Monday, April 24, 2017

Why Getting Great Reviews Is Your Job - Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Today we have the honor of hosting a special excerpt from Carolyn Howard-Johnson's new book. Getting great book reviews is something we all want to know how to do, right? Well, Carolyn is here to tell us why it's our job to get them.

Take it away, Carolyn!

**Excerpted from Carolyn’s new How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

You need this article! Here’s why:

In spite of a contract or even an advance your publisher may not be a true publisher. True publishing includes the marketing of a book, Think big names like HarperCollins, Knopf, and Writers’ Digest, the publisher of Nina Amir’s new Creative Visualization. They assign a marketing budget to your book and an actual marketing department complete with actual human-type marketers who are trained in the specialized field of not just marketing, but marketing books. Except for those who write only for pleasure, there is no reason to publish a book that doesn’t get read.

The sad part is: Even those big publishers need the authors’ help. There is no free lunch when it comes to the marketing of a book—including the getting of reviews.

Some publishers—even traditional publishers—may not respect tradition, be uncooperative or goof. One of my writing critique partners was published with a fine press. When she learned they had not sent advance review copies of her literary novel to the most prestigious review journals before their strict sixteen-week deadline, she was naturally upset. They explained it was a snafu that could not be fixed. That was no comfort at all. It did help her to know that because thousands of galleys sent to the important review publications lie fallow in slush piles, the chances of having a book reviewed by a major journal—even one published traditionally let alone getting a glowing review—is remote. Because she had me to nag her, she moved on to alternative marketing and review-getting strategies found in Chapter Six of this book. Using those methods, she was still able to schedule several major bookstore appearances that tend to favor established names and rely on big-journal reviews in their decision-making process. Nevertheless, it’s not the kind of loss any author wants to face.

These days most small publishers have no marketing department—or marketing plan. In fact, many admit that when it comes to marketing, you are on your own. No offense, publishers. I know many of you do a terrific job considering the profit margin in publishing these days. Let’s face it, you can use help, and you don’t need to deal with disappointed (irate?) authors. And, authors! We are ultimately responsible for our own careers. Sometimes when we wait to take responsibility, it is too late in the publishing game.

Some publishers charge the author an additional or separate fee for marketing. Many who offer marketing packages do not offer a review-getting package. If they do, the review their authors get is a paid-for review, which is definitely not the route you want to go. More on that later in this chapter.

Many publishers do not even have lists of people to contact who might help your marketing with endorsements or reviews. Further, many big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process more and more as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. And bloggers? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself.

My first publisher supplied review copies only upon written request from individual reviewers. They did not honor requests generated by their authors’ initiatives. This meant that I could not count on them to supply books to reviewers I had successfully queried for a review. Unless the reviewer accepted e-copies (and many reviewers don’t!), I had to order copiesdirectly from the publisher and then reship them to my reviewers. This method is slow, cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive, unprofessional, and discourages authors from trying to get reviews on their own.

Publishers should offer review copies to a list of reviewers—even unestablished grassroots bloggers—who have been responsive to their authors in the past. And they certainly should not charge an author for review copies. Publishers have a profit margin and publicity obtained by their authors (including reviews) affects their bottom line, too. They should send their author a thank you (or a red rose!) along with encouragement to keep up the good work

Publishers should also market their books. That means that even if they are too small or underfunded to have a marketing department, they should have a list of reviewers to query for reviews, a list of influential people to provide blurbs for your cover, access to book cover designers (not just great graphic designers) who know what sells books, and a whole lot more. Ask potential publishers about their marketing process before you sign, but—even if you feel assured after having that conversation—it’s best to assume you may be on your own.

And here’s more: Big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. Bloggers, you say? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself

So, the marketing part of your book that includes finding the right reviewers to read and comment on your book will—in most cases—be up to you and well within your skill set after reading this book. And even when you have the luxury of a marketing department behind you, those authors who know how to get reviews on their own can keep a book alive for an infinite amount of time after their publishers relegate their books to a backlist or their contract expires. 
Note: If it is too late to apply this information to the process you use in choosing a publisher, tactfully take hold and guide the publisher you have through the review process. There are lots of ways to do that in this book. I love Nike’s advice to “Just do it!” only I add “yourself” to the motto. Many publishers are in your employ. You may be paying them for services. At the very least, when your book sells, it makes money for the publisher. You don’t have to ask for permission (though it never hurts to listen to their reasoning before you make a decision).

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions ofThe Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her next book in the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers will be How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

Multi award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.

Twitter: @FrugalBookPromo

Thank you for sharing your insight on book reviews and how to get them, Carolyn!

Please leave Carolyn a comment. :)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Three Publishers Weigh in on Queries, Marketing, and the Publishing Model

Please welcome the following publishers and their founders:

Describe the setup and function(s) of your publishing company.

At Acorn Publishing we combine the benefits of traditional publishing with the freedoms of self-publishing while allowing our authors to keep the rights to their work.
By choosing to self-publish, you are able to maintain control of every aspect of the process, but by doing it with us, your work assumes another level of legitimacy with the cover appeal and expertise of an established publisher. Traditional publishers take a cut of each sale, as does the retailer & agent. With Acorn Publishing, you pay us a flat fee in the beginning and that’s it. If you make 100,000 sales, you keep whatever profit you make.
Submission guidelines:

Dancing Lemur Press, LLC is a traditional publishing company. We accept direct queries for several genres - sci-fi, NA, mystery, Christian, non-fiction, fantasy, etc. We produce print, eBooks, and audio books and pay royalties quarterly. We also have an imprint, Freedom Fox Press.

