What’s The Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned: Words of Wisdom From Our Readers

About two weeks ago, Ruth and I asked you to send in your best advice on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing fiction. I am very pleased to say that nearly every day since my inbox has had wonderful messages from our many readers who were glad to send along their knowledge. Below you can see their comments, as well as wonderful pictures of them and their books. On behalf of the folks here at Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, we would like to thank you for your awesome contributions.

Here’s what our readers had to say:

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Write the story you want to write.  Be passionate, follow your heart, and ignore what others are writing.  Just be you.

Debbie Conrad

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Spell check. Spell check, spell check, spell check. After every draft, spell check. After every writing session, spell check. There are going to be things you missed, even if you think you haven’t; it’s just the way the mind works. Have you gone through five drafts with two meticulous editors, four former English teachers, eight hawk-eyed beta readers, and an incredibly observant slow loris? Spell check. You may only find six errors in eighty thousand words, but that’s six errors your readers didn’t find.

Spell check. Then, you won’t have to apologize.

B. Lynch

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Always read the proof! First time I self-published, the book manufacturer sent me a proof copy. I was so excited to see my work in print form, I didn’t take any time to read through it. Consequently, in the first 50 books I ever sold, there were all manners and sorts of typos and small things I hadn’t caught during my initial editing. Sometimes, once the work is in print, you see it with fresher eyes and can spot things missed during the initial editing rounds.

Dana Myles

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The most important lesson I’ve learned from self-publishing is; spellcheck is no substitute for a good editor. And a good editor is one that is first and foremost, a fan of your work.

Gwen Rhea

 

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Although it’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing about writing, publishing or marketing, I think I can safely say, the overarching key to feeling competant in this field is (drumroll please)……. NETWORKING! The more people you meet, the greater your pool of resources, knowledge, and promotion. Make friends. Know everyone in the business you can and genuinely care about them, honestly seek out their knowledge, and give them credit for anything you learn from them. Help promote them and they’ll help promote you. Network. It goes a long, long way in every avenue in writing.
G.M. Barlean
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Before you spend one dime, one minute, one ounce of energy on anything, whether it’s choosing a publisher, releasing your book, publicizing, advertising, marketing, do your research. At your fingertips is a vast information pool of success stories and failures. Tap into that to learn the best ways to publish and promote. Learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t repeat them. This will give you a leg up and pave the way for a better chance at success.
Eva Lesko Natellio
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No matter how tired you are of re-writing the ending or the tweaking the edits your editor gives you—do them with care and thoughtfulness. If you dash through them, or you’re simply freakin’ tired of working on the manuscript it WILL show up in the writing. You cannot fool readers. Put the work aside and do something else until you’re renewed enough to start again. It’s worth the wait.
BK Froman
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I made so many mistakes on my first book. It wasn’t edited well, it had no promotion, I hadn’t research cover design enough, my website wasn’t up. The lack of editing was the worst; I had to put out a 2nd revision of The Distant Trees with corrections. Of course the reviews citing typos remained. I was in too great a hurry with excitement over publishing. With the subsequent books of the Elise t’Hoot series, I have been meticulous about multiple drafts, waiting a month, proofing, waiting, going through it again. I have a knowledgeable beta reader now, too, an English teacher. Then I revise as needed and do one more line edit start to finish. I still cannot afford professional ($1000 – $2000) editing  for each book in the series, but the amateur editing is far better now. Bottom line: Poorly edited books will haunt you.
Mary Ellen Wall
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Lots of people on the Internet offer their unqualified and/or overpriced services to self-publishing authors. Their best trick of all is getting you to pay for their advice on what you should do. Any failure to achieve what you want will be your fault. I haven’t subscribed to any of these services, but I see them everywhere, every day. Sad.
Ron Fritsch
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Before I published my book, I had this rather naïve idea that it would sell itself, that when people realize how good it was, they would buy it.   Once my book entered Amazon’s inventory, however, it became the proverbial needle in a haystack. I looked at and read other self-published books.   A few were not necessarily great stories, but the titles seemed to be everywhere. That’s when I learned that some of the books that rise to the top of popularity were there not necessarily because they were outstanding, but because they were backed by good marketing campaigns.  
Now that I understand that every book needs advertising, I’m budgeting time and money to market my book to improve its visibility.  I have found affordable advertising packages and blog tours, and I’m enjoying the new responsibility of being my book’s PR agent.
Amaia S. Li
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Using CreateSpace, which I adore, I was smart enough NOT to a) let them be the imprint instead of forming my own publishing company for 300 bucks (easy online), and b) not letting them supply ISBN number (which would be in their name), but supplying my own, Doing this retains 100% control and gives me piece of mind.
Rodney Richards
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When attending a local Sci-Fi & Fantasy convention , it’s always tempting to hide out in the video game, movie or board game rooms. (Especially when most of us who write are quiet folk who feel uncomfortable around large groups of people.) But when you do that, you waste a great opputunity to chat with fellow published writers! You never know what friendships you’ll make or pieces of advice you’ll get. I’ve made some lasting relationships from going to conventions and it helped a ton when I launched my first novel Blade Of The Broken… Don’t be afraid to mingle!
Jake Scholl
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The best advice I’ve learned from self-publishing is to just do it.  I took a “write-a-story-in-one-day” challenge, and from that I completed a short story.  With that, I loaded up to Amazon and *poof* I am a published author.  There’s so much talk about building your brand, having a platform, developing and maintaining a website, being active on social media and all that, but if you don’t have a book published, then why all the effort?  If people like you but have nothing to read, that’s a waste of potential.

