How Do You Improve?

I’m looking at this question specifically from the POV of newbie authors, though I suppose the general answers would apply to anything.

How do you improve your writing?

First, you need to read, a lot, in a lot of genres. Read books about writing, like “On Writing” by Stephen King, or “Eats Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. Honestly, many best-selling authors have written about their writing process. The more of these you read the more you find there is no right way to write. Also, read everything you can in the genre you write. If you want to write a memoir, read memoirs. Epic fantasy? Read George RR Martin, David Eddings, R.A. Salvitore, and others. 

Second, you need to learn the basics of spelling, grammar, and punctuation in the language you plan to write and publish in. Yes, you will be hiring an editor to catch your mistakes. Editors are cheaper if you have fewer mistakes to catch. It’s your job to understand the basic mechanics of your chosen language. There are online courses you can take. I’m a native English speaker and I still took an online course in grammar.

Third, don’t expect everything you write to be good enough to publish, especially in the beginning. You need to practice. There are no short cuts on this. I talk about this more here.

Fourth, slow down and spend some time in the pre-writing phases, as I explain in this blog here. Experiment with outlines, world-building, and character building. If you get stuck, go back to these steps and get to know your characters and your world better.

Get feedback when you can. Writers groups and beta readers are great for this. Keep in mind that family and close friends don’t make great critiquers, even literary-minded ones. They may be unsure of how to give you criticism without hurting you. When you get feedback, look at it honestly and accept it as part of your growth.

I’m in taekwondo and I regularly have more senior belts point out where my form or technique needs work. My response is “thank you”. They are not telling me these things because I’m bad or wrong or useless or anything like that, but because they want me to improve. I want to improve too. That means we’re on the same team.

The same goes for your writing. Beta readers and editors are criticizing you because your writing is bad, they do it because they want to make you the best writer you can be. Thank them for their help, look at their advice honestly, not defensively, and use it to improve yourself.

That’s it. Read lots. Learn about the mechanics of language. Write lots. Let go of your inner critic. Learn to take advice and criticism and use it to better yourself. Practice, practice, practice, and never give up.

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Contracts for Writers

There are multiple instances where a fiction or non-fiction writer will need or want a contract, or will be offered one by another person. Let’s go over the why, how, and when of contracts for writers.

Writer/Service Provider Contracts

This goes for every single service you wish to purchase in relation to your writing (editor, cover art, beta reader, formatter), YOU NEED A CONTRACT.

  1. The contract protects you. You can include a non-disclosure agreement to protect your work. You should include the agreed upon cost so it can’t be changed later. You should include what will happen should the service provider fail to provide the service.
  2. The contract is a clear, concise method of communicating and agreeing to expectations. Due dates, milestones, check-in dates, file specifications, project specifications – these should all be listed in the contract.
  3. The contract protects the person you are working with. You are agreeing to be held legally accountable for your end of the deal – the payment. Many service providers will not work without that guarantee.

This does not have to be a lawyer-official contract. Type up a document stating what you expect of the service provider, and what you are offering. Sign and date it. Have them sign and date it. Save it as a PDF and make sure you both have a signed, dated, unedited copy.

What if you’re not paying a Beta Reader? If you trust them, you probably don’t need a contract. If you are new to working with them you may get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, or something simple with the deadline listed.

 

Author/Illustrator Contracts

I’m writing this separate because there’s some extra stuff to consider as compared to other service providers, and that’s rights and royalties.

  1. When the art is complete, who owns the rights to the images, which rights, and for how long? Is the artist allowed to share some of the images in their portfolio, or on their website?
  2. In what formats can the pictures be used (ebook, paperback, hardcover – you need individual usage rights for each format)? Can the author use the images in their advertising?
  3. Is the artist being paid the 100% value of the art upon completion? Are they due any royalties from sales?

Hash this out beforehand, make sure both parties are clear on costs and expectations and put it down on paper so no one can go back and claim differently. This is for children’s picture books and graphic novels.

 

Co-Author Agreements

If you are planning to write with someone, you should have a contract for the same reasons as above – it protects you both, and it outlines rights and responsibilities. What should you include?