This year, WiDo’s 10th in business, we opened a hybrid publishing imprint called E.L. Marker to meet the large demand of writers interested in self-publishing, while still wanting the security and know-how of an established publishing team behind them. With our experience, WiDo is in the ideal position to fill that need. We have 10 freelance editors to do the content editing, copyediting, and proofreading of our manuscripts, whether WiDo or E.L. Marker. The books then go to the cover designer followed by professional layout and typesetting to prepare them for print and distribution. Our distributor, Lightning Source, has worldwide distribution to all online as well as brick and mortar bookstores.

What does your company offer over self-publishing?

Vetting Process
By being selective about the books we include in our imprint, we ensure that our catalogue is of good quality. Our books are set apart from the vast amounts of self-published work flooding the market.
You get the support of a team of professionals to help you along the way. We promote your book, represent your work at numerous book festivals, and answer any questions you may have about the process.
Even though behind the scenes you will technically be self-publishing, to the rest of the world your work will appear “traditionally published” with a branded logo and “published by Acorn Publishing” on all retailer websites.

An established brand and image; a large network; professional editing, formatting, & cover design; marketing materials, and experience. (There is a clout that comes with traditional publishing - for instance, self-published books aren’t reviewed by Publishers Weekly or Library Journal.) Our imprint even offers higher royalties for authors who are promotional savvy. All of it is at no cost to the author.

Our company, both the traditional WiDo or the hybrid E.L. Marker, offers the clear advantage of having a seasoned, professional team on your side. From editing, layout and typesetting, cover design, print and distribution as well as marketing support, we're there to help you make your book a reality.

What turns you off in a query letter?

Really horrific topics and/or bad writing. That’s pretty much it.

One that lacks what we clearly state in our submission guidelines as requirements. (Those who start off with “I want you to publish my book” are a big turnoff, too.) Writers who don’t learn how to do a proper query letter or don’t include requested items only demonstrate that they can’t follow directions - and will be a nightmare to work with.

People who don't even bother to make an effort: Forwarded mass letters going out to dozens of publishers at a time. A brief statement like "here's my book, please read" with the chapters attached. Or no letter at all, just the attached chapters.

What catches your eye in a query letter?

Good writing and an original topic.

Sadly, what catches my eye first is one that’s actually done correctly.
After that, a synopsis that is straightforward with a refreshing story catches my attention. If I can see the potential, it has my attention. I also look at writer experience, although a solid marketing plan and online connections will offset no experience.

We look for polished manuscripts with exceptional stories and identifiable characters. For WiDo, we also expect a strong, well-established marketing platform. A query should summarize the book along with information about the writer, especially what makes you the best writer for this book. Including pertinent information about your marketing plans is key if you want publication with WiDo, as it is with any traditional press. Please see our website at for information and submissions guidelines for both our companies.

What do you expect your authors to do as far as marketing?

Their best…we do a lot, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there as best as you know how. We guide our authors and put them in touch with blog tour managers and book clubs etc., so with us you’re never out there on your own trying to figure out what to do.

We expect them to market online, using their social sites and connections to reach a wide audience. We want them to make physical appearances where possible - book signings, conventions, libraries, etc. Since we also produce bookmarks, postcards, and other promo materials, we expect author to distribute them. We guide our authors as much as possible.
Freedom Fox Press authors are expected to do a large portion of the marketing. (The trade-off for higher royalties.)

We expect them to care as much for the success of their books as we do. What is disheartening is when we've invested time and money into creating their book, with the trust that the author will then carry out the marketing plan they submitted, and then after the launch they do a couple things then give up.

What advice would you give writers when they are seeking a publisher?

Try to get the agent and the big deal, but remember A LOT of it is luck. If it doesn’t happen for you, it doesn’t mean your work is unworthy of publication. There are other avenues where you can be just as successful.

Do your research first. Compile a list of publishers who accept your genre and then check their listing on Preditors and Editors. (If you see red, run away.) Read AND follow their submission guidelines. (As I’ve already stated, you really will stand out when you do that.) Finally, never, ever pay a publisher to produce your book. That is subsidy publishing - neither self-published (you don’t own the ISBN, they do) nor is it traditionally published (because you paid.)

My best advice for landing a publishing contract is to submit the best, most polished manuscript that you can. But don’t edit out your own voice and emotional investment in the process. Put your heart into your work, along with all the talent you possess, then submit with a professional, informative query.

Any questions for these publishers? Do their answers surprise you?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Genetics, Research, and the Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Today we welcome author Dan Koboldt, founder of #SFFpit! If you write speculative fiction and want to know about research, genetics, and the real science in science fiction and fantasy, Dan is your guy.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and always fancied the idea of writing. About nine years ago, I decided I should devote some serious effort to it, so I signed up for an “Introduction to Fiction Writing” class at the university where I worked. It focused on short stories, which are an excellent form for learning the basics of the craft. It also served to take me down a peg, because I came into the class thinking that I’d probably be pretty good at it. I’d done a lot of blogging and nonfiction writing. I figured it would come naturally.

