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Your Fiction Writing Toolki

YOUR FICTION WRITING TOOLKIT:

Resources and Insights for Fiction Writers

by

Linda Hargrove

h1={color:#000;}.

Your Fiction Writing Toolkit: Resources and Insights for Fiction Writers

Copyright © 2016 Linda Hargrove

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America, 2016

No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.

 

Cover Photography from Morguefile.com

Cover Design by Linda Hargrove

Proofreading and copy editing by Monica San Nicolas

DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to everyone who was afraid to start writing because you never thought you’d be good enough.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am an American author and engineer. My writings include three novels and two works of nonfiction under my full name, in addition to four ghost-written medieval romances published under a fictitious name. Three of my nine published works are self-published.

 

I currently live in North Carolina with my husband and three sons. Connect with me on my website (LLHargrove.com) and on your favorite social media platforms.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many thanks to all my readers and to everyone who told me I could never get published. You inspire me to become a better writer with everything I write.

OTHER BOOKS BY LINDA LEIGH HARGROVE

Fiction

The Making of Isaac Hunt

Loving Cee Cee Johnson

Saving Tate Michaels

 

Nonfiction

Your Web Design Business Toolkit: How to Start and Run a Home-based Web Design Business

Your Fiction Writing Toolkit: Resources & Insights for Fiction Writers

INTRODUCTION

This book is for anyone who wants to write fiction for publication. Within these pages, I draw from my ten years of experience as a traditionally-published and self-published author in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). Most of the advice, though, can be easily applied to writing for the American Booksellers Association (ABA).

 

I’ve been writing for publication since 1996. My fiction and nonfiction titles can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbook.com. The first two novels were published through the Lift Every Voice (urban fiction) imprint of Moody Publishers, a major CBA publisher of both nonfiction and fiction. I worked with a literary agent for a number of years before branching out into self-publishing and ghostwriting.

 

The writing business can open interesting doors of opportunity whether you write for hire full-time or part-time. As a part-timer, I’ve taught workshops on writing to African American adult audiences and to homeschool groups. I’ve written many books as a ghostwriter—four of them are romance novellas set in 13th century England. I’ve become acquainted with many Christian “author-celebrities” in person and via social media as a published author. I’ve also made appearances on TV and radio and at local author library events because I have published several works of fiction.

 

I don’t think there is a typical or “normal” fiction writer. I’ve met novelists who, by day, teach high school or chase down bad guys. I hold a Master of Science degree in Biological and Agricultural Engineering. I’ve worked as an environmental engineer and taught introduction to engineering courses, and I’ve written a lot of technical papers and reports. Still, there’s nothing like writing a piece of fiction. It makes me happy. Being a little abnormal is par for the course when it comes to writing for profit.

 

I make a few assumptions in this book:

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p<>{color:#000;}. That you like reading and writing fiction. In other words, this is not for those who dread fiction.

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p<>{color:#000;}. That you write using a Windows computer. A Mac computer will work, but my personal experience has only been with Windows-based software.

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p<>{color:#000;}. That you are not looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. Expect to make money; writing for hire is a business.

 

This book is split into four parts. Part 1 covers what you should make ready before you start writing. Part 2 is about the writing itself. Part 3 covers both traditional and independent publishing. And lastly, Part 4 covers public relations and marketing.

Part 1

 

Before You Write

Chapter 1: My Writing Journey

 

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

I am a lover of words. I started “copying” words and redrawing pictures in the margins of the family dictionary before the age of five. To my little pre-reading self, words were just pictures.

 

By the time I started third grade, I’d had a hand in writing and illustrating at least two “books”—one with my older sister and the other with my best friend, Ginger. My best friend went on to become a journalist. My sister went on to major in a STEM field like I did, but she still writes. I became an engineer, but my love for words has only intensified over the years.

 

SO BAD IT WAS GOOD

My first attempt at writing a novel was comical, but no less impassioned. I started writing my epic in the summer of 1996. Within a few days, I had written seven chapters of a story I entitled Abraham and Isaac, a Romeo and Juliet interracial romance. I thought it was the next smash hit. When I look back on it now, I realize it was awful with a capital A. The characters were bad caricatures, the plot was nonexistent, and the whole story was way too short.

 

My journey to becoming a better writer has involved formal lessons in creative writing, but also lessons in humility, patience, and grace that can only be learned through failure and success. Success became more about becoming a better me than becoming a wealthier me or a “best-selling” me. I found riches in learning my craft and in helping others to succeed. You might think that very Pollyanna-ish or self-effacing of me, but I see it as very selfish. Let me explain.

 

After the publication of my first book, I started reading more and more fiction, particularly fiction by other African American women in my genre. I was doing book research, I told myself. What I was really doing was becoming increasingly jealous and catty. I started looking down my nose at these other published authors, saying things like “I don’t see how they’ve become best-selling authors, their characters are so bad and their plot is so predictable.” Eventually I saw my harsh criticisms for what they were—insecurities and fear.

 

LEARNING FROM FAILURE

True, I was failing to sell the large quantities of books, but I was also failing to have joy in the journey; something I had always touted. “Be all there” was my mantra for everything in life except for my writing. Thankfully, I eventually began looking around and realizing that there was more territory to be had than writers to fill the landscape. My fellow writers were not my competitors; they were my companions in arms against a common enemy of ignorance and boredom.

 

My final deliverance from the green-eyed monster came in the form of a blog post by a popular literary agent who had rejected me years earlier. He said, “I remind myself that there is something more important than ‘success’ in my life — there is the concept of ‘significance’.” Significance for me meant doing me and nobody else. It meant finding my lane and staying in it. It means using the gems of knowledge I gained to sow into the writing lives of others.

 

So, you get a free peek into my self-declared treasure trove. What do I get in return? The self-serving knowledge that I tried to help someone else achieve their goal to become a published writer. I don’t know it all, but of the little that I do know, I offer to you free of charge.

 

Before I move on to the next topic, I would like to challenge you with three questions. Please spend some time thinking about them and record your responses.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. What future do you envision for yourself as a writer?

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p<>{color:#000;}. What is most important to you in life apart from writing?

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p<>{color:#000;}. How do you want to ultimately be remembered?

 

Your answers to these three questions will help you define what writing success and life purpose looks like for you.

CHAPTER 2: Making the Vision Plain

 

ARE YOU CRAZY?

Why would anybody in their right mind want to write fiction? Why do you feel you must write? Why fiction? Are you really sure you want to make up stories? Will someone actually want to read a story you made up? What makes you think that? Are you crazy? Or at least slightly delusional? Good. That little bit of crazy tucked away in the corner of your gray matter might just help you stay motivated through the really lonely days when you question your sanity.

 

I WANNA HELP PEOPLE

I started writing out of a desire to provide discussion materials to help good church-going people grapple with an extremely difficult topic: racism. Although my motives were good, I did not know enough about my audience. Big mistake. Number one, most good church-going people don’t like to talk about racism, much less read about it in a novel. Number two, the majority of good church-going people prefer to read nonfiction books like Bible study resources and such. Novels are not highly regarded in the Christian community at large.

 

My other big mistake was not knowing much about fiction. When I started my first novel back in 1996, I had not read a work of fiction since high school English class. Reading short stories from ladies’ magazines in the waiting room at the doctor’s office did not count. I had no idea how long a novel should be. I had no idea about how to plot a novel. I had no idea what people would want to read. I was as clueless as they came.

 

My learning curve was long and steep. Through all the challenges, it was my desire to create discussion resources for the Christian audience that helped me keep writing. I discovered a personal satisfaction from the process of storytelling.

 

Call me a word addict. I enjoy reading a well-put together passage, particularly one written by me. The fact that writing well does not come easy is its own reward. There is a measure of pride I get from crafting a book. It’s very similar to the feeling I get from finishing a knitting project or raising a sweet, juicy cantaloupe from a tiny seed.

 

A funny thing happened on the way to publication. I found out I had more courage and determination than I’d previously thought. I discovered that writing was hard work, but that I was made of the right stuff to pull it off. And boy, was it fun.

 

HAVE A REALLY GOOD REASON

Many people start writing, like I did, with no real education in fiction writing. It’s okay to admit that you have no formal knowledge about writing fiction. Not to worry, you can still be a writer. Famous authors J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Sue Monk Kidd did not have formal education in writing.

 

You will need to put in some time “educating” yourself. Some of that education will involve learning how to do the dry things like researching and planning your story. Maybe planning scares you. I can almost hear your questions now. Will too much planning take the fun out of writing? Will it make my fiction seem stiff or contrived? My responses: No and no.

