Monday, February 29, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should You "Kill Your Darlings"?


by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.


Among the most confusing writing advice I've ever received is one I hear repeated all the time: Kill your darlings.



Who this phrase originates with is something of a debate, but it's become one of those bits of advice writers throw around. I used to ignore it because it confused me. My "darlings" were often the best parts of my novel—exchanges of dialogue that I thought were particularly clever, characters who felt like real people to me. The idea that somehow removing those things would improve my story seemed preposterous.

I didn't really understand what the phrase "kill your darlings" meant until I was working on edits for The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet.

The first time I wrote that book, Ellie wasn't a writer. Considering this the whole premise of the final product is that Ellie is a teen writer, that's a very strange thing to think about. Here's the premise:
When ousted by her lifelong friends, teen writer Ellie Sweet takes to story writing as self-therapy. She casts herself as Lady Gabrielle, a favorite in the medieval Italian court, her ex-friends as her catty rivals, and makes a pesky rake of the boy who thinks he’s too good for her in real life. But when Ellie achieves the impossible and her “coping mechanism” becomes a published novel, she faces the consequences of using her pen as her sword.

In the original draft—the one where Ellie wasn't a writerthe book ended with Ellie's father being transferred halfway across the country and she moved without telling anyone. I loved this ending.

When I rewrote the book with Ellie being a writer, the climax of the story instead had to do with the book Ellie had written. I wove those plot points in with the plot line of the Sweet family relocating...and this left me with a really big mess.

I knew the ending was a mess, but I didn't know why. I printed out the last quarter of the book so I could see what the ending would look like if I rearranged some scenes, and finally I put my finger on the problem: My book had two conclusions. They were competing with each other and as a result, the story was losing.

I had to cut one. And I saw very clearly that Ellie-the-teen-writer didn't need to pack up and move to Kansas like the original Ellie had needed to.

But I loved that ending! I especially loved some of the scenes I had written for book two, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. Ellie met some great people in Kansas. I wanted her to meet those people!

For the first time, I understood the purpose behind killing my darlings. Loving a bit of writing or an aspect of your story isn't by itself a sufficient reason to keep it. If it's not serving the story, it needs to go.

I like how Stephen King puts this idea in his classic writing book, On Writing. In a discussion about having written a description that's good but goes on for too long, Stephen King says:
"In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling ... certainly I couldn't keep [the description] on the grounds that it's good; it should be good, if I'm being paid to do it. What I'm not being paid to do is be self-indulgent."
I wanted to keep my original ending to The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet because it mirrored something that had happened in my childhood and it had been fun to write and think about. And, frankly, because I had already written it plus 25,000 words of book two, and I hated having to pitch all of that.

But those are lousy, self-indulgent reasons.

So I killed my darlings, and Ellie stayed in California. Because of that she wound up learning lessons she never would have if I'd allowed her such an easy escape, and I'm proud of the way the book turned out.

Have you come upon a time in writing when you've had to let go of somethinga character, a plot point, a bit of descriptionthat you loved but that didn't serve the story?

A note about monthly challenges: If you want to participate in March's 300 words for 30 days challenge, make sure to get signed up by the end of March 1st! If you participated in February's challenge, be watching your inbox for an email from me. You'll only be entered for the $20 Amazon.com gift card if you respond to my email!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Writer Super Power #4: Sight

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Welcome back to our Friday series on Writer Super Powers. Today we're talking about the most relied upon of all the super powers: sight.

I could have started this series with sight, I suppose, but I wanted to ease my way into it because the truth is, we have a tendency to default to sight. When we set out to describe a person or a place, when we set out to show our readers something, we lean heavily on our vision. That's not a bad thing, but I hope that by covering hearing, smelling, and tasting early on, you understand that all of our senses should be attuned to the world around us and that your writing will benefit if you give each of them their due attention on the page.

What the WRITER sees
If we're going to approach vision as a superpower, let's put ourselves in the shoes of a couple heroes (one super, one slightly less so) who have sharpened their gift of sight into a veritable weapon.

Let's start with Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock has a very specific way of looking at the world. When he searches a room (or a body!), he's simultaneously trying to understand the how and the why behind what he sees. He once told Watson, "You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear."

Superman, on the other hand, has all sorts of special vision abilities. He has x-ray vision and heat vision and superhuman vision. With that last one there--superhuman vision--he can can see farther into the distance and with with more accuracy and detail than the rest of us.

Sherlock and Superman couldn't be more different, but they share the ability to see in detail. An ability you have buried somewhere deep inside and must take pains to hone.

It is your job to set the scene for your audience and you must buy into Sherlock's admonition up there--there is a distinction between seeing and observing. For most of us, observing doesn't just happen. It takes practice. And this is where a journal just might come in handy. Carry it with you--to the doctor's office and to lunch break, to the shopping mall and on the school bus. Wield your pen and practice observing. Scratch down details. Be specific.

Don't write: The bus is hot today.

Write: Sweat gathers in the creases of the driver's neck, dampens his collar. He drags a hand through a mop of graying hair, taps the steering wheel impatiently as I pass. His fingernails are black--crumbs from the pulverized cookie spilling from his torn shirt pocket.

Will you fill your fictions with every detail you observe? No, you won't. But making an effort to see the small things, the intricate things--making an effort to write them down--will help you form a very healthy habit: including detail in your stories. Details make for an authentic and credible read. Details transport the reader.

What the CHARACTER sees
How you describe what your character sees is crucial to the success of your story. No two characters will observe a scene in exactly the same way. Their goals, desires, relationships, backstories, heritage and mental state all play a part in what your characters are seeing at any given time.

A twenty year old spy who has been sitting quietly for hours, waiting for his mark to enter a room will notice vastly more about the scene than a six year old sprinting through with a lollipop in hand. Your observations must be true to the character.

Restraint is important here. I've just spent a bunch of time telling you that detail is important. And it is. Vitally. But you must resist the urge to simply tell the reader what things look like. Your keen observational skills must be sifted through the filter in your characters' heads. Show the reader details, but only details that your narrator would notice. Practice, friends. It's the only way forward here.

