Monday, December 18, 2023

Happy Holidays From IWSG



From the Insecure Writer's Support Group

(We'll be back for IWSG Day on January 3rd.)

It has been awhile since I have celebrated Christmas, as all my family has passed, and I have just a few cousins all out of state from where I live.

If you are spending the holidays alone. Count your blessing because they are are there if you look for them.

Journal all the reasons you are grateful. Read that book you have been dying to read, or spend time writing on your novel.

Call a friend even if you cannot go to them, chat with them on the phone or zoom. And order a your favorite food for delivery or groceries and fix it yourself.

And if you are blessed to be able to celebrate big with your family, remember the SHUTINS that can't get out, call them or go by to visit. Also remember to tell and show your loved one how much they mean to you.

I will leave you with my favorite quote of all time. I have tried to live by these words from the first time I ever saw this movie. What a way to be remembered--handing out hope to others, without hope we are nothing, with hope we can achieve anything. Life is built on hope. One step at time, one day at a time, and the joy of believing. (One of the most quotable movies of all time IMO :) )

"You have a gift, Postman. You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket."

Monday, December 11, 2023

Keeping the Idea Fires Burning by Mary Kole

Creativity can be fickle, coming and going (and not always when and how we want it to). This can trip up many a well-meaning writer, especially when we expected our creativity to serve us with an upcoming deadline, a new idea, or a project that we can’t seem to regain our passion for but that we should finish.

While I can validate this experience, as a creative, and I know that many writers feel at the mercy of their “muse,” you might be surprised to hear that I don’t believe in personifying creativity itself (as a “fickle mistress” or any of the other garbage you’ll hear bandied about), and I certainly don’t subscribe to the idea of writer’s block. 

The Real Issues Behind Dimming Enthusiasm

There are, as I see it, a few issues that really contribute to a writer’s sense of “stuckness.” I’ll unpack them here:

Desire to quit. Not knowing whether or not you want to continue writing in the first place is obviously a big obstacle to continuing to write. If you don’t honestly think that you have it in you to keep going, that feeling is worth listening to. Of course, human nature being what it is, sometimes we are tempted to quit when the going gets tough. You need to really interrogate yourself and your motives to see if you’re being reactionary or defensive because of some of the below factors, or if you really want to quit writing. You should also know that no decision is binding. You can always come back—nobody is stopping you from leaving, and nobody is stopping you from returning. (If you really do believe that someone external is stopping you from either writing or going back to your writing habit, then you need to do some deeper introspection about why you’d let another person, no matter how close to you, separate you from your life’s creative hobby or calling.) You can also try a different type of writing in the meantime, as you regain or grieve and let go of your current incarnation as a writer. If you’ve been beating your head against the brick wall of a novel for ten years, maybe you could work on some short stories or poems. Even journal entries. Writing is not a black/white endeavor, nor is being a writer. The act of creation is a continuum.

Recent rejection. Sometimes the desire to quit your writing will be stoked by recent rejection, or a disappointment later in your career, like your supportive agent leaving the business. The bad news is that this stuff happens to writers and authors of all ranks and experience levels, sometimes without any notice. A lot of people don’t talk about this because they worry that any whiff of professional “failure” or misfortune reflects poorly on them. This is simply not true—setbacks happen to everyone, even bestselling writers who seem to be living the dream. I’ll never forget working behind the scenes on Judy Blume’s Masterclass course creation and hearing that she was thrown into uncertainty when her first adult novel wasn’t as well received as some of her earlier work. This woman is a living legend and has won lifetime achievement awards several times over. If rejection (or the perception of rejection) can rattle her, then there’s no hope for the rest of us. We can instead work to put rejection into perspective. It’s just a data point. Sometimes the data point is “Person X is not the right fit for my project.” Sometimes the data point is “I should go back and work on my plot a bit more, because this decline echoes something I was wondering myself.” Rejections are not in your control. Even the most lovely projects get rejected sometimes. The business really is subjective. But you can control how you respond and how you circle back to your work and either stick to your guns or make changes based on that rejection.

Negative or conflicting feedback. Sometimes you’re not stuck due to outright rejection, but challenging feedback or contradictory notes. I see writers all the time who come to me at a complete loss because their critique partner said one thing, and an agent at a conference had exactly the opposite assessment. (Hey, I’ve even participated in this dynamic by giving some feedback, only for the writer to say, “Ugh, that’s what I thought but my teacher said to do it another way,” etc. Or sometimes I agree with a critique that they deeply disagree with. It can be a mess to parse through differing opinions, especially if you’ve gotten a lot of cooks in your kitchen on a project that’s been in the works for a while.) First, you need to check yourself. Again, are you ready to process and filter the feedback, or are you feeling reactionary or defensive? If you’re coming from a grounded place, take a look at all of the responses you’ve gotten, including the contradictory ones. Anchor yourself to the nugget, mission statement, or true north star of why you decided to write that particular project. As long as your main premise is sound, you can then pick through feedback you’ve received and evaluate whether it upholds or changes your vision. Of course, your vision might not be sound, and that’s when you might hear about it in the form of rejection or a slowdown in the work—which you might perceive as writer’s block. But if you’re confident in the foundation of your story, trust your gut and writing intuition, and respond to the feedback that upholds your intention.