 

I know writing is a creative process. The words “creative process” probably sound like an unstructured pursuit akin to skipping through fields of daisies with a feather quill pen tucked behind your ear. I’m here to tell you that there is plenty of planning involved in writing. Planning does NOT take the creativity out of writing. No more than structure impedes other forms of creativity. The creation of fine pieces of sculpture, poems, songs, and fine art are all based on well-formed systems of planning.

 

MAKING IT RICH

The best planning starts with identifying your purpose for writing. Why do you want to write a book? For some people, it’s the allure of seeing their name on a book cover. For others, it’s the street cred for having written a novel. The standard novel is over 75,000 words, by the way.

 

For some folks, it’s the possibility of making it rich that draws them into the fiction writing machine. Here’s where I burst your bubble. On average, a traditionally-published well-known author gets about 50 cents for each novel sold. Yep, 50 cents. The average paperback novel sells for around $13-$18 (USD). A self-published novel pulls in a little more per book sold, but there are other trade-offs. Some more costly than others.

 

Bottom line: your motivation for writing fiction cannot be to get rich. You’ll be sorely disappointed in short order. Don’t get me wrong, a published author can make money writing fiction, but being able to make a living from writing books alone is rare. So, my takeaway here is this: develop a really good reason for writing fiction for publication. If you’re doing it just for the money, you will not be able to go the distance.

 

For some of you, writing fiction is merely a way to pass the time or entertain yourself. You have no intention of making your writing available for others to purchase. If this applies to you, then you might not find much value in a book like this.

 

EDUCATE YOURSELF

Before you start writing, start reading. Read widely at first. Test the genre waters, as it were. Genre, in case you’ve never heard that word, is a fancy word for category. Literary categories include mystery, romance, contemporary, historical fiction, western, horror, and science fiction. You might find that you only like reading certain genres. This might be a sign that you would enjoy writing that genre.

 

My first three published novels are classified as contemporary fiction novels. I like reading widely, but I especially mystery and romance. When I first started writing, I knew nothing about genres. Had I known a little more, I would have written a romance series first. Romance sells better than any other genre.

 

The more published fiction you read, the more you’ll realize what will sell. Hopefully, you will also discover some things about yourself as a writer. Are you willing and able to push yourself to write and rewrite? Do you have the self-motivation to push yourself to write a full-length novel? Or is a novella of about 40,000 words your speed instead?

 

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Writing fiction is serious business. To succeed at writing a publishable product of your own imagination, you must first be willing to make some changes. That’s right, prepare yourself for change. Embrace it like a good friend. You and your writing self will be spending lots of time together whether you write full time or part time, like me.

 

Take a good long look at the list below. Are you willing to do the following in your pursuit of publishable fiction?

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p<>{color:#000;}. Read lots of fiction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Read lots of books about writing fiction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Read websites and blogs about writing fiction

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p<>{color:#000;}. Write poorly at times

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p<>{color:#000;}. Attend workshops and conferences on fiction writing and marketing

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p<>{color:#000;}. Write more words than you use

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p<>{color:#000;}. Revise your work

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p<>{color:#000;}. Accept criticism

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p<>{color:#000;}. Promote your published work yourself

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p<>{color:#000;}. Learn to improve

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p<>{color:#000;}. Laugh at yourself

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p<>{color:#000;}. Praise other writers

 

Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot to think about concerning your place in the writing world. While you ponder these things, let’s look at some writing tools. 

Chapter 3: Tools for the Trade

 

SOFT WHERE?

Gone are the days of writing novels on typewriters. These days, you will need software to help you write your novel. Many acquisition editors and literary agents no longer accept typewritten manuscripts. Can you blame them? Who wants reams of printed rough drafts in manuscript boxes cramming their office?

 

Below is a list of software I’ve tried on my Windows laptop to write fiction. This is not an exhaustive list of writing software. Try using Google to find others. Ask your other writing friends what they use. If you don’t have writer friends, go get some. More on how to get some good writer friends later.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Microsoft (MS) Word

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p<>{color:#000;}. OpenOffice Writer

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p<>{color:#000;}. yWriter

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p<>{color:#000;}. Scrivener

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p<>{color:#000;}. Google Drive (online)

 

MS Word and OpenOffice Writer have worked the best for me. The OpenOffice Suite is an open source (free) collection of software similar to Microsoft Office. It’s a good fallback for those times when I could not afford to buy MS Office. If this is where you find yourself, be aware that you might experience issues converting your OpenOffice manuscript into Kindle eBook format.

 

yWriter is a free software package for Windows users. I tried it after hearing great things about it from a friend. I dedicated time to learning the interface. The software dashboard did not look anything like MS Word or OpenOffice Writer and it confused me at first. But still, I plugged ahead and attempted to write my third novel on it.

 

It was a disaster. I never quite got into a flow with it and found that it slowed down my notetaking, outlining, and writing. I abandoned it after several months of struggling and went back to Word, but at the expense of my writing deadline. I had wasted valuable time and ended up throwing out a lot of the copy and starting over.

 

Scrivener is a popular writing software package for Windows and Mac computers. The last time I checked, it was around $40, which is a whole lot less than buying Word. I’ve only tried a trial version of Scrivener once. It is touted as ideal for writers, like me, who love to outline and those who take lots of background research notes.

 

The interface didn’t appeal to me, so I just put it aside. It reminded me too much of yWriter—one look at Scrivener, and I actually cringed. I’m usually someone who catches on quickly with software. I taught myself how to code HTML for website design and Adobe Photoshop for graphic design. Unfortunately, Scrivener and I did not mesh. I know many writers who swear by Scrivener and cannot bring themselves to write with anything else. Sorry I can’t be any more helpful here with this one.

 

A SIMPLE LITTLE DEVICE

Sometimes simplicity is all you really need. A short time ago, I saw a friend share a tip on Facebook about a writing device called Neo 2 Alphasmart. It’s a word processor from the pre-Microsoft Stone Ages. I use it to produce rough drafts when I’m waiting in the doctor’s office or while waiting to pick up my kids after school.

 

The interface is barebones and it doesn’t connect to an internet browser, so the distractions are minimized. You turn it on and you type. It records your words. See, told you it was simple. Even though the keypad is a little stiffer than my usual keyboard, I’ve been able to type about 3 pages of text in under an hour. I connect a special USB cable from the Neo to my laptop and send it to Word, where I can continue working on the piece. All this for about $35 on Amazon. Gotta love it.

 

That’s it for tools of the trade. If you have others, I’d love to hear about them. As for trying to convert me to Scrivener … don’t waste your time, friend.

 

OTHER SIMPLE YET POWERFUL WRITING TOOLS

Artsy types don’t go anywhere without their sketchbook. Take a page from their book. Carry your writing notebook everywhere you go. It can be a fancy leather-bound journal or a 50-cent spiral notebook. I don’t think there are any rules about how you use it. Just use it. I record research notes. Jot down storylines as they come to mind. Even sketch faces as I people-watch. Never leave home without it.

 

Another thing to always have on your person is a library card. Get to know the resources at your library. And get to know your circulation librarian and your research librarian. At small libraries, this might be the same person. The research librarian is well-versed in researching history about locations and people. The circulation librarian is your fount of knowledge regarding other local writers and literary events. Knowing these good library folks will come in handy when you want them to host your own library events.

 

What writing tools have you tried so far?

 

Up next: books on writing.

Chapter 4: Books on Writing

 

FIND YOUR MUSE

A muse is defined as a source for inspiration. I found my fount of literary motivation in a small green hardback by Monica Wood called The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing. I ordered it from Writer’s Digest Books solely because it was small enough to fit into my diaper bag right alongside my baby’s bottles and clean diapers. I thought it would be a quick read on mommy-baby outings to the park. This little book changed the way I write.

 

At first inspection, The Pocket Muse looks like any other writing prompt book. The slick-surfaced pages show quirky black and white photos with quotes, advice, trivia, and the like. The beauty of the book lies in the sparseness of each page. There is a delicious potency in Monica’s brand of less. Yes, I used delicious to describe a writing book.

 

Monica doesn’t blather on about technique and heap on examples like other writing prompt books. Up until this point, I had slogged through several other prompt books with very little improvement in my writing. Ms. Wood’s writing prompt gem was just the thing I needed to keep writing. As I worked through the prompts, I started seeing improvement in my prose.

