Monday, June 27, 2016

Guest: Michael J. Sullivan

Hey IWSG. I’m Michael J. Sullivan and I want to thank Susan for inviting me here for a little guest blogging.  To set some context, I’d like to give a very brief background about my history. My first The Crown Conspiracy) was published through a very small press. While well-meaning, it didn’t do much to move the needle, and after selling out a very small press run (about 2,200 copies) the rights reverted to me. I then self-published five novels (including that first one), and just before releasing the sixth and final novel of that series, my wife thought it might be a good idea to see if we could get the series picked up by a major publisher. Hence, The Riyria Revelations was re-released through Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). Since then, I’ve been walking the hybrid road, I’ve self-published Hollow World and The Death ofDulgath and signed a four book series with Del Rey and another two-book series with Orbit. At this point I live a pretty comfortable life as a full-time author. 

Why am I telling you all that? Well it sets the stage for what I’m going to blog about today and that relates to where we all start out and how to get to where most would consider “the promised land (full-time authorship). So here goes.

I talk to a lot of writers about marketing, and many point out that promotion for me (as someone with eleven books out, 9 of which are with major publishers) is a lot different than for them who are self-published or with a small press.  To that I say….BUZZZZZZZZ. Wrong, try again. With few exceptions, all fiction writers start from the same place. A book with absolutely no following. When I put out The Crown Conspiracy in 2008 I had no blog, no following, and twitter, Facebook, and ebooks didn’t even exist. So what’s my advice? Well, first of all let’s talk about my three keys to success.

1.      Write a really good book (and yes I know what a subjective statement that is, so let me mention how I’m defining “good” for the purposes of this conversation). A “good book” is one that people enjoy so much that they’ll tell others about it.  Every book that has “blown big” has this aspect. Yes, people may bemoan some of the writing skill in Fifty Shades of Gray, The Da Vinci Code, or Twilight.  But the fact is each of those books captured readers and they spread the word.

2.      You need more than one book. Most authors that “make it” do so because they keep putting out more titles: Stephen King, James Patterson, Nora Roberts – they write and keep writing. If you need $3,000 a month to pay your bills, it’s a lot easier to do that with six books earning $500 each than one book bringing in $3,000.

3.      You need to prime the pump.  What I mean by that is #1 doesn’t work if your books are “trees falling in the forest with no one to hear.” So you have to get them in front of readers and keep working at it until you see momentum by finding people you’ve not talked to who are reading your books.

That’s it. The whole recipe for success. Of course the execution is the hard part, so let me give some further tips.

·         Tip #1 – Until you have three books on the market, don’t spend a great deal of time marketing. Your time is better spent writing book #2 and #3…then you can start pounding the sidewalk. You should spend 90% - 95% of your time writing and only 5% to 10% of your time on “marketing.”

·         Tip #2 – So what do you do with that 5% - 10% that you are spending on marketing.  Well, the most important thing is to get reviews of your book.  The second requirement to marketing (beyond the 3 book thing) is you must have at least 25 reviews on Goodreads and 10 reviews on Amazon before you start any substantial marketing efforts.  Here’s my suggestion.  Get a Goodreads account and find other books that are similar to yours. Then filter reviews of that book to those who have rated it with a 4 or 5 and sort with “latest.”  Then send some nicely worded messages to those people. Explain that you are a new author who has written a book that you think they’ll enjoy based on what they said in their review. Explain that you’d like to offer them a free copy of the book in hopes that they’ll review it.  The key here is “hope” not in “exchange for.” Keep rinsing and repeating this until you have your 25 Goodreads reviews.  When people do review your book, write to them and thank them. Then ask nicely if they wouldn’t mind cutting/pasting the review onto Amazon as it will help others who are considering the book.

·         Tip #3 – Keep writing. Maybe your first book doesn’t go well. Chances are you released before it was ready for primetime.  Fix it. Work on constant improvement. Find beta readers and critique partners.  Re-release it under another title if you need to.  Or realize that it wasn’t such a good book after all and put that behind you and do better with the next one.  This is definitely a business that rewards persistence, and the only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying.

·         Tip #4 – Be flexible. The market is always changing and you need to adapt with it.  I’ve had 2 books with small-presses, 9 books released (and three more under contract) with the big five, and 8 books self-published. Make sure any contract you sign has adequate protection if things go wrong. If you think you can make more money by self-publishing a particular title, do so.  If you think it will help your brand to sign with a big-five (even if the money will be less), than do that. You don’t have to publish all your books that way…as long as you make sure the contract doesn’t limit you.  Agility is a key to my success and I want others to keep it in mind because where we start and where we end up are hopefully not the same thing.

