How to Write a Synopsis (The Writers’ Rooms)

As you may know, I’m the Director of The Writers’ Rooms, a literary organization focused on providing a free, safe environment to all writers, no matter their experience, income, gender, etc. The specific “Room” I lead is The Violet Realm, which is our Sci-fi/Fantasy group. What’s a Room, you ask? It’s a two-hour session with a literary lesson during the first hour and then free writing/sharing the second hour. We have a plethora of groups ranging from poetry, romance, LGBT, all-genre, with more coming soon! The community is wonderful, and I’m thankful for every person who brings their story to us. Best of all, the Rooms are free.

Tonight, we talked about how to write a synopsis. I thought I’d share it with you so you could get an idea of the information that The Writers’ Rooms has to offer, and also provide some tips on how to prep a synopsis for querying an agent.

What is a synopsis? A synopsis is, in short, the summary of your story. You’ll need this if you’re querying a traditional publisher. But, this is also a great way for you to figure out the main plot of your story! 

Rules of thumb: 

  • Only name your MC and main villain (typically only 3 characters at most). Briefly outline their roles so you can refer back to them throughout the synopsis. The first time you list the name, write it in all caps. 
  • A good synopsis should only be about 500 words. Any longer, and an agent may toss it out the window, or you may realize you have some work to do.
  • You must tell the whole story, including the ending gasp! The agent has to know where the story’s going, and so do you! 
  • Focus on the main plot, not any of the subplots. The subplots are for the book. 
  • You need to know what your characters want and make the plot out of that. What are their ultimate goals? 

How to Set Up the Synopsis

You may remember from a previous session that we talked about the Beat Sheet to set up your entire story. Making your synopsis is very similar. Together, we’ll take a look at an amazing resource called “How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis”  with a little flare added. Source is at the bottom. 

 

  • Set the Scene: Create the stage for your world and your characters. We need to know what genre/timeline you’re focusing on. Fantasy? Show us the castle. Science Fiction? Show us the ship and the world. Enchant us with the very first line.
  • Introduce the Protagonist: Bring in your Main Character (in all caps). We want a couple descriptive words to say what he/she wants, and to help us identify him/her. Blacksmith? Banker? Butler? Let us know! 
  • Inciting Incident: Yes, we’re taking a trip to Freytag’s Pyramid. What event, decision, or change prompts the main character to act? Is it a death in the family? A murder? A young boy buying a robot with a hidden message? 
  • Plot Point #1: This is where we get into the first big change in the story. What’s the first turning point? What does the MC do to change the book’s direction? This is the point where your heroine might start out on her journey to travel to a different planet or go on an epic quest. 
  • Conflict and Other Characters: Your character enters a new world/environment. What new life experience does she have? How does she meet the antagonist/villain? This is also a chance for you to bring in, say, a love interest. But again, only include important characters. 
  • Midpoint: This is the point when the MC may have to make a 180 degree change or emotion in the story. Once she crosses this line, she can’t go back. She makes a decision that changes everything. Or maybe her cowardly nature turns to heroism. 
  • We’re Winning! Whoops, No We’re Not: Reveal when your MC thinks she has the upper hand but then the antagonist swoops in to ruin everything. Maybe a magical item gets stolen, or an escaping ship gets shot down. For once, the villain has the advantage.
  • Darkest Night: This is when your MC has hit rock bottom. She has to fight through it both emotionally and physically. Maybe the villain has trapped her. Maybe she’s had everything taken away. How does she find the strength to enter the final battle? 
  • Climax: Battle time! What happens when the MC and the antagonist come head-to-head? Yes, we do need the conclusion. 
  • Resolution: How does the climax end? Does everyone live happily ever after, or are we doing a Shakespearean ending and killing everyone? How do you tie up loose ends, and loose romances? 
  • Closing Scene: What’s the last scene you want to leave your reader with? Has the MC won or failed? Is there a future waiting? We want to know! 