 

To this day, over 14 years after buying the book, I still find inspiration in its 256 little pages. Finding a copy of this volume might be challenging. Try Writer’s Digest Shop (http://www.writersdigestshop.com/the-pocket-muse) or Amazon or even Monica’s website directly (http://www.monicawood.com/pocketmuse.html). She has released a second volume, but I will always treasure the first.

 

JOIN THE CLUB

I joined Writer’s Digest Book (WDB) Club shortly after I decided to get serious about fixing all the mistakes in my first novel. This was a suggestion from the writing instructor who pointed out all the mistakes in the first place.

 

Each month, WDB sent me a catalog of their offering. Some of the books on writing craft were sold as single volumes and some were sold as bundles. The bundled sets were the best, as you might imagine, because everything is cheaper when sold in bulk. Side note: this was before eBooks came onto the scene, so these were actual print books. Yeah, I can hear you chuckling now. Okay, I’m old. Whatever.

 

One bundle I snagged was the Write Great Fiction series. Aptly named to catch the eye and ego of a clueless beginner like me. In addition to that unforgettable series title, there are the noteworthy series authors. Two of the five books in the series are by James Scott Bell. Several months before I signed up for WDB, I had attended a life-changing writer’s workshop at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC. It was taught by James, a former lawyer who writes suspense full-time. His tales of transitioning from a non-literary profession into writing fascinated me but it was his writing and teaching prowess that really caught my attention. When I saw his books on writing, I had to order all of them.

 

BECOME A CHEAPSKATE

Short on cash? Don’t despair. You can still grow as a writer. You’ll need a computer with an internet connection, a pen, and a notebook. Be prepared to take notes as you go. Make time to practice what you’re learning. In other words: write.

 

First, search Amazon. There are tons of free Kindle eBooks on writing fiction. You don’t need a Kindle to read an Amazon download. The free Kindle app on your mobile device will do the trick. You will need an Amazon.com account though, but who doesn’t have one these days?

 

Next, search Google. If your favorite author has a blog, chances are, they are blogging about writing or the writer’s life. I think I’m one of those rare people who writes but doesn’t blog about writing. Below are a few writing blogs that I have been known to frequent.

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p<>{color:#000;}. James Scott Bell: Kill Zone Blog, https://killzoneblog.com/

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p<>{color:#000;}. Joanna Penn: The Creative Penn, http://www.thecreativepenn.com/

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p<>{color:#000;}. Writer’s Digest Editor Blogs, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs

 

Published authors don’t blog like they used to back in the day, but they do hold court on social media. Shucks, everybody and their cat is on social media. Literally! So if you’re not there, you’re missing out on a lot of writing help and great cat videos.

 

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also wonderful venues for making writer friends. It’s free to join a Facebook group, although some of them are by invitation only. Once you’re granted entry, stay active. Study the “natives” on the group. You’ll learn a lot that way. Give back in kind by sharing your experiences when you’re able.

 

LEARN TO BE AN ‘APE’

Writing fiction for publication can be entrepreneurial. Guy Kawasaki, the co-author of APE: How to Publish a Book, emphasizes the innovative business nature of independent publishing. He says finishing a self-published book is very much like giving birth.

 

APE, which stands for Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, is for writers who want to self-publish. It offers advice for writing, crowd-sourcing support, and book promotion via social media. I highly recommend APE. It changed the way I approached my self-publishing venture. Check out the book at http://apethebook.com/.

 

Originally, I was averse to self-publishing. I thought it was for losers, the wannabe writers who couldn’t get a publishing deal. Through Guy’s example, I saw it as an extension to my writing business model. He demonstrated how self-publishing could be another stream of income … and a reputable one at that, given the right structure and attention to detail.

 

Enough preamble. It’s time I started telling you about writing. On to Chapter 5.

PART II

h1={color:#000;}.

Actually Writing Stuff

Chapter 5: Foundations for Storytelling

The process of writing fiction is a discovery of worlds: inside and out. Many readers see fiction as another form of entertainment and escape. In one sense, it is just that, but it can also be a way for them to explore the human spirit and be partners with a writer on a wonderful journey of discovery. The beauty of creative writing is its diversity of forms. This exploration can be done with humor, with suspense, with romance.

 

Since most of what I’ve written is fiction, I want to devote an entire chapter to what I think are some key elements to crafting compelling stories. These are, in my opinion, where many authors fall short: 1) creating characters, 2) writing dialogue, 3) writing description, and 4) plotting.

 

There are many other elements of creative story telling but for the sake of efficiency, we’ll consider those ancillary. If you want to write publishable fiction, you will do well to start building with the four I’ve listed above. My writing skills have come a long way in the decade I’ve been writing and I trust they will continue to grow as I continue to work on these four skills.

 

I SEE PEOPLE—Creating Characters

When I create major characters, I ask them a lot of questions. Where are you from, sir? Where have you been, ma’am? Where are you going in life? What do you like? What do you dislike? What are your motivations? What makes you mad, sad, happy, jealous? And on and on it goes, until I have discovered everything there is to know about a human being of my creation.

 

I write all my character “discoveries” down. These records are key to creating memorable main characters that resonate with readers. Minor characters only require a name and a few physical details. The plot doesn’t revolve around them, so I don’t need to know much about them. Character sketching is a classic character development exercise.

 

Character development exercises lead to characterization. Characterization is the method of using objects, events, and story people to tell us stuff about your character. Using this writing technique helps you to “show and not tell” your reader about your character. Telling your reader a laundry list of your character’s physical traits and habits will bore your reader to death. Showing them your characters’ attributes, history, and motivations is better storytelling. Strong characterization starts with creating strong character sketches.

 

Your readers will also appreciate your deft use of point of view. POV is closely related to character development. Below is a very simplified presentation of the three main points of view. Although I’ve pared the explanation down, keep in mind that choosing POV is not simple. Neither is maintaining your storytelling in that POV. New and seasoned writers can be found guilty of what’s known as head hopping or switching POV in the middle of a scene. Readers don’t like reading a head-hopping story. It’s confusing and amateurish. Don’t be a sloppy storyteller.

 

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p<>{color:#000;}. First person: the story is told from one character’s viewpoint. This is the I story.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Limited third person: the story is told through the eyes of one character at a time. This is the classic he/she/it story. It’s the most used.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Omniscient third person: the story is told through all characters, using whatever viewpoint that makes sense in any given scene. The narrator is “God”, knowing everything and in every place.

 

There is power in POV. It can be used to evoke emotions. It can bring fullness to a story by what it reveals or conceals. Is your story falling flat and not hitting the emotional mark? This might mean you need to rewrite the story in a different POV.

 

Want well-rounded characters? Practice consistent use of POV, telling the story from the character’s perspective only. Mix in characterization techniques. The result? Happy empathetic engaged readers who just can’t get enough of your characters.

 

Not sure which character to use for POV? Here’s a tip: choose the character who has the most to lose. That’s your best POV character. Make it your business to know her backstory like the back of your hand. Her POV will advance your story the most. Your readers will see your story because they will be living it through every scene to the very last word.

 

I HEAR PEOPLE—Writing Dialogue

The next thing that a new fiction writer must master is writing dialogue. One of your biggest goals with fiction is to engage emotions. I believe the best way to do that is to know all your main characters. Not just the protagonist. A character’s choice of words is part of his backstory, his history, and should be recorded in the character sketch. As you might imagine, dialogue strengthens characterization.

 

When you know your people well, you are better able to bring realism into the dialogue. Even though you want the characters to speak naturally—to appear as though they are thinking and speaking for themselves—the bottom line is that you control them. So, you have to be a ventriloquist of sorts. Control the dummy, but don’t let anyone see your hand in his back or your lips moving. Otherwise people will say, “oh, that’s just a dummy.” And unfortunately, they won’t be talking about your character.

 

If the dialogue isn’t something that someone would eavesdrop on, then most likely it doesn’t have a purpose. Cut it. Writing realistic dialogue has been compared to playing a game. Like billiards or chess, you want to use one move to set up the next. The trick is to do it with skill and grace (there’s the art of it) that draws the spectator (the reader) in to watch/listen and enjoy.

Writer’s Great Commandment: keep dialogue straightforward, with a minimum use of attribution verbs and modifiers, and a very infrequent sprinkling of substitute verbs for “said” when necessary.

 

JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM—Writing Description

Why bother with description? Description brings life to writing. It is not only a joy to read a story with good description, but it can be a joy to write. Description is useful for engaging readers, creating characters, setting mood, and creating an atmosphere. Writing good description takes practice though.

 

So, you aren’t convinced that description is necessary. Compare the two sentences below.

 

First sentence:

Debra’s couch was really nice on my butt.