Every student wrote two stories and provided them to the rest of the class for critique. I quickly learned that I (1) had no idea what I was doing, and (2) wasn’t very good at it. I was also the only student in the class interested in writing science fiction and fantasy, which brought its own complications when getting critiques. My first short story felt awkward to write, and proved equally awkward to read.

On the bright side, the class’s Clarion-style workshop was very good. It helped me not only improve my own work, but learn how to read others’ work critically and offer feedback. I went on to take the 202 class with the same instructor and many of the same students. We got to know one another’s styles, and watched one another improve over time. The best part is that we still keep in touch and occasionally critique one another’s work.

In class, one consistent piece of feedback I heard was that my submissions felt like a pieces of a much larger story. I figured that was a sign that I should try writing longer-form fiction. Somehow I came across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a crazy event in which participants try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I really found my passion with longer-form fiction. I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since. My 2012 project went on to become my debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.

How much and what kind of research do you do for your stories?

It depends on the type of story. When I’m writing fantasy, I tend to do more research because I’m weak on history. Topics like medieval technology, military strategy, and weapons tend to send me down the research black hole, so I limit myself. For science fiction, I’m lucky enough that my day job affords me exposure to a lot of state-of-the-art and near-future technology. I still have to do some research to fill in the gaps, but my science fiction usually comes from things I already know pretty well.

For example, I’m working on a novel about a company that designs custom-made dragons for use in the home. Genetic engineering plays a central role, so I draw a lot on my experience as a working geneticist. My job is to identify the genes that underlie rare diseases in newborns and children, so I spend most of my day trying to figure out what different genes do. That’s something we haven’t entirely figured out, by the way, since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001.

So, when I’m writing science fiction, the parts that deal with genes and genetic modification come easily. When it comes to differences between human and reptile anatomy, however, I need to do some legwork. Nobody’s an expert at everything. I’m fortunate to have met many experts in a variety of fields, many of whom are writers themselves, and I try to tap into their expertise when I need to.

So, you're a geneticist, eh? Are there a lot of things that you see authors getting wrong about genetics?

Oh, all the time. It’s not just authors, either: I see mistakes on television, in movies, and elsewhere in the media. The trouble is, we’re fed a lot of information about genetics (and about science in general) in our everyday lives, and not all of it is technically accurate.

I suppose the major public misconception concerns the predictive power of genetics. You know, the whole “The baby has blue eyes and Jim has blue eyes, so he must be the father” idea. Yes, children do tend to look like their parents, but most physical characteristics are what geneticists call complex traits, meaning that they’re influenced by multiple genetic and environmental factors.

Eye color is a deceptive trait because it seems to follow the basic rules of Mendelian inheritance that we learn about in high school biology: brown eyes are dominant, and blue/green eyes are recessive. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple: eye color is determined by the amount of melanin present in the iris, which in turn is influenced by at least a dozen different genes in our genome. Furthermore, I think we all know that not all brown eyes look the same, nor do all green eyes. Iris color is a spectrum, and thus it doesn’t make a good paternity test.

Incidental side note: most babies of African, Asian, or Hispanic ancestry are born with dark eyes that stay dark, while most Caucasian babies are born with blue eyes that often change to a different color after a few months. For more genetic misconceptions, you might want to read my article Eye-based Paternity Testing and Other Human Genetics Myths at Apex Magazine.

Is that why you started your "Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy" series? What are your plans for that?

Yes, very much so. Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy is a blog series in which we discuss the scientific/technological/medical aspects of science fiction and the historical/cultural/military aspects of fantasy, with help from an expert in the field. Each article addresses common misconceptions about a certain topic, and offers writers tips for getting it right.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve posted more than 70 articles by engineers, historians, scientists, and other experts. Many of them are writers themselves, and all are fans of the SF/F genre. That makes it particularly useful to aspiring authors who want to craft realistic speculative fiction. However, I think it also has broader appeal to writers of mystery, thriller, and other genres.

My plan for the series is basically to keep it going, to make it as comprehensive as possible and reach a wide audience. I’m always looking for new expert contributors, by the way. If any of you IWSG members have a specific area of expertise that you’d like to share with the writing community, please drop me a line.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He works for the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where he and his colleagues use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to uncover the genetic basis of pediatric diseases. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals.

His debut novel The Rogue Retrieval – about a Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world – was published by Harper Voyager in 2016. The next installment, The Island Deception, will be released on April 11, 2017. The final volume is due out in February 2018.

Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into the woods to pursue whitetail deer and turkey with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and three children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.
Find Dan here - Website, Twitter, and Google+

The Island Deception
Available April 11, 2017
From Harper Voyager
Find it at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!
April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

If you’ve not had an opportunity to join yet, the IWSG Goodreads Book Club just selected its first writing book. You have until the end of May to read it, so there’s still time.

The IWSG Twitter Pitch - #IWSGPit takes place July 27. The list of participating agents and publishers continues to grow and it’s a great opportunity for writers. Join us for the event in July - Twitter pitch parties are a lot of fun.