Well, I hope this will help some of the people here, and I’m always available to answer questions. In fact, I have an AMA (Ask Me Anything) that will be running on reddit/r/fantasy on Tuesday June 28th and Goodreads has an “Ask the Author” feature and you can post questions there. Or, just drop me an email at  It would help if you put “Question from an IWSG member” in the subject, as it will make it stand out. In the meantime, keep writing!!

Find all Michael's books here. And visit his blog. His newest book, Age of Myth, is being released June 28th. Come on. IWSGers, and hit him with some questions. He is a model of interacting with readers and other writers, including sharing his email. What do you all think of Michael's tips?


Monday, June 20, 2016

World-Building Tips and Tools

World-building is important in any genre. The place our characters inhabit must feel real. The pressure is really on when writing speculative fiction. Portions of the world or its entirety must be created from scratch.

It’s a huge task. Some writers don’t know where to begin and skimp on the world-building. Some get lost in the world-building. No matter where we fall on the spectrum, most writers struggle to some extent with creating a believable world from scratch.

We need to use every weapon in our arsenal. That includes a checklist of basic components and tools to bring our world to life. Our readers will never know the full extent of the universes we create. But as writers, we need that foundation so we can build a great story.

When adding to an existing world or creating one from scratch, we need to consider the dynamics of that world. How do they function? How do they interact with each other? Within that world, are they plausible?

Within the checklist should be a set of rules, governing each unique faction. The science must be sound and believable. The magic must follow the laws of that world. Sure, we’re dealing with the unknown here. But if it doesn’t come across as reasonable, readers won’t buy it.

The Checklist:

When creating your world, answer these questions:

What is this world’s history?

What is the geological setting?

What races inhabit this world?

What animals and plants inhabit this world?

What are their resources?

What are their food sources?

What are their energy sources?

What is the political infrastructure?

What is the technological development?

What commerce do they use?

What are their relations with outside races?

What are their basic beliefs?

What are the occupants’ religious beliefs?

What is the social structure?

What do the inhabitants do as far as work?

What is the goal of each faction of this society?

What is the family structure?

What is the criminal element?

What do they do for recreation?

What colors, sights, smells, textures, etc. do they enjoy?

While it might seem like a lot, just stop and consider the complexity of real life. Just take one question at a time. If you can nail down most of those things, you’ll have a really good grip on your world.

Just don’t go overboard with the research. Remember, a lot of this won’t appear in the story. Resist the urge to dump all of the information on the reader. (Please!) Answering those questions will just help flesh out the story and make it more believable. When we know it – really know the world well – we’ll write a believable story with depth and passion.

Beyond research, there are some really cool tools designed to build worlds:

Cartographer’s Guild – A forum for map makers.

Gimp – Graphic manipulation program.

Impact Earth – Asteroid impact on Earth .

Seventh Sanctum – Random generator of ideas from science fiction weapons to fantasy spells.

Transhuman – Continuous Thrust Travel Time Calculator .

Donjon – Random generator of names, quests, worlds, etc.

Star Gen – World generator.

Carlos Labs – Nuclear fallout maps.

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange – A question and answer site for writers/artists using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings.

Universal Sandbox - A physics-based space simulator. ($24.99)

Pro Fantasy– Campaign Cartographer software. ($44.95)

And here are some awesome world-building articles and sites:

Enderra – world building resources, tips, guidelines, etc.

Kitty’s Writing Toolbox – 52 step world building worksheet and more.

Magical World Building – guide.

The Writing Nut– large list of resources and sites.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go create a world!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Filter out those Filter Words by Alicia Dean, Editor

I would like to introduce everyone to Alicia Dean, editor for The Wild Rose Press under the name Ally Robertson. She is discussing filtering out filter words to help us “show” not “tell”. This is a great lesson, and I hope you enjoy it.

Hello all…I’m happy to be joining the IWSG today, and I’m especially happy to share a little about revising/editing with you. I love working with authors, and if my experience and limited knowledge helps in any small way, I’m thrilled.

Working for The Wild Rose Press, I receive many fantastic submissions, and of course, I receive many that are not so fantastic. J Even out of the well-written, stupendous, engaging manuscripts, I often find that sometimes the authors lean a little heavily on filter words. These are ‘filter’ words because they distance the reader from the action and from the character’s emotion. Words like ‘felt,’ ‘thought,’ ‘wondered,’ ‘heard,’ ‘saw,’ ‘knew,’ ‘noticed,’ etc. Avoiding words like these can make your writing much more active. Filter words are also closely related to ‘telling’ vs ‘showing.’ If you say your character felt or thought something, rather than just ‘showing’ the thought or emotion, then you are telling, when you could be showing.

A few quick examples--and these are taken from recent books I’ve read by extremely successful NYT Best-Selling Authors. Of course, who am I to advise someone who’s done exceedingly well without my advice? However, I couldn’t help but be a bit jarred when I read lines like:

·         She felt panic race through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? Maya thought.
·         Maya saw him exit a door on the east side of the building.
·         She knew Mark had been working there for four years.

