My Top 10 Tips for Writers

top-10

Write for yourself, not for the masses

Don’t write in a genre just because it’s popular; write in a genre because it genuinely appeals to you. Remember, it takes approximately nine to twelve months to write, edit, and publish a good novel. That means, by the time you finish writing about vampires, school-age wizards may be the rage.

Write in a genre because you enjoy that style. Someone who loves (or at least enjoys) writing and the genre they’re writing in, breathes more life into their characters, adds more dimension to their settings, and presents a more well-crafted story than that person who is merely trying to cash in on something that is momentarily popular.

(Obviously, this is a tip for people who are serious about writing, and doesn’t apply to those who are merely writing because they think it’s the easy road to riches. Which leads to our next tip.)

Be prepared to work

Being a full-time author (whether it be books, stories, blogs, or other material) is arduous work. For those of you who think that writing a best-selling book or an award-winning blog is a quick, easy way to make money, think again. Stephen King and JK Rowling spent years struggling to make ends meet before someone finally thought their work might have potential. And when you look at the number of authors who actually make a decent living from their books versus the number of authors still struggling, the odds are not in your favor. Writing, like acting or any other art-based endeavor, requires dedication, commitment, and hard work.

Write honestly

The truth of your writing is noticeable to your readers. Although your characters are fictional, they must feel real to the readers. Men cry. Women can be strong. People aren’t superheroes (and even if they are, they can still be vulnerable).

Even when you create a fantasy world, the ‘rules’ of the world have to make sense to the reader. Otherwise, they won’t believe in your world, your characters, or your story. The honesty of your story—the world, the characters, and the plot—must come from you. If you aren’t honest, the readers won’t buy it.

Take writing and literature classes

Don’t presume that your one or two classes of English and English Lit in high school are enough to make you a writer. Relearn basic sentence, paragraph, and chapter structure. Find out how to craft a short story (which is much more difficult than building a novel). Refresh yourself on basic grammar (especially verb tenses), punctuation, and spelling.

When crafting a house, you need a good foundation, and the same is true of building a story.

Edit and proof; then do it again

Don’t presume that because you used an online grammar checker (such as Grammarly or Word’s spellcheck tool) that your story is good to go. While those tools may catch 80 – 90% of your blatant errors, they don’t catch all. (They won’t tell you that the phrase “She licked the lock on the front door…” is absurd. After all, licked or clicked are both perfectly acceptable words.) Worst of all, those online tools won’t tell you whether your story or novel needs restructuring. They can’t tell you if your voice is wrong for the type of story you’ve written; they can’t help you figure out how to fix the pacing; and they can’t help you figure out that you jumped from one character’s head to another without indicating the switch. The only way to learn about those types of missteps, is to hire a story editor. After the story editor has gone through your work; then you need to have it edited/proofed for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Play with your words

At least once a week, take a break from whatever you’re working on to play with your words. Find a phrase, sentence, or scene that you like, and use it to prompt you into writing something. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t even have to be publishable. The point is to practice creating images with words. Just visualize a scene, and then create that scene with your words. Try painting the scene in a flowery, overly descriptive way; then try painting that same scene using short, choppy descriptors. Use a different voice for each style, or try a different pacing. Play with it; have fun with it.

Reject rejection

Whether you’re an independent or traditional author, you’re going to receive negative reviews from readers and critics or rejections from agents and publishers. Remember, though, that it’s just their opinion. Does it hurt? Of course. But, they are just one person out of billions. So, let it go. Unless a review or rejection letter tells you specifically something that you can do to improve your writing (your characters are poorly developed, the pacing is off, or the manuscript needs proofing), then just try to shrug it off. Not everyone is going to like you or your creation. After all, you don’t like every book you read, every piece of art you see, or every meal that is served you.

Each artiste (and yes, I consider authors artistes) has their own style and not everyone will like it. Don’t let the negativity get to you. Just focus on the people who do like your work.

Read

Read everything, including styles and genres you don’t really like. Push yourself to read outside your comfort zone. If you do, it can help you grow as a writer. As you read, listen to the cadence and the rhythm of the words. Figure out what appeals to you and what doesn’t, and then figure out why.