 

Prompts: 

  1. Take your story and write a synopsis. Use the outline above to separate out each important moment from your plot. 
  2. Think of a new story and use the outline to plot it out. 

 

Let’s Go, Indiegogo!

Last year I set up an Indiegogo campaign to help launch The Purple Door District. Thanks to all of the amazing donations, I was able to print 100 books for publication and use the rest of the money to take care of some marketing elements. This year, I’m back at it again with my second campaign, set to last 60 days (instead of 30) with a goal of reaching $2,500 to print Wolf Pit.

I’ve had several people ask me what Indiegogo is. Well, Indiegogo is a website that allows creators to set up campaigns to help raise money towards a particular goal, usually for a product. People who back the campaign receive rewards/perks depending on the tier they pick. For example, $1 in my campaign will get you a shout out on social media, whereas $25 will get you the e-book versions of both The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit once the second book is released. The higher the tier, the more perks you receive!

Indiegogo is very much like Kickstarter except Indiegogo seems to be more author-friendly. Also, while Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning you either hit your goal and get everything, or you don’t and get nothing, Indiegogo also provides a flexible campaign in which the creator receives whatever donations are made, even if the goal isn’t met. I personally prefer the flexible goal, just in case I can’t meet the deadline. Some say it’s better to do all or nothing because it pushes people to donate, but I don’t want to risk it. I know how hard it is to have money problems, and I’d rather people feel more comfortable donating a smaller amount, if anything at all. As I always say, every dollar helps!

With that being said, here’s information regarding my campaign. At the very least, hopefully it will help other writers get ideas for setting up their own campaigns! I actually used the template that Indiegogo suggested. Don’t forget to check out the actual campaign and see the book trailer/welcome video.

Overview
“Wolf Pit” is the sequel to the urban fantasy book, “The Purple Door District.” Werewolves are going missing, and the District must come together to solve the mystery of their disappearance. In the same vein, I’ve relied on the community to help me build this book. Editors, artists, marketing specialists, and other authors have been vital to its production. I want to raise the money both to print this book, and to also support other creators. Will you help the District?

Who Am I and Who’s the Community?

My name is Erin Casey, and I’m an urban fantasy and YA fantasy writer, as well as the Director of a writing organization called The Writers’ Rooms. TWR is a non-profit corporation focused on providing a free and safe environment to all writers no matter their gender, skill set, background, income, etc. I focus on bringing communities of writers together to help them learn from one another. This is what drove me to want to write about the diverse community in The Purple Door District series.

The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit started out as part of a canon that AE Kellar and I are writing together and hoping to publish in the future. PDD was a smaller component of it, but I fell in love with the concept and asked if I could write a series based on it to help support our main canon. She has been vital in helping me make sure I keep my facts straight! We jokingly say that she’s the brain and I’m the heart of our series. I couldn’t have done this without her.

So what is Wolf Pit about? Here’s the blurb:

My dream is to become an author and help inspire other people. Community plays a big part in my life now, because it was something I grew up without as a child. Last year I ran a campaign and it enabled me to print The Purple Door District. Now I’m looking for help to print Wolf Pit and also support the creative minds who are helping me.

Your generous contributions will allow me to publish the books and support additional creators:

  • Author and Editor Leona Bushman who edited the book and is an author herself.
  • Author and Proofreader, Shakyra Dunn who proofread and sensitivity read my book. See her book down below.
  • Author, Leslie Kung, who has agreed to sensitivity read my book. Check out her work on Patreon!
  • Jewelry maker Amanda Bouma who will help create jewelry for the book.
  • Artist Oni Algarra who is creating character portraits. (Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit is featured below)

Not only would this ensure the production of this book, it would open up the possibility to a series that would continue to bring more work to you and invest in these members of the literary community.