That and find an editor.

DW Hirsch

Thanks once again to all our contributors for their wonderful advice. I hope we can do this again sometime and that you all find the advice above very helpful in your own writing. Have a lovely day, everyone.

[Editor’s Note: If you contributed have trouble viewing one of your photos or any other concerns, please let me know as soon as possible so I can rectify it. Thank you.]

 

Short Stories That Are Too Short

Last semester I took part in a creative-writing class of about seventeen people, including our instructor. This class taught me many things about writing and gave me several new insights into my craft as well as many new tools to write more compelling and interesting stories. It also gave me a few ideas for articles, such as this one:

My classmates and I each had to turn in three short stories during the semester (two original short stories and one edited story). A few times people turned in stories that were really short and just had the barebones of a story. There were numerous reasons for why one or another student would turn in stories like that, with very little meat to it if any. Usually it was something along the lines of having their deadline sneak up on them and rushing to get something written and printed before class (I remember one girl was actually stapling the typo-plagued copies of her story together in the first few minutes of class before she turned it in. She later said that she’d rushed to get the story done, and had spent the first hour or so just wondering what the first few words should be. We all laughed at that, mostly because we’d all been there at one point or another).

However while other students were pressed for time, one or two said they were afraid that if they wrote anything longer it would be too long! When we heard this, we often told the student that their fear of making the story too long had actually made it far too short.

I’ve always defined a short story as between a thousand and ten-thousand words. This leaves a lot of room to work with, even for authors such as myself who are better suited to more expansive works like novels. Yet a lot of authors fear that getting close to twenty-five hundred words is going too far, getting too long, crossing into a territory reserved only for longer projects. Why?

I think it might have something to do with magazines and getting published in them. Many magazines, especially ones that pay, have a maximum word-limit, usually around five-thousand words or so. This creates pressure on the author who wants to be published. They want a wonderful and engaging story but at the same time they’re hampered by the feeling that they can’t go over a certain word limit or they won’t get published in this or that magazine. Even self-published authors aren’t immune to this: many indie authors write stories and send them out to magazines, often to get people to read their work, along with maybe a desire for income and maybe a small wish to show the critics of self-publishing that we can get published in the same magazines as traditional published authors and still have quality work.

The thing is, a story is going to be the length it needs to be. You can’t help it. Twice I’ve thought up and even written short stories that turned out that they needed to novels. And even when a short story manages to stay a short story, I find that a story that needs to expand to four or five thousand words or more is going to expand that length. As much as you try, you won’t get it down to twenty-five hundred without sacrificing quality. At least, not very easily.

I usually end up writing short stories between four and five thousand words. In fact, I try to make sure they stay that length. I’ve tried for shorter but that usually doesn’t happen, and longer stories do sometimes happen, though they often get shorter when I start to edit. The thing is, these stories are going to be as long as they need to be and sometimes you have to accept that. If you want to write a story that’s shorter than what you usually write, do it more as an exercise, as a way to get better at saying something in less words than normal. Don’t feel like you have to make a story shorter, but just try and see if you can. And if you can’t, don’t feel disappointed about it. Just meant that story wasn’t meant to be that short.

And if you’re worried about getting published, there are plenty of magazines, anthologies, contests, and podcasts that accept longer short stories and even short novelettes. Just do your research, you’ll find them. Or don’t go looking for them at all, but try and put together a collection of short stories. You have full creative control then and can make your stories whatever length you desire.

Or perhaps short stories aren’t your thing. They’re certainly not my area of expertise, though that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Either way, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plenty of authors don’t do short stories and they’re excellent. Just stick to your area of strength and see what amazing stuff you can do there.

