Publishing Tips for New Writers

I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, so often that it’s scaring me. It’s a question, or a variation on it, and new writers are asking it over and over again: how much should I pay to get published?

The short answer: YOU NEVER PAY TO BE PUBLISHED. ZERO. NADDA. NOT A DAMN RED CENT.

The long answer is, well, long, and involves some important terms.

If you are going the traditional publication route, here are the things you need to know:

  1. Getting an agent is difficult but useful. Agents are “governed” by a professional board of ethics thingy that forbids agents from asking for reading fees or editing fees. Agents get paid when you get paid and the amount is in the contract you sign with them (generally a percentage of any advances and/or royalties you earn on manuscripts they represent for you). If an agent asks for a reading fee, or sends you to a “professional reading company” or “screening company” that charges a reading fee, it is a SCAM.
  2. You can pitch directly to SOME publishers, but it limits the number of legit publishers you can reach out to. Many only accept submissions through agents.
  3. A traditional publisher foots the bill for cover art, editing, proofing, and layout. IT WILL NOT EVER COST YOU MONEY TO WORK WITH A LEGIT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER. They will pay you royalties on EVERY book sold. They make their money back, and make a profit, on the rest of the cover price (the part they don’t pay you).
  4. If you get a publisher that is well-established, you may get an advance. This means “An advance on future royalties” and they don’t have to pay you anything else until your book earns back that advance and starts turning a profit again.

If you are publishing independently (self-publishing), here is what you need to know:

  1. The act of publishing the book, as a paperback or e-book, costs ZERO DOLLARS.
  2. You may need to hire one or more various PUBLICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS to help you get the manuscript ready for publication. This can include editors, proofreaders, cover artists, interior artists, and interior formatters. Whatever you are not comfortable doing yourself, you need to pay for. A service provider provides a service, for a fee, and that is it. If a service provider is requesting rights to your book or royalties IT IS A SCAM. You pay someone ONCE, either you pay upfront for a service OR you pay part of the cost of the book.
    1. SPECIAL NOTE: When I did my picture books I worked with a friend who did my illustrations. We have an agreement to split all royalties 50/50 because I could not afford to pay him upfront. This was mutually agreed upon.
  3. You need a SALES PLATFORM. Most commonly, people use Amazon, via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for both e-book and paperback. It costs NOTHING to upload your manuscript and cover and you earn money for each book sold. Amazon also makes money on each book sold. They hold no rights to your book. Other platforms include Lulu.com, Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Kobo Writing Life, and IngramSpark.
    1. SPECIAL NOTE: Ingram Spark charges a 1-time set up fee of $50 per title BUT they offer much wider distribution options on their paperbacks AND a return policy. I have many friends who use this service and are more than happy with the quality.
    2. SPECIAL NOTE: Many sales platforms and distributors and printers offer various publication services as listed above. If they are optional, it is more likely to be a legit company. IF IT IS A MANDATORY COST TO HAVE YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED WITH THEM IT IS A SCAM.
  4. If you are doing paperbacks, you need a printer. You can find small printers local to you (in Manitoba we have Friesen’s Printing). A printer’s only job is to take a digital file of your book and make it a paperback. Some are Print-on-Demand (POD), which means there is no minimum order size. KDP is POD, so when a reader orders your paperback on Amazon, KDP prints one copy and ships it. This is a little more expensive per copy, but you have no unsold stock sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Some printers do have a minimum print run (anywhere from 50-500 so be careful, it took me 4 years to sell 400 copies of my debut novel) and the bulk print run could save you as much as 30-50 cents per copy but you now have to store all those books. Printers may charge a 1-time set up fee, in addition to per-book costs. They do not get rights to your book, or royalties on books sold (unless, like Amazon, they are an automated POD system that is handling your sales as well).
  5. If you want books in retail stores, you need a distributor. These are the people who handle the orders from the store, and handle the returns for you. They get a cut of the cover price for every book they move on your behalf, and may also charge a warehousing fee for books in storage. I would skip this step unless you have high sales (1000 books a year or more) or are running a small press of your own.

 

The best rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: money should always flow to the author. My second rule is this: You either pay a person coming, or going, not both. That means, you either pay for a service upfront, or you pay royalties/cut of the book price but not both.