In less than one month, the next IWSG anthology will be released - Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life. Twelve fantasy stories involving a lost hero from twelve talented authors.

Follow the Lost Hero blog and please support the Thunderclap campaign. They need just a couple more supporters. 

What are your insecurities today? Are you taking part of the A to Z Challenge?

Monday, March 27, 2017

What the Heck is Copywriting Anyway?

Bryan Cohen's Many Hats
Let's Welcome Bryan Cohen who can tell us all about Copywriting and how authors can use it in their marketing. Hi Bryan. It's so great to have you here today.

Bryan: Thanks for having me!

You're the copywriting guru, so what’s your definition of copywriting? Why should authors know the techniques of copywriting?

Bryan: Copywriting is the act of writing all the words that go outside of your book. Book descriptions, emails to readers, and advertisements all fall under the copywriting umbrella. Consumers choose to buy items due to a combination of factors including price, social proof, and copy. If that’s true, then that means improving your copy can improve the chances that you’ll sell any given item.

If authors know how copywriting works, then they can improve their chances of selling more books. It’s as simple as that.

Well, everyone's interested in better sales, so this is great information. How is copywriting different from writing fiction or nonfiction?

Bryan: Copywriting is persuasive. You’re trying to get potential readers to take an action, whether that’s buying your book or joining your email list. Copywriting also requires a different kind of editing. You aren’t just writing one rough draft and then editing from those first words you blurted out. You need to give yourself multiple versions to work with to ensure you have the most powerful copy possible. It’s different from writing prose. It’s almost more like poetry.

It looks as if copywriting takes some practice. I'm always working on writing a good hook. For those who are new to this business, can you tell us what a hook is in the book description and what should it do?

Bryan: The hook is the first line in your description, which is usually separated from the rest of your copy by a paragraph break. The hook (also known as a tagline, log line, headline, etc.) needs to concisely explain why this book of yours is a must-buy for the readers of that genre. It’s the highest possible top-down view of your book in a short, sweet package that tells romance, thriller, sci-fi, or other readers that they’ll love your story. It tells nonfiction readers what problem your book will solve.

It’s a line that gives you a chance to close the sale in 20 words or less.

I can see why that hook deserves a lot of attention from us writers. Now can you tell us what three basic strategies a new author needs to help them sell their books?

Bryan: Your copy (from your book description to your emails) needs to be compelling, concise, and easily understood.

Your funnel (your email list) needs to be set up properly to turn strangers into fans for life before bringing in more strangers.

Your network (who you know and how well you know them) must continue to grow over time to bring you more potential readers in the long run.

Those are excellent strategies, Bryan. Thanks. I know you're a man who does a lot of different things. Tell us about some of the hats you wear.

Bryan: I’m a new dad! That’s pretty exciting. I do tons of stuff, from podcasting and coaching authors in book marketing, to writing comedy and running a weekend soccer team. You’ve heard of a know-it-all? I’m a do-it-all.

What’s 2nd most important (after being a mindful husband and father) is helping the author community to grow, improve, and sell more books.

You are a "do-it-all!!!!" And a huge congrats on the new baby.

And a huge congrats on your book series. You didn't mention it, but Ted Saves the World is ready for readers. 


And here's his hook: Ted Finley was your typical, wise-cracking teenager… …until an otherworldly force gave him abilities beyond his wildest dreams.

Thanks so much for the great information. And stop by his site(s) to get much more. You can find out more about Bryan and his book marketing training at SELLING FOR AUTHORS. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's That Conference Time of Year

Writing is a lonely and complicated business. There are ways to keep the enthusiastic fires burning. One of my favorite is attending a conference every year. As an board member of Pennwriters, I attend that conference every year and do what I can to help the organizers. If you're in the Pittsburgh area the third weekend in May this year, please join us. Chuck Sambuchino is our keynote speaker this year. Read his advice about attending a writing conference.

Is Pittsburgh outside your comfortable travel zone, there are conferences everywhere. Check out IWSG's conference page. Pick the month you can attend and find something in your area. But there's more to picking a conference that it being a convenient location.

Picking a conference.

*First, find a conference that is within your budget. Some one day affairs can cost less than $100 dollars and other large weekend conferences may be priced in access of $1,000.
*Make sure the conference has offerings to fit your needs. Do you need basic writing craft advice? Do you need workshops on promotion and the use of social media?
*Will there be a opportunities for you to pitch your work to agents and editors?
*Will you get something in return for your investment?

Once you're at your conference, what things shouldn't you do?

*Don't just hang out with the people you already know. Sit with strangers at meals. Talk to people between workshops.
*Don't drink too much. The bar can be a great place to network, but be careful.
*Don't go to the conference expecting to be a perfect time. There will be blips and some disappointments.
*Don't go over your budget. It's tempting to buy lots of books at the book sale or spend a little extra at the bar, but you'll regret it later

Do this at your conference.