What the READER sees
With each of the other senses we've covered, I've encouraged you to tap into memories and nostalgia, to remember that sense descriptions dredge up things for a reader, intentional or not.

And while I wouldn't want you to discard that advice altogether when you're focusing on sight, your writing will suffer if you assume the reader can see what you see.

I run into this a lot when I'm working with young students. I'll start a story with a phrase like, "You know how horrendous it is driving in city traffic, right?"

When they stare blankly back, I'm reminded that they couldn't possibly know what it's like to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic. They've never driven, for crying out loud. And even if they've been in the car while a parent navigated the kind of scene I'm describing, they haven't experienced it as a driver. They need me to paint the picture. They need to see what the driver sees.

When an author can take a common sight and transform it into something compulsively readable, you know they've struck something true, they've found their voice. This too takes a considerable amount of practice: weaving detail and voice together in such a way that moves the story forward and does not overwhelm the other. It's an essential skill that you can only perfect by observing and then writing.

Make a habit of carrying some blank pages with you. A pen. Remind yourself that there's a difference between seeing and observing.

And when you get caught staring, when someone asks, "What you looking at?" tell them they'll have to buy the novel to find out.

To kick off this whole practicing habit you're about to adopt, do this: 

Look around the room you're sitting in and tell me what you see. Do you have to tell me everything? No. But tell me something and spice up that something with the kind of detail Superman would notice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 4: Maps and Floorplans


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week four of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays! You guys are doing so well! Keep it up. If you're new to #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, I'm doing a series on how I write a book, one week at a time. And I'm posting my novel over on my author website, one chapter a week. Chapter 2 of THIRST is up now (click here to read it). The #WeWriteBooks series will end in a BIG contest at the end of August. For information on the contest, see #WeWriteBooks Post 1.

http://jillwilliamson.com/2016/02/thirst-chapter-two/
 


Today's Topic: Maps and Floorplans

To recap. Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's mine:
 
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.


Week three was Storyworld. And today we're going to talk about how you can use maps and floorplans to help you discover/learn more about your setting. Just like last week, if you're writing contemporary or historical, don't ignore this topic! There is good stuff to learn this week that can help you.

Keep in mind!

You only need to draw or research things that are important to your story. I didn't sketch or print floorplans for every character's house. Only for those that had key scenes. And if you don't need this kind of help, don't bother. I'm a visual person. If I can see a floorplan or use the house of someone I know as an example in my head, it makes it so much easier for me to describe the setting when it comes time to. But you might be different. So you need to learn what helps you and do that.

Examples of what you can do

It's no secret I am WAY into this stuff. So I'm always creating extras for my stories. If you're a little foggy on what types of maps or floorplans could help you, here are some things I've done. Some I cleaned up well and put in my books. Some I used only for my own reference. And there are others that are so messy I would never show them to you, but they helped me immensely. If I ever traced someone else's artwork to use for inspiration, that always remained for me alone because to print such things in a novel with my name on it would be an infringement of copyright. (The sample castle sketch of Sitna Manor below I partly traced from old drawings of castles, then added in my own details.) But that doesn't mean I can't use such drawings as inspiration as I describe the places in my books. Also, Google is your friend. You can spend hours Googling all types of maps and floorplans to get inspiration. Here is a link to many of the maps and floorplans I've created, though a good sampling is pasted below.

Sample fantasy land map
This one is from By Darkness Hid.



Sample facility floor plan
This one is from Replication.



Sample apartment floorplan
This one is from The New Recruit.



Sample house floor plan
This I used for The New Recruit and all the Mission League books, though I never printed it in a book. This is Spencer's house where he lives with his grandma. I made this one to help me describe his home.



Sample castle sketch
This is Sitna Manor from By Darkness Hid. I wanted to draw this one because medieval fantasy was totally new to me and I wanted to see the whole place Achan lived and worked. It really helped me when I was trying to describe Achan moving around inside and where everything was. And it also helped me with the scene when Achan is pushed into the river and eventually comes in through the moat.



Sample castle floor plan
This I drew in Photoshop for To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won. This is Granton Castle, where Vrell grew up. This helped me a little when describing people moving through the walls and meeting in the secret room, but truly---this was utter procrastination. It took me a really long time (I made three of the five levels). A pencil sketch would have been all the help I needed on this one, but it was lots of fun to make. *wink*




Sample map for plan of attack
This I put in the book To Darkness Fled. This is the map of the Ice Island prison that Sir Gavin and company are looking at before they go in to rescue an army to help Achan. There's not much to it, but since I felt the description of the prison might be confusing, I wanted to draw it to help readers picture it correctly in their minds during that rescue scene.



Sample solar system map
This is the map of the solar system my son and I created for the RoboTales series. If you're wanting to create interesting space maps, I recommend you Google some to see what others have done.


Archived posts for creating a fantasy or science fiction map:

If you want to draw your own map, I wrote a few posts on the subject. When I'm writing fantasy, I must have a map, whether or not I put it in my book. Having a map helps me see the world and add to it. If you've never done this before, I think you will find these posts really helpful.

Map-Making 101: Drawing The Map
Map-Making 201: Naming Things on Your Map
The Evolution of a Fantasy Map


Great site for house floorplans:

If you want to print out a floor plan for a house, this is a fabulous website. You can choose your house type, number of floors, bedrooms, and bathrooms, and other features. Check it out: http://www.floorplans.com/

Maps And Floorplans For THIRST

At this time, THIRST doesn't have a map. The story takes place in Arizona (Phoenix and Flagstaff) and Crested Butte, Colorado. I do have the map of The Safe Lands, which will exist in Crested Butte, Colorado some eighty years into the future. And I'm thinking I might need to draw a map or two when my characters reach Crested Butte. But I will do that later, if I need to. For now, I'll show you what I've done, map and floorplan-wise, for THIRST.

