I was involved in a Facebook group discussion recently which, among other things, helped me decide to avoid social media for the next week. An author in a science fiction and fantasy group asked about how important it is to describe the main character in a book. I, among others, suggested that being vague in your description isn’t always a bad thing but to listen if you get consistent feedback that readers want more. Now, my definition of vague, means that there is some kind of description happening, also another author brought up a good point, race should be included because readers tend to assume the character is white unless told otherwise. Anyway, another… gentleman, disagreed with me. Which is fine, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and I enjoy debate but he was rude. And he kept saying things that not only will prove harmful in his career but could be harmful to others who might not know what I do. One of the things he insisted was that if you need to get feedback from others you lack confidence as an author. Rather than engage him more that I already did I thought I’d talk to people who won’t jump to conclusions and try to rip my head off. He will never hear what I have to say but you will. So here’s some tips for becoming a better writer. I hope you find this helpful in your career.
What is your best tip for improving your writing? Do you like to reach a certain word count everyday? What kinds of books do you enjoy? Tell us in the comments.
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.
As I've studied story I found the rules of structure to be incredibly helpful. So you can imagine my surprise when I read posts by other authors claiming they hated formulaic writing and thought it made their stories dull. The thing is, if you want your story to "work" it has to follow some basic rules. Just like a building needs scaffolding in the beginning, you need structure in your work. First, in today’s post we’re going to discuss the basics of structure while you’re outlining your story. Then later on this week I’ll talk about how you can keep the necessary scenes without becoming predictable.
For now though, let’s focus on the basics.
You’ve probably heard of the three act structure. Your novel is no different. It needs to be made of a beginning (also known as the hook), middle (ends with the climax), and end (resolution). In between these essential elements are more essential elements. Each story needs a crisis and progressive complications. How you achieve these elements will depend largely on your genre. I won’t go into it too much but for the sake of illustrating my point, in a romance, you need to have the lovers meet and you have to have them break up towards the end or be pulled apart before coming together for a happily ever after ending. These are known as obligatory scenes. They are genre based and if you spend some time going over your favorite movies and books you can figure out what they are for each.
Now for a little math, because some of us are ridiculous when it comes to planning. The rule of thumb regarding how long each of the three acts should be is 25% for beginning, 50% for the middle, and the remaining 25% for the end.
When you’re setting up your outline, all of this information can it make easier. I used to outline in bullet points of brief descriptions of scenes I knew needed to be in the book. That’s not very effective when you’re trying to write fast and my goals for this year are all about writing quality books fast. I didn’t set out to create a stronger outline, but I have to say this has made it so much easier. I broke my 80k word novel up into three about 50 scenes (1500-2k word scenes make them bite sized and easier for the reader to justify staying up to finish the chapter or just read one more). Then I broke it down into 12 scenes for the beginning, 24 for the middle and then 12 more for the end. Filling in the necessary bits, I was only left with a handful of scenes to connect the dots and bring the story full circle. I still reserve the right to explore any new or exciting I might come with during the actual writing process but I’ve found it so much easier to sit down and just write the scenes I need and make real progress towards finishing this novel without being “in the mood” or waiting for some ridiculous muse to show her face.
If you want a deeper look at story structure and obligatory scenes, check out Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid. He goes over The Silence of the Lambs and gives a lot of information about the thriller genre. If you’re looking for info more info about romance obligatory scenes, check out CS Lakin. And if you have information about another genre and would like to share, I’d love to see it in the comments below. I find this stuff fascinating. I wish I could dissect genres and just write this stuff out for authors but I have a romance series to write!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and all writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. She is the author of The Starsboro Chronicles. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, blog and her website.
Thinking about resolutions seems to be what all the cool kids do this time of year, and while I’ve never been one for resolutions, I’m big on goals, lists, and so forth. A lot of my goals this year are similar to those I had last year, sadly, but I’m going into 2018 with a bit more in my toolkit, so I’m feeling really optimistic.