Opening yourself to other styles, different authors, and different genres may just spark something in you and help you broaden your skills and techniques.

Network

While this concept dredges up feelings of horror in most authors, who tend to be an introverted lot, it is a necessary evil.

Use your online tools to help you network. Create a presence online so that you are visible to both those in the writing/publishing world and those who love to read.

Join Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. Find groups who share your interests. (There are groups out there for almost anything.) Start a website and blog. Write posts (articles) and share them with other bloggers…and not just about your books. Write about topics that interest you, whether that be ghosts or antique car restoration. Your interest will garner readers, and if those readers like what you have to say, they may just check out your books, too.

For those authors willing to get up close and personal, there are conventions (book conventions, comic cons, romance conventions, fantasy conventions, and more). Conventions are a great way to meet fans and others in the writing and publishing industry. You can usually find information online for the type of convention(s) you might find interesting and pertinent.

Other places that authors should check out (depending on the types of books you author) are historic re-enactments in your area, gaming groups, mystery groups (who actually plan and solve mysteries together), as well as writing groups, and library reading sessions. Also, many senior centers love to have people volunteer to give talks and presentations. Plus, there are historical societies, women’s groups, or you can be a guest lecturer at your community college.

There are many ways you can network to gain readers, mentors, or support.

Be kind and helpful

Being kind and helpful already comes naturally to most people; therefore, this could be one of the best and easiest ways to market yourself. When you help someone else, not only do you get to feel good about yourself, but you never know what might come of it.

Offering to help someone in your critique group may result in them helping you obtain a speaking engagement (perhaps at the school their child attends, at their neighborhood library, or at the senior center their mother visits). More importantly, though, that person will tell other people about your kindness, and word of mouth sells a lot of books.

So, being kind and helpful is not only a great reward in its own right, but, it can ultimately lead to a lot of book sales.

Advertisements

The Winkling Wuggley Got Her

A Winkling WuggleyAs I warned you lovely readers in my previous post, “Sorry…No Kooky Cats“, I’ve been sucked into the world of YouTube. Not as just a viewer, but as a participant. (So, world beware!)

I’m developing a channel, creating short video, and trying to figure this all out. I’m like a baby who is just learning to walk. I take a few steps, I fall down a lot, but eventually I pull myself up again and toddle on.

I’m sure the videos I create will never win Oscars, Emmys, or whatever the equivalent is in the world of YouTube videos; however, I think (for me, anyway) the key is that I’m having fun and I’m learning things I never thought I would.

Warning: Self-Advertisement Ahead !

So, just in case you want to see what I’ve been up to, I’ve included the link to my channel and the latest video that I created:

TA Sullivan (YouTube channel) 

A Winkling Wuggley Reads Books

 

Sorry…no kooky cats

I got lost in the wilds of YouTube the other day. It’s a crazy place out there. Lots of strangeness, craziness, and things that should be none-of-your-bizness but people put it out there for the world at large to see, anyway.

When I finally wandered back to my own little corner of the world, hours (nearly a whole day) had passed. And yet nothing had been accomplished (although, I did admire several hilarious cat videos). It’s amazing how such small bits of no-purpose videos can suck you in.

At first, I was glad to simply escape with my life and my sanity. But after a little thought (very little, actually), I decided that maybe I should throw some of my own hey-look-I’m-on-YouTube-too videos out there. Unfortunately, without any crazy cats or other cute animals (well…except for my husband, who is adorable and fluffy) I didn’t know what I could share.

Then my BFF reminded me that I have books. Books that I’m actually trying to encourage people to buy. “…but what has that got to do with crazy old lady or kooky cat videos?” I asked her. Oddly enough, it seems that you can create videos even if all you have is words. Isn’t that something? Who would have thought it?

So, here it is…my own attempt at a YouTube video (I promise, next time I’ll find a crazy old lady or a kooky cat ; )

 

 

The Writer’s Game

ahamomentTwice a month a member of my writing group comes up with a sentence, piece of dialogue, phrase, or concept and challenges us to use it to create a short story, poem, or opening chapter to a book in any genre.