City Maps
Since my guys are headed home to Phoenix, Arizona, I needed to know where they lived. I spent a lot of time researching this. I looked at rich/middle class/poor areas of the city, school districts, and churches to find a place where my characters could live and might realistically attend the same church, even if they lived in different neighborhoods and went to different schools. I went onto real estate websites, looking for houses for sale, comparing size and location, until I found the right house for each character.

Here is the map I printed off Google Maps for my own reference. I know the physical address for each house/apartment, though when I looked for pictures of houses, I picked a random one for Zaq's house and pretended it was the one right next door to Logan's, when in reality, it is not. (Sorry about the blurriness. I don't have a scanner at present.)



Pictures of Houses (Inside and Out)
Here are pictures I found of the houses, either from real estate sites or from Google Street View. The first house, the brown one, is Eli's house. The second is Jaylee's apartment complex, and the third and fourth houses are Logan's and Zaq's. I found this process helpful since I'd only been to Phoenix one time ages ago and couldn't remember how things looked. This way I was able to describe houses, yards, and the inside of Riggs's mansion house.



Since there is a longer scene inside Riggs's house, and I haven't been in a house like that, I didn't know how to describe it. Finding this house that was for sale within the area I wanted helped me immensely. Fancy place, eh? I wouldn't mind that walk-in closet or that pool.
 


Assignment Time

1. Create a list of important places and buildings in your story. Here are some examples of how lists might look for different genres:

-epic fantasy: world map, city map, castle floorplan

-contemporary high school romance: town map, school floorplan, pictures of boy and girl's houses, floorplan of girl's house

-historical: map of town, map of country area, map of grounds of the house that shows important locations (roads, lake, greenhouse, hunting grounds, creek), floorplan of manor house with assignments for each room (character bedrooms, servant rooms, drawing room, kitchen, etc)

2. Make a plan of attack for each. Maybe you want to Google places and print them out. Maybe you want to check out www.floorplans.com. Maybe you want to draw it yourself. Or maybe you need to do a little of all three. Having a plan will help you stay organized.

Post your plans in the comments. If you've drawn a map or floorplan and want to share it, feel free to post a link. And if you're stuck, ask for help!

Monday, February 22, 2016

March's Monthly Challenge - 300 for 30

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.


Several times now, we've hosted a "100 for 100 challenge" where a group of us commit to write 100 words a day for 100 days. For some of us, this works great. For others, it's hard to be consistent for so long. (I know someone is going to ask this, so I'll just put it here—yes, Go Teen Writers will host another 100 for 100 challenge. We anticipate doing so this summer.)

The March monthly challenge is to write 300 words a day for 30 days.

(Yes, March has 31 days. 300 for 31 doesn't have quite the same ring to it.)

If you write 300 words a day for 30 days, you'll have at least 9,000 words written by the end of the month. Isn't that amazing to think about? The 100 for 100 stretches on so long for me, that it's hard to find a season of life that it fits into, but I'm hoping that for 30 days, I can push myself to do at least the bare minimum.

How to take part:

If you want to participate in the challenge, you're welcome to do it on your own, or you can fill out the form below. Sometimes it helps to physically sign up for something. Makes it feel more official.

When the month is over, I'll ask you to send me an email telling me how the challenge went and what you worked on. You don't have to send me your actual writing, but just a few sentences about your experience.

Those who sign up for the challenge and send me the email at the end of the month will be put in a drawing for a $20 Amazon.com gift card!

This challenge is for writers of all ages in all countries.
 You'll be able to sign up until the end of March 1st and then the form will close.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Writer Super Power #3: Tasting

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Happy Friday, friends!

We are smack dab in the middle of our Friday series on Writer Super Powers. If you're playing catch-up, here are the links for the first two posts on Hearing and Smelling.

Since taste is so intimately connected to our sense of smell, let's tackle our taste buds next.

1. What the WRITER tastes
I've learned a lot about taste by watching my husband grow his coffee roasting company. Here's something you may not know: coffee beans are not really beans at all. They're actually seeds. They're the pit inside a cherry that grows on a coffee plant. Most cherries have two seeds and when they're separated they look very similar to the coffee beans you buy at the store. Only, they're green.

To get that gorgeous russet color, they must be roasted. And when they're roasted it's not just the color that changes. The flavor of the bean goes through quite a transformation. There's a science to it. A science that I do not fully understand but thoroughly appreciate.

The flavor of coffee is determined by so many things: where it comes from, the other crops in the area, how it was processed, how it was roasted, how long it was roasted for, how long ago it was roasted, the fineness of the grind, the brewing method used, filter choice, and the temperature of the water it was brewed in.

The sheer volume of people and equipment involved in getting a cup of coffee into your hand is staggering. But when we write about coffee, what is it we say? Many times we reach into our bag of words and pull out one of the four or five adjectives that we've tucked away under the category in our head labeled 'coffee'. Coffee is often described as strong or bitter. It's described as dark or delicious. Perhaps burnt or smoky.

But did you know some coffees taste like currants? Did you know there are coffees with notes of raspberry and chocolate, juicy apricot and caramel? There are coffees that linger longer on your taste buds than others. Some sit on the back of your tongue for hours. Some vanish soon after sipped. Some are sweet and some are robust and some leave behind a citrus finish.

It took me a long time (and a lot of coffee!) to appreciate the variety of flavors in each cup of Joe. There are entire vocabularies of words that people in the coffee industry use to describe their products. And though I don't expect any of us to suddenly become culinary experts, making a concerted effort to truly taste things can serve our writing well.

Like our other senses, taste must also be honed. And so, this is me, telling you to slow down and eat for more than just sustenance. Eat for taste. Eat for flavor. While you eat, turn over the words in your head that describe the bite in your mouth and consider how you could pass the experience on to your readers.

But we don't just taste food, do we? We taste blood when we bite our lip and we taste dirt when we fall to the ground. We taste salty sweat and gritty sea air. We taste the sick that coats our tongue when our stomach flips. Unpleasant or decadent, it is worth your time and energy to expand on your vocabulary of flavors. And don't just focus on adjectives.