 

Second sentence:

The warm leather of Debra’s new couch enveloped my sore backside and transported me to tropical locales awash with lush vegetation swaying in the breeze.

 

Okay, my example may not be the best, but I hope you get the idea. Using rich description helps you, the writer, show more than you tell in your fiction.

 

Handle description carefully. Write with too much description and you can lose your audience in a bunch of purple prose. Write with too little, and you lose your audience in bland snippets of words. You want your writing to have satisfying depth and texture. Something that readers seek out and tell others about. Description, or the lack thereof, can be used to your advantage when writing suspense and mystery.

 

Need some practical ways to strengthen your description skills? Reading genres you don’t ordinarily read helps strengthen your description muscle. Be intentional about exposing yourself to authors of other cultures and ethnicities. You might not be able to finish an entire book if the style is not totally your cup of tea, but you hopefully will have seen other ways of writing description. Your reader should be able to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste the world you created through the details you included.

 

Side note: Not all of what you write will be used in your final piece. Some things must be left “on the drawing board.” That’s okay; that’s how writing goes sometimes.

 

THE PLOT IS THICK—Plotting

It’s been said that every scene should bring the protagonist closer to sure ruin and your antagonist closer to sure victory—that is, in their minds and words. Weave these feelings and motivations smoothly into dialogue, and the reader will be convinced of their ruin and victory as well.

 

Honesty moment here: I used to despise plotting. My first plotting attempts ended with lackluster stories that quickly fell flat after a few aimless chapters. Thank goodness, I kept pushing myself and got better at not only writing plots, but at recognizing how plotting related to the story question.

 

Story question is the problem the main character faces which the story answers. It’s the whole reason for writing the story in the first place. My problem with plot was having a weak story question. Once I nailed down the why, I knew the how.

 

Another major challenge I faced was sustaining my plot through various lengths of fiction. I learned to apply fiction devices like sub-plots and plot twists in my full-length novels (70,000 words or more). Plotting techniques like these help deepen and lengthen a book, while giving the reader a chance to explore major and minor characters. I also learned how to “write tight” in novellas (~40,000 words) and novelettes (10-30,000 words) by sticking to one POV and taking out minor plotlines.

 

Side Note: If you’ve been around writers for any amount of time, you’ll find that not all writers write plot outlines like I do. Some are what we call “pansters”. This means they write by the seat of their pants. There is a lot of debate about which method of fiction writing is better. (Insert indifferent shrug here). Who cares, as long as you write good fiction. Plot outlines do not translate into boring stories. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. Now, back to my discussion on plotting.

 

Monica Wood’s book, The Pocket Muse, offers a succinct plot outline. She uses “The Three Bears” fairy tale as an example. In this way, she shows how simple plotting can be.

 

Here’s an excerpt from her book:

 

Most good stories, even unconventional ones, contain these classic story elements:

Setup: Three bears go for a walk while their porridge cools.

Complication: Blonde perpetrator breaks in.

Rising Action: Perp chows down, breaks a chair, gets some shut-eye.

Meanwhile: Bears get home and survey the wreckage.

Climax: Discovered in Baby Bear’s bed, perp screams and flees.

Denouement: Bears live happily ever after.

 

And that’s all there is to it. So simple. Yeah, right.

 

A while ago, I did some romance novel ghostwriting for a small publishing firm in the Midwest. It was only supposed to be one novella. I enjoyed it so much that one turned into four. I had two reasons for writing them: 1) I needed extra money to pay for an upcoming conference; and 2) I needed to know if I could be any good at romance writing. At the time, I had written three contemporary fiction novels, but I wasn’t sure if I could pull off a good romance novel. So, when the opportunity to ghostwrite romances presented itself, I raised my hand. Last time I looked at the Amazon ratings, they were mostly all 5-star reviews. Not bad for a new romance writer.

 

Here’s a plot outline for short romance novels that I adapt loosely:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 1 – 2: The setup; character plots, romantic element, action and conflict already happening

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 3 – 5: Conflict, tension, and romance intensifies

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 6 – 7: Crisis builds up; plot and romance heats up, tension and conflict about to peak

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 8: “Black” moment between the hero and heroine, crisis comes to head, couple breaks up

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 9: Climax of book, then falling action

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Chapter 10: Resolution; happy ever after

THE END

 

I’ve had good success for novella and novelette length works with this outline by adjusting the chapter length and quantity to reach word count requirements.

 

For intensive help with plotting, I recommend the following books on plotting:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Hooked by Les Edgerton

*
p<>{color:#000;}. How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

*
p<>{color:#000;}. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

 

That’s it for foundational elements of storytelling. At least for now. I’ve set up a Facebook group called “Your Fiction Writing Toolkit Group”. If you have questions about storytelling, join the group. The Group gives me an opportunity to meet you and answer questions. See you online.

Chapter 6: The Writing Life

 

I am a part-time novelist, full-time engineer. I write on assignment at night and on weekends. There are months when I don’t write at all. When I am working on a book project, my 40-hour work week gets extended 10 to 20 hours.

 

It took me 10 years to whip my first work in progress, WIP, into publishable shape. But I wrote my second full-length novel and delivered it to my publishing house’s editor in a little more than a month. Even though I wasn’t working full-time then, I don’t want to ever do that again. I had three school-age children pulling me in every direction and I was battling the worst sinus infection known to man. Brutal!

 

On the other hand, taking years to write a novel is not practical in today’s publishing market. I prefer to take my time, writing and revising a novel over the course of three to four months. Poll other published authors to find out how long it takes them to write a full novel. Novellas are about 40,000 words and can be written quicker. I ghost wrote four romance novellas in less than a year.

 

If you like the prospect of being forced to produce tens of thousands of words in a month’s try National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. It rolls around each November (http://nanowrimo.org/). I’ve completed NaNo twice. It was fun, in a frenzied demented kind of way, but nothing publishable came out of it.

 

So, how do a write just sit down and come up with stories? The simple answer is: they don’t. Writers have stories going through their minds all the time. They see, hear, breathe, taste stories around them all the time. The stories come out when they finally sit down and start typing. The onus is on the writer to create the right writer environment.

 

YOUR WRITING ENVIRONMENT

To establish a good writing foundation, you’ll first need a place to write and some good tools. Your “writing place” can be the corner of your kitchen, a desk in your room, or a well-appointed office with an antique oak desk. Whatever the case, make sure it is your place. Let your loved ones know that it is your place. Keep it sacred. Don’t clutter it with non-writing things. Find another place for the bill caddy, the Sudoku, and the knitting bag. The fewer distractions the better in your writing spot.

 

Populate your spot with the right writing tools. You’ll need a computer with word processing software (or a good old-fashioned typewriter), paper for notes and such, and pens and pencils. For some writers, it helps to set the mood with special music, by lighting candles, or by even putting on a special hat. The proverbial thinking cap. If that’s your thing … do your thing. Do whatever it takes to keep you writing.

 

THE WRITING HABIT

Make writing a habit. You brush your teeth regularly and always turn out the lights when you leave a room (hopefully). Those are habits. You do them without a second thought. That’s the way you want your writing to be. Not forced or contrived, but certainly habitual. Personally, I don’t have time to recline on the couch of inspiration, waiting for my muse. Half the time, she shows up twenty minutes after I start writing, anyway.

 

I’ve found that if I’m in place, writing every day—something, anything—then the good stuff will eventually come. It will get stronger and more predictable as I use my writing muscle. If I don’t exercise that muscle regularly, it won’t be very strong. So, no pain, no gain applies to writing, too. Committing to a writing habit is a surefire way to banish writer’s block.

 

So, how do you form a writing habit? Go to your writing spot often, and stay there. When you’re there, only do writing stuff. It’s that simple. Okay, maybe it’s a little more complicated, especially if you have small children or pets. (Been there, done that). Writing is fun, but it can also be a chore. It can be maddening and disheartening at times, but the moments of joy and “ah ha” are worth it.