Just a few brief tweaks would bring us much closer to what’s happening:

·         Panic raced through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? (We’re in Maya’s point of view, and there were no dialogue tags, so readers know she ‘thought’ it)
·         He exited a door on the east side of the building. (We’re in her POV, and if the author just states that he exited a door, readers will know she ‘saw’ it happen)
·         Mark had been working there for four years. (Again, readers know she ‘knew’ it because it was stated while in her POV)

I know it’s worse for me than an average reader, since it’s my job to ‘edit,’ but whether or not a reader realizes that the author is using filter words and telling instead of showing, they DO know whether or not they can relate, and I believe they can relate more fully if we try to avoid filter words that might distance them.

Having said that, I would definitely not reject a manuscript because of overusage of filter words, but it is something we would most assuredly work on during edits.

Do you have the nasty filter word habit? You might just consider words like this as you’re revising, and see how many you can eliminate to make your story more active. Even now, I read books I’ve written and I find where I used filter words too. It’s easy to let them slip in. Thank you for joining me today. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Check out Alicia's blog every Tuesday for her Two-Minute Tips where she offers quick tips for busy writers.


Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She has three grown children and a huge network of supportive friends and family. She writes mostly contemporary suspense and paranormal, but has also written in other genres, including a few vintage historicals.

In addition to being an author of more than twenty-five published works, Alicia is both a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, under the name, Ally Robertson, in their suspense line.

Other than reading and writing, her passions are Elvis Presley, MLB, NFL (she usually works in a mention of one or all three into her stories) and watching her favorite televisions shows like Vampire Diaries, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Haven, The Mindy Project, and Dexter (even though it has sadly ended, she will forever be a fan). Some of her favorite authors are Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, Sharon Sala, Jordan Dane, Ridley Pearson, Joseph Finder, and Jonathan Kellerman…to name a few. 

Find Alicia Here:
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Monday, June 6, 2016

End Cliche Speed Bumps

Cliches are all around us. Cliched plot lines. Cliched characters. Cliched blog posts? Sometimes cliches slip into our writing and we don't realize it. How can they be avoided? Do we even realize how many we use? Is crying a cliche when showing a character's sadness? How else can we write sadness instead of just having a person cry? Drooping shoulders. Flat, monotone voice. Heavy-footed walk. Staring down at empty hands or clutching a token like a cross of memorabilia.

Think of other things we write or read many, many times. Ear to ear grin ... sounds a bit creepy instead of joyful. Waves of nausea. Quaking knees. Shivers crawling up the spine. Pounding heart.

Most of us write a few of those into our work. And the more experienced you are, the more likely that they create a snag in the flow. You stop typing, knowing you have to make that sentence better. You have to get the emotion across without an overused phrase. I used to do this all the time. But another writer gave me permission to not let these things slow me down. Cliches are permitted in first drafts. Now when I write one I wince, but I keep on moving. Fix it in the next draft. Fix it when your critique partner points it out. Fix it before an editor sees it but don't let it slow you down in the first draft.

One of the ways I fix my cliches is by using the best-selling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. A member of my writers' group recommended this book a few years ago. I've had it on my desk side shelf for a while now. I don't pull it out for the first draft but keep it on hand during the second.

So instead of worrying that your protagonist shed a single tear or their eyes widened again, finish the first draft and then make the second draft as shiny as a new penny and cliche free.

What cliches do you find in your writing? Any particular cliche you see often when reading that really bothers you?  Are you familiar with The Emotional Thesaurus and its sequels? And why couldn't I figure out how to get the accent mark over the 'e' in cliche?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Insecure Writer's Support Group and What We Offer Writers

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.

Today’s co-hosts are Murees Dupe, Alexia Chamberlynn, Chemist Ken, and Heather Gardner!

If you’re new to the group or site, here are some of the things we offer:

We are now on Twitter - catch us at @TheIWSG

We have a monthly newsletter that features articles, writing links, and the month’s featured IWSG member. You can sign up HERE and received a free gift.
One of those articles is by an IWSG member - this is where you get to contribute. Here are the details:
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 Put “Member Article” in the Subject Line.

We have a very supportive group on Facebook with 3200 members. We have special feature days M-W-F, and this month, we are introducing some fun new things on Wednesdays.

Also on Facebook is the IWSG Critique Group for those seeking critique partners.

We offer all writers a free ebook, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s Guide to Publishing and Beyond. It offers tips from our members on everything from writing to publishing to promoting.

We have an anthology contest each fall where members can submit stories for a royalty-paying anthology. Released last month, Parallels: Felix Was Here was the first one. Keep watching the site for details concerning this year’s contest and a chance to cast your vote for the genre.

Plus, we even have our own t-shirt.

If you’re a writer looking for resources and support, you’ve come to the right place.