Personal Writing/publishing goals
Luckily I’m starting out with a good headstart on most of my writing goals -- I have editors and sensitivity readers lined up for Madness and Gods, and I got a lot done on Strangers during NaNoWriMo this year, and I have a good idea of where it’s headed. I think a combination of outlining and checking in with Cameron regularly will keep me on track, as well as pacing myself so my output remains consistent, and I don’t burn out. If you want to know more about these projects, sign up for my Reader’s List, I’ll be giving sneak peaks on there!
V.S. Holmes is the author of both fantasy and science fiction. Smoke and Rain, the first in her epic fantasy quartet, and Travelers, the first Nel Bently Book are now available on Amazon. She can be found on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her website.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now. I think knowing how little I accomplished this year. I know I did what I could. And I know that if I hadn’t been pregnant and had a new baby I could have completed more. I don’t regret having a baby, don’t get me wrong. That little angel brightens my everyday and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I just needed to come to terms with where I am now. And remember that I can’t do as much. So, without further ado here are my author goals.
And that’s it for my author goals. Keeping it pretty small cause a book a month is really more than enough to accomplish.
As for Amphibian Press, here are my goals for that:
Well, that’s it. In an effort to follow the SMART Goals I will be recapping these goals in March (end of the quarter). By then I should have written three books (or be close depending on when I post the recap), published How to Hunt a Hunter, and at least started posting the vlog.
What are your goals for 2018? Was your 2017 a success? Tell us about it in the comments.
Earlier this month I made a joke to Cameron about when we do these in vlog format how my goal recap will mostly consist of me staring down the camera with vacant eyes and saying “nothimg” when she asks what I accomplished that year. And as much as this made me giggle, it’s hard when it feels like the truth. So here’s a review of the goals I set for 2017. Stay tuned for what I have planned for 2018!
These are my professional goals, broken into Writing, Publishing, and Marketing (which Cameron tells me I should maybe start doing more of, instead of hiding in a hole). Asterisks mark my stretch goals or an alternate project if I get totally stumped on another one.
Finish the final draft of Madness and Gods
Draft one of my romance novels
*Draft Blood and Mercy
Ok, I didn’t do so badly here! Madness and Gods is almost complete, and I have a sensitivity reader and a specialized editor lined up for the manuscript in Jan-March. This book proved to have a lot more in store for me than when I first set out to work on it this year, and I’m really pleased with where it’s going. Strangers is about 50% complete, and while I didn’t win NaNoWriMo (which is what I was using to help that drafting process) what I did write I feel really good about. I also wrote and finished “Disciples,” a Nel Bently Universe short story that will be published in our sci-fi anthology Beamed Up!
The stretch goal of Blood and Mercy was just that, a stretch-goal, and I didn’t get that far. Romance didn’t happen either (writing-wise at least!) for me this year, but I’ve done a lot of outlining and am excited about where my Victoria Spencer brand is headed.
Publish Madness and Gods
*Publish Romance novel
This, right here, is where I vacantly stare. I’m sure you’ll see these on my next post about goals for 2018. While I didn’t get to any of these, like literally, any of them, I did publish my Reforged-world short, “The Tempest” in our dark fantasy Out of the Darkness, and submit another short “Familiar Waters” to a queer “under the sea” themed anthology, which I’m hopeful about! I received a significant promotion during the last few months of this digging season at my day job as an archaeologist, which I was thrilled about. This also meant, however, that some of my time after work is spent doing field director tasks, as opposed to writing, and I’m more mentally tired than I used to be. I’m hoping I’ll figure out a good schedule this coming season as I get used to my new work load.
Run marketing campaigns every other month for one of my series and for my mailing list.
Run promotional campaigns before each release.
I did do better on marketing this year, which would be impossible without the genius of Cameron’s marketing abilities. I was able to run a few campaigns, and I’ve done well with my Reader’s List newsletter. I’ve also had good luck networking, both virtually and at comic-cons, which we hope to return to next year as well. I plan to do more automation, and get my new releases out with more of a bang. Though I was disappointed with how little publishing I accomplished this year, I think I’ve learned a lot to help make next year much more successful. I’m looking forward to sharing those goals with you!