 

Some tools to help you strengthen your writing habit (in no particular order):

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A calendar or chart. Write down when you plan to write, how long, and even how many words or pages you will write in that time slot. If this is a first for you, start by committing to only 15 minutes a day or a page a day. Build on that slowly. Record your progress.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A kitchen timer. Set the timer for 15 minutes (or whatever your time commitment), and write. Don’t stop writing until the time is up. Don’t answer the phone. Ignore emails. Only take a break when absolutely necessary. A coffee break is not an absolute necessity.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A writing book (or website). There are tons of books on how to write. Choosing just one can be difficult. You might find it helpful to start with a writing site like Writer’s Digest (http://writersdigest.com/). Writer’s Digest has an online community forum that is ideal for novices and pros. Groups like this are great resources for tips and advice on the right books and web links. Join a group and grow your craft. Facebook can be a good resource too (like our “Your Fiction Writing Toolkit Group”).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A friend. A true writing friend is a friend who knows when to leave you to your writing, how to tell you when your writing stinks, and when to stand up and applaud. A true writing friend can do all this and know nothing about writing, but it certainly helps if they do. Go out and find a writing friend.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. A goal. To me, there are two kinds of writing goals. The goal to write for yourself, as in keeping a writing journal or creating a personal blog. Or the goal to publish a novel. Both goals are good. One is not better than the other. They’re just writing goals. It’s good to have goals. Even better to reach them. Meeting your goals takes time. So, if you’re starting out, be patient with yourself. When you reach your goal, celebrate by making another one and take yourself out for a treat. You deserve it.

 

GOOD WRITING IDEAS

A story idea is like a seed. And ideas, much like seeds, come in all sizes and produce different results. Thankfully, ideas can be found almost everywhere. The challenge (and joy) is finding the seeds that will grow for you. How do you find the seeds just right for you?

 

Here are a few ways to generate ideas.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Write what you know. Write about the things you already know about. Write about it in the form that you most like reading. If you like riding your motorcycle and reading poetry, try your hand at writing a quirky little contemporary romantic comedy between the beat poet and a biker. The key is to write your passion.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Read. Read. Read. In other words, read a lot. And read outside the box. If your thing is mysteries, read sci-fi instead. If you like Popular Science, pick up a copy of Good Housekeeping. The object is to find new ways of thinking; experience other views and news. Take notes as you read. Using the things you’ve learned about your craft, analyze the things you read. This is reading for ideas, not pleasure. You may be surprised by the ideas which come. And of course, don’t forget the internet. There are so many sources of good reading material online.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Research. Research … that’s a dry-sounding word, but it doesn’t have to be. Research can be talking to the elderly in the neighborhood or taking a group of dogs for a walk. Taking up a new hobby can also be research, not to mention relaxing. Document your findings. You may find that some of your research generates material for characterization.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Hit the road. Travel is a great way to shake ideas loose. The great thing about this kind of travel is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Walk around the mall for a couple hours. Hang out at the museum or train station. Watch people. Soak in the smells and sounds. Listen to conversations. Record them, but do so surreptitiously. The more you experience, the more you’ll know firsthand and the more things you’ll have to write about. Travel is a good way to tune your sense to detail and your ear to the use of language.

 

LEARNING FROM FEEDBACK

Writing is hard work. You put countless hours into each project. A whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. When someone makes a negative comment, it’s like a knife to the gut. As a writer aiming for publication, you crave feedback, but it scares you to death. Learning from feedback is crucial to your growth as a writer.

 

How to learn from feedback

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Ask the right questions. Befriend some like-minded folks who like to write. Form a writer’s group. Support each other in your writing journey. Learn how to proofread and critique. Critique each other’s writing.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Buck up. Every writer needs to develop thick skin. Feedback isn’t a personal attack, so just relax.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Use it, don’t lose it. When you get negative criticism, don’t freak out. Remember, it comes with the territory. What you write is not for everybody. Learn to recognize the constructive feedback. Take a few deep breaths, then get back to work on your project. The feedback was meant to make it shine. It’s up to you to apply the suggestion … or not.

 

BONUS TRACK:

Once you announce to the world that you mean to produce a work of fiction of any length, all your friends will start to expect something peculiar of you. They will expect you to have an exceptional grasp on all things written. Brush up on grammar, verb tenses, plurals, contractions, and the like. Never again will you be allowed to use double negatives, slang, dangling modifiers, or misused punctuation (unless it’s in character, of course). Get thee a style book and use it.

PART III

 

 

Publishing

Chapter 7: Traditional Publishing

 

CLUELESS, YET ASPIRING

After I finished the full manuscript of my first novel, I started shopping it around. Using the skills I’d gained at writer’s conferences and from Writer’s Digest magazine, I had created a fiction proposal and query letter. I’ve included samples at the end of this chapter. Please don’t skip the middle, though. I don’t want you to miss information about literary agents.

 

Back then, I used a second-hand copy of the Christian Writer’s Market Guide to find contact information for acquisitions editors at publishing houses in the United States. I picked a handful and called them to check that the mailing information was correct. Then off to the post office I went with printed proposals packed neatly in manuscript boxes along with my query letter and book proposal. After a year of trying to find a publisher in this way, I was getting thoroughly discouraged. I had tried all the big-name publishing houses and a few of the smaller ones.

 

“Maybe you need to use a literary agent,” a friend suggested.

 

By this time, we had home internet service. A quick search led me to a free online service to help match writers with agents. In short order, I was matched to an agent in Massachusetts. He promised me the moon and didn’t even deliver a paper star. I wrote a nice letter and fired him after a year of waiting and waiting.

 

Agentless but not deterred, I went about finding a new agent. This time, though, I wanted an agent based in North Carolina, my home state. Back to the trusted market guide I went. I found Leslie Stobbe from Tryon, NC and I sent him an email. Les agreed to read my proposal and get back with me. After a short time, he emailed me, letting me know he wanted to represent me. His agent-author contract was already on its way to me via US mail. I was excited but guarded. I had yet to meet the man, and my bad experience with the Massachusetts guy was still fresh in my mind.

 

I hired a lawyer who specialized in intellectual property law to look over the contract. His legal advice cost me $100. Little did I know, Les Stobbe was shopping my proposal around at a publishing conference around the same time. He called me from the conference, saying that Moody Publishers would like to buy the book. I was floored. He had enough faith in me and my skills to sell my book before we were officially under contract.

 

LITERARY AGENTS

I thank God for Les Stobbe. He and I stayed together for another book, the second novel in the Isaac Hunt trilogy. I consider him a good friend and highly skilled literary agent. Turns out, I didn’t meet him face to face until almost two years after that original email.

 

What to look for in the literary agent:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Industry connections within more than 1 publishing house

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Experience selling your genre

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Responsiveness

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Faith in you and your talent

 

Never pay a literary agent up front. They get paid when you get paid by the publishing house. The terms of payment should be included in your contract. Some agents are also writers but not often, as I’ve found in my experience in the CBA, or Christian Booksellers Association. Don’t ask an agent if he or she likes your book. They don’t have to “like” it. They just have to have enough faith in it to sell it for you.

 

What you should be doing (with or without an agent):

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Writing fiction

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Building your platform (public awareness that you are a writer)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Submitting your fiction

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Attending conferences and workshops (improving your writing)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Practicing patience

 

After you’ve submitted a proposal (with or without an agent), expect to wait from a few weeks to a few months for a response. Don’t send nagging emails or phone calls.

 

If this is your first published work, then you will be asked for the full completely-edited error-free highly-polished manuscript. So, finish that book before you start shopping anything around.

Chapter 8: Self-Publishing

 

In 2015, my traditional publishing experience morphed into a self-publishing path. In today’s publishing landscape, this bifurcation is becoming increasingly typical. Traditional publishing houses are recognizing this trend and capitalizing on it. They are actively seeking independently published authors, aka indies. They are also creating imprints for indies and partnerships with small publishing houses.

 

VANITY PUBLISHING

Some companies may appear to be indie-centric but are really vanity publishers. Vanity—or subsidy—publishers normally require large sums of money up front to publish your book or they require you to buy hundreds or thousands of printed books in exchange for their service. I do not recommend using a subsidy publisher unless you have several thousands of dollars in dispensable funds and a way to store all those books.

 

Short list of vanity/subsidy publishers:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. AuthorHouse

*
p<>{color:#000;}. iUniverse

*
p<>{color:#000;}. PublishAmerica

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Xulon

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Xlibris

 

Some of these companies offer what they call “self-publishing” services but from my experience, you can save lots of money doing by hiring independent freelancers or by doing things yourself. In this sense, it is true self-publishing.

 

TRUE SELF-PUBLISHING

For years, I avoided self-publishing like the plague, but I had to do something with the third and last manuscript of the Isaac Hunt saga. My first two novels, published traditionally through a major Christian Booksellers Association house, were not selling well. The first book, The Making of Isaac Hunt, had gone into a second printing but there was a sudden slump in 2009. The news of my low sales hit me hard and my momentum slumped. I should have seen the writing on the wall when they said they did not want to publish the third book in the series.