How do certain tastes make you feel? What do they remind you of? An orange, any orange really, takes me back to summers at my grandparents' farmhouse in central California. Fields of cotton spreading east and west, goathead stickers in my sandals, a puckered wet slice of citrus on my tongue and my fingernails stained sunset orange with all all the rinds I'd torn into.

Taste should evoke more than just fancy adjectives in the mind of a writer. If you're not there yet, that's okay. Keep reading, keep storing away words, and definitely keep eating!

2. What the CHARACTERS taste
Several years ago I had teen writer send me some questions to answer for a paper she was writing. The assignment was to write about how an author handled food in their writing. I'll be honest, I hadn't thought much about it until she asked the questions, but I was glad for the opportunity.

I shared about Kaylee, a vegetarian character in the Angel Eyes trilogy and how I'd initially written her with that preference because I wanted her to appear flighty, and somewhere tucked away in the chaos of my brain I'd connected these two things.

I wrote about Jake's love for doughnuts and how he offers Brielle a cherry cruller at one point because those are my father's favorites. I wrote about how Canaan, Jake's guardian, made the best lasagna in the world and how he always made lasagna when he had something important to discuss.

In the real world, memories are often tied to mealtimes. Especially family memories. Good memories and bad alike are often accompanied by food. Our fictional worlds should reflect that.

How do your characters respond to such situations? To food eaten with people they care about? Or the last family meal before your hero's parents split? How about flavors your characters associate with their worst enemies? The metallic flavor of blood oozing from a split lip or the grit of mud between teeth that have been shattered against the pavement?

Your characters' lives should be full of flavor--and though not everything should be described in minute detail, don't let your characters make it through an entire adventure without giving them things to taste, flavors to describe to the reader. In the same way that sharing a meal with a friend promotes intimacy, sharing taste experiences with a character leaves the reader feeling more connected to this fictional person you've created. Which brings us to . . .

3. What the READERS taste
I remember being eight years old and jamming myself so full of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner I thought I'd burst wide open, and still I craved the buttery once-a-year flavor of the dish.

I remember exactly what we were eating the night my dad told us all he'd been diagnosed with cancer. And I remember the plates of onions and tomatoes my mom cooked to strengthen his immune system in the days that followed.

I remember how the carefully made Puerto Rican food had gone cold on our plates as it sat on the beach the night my husband proposed. I remember how hungry the day had made me and how my gut was suddenly filled with something better than food the moment he'd popped the question.

Your readers have tasted their way through their lives. They've been surrounded by flavor at every turn. Tap into this shared experience by honing your ability to taste life. Don't just eat the moment plated before you--but really taste it. The texture of it and the color. The crunch of it between your teeth and the weight of it on your tongue. Expand your vocabulary and let your descriptions extend deeper than simple adjectives. In doing so, you'll help your reader taste your words.

And I can't think of anything more delicious.

Let's try something a little more interactive today. 
Wander into the kitchen and find something bite-sized to taste. 
Can you describe it for us? Can you describe it without depending solely on adjectives? 
What image does the taste evoke?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 3: Storyworld


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week three of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays! I'm so excited about how this is going so far. I love reading about all your story ideas in the comments and seeing your enthusiasm for writing. If you're new to #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, I'm doing a series on how I write a book, one week at a time. And I'm posting my novel over on my author website, one chapter a week. Chapter 1 is up now (click here to read it). The #WeWriteBooks series will end in a BIG contest at the end of August. For information on the contest, see #WeWriteBooks Post 1.


http://jillwilliamson.com/2016/02/thirst-chapter-one/


Today's Topic: Storyworld

To recap. Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's mine:
 
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Today we are going to talk about storyworld. You all know this is one of my FAVORITE SUBJECTS! I love it so much, I wrote a book about it.  Please keep in mind, when I'm writing a new book in a brand new fantasy world, I spent one to three months just creating the storyworld. So to those of you working on fantasy, don't expect to do this all in one day. Take your time, okay? And if you're writing contemporary or historical, you're not off the hook! This post is for you too, so bear with me.

Keep in mind!

You only need to create storyworld elements that you need for your plot. If your story is about a girl who works on a unicorn farm, you probably don't need to spend much time brainstorming your government. If you don't want magic in your fantasy story, don't create any! If your story takes place in a castle, government might be a big part of the plot, but you might not have a single fantasy creature in the book. This is all okay.

The Illusion

The thing to remember with creating a fantasy world is that you only need to create the illusion that you've created everything. Pick one or two of the areas below that best fit your plot and spend a lot of time perfecting them. Then mention other things when necessary, and your reader will think you went that deep with everything. It works. Trust me.

Many of the storyworld posts that I used as the backbone of my Storyworld First book are listed below. And for you contemporary or historical authors, there are some archive posts listed for you too. Don't overwhelm yourself. You already know your genre and premise, so only work on things that are related to your story. That will keep you safe from falling head over heels into a bad case of storyworld builder's disease!


Posts for creating your own world (fantasy or science fiction):

Creating The World (a good post to start with)
Suspension Of Disbelief
Creating The Civilization
Creating The History
Creating The Government
Creating Religion
8 Tips For Creating A Pantheon
Creating The Magic
Types of Magic
Creating Creatures
Creating The Current Day Conflicts
Worlds Within Our World (for contemporary fantasy authors)
Creating A Historical Timeline
Two Tricks to Integrate Fantasy Elements
How To Keep Track Of It All
Storyworld Builder's Disease (a warning to worlbuilders)


Posts for creating contemporary or historical storyworlds:

How To Build A Rich Setting For A Contemporary Story
Researching Your Setting, part one
Researching Your Setting, part two
Worldbuilding For A Historical Novel
How Do I Start Researching For My Historical Novel?
When You Can't Find A Time Machine


Posts For Helping You Choose Or Better Define Your Setting

How To Pick The Right Setting
Coming Up With A Setting That Feels Real


The Storyworld For THIRST

My story is a little different than most. It starts out in a contemporary setting that quickly devolves into an apocalyptic setting and ends up on the cusp of creating a dystopian society.

