Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Insecure Writer's Support Group Day and IWSG Anthology Contest Teaser


Welcome to The Insecure Writer’s Support Group
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!  For more about posting and joining in check here.  

The awesome co-hosts for the April 1  IWSG are:  Diane Burton, JH Moncrieff, Anna @ Emaginette, Karen @ Reprobate Typewriter, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard!

Our Twitter is @TheIWSG and hashtag #IWSG  

The link to IWSG Instagram
Use hashtag #theiwsg and @theiwsg may be tagged.

Announcing The Genre and Judges for 2020 IWSG Anthology!

The genre – science fiction!

And the amazing judges –

Dan Koboldt, author and #SFFpit founder
Dan Koboldt is the author of the Gateways to Alissia trilogy (Harper Voyager), the editor of Putting the Science in Fiction (Writers Digest, 2018), and the creator of the sci-fi adventure serial The Triangle (Serial Box, 2019). As a genetics researcher, he has co-authored more than 80 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He is represented by Paul Stevens of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Lynda R. Young, author
Lynda R. Young is an Aussie writing fantasy novels as Elle Cardy. Wielder’s Prize is her debut YA epic fantasy. She is also an editor, game developer, 3D artist, graphic designer, photographer, gamer and more.

Colleen Oefelein, agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
Colleen Oefelein is an author of YA, picture books, and author promotion guides, a devourer of books, and the owner of the book review site North of Normal. Formerly an associate agent and PR manager with Inklings Literary Agency, Colleen has hosted numerous “Pitch Perfect” and “Rejection Correction” workshops on Facebook and at conferences nationwide, and she’s mentored several authors one-on-one through online pitch contests such as Pitch Wars.

Damien Larkin
Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA Award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his next novel Blood Red Sand.

Ion Newcombe
is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia's longest-running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998. His qualifications and employment range from horticulture through electronics into literature and communications.

Julie Gwinn, agent, The Seymour Agency
Julie Gwinn most recently served as Marketing Manager for the Christian Living line at Abingdon Press and before that served as Trade Book Marketing Manager and then Fiction Publisher for the Pure Enjoyment line at B&H Publishing Group, a Division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Recently, she was awarded Editor of the Year from the American Christian Fiction Writers and won B&H’s first Christy award for Ginny Yttrup’s debut novel Words.

David Powers King, author
David's works include Woven, The Undead Road,, and Full Dark: An Anthology. He currently resides in the Mountain West with his wife and 4 children.

Monday, March 23, 2020

5 Tips for Scoring Book Reviews in 2020

All authors know the importance of book reviews. If someone ends up on your book page, scrolls down to the review section, and finds proof that other people have read — and, ideally, enjoyed! — your book, you are far more likely to turn them into a reader, too. However, when it comes to reviews, your mantra shouldn’t be “if you build it, they will come." You might have written the best book ever published, but if you’re not willing to put in some legwork, you may find yourself without a single review. To that end, we’ve got five tips for scoring book reviews!

1. Consider buying them--ethically!

Book reviews from vetted critics are not exactly the kind of things you just happen upon. Most of the time, indie authors have to pay for such reviews. However, when it comes to the price tag, there’s a wide range. For instance, an editorial review from a trade magazine like Kirkus Reviews will cost you $425. An editorial review from trade mag Publishers Weekly costs $399 (if you’re a self-published author, you’ll need to submit through their Booklife platform). Or you can seek out a more cost-friendly review from a platform like Reedsy Discovery, which charges $50 per submission. 😊 Whichever option you choose, a review from an established magazine or service is a great investment, and can be used in your Amazon listing or website to give your book a boost of credibility.

2. Don’t forget the power of word of mouth

One marketing tip indie authors are more commonly turning to is to include a message at the back of your book, encouraging readers to head to your Amazon page and leave a review. You should make sure not to be too pushy in your approach, and to include this ask in the back matter of your book — not the body. You don’t want to bombard readers with review requests before they’ve even had time to fully process the end of your book.

3. Run a giveaway

You can’t pay a reviewer to give your book a positive review. This kind of exchange isn’t allowed on Amazon, and they do their best to ensure the review sections of books are as transparent as possible. That being said, running a free book promotion or giveaway is an excellent way to get copies of your books into the hands of many different readers who then might be prompted to leave a positive (or negative — it’s part and parcel of becoming a published author!) review of their own volition. To run a free book promotion on Amazon, you will need to be enrolled in KDP Select — a program in which authors grant Amazon exclusive rights to sell their book in exchange for access to a number of marketing tools. You can learn more about KDP Select and whether it’s right for you here! Another option is to run a giveaway using one of the many platforms that allow you to do this — such as Goodreads or Instafreebie. According to Indiereader, “more than 40,000 readers enter a giveaway every single day.” Chances are a large portion of those readers are also happy to leave reviews on books they enjoy!