But if you do endeavor to create amazing short stories, just remember not to let the length of your story become an inhibition and a drag rather than a tool for successful writing. As I and my classmates have learned, length is important, but it’s by far not the most important thing to keep in mind. That would be the story itself.

 

On an unrelated note, thanks to Ruth Ann Nordin for the new background on this site. I was kind of attached to the old one, but I like what’s here now. It’s warm and welcoming, if you ask me.

Writing a Series

A lot of authors write series. Some make all their money writing long series rather than stand-alone novels. A few are even paid by their publishing companies to keep writing series even after the story has gotten old and there are no new ideas or places for the characters to go (*cough* *cough* James Patterson and the Alex Cross books *cough*). But writing a series is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than keeping a reader’s interest for about 300 pages, you have to keep it for several times that amount and over several books too.

While there is no one way to write a series (is there ever “one way” to go about anything in this business?), there are some tips and strategies that can make writing a series a bit easier. Here are some of mine, gleaned from years of writing various different series in my teens and publishing one of them once I got into college.

Decide who your main characters are and what sort of story you’re going to write with them. I feel that it’s important to nail down who your main characters are pretty early on, because they often end up influencing where the story goes through their actions. You don’t have to go into each character’s entire history at this early stage, but you should have an idea of who they are, what they like and dislike, maybe what sort of environment they grew up in, and what they want and what you from them in this series. That information will come in handy when you’re planning out the series.

Make a roadmap. When you have your characters (and if you’re writing this story in a world different from the one you and most of your readership live in, a general idea of this world), then you should plan out the series and what is going to happen. You don’t need to go into every single detail on what happens in each book, you can save that for when you write each individual book. Just have a general idea of what will happen in each book, how that might fit into a greater arc if you have one in mind, which characters you might introduce or kill off or whatever, etc. It’s kind of similar to outlining a novel, in a way (for tips on outlining, click here), only for several books. Creating a roadmap can also be helpful in keeping a record of what and when you need to research a subject and can allow you to keep notes of what’s happened in previous books in case you need to refer back to something for the current book.

Immerse your reader slowly. This is something I’ve learned over a long time, but it’s useful to remind some writers of it every now and then. Let’s say your story takes place in a fantasy or science-fiction universe and you’re the only one who knows the entirety of the world, its various pieces and factions and groups and aspects. You’ll have an urge to make sure that your reader is immediately caught up with everything, so that they know all there is to know about these worlds. I’m telling you now, resist that urge! Updating them about everything in this world of yours too early would be overloading them with information. They wouldn’t know what to do with it and they’d put down that first book before getting very far in it.

Immersing a reader in your world is like teaching a kid to swim.

The best way to go about introducing readers to this world is to imagine it like teaching a young child to swim. Naturally you don’t start with the deep end. What if your pupil drowned? Instead you start with the shallowest end of the pool. It’s good to start without overwhelming the kid, and they can get a sense and a working knowledge of how swimming works. Later you move them into deeper waters, teaching them new techniques and watching them adjust to the greater depth of the pool. As time goes on, your pupil moves deeper and deeper into the waters, learning new knowledge along the way, until they’re swimming fine in the deep end and able to handle all you’ve given them.

In a similar way you should treat the reader. Slowly take them in, giving them the bare minimum to get along in this world and how to live and maneuver through it. As time goes on, you’ll add more information and they’ll be better prepared to handle it all, so by the end of the series they’ll be able to handle all that information really well.

Keep a guidebook. This can also be helpful, especially for series in fantastical worlds. A guidebook (or whatever you want to call it) contains information on the many aspects of your world, from characters to places to objects to story points and everything in between. If you need to organize a very complicated world, a guidebook can be helpful. Or if even the world is very simple, having a guidebook could help you keep track of things. I recommend using some sort of 3-ring binder for your guidebook, so you can add more information as time goes on. Dividers will also be helpful, so get those and categorize entries as you need. Using a guidebook can also prevent any ret-conning that could annoy and upset your fans.

Writing a book, and writing a book series, is often like this.

Remember the bigger picture. This is always important in writing, but it is especially important in a series. Writing a series is like working with several hundred or even several thousand puzzle pieces, but you have to focus on both the puzzle as a whole as well as the smaller pieces. It’s not easy, keeping track of the smaller stuff as well as keeping aware of the whole arc of the series, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to successfully pull off a series.