What I Need

My goal is to be open and honest with everyone, so here are what the funds will go towards:

  • Editing through Leona Bushman $500+
  • Business Cards $40
  • Book printing through Ingramspark ($6.74 per book) x 100   $850 (shipping included)
  • Ingramspark Print and Ebook Set up  $50
  • Art Marketing  $150 (for Oni)
  • Promotional Publishing/swag  $300
  • Cover $50 (for artist on Fiverr)
  • Copyright $25
  • Additional Costs (additional marketing/publicity, donation books, office supplies, ec). 

What You Get

  • Character art! Just look at that awesome picture by Oni!
  • Book swag!
  • First look at items to be sold alongside Wolf Pit and the first chance to receive them!
  • Jewelry and items that I and Amanda Bouma create for The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit. 
  • E-books
  • Printed copies
  • A one-on-one writing talk with me
  • and much more!

The Impact

I can’t even express how important your support is. Self-publishing is becoming a more respected form of publishing, and I can’t do it without your help. In a time when our country feels so divided, I think it’s valuable to bring a book with a diverse cast to the community. You get to read through the eyes of characters who are Latino/a, Native American, black, Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, LGBT, etc, and with those who have different beliefs to survive. Even if the different parahumans have prejudices against one another, they’re able to put it aside to make their community safer for themselves and for their children. I hope that people who read this will see themselves in these characters. As I get deeper in to the series, I want to bring in more people of different nationalities, beliefs, and abilities so they can feel represented as well.

Here are just a few of the reviews from The Purple Door District about the world:

  • This book has a great group of characters that are diverse in many ways, and the author will have you falling in love with each one of them. The PDD is a safe haven for all parahumans and it is interesting how all of the different species co-exist together. –Amazon Review
  • THE PURPLE DOOR DISTRICT has everything I want from an urban fantasy series–a big, diverse community of characters who have the same general goals but are at odds with each other as far as how to achieve them, a great blend of high stakes action scenes and poignant emotional moments, and the looming threat of a group of Hunters determined to track down and eliminate magical beings. –Amazon Review
  • It has been a very long time since a book has made me cry, in sadness and joy. The emotion in these characters is so moving, you can’t help but feel you are there with every character through a ride of a story. The people of the Purple Door District are multi-dimensional and it was so great to see such diversity among the characters in a modern fantasy book.  —Amazon Review

You have the opportunity to see a group of creative minds come together to create this book and its future series. We can do this together, and in December, I hope you’ll feel proud holding this book in your hands.

Other Ways You Can Help

I completely understand that you may not be able to donate, and that’s okay! There are other ways you can help!

  • Share this campaign on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
  • Share this campaign word-of-mouth! Get your friends involved. Show them how they can help a creative community.
  • Let me know what you would like to see promoted. More jewelry? More art? What representation do you want to see in future books?
  • Want to make a smaller but still powerful contribution? Consider becoming a patron on Patreon and receive chapters of the book before everyone else!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I can’t do this without you!

Cheers!

Erin Casey

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wolf-pit-urban-fantasy-novel

www.erincasey.org

How to Steal Writing Time From a Busy Schedule

In this crazy world called life, it’s often hard to find time to sit down and write. Between work, families, extra-curricular activities, shopping, adulting, etc, when are we supposed to work on our books? Many people say they have stories in their head but no time to put them on paper. I can sympathize, really. I’m usually running around from 8am-8 or 9 pm depending on the day, which leaves only a couple hours to get things done.

So what do you do? How do you steal some time from your busy schedule so you can create your masterpiece?