  1. How much of the project are each of you supposed to complete? How many words? Which pieces are each of you to work on?
  2. When is the project due? How often do you have to check in with each other? When is each milestone due?
  3. How will you communicate? How often? What needs to be discussed?
  4. Will you create a world bible? Who has final say on world building changes/additions?
  5. Will you self-publish or seek an agent?
  6. What percentage of rights, and which rights, do each of you own? What percentage of royalties will be paid to each of you? If self-publishing, who will manage the KDP (or other platform) accounts? If traditional publishing, who will be the contact person for questions from agents/publishers? Who has final say on contract issues?

Again, hash this out before you start writing. You don’t want to spend a year writing a book with someone and then have it fall apart because you’re fighting over royalties.

 

Ghostwriting Contracts

The difference between co-writing and ghostwriting is simple. When you co-write, both parties are contributing actual written words to the project. When you are ghostwriting, the client provides ideas and information and the ghostwriter does all of the writing.

Fiction – the client provides a plot and a list of main characters. The ghostwriter takes this information and writes a detailed outline which goes to the client for approval. Once approved, the ghostwriter writes the entire story, sending in the required milestones, until the book is complete. The client pays the writer (usually at each milestone). At the end, the client owns 100% of the rights and when it is published will receive 100% of the royalties. Generally a ghostwriter signs a full non-disclosure agreement and cannot acknowledge in any way that they worked on the project.

Non-Fiction – this is most often biographical. The client sits down with the ghostwriter and tells them the story of their life, or a memorable event, or a parent’s life, or whatever, and the ghostwriter makes notes of facts, details, and tone of voice/word choice while recording the interview. The ghostwriter transcribes those notes and the recording into a book. The manuscript is passed between client and ghostwriter until the client feels the story and tone are accurate. While the ghostwriter may have a non-disclosure agreement for the duration of the writing period, and owns zero rights to the work, their involvement is generally acknowledged (by CLIENT, with the help of a ghostwriter). The ghostwriter is generally paid a lump sum, at the end or over specified milestones, and receives zero royalties unless otherwise negotiated.

The contract for either should include:

  1. Scope of the non-disclosure agreement
  2. Milestone requirements and due dates, and what will be paid at each milestone
  3. Total finished word count (especially for fiction), total payment, any offered bonuses, and payment method (paypal, etransfer, cash).
  4. What happens if the piece is longer than the agreed upon word count (or shorter)
  5. When and how and how often the client and ghostwriter will meet/talk, and what needs to be covered

 

Usage Agreements

If you need to use an image, or a brand, or someone’s name, you may require some legal paperwork. Usage Agreements outline the conditions an artist, photographer, writer, brand, or celebrity have put on their product/name/likeness.

  1. Images – you need to get commercial usage rights to ALL images that are not in the public domain if you intend to make money off the book the images are appearing in. They will have a value cap (once you’ve sold more than a specified dollar value of books you will have to pay royalties on the image)
  2. Brands/Companies – Fiction and non-fiction – if you are mentioning a brand or company in passing (we walked to Safeway – Doritos were my favourite chip in high school) you can generally get away with it on 2 conditions – the mention is positive AND you have a disclaimer in the copyright that you do not own or represent this brand. If they play a more extensive role (you have a character working for that private company or they play a major role in your memoir) you may want to send a notice that you’ll be doing this, that you’ll be mentioning them by name, and that you are only discussing them in a positive light – still include the disclaimer. If you cannot talk about them in a positive way: Fiction – make up a new company. Non-Fiction – talk to a lawyer.
  3. Celebrities – if you are talking about them (a character puts on a Black Sabbath record, you mention your favourite band/actor/etc in your memoir) you’re fine. If you are writing them (Bob Ross is a speaking character in your novel) then you need legal permission to use their likeness in your book. If it is non-fiction and you’re recording a conversation or encounter that really happened, it needs to be true, respectful of privacy, and you may want to attain permission.
  4. Friends and Family – for memoir writers – Get written permission to use their names in your memoir. Change names when you need to protect someone’s privacy or when you are saying things that would damage their reputation. Research defamation of character and reasonable expectation of privacy.