It’s a fun way to push ourselves and stretch our writing talents. It’s also a fun way to give ourselves permission to try out genres that we might otherwise shy away from. For instance, I primarily write fantasy and paranormal books, but I love to read mysteries and thrillers. This little game gives me a chance to try writing the opening for a mystery, thriller, western, or any other type of book without the pressure. After all, it’s a game…it’s all in fun. And if it happens to lead to another book or a publishable short story, then all the better.

What I also love about this game is how many ideas can spring from a simple sentence, phrase, or piece of dialogue. We each get about a week to come up with an idea and rough it out before presenting our results to the group. Some writers may have a single idea; others, two or three ideas; and still others, may come up blank. It’s okay, though, because it’s not a contest, just a helpful exercise to get your brain thinking in different ways.

“I’m gonna count to 3, and then I start shooting!”

That was the prompt for the game we got at our last meeting. What can you come up with using that? What story or images does that bit of dialogue spark in your mind?

In a couple of days I will present three of the results based on this bit of dialogue. In the meantime, see what you can come up with, and feel free to post them as part of the comments, or on your own blog…

I always love to see what ideas people can find in something so simple as the sentence above.

 

4 Free Marketing Tools for Authors

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Most authors are not sales people. We tend to be loners and introverts, rather than extroverts and life-of-the-party types. Because of this temperament, many of us find that selling our books doesn’t come easily. Yet, without a bit of marketing, our books and other writings are unnoticed and often overlooked.

For each reader out there, there are at least a 1000 books that “hit the shelves” every day. Yet, without something to entice readers to find them, most of these books may never find a single reader, and many may only be found by the author’s friends and family. Yet, every book has 4 free, built-in sales and marketing points that many of us authors overlook.

Every time you, as the author, publish one of your works, you need to provide:

  1. A book cover

Think about it. What makes potential readers select a book written by an unknown author from an overwhelming list of unknown authors? The cover. Whether at a brick and mortar book store or online, a winning cover can make potential readers stop and check out your book. You need to create a cover that is unique and eye-catching, but the design also has to visually convey what your book is about. If your story is about space exploration, don’t show an image of a haunted house. And if it’s about vampires, don’t use space ships (well…unless it’s a book about space vampires). Worst of all, though, don’t give potential readers a blank cover with just the title and your name on it. That says you don’t care enough about the readers to even try to entice them.

  1. A book synopsis

I remember at a book conference, one of the guest author panelists said, if you can’t summarize your story, then you don’t understand your own plotline. What is the main arc of your story? What is it your characters are trying to do, solve, resolve, or accomplish? But don’t get side-tracked by subplots, just summarize the main idea of your story.

Every distribution site I’ve seen asks authors to provide a summary of the book (some even ask for two summaries—a long summary consisting of 1000 words, and a short summary containing only 200 words). That’s where you can really shine; after all, writing is what you do, right? So, give the reader something great.

If a potential reader has stopped to consider your cover, the next thing that reader will want is an overview of what the book is about. Give your potential readers the high-points of the story; give them a reason to want your book over someone else’s. There are millions of science fiction, romance, and murder mystery stories out there, why should they read yours?

  1. An author write up

Many readers also want to know something about you, the author. They want to know who you are and what makes you tick. They need to know what makes you worthy of their time, or what qualifies you to be an author on a specific topic? However, when you answer these questions, don’t go overboard, yet don’t be too skimpy, either.

Some authors feel that they need to include their whole resume in their author bio; while others feel they don’t need to include any information at all. The truth of it is, many readers of fiction and non-fiction want a way to relate to you as a person; it helps them decide whether they want to give your work a chance. For instance, if you put in your author bio that you love chocolate, potential readers can go, “Ooooh, so do I.” Or perhaps you are a volunteer, a mother, or a person who rescues animals, if it relates to your book topic, tell the reader. It helps them relate to you, and it helps them accept that you just might know something about your book topic.