V.S. Holmes is the author of both fantasy and science fiction. Smoke and Rain, the first in her epic fantasy quartet, and Travelers, the first Nel Bently Book are now available on Amazon. She can be found on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her website.
Alright! It’s that time again. I get to revisit my goals from last year and let you guys and to a large extent myself, know how I did. I’ll be adding next years goals in a future post.
Those are my writing goals. You'll notice all of them should be done by or before the end of March. The first quarter of the year. At which point I will evaluate where I was successful and adjust. Hopefully coming up with all new goals for the second quarter. Second quarter will be the hardest for me as far as writing because I will have a new baby girl. I plan on taking time off to be with her and help my family and myself adjust to the new addition. As a result I doubt my goals for that time will be very ambitious.
So, even though I didn’t accomplish all I wanted to, I did my best and kept moving forward. How was your 2017? Tell us in the comments!
This time of year our social media pages and author groups are abuzz with word counts for National Novel Writing Month—how many words we need today, how many until we win, or (if you’re like me) how many words you are behind. When we’re drafting our work it’s easy to just say “get the words down, worry about length later.” And that’s true to an extent. But what about when you’re revising? Planning your series? Developing your marketing strategy and brand? Manuscript length ties into four of the biggest things to consider when you’re a professional author: genre, target demographic, series or stand alone, and format. Here’s a handy list on manuscript lengths and what to call them (remember page-count is entirely dependent on formatting):
Microfiction: < 500 words
Flash fiction: < 1000 words
Short story: 1000-15,000
Manuscripts longer than 100,000 words are only typical in non-fiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy.
Genre is a huge factor in determining where your book should fall on the length spectrum. Each genre has it’s typical range (for novel-length) which is where that huge variation in “Novel Length” above comes from. For simplicity, we’re just going to talk about the broadest of genre categories. Understand that different sub-genres create additional variation, which is why there’s a range. While these are usually defined by the traditional publishing sector—and while we’re all about sticking it to the Big Three, those lengths weren’t pulled out of Simon or Schuster’s dark orifice. Some of it is based on the demographic the genre is marketed to, which we’ll get into later, but it’s also dependant on the pacing, worldbuilding, and other norms each genre entails. Books with one or two main plots, limited world-building, and/or fast pacing like Romance or Thrillers are often under 90,000. Fantasy, science-fiction, and historical novels require more words to develop their settings and are therefore typically longer. If you factor these into sub-genres you can see that a historical romance would be longer than a contemporary, and urban fantasy shorter than an epic fantasy.
Commercial Fiction: 60,000-100,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000-100,000
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 80,000-120,000
Demographic and genre have some heavy overlaps, but in this case we’re mostly talking about the age of your target readers. Let’s assume you haven’t written a picture or children’s book. Your tone and themes are going to determine your audience, but now that you’re revising, what should you aim for?
Children's Picture Book (0-8): 750-1,000
Middle-grade (8-12): 25,000-40,000
Young Adult (12-17): 45,000-90,000
Adult (18+): 50,000-100,000
Another factor that affects where you aim length-wise is whether your piece is a stand-alone or a series. The first books in a series and stand-alone novels should adhere pretty well to the ranges listed above. Later books in the series, however, are often a different story (pun entirely intended). Later books—especially the last in a series—are often expected to be longer. There are more main plots and sub-plots to conclude, and that takes words!
The final factor in determining your target word-count, though not the most important is the format in which you intend to publish. Print books are typically expected to be a certain thickness (though again, this is dependant on formatting). A quick browse through your local bookstore will show you that there are clear trends in each section. Formatting a 230,000 word book in a standard 1.5 inch thick 5x8 cover while still maintaining readability is impossible. Trust me. I’ve tried. (OK, it was only 140,000, but you get the idea) If you only intend on making your books available digitally, and not in paperback, your target length is more a guideline.