Here's how I've done it so far:

Researching My Contemporary Elements
If you've read Chapter 1, you know that I start in the woods in Colorado. As I mentioned last week, my premise deals with the world's water supply going bad. This meant I needed to put my characters in a place where they would be away from the main water source. So I Googled "outdoor survival camps" and stumbled onto one in Colorado. I was able to use pictures from their website and the descriptions of their trips as a model for the setting in my Chapter 1.

The drive at the end of Chapter 1 and into Chapter 2 was a little trickier. I had never been to that part of Colorado/Arizona. So I went on Google Maps and used their street view to drive myself around. This let me see the roadsides, road signs, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and sometimes the horizon. And when my guys get home to Phoenix and later head back to Flagstaff, I really made use of Google Maps street view. (Click here for a short tutorial on how to do this.) I picked houses for Eli and Riggs, and an apartment for Jaylee. I figured out where the different high schools were. It took time, yes. But it really helped me get into the world my characters lived in.

Researching My Disease
This was the most time-consuming part for me. I really don't like science. And I needed a plausible disease that could quickly wipe out over 90% of earth's population. After hurting my brain trying to Google this, I realized I needed help (because I didn't know what I needed to Google). I asked author Kerry Nietz and a science teacher I knew, and they helped me narrow down my disease. I settled on a waterborne disease that started in a highly populated country and spread from there. It was similar to Cholera, which gave me a disease to mirror as to symptoms and such. I decided that earth had passed through the tail of a comet, which left something deadly in almost all freshwater on the planet. Later, the disease mutates into a bloodborne disease, and that's where the problems really start. Since I'm technically writing science fiction here, I need it to be plausible, to make sense, but it doesn't have to be perfect.

Once I figured all this out, I was able to use Google again. I looked up breakouts of Cholera. I watched news reports on YouTube, which helped me write my own news reports for the book. I looked up Cholera notices, which helped me write the notices for my disease that Eli and friends find posted on the doors of buildings. These things were fun once I got past the science! *grin*

Apocalyptic Setting
Most of this came out of my imagination. And from talking to several of those guys who like to be prepared for the end of the world. I wanted Reinhold to be one of those survivalist guys, the kind who has six months worth of food stored in his basement, who knows how to make his own bullets, who knows how to hunt, farm, and live off the land. Of the survivors, these were the type of people who were going to thrive in my world. Eli is as close as a city kid can get to one of them. So I talked to my survivalist friends who are into this kind of stuff to help me get it right.

On The Cusp Of The Safe Lands
The Safe Lands is built on the town and ski resort of Crested Butte, Colorado. I spent a lot of time on Google Maps, using the names of streets and such in my dystopian series. So for THIRST, the prequel, I would be getting my guys there and starting what would later become The Safe Lands. This was much easier for THIRST than it was for The Safe Lands itself since in THIRST, it's pretty much the same as it is today. It's a contemporary setting. So I went at it the same way I did Phoenix and Flagstaff. But I also had drawn my futuristic Safe Lands map, so I knew the future boundaries of the land. I knew where my rock star lived, and that's where I want my characters to end up at the end of THIRST.

When a world breaks down, new forms of governments crop up. The very loose government that my teens first discover in THIRST is sort of a tribal anarchy. It's a free-loving, everyone shares-type of attitude. The people in charge are the people who own the land. But when the disease mutates and people start dying, things change. My landowners start making rules, rationing safe drinking water, and people who don't like it can leave. So I spent some time setting up what would later become the controlling government of The Safe Lands.

Another thing I did that was important to my particular series of books was to create a timeline that ran through all of THIRST, then listed the major events of the next eighty years leading up to the book Captives. This really helped me with Captives because I now had eighty years of history. I knew when certain laws started and why. I understood when people began moving underground. Depending on your plot, writing a historical timeline can be a great way of understanding your world.







Assignment Time

1. Pick 2 - 4 storyworld elements that you feel are important to your plot. These are things that you'll spend a lot of time inventing and/or researching. Here is a list. And if you have something that's not on my list, use it!

astronomy
buildings
city life
civilization
communication
creatures/fauna
crime
culture
current day conflicts
demographics
disease
economics
environment
geography
government
historical
event
history
landmarks
languages
magic
medicine military
mythology
pantheon
physical and/or mental abilities
plant
life/flora
race
religion
rural life school
social classes
supernatural
technology
timeline
transportation
travel
warfare
weapons
weather
ADD ONE THAT'S NOT HERE!

That's a lot to pick from!

For THIRST, I would choose two: 1) Disease and 2) Culture

For some other examples:

-The Fault In Our Stars: disease, medicine, Amsterdam
-Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone: magic, history, boarding school
-Divergent: government, culture, technology
-Pride and Prejudice: rural life in Regency England (history), culture of primarily the upper class, military, country dancing!
-By Darkness Hid: civilization, magic, religions/pantheon
-The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet: school, Hispanic culture, drama
-Angel Eyes: supernatural, small town, crime (trafficking)

2. Work on those items you chose. You could start by looking at the list of blog posts above and see if there is one that relates to your topic. Google the topic. Ask for tips in the comments. If you want to learn about Celtic warriors, it could be that one of us knows some resources we could share with you. If you need to use Google Maps street view, do it. If you need to research, research. If you need to do some interviews, start looking for the right people to help you (and read this post on conducting research interviews).

3. Find ways that these elements can clash with one another. With THIRST, people with different culture and/or values sometimes have different priorities, and when someone tries to tell another person how to live, that makes trouble.

Using my book By Darkness Hid as an example, Achan is a stray, and strays aren't allowed to train as Kingsguards. That's part of my civilization. Also, Achan develops a magic that proves the pantheon is myth. This creates a personal conflict for him and sets up a bigger conflict within the government.

Share your assignment findings in the comments. Or if you're stuck and need help, ask! Let's all help each other.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Should you write the book of your heart?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

When I planned to write this post, I didn't even realize that it would fall so close to Valentine's Day! The reason it kept coming to mind had less to do with the calendar and more to do with my copy of the children's book Arthur Writes A Story that sits on my office shelf.