 

Agent Contracts

Agents do not charge reading fees EVER. Agents do not charge editing fees EVER. An agent can ask you to make changes, but they cannot require you to take it to a specific paid editor, EVER.

Your contract with your agent should include:

  1. How many publishers will they approach with your book (a minimum)? How often will they send the manuscript out? For how long will they continue to try with that manuscript?
  2. What happens if no one wants the book?
  3. If it is accepted, how much does the agent get paid (they get a % of your royalties/advances when they are paid by the publisher)?
  4. Will the agent also represent other formats (audio, movie, etc) and translations?
  5. Does the agency have a lawyer you can use?
  6. How does the agent leave your service, under what conditions, at what cost to either of you? How do you leave your agent, under what conditions, and at what cost to each of you? (THIS IS ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL)
  7. Does your agent want first-read privileges to future books you write?
  8. Is your contract with the agent or the agency? What will happen if your agent moves agencies or retires?

 

Traditional Publishing Contract, Anthology Contract, E-Zine/Magazine Contract

Congratulations! Someone wants to publish your work. What do you need to know about your contract?

  1. The contract should lay out clearly how much and when you get paid, by what method, and for what product (ebook, paperback, audiobook, hardcover, merchandise, etc).
  2. The contract should lay out ownership of rights – who owns what, for how long, and under what conditions. This gets complicated. For a new book, they should be asking for “first print and digital rights” for a set period of time (which means they are the only ones who can produce copies for that time period). If it’s a reprint they ask for reprint or second/third print rights for a set period. This also includes other formats (audio, video, translations), how much of the story the writer can share for free on their platforms, movie optioning rights, etc.
  3. There should be a timeline – editing, formatting, proofing, publishing – that lays out when the publishers will have things completed, and when the author is expected to return files.
  4. Author copies, how many? What format? When? At what cost to the author (at print cost, free)? Can you get more later? Do they count against royalties?
  5. Distribution and marketing – where will the book be sold? How will the book be marketed? Will they submit the book to writing contests and if not can you do it yourself? Will they arrange signings, when, how many, where? Can you arrange local signings and readings?
  6. How do you get out of the contract? Under what conditions are you allowed to leave? How does the publisher get out of the contract? Under what conditions can they cancel? What is the cost to each party in each circumstance of the contract terminating early?
  7. When the contract is up, what happens to unsold copies? What are the steps for negotiating a new contract?
  8. Does the publisher have first-look rights to other books in the series, books set in the same world, or unrelated works?
  9. Does the author have any say in cover design?
  10. Does the publisher REQUIRE you to pay for MANDATORY services you don’t want to purchase? THIS IS A RED FLAG, RUN AWAY! A legit publisher will not ask you to pay for formatting, marketing, cover art, or editing. This is done on their dime, ALWAYS. If they are marketing themselves as a hybrid press, the services they want you to pay for should be OPTIONAL (meaning you can outsource them to other people if you choose and pay those people instead as long as the end product is approved by the publisher).

Putting up templates and samples would make this blog post several dozen pages long. You can look up templates and samples online. If you’re not sure about something in a contract, ask someone. Your local writers’ guild will have a lawyer you can talk to and it’s free if you’re a registered member. Always research any publishing company or service provider you’re considering working with. If something is making you uneasy, trust that instinct and get a second (qualified) opinion or walk away.

Good luck out there!

World Building Part 2 – Building Setting

Much of your world building is going to help you build your settings, the concrete places in which the scenes of your story will take place. Yes, in part, this is the countries and continents you’re building, but more specifically it’s the church buildings, the towns, the castles, the forest camps, and other such sets.

Not only is setting individual, concrete locations, but also the concrete, specific details that we choose to describe these locations. Saying ‘a forest’ is one thing. Saying ‘a dark, dense forest of ancient oaks’ is far more interesting. Use tight, specific, direct language when crafting your setting. This will help create a vivid sense of place, and, if you choose carefully, can help you avoid info dumps.