If you are unsure of a contract or company ASK. There are dozens of writers’ groups online and there should be a local writers’ guild or union close to you that you can join.  Do a search for the company but add “reviews” after their name to see what other people are saying about them.

If you have any questions about this article, or if you feel I’ve missed something, contact me. Just over 4 years ago I stepped off the deep end into the indie publishing world. We don’t have time to make all the mistakes ourselves, we have to learn from each other.

Advertisements

How Long to Stick Around

It’s a tough call to make. How much do you give? How hard do you try? How long are you going to stick it out? What are you willing to do before walking away?

I’m talking specifically about support groups, networking groups, writing groups and such. As creatives and entrepreneurs, we’re often invited to these types of groups. We join hoping to find like-minded people to discuss the trials and tribulations of our passions. We join looking for people to help us through the rough patches and support us in some way.

I’m a part of several writing groups. The ones I like best are groups for writers to just chum around in. We can ask for a bit of help with research or brainstorming, share neat stories and plot bunnies, and talk about the process of writing. These groups have zero focus on sales or promoting. It’s just writers hanging out. And it’s nice.

I’m in more promotion-focused groups too and I quickly lose interest. It devolves into “buy my book” and everyone shouting into the void. Everyone comes to sell and no one is there to buy. I don’t stay in groups long when they become sales groups.

I’m in handmade, craft, and local sell-stuff groups. Sometimes I’ll comment on a “looking for a gift” thread but most times people aren’t looking for books, even locally authored ones. They don’t equate books with crafts or with handmade. They don’t view books as good gifts. I like to hang around these groups anyways because I like to buy, and I like to support other local makers by tagging them in posts that might net them a sale.

The big question for me is how long do I stay in “networking groups”?

I joined a local networking group for local women who ran businesses or worked for themselves. Seemed like a great fit. I’m a writer. Not everyone is a reader, and not every reader enjoys the type of books I write. But I didn’t join the group looking to sell stuff. I went into this hoping to make connections that I needed. I need to connect with locally owned businesses in the small local towns who would be willing to stock some books. I need to connect with business owners who are looking for a proofreader or editor for their various materials. And yeah, I was hoping to connect with other people who understood the pains of marketing who would help me spread the word about some of my events.

I got none of that.

I’ve shown up for events, even events that cost me money to attend. I’ve bought from businesses promoted by the group. I’ve shared and liked posts. I’ve passed contact info back and forth. I held a contest and not a single member of the group entered. I have asked for help in promoting events and had zero shares.

So, when is it time for me to pull up stakes and leave? I mean, this obviously isn’t the community for me. None of the members actually care if I succeed or fail. I’ve done my bit, I gave and gave and tried and participated, but I see no returns. How long do I have to pay in? How much of my time and energy do I have to give to the group before the group will give back to me?

And this isn’t the only group. I’ve dedicated myself to multiple groups, over and over again, giving time and energy to wind up being the only one trying and everyone expecting everything of me. I’ve left critique groups because I was the only one actually reading and critiquing and I could never get a comment on my work. I’ve left promotion groups that were really about promoting the work of one or two people (who were not me) and the rest of us were only there to be the audience.

Maybe it’s time I leave this networking group too. Because I’ve asked for support. I’ve asked members to swing by my friend’s quilt shop but no one ever does. It has become a group run by a few for the benefit of their closest friends, and that’s fine, but then don’t advertise it as a group to help everyone. Because that’s not what you’re trying to do. It’s a group set up to help the in-crowd, and I’m not the in-crowd, I’m the awkward nerdy girl who gets stuck doing all the work for the in-crowd.

I’ve got my own projects that need my energy and if people aren’t going to help me, then I do not have the time and energy to help them either. Giving has to go both ways or givers end up burning out. And I would gladly help promote for these amazing women. I just don’t see anything in it for me except another drain on my time and energy.

It’s almost the end of the year. We all start talking about “next year’s goals”. My goal is to work on my priorities. Maybe it’s selfish, but I’m burning out. You want a piece of me this coming year? You want a piece of my time, my talents, my energy? Show up and help out. Otherwise, I won’t have the time or the energy to spend on you. And I won’t regret it one bit.

Toodles.

Popular Q&A Platform Harmful to Writers

Have you heard of Quora? Because Quora may be helping readers steal your books.