4. Turn to book bloggers

There are tons of book bloggers out there who accept submissions from indie authors. In fact, at Reedsy, we have a directory of over 200 of them. When it comes to seeking reviews, not all book blogs are created equal. Some will be much more likely to review your book than others. So whether you’re consulting a list or scouting them out on your own, you should do your research to determine what blogs are best for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind while you do so:
  • Are they currently accepting submissions? If not, the answer is easy: on to the next!
  • Do they cover your genre? It’s a waste of both your and the blogger’s time to pitch a book that’s outside the genres they focus on. Book bloggers rely on dedicated fans and often specialize in one or two specific genres. If their niche is reviewing romance novels, the chances that they will throw science fiction into the mix is low — because it’s clearly not their realm of expertise, and they won’t want to throw off their readers.
  • How active are they? If they haven’t posted since 2003… you can safely refer to the first bullet point. That being said, you also don’t want to work hard to get featured on a blog that posts so often that your review ends up being a needle in a haystack. If a book blogger is posting once or twice a week, that shows consistency and the chance for each of their reviews to have their fair moment in the sun.
  • How big is their following? The more the merrier, right? Well, yes and no. It’s certainly not a bad thing to score a review on a blog that gets tons of traffic. But that doesn’t mean you should turn your nose up at blogs with smaller followings — as sometimes those smaller blogs come with a tight-knit sense of community and trust.

5. Capitalize on the reviews you’ve already received

Here’s the thing about book reviews: they often feel like a catch-22. You need readers to score reviews — but it’s tough to get readers without reviews. So when positive feedback does start to roll in, use it to get even more! Here are a few suggestions for doing just that:
  • Add a review excerpt to your book’s synopsis on all of your different book and sales pages — Amazon, Goodreads, everywhere. Ideally, the excerpt will be from an editorial review. But hey, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, so if you haven’t scored one of those yet, use a shining reader review.
  • Add positive reviews to your author website.
  • Add a very concise and effusive line to your book cover — in this case, it should really come from an editorial review.
  • Share positive reviews on social media.
  • Include lines from positive reviews in any promotional material you create.
  • If you’re querying an agent, you know the drill: reference a positive review!

Monday, March 16, 2020

#IWSG - When hope is hard to find.

Currently, the world is in chaos.

It may seem bleak. It may seem like no one out there is listening. That no one cares.

But, we are the writers.
We are the story tellers.
The ones to entertain the masses.
To be hopeful when hope is hard to find.

We must maintain. We must find our own path through the craziness and stay strong.

It won't be easy. So many distractions. So much unease and worry. It might seem impossible to focus and get words on paper.

Keep trying. Keep jotting down your ideas and your visions and your dreams.

Keep moving forward.

Because...people need us. People need stories to escape. To feel good. To find joy.

They need our stories, because there are no stories out there quite like ours.
Individually, we may be insecure, but together we are invincible.

Together, we have hope.

Stay safe, stay sane, and stay sassy.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Building a Writing Community and Magazine

By Damien Larkin

Writing can be a lonely business. Even with the support of friends and family, it can be a struggle dealing with the frustrations of receiving dozens of rejection emails. Who else but another writer can understand writers block or that tricky scene that just doesn’t want to work itself out? I’m sure a lot of us have been there; that horrible moment when we want to just give up but force ourselves to carry on despite the odds. It’s moments like this when leaning on fellow writers can make all the difference.

Nearly every blog post about starting off on your writing journey agrees on one thing: writers need other writers to learn from, connect with and share experiences. Writing groups can be found in virtually every major city, but with the power of the internet, we can now connect with entire virtual communities from the comfort of our own homes. Those same blog posts all point out the Twitter Writing Community as one of the best places to engage and connect with other writers of all stages and levels. It was here, just over a year ago that the British and Irish Writing Community first came together.

When I started my own writing journey in 2017, I read those same blog posts and researched various writing groups in my home city of Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, any groups I found either met during my working hours or when I was looking after my two young children. I reached out to several authors for advice via email but received only one lukewarm response. I turned to Twitter but quickly ran into a major stumbling block – I’m terrible at social media.

In real life, I class myself as an easy going, friendly person who’s comfortable in most social situations. I can get up in front of crowds and talk for hours or I can work a room full of strangers and have them cracking jokes together within minutes. But online, I struggled. I tried to engage, I bought other writer’s books and reviewed them. I supported, liked and retweeted, but still couldn’t seem to connect in any meaningful way with any other writers.

Then, one day, a single tweet changed everything. A UK based author named Phil Parker tweeted about the lack of networking or support groups specifically for Irish and British speculative fiction writers. After Googling what ‘speculative’ meant (I’d genuinely never heard of that term in my life) and finding out that my debut novel Big Red fitted that category, I reached out to him.

In a series of email exchanges that lasted a few days, we chatted about all things writing related. The more we bounced different thoughts around, the more an idea seemed to take shape. We couldn’t find any group that focused on Irish and British speculative fiction, so why didn’t we just make one? We teamed up with British author Lee Conley and with that, the British and Irish Writing Community was born.

Each of us had our own reasons for wanting to build such a community, so we agreed on a few principles. This new group would be open to all residents and/or citizens of Ireland and the UK (although, we have snuck writers and bloggers from other countries in from time to time…) We agreed to focus only on writing and writing-related matters while supporting writers of all backgrounds, experience levels and stages. Last of all, we wanted to promote the fantastic works of speculative fiction from the talented authors spread across our two beautiful islands.