Positive feedback. Huh? Why would a good review of the work make someone stop in their tracks? Well, this is an issue of you disagreeing with the positive notes, whether consciously or subconsciously. If you consciously disagree, then you know there’s more to be done with the project. Maybe you haven’t invested in getting critique from a qualified reader, and part of you doesn’t trust the praise. Maybe you’re very used to being hard on yourself and can’t hear and internalize anything nice (whether you got here on your own or your upbringing wasn’t creatively supportive doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’ve ended up unable to nurture yourself in your current endeavors). Subconsciously, you might actually think the project is great, but you can’t admit it, are afraid of success, and aren’t eager to take the next step.

New idea syndrome. This one also requires some self-awareness on your part. It’s perfectly reasonable to be pulled into another project, even if you’re cruising along on you first WIP. Sometimes, you are struck with another idea and want to pursue it. Sometimes this new idea is worthwhile, and you are right to jump into it. In fact, this is a great way to revitalize your writing energy across the board. (Some writers can’t juggle multiple projects and that’s fine, too. This is one thing you will have to learn about yourself as you go along, and it can also change as your work and life balance changes organically.) Sometimes, however, Shiny Object Syndrome, where you pounce on any new idea that comes your way, can be a procrastination tactic. You are stalling out or feeling conflicted about your current project, so you abandon it. Does your new idea really have that much more potential, or are you avoiding doing a hard revision or revisiting a project after a submission round ended in rejection? Do a little self-inquiry and see what rings true to you. There is nothing wrong with taking a creative left turn (or five), but as I mentioned in the discussion of quitting, above, you need to dig a little deeper and figure out if you’re actually interrupting your work for a valid reason, or if you’ve just hit an obstacle. Sometimes persevering and doing the hard revision or the complete overhaul on a manuscript doesn’t feel sexy or exciting, but it’s the endeavor that will teach you more than simply abandoning a problematic draft for something fresh.

The need for downtime. And sometimes, the fact that you’re hitting a brick wall in terms of your writing has nothing to do with any issues of ego or reluctance or avoidance. Sometimes you can just be burned out, either from writing or working or living or all of the above. Guess what? That’s okay, too! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been faced with a rare golden opportunity to work without interruption, only to find that I cannot get myself to the page to write. I simply can’t do it. That’s worth listening to, too. Not every moment needs to yield Maximum Productivity (patent pending, ha!). Sometimes, you need to fart around (as the great Saint Vonnegut advised us to do) or do some hands-off back brain work on your idea. This doesn’t look like much, but your creative energies are always working on problems, even when you’re not doing “butt in chair” time. If your rest period drags on, you might want to force yourself back into some kind of writing habit, but if you find yourself breaking down and craving a break, that is not a bad thing, in and of itself. In fact, it can get you over a period of analysis paralysis or self-loathing and help you come back even stronger if you “fall to temptation” and give into taking a break.

What To Do Next?

Only you know the vision you have for your writing life and for your current project (or projects). If you want to quit for a while, quit. If you want to persevere and keep going, do that. Commit at least a little time every few days to moving forward—even if that means jumping around in your project outline just so you can keep the momentum going.

There is no one right or wrong way to be a writer or to finish a manuscript. Your patterns this year or last year might not even be your patterns a year or two from now. The journey is very much fluid. All you can do is know yourself, know your idea, and do what you can in that particular season to be of service to both your creative energy and your human need for rest and integration, as well as productivity. All of this is part of the creative process, even the moments that don’t necessarily feel all that creative.


Mary Kole's newest book is out: WRITING IRRESISTIBLE PICTURE BOOKS: Insider Insights Into Crafting Compelling Modern Stories for Young Readers Amazon | Goodreads

Writing Irresistible Picture Books by Mary Kole

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Publishing Books: Ever-Changing, Ever-Exciting

I’ve made enough noise on my social media that I hope my friends and followers are aware that I’m close to having another book published. As I’m going through the process, readers I know are asking me questions that made me realize how much most of the general public don’t know about today’s publishing business.

“You have a publisher. Aren’t they taking care of the promotion?”

“ Where will you go on your book tour?”