Each book has a purpose. If your series has an overall story arc, then not only should each book tell an interesting story (or a segment of the larger story), but it should maybe serve a purpose. For example, the first Harry Potter novel introduced us to the Wizarding world, and to the boy we root for the whole series; Book 2 hinted at the existence of Horcruxes, explained the concept of Wizarding blood purity, and introduced other important elements that would later appear in the HP books; Book 3 gave more information on the night Harry’s parents died and their relationship with Snape, as well as introducing how Voldemort would come back to power; Book 4 brought back Voldemort in an elaborate plot as well as hinted at the denial the Ministry would be famous for in Book 5; and so on and so forth. You don’t have to, but it might be helpful to think of assigning your books a purpose in the overall story arc of the series.

What tips do you have for writing a series?

New Year Changes

I stepped into the New Year with trepidation as I awaited the installer of our new television and Internet provider to arrive. Is it not funny how these small-life changes can throw us for a loop?

Well, it did for me. Change was in the air and was it really going to be better as the new carrier suggested? I was apprehensive. We had used our previous providers for many years and were happy with both until recently.

I awoke at 5 a.m. to a blistering-cold morning of one degree. Would he come as promised on this chilly day?

But he arrived and got right to work. A pleasant man who knew his business. Within a couple of hours, I looked at my living room, where wires had stretched for years beside my couch and now I could clean behind it. Besides that, I no longer had to lock our downstairs-bedroom door to keep the cat from playing with the wires in there.

I also no longer had to fret over the modem. Would I have to restart the computer or unplug it today? Relief swept over me. I never realized how all these years these items gave me such anxiety. Now, I felt liberated and in the process I have better television with the program I missed and a faster Internet.

As the man said as he grasped the wires: “What I have in my hand is old technology.” He was right. I needed a change.

This also is true of authors. We get into our grooves and routines and forget to try new things. Last year, I tried something new – the anthology, Bride by Arrangement, with Ruth Ann Nordin. This endeavor allowed me to reach a different audience through my story, She Came by Train. Ruth Ann Nordin and I plan another anthology – a follow-up on last year’s – and my goal is to write book two – a follow-up on Courtships and Carriages – in the Great Plains series.

In addition, I am excited about writing again. I renewed that interest after the busy Christmas activity. I needed a break. Winter also puts you in the mood to write and sit by a fireplace, if you have one. I have one close but not near enough to curl up on a sofa and write. However, it does keep me cozy and keeps my fingers warm enough to type even if my work is gibberish at times. Ha! Ha!

It also makes for a great time to clean up your office and get rid of old files and rearrange your office. Without that modem sitting next to my computer, I was able to wipe away the dust where it used to lie and even that small step gave me pleasure.

When you throw away your old calendar, make sure you replace it with something inspirational to keep you excited about writing. I replaced my office-wall calendar with a calendar portraying a variety of paintings, including January’s winter scene with gray skies, cardinal birds perched on a white fence with a church in the background. The scene fills me with peace and awe in the Creator’s majesty.

Well to wrap up, remember to embrace the future and the change it brings, and I wish you the best in your 2015 writing career. God bless.

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

Following Up on Submissions

The last time I posted an article, I wrote about submitting a short story to a magazine. And as promised, I’m following it up…with an article on following up on those submissions when a lot of time has passed.

Most magazines promise on their websites that they’ll get back to you on your submission in 2-6 months. What they don’t tell you is that work and submissions tend to pile up, especially when the magazine may be an operation run by only a few or even just one person. And imagine getting several submissions at the very least every month for short stories, articles, art pieces, and just about everything else under the sun. Your submission could be lost underneath all that.

So if you find a magazine has been taking its time getting to your submission, it can be helpful to send them an email and ask politely if your story has been looked at yet. Here’s what I normally put down in an email when I’m following up on a submission:

Dear [Insert magazine name here],

I am writing to follow up on my submission [insert story name here] which I sent in [insert how long ago or date you sent it in] to see if it is still being considered for publication. If you could please get back to me when it is convenient for you, that would be great, and thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

[Insert name, pen name if applicable, and contact information]

It’s also a good idea to attach your short story to the email in case it got lost somewhere among the submissions.

Normally a magazine will get back to you pretty quickly after this sort of email is sent. Even then though, it may take some time for the magazine editors to get back to you on your short story. If that’s the case, it may work in your favor to send an email every month or so inquiring about the status of your short story. That way it’ll stay in the forefront of the editors’ minds.

Also, remember to always be courteous and polite in your emails. They could just send you a form rejection letter right away, so the fact that they are taking the time to actually look at your story, no matter how long that time is, to possibly publish it is worth staying on the magazine’s good side. And when the magazine finally does take a look at your short story, no matter what the result is, be courteous and thank them for the time they took to read the story you sent them. That way, if you send them something in the future, they’ll be inclined to work with you and show you the same kindness and understanding you showed them.