It’s been a lot of work for each of us, especially with our own family, work and writing commitments. The dividends have certainly paid off though. Last year, I had the pleasure of representing the British and Irish Writing Community at TitanCon in Belfast and Octocon in Dublin. We also had our first ever meet up at BristolCon in Bristol, UK. At a talk hosted by myself and Lee Conley, we met fellow members in person and outlined our long term plans for our ever expanding group.

The spirit of collaboration between so many different writers has also led to the launch of our very own speculative fiction e-magazine ‘Bard of the Isles’. Containing short stories, interviews and guest articles from emerging and established writers, we’ve managed to shine a light on what we’re capable of achieving by working together. Issue 3 is due out later this month and we’ve big plans to continue expanding on content while building our brand.

Writing can be a lonely business, but we don’t have to go it alone. I’ve certainly experienced moments of frustration at the thoughts of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). It can be exhausting working on a project in between raising a family or working a day-job, but community is key. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs since the launch of Big Red last year, but no matter what, the support of my fellow writers has helped me through even the worst moments. I’ve had the pleasure of making some lifelong friends, visited different cities and enjoyed beta-reading some fantastic up-and-coming works.

We’re all in this together, so let’s keep supporting and building each other up. I certainly can’t wait to see what the future holds for the British and Irish Writing Community!

Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA award for Best Novel. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his next novel Blood Red Sand. Website / Twitter/ Facebook

BIWC links: Facebook / Twitter / Bard of the Isles online speculative fiction magazine

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Ides of March Cometh

In a few days March 15 is going to show up on the calendar, so why should we beware of that date? For one, it was a darned unlucky day for Caesar. If only he'd listened to that soothsayer, but no. When the guy tried to warn him, Caesar said, "He is a dreamer; let us leave him." As we know, this was not a good idea.

When you get some well-intended warnings, I say pay attention. And that brings me to this rather odd segue. 

I was reading a magazine, and came across an article titled Clean Up Your Digital Trail. I almost flipped the page, but stopped when I read this: "You've probably accumulated a lengthy list of online accounts for everything from e-mail and social media sites to online search activities, purchasing history, and blogging platforms. Even if you stopped using the accounts ages ago, your digital footprints are still sitting there, a potential treasure trove of information for identity thieves."


When I'm writing, I do a lot of online searches. And I've been known to buy a few things from that big box store in the sky, like books. Also I shake in my buskins when I read "identity thieves," so I had to read on. I wanted to know the full extent of my digital vulnerability, and I wanted to know how to lessen it.

Here are some tips the article served up on sweeping those footprints away:

  • Delete or deactivate shopping & social network accounts you no longer use. Go to account settings, option to deactivate, remove or close. 

  • Use incognito mode when you search from now on. Duck Duck Go is one incognito browser that I use.

  • Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) It creates a secure connection between your devices and the scary internet world. 

  • Deactivate old email accounts

  • Check your privacy settings on frequently visited websites, especial social media sites.

  • If you're in the EU, use the right to be forgotten option.

  • Don’t click on nutty surveys. These are called "clickbait," as the article said, you give up a lot more than you get in return. 
While this is a nice to-do list, you might also bone up on your phishing detection skills. Here's a QUIZ from Google that you can take to see how savvy you are. It's interesting and only takes a few minutes. I learned a lot.

I hope this bit of spring cleaning wards off the evil identity thieves (shudder). After all, writers have enough to be insecure about. There are probably more things a writer can do to protect himself, so if you have some suggestions let us know in the comments. 

Oh, and BTW, the Ides of March really is a good day. We might even have the first full moon of March. People used to celebrate when that happened. We should reinstate that tradition. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Emotional Truths, Insights, And Emotions Are Key To A Great Novel