What they’re thinking about is the writer who is with one of the big five: Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. With some exceptions, these writers are celebrities (Obama) or established bestsellers (Grisham). Some new writers do make it through the system by landing an agent and then a book deal, or even by self-publishing and catching the attention of one of the big five with high sales. 

The publishing revolution that took place a few years ago significantly changed the industry. Some companies folded or merged. Vanity, hybrid, and small presses proliferated. Self-publishing gained in popularity, and has gradually gained credibility by producing professional work. Each year approximately 2.3 million books are published by authors or small presses. Only between one and two percent of writers are published by the big five.

When I explain today’s system, most people are surprised that there are so many roads to being a published author. In the past, there was pretty much only one—land an agent, sign a contract, receive an advance, and then pray you earned out that advance, so you didn’t have to repay it.  

Today, you can do-it-yourself: write the book, hire an editor, buy an ISBN, buy a cover design, pay for or do your own formatting, set up the distribution, and advertise. (this list isn’t necessarily complete or chronological)

Vanity presses are another option, and when you use them, you pay them to publish your book. They might do a good job with the details of publishing, but that’s not guaranteed, so after you pay the $4,000 or more, the book may not be a professional product. It’s up to the author to check everything very carefully. Usually, all the royalties are the author’s, and they retain their rights.

In 2018, IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association, 2018) set out criteria to help authors find a reputable hybrid press.

Some small presses take on the responsibility of putting the manuscript through the publishing pipeline without fees. The author won’t get an advance, but they will receive a percentage of the royalties. Good companies do some promotion, but the lion’s share is the author’s responsibility. Some rights go to the press. Others go to the author.

One of the biggest factors that has driven many authors away from traditional publishing is time. It can take years to find an agent--more years to sell a manuscript. And there are times a manuscript won't find a home even when agented.  However, even after a sale and a contract have been negotiated, it can take additional years to see the book in print.  

This is an exciting, challenging business to be a part of because it changes constantly, and the competition is fierce. Then when a book launches, it’s an adrenaline rush. No wonder there are so many people caught up in writing books and publishing them. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Rewards of Applying

Dear fellow writer,

Are you considering applying for something, but it seems like there's no way you'd be the one chosen? Maybe you want to apply for a workshop or a residency, a grant or a job, or maybe you’re just worrying about submitting a piece you’ve written.

Going through an application process can change your life, and not just if you get chosen.

When I wrote the first iteration of this message, my tiny publishing company, Thinking Ink Press, was a finalist for the Innovative Voices program of the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Turns out we did get into the program (yay!), but even if we hadn’t, the application process changed my relationship to the work we do.

Before, I didn't really know what we did, besides publish books.

Now, because we were forced to articulate our mission and values for the application, I feel confident in what we stand for and excited to find new projects that fit our vision.

For the application, we had to look at our past work and explain why it supports diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Seeing our published books in that light made me realize that we aren’t just a group of people who care about those things and also run a publishing company. Instead, our company as an entity values those things and bases its actions upon them. The application process made me prouder of the work we've done so far, and it helped me see all our books in the bigger context of what we care about as a press.

Another part of the application was stating our mission. I think we’d all been trying to define our mission for years. We started our press as a group of friends who love books, and we chose what to publish based on opportunities that presented themselves, with the thought that in the future we would see a pattern. Applying for Innovative Voices was just what we needed to see that pattern. The application process helped us reflect on our past work and create a focused mission statement that we believe in. 

A final part of the application was to talk about future projects. While we were discussing this, we got the idea for a science fiction anthology about neurodivergent humans interacting with aliens. We are very excited about this project, but I don’t think we would have committed to it, or possibly even thought of it, if we hadn’t applied for Innovative Voices.

It’s been great to meet the other publishers in the program, and to receive the help offered through it. But I feel we gained something even more important by going through the application process. We know who we are now and what matters to us in our work. 

I think back on other things I’ve applied for, and I see the same pattern: applying for a job causes me to consider what I care about in order to write a résumé. Submitting a story forces me to finish the story and commit to its details, as well as to choose a venue I’d be proud to appear in, and also to become willing to be known as the author of that particular story. Asking someone if they want to write together creates a deeper commitment to my own writing and helps me understand how I want to show up as a writer. Even when these things result in rejection, which they often do, I still gain from the process because I better understand myself and what I want to focus on in my life.

So if you're on the fence about applying for something, I say go for it.

Not just because you might get chosen (because, hey, you might), but because the process of applying can help you choose yourself.


Keiko O’Leary

Co-founder, Thinking Ink Press

P.S. Thinking Ink Press is a traditional publisher. We welcome you to submit your work. 