You sign up and you can ask questions and get multiple answers from other users on a variety of topics, both personal and technical in nature. Looking for a recipe? Kitchen hack? Relationship advise? Go ahead and ask. The idea is similar to Wikipedia in that users can add their own answers, creating discussion and a wide base of knowledge. You can up or down vote answers to help keep the most useful information more visible.

Sounds good, right?

I don’t remember when or why I joined up. I think I saw a question that I wanted to answer and I was in. I get regular emails from them “Can you answer this question?” I delete them without reading them if I’m not in the mood. No one forces you to answer anything.

Lately, I noticed a scary trend in the questions I was getting (since I have literature as one of my interests on Quora). People were asking where to download free e-books (in general) or free pdf copies of specific titles.

Some titles were classics and difficult to find in electronic format so people directed them to Project Gutenberg and other similar digitization projects.

For the general request, I directed people to the free section of Amazon, or to Smashwords (which is much easier for indie authors to use when it comes to free content and actually has pdfs).

Some titles were newer and not being offered for free. And that’s when I noticed people posting links to pirate sites.

I tried to combat it by answering “Stop stealing from authors. Go to Amazon and buy the book” or something to that effect. “Your library has a digital lending catalogue, go borrow the book if you legit can’t afford it” was added in there, but politer wording.

Obviously, as an author, this upset me, A LOT. Equally as obvious was the fact that I could not fight this, one question at a time. I changed my tactics to include two new things: I contacted the author or publisher of titles I saw people requesting; I contacted Quora support.

I haven’t heard back from any of the authors I contacted. I hope my message did not get lost in cyberspace and that they have someone who can help with the problem on their end. I’m one little indie author with no industry pull, but a few “cease and desist” letters or “copyright infringement” suits against Quora from the big 5 publishers would quickly change things.

Because Quora isn’t interested in changing. I FINALLY got a response to my inquiry with them:

Hello Casia,

The questions referenced in your complaint do not violate any Quora policy. For more info, see: https://qr.ae/TUG6CH.

However, there may be specific answers to those questions that do violate our policy on spam, or some other Quora policy. We suggest that you report specific content you come across that you believe may violate our policies.

You can report questions, answers, comments, and messages by clicking on the ‘more’ menu located beneath the content (e.g., the “…” option), selecting “Report”, and then choosing the appropriate reporting option. Our moderation team will then review the reported content and take action based on our policies and guidelines.

We appreciate your understanding.

Sincerely,

Roger
User Operations
Quora

That’s right. You heard it straight from Quora folks. To be fair, they’re right, there’s nothing illegal with asking “Where can I get TITLE by AUTHOR for free?”. The illegal part is the answers. It’s the fact that people are going “Yeah, I cracked that DRM and have it on my blog, here, download it free”. I saw this. I clicked the links. It worked. (I promptly deleted the file because I will not read stolen copies).

Quora is not interested in protecting authors. That means we have to protect ourselves.

Please share this post with every author you know and in every writing group that you belong to. If you’re with a traditional publisher, warn them about Quora. Joining is free and if they have a social media rep or someone who monitors for copyright infringement online (ie Pirate sites) they should add Quora to the list of sites they are monitoring.

If you do find someone posting illegal links to illegal copies of your book, contact Quora and tell them to take it down or you will take legal action against them. They are legally responsible for the content of their site, even user-generated content.

The world already looks down on our work and undervalues books and authors. This is just one more platform people are using to avoid paying us at all costs.

A Mother’s Pride

I am so proud of my daughter right now, but I am also hurting for her. She has come up against one of the hardest tests of the world, and she handled it amazingly well – unfortunately it cost her a lot.

On Friday at school a little girl, “T”, was poked in the eye by one of the known “mean boys”. My daughter was making paper snowflakes for her friends and decided to make one for “T” as well. Now, “T” is moderately high-needs, she has some pretty obvious symptoms like stimming, and she is 6, going on 7 (like my daughter). I know many of the kids, including my daughter, find “T” annoying. That didn’t stop my daughter from feeling mad that “T” had been bullied. My daughter knows what it feels like to be bullied so she was ready to cheer “T” up with a pretty paper snowflake.

Her friends were not impressed. They tried to talk her out of it, and even tried bribing her with a piece of gum. My daughter gave “T” the snowflake anyways.

On Monday her friends excluded her at recess and free play and sat at different tables from her. Same again on Tuesday.