  • Meeting: Set aside a half hour or hour on certain nights and treat it like you would a work meeting or an appointment. If friends, or work, try to schedule things at that time, calmly explain you have a meeting that you can’t miss. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be at adapting to the new schedule. It could be once a week or several times a week. Either way, it gives you time when you know you can work.
  • Spurts or Sprints: I learned this little trick during NaNoWriMo. You set 10-15 minutes aside, turn off all distractions, and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t worry about editing or going back to research, just write. Friends of mine and I will hold sprints to see who can write the most in that time frame. It’s a fun little challenge, and it forces you to get text on paper. Likewise, if you find yourself with 10 minutes to spare, use that time to type on your phone or computer, or write in a journal that you bring along. Even if you don’t get a lot out, it may get your mind moving so you’ll be ready to work on your book that night.
  • Record: How many hours do we spend in the car traveling from place to place? How many times have you been in the shower and gotten a great idea but couldn’t write it down? Record yourself. I’ve been on road trips and clicked ‘record’ on my phone and rattled off scenes and story ideas. Even if they’re not directly on paper at that moment, at least I got the idea out of my head and didn’t lose it. There are also speech-to-text programs like Dragon Speech that will record you and type what you say. It takes some getting used to, but it works great if you’re doing dishes or some other task and want to still get the words out.
  • Change Sleep Time: Now, I wouldn’t recommend this if you have insomnia or sleep trouble, but, if you can safely wake up a half hour early or go to bed a half hour later, you can use that extra time to get work done. One of my friends gets all of her writing done between like 5 and 6 am when she’s not being disturbed by anyone. Can you do that too?
  • Lunch Hour: If you get a lunch break at work, that might be a great time to work on writing. Right now, I’m munching on a sandwich and writing this blog entry because I was too tired to write it last night. I still get a break from work, but I’m also being productive with my own craft. But, if you fear you’ll get burnt out, make sure you still take that break.
  • Competitions/Deadlines: Maybe you want to try to push yourself to write because there’s an anthology deadline out there, or a writing contest. I might not write for three months because I know that in November, I’m going to spend 30 days writing for National Novel Writing Month. I pour out 50,000 words, taking more time for my craft that month than usual, because I know it’s only going to last a month. If you set goals for yourself, it might encourage you to find time during a busy schedule.

Whatever you decide to do to get writing time in, remember a couple of things:

  1. You don’t have to write everyday.
  2. Take care of yourself. If you’re burning yourself out writing, you’re not going to enjoy it as much.
  3. Make sure you’re still getting downtime for yourself.
  4. Have fun.

Do you have ways that you fit in writing? Share them below!

Yes, Writing is a Real Job

“You’re a writer? When are you going to get a real job?” 

Far too many writers have heard these scathing questions. Sometimes you can laugh it off and go back to working on your novel or script. Sometimes it comes during a moment of hardship when debt is surmounting, and you’re wondering to yourself if you can actually pull off publishing another book. And while, yes, for some folks writing is a hobby that they do in their free time for fun, it’s also a job for all those other people trying to get paid for their craft. 

“You’re a writer? When are you going to get a real job?”

Far too many writers have heard these scathing questions. Sometimes you can laugh it off and go back to working on your novel or script. Sometimes it comes during a moment of hardship when debt is surmounting, and you’re wondering to yourself if you can actually pull off publishing another book. And while, yes, for some folks writing is a hobby that they do in their free time for fun, it’s also a job for all those other people trying to get paid for their craft.

I don’t think most people understand the amount of work that goes into creating a book and marketing it to the public, but we’ll talk about that in a little bit. First, I’d like to bring up an article on Writer’s Digest called Is It a Hobby or a Job? by author Brian Klems. In it he discusses how writing is definitely work, but it’s not classified as a job until you make money off of it. He also goes on to say that the amount of work that goes into it writing can’t just be classified as a hobby either. I’m sure a lot of you are nodding about the latter point.

In this day and age, it’s hard to make a living as a writer because of the low pay, but that doesn’t make it any less of a job. It just means I have to work that much harder to keep my literary career alive, oh, and also work the other 40-hour job I do during the week at the same time to cover the rest of the cost. Most writers have to still work a 40-hour job, or part time, to make ends meet. Some take the plunge and quit their daytime work to write full time, and I applaud them for taking the initiative.