                            Thinking Ink Press all four of us - Keiko, Anthony, Liza, Betsy

Keiko O'Leary is a co‑founder of Thinking Ink Press, where she edits manuscripts and publishes books. She also works on innovative formats such as flash fiction postcards and mini books folded from a single sheet of paper. She is the author of Your Writing Matters: 34 Quick Essays to Get Unstuck and Stay Inspired. Connect with Keiko at

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Basic Layout of an eBook

The exact layout of an eBook is not set in stone. But if you’ve never prepared one for formatting, there is a basic layout pattern you’ll want to stick to for a professional appearance.

First, let’s cover the standard pages:

Title page – this should contain the title, the author’s name, and the publishing house. You can also include the logo and html web address.

Copyright page
– this should contain the copyright year and author’s name, ISBN, publisher’s name & address, “all rights reserved,” and disclaimer (“work of fiction, etc.). You can also credit people such as the cover artists. If you are registering it for a Library of Congress Control Number or a PNC (pre-assigned control number), that information will also go on this page. (Note that a LCCN or PNC are not assigned to eBooks only but can be included when you register a print book.) If you are getting a LCCN (for publishers with books in multiple libraries) then you will also get a Catalogue in Publication block, also called a CIP block.

Dedication – keep it short and simple.

Table of contents – either chapter titles or numbers. There will be no page numbers, but each chapter title will need to be hyperlinked to its corresponding chapter.

Manuscript – this is the body of your text. Note no headers or page numbers required. You can add graphics for chapter titles/number.

About the author
– a paragraph about yourself. Include links to your website and social sites (but not to retail sites – Barnes & Noble frowns upon eBooks linked to Amazon!) You can also include an author photo.

In between dedication and table of contents, one can also have a list of other books or acknowledgements.

An important item to include is the book’s reviews/blurbs. When readers are skimming the first few pages, reading the free sample, glowing reviews will help them make the decision to buy the book. Reviews for the book can come after the title page or after the dedication.

Other items you might want to include:
Bonus material

Those items will appear after the manuscript ends but before the author page.

And there you have it! The basic layout of an eBook. Now you are ready to get started.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Getting to Published by Gabi Coatsworth

The more I learned about how to get published, the more I realized I would need more than one plan for getting there. I’d started researching how other people got their books out in the world years before I was close to having a manuscript I felt able to submit. I discovered I needed a document professionally edited and formatted in a certain way. Plus an elevator pitch, synopsis, and query letter, all of them perfect. 

This would guarantee I’d find an agent who would take my novel and sell it to one of the Big Five publishers. They would, of course, fight over my book, pay me a huge advance, buy the movie rights, and sign me up for a two-book contract. Experts agreed this was the only way to do it. 

And then the real publishing world, which seemed to be changing from day to day, intervened.

At that point, I only had one plan—the one above, which I subsequently called Plan A. I queried lots of agents and finally found one with the help of a friend, which is often the way. She did her damnedest to sell the book. I got a revise-and-resubmit, but by the time the new manuscript was ready, the editor who’d asked for it had moved to another publisher and only wanted cozy mysteries. My agent wondered if I could rewrite it as a mystery. I thought not.

I needed a Plan B. I would submit it myself to small independent traditional publishers. I’d researched and tried some of them before, with my memoir, only to be rejected or ignored. I thought my novel might do better. 

Using my handy elevator pitch, synopsis, and query letter, I submitted. This time it was easier because most small publishers prefer you to do so via Submittable. Six months later, I was ready to admit that this wasn’t going to work either. The only publisher who came back to me loved the novel, but wouldn’t be able to schedule publication until three years hence, and since I’m approaching the shady side of seventy, I didn’t want to wait. 

Plans C and D were all that remained. Plan D was to self-publish—the least expensive way to go. But that would mean a huge learning curve and a great deal of subcontracting. Cover design, formatting, ISBN numbers, proofreading, distribution…the list went on and on.

So, I turned to my Plan C, hybrid publishing, and here’s why. A good hybrid publisher offers all of the things I mentioned above: design, editing, proofing, and even marketing. They require more research than traditional indie publishers, because the quality of their work, and their prices, vary enormously. 

As part of my due diligence, I bought a book from each of the presses I was considering, to check the quality. Some had awful covers, bad cover copy, or typos, and I discarded them immediately. Some kept the rights to your work for several years, and I heard some horror stories about trying to get them back. They were out too. 

I was left with a short list, and contacted some of the authors they’d published, to ask them about their experience. Only two candidates remained, and they both wanted my novel. I decided to go with the one that allowed me to approve every step of the production process, could publish within nine months, and let me keep most of the royalties. 

It had taken me three years to figure it all out. Here’s hoping this article will help you get there quicker.

Visit Gabi Coatsworth