On Tuesday my daughter did a nice thing for her friends, she sharpened pencil crayons for them. She then asked if she could borrow a marker and was told no. This resulted in an exchange of little notes. The one I saw said “I am never giving you gum again you are not my FRIEND”. On the back was a drawing of four girls, one on one side of a table, the other three on the other side. The lone girl was labelled with my daughter’s name, the other three were just labelled “us”. It was from the girl my daughter considered her best friend.

We were just making plans for my daughter’s birthday and this was the one girl my daughter wanted to invite to go out for a special day. This was the one girl my daughter has named her best friend since Kindergarten.

This afternoon my daughter exploded at me. She did not want to do her home reading. After an hour long temper tantrum she calmed enough I could do some prying and I got this story out of her. It turns out she was excluded again today.

I wrote a letter to her teacher explaining the chain of events. I’m all for children learning social interaction without major adult interference, and I think kids need the space and time to learn how to act towards each other on their own, but this concerned me deeply.

My daughter wrote a letter explaining how she was feeling. “I don’t want to go to school right now. I don’t want to be bullied anymore. I am afraid I won’t have any friends anymore.”

She was begging me to homeschool her. She said, “All the girls picked her side and I’m left with all the bullies” (she has a bit of a history with a few of the boys in her class).

I am so proud of her. She made the choice to do a compassionate and kind thing, even though her friends tried to talk her out of it. She’s had to learn the hard way that choosing the right thing can sadly cost you everything. These are the girls she desperately wants to be friends with, that she desperately wants to spend time with, and they’ve shunned her. I only hope when they dangle “friendship” in front of my daughter with some cruel or dangerous conditions (we’ll be your friends if…) that she’ll choose the right thing again.

Until then, all I can do is tell her I’m proud of her and help her build the emotional language to deal with the fall out.

Oh, and she grew up right before my eyes during dinner this evening. She said, “I know before I was yelling at you about my reading because I was mad but I want to apologize. I’m sorry for yelling. I was sad and I let it out as mad.”

She continues to amaze me and I think, road bumps aside, she’s on her way to becoming one heck of a young woman.

The Hateful Eight – Review

I want to start this off by saying I have seen a lot of Quentin Tarentino’s movies. I was probably too young to see Pulp Fiction the first time I saw Pulp Fiction. I saw Django in theatres, twice. I loved the whole cast of Kill Bill. So, when the previews came out for Hateful Eight I was excited.

I like Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russel, and Tim Roth and recognized Jennifer Jason Leigh from the Twin Peaks mini-series (the second one, not the original). I liked her in that (where she also worked with Tim Roth).

Now, to the movie itself.

It’s slow. Very slow. By the time I shut it off nothing really had happened. The movie relies on repetitive jokes and Jennifer’s character is punched and hit for laughs because she’s a murderer.

The setting is Wyoming in the winter, within the first few years after the American Civil War. There are several characters hailing from both sides of the war and the political conflict is supposed to add tension, especially with Samuel L Jackson playing a black cavalry officer.

When they arrive at the general goods store/tavern/inn where they plan to whether the storm there is some question as to where the regular owner is and why she left her place in the hands of a Mexican no one has met before. The previews stated that people were going to die and characters hint that someone there may be in league with the murderer, trying to free her before she goes to trial. Add that to the potential mystery of the missing owner and you’ve got a great set-up.

But the set-up takes so long I started losing interest. And then you find out that the Confederate General lost his son and that the black Major killed him. To be fair, the son was in Wyoming to kill blacks so he probably had it coming. But Samuel L Jackson is given a horrible monologue where he taunts the old general about this death, with the purpose of provoking the old man to violence.

At least I assume that was the purpose. This was the point where I shut it off.

Not only does the monologue go into detail about torturing the man in the snow, but then goes into graphic detail about how the Major sexually assaults the man.

That was enough for me.

I was willing to wait out the slow. I was willing to put up with the rather stupid sense of humour. I really wanted to see this movie. I enjoyed Tim Roth’s character immensely, and I loved the coach driver and the Mexican. But I couldn’t watch anymore of this movie.

I was a Tarantino fan. I put movies on my to-see list, simply because he was a part of them. No more. I have zero interest in seeing anymore of his films. His writing has become cheap and uninteresting and I don’t feel like supporting films with this type of content, or the people who create it.