Please welcome Cheryl Rainfield an international award-winning author with some great ideas about creating un-put-downable stories. 
If you ask readers why they read, you’ll hear a lot of different answers—but if a story doesn’t have some hard-won emotional truths in it as well as being entertaining, readers will likely put it down. And if your character doesn’t struggle to gain their goal, and they don’t have an internal or worldview change as a result, your story won’t be satisfying. We all struggle, and are all trying to figure out how to be happier, how to get what we want and need in life—how to gain greater insights. Story is one way to help us do that.
Readers respond to emotional truths in story. One of the reasons we read is to give us a roadmap for the pain and problems we’re going through, to know that not only can we survive them, but we can also heal from them, maybe even come away from them stronger or with a new purpose. Stories help us see how other people have coped with the same problems we have, and help give us new ways of coping, or new insights or perspectives on our journey.
Stories also help us know we’re not alone in our specific struggle and pain. Being alone or seen as “other” centuries ago would have meant we were an outcast, and we might not have survived. Even today, being seen as “other” can mean we are ostracized, bullied, or mistreated. Finding others who understand what we’re going through—even in fictional characters—can lessen that pain and help us cope better. 
Another reason we read story is to figure out how we would deal with a problem that we haven’t yet experienced. Stories allow us to vicariously experience painful situations that we haven’t had in a safe way, and help us figure out how we’d not only survive them, but also how we’d heal from them or make our life better. We absorb the main character’s insights, if they resonate in a way that feels true, and they can help us be or feel more prepared to cope with those problems if we have them in the future, or help us to better understand and support someone we love when they’re going through that tough time.
Another reason we read is to help us understand ourselves—and other people—better. Why do people act and react the way they do? How can we avoid having negative interactions with others, and navigate through life more safely or happily? How can we help someone we care about who’s going through a hard experience that we haven’t? A good book can help us really get inside someone else’s experiences in a way other mediums can’t, and help us understand ourselves and others better—through the emotionally true actions, reactions, and insights in the story. And it can also help us gain greater compassion, empathy, and insight for others as well as for ourselves. 
Emotion, insights, and emotional truths help make a novel more compelling and un-putdownable for the reader, and much more satisfying. So draw on your own experiences, especially meaningful ones, include your insights and emotions, then infuse your character or stories with them. As long as there is that thread of emotional truth in your fiction, readers will respond.
The opposite is true, too; readers can sense when the author isn’t being entirely honest or writing from the heart. This is true not just in realistic fiction, but also in fantasy. So be as creative and as imaginative in your story as you want, but make sure there’s a thread of emotional truth if you really want to engage and keep your readers. How little or how much of your truth you put into the story is up to you, but write some in. You don’t have to write from your traumatic experiences, the way I do, but writing some level of your emotional truth will give your story more meaning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
A good story helps us feel along with the character, so writing with the emotion your character feels helps. Writing emotion in your manuscript isn’t just limited to what you show the main character feeling through body language and dialogue. You can also show their emotion through how you write the setting, weather, and symbolism, through how the character perceives their interactions with others, how others react to them, and through how the character’s past affects their present viewpoint, actions, and reactions. Someone who is angry will view and react to their surroundings and the people in it very differently than someone who is afraid, and again very differently from someone who is content or tired. Different things will stand out for your character than for the other people around them depending on how they feel and how their past has affected them. 
Emotional truths, insights, and emotion can help hook your reader, engage them, and make them keep reading. Of course, it’s also important to learn all the other parts of story craft, but writing emotional truths is important if you want to write stories that readers won’t put down.
To read more about this in depth and to really make your stories come alive, read Story Genius and Wired For Story by Lisa Cron; Emotion, Conflict and Back Story by Mary Buckham; and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. I also highly recommend writing courses by Mary Buckham; Margie Lawson (especially her Empowering Characters’ Emotions and Writing Body Language and Dialogue, which she also has as lecture packets); and CS Laskin’s Emotional Mastery For Fiction Writers course. You can also consult The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for jumping off points in writing emotion through body language and how the body reacts to emotion. 
Cheryl Rainfield, 2020 
International award-winning author Cheryl Rainfield has been a leading force in YA literature for diversity for more than a decade. Her YA fiction has been hailed by top literary magazines and prestigious educational associations for the outstanding writing style and the gritty realism that she brings to her characters. Rainfield’s goal is always to write the stories that she wished she could have read when she was a teen, to help teens now. Hundreds of teens, teachers, and librarians have sent her notes over the years about how her novels about marginalized LGBTQIA and abused teens resonate with readers. Teens have shared that her well-drawn characters make them feel less alone. Cheryl draws on her own trauma and abuse experience to write vivid, emotional fiction; Cheryl’s own arm, a symbol of self-harm, is on the cover of SCARS. Cheryl Rainfield is an incest and torture survivor, queer, feminist, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine)  SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

Get a free 38-page SCARS story that picks up where SCARS left off by signing up for Cheryl’s author newsletter

You can find Cheryl on her website Also Twitter; FaceBook fan page and author page; Instagram; and YouTube. Follow her on BookBub for book recommendations.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Peering at the Mud of Muddy Middles

Sorry, it isn't a pretty picture. It's mud. My shoe. Tire tread marks from a delivery truck.
And, a hoof-print on the right side of my foot - look carefully. 

Have you experienced Muddy Middles?

It’s that part in the plot map where characters take an unexpected side turn, run down a rabbit trail, and flounder in a muddy pit.

Often, when I'm in the muddle middle moment of a novel, I discover a ripple which leads me to the plot's edgiest moment and back to the center again. It helps me re-focus the entire novel, gives me a boost of energy, and sends me roaring to the finish line - or at least to the next muddy middle crossroad.

Muddy middles aren't all that bad, when they are in the rear-view mirror.

But when we're stuck in them? Muddy middles are awful. Every bit of dialogue leaves a gritty taste in the mouth. The descriptions all feel dribbly. The fog descends and it isn't even a mysterious fog, or a romantic fog, or a fog where you can imagine dragons or zombies (dragon zombies?).

So, how do we pull ourselves out of the sucking mud threatening to tear off our waders and get to the more exciting walk through the mansion of mystery, or the dappled romantic meadows, or the fire-breathing dragon zombie horde-filled desolate plains?