 

With the disappointing news weighing on me, I was slow in getting the last manuscript going. This was right about the time I was experimenting with alternatives to MS Word to make fiction writing go smoother. These experiments flopped and instead of helping me write with more efficiency, they caused me to waste valuable time. My frustration mounted with these failures and were only magnified as I faced other frustrations in my personal life. The phrase “life happens” was never more real during this period. After months of trying, I finally gave up on the storyline and hung up my proverbial writing hat for the next few years.

 

I didn’t pick up that hat again until the summer of 2013, over five years after the second book came out. I wasn’t fooling myself, I knew that having five years between books in a series was like starting over again. In a sense, publishing the third book was asking for trouble, but something in me kept pushing.

 

INDIE VS. TRADITIONAL

As I finished the manuscript (using MS Word this time), I started educating myself about self-publishing. After making some contacts with smaller publishing houses about taking on my third book, I came to the realization that independent publishing was in my near future. I joined a Christian fiction indie pub Facebook group. I read books and blogs on self-publishing. I took the plunge, nose pinched tight and feet first. Was everything perfect? No. Am I happy I did it? Yes.

 

Since I’m a control freak, I like the independence of indie publishing. I like being able to call the shots during every step of the entire process. It makes me feel like my opinion matters. There were times during the traditional publishing process when I felt powerless, like I was being taken advantage of or ignored.

 

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t regret my traditional publishing experiences. The traditional publisher’s influence opened many doors for me on TV and radio, in bookstores and libraries, and with book clubs. And although the royalties were low to nonexistent, I did like getting an advance check. I think if I had been mentally prepared for publishing as a business, I would have had a better experience. In the end, the publishing house decided what was objectionable in my book, and they told me when they would and would not release my titles. They control the prices for those books on retail outlets like Amazon. To re-release my first two books, I would have to buy the remaining stock in their warehouses. Last time I checked, that was more than $9,000.

 

All publishing is business. I set up a sole proprietorship business using my full name the year I signed my first book contract. As a hybrid published author, I still operate under that same sole proprietorship. I know some indie authors who have set up publishing companies using a limited liability corporation (LLC) business structure. They publish their own work in addition to the work of other indies. For a number of years, I operated under an LLC and provided web and print design services.

 

At its best, self-publishing is a gift. It gives writers a chance to get their work into print. At its worst, self-publishing is a curse. It gives writers a chance to get their work into print. Let’s be honest, some self-published books do not need to see the light of day. They are rife with errors in grammar and spelling, the storylines are poor, and the covers are atrocious. In short, indie published books have a reputation for being unprofessional. This has changed in recent years as more traditionally-published authors have thrown their hats into the indie ring, but there are still some indie toads out there. Don’t be an indie toad. If this is your first book, hire professionals to edit and design for you.

 

POLISHING THE APPLE

Thankfully, we live in a gig economy that’s not going away anytime soon. Regardless of how you feel about Uber and Airbnb in the marketplace, the temp business model can be used to your advantage. Freelancers can help make your journey to the bookshelf less painful and more professional.

 

Where can you find these professionals? I suggest tapping into your network of fellow writers first. Ask for recommendations within your budget. Freelancers who have been working for a long time might have higher rates. You have to pay for experience. One way to get a lower rate is to take a chance on a newbie. Reduce your risk by asking for samples of their work and feedback from their clients.

 

Secondly, visit websites where the freelancers hang out. The more reputable gig sites include Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. Before you plunk down your coinage, be sure you feel comfortable working with them. This might mean interviewing them via Skype. Don’t feel obligated to hire them just because you spoke via online chat. At the end of the day, it’s your business decision.

 

Create a budget for publishing expenses. Depending on your income, you might need to start squirrelling away this publishing nest egg several months before you actually need it. Obviously, some of the print services depend on word count and book content. For instance, formatting books heavy in graphics takes more time and specialized (expensive) software. Remember, freelancers are business people, too. They must make enough money to justify staying in business. I speak from experience.

 

This list might give you some idea for how much to put aside:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Editing services: Typically start around $1.00 per 250 words for proofreading; $1.50 per 250 words for copy editing (more advanced substantive editing services will cost more)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. eBook cover design: $75-$100

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Print cover design: $150-$2,500

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Book interior layout: $150-$500

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Website design: $575-$5,000

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Virtual assistant: $12-$25/hr

 

LESSONS LEARNED

One thing is certain, when you indie publish, you will always be learning. Just when you think you’ve learned it all, things change. Don’t fret. There’s always someone out there who can help. Tap into your support network. You’ll make it through.

 

Some lessons I learned about from going indie:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. ISBN: This acronym stands for International Standard Book Number. An ISBN is unique 10- or 13-digit identification number associated with a published book. Indie publishers purchase their own ISBNs from a company called Bowker. At the time of this printing, one ISBN went for $125. A bundle of 10 numbers went for $250. http://www.isbn.org/buy_ISBNs

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Amazon Kindle: There are many e-publishing services, but Amazon cannot be avoided. If you have purchased anything through Amazon.com, then you can easily set up a Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP account. The no-so-easy part is formatting your manuscript from Word into the .mobi format that Amazon’s KDP eBook service requires. Software like Calibre can help with that, but be prepared for a steep learning curve. https://www.createspace.com/

*
p<>{color:#000;}. IngramSpark: This is another direct publishing eBook service. IngramSpark offers print on demand or POD services as well. A key advantage of publishing with this service: access to libraries and big-box bookstores. IngramSpark is owned by Ingram Content Group, a premier book distribution company. http://www.ingramspark.com/

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Shakespir: This is an eBook distribution service. Upload your book, free of charge, and you’re instantly listed in most of Amazon’s competitors. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple, in particular. You will need to navigate through their special formatting requirements and getting qualified for their Premium Catalog service. https://www.Shakespir.com/about/how_to_publish_on_Shakespir

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Product samples: If you plan to sell print versions of your book out-of-hand or as POD for direct orders, you should order samples. For the cost of one book (usually $5-$6 plus shipping and handling), you can test drive the book. Make sure you like the way it feels in your hand before you place a large order for in-person book sales. [Side note: for true self-publishing, you are not required to buy your own book].

*
p<>{color:#000;}. eBook readers: Your book may display differently in different brands of eBook readers (EPUB readers). Kindle and NOOK are common commercial brands. Before you click the publish button and make your eBook live to the world, preview the final draft of your book in different sized EPUB simulators. Amazon has a Kindle previewer. The Mozilla Firefox Internet browser had an ePubReader add-on at one time.

 

Things have changed slightly since I first published Saving Tate Michaels independently. And they’ll probably keep changing as quickly as shifting sand. The important thing to keep in mind with self-publishing is to remain flexible. Choosing a publishing company is a personal business choice. For me, it came down to how much I wanted to keep in my pocket and to getting my books before the largest segment of my audience possible.

 

When people think of buying eBooks especially, they naturally visit Amazon.com. Using Amazon is a no-brainer if you want to reach your audience, but don’t forget to put some effort into getting your book on other e-platforms as well.

 

I wasted lots of time in my initial efforts to navigate the self-publishing scene. After I stumbled through all the newbie mistakes, I found myself wishing that someone had given me the steps to take to smooth out the indie road to publication. So, if that’s where you are, too … well, here are the steps I recommend.

 

Suggested order of steps:

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Finish your manuscript. Proofread and edit it to the best of your ability.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Pass the file on to your beta readers, proofreaders, and editor.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Hire a book cover designer (or do it yourself).

#
p<>{color:#000;}. While you’re waiting on Steps 2 and 3 to finish,

##
p<>{color:#000;}. Buy your ISBN/s from Bowker

##
p<>{color:#000;}. Sign up for your eBook publishing and distribution services (CreateSpace, Shakespir, IngramSpark)

#
p<>{color:#000;}. With the corrected manuscript and cover graphic, move forward with formatting for eBook format. You can do this yourself or hire it out. The specific steps and formats are unique to the outlets you choose. Consult the websites of the companies you choose for directions. Formatting the book yourself may mean you learn to use new software.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Upload your formatted eBook into the appropriate categories. Upload your high-resolution book cover. Associate the ISBN and book metadata, like description and keywords. Move forward with your book promotion plan.

 

Promoting your work is necessary whether you self-publish or not. Keep reading to find out more about how to market your literary wares.

PART IV

h1={color:#000;}.

h1={color:#000;}.

Public Relations and Marketing

Chapter 9: Marketing and Other “Evils”

 

MARKETING

The thought of building a readership scared me to death. When I first started writing, I naively assumed that readers would find me. I had honestly put no thought to my potential readership until my Moody Publishers’ acquisitions editor asked me to send my marketing proposal to her.