I had never read Arthur books until McKenna started elementary school and brought them home from the library. When she pulled Arthur Writes A Story from her backpack and read it to me, I grew teary. And then bought a copy for my self.


Here's a brief summary of the story. Arthur is given a class assignment to write a story. Any kind of story. Arthur knows exactly what he wants to write aboutwhen he got his puppy. 

He writes his story, and then he reads it to his little sister. DW declares that it's boring and that if she were writing a book, she would write about getting an elephant.

Feeling insecure, Arthur rewrites his story. The next day at school, he shows it to a friend and asks if he likes the part about the elephant puppies. His friend says it was okay, but that he's chosen to write about outer space.

Arthur rewrites his story to be about elephants in outer space.

He talks to another friend. This friend is focused on writing a well-research, scientifically accurate story. This leads to another revision. We now have elephants in outer space and Arthur uses all scientific names for them.

Another friend is putting jokes in her story. Arthur revises.

Another kid is writing her story as a song. Arthur revises. He even adds a dance.

When the assignment is due and Arthur shares his story song complete with dance in front of the class, everyone gives him a befuddled look. The kids push him on why he wrote it and Arthur shares that originally he wrote about how he got his puppy. They ask if he'll tell that story. Arthur then tells them the original story—the one he started off trying to tellwith the enthusiasm that we naturally have when we're sharing a story we care about. His classmates enjoy it more than the story he wrote trying to please everyone else. The end.

McKenna thought I was a bit weird to cry at Arthur Writes A Story, but the story resonated. I was in the midst of edits on my first historical YA novel—a book that was galaxies away from my comfort zoneand I was getting blasted from all directions with advice. Some had even advised against writing it, but I had anyway.

I wrote it because it was a story idea I loved, that I felt I had to write. Often writers describe stories like this as books of the heart.



Writers like to say you should write the book of your heart. Forget the market! Telling your story is all that matters! But is this good advice?

Maybe. Quoting my brilliant friend, Shannon Dittemore, "What kind of writer do you want to be?"

Do you care more about making money or about making art? In a perfect world, you get to do both. But if you had to pick, which is it? Either answer is fine, so long as it's honest.

Because our blog is for young writers, and since most young writers are more about art than about money, and since I don't really know much about making tons of money with writing, I'll talk to those who answer, "making art."

Just like the plotter or pantser question, most published writers I know are hybrids, including me. I want to write books I love and care about. I also want them to be published, and I enjoy being paid for my time.

That's why when I approach a new story idea, I always start with what story I want to tellJill wrote a lovely article on premise last weekand then I think about if I can make it an idea that will sell.

My story ideas tend to fall into three categories:

1. That sounds fun, but it would be tough to sell for reason x, y, and z.
2. I think that's a really marketable premise... but I don't know that I'm excited enough to write it.
3. I love this idea. And I think if I tweak this and this, I could sell it.

I've written quite a few of #1. Wow, I had fun with those. They will probably sit on my hard drive for the next 10 or so years.

I've written two in the #2 category. One of them, the trend swung the other way, so it's now become completely unsellable. The other I could sell. Maybe it would even do pretty well. But I just don't care enough to do the hard work.

But #3 is always the target I'm aiming for these days. Stories that fall in the purple space:


"Purple stories" land in the beautiful overlap of stories I love to write and stories readers love to buy.

Here's an example of what writing purple looks like in real life. When I first started writing YA, one of the problems I had was my main character's age. In the first draft of the book that became Me, Just Different, Skylar was in 8th grade. That's a great age for a middle grade story, but my book was YA in its maturity level.

When I realized this at a writer's conference, I could've dug in my heels. I could've said, "No, this is the book of my heart, and in my heart Skylar is in 8th grade." But I felt Skylar's age was a small thing. It was a change that would make my book easier to sell, but I would still be telling the story I wanted.

Maybe you don't want to write purple. Maybe you want your stories to stay firmly in the red. If you get published, fine. If not, that's fine too, but you don't want to change your story for anybody. Totally fine!

At every writers conference I've attended, there have been writers who feel that way ... but also would really like their book to be published. So can I throw out a few words of caution for those of you who only care about writing the book of your heart but also want to find an audience?

Don't get angry at publishers for not publishing your book: If you write a book just for you, it's unfair to get all annoyed at publishers for not seeing the value in it. Publishing is a business. If you want a publisher to buy your book, you have to show them that it's a good investment. The same is true for if you self-publish. Why should a reader plop down their money to read the book of your heart? If your primary goal was to make art, then you have to rest in the fact that you did that, and any money you make is just a nice perk.

Also, don't shut out constructive critics: Some writers like to point to The Help by Kathryn Stockett as a writer who wrote the book of her heart and had such a passion for it that the book eventually sold and was a crazy bestseller.

What writers tend to overlook when they pull out that story is how many revisions the author did. When she received rejections and feedback, she rewrote. Over and over she did this. And that book is a beautiful work of art, not despite her incorporating that feedback, but because of it.

Good critique partners and editors don't want to strip away what makes your book great. Their job is to make sure your vision of the story is being transmitted clearly to the reader.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Also, if you're participating in the February challenge, I'd love to know how it's going!




Friday, February 12, 2016

Shan's Day Off

YOU DID IT! You made it to the weekend!

Shannon here.

Just popping in to let you know that I'm taking the day off today. I'll be back next Friday and we'll continue our series on Writing Super Powers!

Enjoy your Friday, friends. Odds are good, I look like this right now. ;)


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 2: Premise

http://jillwilliamson.com/teenage-authors/
Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 
 
Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.


Welcome to week two of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays. In case you haven't heard, I am taking you all through my process of writing a book, one week at a time. I'll be posting my book over on my author website (click here to subscribe to chapters), so you can read along, if you'd like. This series will end in a BIG contest, opening at the end of August. For information on the contest, see #WeWriteBooks Post 1.