I know, you’re waiting with bated breath (who made up that saying? Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice) for the ultimate secrets to life, muddy middles, and writing expertise … (cue really loud drum roll).

Well. I can’t give you a secret recipe, boom-it’s-all-fixed answer.

But I can peer into my rear-view mirror at past success.

And, I see a weird acronym forming: R-RACE.

 Rest. Yep. I wrote a four-letter word. Rest. That bad boy does actually help if it isn’t a wallowing sort of rest that lasts way too long.

Rejuvenation through something new, crazy, or just plain different than anything done before. In my own muddy middle right now, I’m turning a prose project into a graphic novel and attempting some song-writing. I signed up for volunteering at a poetry slam for youth in my area.

Affirmation. Write down what motivates you as a writer. Just write: I am a Writer. Say it out loud. Affirm it.

Community. The IWSG is a great place online for community. Check out all of our options: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, a Blog Hop, the Newsletter. Plus, I recommend RL community even if it’s a bit scary to meet other authors. Some of us are nice. Go to a writing meet up. Volunteer somewhere. It may take a bit to find your tribe, but you can.

Expect the finish line. Know you are going to reach it. Write down exactly what the finish line is for you – describe what it feels like. Envision it. Expect it.

Now, go, pull your feet out of that mud!

This post is brought to you from the Pacific Northwest, nearish Seattle, where we experienced more than 90+ days of gray cloud cover from November through early February. If you find the sun, take a photo of it for me and tag me on Instagram, please. I need to remember what it looks like so I'm not frightened of that glowing alien orb when it appears in the sky.

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Marketing Roadmap for Writers

Many things about the writing and publishing process stand to make a writer insecure, but none more so than marketing. A lot of writers can’t stand the term or its connotations. We are making art, and marketing is all about selling (ugh) a product (yuck). It feels sleazy and snake-oil-y and self-promotional in a way that leaves many creatives uncomfortable. 
But it’s also necessary. Because nobody’s going to do it for you before you’re published … and many authors find that the marketing funnel doesn’t exactly “click on” magically after their books come out, either. Even if a publisher is hands-on, the real burden falls to the creator to sell that book! Seasoned authors know this all too well. They have learned, maybe the hard way, that if their book didn’t “perform” to expectations, their future prospects and advances could be affected. Indie authors already know the necessity of marketing. Long gone is the era of “If you build it (or put it up on Kindle), they will come.” Self-published authors have to lead them, sometimes with paid tactics, if they hope to make a sale.

So how do we square art and commerce? The age-old question. Here are four marketing tips you can use now—no matter where you are in your journey—to start making headway with the necessary evil of book and self-promotion. 

Build your platform: You’re probably sick of hearing that you need to have a platform. Especially if you’re not published yet. What does an unpublished writer’s platform even look like? The bare minimum is a welcoming, clean, and simple website. A main page, an About Me page, a Contact page, and one for your projects (already released or in progress). Make sure you have a way to collect email addresses from fans (more on this later). As for what else you need? Some people will say that you’ll want to register with each platform (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.), oh, and start blogging. As if we all have unlimited time! I say, yes, you may want to investigate these platform-building social networks … eventually. For now, pick one that you can really dive into. Does Facebook make you nauseous, but you’re a highly visual person? Instagram and Pinterest are your friends. Post semi-frequently—to avoid burnout—and follow marketing best practices: share mostly content that your audience will find interesting, instead of megaphoning about yourself and your work.

Play the expert card: We live in a 24/7 news cycle, and the outlets looking for fresh content multiply seemingly every day. All of those websites, blogs, news outlets, and social media feed need stuff. (You know this well, as you try to fill your own feeds.) And they’d ideally like stuff from experts. Well, hang out your shingle. What’s your book about? If it’s nonfiction, this is a no-brainer. But if it’s fiction, is it set in a place? During a historical event? Is your protagonist working in a type of industry that you’ve researched. Well, why not call yourself an expert in that thing, event, place, or whatever? Do yourself a favor and sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Three times a day, you’ll receive a list of call-outs for sources from reporters working on stories. It’s a mixed bag. Some days, you will find absolutely nothing. Other days, you will find a reporter looking to speak to an expert in your field, and they will want to talk to you. This is a great way to attach some very legitimate media to your name and topic.

Give it away: Readers love free stuff. And I know that your words come to you painfully and are very valuable but … as you establish yourself, you’ll need to give some of them away. Readers will want to get to know you, your voice, your style, so write a special short story or clip the first few chapters of your book, throw this little teaser into a PDF and give it away. You may want to give it a nice cover and formatting, but otherwise, your investment in this piece of marketing will be low. All you want from your potential readers in return? Their email address. It’s very easy to send digital downloads as a response to someone signing up for your newsletter. A lot of powerful email marketing tools like Mailchimp are free or cheap for small lists. So reward people who want to know more about you by giving some of your writing away. You may win a reader for life, who will pay next time. This technique, or strategically making your ebook free on the Kindle store surrounding your next release, is called the “reader magnet” and is a powerful way of attracting readers. If you have ARCs or physical copies of your book available, run a giveaway on your social media channel of choice. You can stipulate that entrants need to share the giveaway or follow all of your social handles to be eligible.