Unfortunately, that usually elicits the image of someone writing for a couple hours, binge watching Netflix the rest of the day, then complaining they have no money.

Let me kind of give you a view of what it’s like to live as a published indie author, and then tell me if you think that writing is still just a hobby. Keep in mind, I’ve only been doing this for a year, so imagine what an author juggling several books goes through everyday.

  • I work from 8:30-5pm Monday-Friday (and some weekends for overtime).
  • I volunteer in the evening for literary organizations.
  • Starting around 8 or 9 pm until I go to bed, on weekends, or on my “day off,” I do at least one of these things:
    • Research information for my book.
    • World build or develop elements for my book
    • Write or edit my novel.
    • Discuss with my editors and proofreaders what needs to be changed and apply those edits.
    • Talk with my sensitivity readers about changes that need to be made.
    • Keep a presence on Amazon , Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, Wattpad, Goodreads, Bookbub, Allauthor for marketing reasons.
    • Design banners, contests, graphics to post in all these locations about my book.
    • Reach out to bloggers to review my book or do a blog train.
    • Update my website with new author information and author interviews.
    • Build connections with fellow writers, editors, marketers, etc.
    • Set up signing events.
    • Attend signing events in different cities and states.
    • Post chapters on Patreon to help pay for my website.
    • Commission art of characters for stickers/swag.
    • Commission cover art.
    • Create other swag (bookmarks, necklaces, etc)
    • Run an Indiegogo campaign to help cover costs.
    • Participate in online “takeover” events.
    • Query my books.
    • Participate in online book contests to either 1. get an award for my book. 2. find an agent/publisher for my other books.
    • Format my book through Scrivener and Adobe Acrobat.
    • Set up and publish my book through Ingramspark then order copies.
    • Contact libraries and bookstores to carry my book.
    • Set up ISBNs, sales tax permit, BIN.
    • Check inventory and order more supplies on books and all marketing materials.
    • Review finances.
    • Prepare a book launch with local venues.
    • Attend writing conventions to make connections and learn the latest marketing techniques.
    • Participate in author summits both as a listener as an author.

…and the list goes on.

Being an author is a multi-faceted job, and most of the time you have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re a traditionally published author, publishing houses are doing less to market the book and encouraging authors to do more of the work. Many of my author friends spend days at conventions and marketing to sell their books and pay for the table, gas, hotel, meals, and other bills.

But you may ask, “Erin, you charge $15 for your paper book. How do you not make money off of it?”

Because by the time you factor in the editing, proofreading, printing, marketing, and sales tax permit, I don’t see much profit. Every dollar helps and puts me closer to making a better income off of writing. But I have to market to make that happen. I’ve heard it takes until book 2 or 3 to actually see a return in money, which is why initially it may look like authors are so broke, even if they receive advances from publishing companies.

That doesn’t mean writing isn’t a job.

Honestly, for me, it would be my dream job to write full time and survive off of my books. While that might be a long time in coming, I’ll do what I can to keep working towards it. In the meantime, I hope this gives people a better understanding of how much work goes into being an author and that it’s more of a job than most realize.

Finding Writing Contests

Whether you’re a poet, short story writer, a novelist, etc, I’m sure most of you have submitted your work to a writing contest at some point in your life. Contests can come in many shapes and forms. They might be for large anthologies to help you get your name out there. Some may pay royalties to their authors. Others have big cash prizes. And some pay nothing, but at least you get the bragging rights. The things I hear most writers say is that they don’t know where to submit their work or where to start looking, or how to prepare their piece.