We only touched on novel-length norms today, but look for a post on shorter fiction soon! While word-count is an important part of writing, focusing on it early on can cramp your creative voice. Challenges like NaNoWriMo are great ways to establish writing habits, and crank out the first chunk of your manuscript, but drafting isn’t always the place to worry about word-count. Just because you didn’t reach 50,000 doesn’t mean you don’t have a marketable piece, and likewise, 50,000 may only be half of your story. Revisions are where you really need to focus on what you’re goals are—and the story you’re trying to tell.
*Note: Ranges differ slightly from source to source. These ranges are the most common among several sites and have remained fairly consistent as industry standards for the past decade.
This post should probably go under publishing or marketing but since we always write about goals under writing here it sits.
So, what’s the difference between a strategy and a tactic? How do you come up with them? First, you need to know your longterm (over arching) goals. If you want to be a best selling author you’ll use a different strategy than if you want to make X amount of money per month. With that strategy there will be tactics. For example, If your main goal is to earn money now, you might price your book at $3.99 while if you want to build your email list and fan base, you might price it at .99 or free.(on Amazon, you have to sell about 8 books at .99 to equal the royalty from one sale of a $3.99 book) These prices are tactics to achieve a goal.
A tactic is one thing you do. Like making your first in series free, setting up a blog tour, or creating a Facebook event. These are pieces to the marketing puzzle but you need to make sure the ones you use fit together.
A strategy is the group of tactics you're using to reach your goal.
For example, with my new series, I want to bring in an extra $800 a month. In order to do this, I have a five book series (technically four books and a prequel) I will have the prequel novella priced at $2.99 and put it on sale .99 every 90 days or so for a certain period of time. I will also offer it for free when a reader signs up for my email list (List building tactic). I might offer it for free (audience building tactic) on retail sites but I'd rather not. A lot of people, myself included, download free books and never get around to reading them. This will not help my read through rates and so it won't help my goal. Charging .99-2.99 (tactic) will help ensure that people read the book (people are more likely to read what they pay for). And of those people, I will have a higher read through and there for more money. The next book (full-length) will be regularly priced at $3.99 or $4.99. Depending on how many early reviews I can get and how much interest there is in the series right away. Why $3.99? Because on Amazon, at $2.99 I'd have to sell 387 books a month to reach my $800 goal. At $3.99 I'd need to sell 286 books. That's 100 fewer books to make the same amount of money. You always make higher volumes at lower prices and putting your book on sale for $2.99 or .99 can help you if you need social proof like reviews or a ranking boost. Sales are just another tactic. Social proof (reviews and recommendations) are needed to sell more books. Using a sale to get that social proof, is a tactic.
It’s important not to get too focused on tactics. Keeping your eye on the prize, the goal, can be the difference between success and failure. Make sure you know what your long term goals are then test different tactics to reach those goals. What works for Suzy Author’s romance series might not work for your science fiction thriller but you can always learn from what others are doing.
What you need to do is figure out where you want to be in five and then in ten years. Do you want to have a certain number of books out? Making a specific amount in monthly income? Finish your series? Be a best selling author? Once you figure that out you can choose your strategy. To be a best selling author you’ll need to grow not only your own email list but also network with other authors in your genre. Networking is your strategy and a free book to grow your own list is a tactic. As you grow your list, you become a more attractive contact for other authors. Meaning, this tactic benefits your strategy.
There are a million tactics in this industry. You can use them all and get nowhere without a strategy and an end goal. Goals keep you focused, strategy keeps you organized, tactics get you where you want to go.
If you’re interested in tactics and strategies for goals like monthly income, becoming a best seller, or growing your email list, let me know. I’d be glad to share what I know and dig into how to achieve goals I haven’t thought about yet! Also, kind of feeling like I should write a post about pricing strategy... let me know if you'd find that helpful!