Don’t toil alone: Some writers look around them in their Amazon genre or category, or on the indie bookstore shelves, and see competition. Instead, see opportunity. All of those writers are clearly doing something right, and all of them are working their own marketing. Team up. Not just for the social support of sharing tips or learning via others’ mistakes, but for strategic connections. If you write romance, my guess is that you’re targeting romance writers. And that the people around you on the shelves have the same readership. So run a joint giveaway. Promote one another’s releases. Ask to run interviews or guest posts in their email newsletters, and offer them the same in return. Writing is solitary. Stressing out about your social media platform is often done in isolation. But not all marketing efforts have to happen solo.

My goal here is to give you a few actionable tips for your own marketing. And I also hope I’ve done something a bit sneakier—inspired a mindset reset of sorts. Everyone has to market. Yes, your art should be good enough that it stands on its own … but even great art needs a boost. If you think of marketing as a supportive, holistic part of your writing career, maybe it becomes less intimidating or overwhelming or dirty. It’ll never become less important, so dive in. After all, as they say: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Leave your marketing questions and strategies in the comments!

Connect with Mary Kole: Good Story Company: (writing and publishing children's books) (editorial and consulting services)

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WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction 
for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers 
from Writer's Digest Books! Amazon | Goodreads

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Whilst You Wait on the Muse...

On IWSG blog hop days*, I read a lot of posts by writers suffering writer's block. Not being able to get into the word-count groove causes stress and breeds doubt and insecurity. My advice to blocked-up writers is usually to power through. To flip on the computer, open the file, and write. Even if they think every word they write is crap. It's still good, because crap makes excellent fertilizer and eventually, the good stuff will grow from it.

But there are times when even crap won't come. No matter how long a writer stares at the screen, there's nothing. I've hit that same wall and I have a couple more solutions:

Walk Away. 

There is probably some non-writing related project that is needing attention. Pick the most boring job and tackle it. Clean out a closet, scrub a something (anything) that is both dreadful and non-writing related.

Eventually, your brain will get bored and stories will start nagging you.
The problem with walking away for too long is writing/publishing is also about gaining momentum and a prolonged stop could mean starting over.

So, there is a second option- one that doesn't halt the momentum....

Get Busy!
Writing is a multi-faceted cornucopia of work. A writer could be busy twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and there would still be work left undone. On the days that the words won't come, here's a list of other things a writer can do whilst whiling away the hours between paragraphs:


Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, etc. There are plenty of platforms to join to interact with readers. Post, tweet, share...begin a dialogue and keep it going. This is important to me because as a READER nothing annoys me more than ONLY hearing from a writer when they want me to buy a book.That is probably odd considering I grew up in a time when writers were mostly faceless entities who lived in towers and sent out new stories via carrier pigeon or maybe magic. But those days are over, even Nora Roberts's Instagram account is active between calls to buy her books. Sure, it's most likely manned by her staff, but still, she's making contact and making it personal. 

No book to sell? Perfect time to build a following and be launch ready when the time comes.

Blog. A blog offers the opportunity to write in small, manageable chunks which can get the juices flowing. And even though blogging may not be as popular as it once was, it remains the home of some of my most loyal support in the writing world. The insecure Writers Support Group monthly blog hop is a great place to start making connections.

Network. Writer's groups (both online, like the IWSG, or the In Real Life variety), blogging, and attending writer events are a great use of time. Meeting other writers and sharing information and support are great ways to make connections and friendships. Any time I meet someone who has paid thousands of dollars to publish a book through a vanity press, I feel sad for them because I know they probably don't have many (if any) writer friends.

Study. Authors, editors, agents, publishers...almost anyone in the business has some advice to offer. There is an endless supply of free help on the internet. Check out blog posts, interviews, podcasts, and videos for useful information on every topic from craft to marketing.

Read!! Nothing is a better balm to the writer's soul than reading. Beta reads, pleasure reads, educational reads. If you can't be writing, be reading. Good books, bad books, all books! There are millions of them out there for your consumption- take advantage of them!


*The Insecure Writers Support Group offers a monthly blog hop where members can vent, share, and encourage one another in this intrepid adventure we call writing. If you're not already participating, join us!

Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay
 Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Monday, January 27, 2020

How To Write Great Descriptions

By Katharina Gerlach

How To Write Great Descriptions

I’m a bilingual author from Germany and I learned many things the hard way. One of my biggest obstacles was (and still is to some extent) my tendency to write lean. I do not much care for lush descriptions. Why use 20 words if 5 will suffice? The reason is quite simple:

Reading is the only known way of thought transfer. Sure, it’s a buggy process but it works if (yes, if) the author knows the difference between show and tell, and description plays a major role there.

As a child, I loved the books of an author who lived in the middle of the 19th century. His stories were adventurous and had deep meaning. However, I skipped whole pages due to big blocks of descriptions. I wanted the action to keep moving. So when I began writing in earnest, I left out descriptions wherever possible.  Either extreme is wrong. 