First off, here are few of the common places I visit to find writing contests/opportunities:

  • Submittable: This is a submission engine as well as a place where sites compile contests that are available. More and more sites are using submittable as a way for authors to send in their work. Once you enter your information once, it’s usually there for you to use again. What’s great is you can track what pieces you’ve sent in, where they are in the process, and which pieces have been accepted or rejected. There’s a messaging system too so you can contact the contest site if you have questions. Once you sign up and indicate your genre interests, it you can also look up available contests through the system.
  • Poets & WritersThis site is great because not only does it provide helpful writing tips, it also frequently updates contests or submission opportunities. You can filter it depending on entry fee, genre, deadline, etc. So if you’re only interested in poetry, you can just select the poetry category. Or if you don’t want to pay for an entry, you can filter out all of the contests that cost money.
  • Writer’s DigestWriter’s Digest hosts a lot of writing contests each year. They also list other contests/events that are going around, so keep checking in for the newest and greatest stuff. Like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest provides helpful literary tips as you’re prepping to submit your material.
  • Jerry JenkinsJerry Jenkins lists contests that are going on throughout the year and it gets updated every year. What I like the most about it is that it’ll provide a link directly to the contest so you don’t have to go looking for it.
  • The Write LifeI like this website a lot. They provide 31 free writing contests that have cash prizes. So if you’re looking to make some money for your writing, this may be the route to go.

These are just a few sites to get you started. If you’re looking for a particular genre, you might have to dig a little deeper into the internet to find the right contest for you.

As you prep your piece for submission, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Read the Guidelines: Whatever contest you enter, it is vital you read their guidelines. They might have very particular ways that they want you to submit your piece (font, size, single vs double-spaced, etc). If you don’t do as they request, they may disqualify you without even reading your piece. Get it in on time, and if any of the directions are confusing, be sure to e-mail them and ask for clarification.
  • Stay on Topic: If you enter a contest that has a particular theme, make sure you’re submitting a piece that works. If the theme is “Aliens in Space,” don’t give them a contemporary romance or paranormal entry. Stay as close to the topic as possible.
  • Word Count: When contests give max and min word counts, you need to stick to them. Even if your entry is 5001 words and the max is 5000, that one word can still get you disqualified. Again, stick to the guidelines.
  • Review Other Published Pieces: Some sites will have previous anthologies available for your to peruse. If you have the opportunity, read through some of their pieces to see if your work seems to fit in. If the magazine/anthology is completely different from your realm of work, you might consider submitting somewhere else.
  • Make Sure the Contest is Legitimate: There are many contests out there that will gladly take an author’s money and not do anything with the contest or will scam the writer. Make sure they’ve published other pieces before, they have a history, and the information on their site is spelled correctly. I know that last one might sound odd, but a lot of scam sites will have misspellings, which would seem odd if they’re running a writing contest.
  • Don’t Harass the Judges: When you submit a piece, don’t e-mail the judges or the site owners repeatedly to find out the status of your piece (unless it’s to notify them that your work was published somewhere else). The more you pester, the more likely it is your piece will be dropped. It takes time to review the work, choose the right pieces, and prep them for publication on paper or on site. Be patient. Generally “no news” is good news because it means you haven’t been rejected yet.

I hope this helps you as you look for places to submit your work. If you have other tips or sites people should check out, feel free to post them below!

Happy Writing!

Publishing 101: Who Should Read Your Book Before Publishing?

When writers finish their book, a common question I see is, “What’s next? Who should review it before it gets published?” It’s a great thing to consider. Some writers edit their book a few times then publish it on amazon. If you’re a trained editor, that should be fine, but it’s always a good idea to bring in fresh eyes to review your work. When you’ve read and edited your book so many times, it’s easy to miss small things because you’re too familiar with it. For example, no matter how many times I read The Purple Door District, I still missed the fact that one of my character’s names was spelled incorrectly.

Actually, five of us missed it, ha!

Now, I want to make this very clear from the beginning. These readers are using their personal time to help you. It’s important for the author to show them respect (and for the readers to also show respect to the author). As an author, don’t pressure readers to get the work done. As a reader, understand that the author has put their heart onto paper, so when you provide critique, make sure it’s constructive.