Today's Topic: Premise

Last week we picked a genre. THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA. Today we are going to talk about premise. When I start thinking about a new story idea, it's usually the premise that draws me in, even more than the genre. If you remember, I first brainstormed what became By Darkness Hid in a science fiction storyworld. At the time, it didn't ultimately matter to me where I set the story. It was the premise that had captured my creative juices. I really wanted to write about Amnesia Guy!

As I mentioned in the first post, the Go Teen Writers archives are extensive. We have talked about premise many times before on this blog. One of the best posts overall I found on this topic is one Stephanie wrote called 4 Questions To Ask Before You Write That Story. I highly recommend you look it over. Also, below is a list of several more posts on the topic of premise that might help you if you're stuck. If you don't want to look at all those links right now, skip over them and come back to read some later.

Posts on coming up with new ideas:
4 Questions To Ask Before You Write That Story (Steph's awesome post I mentioned above.)
How To Come Up With A High Concept Pitch
What Is A Logline And How Do You Write One?
10 Story Models That Will Change The Way Your Brainstorm
James Scott Bell Shares His Process For Brainstorming A New Story
5 Places Ideas Come From
What Do I Write Next?

Posts on troubleshooting new ideas:
How Do I Make Sure I'm Being Original In My Writing?
3 Reasons Why That Idea Isn't Working
How Do You Know If Your Story idea is THE IDEA?
How To Get In The Way Of Good Ideas

When I'm brainstorming a new book, I look for a premise that excites me. For something I could build a cool storyworld around. But ultimately, the most important thing I need to know is: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care?

The premise for THIRST came to me while brainstorming and plotting out The Safe Lands series. Originally, The Safe Lands was going to be a fantasy series about a land with a disease, but since dystopian was popular, and my publisher wanted to see dystopian stories, I played around with putting The Safe Lands on earth. And as I set about building the storyworld for that future dystopia, I kept coming up against questions as to what happened "way back when" that caused this bad future. Since the story was now bordering on science fiction, I needed the science to be plausible (which always hurts my brain). So I took some time to research and ask science-minded people for help. I discovered that if I wanted a disease as my problem, the fastest way to spread it around the world would be through drinking water. That got me thinking about the ancestors of my dystopian heroes. Who were they? How did they end up living outside the Safe Lands walls? (Click here to see the map from my dystopian story.)

The next thing I knew, I started writing THIRST, just to understand what happened in the past so I could better set up my future dystopia. It was a strange experience, especially when my agent told me that my publisher wanted to see sample chapters from both. In one book I was writing about a teenage Eli. In the other book, Eli was over ninety years old!

All this to explain that sometimes a premise comes about in an unconventional way. I wasn't sitting around watching the rain, thinking, "What if a disease in the water mostly wiped out the population of earth?" Instead, THIRST came out of my seeking the origins of another world. (Incidentally, the premise for The Kinsman Chronicles also began that way. Perhaps I'm starting a trend for myself...)

Regardless of where your idea came from, you need to refine it before you're ready for the next step. You need to be able to say: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care? For THIRST I started out with:

An apocalypse happens to teenage Eli McShane.

That was okay to start, but I needed to know more to have enough to build a story. I like to build on an idea by asking questions. Some natural questions that arose when looking at the above premise were:

-What kind of apocalypse?
-How does Eli manage to live through it?
-(Because I'm setting up the dystopian Safe Lands world) How does Eli end up in Colorado?

With that in mind, I put in more time brainstorming the premise, and I came up with this. (I color-coded it as: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care?)

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

It's no stellar back cover copy, but I now have my WHAT, my WHO, and my WHY does the reader care? (And the reader cares because the reader wants the hero to survive!)




Assignment Time

Today's assignment is to answer this for your story: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care? Post your answer in the comment section, and if you're stuck, ask for help and I'll brainstorm with you and maybe ask you some questions that could help you narrow things down a bit.

Also, last week I got so excited about the start of #WeWriteBooks that I forgot to announce that The Heir War released! If you've read Darkness Reigns, be sure to check out part two. And if you haven't read Darkness Reigns, check it out. It's free.

http://jillwilliamson.com/teenage-authors/

Monday, February 8, 2016

5 Tips to Successful Self-Publishing

Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com

There's no denying that self-publishing is here to stay, and it's changing the shape of the publishing industry. As someone who has tried absolutely every kind of publishing known to man, including self-publishing, Stephanie asked if I'd talk to you guys a bit about what made my self-pub venture ultimately successful. Naturally, I'm happy to oblige. ;-)

First off, I have to tell you a little about how I ended up where I am in the industry. Growing up as the internet age was just getting its feet wet, my teen years were spent trying to learn the industry through those old-fashioned things called books. And messing up a lot. There were no writers groups online yet. No forums. Certainly no Go Teen Writers. But I had stories and I had determination and I wasn't afraid to try new things.

When print-on-demand technology first appeared on the market, my husband and I gave it a try with a series of short-stories. I think we sold, oh, about fifteen copies. Maybe. ;-) But did that daunt us?

Um, yeah. Kind of. I became pretty determined to be published by a regular, big publisher. Preferably one who would offer me a million dollar advance (ahem). My husband, on the other hand, became determined to become a publisher.

Many of you know me as an editor for WhiteFire Publishing. WhiteFire is the company my husband began, and at the time when we were starting it, we were basically self-publishing, given that my titles were our only titles. And way back in 2005, self-publishing came with a stigma. It was what you did when you weren't good enough to cut it with a real publishing house. The still-new POD technology meant high prices for each book, and most self-pubbers decided they'd just pass that cost along to the consumer...and thereby not sell many copies. Press runs were expensive up front, and you had to warehouse all the books. Ebooks weren't really a thing yet.

My husband was interested in the physical production of books, so we did the unthinkable--we bought printers, ink, paper, book board, cover stock, a gold-foil stamper, other things whose name I don't even remember, and we created our own hardback version of my debut book, A Stray Drop of Blood. Printed and bound in-house. Literally. In my house. At my kitchen table.

We made a set number of them--about 250, I think. And we just sold them until we ran out.