In a blogpost on this site in October, Rayne Hall has already given you some pointers at how you can make your descriptions more engaging. Use your scene character’s POV to your advantage.  You can reveal or hide facts you’ll need in later chapters by mixing them into well thought out descriptions. You can also use description to characterize your POV character or characters the POV character interacts with. 

Example: “How I hated the smell of his car. The scent of cold cigarettes, french fries, and stale beer made me gag, but I had no choice. If I wanted life to continue, I had to sit in his grimy VW bug where a mass of mingled rubbish had overtaken the backseat. There were scientific papers, sheet music, food, empty beer bottles, some records and even a guitar with ripped strings and a coating that must surely be a century’s worth of grime.”

Right here, the description is only there to set the scene, the reader thinks. But later on, when the young detective discovers that all murder victims have been strangled with a guitar string, this scene gets a whole new layer of importance.

The key to great description is the use of specific details. Rayne Hall has already shown how different the perceptions of your characters should be, depending on their jobs, their hobbies, and life experiences. But even with that foundation, the choice of detail is crucial. 

Why does the architect notice this house rather than the one next to it? Does he really notice the whole house or is it the contrast of the blooming geranium in the cracked pot against the once yellow sandstone that symbolizes the district's downfall to him?

It is also important to keep in mind, what the POV character is doing in the scene you’re trying to describe. Naturally, a thief fleeing from the police will not notice how lovingly cared for the garden looks that he’s passing through. He’ll only be on the lookout for the gate or a place where he can jump the fence or a hiding place. While an old widow visiting her late husband’s grave might point out to him in minute detail what has changed on the neighboring graves since her last visit.

Description should also use all senses if possible. Our normal modus operandi is sight, which is why most of our descriptions center around things we see. But we’ve also got smell, hearing, feel, and taste (which is pretty hard to put into story but not impossible). And some people claim to have a sixth sense, perception.

A final consideration is your genre. Description can be used very well to set the tone of your novel. Description in a gritty detective story will focus on different elements in the scenes and a different, more chopped up writing style than a chick-lit story with its fluffy, feel-good descriptions. The genre also determines the amount of descriptions you need. 

Readers of Romance expect a lot of sensual descriptions mingled with strong emotions whereas Horror works with the unseen in complex settings. A heavily tech-oriented SciFi story will need more expository description (beware the pitfall here) than a coming of age story set in the real world.

Make your descriptions as varied as you can, because description is what makes your stories become a movie in the readers’ minds. Skimp on it, and your stories will fall flat no matter how engaging the characters and how intriguing the plot. Put in too much, and the reader will skip paragraphs or even whole pages.

Play Along:
Describe your room twice. The first time, pretend to be a mother fetching laundry from her son’s/daughter’s room. And second, pretend to be an alien that crashed through the window of this room, so this is the first glimpse of humanity it gets. Keep it under 100 words.
Feel free to post, and I’ll do my best to comment.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ten Tips for Handling Bad Book Reviews

Bad reviews! Any writer with a published book gets crappy reviews. How do we deal with them? Here are ten tips:

1 – Refrain from responding
As much as you might want to respond, either politely or with harsh words, don’t do it. Once you’ve left a comment or sent out a Tweet or posted to Facebook, your negative response will be out there for all to see forever. You might get a few fans to rally to your cause, but most will view you as the villain, not the reviewer. Even if you later delete it, the damage is done. Sending an email is a bad idea as well. So refrain from adding fuel to the fire and keep your grumblings private.

2 – Know that it’s part of the process
Guess what? We all get negative reviews. It goes with the territory. Remember, you created art. Art is subjective and not everyone will like your book. You can’t please everyone. (And if you do, then you really didn’t say anything of value.) Shake it off and move on.

3 – Laugh about it
What are you going to do—cry? Might as well laugh about it! Often a bad review is just as poorly written. So turn the tables and have a good chuckle about it.

4 – Remember they add validity to good reviews
What do you think when a book has nothing but five star reviews? You start to wonder, don’t you? Friends and family of the author? Paid reviews? A couple bad reviews means some readers were honest—which means the rest of the good reviews are probably honest as well. Plus sometimes people want to know if the book is really that bad and they read it!

5 – Look for constructive criticism
Often two and three star reviews will offer constructive criticism. Look for it. Is there any validity to what they said? Can you see areas where you can improve or issues you need to address? (Several reviewers didn’t like the fact there were no women in my first book. I listened and made sure there were several women in the next one, including a female main character. That book garnered better reviews than the first.) Learn from the bad reviews and write a better book next time.

6 – Don’t focus on the negative
We tend to focus on the negative. We can have a hundred great reviews and one bad one. Which gets our attention? The bad one! Who cares? When doing averages, what do they always do? They drop the top numbers and the bottom numbers. So ignore that bad review and don’t even factor it into the equation.

7 – It’s just one person’s opinion
Everybody has an opinion. And they are just that—opinions, not facts. So one person didn’t like your book? Big deal! Out of millions of readers, that’s not even a drop in the bucket. (Unless all of your reviews are bad!)