Do you have any tips on following up on submissions?

Submitting Short Stories to Magazines

Have you ever written a short story and tried to get it published in a magazine? Chances are you have. Many authors, both traditional and indie, write short stories and try to get them published in print magazines, on e-mags, or in anthologies. I’ve been published in a couple of magazines and I’m hoping for more in the future (though with my writing schedule these days, it’s hard to make time for short stories). And there are benefits to doing so, including:

  • Short stories are a whole different beast to tame than novels, so writing and sending out short stories lets you know what works and what people look for in a good short story. Sometimes magazines will even give you feedback if they decide to reject your story, so you get an idea on how to improve it.
  • At the very least, you’ll get some exposure from having your work published in a magazine. At the very most, they’ll pay you some money for a nice dinner out.
  • For those critics who accuse indie authors of trying to skirt around hard work and just put any old book out, this is a way of saying “Hey, we can do it your way too.”

If you haven’t ever sent a short story out to magazine, this might give you some help in going about it. If you’ve already done it before, then maybe this’ll be a useful reminder. And like I said, you should try it. You never know what’ll happen if you do.

1. Find a publication. Once you’ve written a short story and edited it to the utmost perfection, it’s time to find a magazine. Publications like Writer’s Digest’s Short Story & Novel Writer’s Market contain may useful listing of magazines in all genres, as well as contests and agencies and conferences. You can also get info from friends or family members who write. Another blogger told me about a magazine she published a short story in, and I think that I might have a short story I could submit to them, I just have to make sure it’s ready before I send it out.

Also, it’s helpful sometimes to read the short stories they publish. This generally gives you some idea of what they tend to publish, so you’ll have a better idea of what might be accepted.

2. Read over the rules. Every magazine has its own set of rules about submitting to them and the terms you’ll get should you be accepted. They may want the short story sent in a particular attachment, or they may prefer the story in the body of the message. There may be restrictions on length, subject matter, or a hundred other things. And being published by them might mean signing over all rights to the story to the magazine, or only first North American publishing rights. So know what you’re getting into when you decide, “I’ll send it to this publication.”

3. Write that query letter. A query letter is a letter stating who you are, what you’re sending, and why you’re sending it. Once you’ve done your research, write up a query letter and send it along to the magazine with your short story. Here’s an example of me sending a query letter to a fictional magazine:

Dear Darkness Abounds magazine,

I am submitting my manuscript “Hands” (5,732 words) to your publication for your consideration. I decided to submit to your magazine because your website said you were into “dark, creepy fiction with an interesting twist on old stories” and I thought my short story matched your description.

I am a self-published novelist with two novels and a collection of short stories published, as well as short stories published in Mobius Magazine, The Writing Disorder, and the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine (now The Daily Tea). I also write for two blogs, Rami Ungar the Writer and Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. I am also a senior at The Ohio State University double majoring in English and History and expected to graduate in May 2015.

I look forward to hearing from you and would like to thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

Rami Ungar
[contact information, including address, phone number, and e-mail address]

Make sure to include the word count of your story (that’s an important factor in many publications), why you’re selecting the magazine, and any relevant publications. Also, don’t make your biography too long. Just keep the relevant stuff and don’t give them your life story. You can save that for your memoirs.

4. Wait. Every magazine has its own quoted turn-around time, so you might as well be patient. However, it’s not uncommon for a magazine to let work pile up and miss your short story entirely, so if you find two or three weeks have gone by and you haven’t heard anything, it might be helpful to send an email asking politely if you are still being considered for publication (I’ll write a post about that another time).

5. How to handle the reply. Assuming the magazine didn’t lose your work in the pile of submissions they get and you get a reply, the important thing is to be grateful one way or another for their reply. If you’re accepted, that’s wonderful. Talk terms with them and then decide if you want them to publish you. If you get rejected, possibly look at getting published somewhere else, and take into account any feedback you might receive on your short story as a possible way to improve the story.

What tips do you have for submitting to magazines your short stories?

Writing Reviews

I enjoy writing reviews on my personal blog. Whether it be for a book, movie, or TV show, writing reviews allows me to give my own opinion on a particular work to a wider audience, as well as helping me to seem more like an authority on the subject when the work in question happens to be in my main genre (namely horror). And there’s an added benefit to writing reviews: by identifying what works or what doesn’t work in a movie/TV show/book, you can learn from these examples and incorporate them into your own fiction to make your stories better.