*Do have fun. Yes, it's related to your work and career, but you love writing.
*Do know what you want to get out of the experience and look over the schedule so you can plan ahead.
*If it's your first time at a conference, especially a big one, attend the orientation session they'll probably offer.
*Be flexible. You should make a plan but don't be afraid to alter it if you decide you want to change things up once things get underway. Don't get upset if s workshop gets canceled or a presenter doesn't show up. It happens a lot.
*Dress comfortably but still be professional. Shoes especially need to comfortable. You will walk more and stand more than you expect.
*Do carry business cards. You'll meet busy people and it's the quickest way to exchange information.
*Network, network, network. Meet people and then make sure you follow up with new friends and opportunities.
*Volunteer. Introduce speakers, help pass out things, take a turn at the information table.
*If they're not too expensive, do the after hours extras. Some are special social events and others are group critique sessions.
*Hangout in the social areas like the lounge and the hospitality suite. You'll get a chance to talk one on one with some of the presenters in those areas.

Have you ever attended a conference? Did you get your money's worth? What would be your top reason for attending a conference?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Interview with YA Rebel-Author, Barry Lyga

Today we welcome Barry Lyga, a writer who's not afraid to write in many different fiction categories and to explore darker themes in his books.

Hi Barry. Great to have you here.

According to your bio, you’re a comic book collector. What are your favorite or most prized comics? And can you tell us a bit about your life in the comic book industry?

My most prized possession comic book-wise is an original copy of Adventure Comics #247, from 1958! It’s the first appearance of my favorite team, the Legion of Super-Heroes. My local comic book store came across a copy about twenty years ago. I couldn’t afford it at the time, but the owner was a good friend of mine. He took the comic and hid it behind the counter. Every time I had a spare twenty bucks or so, I’d give it to him and he’d keep a running tally until I’d paid it off. I basically bought that sucker on layaway, which most comic book stores won’t let you do. He could have probably sold it to an established collector for a lot more, a lot faster. I love that damn comic.

You’re called a YA rebel-author. How did you come by that moniker? Do you think of yourself as a rebel?

Kirkus called me that when they reviewed the first book in the I HUNT KILLERS trilogy. I tend to think if you think of yourself as a rebel, you automatically disqualify yourself from being one. I was initially caught off-guard by that label, but I came to understand why they said it — I usually write radically different kinds of stories, as opposed to authors who find a niche they like (say, thrillers or romance) and generally stick to it. I’m all over the map — thrillers, sci-fi, comic books, slice of life, what-have-you. That prompted them to call me a rebel, which is totally their prerogative, but I never think of myself that way. I just write what interests me and then cross my fingers and hope that it will interest others as well!

You have a new short story coming out each month of 2017. Wow! Can you tell us a bit about what’s behind this year-long commitment?

Shortly after the election, there was a lot of angst and anxiety in the arts community. And people were saying, “What can I do to resist?” The usual answers were “Call your representatives” and “Organize at the local level,” which are eminently sensible and effective suggestions. They are also things that I’m happy to do. But I kept feeling as though there had to be something I could by dint of my specific skill set, such as it is. And I realized in December that the ACLU not only was going to be enormously important to preserving our democracy, but also that it had already drawn a line in the sand. I’m a member and I could always give them more money, but I thought, “What if I did something that went beyond me? What if I did something that could bring in dollars that the ACLU wouldn’t see otherwise?”

We often read discussions about how difficult it is for writers to know when a story is finished and ready to send out. Do you have that difficulty? What is it that tells when it’s really time to write “The End” and send the manuscript into the world?

Nah. I usually know the ending long before I get there. I’m EAGER to get there. I don’t write stories to sit with them — I write them to share. When I get to the end of the story and feel a sense of satisfaction, I know it’s done. It’s baked. Time to take it out of the oven and put it on a serving platter.

Do you have any inspirational quote or secret sauce for success that you’d like to share with our readers?

“Just do it ’til it’s done,” a friend once told me. I was stuck on a novel a million years ago, years before I got published. And I was wallowing in self-pity and remorse, whining about how hard this was, and so on. And this friend of mine said, “Stop whining. It’s a book, not a tunnel through a mountain. Sit your ass down and write. Don’t think about how. Don’t think about why. Just write. Just do it ’til it’s done.”

I printed out a sign that said, “Just do it ’til it’s done” and hung it over my desk for many years. We writers can be exceedingly precious and find reasons not to work, always looking for some mystical combination of elements to prod our inspiration, but at the end of the day, there’s no magic to it. You just sit down and write until there’s nothing more to write. Just do it ’til it’s done.

Thank you so much for being here on the Insecure Writers Support Group. You've given us a chance to know you better and shared some of your insights as a writer. We appreciate it so much.

You can see all of Barry Lyga’s books on his website. His latest book is I Hunt for Killers (Little Brown). It has an intriguing plot that explores the effect of murder on the family of a killer and his community.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Why Switch Your Point-of-View?

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 In editing stories I wrote ages ago, I can’t help noticing how my writing style has changed. I’m worse than neurotic when it comes to editing, so it takes me longer that most to feel that process is complete.  Sometimes it happens that I have to adjust the point of view depending on the story. There's one particular novel that I wrote in third person omniscient because of the unorthodox way in which it is told.  

Some things had to be revealed from the perspective of adults and I wanted readers to have an up-close and personal experience, no matter which character was on stage. I think I eventually did a decent job of that in going for deep point of view.  The filters between reader and character/s were removed, which created a rich reading experience.  