As writers build fantasy and science fiction settings they borrow from real world climates, cultures, and experiences. This is a normal part of world building. You need to select a societal age and tech level. This will narrow down the architectural choices you have for the style of your buildings and the size and layout of your villages or cities. If you’re writing a Victorian steampunk, for example, your physical setting will be based heavily on Victorian London, or Victorian-era Paris, or Prague or whichever city best suits your story. Onto that base you’ll add your steampunk technology, tweaking the style of clothes and décor and buildings to fit the additions.

If you’re writing a period fantasy set in a blend of Feudal and Late-Middle-Ages with heavy European leanings you’re looking at castles and moats with villages springing up around their walls. You’re looking at placing major cities near waterways, in strategically defensible positions, or near key resources. For architecture, you’ll want to peak at period-appropriate buildings around the world and blend them together. Keep in mind that without magic you’re stuck with building techniques that fit your technology level.

If your setting is Earth, past, present or future, this has some shortcuts, as well as some interesting challenges. If you’re writing historical fiction you’re left to decide which historical facts to include and which to leave out. If you’re writing alternative history, you need to decide what changes, and how that will ripple out through your culture. If you’re writing in the present you need to choose whether you’re setting your story in a real city/town, or creating a fake one that is, in all ways, realistic, just doesn’t actually exist (like Stephen King’s Derry Maine).

Writing a future Earth presents unique challenges and opportunities. You have a setting that is familiar, and yet you must make it different. You look at the current state of environmental affairs and you must project a likely path into the future.

Rising tides? Nuclear war? An earthquake finally turns California into an island? A volcanic eruption? Whatever the case, something happens and the world changes.

Maybe it’s not environmental, maybe the change is political. Maybe the change is in population density, or technology. Is this a dark, grungy, dystopian future, or a bright, shiny, hopeful one?

Keep in mind, with a modern or futuristic city, that your architecture will not have a uniform look. Unless there’s a reason for a building to be torn down (disdain for old things, structural instability, major event that levels entire city streets) your cities will be a blend of old and new buildings. Often you have historic districts as the city will grow in sections, each section modeled on the period it was built in. You will have areas that are industrial and areas that are residential. You’ll have areas that are old stone and areas that are newer.

And this can and should translate over into fantasy and science fiction (alien world) settings as well. So often we see whole-planet cultures of shiny metal and glass buildings and futuristic vehicles. What about the alien that drives the equivalent of a classic car? What about poor districts, or historic districts? What about blended cultures, or distinct cultural areas (like China Town in a larger city)? Writing a single culture across the entire planet is easy, but doesn’t reflect “reality” well. Try expanding your fantasy and science fiction to be more diverse and exciting by building complex settings for your story to take place in.

Like what you’re reading? Stay tuned for more world building fun. Or hop over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book for geography, settings, characters, cultures, and more.

World Building Part 1 – Geography

As a writer and a world builder I’m intensely interested in how the world I’m creating works, not just the politics, but the weather and the geography as well. Floods, droughts, and other natural disasters quickly become political issues and I want to know where they might happen. I want to know who builds moats to keep armies out and who builds them to keep flood waters out. I want to know which cultures eat a lot of fish because they have access to a lot of fish and which areas hunt more because they’re near a forest. This will all change how they view their deities and their politics.

For me, as a reader, I don’t really care. As long as your world sounds exciting and plausible I’m not going to double check that your mountain range interacts with your rainfall patterns in a scientifically sound way. I’m betting the majority of readers don’t care either.

Where physical landmarks are changes the climate, the weather, the resources people have access to, and the economics of a region. Most obviously your character can’t be a fisherman if he doesn’t live near a big enough body of water. Similarly, you don’t get hurricanes in the middle of the continent. You can, however, get flash floods in the desert.

So long as your weather is plausible and follows fairly consistent, moderate patterns, your reader will be satisfied.

If you want more details on climate and geography, try these:

1) Mountains are formed in chains or ranges. To have a single mountain alone in the middle of nowhere is rare. This is because mountains are generally formed by two tectonic plates colliding a pushing the ground up in a long ridge along the length of the plates.