You especially need to include some biographical information if the book is non-fiction. That’s because potential readers are even more insistent on knowing that the author is someone they can trust to give them information on this particular topic. Potential readers want to know that if the book is about art history that you have the knowledge, background, or credentials to write knowledgably about that topic.

  1. A book sample

Some authors shy away from including book samples. Perhaps they feel they don’t need to give away their hard work. Yet, how else can potential readers gauge whether your writing style and their reading styles will mesh? How do they know they want to travel the story world with you as their guide if they can’t see your writing style? In a brick and mortar store, a reader can always pull the book off the shelf and read a sentence, a paragraph, or even several chapters. If you don’t give them the same chance when shopping online, then you’re tossing away possible sales.

As an author, you need to give the reader every possible chance to find you, find out about you, and to find out about your characters and your story. Personally, as a reader, the above-mentioned 4 items are key to whether I’ll buy your book. So, make sure you include them; because, when you use them, and use them well, you make your book shine.

Before the Clock Strikes by EG Michaels

Before The Clock StrikesIf it weren’t for the unnecessary, and poorly done, prologue, I would give this book four stars. However, the prologue detracts from the excellently written and plotted story.

To me, it feels as if the prologue were thrown together in an effort to start the story with a bang (pun intended), but nearly caused me to abandon the book before giving it a chance. In the prologue we are introduced to a poorly developed character, Brianna. This is supposed to be a 13-year old girl, but comes across as a 20-something young man. We are also introduced to the killer, but, again, I find this unnecessary. The sympathy the author attempts to illicit by introducing us to, and then showing us her murder, doesn’t come across. I feel more sympathy and sorrow for the victim when I view the scene through Detective Simmons’ eyes.

Once the story moved to Detective Simmons, it took off. In fact, I think Detective Simmons could soon give Sara Paretsky’s character, VI Warshawski, a run for her money. Detective Kyle Simmons was well-developed all the way from his non-conformist attitude to his ability to see beyond the obvious. The story was good, if a bit sanitized (I expected a bit more grit considering it dealt with city gangs), but overall the pacing and writing were very good…good enough, that I would consider purchasing the second book.

What makes a great non-fiction author?

escortingcoverTo me, the number one answer to that question is: storytelling ability. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, if you can’t relate the information in an interesting and compelling manner, then no one will read it.

Many people can tell a story or an anecdote, but only true storytellers can make them come alive. This is so very important when creating a non-fiction book. You have to find ways to help your readers relate to the characters, but without sacrificing the facts. After all, in non-fiction your characters aren’t made up and your readers can check the details. Yet, you don’t want to bore your readers with nothing but a compilation of facts, either.

Writing truth as if it were fiction is a fine line to walk. Some authors do it quite well, and others fall flat. As a reader, I noticed the difference and I began taking notes on what made some books great non-fiction and others just so-so. When I decided to share my own near death experience story (Escorting the Dead) with the world, I went back to my notes detailing the differences between good and not-so-good non-fiction to make sure I did it right.

As I analyzed these difference, I found that the major difference between good non-fiction and so-so non-fiction was the author’s ability to relate a story. As an author of both fiction (The Starstone) and non-fiction (Escorting the Dead), I have learned that no matter what type of book you are creating, you still have to tell a good story.frontcover

But how do you tell a story when relating facts, history, and biographical or autobiographical data? I found that there were two methods that seemed to work the best: use anecdotes to bring your people and time period to life; or relate one major incident from the person’s life in a friendly, story-like way. Both methods let you add flavor and depth to the people you are writing about. This then gives your readers a chance to connect with the people in your book. If you can’t build that bridge between your reader and the key character of your book, then no amount of facts, figures, charts, and graphs will win them over. Your readers want to see the humanity in the people populating your non-fiction book; they want to be able to relate to and understand the reasons motivating the people in your book. They want a really good story, even if it is non-fiction.

So, a great non-fiction author is one who can bring reality to life and fool his or her readers into believing that what they are reading is just a great story even if it is a moment plucked from real life.