8 – Don’t let it stop you
Yes, putting a book out there is scary. It’s a creative endeavor, which makes it a little more personal. We can’t take it personal though. We have to believe in ourselves and not let bad reviews stop us. Have you ever encountered a jerk at your work? Did it cause you to give up and stop working forever? No! So don’t let a negative review from someone you’ve never met stop you.

9 – Write the next book
This is the best thing you can do! Just hunker down and write your next book. Show those naysayers that you are a great writer. Take your experience from the previous book and pour it into the next one. Besides, you’ll be so busy writing, you won’t have time to worry about bad reviews.

10 – Kill off the reviewer in your next book
If all else fails, then just put that reviewer into your book as a murder victim or monster that is slayed by the hero!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt

How do you handle bad reviews?

Monday, January 13, 2020

4 Tips For Creating Villains

Sacha Black 
4 Tips For Creating Villains

Everyone knows that a hero is the most important character in a novel… Or are they? It’s actually a common misconception because at the heart of all stories is change, aka the emotional arc the hero moves through. From ‘flawed person unable to defeat their obstacles’ to ‘heroic champion at the end of the book’, having overcome their issues. And driving that change is conflict, and who creates conflict…?

The villain.

That’s why the villain is JUST as important as the hero. It’s also why I spend as much time crafting my villain as I do crafting my hero. So here are four tips to creating sinister villains.

1.      Why is Everything

Humans do things for a reason, often because of past experiences and the emotional wounds we’ve gathered. For example, losing a limb or a loved one dying. These events actually shape our brain chemistry and change the way we see the world. They cement the way we make decisions meaning rational thought can plausibly leave a villain and they can do something immoral because that’s what experience has taught them.
The Lion King is a great example of this. The King, Mufasa, has a brother called Scar who grew up in his shadow, always second best. As a result, Scar becomes bitter and jealous. In his mind, he deserves the crown. Therefore, anything he does to get it is reasonable. His jealousy is the reason why there’s conflict, and that conflict over the crown drives the story.
2.      Positivity is King

It might sound odd to ask you to give your villain a positive trait, but positivity for villains leads to believability. Just like having a perfect hero is off putting (because no one is perfect in real life) having a purely evil villain is also unbelievable. In a villain’s mind, they’re the hero of their story, they don’t think they’re evil, so chances are, there’s something redeemable about them.

You could show them caring for a sibling or family member, or show them loving a pet. You could even turn their negative trait into a positive one temporarily. Showing some positivity will breed a much more complex villain who’s an awful lot more believable than one who’s 100% nasty.

3.      Make Your Villain Unbeatable

A story with a hero who gets it easy is boring. Nothing is a challenge, the obstacles fall away. That’s not going to grip your readers. What grips them is relating to your hero’s emotional journey and the trials and tribulations he faces. That means he needs to work hard for his win. He needs to defeat a huge villain shaped barrier that seems, for 85% of your novel, like it’s totally insurmountable.
How do you make the villain seem undefeatable?
Make your villain an expert at something — if your villain is an expert in amassing huge armies, your hero is going to struggle to gather a rabble of misfits big enough to defeat him. A good tip here is to link to your hero’s character arc to your main villain-barrier. For example, Thor from the Marvel universe movies is (at the start) arrogant and selfish. So his father curses Thor’s magical hammer—the only hammer that’s able to defeat the villain. Until Thor can change and prove himself worthy of the power the hammer wields, he’s royally screwed. Once he changes, he gets the hammer back and can defeat the villain.
4.      Consider a Twist
Once you’ve finished the first book in a series you could play a wild card and consider a villain redemption arc for the next book in your series.

A character arc defines the change a character goes through during your story. Typically, a villain will spend the entire plot descending into villainy, where eventually they’re defeated. But a villain on the path to redemption goes the other way, they climb their way out of villainy to redeem themselves.

A word of caution though:

It takes time. Just as a hero takes an entire novel to overcome her flaw, it will take some time for a villain to make this monumental change. Don’t let them yo-yo between good and evil — the change needs to build slowly throughout your story.

Foreshadowing is vital. Readers don’t like to be cheated. You need to drop breadcrumbs throughout your story to let your reader know subconsciously that the villain is going to change, otherwise, they’ll feel cheated. Foreshadowing is subtle and often doesn’t take a lot — the occasional soft glance from the villain, a nicely spoken sentence, an action that is ‘good’ rather than evil. Tiny clues are key here.

Like hero like villain. Don’t make it easy for your villain to change. Just like it’s hard for the hero to overcome her flaw, it should be hard for a villain to overcome his. A quick way to make it harder for the villain to redeem himself is to catch him between two of his values. For example, while this character isn’t a villain, it still illustrates the point: Ned Stark in Game of Thrones values loyalty and wisdom – his wisdom tells him if he helps his King it will inevitably lead to his death, and yet, his loyalty forces him to help the King anyway.

Don’t let your villain become a wuss. Villains are villains for a reason. Keep them authentic by retaining some of their sharper personality edges. Just because their actions are good doesn’t mean the whole of them will be.