An aside here—every time I edit a book written ages ago, I regret not learning the craft properly before I started writing novels. It would have saved me a lot of time and energy as it pertains to editing.  

By changing the set-up in the novel I mentioned, I was able to tidy things up nicely for publication.  That said, have you ever had to overhaul a novel and switch up the point of view? What’s your take on having different points-of-view—including that of an adult—in a YA novel? Which point of view do you prefer writing in?  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Insecure Writer's Support Group and Twitter Pitch Event!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Our awesome co-hosts today are Tamara Narayan, Patsy Collins, M.J. Fifield, and Nicohle Christopherson!

Optional March Question - Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

We have a lot of cool things in the works for our members, including another anthology opportunity and an upcoming Goodreads book club group.

Hashtag #IWSGPit

July 27, 2017, 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Eastern Time

All writers and authors are invited to participate in our very first Twitter Pitch. Create a Twitter-length pitch for your completed and polished manuscript and leave room for genre, age, and the hashtag. On July 27, Tweet your pitch. If your pitch receives a favorite/heart from a publisher/agent check their submission guidelines and send your requested query. Many writers have seen their books published from a Twitter pitch - it’s a quick and easy way to put your manuscript in front of publishers and agents.

We invite all of you to join us that day! Authors with a publisher or agent, please ask if they would like to participate or pass along their contact information to the IWSG. We intend for this to be a twice yearly event, July and January, giving our members a great opportunity for publication. Help us spread the word!

See the IWSG Twitter Pitch page for details and a sample email to send to your publisher or agent.

New Swag!

Check out the IWSG Swag page for some cool new stuff, including mugs and erasers.

The tiny profit we make from sales of IWSG swag goes to fund opportunities to make the IWSG better for everyone and extend our reach. We recently created our own business cards and have other exciting options in the works.

Please support the next IWSG anthology, Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life, by signing up for the Thunderclap campaign.

The anthology authors are working hard to market the book. They’ve also set up a Hero Lost website, covering everything from the theme and genre to the stories and authors.

Last but not least, we need co-hosts for April, May, and June. Co-hosting means a lot more visitors to your site that day and it’s a lot of fun. Please leave a comment if you can help.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Story Trumps Structure with Steven James, Award-Winning Author

Today I’d like to welcome Steven James, the author of the award-winning book STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE. He is also the author of the thriller EVERY CROOKED PATH. I asked him 5 questions about writing organically, how to build tension, and more. Welcome, Steven!

Get it on AMAZON

1. Why should writers worry more about story and less about structure?

Often, structure gets in the way of excellence. As soon as you sit down to write three or four acts, or whatever it might be, you’re using an easily-identified paradigm and could end up with a cookie-cutter story. Instead, focus on pursuit, desire, believability, escalation, and so on. All of the narrative forces that help shape a story, regardless of its length or structure. 

2. For writers who struggle to write organically, without an outline, what piece of advice can you give them?

Ask yourself four questions, and you will never be without the next moment of your story. First, what would this character naturally do? Then have him or her do it always. Allow them to act in character and to act believably. Second, how can I make things worse? This relates to the narrative force of escalation and allows the story to continue to build toward a climax. Third, how can I add a twist? Look for a way to end the scene in a manner that is unexpected an inevitable. Fourth, what promises have I made that I have not yet kept? Then look for a way to keep them. 

3. What is one writing rule that you hear all the time that you believe should be broken?

Plot out your story before you write it. This ends up forcing so many stories into a corner and into predictable patterns. Allow the story to emerge as you work on it, asking the questions that I just went through, and the story will have a vibrancy that you never realized before that it could have.  

4. Which elements should writers focus on to create engaging stories?

Write stories that have emotional resonance by looking for struggles that your character has that readers will be able to identify with. Keep everything believable and don’t confuse your readers. Confusion will end up trumping any other reader response. For example, if you want them to be in suspense but they’re confused, they won’t be in suspense. If you’re trying to build romantic tension and they’re confused by what’s going on, they won’t be engaged. 

5. What is one thing a writer can do to build tension in a story?

Allow readers to be aware of danger that the character within the story is not aware of. For instance, readers know that there’s a bomb in the car that will ignite when a key is placed in the ignition. Then, readers will worry as the character approaches the car, unlocks it, and positions himself in the driver’s seat. No matter what genre you write in, building tension and suspense will help with reader engagement. 

Steven James is a national bestselling novelist whose award-winning, pulse-pounding thrillers continue to gain wide critical acclaim and a growing fan base.

Suspense Magazine, who named Steven’s book THE BISHOP their Book of the Year, says that he “sets the new standard in suspense writing.” Publishers Weekly calls him a “master storyteller at the peak of his game.” And RT Book Reviews promises, “the nail-biting suspense will rivet you.”

Equipped with a unique Master’s Degree in Storytelling, Steven has taught writing and storytelling on four continents over the past two decades, speaking more than two thousand times at events spanning the globe. In his podcast “The Story Blender,” he interviews leading storytellers in film, print, and web. Listen now to any of the dozens of archived podcasts for free by visiting his website

Steven’s groundbreaking book on the art of fiction writing, STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE, won a Storytelling World award. Widely-recognized for his story crafting expertise, he has twice served as a Master CraftFest instructor at ThrillerFest, North America’s premier training event for suspense writers. 