I’ve been writing reviews on my blog almost as long as I’ve been blogging (for examples, click here), and I think knowing how to do it and doing it as often as possible actually works in your favor as an author. Below I’ve written down some tips to writing reviews, based on my own experience and things I’ve picked up from reading the reviews of others (especially those in Entertainment Weekly):

Review both good and bad works. Sometimes it’s tempting to only review the good stuff. After wasting perhaps several hours on a work that proved to be well below the bar, the last thing you want is to spend any more time on it. However, writing a review on something you disliked not only does a lot of much-needed venting on how you wasted money getting that ticket or buying that paperback, but it may help someone decide whether or not to check out said work, and perhaps avoid several hours of trying to get through a book that fails to please.

Opening, summary, thoughts, final rating, closing. This is the structure I usually use for my reviews. I give a little opening that gives my impressions of the movie, positive or negative. Then I give a short, hopefully spoiler-free summary of what the film is about, followed by a paragraph or two about what worked and what didn’t work. Finally I give a final rating (more on that below), and I write a final piece, usually something relating to any possible sequels or how this book was one of the best I’d read in a long time or some other third thing (you guys get the idea).

Use a rating system. You don’t have to use a rating system, but I find them helpful. Something simple, such as on a scale of 1-10, 1-5, out of 5 stars, a grade between A+ and F (though I wonder, if you’re a schoolteacher during your day job, is using that rating system too much like work?). I prefer using 1-5 with decimals. The last review I gave was a 2.6 out of 5, if I remember correctly. It’s simple and easy to understand, which is what I hope everyone thinks my reviews are.

Make sure to name all relevant people. Include the names of the author, or the name of the writer, director, and actors if this is a TV show or movie. Also, if you feel themake-up artists producers, and composers or anyone else should have their names mentioned, do it. Just make sure you explain why these names are mentioned.

Unless your blog is dedicated to reviews, don’t do them too often. It’s that whole thing about staying true to the theme of your blog and not wanting to deviate too much from that. Sure, a review every now and then is good, but don’t do it too much that you forget why you’re writing your blog in the first place.

If you want to find out more about reviews and writing them, you can check out mine through the link above (though you’ll also find reviews of my own books among them and a few other things, so you might have to wade through all that). You can also check out blogs dedicated to reviewing different movies/books/music/TV shows (too numerous to list here, I’m sure), any pop culture or entertainment magazines (People and Entertainment Weekly) and review aggregator sites (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.).

And readers, we want to hear from you. Do you write reviews? What do you get out of it? Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you.

And if we get enough tips, I might post an article with your suggestions listed. So don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on reviews and reviewing. You might see them posted for all to see in a future article.

Using The Audiobook Service ACX

I think I speak for many of us when I say we’d like to have our books in audiobook form. Besides being a possible way to connect to new readers who don’t necessarily like to sit down with a paperback or e-book and another possible source of revenue, audiobooks have a prestige to them. It’s sort of magical hearing your characters come to life in your car or in your earbuds through sound and description. It’s pretty powerful.

However creating an audiobook can be difficult. In addition to a book to narrate, you need an actor to read your book aloud if you aren’t comfortable or able to do it, plus recording equipment, maybe an engineer, something to edit the book with, and then some! And that can run up in terms of costs.

As one might expect, there’s a service that tries to make the process cost-effective and easy to do. Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, is a service through Audible.com, which in turn is owned by Amazon, aims to match authors and their books to producers so they can create the audiobook together. I heard about it from an acquaintance of mine who had her book turned into an audiobook and got interested in it. So after some research, I’m sharing with you how it works and if it can potentially help you gain a wider audience.

First, what exactly is ACX? Founded in 2011, ACX is kind of like a matchmaking/dating service with the goal of creating an audiobook. Anyone who owns the right to the audiobook of a novel (such as authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc) can go on and find audiobook producers (narrators, recording studios, engineers, etc) who would be interested in producing your audiobook. The video they have on their website (the link is below) claims that only 5% of authors get their books turned into audiobooks, so they’re trying to change that.

What do you do? If you decide to use ACX, you sign up for the service using your Amazon account. Then you search for your book through Amazon’s database. Create a Title Profile, which include a description of your book and what it’s about, as well as what you are looking for in a producer (gender, special talents or accents they can do, etc). You also must upload a short one or two page excerpt for producers to use.

What happens next is that producers will look for books that they may be interested in narrating (and hopefully they may decide to do yours if they come across it). Producers will audition by taking your excerpt and recording themselves narrating it, and then sending it to you. Once you have a few auditions, you can go over the auditions, as well as find out a little bit more about the producers auditioning for you. You can most likely find out acting and audiobook experience, hourly rate, and so on and so forth. If you find an audition you really like, you contact the producer and make them an offer.