It’s that time of year again. The time when we start looking back over our goals and thinking about new ones. Last year, I made a few mistakes when setting my goals. Not the least of which was overestimating how much work I could get done with a new baby and failing to reevaluate my goals when we decided to homeschool our boys. And by we, I mean me. My husband helps more than I thought he would with school but 90% of it, is on me.
So, because of how I went about setting my goals last year, this year I’ve decided to get a little bit more technical. This post is going to be all about SMART goals and why making sure your goals fit into the SMART category is key to success. My next post is going to talk more about Strategy vs Tactics, you can look for it next week.
OK, what does SMART stand for?
Specific: Your goals need to be specific. Last year, all mine were very specific. I wanted to make X amount of money and I wanted to complete certain projects. They should also fit into your overall strategy and overarching business goals, more about this next week!
Measurable: Can you see the progress you’re making? Are you selling more books each month than the last? Writing more words? Make sure there is a way to tell if you’re making progress in your goals. If you can measure your progress or lack thereof you can make the necessary adjustments to be successful. And we all know success feels good and motivates us to do more.
Actionable: You need to be able to look at the data (sales numbers, word counts, etc.) and be able to do something to improve them or keep things moving forward. Make sure you always know exactly what steps you need to take on a day to day basis to accomplisher goals.
Relevant: Can you use the data to solve a problem that kept you from achieving past goals? Is this goal relevant to your career goals and strategy?
Time-related: Goals should always be time sensitive. As humans, we’re naturally born procrastinators. I’m pretty sure my mother is the only acceptation to this rule. So give yourself deadlines and make this happen! Personally, I like quarterly goals that help me achieve yearly goals. I did this for 2017 and while on the whole, I wasn't able to accomplish what I wanted to, I never felt overwhelmed or stressed because everything was broken down into manageable chunks.
Wondering why regular old goals aren’t good enough? Making SMART Goals is a smart business decision. They were literally designed to help you succeed. If you’re like me and about look at your 2017 goals and see all the things you didn’t accomplish, the question shouldn’t be "Why do I need SMART Goals?" It should be "Why the heck did it take you this long to share them with us?" (PS I just learned about them myself or I would have used them this year and been in a slightly better position moving into 2018)
What does 2018 look like for you and your career? V and I will go over last years goals and be posting the new ones for 2018 before new years. Did you accomplish your goals or did you pull a me and bite off more than you could chew? Let us know in the comments!
We already wrote one post on revision, but I feel like it's a topic that can be covered more than once. Last time we focused on the steps of revision, this time, I'll delve into why it's so important.
Why should you revise instead of slapping a cover on that puppy and hitting publish? Maybe you've already heard how people doing just that has flooded the market with crap and think, I know! I'll send it to an editor first! Well, that's a good thought. But it still falls short of the mark. Revision is something you need to do, possibly more than once.
Believe it or not, that piece you just spent months, maybe even years slaving over, isn't the best it can be. Not yet anyway. Writing is like anything else you do in your life, the more you do it the better you get. I cringe looking back at my first book. Not because it's bad, but because I can do so much better now. Also, because I learned about the importance of not just have a line editor, but that's a story for another time.
Depending on what works for you and what you're looking for in your story, you may rewrite it several times before feeling ready to show it to beta readers or editors. And that's okay. In today's publishing industry, quality is really important. Readers are sick of buying a book and finding forgotten subplots, character arcs that more like nice flat roads, and typos up the wazoo. Taking your time with revision, is the first step towards having a piece you can really be proud of.
So, when you finish that first draft, remember, it's just that, a draft. The first in many wonderful things to come. You might hate your book before you publish it. This is completely normal. After the hating it part, you will read it one last time before publishing (because typos) and you'll realize something. You'll realize how good your story is. How your writing actually captures the things you wanted it to and when you do finally publish it, you'll know you're putting something you can be proud of into the world.
The writing Process
We love it, we hate it! Here are some tips to help you get through the ups and downs and stay on track!
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