A single mountain is formed by a volcano, generally. There are other ways. It could be a single tall volcano at the end of a mountain range and between it and the rest of the range is a region of low hills. Wind erosion can severely alter the appearance of the mountains. And of course, there’s always the chance that some magical event took place, or it’s a terraforming anomaly.

Just because it’s a scientific rarity in our world doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just have a reason for its existence ready for when a know-it-all geography student reads your book and tells you why you’re wrong.

2) how many moons you have, the size of them, and their proximity to your planet, will alter your weather and climate patterns.

Our moon is responsible for our tides. The gravitational pull of the moon on the earth’s surface tugs on the oceans. For the most part this will only be useful as a plot device. Have you ever considered tying someone down on the beach? The clock is ticking. In a few hours the tide will rush in and the beach will be under six feet of water. How will they escape? Or how will the hero make it there to rescue them in time?

3) Water follows certain physical laws, such as gravity. Water gathers in low points, it flows from high to low, and it falls from the sky. Enchanted or magically generated water sources, or water sources that have been tampered with using advanced technology may be exempt from natural physical laws.

Lakes, ponds, and catch basins or flood plains are easy. These are low spots. Rain water and spring run off gathers here and sits. Large, low areas will turn into swamps which I’ll cover in the next section.

Rivers and streams are more complicated. First, they always flow downhill. Gravity. Rivers always flow into each other, they do not diverge without good reason. Flowing water follows the path of least resistance. If there’s a rock in the way it will go around, but generally just to one side or the other. A sudden rise in water levels that causes a river to overflow its bank at a key location causing enough erosion could cause a divergence, and human interference can cause divergence, but generally water follows one path.

Streams flow into rivers. Rivers flow into ponds or bays or oceans. Water doesn’t flow out of ponds or rivers or oceans. If it does then you don’t really have a lake, you have a wide, slow moving, stretch of river. That’s not to say that a mountain lake won’t overflow its banks and feed a river every time it rains. Often a water source, like an underground spring, creates a pool around itself through erosion, and that pool drains into the river which then follows the path of most gravitational pull and least resistance towards sea level or a drainage basin.

Like what you’re reading? Stay tuned for more world building fun. Or hop over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book for geography, settings, characters, cultures, and more.

Disclaimers for Authors

You see them everywhere. DVD bonus features that claim “all views expressed are those of the celebs, not the studio” are a prime example of this. Authors can use disclaimers to avoid being sued by various parties when they publish a book. But how do you write one? And when do you need them?

Memoir Disclaimer

You’re writing real stories about real people, places, and brands. Lots of memoir writers are afraid of being sued. You can’t claim it’s fiction, so what do you do?

  1. Get permission for family and friends to use them in your memoir
  2. If you can’t get permission, or if you want/need to protect someone’s identity, change their name or omit a name altogether
  3. Publish only what you know/remember to be true and follow both defamation of character and expectation of privacy laws.

“This is a work of creative non-fiction. All of the events in this memoir are true to the best of the author’s memory. Some names and identifying features have been changed to protect the identity of certain parties. The author in no way represents any company, corporation, or brand, mentioned herein. The views expressed in this memoir are solely those of the author.”

This disclaimer does not give you license to break the law or be a complete jerk in your memoir. You can still be held accountable for what you publish.

General Fiction Disclaimer

“This is a work of fiction. Any semblance between characters and real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.”

Use this in ANY work of fiction in ANY genre.

Fiction Disclaimer When Using Historical Figures, Celebrities, or Brands

“This is a work of fiction. Any semblance between original characters and real persons, living or dead, is coincidental. The author in no way represents the companies, corporations, or brands mentioned in this book. The likeness of historical/famous figures have been used fictitiously; the author does not speak for or represent these people. All opinions expressed in this book are the author’s, or fictional.”

Disclaimer Addressing a Specific Issue

In my debut novel, a character attempts suicide after being bullied on social media. In included this disclaimer:

“Cyberbullying is the fault of the bully, not the platform. The author does not intend to blame Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media platform referenced in this work of fiction, of causing or promoting bullying or suicide.”

Also, when my character, Molly, had a stomach ache, she took Tums (TM). Because she was using the product as intended, there was no issue. When she attempts suicide by overdose, she uses painkillers – no brand is mentioned. Associated a brand with the act of suicide would have been lawsuit worthy (if my book had made it big).