Past Tarantino films I would have given a 4 or 5 stars for clever writing, quick jokes, solid acting, and fast-paced, raunchy, over-the-top stories. I give The Hateful Eight 1 star.

Don’t see this film. It’s a waste of your time.

My Birthday Wish

As a lifelong reader and published author, there is a cause that is close to my heart. I’ve been an advocate for many things, but this is special to me. Literacy. Children’s literacy, community access to books, little free libraries, public libraries, authors in schools, authors in libraries, family literacy day, writing workshops, poetry slams … We feed the body, we defend against abuse and neglect on every front, and that’s all so important. Books feed the mind and the soul, they empower people with representation and with knowledge.

My birthday is on April 2, and this year it lands over Easter weekend. I won’t be doing anything special this year, just spending time with family for the holidays, and I’m content with that. I’ve been spending a lot of weekends doing sales and shows so a quiet weekend with my kids is a treat. I’ll be turning 31. I’ve long outgrown the need for birthday gifts, aside from the trinkets my kids buy me, or the next season of my TV show on DVD which my husband grabs me each year because birthdays are a good excuse for the little luxuries. Still, I am blessed with a large extended family and a large network of friends so I will make this one concession.

If you would like to celebrate my birthday, if you would like to get a little something to commemorate the day, please, buy a book. BUT there’s a catch. Buy a book and donate it somewhere – to a daycare center, a school library, your local public library, the local women’s shelter, foster child group home. Or give it as a gift to a friend or friend’s child who you feel would enjoy it. Maybe you know a family that is going through hard times and a new book in the house would be a real treat for the kids. (Feel free to read the book first, if you haven’t already, or buy a copy of one of your favourites to share)

If you are donating to a daycare or school please make sure the book is for the appropriate age group. If you are donating to the public library consider checking their website for a “wish list” or ask a librarian if there’s a new release they’d love to have an extra copy of. If you’re gifting to a friend or family member’s children, ask the parents first if there’s anything the child is interested in or refuses to read. (My son HATES Five Nights at Freddie’s or anything scary like Goosebumps, some families do not like books with monsters, even cute ones)

Consider buying from a local author – local to where you live. You’ll be helping to support local talent, and often a library’s budget gets eaten up keeping the big-demand books coming in and they can’t afford to support local as much as they would like to. Or support your favourite indie author. You can even grab one of my books to share with someone.

If you do any of the above, please, take a picture of the book and share with me where you’re sending it to (if gifting you don’t have to include the person’s name).

If you need shopping inspiration, here is a list of some of the Manitoba authors and indie authors whose books I’ve enjoyed (in no particular order):

Theo Ashford, Geralyn Wichers, Marianne Curtis, Alex McGilvery, C.A. King, Debbie Manber Kupfer, Steve LeBel, Jeffery Cook, Sherry Peters, Celesta Thiessen, Alyssa Thiessen, Christine Steendam

The Need for Stories

The story of a writer often begins with the story of a reader. It begins with a passion for the written word, a longing for stories. I consumed stories. I was voracious. I read far above my grade level, and below it as well, reading the books on my classroom shelf, my parents’ shelves, and the stuff my younger sister left lying around. At twelve I was reading Stephen King, and the Bailey School Kids, and the Redwall books.

When I read that’s all I do. I disappear. I don’t hear people around me anymore. I read until I have to stop, or until the book is done. I have burnt dinner. I’ve been late for work. I’ve stayed up far past my bedtime. When my son was born I read a lot while nursing. I tried to do this when my daughter was born but realized it wasn’t safe – I’d lose track of my then-two-year-old son. I put books aside almost entirely for a few years, only flipping through a few old favourites to satisfy my need for words, books I could put down easily because I knew what happened in the end.

Often people ask writers where they get their ideas from and I’ve written about inspiration and motivation before. I think before we have ideas for individual stories we have the idea that we can write stories. Something clicks inside of us and we go ‘hey, maybe I could do this’. And then the story ideas start. There’s still time to turn back at this point, still time to say, ‘no, it’s too much trouble, I’ll just keep my nose in this book’, and that’s what many people do.

For me that click very quickly became a need. I realized I had stories to tell, stories that were important to me, ideas I wanted to share. I often feel like I have no choice in this anymore. I must continue to write. The ideas come faster than I can record them. I have projects I will never finish, and more I will never even have time to start. I am driven by a need to reach out to people, to communicate across time and space and reality, just as so many authors were able to do with the books I have read.

