those last few dominos so everything can just go horribly (violently!?) wrong in the ending. Godspeed.
So, that’s my basic thoughts on middles. Anyone have anything to add?
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). *A Kippy is a cat.
Working as a freelance artist, I have to switch between projects every day - sometimes several times a day. I work in a studio, at home, in cafés and sometimes in-house somewhere. It's taken me years to work out how to stay more or less on top of it all, switching from writer to illustrator to teacher and remembering to have lunch and not panic too often.
Here's how I organise my day.
First of all I have lists which I keep online, using todoist.
I keep three groups of projects: LIFE, WORK and TELL THEM NOW. (It's a version of a system suggested in the classic "Time Management for Unmanageable People" which also encourages people to buy loads of random stationery if they want to).
The one you might find odd is TELL THEM NOW. It contains every task that can be completed with a quick communication. Typical entries would be:
Ben, did I leave my wallet at the office?
Omniat, let's have coffee
Give me a tax rebate form please somebody
It's surprisingly useful. Every time I feel like I am not getting anything done I see if there's something I can just tell someone. It's very satisfying. - Things like meetings and or discussions don't belong in here, only stuff I am sure can be dealt with in a few minutes. - You'd think I could just do these things when I think of them, but then I find I mostly think of them in the middle of doing other tasks, and it's better to just note them down and not get distracted.
WORK and LIFE have sub-categories: projects, a shopping list, that sort of thing.
There's also an inbox to throw in small stuff that I can't be bothered to categorise. The categories are mainly markers to check that my days are balanced, more or less.
There are repeating tasks that roll over automatically - breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise, feed the orchids, feed the cats. It's easy to forget simple tasks, I find, and satisfying to tick them off.
I also linked my google calendar up via IFTTT, so that when I make a calendar entry it automatically creates a task for that day.
Every evening I check tomorrow's tasks - todoist automatically compiles them - and put them in some sort of loose order.
I go through all the lists and pick things to do the next day.
I reschedule what I didn't finish, and maybe delete some ambitious daily task that I never actually do.
Every morning I print the list of the day. That way I get the satisfaction of physically ticking them off on paper, I get to doodle around them, I can stick them in my sketchbook, and I can put my smartphone and laptop away when I don't want to be distracted.
It also creates a nice physical record.
I use a receipt printer, because it's awesome.
This is a Dymo LabelWriter 450. Dymo warns that it will only print on Dymo-brand labels, but I've found that it will happily eat rolls of cheap plain thermal paper from my local stationer's. It doesn't work from every program, but images and plain text in Chrome work perfectly fine. (It's happiest printing from Google Tasks, but todoist works ok.)
I work in half-hour sessions, using a kitchen timer. Twenty-five minutes of uninterrupted work - pretty much anything can wait for twenty-five minutes, including snacks, phone calls, anything except for the cat, generally. When it rings I take a five minute break, have a cup of tea, make that phone call, walk around, and settle back down for another twenty-five minutes. Sometimes I take longer breaks. It's pretty much the pomodoro technique.
For some tasks I prefer to use a record as a timer. One side of an LP record is a good time to spend tidying my room, for example. I have a portable record player to take to the park if I feel the need to just lie on my back and stare at the sky while calming down about something or other, or sketch, or think.
The physical act of turning the timer or the record really helps to give me a sense of time passing, and they run their course and then fall silent and require resetting in a way that digital timers and playlists don't, quite.
I use such small physical rituals that help me feel connected to the day, but also digital tools that help me keeping organised. It's my team of small robots. Without them, I get overwhelmed very quickly.
I don't always work in the studio and I do a lot of research, so I often need to carry projects around. I use A5 paper notebooks and sketchbooks which I keep all together in one leather cover, fixed with elastic. I can quickly switch them around so I always carry the ones I am working on, plus a general notebook and some loose sheets.
Just another day at the art desk I hear you say, starting your sunday with a chipper smile and creative heart filled with enthusiasm, you believe everything will be absolutely fine. That is however until you sit down to start working on that creative portfolio you aspire to make.Suddenly you’re faced with an extremely sweaty brow and a blank canvas that’s been sitting there for the best part of an hour.
You may start to hear a small voice quoting in the back of your head how you can do this! However this then propels into a downward swirl beating yourself up over your lack of progress, whilst creating a rather larger pile of screwed up sketchbook pages behind you. In all you just don’t know where to start and have an idea of a project’s “end” with no “beginning”.
Generating ideas for portfolio pieces can be tough if you don’t plan and prepare in advance what you aim to create. Every creative person I believe though has the potential to create some amazing self-initiated projects to really blow the socks off those creative directors. If that’s what you wanna do then here’s a few ways to help reel back your line to the beginning , generate ideas and get started creating portfolio pieces that will help promote what you can do!
1. Understand what kind of work you want to be doing : Think about the kind of work you want to produce whether children’s book illustration , portrait photography , commercial design and more. By knowing where you want to go creatively this will help you understand the type of work you need to create.
2. Generate project ideas around your chosen work:Now that you’ve chosen your type of work the next step is to generate your own project idea. For example this could be illustrating a page from your favourite children’s book if your aim is a children’s illustration. Create a pattern design collection if your aim is to work within commercial product, licensing and more.