Content Disclaimer or Content/Trigger Warning

If your book (fiction or non-fiction) deals with traumatic or triggering themes, you may consider putting a note at the beginning.

“This book deals with sexual assault. While the author has taken great lengths to ensure the subject matter is dealt with in a compassionate and respectful manner, it may be troubling for some readers. Discretion is adviced.”

Replace “sexual assault” with “child abuse”, “drug abuse”, “domestic violence”, or any other traumatic event your story may deal with. If filmmakers can include “Viewer discretion is adviced” warnings on their products, so can we. It’s courteous.

Self Publishing

You are responsible for putting in the correct disclaimers and copyright information in your books. If you are concerned about something you’ve written, hire an editor with experience in these issues, or hire a sensitivity reader.

Traditional Publishing

Your publisher will put the disclaimer in for you. If you’re concerned, ask to see the proof of the copyright page before it goes to print. If they are concerned they will ask you to change a name or reference.

I hope this helps!

The Power of Pages

Writers are solitary creatures, generally, and the part of writing and publishing that most authors seem most confused and intimidated by is marketing. The act of getting out there, making yourself heard and seen, to sell your books.

I’ve been published for four years and marketing is still a grind. I don’t have a magic formula, I don’t sell hundreds of books a month, but I have learned a few basics.

Today I want to talk specifically about Facebook Pages, how to set them up, how to manage them, why you need one, and what to post on it.

SET-UP

Go to your main Facebook feed. On the left side, click on Pages. Then click on the green button at the top that says Create Page. Follow the steps to create your page.

When naming your page: if this is an author page, have your name or pen name as the page name. Mine is “Casia Schreyer – Author”. It clearly states who I am and what I do. If you are creating a page for a series you write, call it something like “Official SERIES Fan Page”.

MANAGING & POSTING

You are the admin of your page. You can get others to help you, and set them up as editors or moderators. In these roles, they can make official posts, respond to DMs, moderate followers, etc. At first you won’t need help, I’ve been at this for years and I find there’s not enough work involved in the page to ask others to help me.

You need a banner or cover image and a profile pic specifically for your page. You can use a picture of you, pictures of your books, writing memes, or images related to the content you write. You can change this every time you have a new release, change your style, or simply feel like it.

Fill in the About information with as much detail as you are comfortable sharing. Set up a few photo albums. Good album ideas: Events (for readings, launches, and conventions you attend), Cover Art (post the covers of your books and in the description make sure to include a purchase link), Quotable (instead of posting snippets as text, paste them into Paint and save them as an image, or screen shot the document and post that image. It’s harder to plagiarize it, and images get more attention from Facebook algorithms).

Start posting! Introduce yourself and welcome new followers then share the page with family, friends, and writing groups (respect self-promotion rules within the groups). Let your followers know:

  • what you’re working on, how many words you wrote today, if you have writer’s block, if you had a bolt of inspiration, if you’re enjoying the twist you’re writing, if a scene is making you sad
  • writing memes and creative memes that you come across and find funny, relatable, or inspiring
  • odd dreams you’ve had, interesting encounters on the bus, strange things that happened to you recently – start a conversation about your life as well as your work
  • goals and deadlines, approaching new release dates, when you get a short story accepted in a magazine or anthology, when you complete a story/book/chapter
  • quotes and snippets of what you’re working on, even raw, unedited stuff (just note in the description that it’s raw or unedited and you’re too excited to share it to wait), keep these short, 2-8 lines is ideal
  • when you’re sick, when you’re exhausted, when you’re job is wearing on you (but always be polite or refrain from naming the employer because employers can see what you are posting about them), when your kids do something annoying/cute/brilliant
  • upcoming author appearances, be it a launch, a reading, a table at a craft show or farmers’ market, a panel you’re sitting on, a workshop you’re leading, or a convention you’re attending
  • book reviews, movie reviews, links to books your friends wrote with a recommendation from you (why should your followers read these books or watch these movies?), what you’re reading now, new books on your TBR pile

Aim to post 2-3 times per week, minimum, and 1 per day maximum – usually. If there’s big news you may post 2-3 times in one day, and once a day for three days after that, then slow down to 2-3 times per week again. If you forget to post for a while, come back with a “Sorry for the absence I was xyz and this is how that project is doing”. If you do a Like for Like chain, or a self-promo day in a group and there’s a sudden influx of followers, post a new “welcome new people!” post.