I have been inspired to start and continue this journey by so many authors, big name or indie, local or international, best sellers or obscure. I cannot list them all, I cannot remember them all, but here are a few books and authors I recommend:

Misty of Chincoteague: my mother read this to us when we were young and I remember the cover. It was a hardcover edition from the library with this close up of a grey horse face and the mane flowing around it. It was magical and stuck with me even when I couldn’t remember the name of the book. I did find it back again and reread it in high school along with King of the Wind and Cinnabar.

MAUS: A difficult read, one I undertook at thirteen when we did WWII in school. One of my favourite books of all time. It was dark but somehow humorous at times. It was honest, about his father’s life and his own, even his own failings. I think it’s that honesty and the stark black and white style that grabbed me.

Stephen King, Tamora Pierce, David Eddings, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, Mark Leslie, Geralyn Wichers, Marianne Curtis, George RR Martin.

And it wasn’t limited to books – I learned a lot about story telling from television as well. TV can teach you about pacing, character, cliff-hangers, and more, but it cannot teach you about sentences and words and paragraphs, for that you must read.

X-Files, Xena, Andromeda, Sliders, The Lost World (TV show and the movie), Buffy (TV show).

I find it fascinating what inspires people and what pop culture helped shape them and their voice/vision. This is just a part of my list. Which books/movies/TV shows/authors are on your list?

Empowerment

I am empowered to exist.

I give myself permission to take up space. I am allowed to stand my ground, stay the course, and let others move around me. I do not have to make myself smaller, not by losing weight, not by slouching, not by looking down, to make others feel more comfortable around me. I am allowed embrace my identity, whether it conforms to the current norms of society or not.

I am empowered to exist.

 

I am empowered to speak.

My voice is important. My story, opinions, and experiences are valid and have merit. I do not have to speak more softly, or more politely. I do not have to laugh more softly, or less often. I can share my story, in my own way and in my own time, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

I am empowered to speak.

 

I am empowered to take care of myself.

Asking for help is not a weakness. I am allowed to close the doors and take quiet time to myself. I am allowed to go out and have fun, just for me. My physical and mental well-being are important. Self-care does not make me conceited.

I am empowered to take care of myself.

 

I am empowered to empower others.

I will stand with you and boost you up when others seek to push you down. I will listen, and demand others listen, when others seek to silence your voice. I will listen and respect your privacy when you open up to me in trust. I will support and validate your experiences, even if they are not the same as mine. I will help you, whatever you ask, whenever you ask, if it is in my power, I will help. I will do these things for you, no matter your gender at birth, the gender you identify as, who you love, where you or your ancestors come from, or what you believe in. Together we can change the world – but only together.

I am empowered to empower others.

 

Sources of Inspiration

I’m sure it’s not just me. I’m sure every author has been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There is no one place, no Shopping Mall of Book Ideas where we can go and simply purchase the recipe or kit for our next book, characters, plot twists, and all. And sometimes there are multiple sources of inspiration for any one project.

Inspiration is the seed, the idea, the brainstorm, the whispers of the muse. Something makes us think “Oh, wouldn’t that be interested” and off we go. Sometimes inspiration sparks the birth of a character, a new setting, a plot or a twist, or a new detail of a project in the works.

Here are some of the places I’ve found inspiration:

Music

Music is a blend of poetry and sound, creating an atmosphere and eliciting emotion – like a tiny story packed into 3 minutes. And my favourite songs are the ones that have complex, tricky, or engaging lyrics, songs that tell a story. (Okay, I have a fondness for instrumental as well and I’ll get to that). I hear these songs and my mind starts to build the story.

Sometimes it’s the mood of the song so it doesn’t matter if it has words or not. The mood of the music will inspire a scene or a setting or help me come to grips with the emotions a character is feeling in a particular scene.

Personal Anecdotes

Something I see, hear, do, or hear about in the real world will often inspire a snippet of conversation, a background character, a minor interaction, or a setting in a book I’m writing. Rarely do these events or stories appear as I saw them, lived them, or heard about them. They change to suit the new setting, to fit the fictional characters I’m writing, and of course, to make them more interesting. Though there is some truth to the old adage: truth is stranger than fiction.