What sort of offers are there? There are two sorts of offers you can make to a producer once you’ve made a decision, and knowing which one to use is very important, so consider them carefully before sending a producer an offer. These are the sorts of deals available:

  • Pay a flat out fee. This is where you pay for the production costs of the audiobook. Each producer has his or her own rates, and you pay that amount for every finished hour of audiobook there is (for example, if I have an audiobook produced of either of my novels and the finished product is eight hours long and my narrator charges one-hundred dollars per hour, I would pay $800). You pay this fee at the end of the production period when you have reviewed the final product and given it your full approval. The fees vary wildly between producers, usually somewhere between $50-$200 with the average being around $100. You can also negotiate rates with your producer on their rates. The upside of this is that you get all the royalties at the end of production of this and you can decide whether to do exclusive distribution rights (which means the audiobook can only be sold through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes and you gain 40% of the royalties) or non-exclusive rights (which means you can sell the audiobook through other distributors and receive 25% of the royalties through the companies listed above).
  • Royalty Share Deal. In this deal, you forego fees and instead agree to split the royalties of any sales with your producer. This deal is handy because you don’t need to pay any fees upfront. However you can only distribute your audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes with this option and you only get 20% of the royalties, with the producer getting the other 20%.

Most narrators do a combination of these methods, so you’re probably going to find someone who is willing to either of these methods. Once you’ve hashed out the details with your producer, you’ll send them the official contract, which says you’ll work together to produce the audiobook, and that Amazon can distribute it for seven years, which is how long the contract lasts.

What’s the process like? The production process takes about 3-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book and the producer’s schedule. The producer will upload the first 15 minutes of the audiobook to the ACX secure website for you to get a sample. If you don’t like it, you can stop the process there or start a dialogue with the producer to see what could be fixed. After that, the producer will upload the book chapter by chapter until the whole book is completed and the author approves the final product. Once that is done, the producer will upload the book onto Audible/Amazon/iTunes, and you as the rights holder will get a notification email.

What happens after the book is uploaded? Hopefully people will buy the audiobook. In any case, Amazon has a contract with you that allows them to distribute through them (exclusively or non-exclusively, depending on the deal you made) for 7 years. After that, you can take down the audiobook, decide to have a new version produced, or extend the contract for another year. As the rights holder, it’s all up to you.

What if I want to narrate the book myself? There’s a process for that where you can do that. Basically you produce the audiobook yourself and upload it onto ACX’s website. Makes giving an offer easier, from what I hear.

What if I decide at the last minute the whole thing’s a mess or I don’t want my book in audio form? Well, then you can cancel the contract. As the rights holder, it’s well within your rights to do so. However, if you do that you’ll have to pay a fee one way or another so that the producer can come out of this with something. Depending on what deal you took, you could pay up to 75% of the producer’s fees or $500 plus whatever costs the producer incurred for producing the book.

How do I design a cover? ACX has their own cover guidelines that are too much bother to go over here, so I’m linking the page that has the guidelines to this article. Once you have some idea of what they’re looking for, it’s up to you to create or find someone to create the cover according to these guidelines.

What’s a Bounty Payment? As I understand it, if a new buyer to Audible buys your audiobook, you get a $50 bonus from Audible. It’s a great bonus system, from what I’m told. It encourages authors to advertise about their audiobooks, so new listeners will be encouraged to get the audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

What countries is ACX available in? At the moment ACX is only available in the US and Great Britain, though ACX is hoping to expand to other countries soon, most likely Canada and other North American countries before becoming established elsewhere. So keep your eyes peeled if you want to do an audiobook through ACX.

How much will my audiobook cost to buy? Depends on the length of the book in terms of hours. The more hours the book is, the more they charge. To guess at the price of your book, an hour of audiobook is about 9,300 words, so do some math and then visit ACX’s website and go to the price chart on the Distribution page to figure out how much your book will probably cost.

Should I do an audiobook? Well, that depends. Personally I’d recommend only going through the process if you feel there’s a demand for your audiobook. It’d suck to go through the whole production process and, whatever sort of deal you have with your producer, only receive a couple dollars here and there, or maybe nothing at all. So before deciding to try and produce an audiobook, see if there are a lot of people who’d want to buy an audio version of your book, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.

 

There’s a lot of potential in audiobooks, no matter how you look at it. Perhaps your book will be read by a great many in audio form, if you decide to go this route e to produce it.   Jut make sure you feel that it’s right for you, for your book, and that there is a demand for your audiobook before you do so.

Has anyone here used ACX before? What was your experience like? What tips do you have for authors considering using it?