Is that a huge number of books? Um, no. But while that original version was out there, I was learning a lot about writing in the modern world. I joined ACFW and quickly realized all the many things I was doing wrong. Like, all of it. I was head-hopping, I was telling rather than showing, I didn't always start with action.

So I put aside Stray Drop. I wrote other books. I went to a conference. I gave very little thought to WhiteFire and self-publishing. My focus was, again, on those big contracts.

Then a funny thing happened. I sold out of my hardbacks of A Stray Drop of Blood. And people were asking me about paperbacks. My husband and I sat down one day on our porch, and we evaluated. We had two choices: to let it die or to do it all again. And I loved that story too much to let it die. I said I'd like to rewrite the book (without the headhopping, etc) and re-release as a paperback. New cover. New ISBN. New everything. I felt like I could make a better go of it at that point in time, in 2009. I had 4 years of learning under my belt.

So that's what we did. Self-publishing was still looked down on at that point in history, and I knew well that plenty of people would advise me against it. But I had quite literally nothing to lose. The story was already self-published--all I'd be doing was making it better. So I rewrote. We hired a professional cover designer. I lined up influencers and blog tours and got endorsements from author friends I had made through ACFW. I contacted each and every person who commented on those blog posts afterward and offered them a 20% coupon code for the book from my personal store.

Right about that time Amazon launched KDP, so we signed up for that and got the ebook out there--and priced it low. At a time when all the big presses were pricing ebooks and paperbacks at the same price point, and when few indies were out there yet, we set our digital prices at $3.99

And books started selling. Slowly at first. That first year, I might have sold 100 books. But my agent gave me some sound advice--follow it up with another in the same genre. While A Stray Drop of Blood was gaining its traction, I was working away on Jewel of Persia, which came out a year later. It started off a little stronger right out of the gate, though by no means set the world on fire. I finally landed contracts with other publishers, but I continue to write biblical fiction for WhiteFire, because each one I put out increases the sales on all of them--they build upon each other. Even though I now have 7 books out with other companies (it'll be 8 in April), I have a new bib-fic coming out from WhiteFire this fall too. Because it's important to me to maintain and feed that readership. A readership that has grown over the years into something pretty impressive. Excluding my recent series with Bethany House (I don't have sales numbers on that yet), my biblical fiction has out-sold any other books I've written.

What made it work? In part, these things will always be a mystery. But there are a few things I know for a fact set my titles apart.



Always, always story. I had unique story lines that pushed some boundaries but always brought the reader a message of hope. They tackled familiar stories through fresh eyes and brought readers a new perspective on things they thought they knew about (the crucifixion/resurrection and the Esther story). I loved these stories. I felt they approached things that mattered to me in ways that hadn't been done. I felt like I grew as I wrote them. I felt that the stories were worth it, apart from whether I ever made a dime from them. They needed to be written. When you carry that kind of passion into your work, it comes through. And that matters.



I know that in this day and age, it's so tempting to write The End one day and push Publish the next...or the next week or month. DON'T. Edit. Revise. Then have someone else edit and revise it too, because you will NEVER catch all your own mistakes. Please, please take this necessary time to polish your book! It makes a huge difference in whether readers talk about you to all their friends or...don't. And word of mouth will always be the best sales tool. A critique partner is great, but you really, really need an actual editor. There are a ton of freelance editors out there, and though their prices might cause you some sticker-shock at first, they're worth every penny.



I know, we shouldn't judge books by their covers.. But we do. We so, so do. One of the best investments I made was a $600 cover for A Stray Drop of Blood, and another for Jewel of Persia. It seemed ridiculous at the time. But I know for a fact those covers have sold copies--people told me so.

Our covers are the first impression our books make, and when you self-publish, you have full control over what that cover looks like. Take advantage of that. Don't just slap some text on a stock photo and call it good (well, I mean, there are some really awesome stock photos that would work with, but in general...). Make your book stand out. And be glad that cover designing has come way, way down since my first covers! What I paid $600 for seven years ago would only cost me about half that now. And other options are even less. (As a side note, I'm now a pro cover designer myself...but I wasn't at the time, and I'm the first to admit it. I actually learned a ton about the process by seeing what the designer I hired came up with and studying those covers in depth.)


It doesn't matter if you're 15 or 50--if you're publishing a book, you need to treat it like a professional decision. Approach bloggers and reviewers with decorum and respect. Be friendly but don't come off as begging. Show them your passion for your story, but always remember that your job is not to defend your book. As Glennon Melton says in this awesome article, you are not your art's lawyer. Your job is to create, call it good (after putting in the hard work to make it so), and then to rest. Getting defensive about others' opinions of your work is a fast way to burn out--or worse, to get the cyber-circles up in arms against you. 

That said--part of being a profession is selling your work. I mentioned above that I contacted every person who commented on a blog post. Every. Single. One. I thanked them for taking time to visit with me. I offered them a coupon code. I invited them to other online events. I was on a different blog every week, at least, for two months. I made friends. I made connections. And I didn't rely on selling only to my friends and family this time around--I worked for each and every sale at the beginning, until those people started talking about my books and the snowball effect took over.


Successful self-publishing fills a niche market. The kind that doesn't pay for big publishers, but which still has a dedicated readership. You need to know who that readership is...and it is never "people from 9 to 90, male and female, from all walks of life." It's just not. A few books transcend all boundaries and do appeal to almost everyone, but no one ever knows when they have that book in their computer. Have a specific market in mind. Connect with that market--with other writers of it and with readers of it. Let those people know where your book is like the ones they already love, and what sets it apart. Using my books as an example--in 2009, no big publisher was looking for biblical fiction, but I knew it had sold well in the past. I knew there were readers for it--and that I just had to find them. This is the great thing about genre readers--they will give any new author a try if it's in a genre they love. Take advantage of that.



So there you go. You've followed the rules, and you've put your work out there. But what then? How do you know if you should concentrate just on your own books or if you should become a publisher yourself and take on other titles?

Well...that's a topic for another post, so stay tuned. ;-)