There’s one thing missing from that list, one obvious thing, the one thing we all want to post over and over again, and that’s a link to the book you wrote and a “BUY MY BOOK” message. I left it off for a reason.

Your page is about building a connection to fans and potential fans. You build connection by posting engaging content, conversation starters, things that make them see you as a person, not a product, or a product pusher.

When should you post links to your books:

  • When your book becomes available for preorder. “TITLE is available for preorder! Grab it now and it will be automatically delivered to your device/door on DATE. LINK”
  • When your book becomes available for sale. “TITLE is now live! I’m so excited. The cover looks amazing, don’t you think? You can grab it here or message me for other options. LINK”
  • When your book is offered at a discount. “TITLE is available for AMOUNT off/FREE until DATE. If you’ve been waiting to read it, why not grab it now? LINK”
  • When you’re doing a giveaway, post a link to the giveaway info, and a link to the book with a note like “For more info on the book, click here”
  • When you’re doing a reading or launch specific to that book. “I’ll be at PLACE on DATE reading from TITLE. You can grab copies at the event, or get them early by going here: LINK”
  • When someone asks you where they can find a book reply with a direct link

This posting outline can be used for Twitter, Facebook pages, and even blogs. I post 95% writing tips, book reviews, opinion posts, writing updates, movie reviews, product reviews, location reviews, and rants on this blog and only 5% directly related to selling a product or advertising events.

People are tired of ads. That’s why they’re leaving TV for Netflix and Amazon Prime. That’s why they get ad blockers for their PC. That’s why they click to block ads on Facebook. Book promotion groups become black holes, authors shouting “BUY THIS” at each other, over and over again, not realizing that there are no customers there, just fellow sellers. That’s why writing groups ban self-promotion or limit it to once a week.

In a digital era, we’re lonely, and we’re seeking connection any way we can get it. Real connection. The type that fosters creativity and conversation.

This isn’t a quick thing. This is the slow build, the marketing that builds trust and interest, that gets you real readers, real fans, who will share your stuff without being asked because they genuinely like you and the books you produce. So, be sincere, be inviting, and don’t be pushy, and you’ll build your base of followers slowly but surely.

Dear Authors, Write Crap

No, really, I mean it. This is one of the BIGGEST, HUGEST, MOST IMPORTANT pieces of advice I ever got, and I got it at twelve or thirteen years old and it changed my whole outlook.

You see these posts for artists about how your taste and your skill aren’t on the same level yet, that you draw your best and feel it’s not good enough because you’re comparing your “drawing #257” to a professional’s “drawing #20,985”. It takes time and practice to get the stuff coming out of the pencil to look as good as you want it to.

Same goes for writing.

In this lovely writing group I now belong to, I see a lot of posts from obvious beginners asking “how do I start”, “how do I get good”, “how do I get this book to publishable quality”? The answers? You write, you write lots of crap, and you don’t because it’s crap and you need to hide it in a drawer and write more crap until one day it won’t be crap anymore.

Give yourself permission to fuck up.

Give yourself permission to suck.

Yeah, classes and workshops and books on writing can help. Yeah, reading widely helps a lot. In the end, the only thing you can really do is put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write. And accept the fact that it will suck. Your first novel will suck and should not be published. Your sixth novel may still suck and might not be salvageable. Your tenth novel … well, that might suck too, but you’ll get there at some point.

I have binders full of printed off stories, novellas, and starts of novels, not to mention discs my computer can’t even read any more FULL of stories, that I wrote from the time I was 13 until I was 28 and published my first novel. I WROTE FOR 15 YEARS WITH NO HOPE OF BEING PUBLISHED.

Let that sink in.

I’ll say it again.