 

My unspoken response: My marketing what?!

 

Thankfully, my agent had a clue what the editor wanted and emailed me a marketing proposal template, and I took it from there.

 

As a published author, expect to have a regular and active role in marketing your work. It does not matter if you are traditionally-published or self-published; marketing will be in your future. Make it your business to learn how to market fiction. It starts with knowing your audience—who they are, what they buy, where they buy, and why they buy. In marketing lingo, that means you need to know your demographic and psychographic.

 

I have learned a lot about marketing by watching authors who are successful at it—the best sellers, that is. It also helps to talk with authors who enjoy marketing. Yes, there are actually people who enjoy marketing. I have also taken free business marketing workshops at the local small business incubator. Marketing fiction has a few nuances unique to the literary world, but on a basic level, marketing is still marketing. Seek help from a business incubator, small business center, or community college. And of course, you can find lots of advice online.

 

Advertising is not the same as marketing. Advertising is something you pay for. Marketing is what you do to reach your target market. In today’s advertising saturated marketplace, outbound marketing seldom works. All those direct mail postcards in your mailbox, flyers on your windshield, and spam email messages you get in the mail? Well, those are outbound marketing pieces. The opposite is inbound marketing—any promotion that you do that pulls people toward the value you create. Inbound is blogging, creating podcasts, and giving away free eBooks and even recipes that complement your storyline.

 

There are several different ways to market your wares. Here are a few I’ve found success with in recent years:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Cause marketing: promoting your books around an event or holiday central to your topic (e.g., National Adoption Month for a book with a heavy pro-adoption theme)

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p<>{color:#000;}. Relationship marketing: involves the practice of building and rewarding your loyal following; interacting with readers like friends for the long-term and not just one-time customers; the opposite of spam

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p<>{color:#000;}. Content marketing: creating valuable content that draws or pulls people to you and your books; very nearly synonymous to inbound marketing.

 

USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Writer folks are a strange breed. We tend to shy away from contact with people. Books are our best friends. We can spend hours on end conversing with fictional people, but put us in a room with lots of people, and we don’t make a peep. So, prepare yourself, marketing and promoting may be difficult for you if you’re an introvert. Difficulty is not an excuse for not getting out and mixing and mingling.

 

Start small and work up. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to be on all social media platforms at once. Try Facebook first. You probably already have a FB account and are only connecting with old school friends and family. If not, make a plan to create an account this week. Don’t worry about connecting with your “audience” yet. Search for your favorite authors. They probably have a “fan” page. Don’t be shy: like their page and notice how they interact with their readers. This is what I call “studying the natives”. Take notes. Don’t just stalk them, though. Ask them questions about the FB groups they belong to and how they market their work. While you’re at it, buy and read their books.

 

There are FB groups for every genre and subgenre you can think of. Groups allow you to really get to know other writers and can function like a writers group. I belong to several and keep tabs on them by using the Facebook “follow” function. There are also groups for promoting your work, and groups for networking and improving your craft. Be careful. Don’t try to be everywhere at once. Start small and work outward.

 

There are a few other social media tools that I think work best for writers:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Twitter

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p<>{color:#000;}. Goodreads.com

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p<>{color:#000;}. Hootesuite

 

The power of Twitter is in the use of hashtags and Twitter chats. At the time of this publication, the hashtags #amwriting and #FreebieFriday seldom fail to get a positive response from readers and writers alike. Do a Google search for Twitter writer-friendly hashtags to find ones relevant to your genre or fan base.

 

Thankfully, many of the same hashtags work on Facebook, so linking your accounts to post simultaneously might be something to consider. There are instructions on both platforms on how to make the virtual connection. Another thing you will want to do with Facebook is to create a fan page for your books that is separate from your personal page.

 

Goodreads.com is a site made specifically by Amazon to display your Amazon-listed books. This includes self-published books that were published via Amazon at the time of this writing. Goodreads has an active reader community and good promotional tools for published authors. One tool is the paperback giveaway contest. I’ve run a couple contests with two of my three print books and enjoyed the responses from prospective readers. People love to get free books and the chance to converse with published authors.

 

The only thing I don’t like about promoting online is the advertisements that get pushed at you all the flipping time, but it comes with the territory, so we put up with it. Another thing that might come with the landscape of social media use is social media overuse. Beware of this time-sucking monster. Promotion should not be your life. Learn to track your time, limiting yourself to a small window of time each day. Also, learn how to use social media scheduling tools like HootSuite.com. I’ve used the free version of this online app for years. There are other apps but I really like this one best.

 

I have profiles on several social media platforms, but I only use the Facebook and Twitter for book promotion. I used to try pushing my wares on all my online channels, but that got wearisome for me and for my followers. When I scaled back, I found I was able to tolerate marketing better and actually started enjoying it on a small scale. I use the word enjoying loosely. I’m not a strong marketer by any stretch, but I do like meeting new folks—in small doses and when my personal “batteries” are fully charged. I am an unabashed introvert.

 

SURVIVING PUBLIC APPEARANCES

Introversion is not the same as shyness. Being shy means you avoid social settings because you are nervous or timid. Anyone can suffer from a bit of timidity from time to time, even an extrovert. Being an introvert means you draw your energy and deep satisfaction from your own solitary personal interests and thoughts.

 

Introversion is a temperament, a permanent part of a person’s nature. As an introvert, I ran a multi-million-dollar state-wide grant program for almost five years. For over two years, I taught university engineering classes. I owned and operated a one-woman web design company, serving colleges and small businesses for over a decade. I’ve appeared on TV and radio several times. I’ve even been called a “people person”. Not bad for a person who used to get sick to her stomach at the thought of speaking in public.

 

Public speaking and networking skills that I learned from the business and engineering world served me when I was put upon to market my fiction. It was not enough to use the fake-it-till-you-make-it mantra. I had to truly feel comfortable speaking at Barnes and Noble book readings where I didn’t know a soul. I had to exude confidence when I visited a book club meeting with the church ladies I’d met on social media.

 

I made public confidence my goal. It might sound silly to you, particularly if you are an extrovert. That year when I wrote my self-development goals list, public confidence was on the top of the list. I recorded video and audio of myself. I wrote out interview questions and practiced my answers with a stuffed-toy audience (they were my kid’s stuffed toys, okay). I studied successful PR people and copied their techniques.

 

Succeeding as an introvert in an extrovert-centric world means pushing through the rough spots, because there will be times when you mess up. In fact, expect to drop the ball, to go brain-dead in front of lots of people and to say something stupid. Your first few times will most likely be awful. Get over it. You’ll live and learn.

 

Here are some tips that might help you survive public appearances:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Prepare for events by writing a script

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p<>{color:#000;}. Practice positive self-talk

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p<>{color:#000;}. Lighten up on yourself; perfection is a dirty stinking lie

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p<>{color:#000;}. Learn from failure; embrace change

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p<>{color:#000;}. Recharge during downtime

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p<>{color:#000;}. Protect your downtime

 

Most of all, introverts need time to recharge between events. I recharge by being by myself with a good book, by taking a quiet walk by myself, or by doing something creative like knitting or drawing. If I don’t make time to charge up, I will crash and burn.

 

A few years ago, I was surfing TED.com for material to use in one of my freshman engineering classes, I found a TED Talk that changed my way of looking at coping in a world of extroverts. It’s a twenty-minute talk from 2012 entitled “Your body language shapes who you are” by Amy Cuddy. In the video, social scientist Cuddy talks about increasing your perceived competence in social settings by making a two-minute posture change before the anxiety-producing encounter. She models what she calls power poses. Make a point of searching out her video this week. It can change the way you approach public appearances.

[+ http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are+]

 

CREATING VALUABLE CONTENT

If you’ve spent any time reading about marketing, you’ve heard about driving traffic to your website. You might feel a little weird doing that, at first, but believe me, with over a million books being published each year (2009 Bowker statistic), you can’t depend on people finding your books just because you created a killer website. A website that has great site engine optimization (SEO) is a good idea, but your valuable content can’t stop there. As mentioned previously, Bowker is the entity that sells ISBNs, those numbers right below the barcode on the back of your book.

 

Consider blogging if you are a first-time author. Use it to build writing discipline and expand your writer footprint online. WordPress.org offers a free blogging website platform which dovetails easily with social media. Many hosting companies have WordPress as one of the offerings. As you research webhost providers, consider Bluehost.com. From my research, their WordPress integration is very near flawless.

