Monday, May 16, 2016

Mail Bag Day: A Writers Workshop, Characters Who Are Stuck, and Marketing Your Novel

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

School is coming to an end for my older two kids, which means I am frantically trying to wrap up whatever I need to work-wise before summer break. That means my normally very organized office looks like this:

This bulletin board is supposed to be for story stuff, and it's been over run by rally towels (go Royals!) and artwork. And check out that smear of receipts, sewing stuff, research material, and more on my ledge. There's even yet another rally towel crumpled up. Like I need a third hanging up? In that shuffle, there's also an envelope of hair that needs to be mailed. I need help. Shan Ditty, your lack of organization has nothing on me, girl!
My brain and inbox look similar. I've been atrocious about answering emails. Let's blame Eli, shall we?

Who could be mad at that guy?

Today I'm going to scroll through my inbox and address some of the events and questions sitting in there:

The Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop:

This was brought to our attention by the lovely Serena Chase. How great does this workshop look? Jay Asher! Ally Condie! Jennifer Nielsen! Jonathan Friesen! Jacqueline West! Serena Chase! (I can still pass for 19, right???)

Lani asked: 
I wanted to ask, what do you do when your characters are faced with a tough situation and they are in so have no idea how to get them out?

If you're feeling particularly feisty, you say, "Good! Now I have a chance to be really creative!"

How do you feel about lists, Lani? Because when I'm in this situation, I start making lists. My character could do this, this, this, or this. Or maybe your character doesn't need to do something, maybe something gets done to them.

If I'm really stuck, I reach out to my critique partner, Roseanna. She's able to give good advice because she isn't the one who has to deal with the work of it, if that makes sense. My brain goes for easy answers first because I'm the one who has to write it. Usually she starts throwing stuff like this at me: Could another character show up? Could you blow up something? Can you steal from a plot point later in the story? Can someone leave unexpectedly?

So start with a list, and if you have a Roseanna in your life, reach out to that person.

Hannah asked:
I researched publishers and found several that accept manuscripts from authors, rather than from agents. I read the guidelines for sending query letters to these publishers, and they said that the author must have a plan for how to advertise his/her novel. Do you have any tips on creating a platform? Are there any magazines that you know of that publish short stories by teen writers? What are some ways to increase my chances of selling a novel well?

I remember the first time I heard about this concept. I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me, honestly. But I'm the WRITER, I thought. I don't know how to do that stuff! This is one of the reasons why when teens ask me for recommendations for what to study in college, I always suggest marketing or at least taking marketing classes.

First I'll address developing a plan to advertise your novel.

Let's say your book is a historical mystery that takes place in the 1920s. Your ideas for marketing your novel might look like this:

  • Throw a "jazz night" party at my local coffee house with jazz music, prizes, a reading, and more.
  • Hold an online scavenger hunt with clues at each stop.
  • Reach out to the historical society at the location where my book takes place and see if I can host an event there.
See? That kind of stuff. Now for those events to yield any kind of buzz or sales, you need what they call a "platform." Which is to say you need an audience. People who are listening when you speak. People who will want to buy your book when it comes out.

So your platform is a number. How many people are following you on your blog, Wattpad,Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, Instagram, YouTube, etc. We can debate the fairness of it all day long, but those are numbers that publishers care about because they represent people who are listening to you.

This isn't to say you have to be on every social media platform to get picked up by a publisher, but it's a good idea to pick one or two of those that are going to be Your Thing and concentrate on growing your numbers. Also, having a website that you can keep pushing people back to is a good idea because it's YOURS and not Facebook's, Twitter's, etc. 

One other thing I'll say about growing your reach is that one of your goals should be to make connections. Not in a, "Hi, will you recommend me to your agent???" kind of way. But in a, "Hey, I read your book, and I think it's amazing. I'm an aspiring writer and I write blah blah blah, and your book really influenced me. Thank you for all your hard work on it. Sincerely, Your Name Goes Here." That brand of kindnessthe brand that is genuine and isn't expecting anything in returngoes a long way in the industry.