I practiced writing for 15 years. So, don’t ask me how to get that first attempt published. Because you don’t. You write years worth of practice garbage first.

That’s the biggest problem with the indie market. Don’t get me wrong, I love being an indie author and I firmly believe the traditional publishing gatekeepers were keeping the gates too firmly shut. Indie publishing allows non-traditional voices that wouldn’t be able to get books to the public via the Big Five a space in the publishing world. And that is beautiful. But now everything thinks that you just slap words on a page and call yourself an author. You don’t.

Being an author, a professional author, a GOOD author, means practice. It means being humble enough to learn something through critique and lecture and practice. It means admitting that this scene or that character or an entire freaking book is not working and needs to be edited, cut, or tossed in a bin and burned.

Being a good author takes time. And that is something that our fast-paced, production-driven, star-struck social media world has forgotten. You don’t publish everything you write. You don’t publish the first thing you write.

This goes hand in hand with my previous post. Slow down. Get to know yourself as a writer. Give yourself time and space to evolve and develop a style and a voice.

As the dearly beloved Ms. Frizzle says “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy”.

Writer garbage. It’s good for you. Just don’t publish the garbage in your haste to “be published”. The rest of us will thank you for waiting.

Hey Writers, Slow Down

I joined a very active writing group on Facebook where authors of all stripes (published and yet to be published, self and trad, seasoned and fresh) can ask questions about anything writing related, from plot twists to book blurbs to sentence structure. I like that most posts get 10+ replies and many go into the triple digits as the conversation builds. I like that, for the most part, people are polite but pull no punches. We could be a little more tolerant of the spelling and grammar errors since we have a lot of EAL members, but hey, no group is perfect.

One thing I am noticing is the number of people looking to the Facebook hivemind to do their brainstorming for them. Not just help them with a sticking point (is this detail or that twist believable/plausible) but entire chunks of plot.

For example:

64 years old married man, in a search of new husband for his 55 years old wife. What could be the reasons?

how do i start a feud between brothers

how do I start a feud between a male and female friends

I want to end a relationship in the book I’m writing but can’t come up with a good enough reason, any suggestions? I want something that will completely traumatise the guy.

(Description of character set up and scene)  I stuck there. I am not able to come up with conflict. Could you guys please suggest for further?

My advice to these authors? SLOW DOWN.

If you’re an outliner like me and you’re hitting these roadblocks during the outlining stage, take a break. Take a walk, do the dishes, talk to a friend about what you’re planning and why you’re stuck – not online, but in person, out loud. Let it sit in your head for a bit. Work on something else for a while. Skip that part of the outline and jot down what you know. I’ve been stuck like this, I have interesting projects on the back burner because they’re stuck exactly like this. I have a character and no plot yet so I let it sit.

If you’re a pantster (someone who just writes with no outline) and you find yourself frequently stuck to the point of abandoning projects, maybe you need to try outlining. If you have tried outlining and it’s not for you, try the same tips as above: take a walk, talk to a friend, do a mindless chore, have a shower, let it sit, let your mind mull it over. I’ve been here before too. I get up and stretch, run through my taekwondo patterns, make a snack, write a different scene and come back to it.

We’re obsessed with productivity (I’m one to talk, right? Setting word count goals and project deadlines like a mad woman) but we’re allowed to have slow days. When I’m stuck on my novel I work on my memoir. Or I work on world building and catch the words up on a later day. Slow down. You don’t have to complete an entire novel every month. You don’t have to be the fastest. Slow down and think for yourself. This is YOUR story, YOUR novel, write it the way you want to.

And don’t worry about your productivity speed. I’ve been waiting 7 years for the next George RR Martin novel to come out. Write at your own pace, and take time to recharge your creativity. Do your own brainstorming because the book is ultimately yours.

And yes, when all else fails, that is what a writing group is ultimately for. But I get the feeling that the second these writers hit a snag they jump on Facebook yelling “bail me out! This is hard! Give me the answer!” Writing is hard. It takes a lot of braining. Creating is exhausting and draining work, no matter what or how you create. Recharge, slow down, take breaks, let your mind wander at its own pace instead of the pace the world has set out for it.

 

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.

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.