And here’s the link to the website if you want to do more research on your own.

Tips For Gaining New Followers on Your Blog

If bloggers all share one common conceit, it’s that we’re hungry for followers. We like the idea that people are reading what we post on the Internet, and we’re always looking for ways to make sure that plenty of people discover our work and that they keep coming back. And while there’s no correlation between the number of followers and book sales (I wish there was, though), having followers can lead to some book sales on occasion.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful at one time or another for gaining followers on my own personal blog. Now, there’s no guarantee that any of these tips will be helpful for your blog. At best, a combination of these might be helpful, but that’s for you to find out. Like any technique in this business we try to increase sales and readers, it’s all trial, error, and learning from the past so we can learn from the future.

DO NOT ask for people to follow you! I know some people really want followers, but asking for other bloggers to follow you, especially in a comment on a blog post, sounds a little desperate, which can be a major turn off to some bloggers. There’s a better solution to get a blogger to check out your blog, especially if it’s a blogger you really would like to follow you.

Converse. If you read a post by a blogger or really like their blog and you would like them to follow you as well, then talk to them. Have a lengthy comment conversation where you go over issues or points made in the blog post. Engage them, and let the comments you leave speak for themselves. I’ve been drawn to certain loggers just by a single conversation we’ve had over comments on their or my blogs, and vice versa (I think. Maybe once or twice). If your comments really resonate with a blogger, then they may be drawn to look over your blog (if they’re not already reading your blog at the moment) and maybe then they’ll click the Follow button.

Also…

Blog often. I think a lot of us at first only blog when we feel we have something important to say. But that only increases the pressure to have something relevant to say, and may contribute to us blogging less, which may lead to readers not finding us because we have a small body of work. So instead try blogging more often. It doesn’t have to be big or groundbreaking or important. It can be a small revelation you had about a character, or how a day with your kids inspired you to write a story, or even the frustrations you have with your old computer and how you can’t wait to get a new one. I have a couple of friends who blog once a day every day, and they have a lot of followers, blogging on things going on in their lives, sharing excerpts from their WIPs, and the latest in STEM accomplishments and science fiction, to name but a few. You don’t have to write a post every day if you don’t want to, but writing often, even on the little things, can help people find you.

Blogging often also makes us better bloggers. We get a feel for it, like how we get a feel for fiction writing by reading and writing a lot. We learn how to write a compelling blog post from blogging often and from reading other blogs. And that brings me to my next point.

Always be on the lookout for an interesting blog. I love Freshly Pressed on WordPress, because I’ve read really interesting articles and bloggers through it (I actually discovered this blog through Freshly Pressed, by the way). One should always be on the lookout for an interesting blog or blog post, not just on Freshly Pressed but anywhere else you may run into them. And if a post really catches your attention, don’t just Like it, comment on it. Likes are nice, but comments really engage.

Tags! Tags help readers find your blog articles just as much as keywords do. So make sure you have a tag for most or all of the points covered in your blog post and maybe it’ll help people find your blog, or even get Freshly Pressed (in which case, I might become jealous of you).

Stay consistent to the main theme of your blog. Most of our blogs revolve around our writing careers, so we should keep our posts revolving around writing, our respective genres, the latest updates of our books, etc. Sure, it’s okay to maybe talk about something interesting in your life or maybe a political issue you feel passionate about, but don’t do it so much that you deviate from the main theme of your blog more often than you actually write about it. Otherwise you might lose followers who signed up to hear about you and your writing, rather than twenty posts about your job or church and then maybe one about your book, over and over again.

Use pictures. A WordPress administrator actually wrote a post a few years back and published it on Freshly Pressed. One of the tips he or she (I can’t remember which) gave was that one should try to use pictures, as they can spice up some blog posts, especially ones where it might seem to the reader as just one long list of text without end and they might lose focus.

Maybe I should use a picture in this article…

Remember your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just like readers hate horrible grammatical errors, typos, and things of that nature in the books they read, they get really annoyed with that in blog posts. So try and keep grammatical rules in mind, make sure you’re spelling that word correctly, and don’t use a semi-colon when a period or comma would do just fine.

Have fun with it. The main thing with blogging is that you have to enjoy it somewhat. If you treat it as a chore, it’ll come off that way in your blog posts and people might not want to read your work. But if you like it and get into it, that feeling might reveal itself in your blog posts.

 

Like I said, these techniques don’t always work for everyone. These are just ones I’ve felt have helped me. But in our line of work, where we experiment as we write and publish and market, you never know. These tips, as well as those from other writers, could prove extremely helpful in building your audience.

What sort of tips can you give other authors on building audiences and gaining followers?