Find Steven:

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Steven. We are thrilled to have you as a guest. :)

QUESTION: Do you write with or without an outline?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Tips to Create Book Covers that Sell Books

With the changes to the publishing industry in recent years, more and more authors are choosing to self-publish. Unfortunately this has also resulted in a high percentage of those authors attempting to save costs by slapping on a quick DIY cover, without knowing what it takes to make a good cover. Remember, the cover is the first impression you give potential readers. Make sure it’s a good one by giving your book the best chance for success. Below are some tips that might help.

Keep the design simple. What you leave out is just as important as what you put in. Don’t add extra text. If you start throwing in too much, the eye doesn’t know what to focus on and the cover becomes an unprofessional mess. Unless you've built a huge fan base over a number of books, make sure the title is bigger than your name. In the interest of keeping it simple, avoid the special effects on the image and the fonts. Just because your graphics program has these funky filters, doesn't mean you should use them. This includes bevels, lens flares, distortions, and so forth.

An example of a good design and a bad design

Research cover trends. Does the trend lean toward photos or illustration for your market? Does it lean toward images of people or objects? These trends can change over time, so if you think you know, then double-check anyway. This is not to say you have to copy what's out there, but it is to say you want the genre of your book to be easily recognizable. The cover must communicate the book's genre.

The power of fonts:
The choice of font is as important, if not more so, as the images you choose for your covers. Don’t use too many different fonts on your cover. It will look messy otherwise. Use easy-to-read fonts. This might sound obvious, but I’ve seen so many authors choose a font because they like it, not because it’s readable. And if the font itself is readable, make sure there's a strong contrast between the font color and the background it's on. Do your research and make sure the font fits the genre of your book too. Below I’ve put together three different examples of font usage without an image behind them. Through the font treatment and style, it’s easy to work out what genres the covers fit into.

Another point on readability: Don't be afraid to break up a long title onto a couple of lines. One long title across the book's width often means being forced to make the title too small. Look for balance in the design. Below is an example:
Important: keep in mind the copyright on your fonts. Not all fonts are free, and this includes many of the freeware fonts. Often they are only free for personal use. If you plan to make money from the use of fonts through the sale of books, then that is a commercial venture and no longer falls under the rights of most freeware. Microsoft fonts are not free for commercial use. Always check the license of every font you use. The same goes for any images you use. Remember: You can't use anything you happen to come across.

The power of the images:
When choosing an image, or multiple images for your work, there are many factors you should keep in mind. Don’t go with fussy imagery, or pictures with many different colors. Too many colors become distracting. The eye won’t know where to focus and the title, and entire cover, will become lost. A simple image can speak a thousand words and will stand out far better than an intricate one. If you want to use multiple images, make sure you know how to blend them first. If you don’t then avoid this. If the chosen image is too busy to allow your title to stand out, then create a block space behind the title to tone the busyness down. See the sample below:
Understand how colors work.  There is a whole psychology behind colors. That's why you'll often see gloomy images and stark red or white titles on horror fiction, and you'll see muted, soft colors on historical romances. There is a plethora of websites that offer in-depth information on this. It's worth doing some research.

It's also important to understand how colors work together. If you've chosen an image that's predominantly blue, then it's not wise to use blue text as well, even if it's a different blue. Complimentary colors offer great contrasts while working well together. Looking at the color wheel below, the colors that sit opposite each other on the wheel are the complimentary colors.
How to check if your cover stands out: Turn your cover into the size of a thumbnail. This is often the size potential readers will see first when they browse Amazon for a new book. Is it still recognizable at that size? Does it still stand out when it’s small? To double check, a great trick is to take a screenshot of the Amazon page with books in your genre, then paste the cover of your book in among them. It’s the fastest way to see if it stands out from the crowd. I did this with Cling to God, my devotional book that was recently released. While the final of my cover was done professionally by my publisher, I still wanted to see for myself if it stood out. And it definitely did!
And lastly, design the cover in a high resolution—300dpi is preferable for a sharp image in print. It's then easy to scale back for web images (72dpi).

Which are your favorite book covers? What are your thoughts on do-it-yourself covers? What has your experience been with covers?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Emmy and Golden Globe Winning Screenwriter Erik Bork

Today we have the honor of welcoming an award winning screenwriter, Erik Bork!

You’re an Emmy and Golden Globe winning screenwriter. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to writing a screenplay?

Coming up with an idea for a script (or series) that really works, that’s original,compelling and capable of impressing people in the industry and making them want to put money behind it.

What ran through your mind when you realized you would be working with Tom Hanks on From the Earth to the Moon? What advice would you give writers for handling a big break like that?

Excitement mixed with terror that I might blow this opportunity, and insecurity about trying to write in a very different medium than I’d attempted before (historical drama/true story). Tom actually promoted me from an assistant position to work on this project, which was a life-changing break for me, that I am forever grateful for. I guess the advice I would give writers (or those who haven’t gotten such a break yet) would be to keep your head down, strive to be of value with what you do for others, to learn and improve at your craft, and try to keep your ego and ambitions in check when you deal with others.