 

I blogged for many years when the kids were little but abandoned it when I went back to work fulltime outside the home. I accepted invitations on a number of occasions to guest blog on various websites dealing with topics from my books and on fiction writing, in general. This is another way of creating valuable content that will drive readers to your site. Guest blogging doesn’t have to be painful.

 

For nearly-painless guest blogging:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Create canned written interviews with questions and answers

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p<>{color:#000;}. Upload a simple press kit (head shot, bio, and contact information on one page; this is called a “one-sheet”)

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p<>{color:#000;}. Craft 3-4 talking points about you, your writing style, your books, topics in your books, etc.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Keep a list of where and when you’ve guest blogged, and

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Post links to these guest blogs on social media (schedule them using a site like Hootsuite)

 

I mentioned the press kit above. You can hire a professional press kit writer to help with this one, but it’s totally something you can do yourself. I strongly recommend that you do get a professional photographer to take your head shot. A head shot is a photograph of your head and shoulders, with you facing the camera. The investment I made for my head shots was worth it. I negotiated for digital copies instead of prints. If you’re not handy with Adobe Photoshop, be sure to get the photographer to supply both web-ready and print-ready versions of the poses. The web-ready photos are just the ticket for posting to social media. Use the higher resolution print-ready ones for your back-cover photos as well as for newspapers, magazine, or book store appearances.

 

Let’s say you’re marketing a story set in a small coastal town that’s famous for clam chowder. Serve up a recipe for clam chowder on your website. Post pictures of clam chowder on your Instagram. Solicit pictures on Twitter of people eating clam chowder while reading your book. I think you get the “picture”. Teehee.

 

CREATING A WEBSITE

I believe every writer seeking publication should have a website before they get published. First, because some publishers require it. Second, readers want it. What other reasons do you need?

 

I highly recommend using a free website creation and management system like WordPress for creating and maintaining your site. Bluehost.com is a hosting company with a one-click WordPress setup. You can also register your domain name with Bluehost. Even though WordPress is free, web hosting and domain names are not. Expect to pay about $150USD a year for your own hosting and name.

 

If that’s still too much money for your wallet, you can set up a free site on Google.com/sites. WordPress.com is an option, too. It’s offered by the creators of WordPress, Automattic, as a free blogging platform to rival Blogger.com. You’ll need to have a Gmail account first for the Google site. For a small monthly fee, you can arrange to associate a pre-purchased domain name with your remotely hosted site. At the time of this printing, WordPress.com charges $2.99 a year to use your own domain name purchased from a domain registrar like Bluehost.com or Name.com.

 

Okay, you want to go all out and set up a self-hosted site. You’ll need these three things:

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p<>{color:#000;}. A domain name

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p<>{color:#000;}. A web hosting company

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p<>{color:#000;}. Web files that make a site visible online in a web browser like Firefox or Chrome

 

You can set up a simple site yourself or you can hire someone. Since most writing newbies are not independently wealthy, you’ll probably want to go for the DIY site. LLHargrove.com is my writing website. It’s built on WordPress (aka web files), and I manage it myself. I no longer blog regularly, but the site still gets web traffic from readers and comments to the blog posts.

 

A writer’s website will need a few basic things.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Home page (this is where your latest posts will appear if you blog)

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p<>{color:#000;}. About page with your picture, short bio, and downloadable press kit

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p<>{color:#000;}. Published works with photos and freebies like book excerpts and recipes; alternately, you can put samples of your unpublished work

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Contact page, with linked social media sites and booking information

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p<>{color:#000;}. Appearances, which include past, present, and future

 

Marketing and promotion shouldn’t break the bank, but expect to invest some time and money along the way. And expect to learn from your mistakes.

 

Speaking of mistakes, the next chapter discusses the lessons I learned from failing.

Chapter 10: Learning from Failure

 

I’ve been writing for publication since 1996. My first book was picked up by a traditional publisher in 2006. The book hit bookstore shelves in 2007. For ten years, I worked on that first manuscript but you want to know something—even though it’s published, it’s not perfect. In fact, to this day, I find it difficult to do readings from the book without editing it on the fly as I read. I still love the story of the biracial man in search of his roots, but I keep thinking I should rewrite the thing because of all the common “newbie mistake” I made in it.

 

Just as I realize the shortcomings of my debut novel, I also see where I’ve fallen short in so many other ways. Below is a list of some things I’ve tried that did not work. This list can also be called my …

 

“Never Doing That Again” List

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p<>{color:#000;}. Book tour

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p<>{color:#000;}. Blog tour

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p<>{color:#000;}. Direct mail promotions

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p<>{color:#000;}. Putting lots of characters in a single book (a common newbie mistake)

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p<>{color:#000;}. Hybrid publishing a series

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p<>{color:#000;}. Blogging every week

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p<>{color:#000;}. Being on every social media channel

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p<>{color:#000;}. Book trailer videos

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p<>{color:#000;}. Virtual book release party

 

Even though I cringe at all the mistakes I made, I can hold my head up high when I think of the things I did correctly.

 

Things you should do yourself:

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p<>{color:#000;}. Write your own books. There is a trend now to hire ghostwriters to write genre fiction, especially romances. I don’t like that trend.

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p<>{color:#000;}. Maintain your own website and social media accounts, especially in the beginning

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p<>{color:#000;}. Sign autographs

 

Things you can “hire” out (or do yourself):

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p<>{color:#000;}. Proofread and edit your manuscripts

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p<>{color:#000;}. Market your work

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Maintain your web and social presence (aka virtual assistant)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Write news and press releases

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Create your press kit

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Take photographs

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Create book covers and other book-related graphics

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Coordinate your book-related events and travel plans (assistant, virtual or otherwise)

 

Hiring out can come in many forms. I’ve hired out friends and family to volunteer their time and energy. I’ve bartered for professional head shots. I’ve crowd-sourced proofreading and editing services (a tip from Guy Kawasaki, co-author of APE). I’ve also used beta readers; that’s when you solicit a read-through before the book is published.

 

Since I also operate a small web and print design company, I do all my book graphics and web design. I have always done my own social media posting but I know authors who use virtual assistants to schedule messages for them or even post live in their stead.

 

THE WRAP-UP

Every writer handles their business differently. What I’ve presented in this short eBook entails my experiences only. I cannot guarantee they’ll all work for you, but something should. You’ll never know until you try.

 

If you seriously want to be published, I strongly suggest you start associating with published writers. Stop talking about writing and start writing. Even bad writing is better than no writing at all. You can’t edit a manuscript, if you haven’t written it.

 

Writing for publication takes courage. It also takes the ability to overcome your personal inertia, that paralyzing force that keeps you in one spot for fear of falling flat on your pretty face.

 

Accept this one reality. You will fall. All of us published writers have fallen at some point in our journeys and probably will fall again. Make up your mind right now, that you will get up each time you fall.

 

Here’s to a successful writing journey.

MY FICTION

The Making of Isaac Hunt

Loving Cee Cee Johnson

Saving Tate Michaels

Coming in 2017: the Theodora Davis, Carolina Girl YA novel series

 

 

ABOUT MY FICTION

Praise for Linda’s fiction works

[Linda’s] skillful use of dialogue makes the characters come vividly alive, and her gift for storytelling keeps you wanting to know what will happen next.”

 

An enjoyable and exciting book that I could not put down.”

 

I can’t wait to read more from this writer!”

 

Interested in finding out more about my novels, visit http://LLHargrove.com/my-books/.

 

 

SEE YOU ONLINE

Join us on our Facebook group called “Your Fiction Writing Toolkit Group”. If you have questions about storytelling, join the group. The Group gives me an opportunity to meet you and answer questions directly. I’ve also uploaded a lot of free resources for fiction writers to the Group. These include a sample fiction proposal, query letter, and book marketing plan. See you online, writer friend.

 


Your Fiction Writing Toolki

Your Fiction Writing Toolkit is an essential resource for new fiction writers. It contains Linda Hargrove's wisdom from her decade of experience in both traditional and indie publishing. Learn ways to avoid the newbie mistakes, save money, and work smarter. Achieve quicker success as a fiction writer. Your Fiction Writing Toolkit is written with the untrained writer in mind. It is designed to help you move beyond merely thinking about writing. What a better way risk-free to learn the ropes from a published author? Download a free copy of Your Fiction Writing Toolkit today.

  • Author: Linda Leigh Hargrove
  • Published: 2016-12-29 23:50:14
  • Words: 14183
Your Fiction Writing Toolki Your Fiction Writing Toolki