My kids are amazing sources of inspiration – not only the things they say and do, but in the way they see the world. You look outside and see a blustery fall day, they look outside and see all these fine little details that we as adults just gloss over. But it is those details that make a setting rich and realistic.

So to do real places morph to become fictional settings. Shopping malls, coffee shops, billboards on street corners, quiet streets, busy intersections – the whole world is full of inspiration.

Dreams

I think authors are on the fence on this one but for me, I’ve had some amazingly vivid dreams where I’ve been able to record entire sequences upon waking. I store these away and come back to them, much like personal anecdotes, to shift them and morph them to fit a story or scene I am working on.

Movies, Books, and Television

The creative endeavours of others provide a wealth of inspiration. Sometimes it’s for conversation-fodder when I’m writing a contemporary. My characters will discuss current politics, sure, but they also reference TV shows and movies. It adds immediacy, authenticity, and both a sense of time and place.

It is also fun to ask “what if” questions. What if that character was female? What if they didn’t fall in love? What if they were plumbers instead of soldiers? What if you killed that character in chapter 2?

This is a fine line to walk. Inspiration taken from these sources must be heavily edited and twisted into something truly unique.

 

I’m sure I’m missing things but I would love to know where you go for inspiration.

Musical Motivation

This is a common question at launches and panels and such. Do you listen to music when you write? What music inspires you? Well, I’ll talk about music as inspiration in a later post, right now I want to write about music as motivation. I see motivation and inspiration as different things – inspiration is the idea, the spark, the image, the story. Inspiration gives us something to write about. Motivation is what keeps our butts in our chairs and our fingers on the key or pens in our hands.

I wrote previously that part of my motivation comes from seeing all the books on my shelf and knowing that I can do that. It comes from that desire, that drive, to fill a shelf with books that all have my name on the spine. That puts my butt in the chair – but what keeps me there? And what keeps me in the document window tapping out words instead of browsing social media or falling down the click-bait rabbit hole?

Short answer? Food and music. Food is easy. I eat in the pauses between thoughts so my hands are busy and I don’t click away from my document. I try to eat healthy – soup, veggies, fruit, crackers – but sometimes it’s chocolate, chips, or popcorn, especially if I’m on a deadline. Plus I keep a drink on hand – water, milk, or hot chocolate (I don’t drink coffee or tea). But we didn’t come here to talk about food. We came here to talk about music.

I’m an easily distracted writer so I need to keep my mind from wandering and my hands from changing jobs. The food helps my hands in those breaks between bursts of words. The music helps block distracting thoughts in my head and distracting stuff going on around me, like my husband puttering in the kitchen or my kids playing in the living room.

But it can’t be just any music. Well, I mean, it can be anything because my tastes are very broad, but it can’t be just anything at a given moment. The music has to fit my mood, and the mood of the piece I’m writing. When I’m on a deadline, for example, I pull out anything that’s too slow. I need fast-paced music with a driving tempo to keep my fingers and thoughts moving.

When I’m working on something difficult, something that’s moving a little slow, maybe because it’s in the early stages, maybe because I’m having trouble with the plot, and I really need to focus on it, that’s when I listen to instrumental music. I love classical music but I also listen to stuff like the overtures from Broadway musicals, the menu music from the Game of Thrones discs (you can find it online), Session by Linkin Park, and an instrumental techno version of the Japanese folk song “Sakura” (okay, and occasionally Crazy Frog).

When I’m on a deadline I need stuff with that driving beat. I like July Talk, some of Hozier’s quicker stuff, Meatloaf, and some of Evanescence’s quicker pieces. It’s got to have drums and bass and a good tempo, something that pulls my heart rate along with it.

Most of the time it’s just random stuff, like Pentatonix, July Talk, Hozier, Meatloaf, Pink Floyd, Evanescence, Ok Go, soundtracks, classic rock pieces from before I was born (or at least before I started school) or random pieces where I like 1 song by the artist. I keep a random playlist on Youtube and I have a massive 8 hour list on my computer.

Music is so hardwired into me that if I don’t have something playing on the speakers something is playing in my head (Dream On by Aerosmith is playing in my head as I type this). Of course the music playing in my head is usually incomplete or on weird loops so I prefer it on the speakers.

My bookshelf reminds me of my dream, of why I want to write. The snacks keep me from wandering away from my writing. The music keeps me mentally on track to write. That’s my motivation. I’d love to hear what motivates you.