You’ve talked about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. (A favorite of mine!) What elements/items/technique do you think is the most important when writing a screenplay?

I particularly love his ten “genres”: they’re my favorite tool for evaluating and developing movie ideas at the crucial concept/logline stage. I think really working within one of those genres (which requires understanding them more than most casual readers of the book do) can help ensure that one’s ideas are viable. It’s very easy to write something that doesn’t have the power to compel millions of people to want to emotionally engage with it — and not easy to come up with something that does.

You do consultations and coaching – what is the most rewarding thing about working with writers and the most frustrating?

The most rewarding thing is when I come up with ideas or insights that a writer really appreciates and can run with, and when I see them improve in their craft and know that they have improved, in part due to my assistance.

I suppose the most frustrating thing is when they don’t seem to make any progress or don’t seem to be able to successfully process feedback from myself or others, and move forward with it.

When you began this crazy writing journey, is this where you thought the path would lead? What else do you hope to accomplish?

All of the specifics of what I’ve experienced have been unexpected (both for good and bad). I certainly hoped I’d be able to write professionally, and I have achieved that. But there is much I haven’t done that I’ve long wanted to do, especially to initiate original projects and see them through to success with audiences. That might mean writing and directing on an independent basis, which is what I’m focused on at the moment. (I’m currently in post on a short film I wrote and directed.)

I’m a screenwriter best known for my work on the HBO miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, for which I wrote multiple episodes, and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as part of the producing team.
I’ve also sold series pitches (and written pilots) at NBC and FOX, worked on the writing staff for two primetime dramas, and written feature screenplays on assignment for companies like Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone.
I teach screenwriting for UCLA Extension, National University and The Writers Store, and offer one-on-one consulting to writers.
I got my start as an assistant to Tom Hanks, who gave me the opportunity to help him write and produce FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, after reading some sitcom spec scripts I had written.
I’m currently represented by Creative Artists Agency.

Connect with Eric - Website, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Opportunities for Our Members + Anthology Update / IWSG

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

Optional Question for Today: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?


The awesome co-hosts for today are Misha Gericke,  Christy LK Hill, Juneta Key, and Joylene Buter!


Heather M Gardner joined our team earlier this month to take over the Conferences Page. Welcome, Heather! 

C. Lee McKenzie has just joined our team on Monday as our Media Relations Specialist. Welcome, C. Lee!


Please help us to give our newest blog hop sign-ups a warm welcome, IWSG style. Let’s visit their blogs and show them some love today.


Do you want to show the world that you're insecure and proud? Well, now you can! The IWSG has started a merchandise store. Right now we have pens, magnets, and T-shirts available. Check out our store


Hero Lost
Mysteries of Death and Life
An Insecure Writer’s Support Group Anthology

Can a lost hero find redemption?

What if Death himself wanted to die? Can deliverance be found on a bloody battlefield? Could the gift of silvering become a prison for those who possessed it? Will an ancient warrior be forever the caretaker of a house of mystery?

Delving into the depths of the tortured hero, twelve authors explore the realms of fantasy in this enthralling and thought-provoking collection. Featuring the talents of Jen Chandler, L. Nahay, Renee Cheung, Roland Yeomans, Elizabeth Seckman, Olga Godim, Yvonne Ventresca, Ellen Jacobson, Sean McLachlan, Erika Beebe, Tyrean Martinson, and Sarah Foster.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero’s redemption!

Release Date: May 2, 2017


Here at the IWSG, we love to give our members opportunities. We have done this with the IWSG Guidebook and our Annual Anthology Contest. But we have even more opportunities for you to take advantage of, such as our Facebook Group (to build connections and get advice) and our monthly newsletter which features a member article in each issue.


On IWSG Day, we pin a badge to the group where members can share links to their IWSG posts and get more visits. Who wouldn't want to benefit from that?

We also have fun Wednesday posts you can take part in: Wacky Words, Wordsmith Tales, and Silly Mistakes.

Need advice? Have a question? Seeking a critique partner? Feel free to use our Facebook group!

We only ask that you DO NOT post PROMO to the main wall. We have a Friday News & Promo badge for members to share a promo from the week. :)

Would you like to be featured in our newsletter? We have 600+ subscribers, so this is a great opportunity and something for you to add to your publishing resume. Follow the instructions below to submit an article.

Topic Ideas: your number one writing, publishing or marketing tip; a motivational pep talk or inspirational story; a snippet about something you used to be insecure about but overcame, or an Aha moment you had about writing/publishing.
Length: 200 words or less
How to Submit: Send a DOC attachment to Chrys Fey at ChrysFey(at)yahoo(dot)com
Subject Line: IWSG Member Article

*Include a link for your by-line. A title for the piece is also helpful.

We look forward to getting your articles!


Sign up for our free, monthly newsletter to get a dozen or more help links about writing/marketing/publishing as well as a FREE GIFT for signing up!


Are you on Twitter? Follow @TheIWSG to receive writing tweets in your feed. You can also use our hashtag #IWSG. Every Wednesday, tweet your IWSG post with our hashtag and check out the other bloggers who are using the hashtag to share their post.

STAY TUNED for more opportunities throughout the year!

Optional March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

*Add this question and your answer to your IWSG Day post, if you struggle with what to post.