3. Hone your skills and think outside the box : No doubt you’ll have your collection of favoured art materials that you turn to when you create a piece. However be sure to hone your skills will other materials , softwares and processes to as this will help show how versatile you can create pieces and how diverse they can be. Last but not least though think outside the box, take inspiration from other creative is one thing but then take a little inspiration from it and create something unique to you.
Image by Matt Adrian you can find out more about his work here.
I have always loved reading books aloud. When I was a teen I spent an awful lot of time on the phone. Actually talking . . . it was a landline phone. And it was in my room. With unlimited local calling for $17 a month. I held down a few babysitting jobs so I could afford that phone and one of the magical things I did on it was read books, aloud, to my friends.
I know right? I have great friends. They would humor me as I did different voices for all the characters. I remember reading Stephen King’s Night Shift to one friend in particular, story by creepy story, until one night my friend casually asked, “How about you read something that won’t prevent me from sleeping after we hang up?”
Reading aloud continued through my adult years except my new captive audience was my kids. From Sandra Boynton to EB White, I was the one who had a hard time stopping so the kids could finally go to bed. My oldest, bless his heart, let me read the entire Harry Potter series to him, even though the last book was published the year he turned eleven and he was fully capable of reading it on his own. BTW, I do a horrifying Voldemort and a kick-butt Hermione.
Now I have a new reason for reading aloud beyond the entertainment factor: EDITING my own WRITING. There is nothing so powerful as stumbling over your own words to make you realize more polishing is required. Reading aloud forces my mind to slow down and see each and every word. When I read silently, I miss typos, grammar errors, and missing words becuase my mind will fill in the gaps– it just hums along without recognizing I just had my protagonist pee around the corner instead of peek around the corner.
Even better, is listening to someone else read your words to you. My very first novel, the one that garnered me two offers of representation and an agent, was read to me by my son. He would stop and tell me when he didn’t understand something so I could put it into simpler language. I would stop him when I heard a sentence fail and fix it before he went on. It was a great partnership, but alas, he is eighteen now and has a life.
However, I have discovered how to let my computer read my words to me. Granted, my lovely Macbook can’t put the emotional nuance into the words that a human being can, but hearing someone else’s voice (Okay, someTHING else’s voice) read my work back to me continues to be eye opening. And I have become very fond of “ALEX”, especially when he reads one notch above Normal speed.
This is how you do it on a Mac:
Open the system preferences
In the System grouping, open SPEECH
Click on the Text to Speech tab
Choose your system voice with the drop down arrow, male or female (I prefer Alex or Kathy depending on if I have a male or female POV)
Choose the voice speaking rate
Test your choices with the Play button and alter as needed
Click the check box for “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”
Click the set key button to set up a keyboard command, I use Command + H which means to get Alex talking I press the Command key and the H key on my keyboard at the same time, but you can choose any combination of keys that makes sense for you that isn’t already in use, you know like CTRL + P which sends your work to the printer…
Click the OK button
X out of the System Preferences window and you’re good to go
Now when you have your book open in Word or Scrivener or whatever program you use, you’ll need to highlight the text to be read (click your mouse button at the top of the passage, hold the mouse button down, drag through the selection, release the mouse button) and then press Command + H.
Oh, make sure your speaker is turned on too!
What are the directions for doing this on a Windows-based computer? Why would you want to write a novel on anything but a Mac?
This post is a continuation of my previous week’s discussion of stuck emotions. When a character feels inadequate or down on himself, it’s very hard to get a character who cares about themselves or the story. Another alternative to this situation is a character who doesn’t want to be involved in their particular circumstances–they couldn’t care less about taking over the family business, for example–and so they try very hard to convince themselves and the reader that they simply don’t care.
This is very difficult to forge into compelling fiction. After all, I hold that the basic aim of any writer is to make the reader care. So if a character doesn’t care, my first objection is that they’re making it that much more difficult for me, as a reader, to get invested in the story. It feels a little unfair. After all, I’m working so hard to get into the book, suspend disbelief, latch on to a character, inhabit a point of view, hear a voice…that I want the protagonist to be in the same boat. You’re ideally creating someone the reader can get invested in. And if it’s an anti-hero type or someone stewed in apathy, who won’t invest in herself, that’s a tough sell.
It’s realistic, sure. It happens in life, and it’s very full of deep and real emotions. But it’s hard to pull off well. So if your particular writing challenge is creating a compelling character who just so happens to be detached, pent up, hidden behind defenses, or just a straight-up nihilist, you need to crack those walls at some point, and soon. Even if it’s for a minute, even if only the reader can see it because it happens in interiority…some measure of vulnerability needs to happen.
And then, there needs to be something that compels the character to move forward. Whether it’s a very personal motivation, a private objective, a small bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel, whatever, it needs to pull them forward into the story. One thing I won’t do as a reader is suffer through a manuscript where it seems like the protagonist is being dragged along, kicking and screaming. Facets of this idea are discussed in my post on “character buy-in,” which becomes an important concept here. It doesn’t just have to do with suspension of disbelief, it has to do with the character finding their own reason to engage with the story.