Let me throw another link out there for you, Hannah, and any others who might be curious about this topic: Creating A Realistic Marketing Plan For Your Book Release

In regards to the short story questions, I would run a Google search for that topic because that's not something I know much about. And make sure to specify your genre. I believe most of those types of magazines are genre specific.

Have questions? You can write to me here, and I'll eventually respond!


  1. Wow, thanks for answering the question about marketing! I know a lot of authors think it isn't fair how much is put on them between having to publicize and write their books, but I think it would be a fun challenge. There are a ton of creative things you can do to publicize your book.

    Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill!

    1. That's a great attitude, Linea! The balance is very difficult at times, but I think it's worth it.

    2. Definitely!

      (BTW, I love your new bio themed to your book!)

  2. Thank you for the post. I had no idea that the author would have to do the marketing without an agent. This was a wonderful post. If my characters are in a situation where they seem stuck, I'll know what to do.

    1. Even if you have an agent, you are expected to do a lot of marketing. It varies from publisher to publisher, but they like working with authors who are willing to promote their titles.

  3. Is there a post for what to do with two crushes? I need a strong purpose why the Female Main Character (FMC for short) won't get together with this other guy. (GMC) I have written a little story (not published) and after the end, we all know (my future readers...maybe) the FMC is going to get married to this guy she likes. Then (in book #2) she likes this other guy and is torn. He's nice, but we (Future readers) all want the FMC to marry the guy first introduced. I need a strong purpose why the FMC can't (and won't) marry the second guy.
    Any advice or posts? I searched for a post, but found none.
    Thanks! This comment may be confusing.

    1. You would have had to search for "love triangle" to find it:

      Hope it helps!

  4. AHH! I'm going to the conference! Should be lots of fun. :D

  5. I love how random and to-the-point this mail bag day is. XD It must be nice to be to the point where there's posts answering so many of these questions already--all you have to do is a quick search and then copy/paste the link. ;) On the flip side, I imagine it's hard to come up with topics you haven't done before, now. How do y'all find original ideas for posts? (There's a question I wasn't expecting as I started this comment)

    1. This is a hilariously well timed question, Amanda. Considering this blog has been going for over 6 years now, sometimes it feels very difficult! When I'm getting to write regularly, it doesn't feel as hard. I'm able to pull from what I'm struggling with or learning. Recently my attention has been on gathering marketing materials or preparing a class for this summer, so it's been tougher!

    2. Ooh, what class are you teaching?

    3. I'm teaching at the One Year Adventure Novel summer workshop on "being a writer that grows." I'm pretty excited about it! As excited as I ever get about standing on a stage and talking :)

  6. I was reading through the info about the conference thinking "yeah yeah, it's probably halfway across the country and expensive and stuff..." and I probably would have forgotten about it. Then I saw one of my fav author's name on it and I swear I heard my neck snap when my head shot up at the screen! So that's my highlight of the day.

    My question is that what if you wanted to put a snippet of something that you don't own in your book? I'm writing a brothers Grimm retelling and I want to include the original story in the beginning. I can find the version on the internet easily, but do I have to, like, reference the website or something? Thanks!


    1. You would need to credit the book, Katie, but since it's public domain it would be fine to use.

  7. Excellent post! I love the mail bag post format. Do you do these often?

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. I too am pleased with the format presented in this post, but since I've been following GTW for awhile, I can inform you this has not been a regular occurrence.

    2. In the very early GTW days, I would sometimes respond to questions like this, but it's been a long time! I have quite a backlog of emails to work through, so you might see a few of these :) And sometimes people send me questions through my website but don't input their email address correctly, so I'm not able to respond to them any other way.

  8. I'm heading to the conference too! I'M SO EXCITED!!! ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS WILL BE THERE:) *Calms down and sips Earl Grey* It's such a wonderful opportunity. I just hope I don't die because it's back-to-back with a family vacation in Seattle *le sigh*. BUT I WILL GET TO GO TO CANADA ON SAID TRIP!
    Goodness, I got carried away there. I guess that's what happens when you binge eat s'mores while on the interenet.

    1. You'll have to tell us all about it! Looks like a very cool conference.