So who should you talk to?

Beta Readers: Beta readers read your book through the earlier stages. They give their initial impressions of the book, point out plot holes, inconsistencies, or anything major that they feel needs to be changed. This is a great opportunity to make a list of things for the beta readers to look for if you’re concerned about particular scenes, characters, or plot points. This feedback can help you turn your writing into a much stronger book and fix things that might otherwise seem broken. Take what they say into consideration, and perhaps ask if they would be willing to read a second draft.

Also keep in mind that you, as the author, don’t have to make all of the edits. These are opinions, after all, and you ultimately have control over your book. This applies to all the feedback you’re given.

Sensitivity Readers: Sensitivity readers are a subset of beta readers who review works to check for cultural inaccuracies, bias, representation issues, stereotypes, problematic language, etc. I personally use sensitivity readers because I write about characters outside of my scope. Example, I’m a white bi-sexual woman, but I also write about black heterosexual men, as well as Native American, Hispanic, Latino/a, and Indian characters. I want to make sure I’m representing everyone correctly without showing any bias or including accidental racist undertones. Now, there’s an argument going around that books shouldn’t need sensitivity readers, and if it’s fiction, why should it matter? In my opinion, correctly portraying people and cultures is very important, and I want to make sure my readers can see themselves in the characters and aren’t offended by my work. We already have enough racism going on in our country today, our books don’t need to add to it. I know I can’t please everyone, but I can at least make an attempt to appeal to the masses and not be ignorant to the needs of those outside of my scope. For more information about sensitivity readers, check out the link above.

Editors: This goes without saying, but you should have an editor look over your book. Again, no matter how many times we read our work (even if we’re editors ourselves), we’re going to miss things. We’ve built the entire world in our head. We might know what we mean in a sentence or paragraph, but an editor can clean it up to make it clearer for readers to understand. You can hire different types of editors too, whether they’re copy editors, line editors, or they kind of do it all. Expect to pay for an editor. They put a lot of work into their craft and should be compensated for it.

Proofreaders: A proofreader is one of the last people to look at the book and will skim it for any final spelling or grammatical errors. While editors can do this as well, it helps to have another pair of fresh eyes on your book even after the editing stage. I had two proofreaders who caught things my editor and I missed. And the proofreaders even found errors that one of the other proofreaders missed. My proofreaders review my book just before I click print, that way any egregious errors should be caught.

Except Carlos…your misspelled name will live on in infamy.

ARC Readers: Arc, or advanced reader copy, readers are the ones who first get your printed book in their hands. They may be tasked with leaving reviews on Amazon or providing quotes you can use when marketing your book. They may also catch any final errors that you missed, or problematic plot devices. At this point, everything should be pretty clean, but it does sometimes happen that an arc reader will point out a name the author forgot to remove, or perhaps a red herring that shouldn’t be in the book at all.

In extreme cases, ARC readers, or early critics, might point out a major objection to a book like what happened in Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir. The author pulled her novel from printing because of objections readers made about the depiction of slavery. Some critics denounced the novel, calling it “blatantly racist.” It’s possible having a sensitivity reader on the manuscript may have helped with this issue. In response, she said she intended to write the novel from her “immediate cultural perspective” and address indentured and human trafficking in industries across Asia instead. This situation started a twitter explosion on whether sensitivity readers are needed or not, and it still continues today. Be that as it may, it was the ARC readers who made the objections and caused Zhao to halt her book, which may have helped her save face in the end.

As a note, I think Zhao reacted with professional grace and respect. She took her reader’s objections in stride and sought to fix the issue rather than condemn the readers for their critiques.

These are just a few people who can review your book before it’s ready for publication. Make sure, too, that you’re giving your book to people who will provide honest feedback and won’t just say, “Omg, I love this. It’s amazing!” or “This is garbage. Throw it out.” Neither of these is helpful (though it is nice to receive the praise). And when you receive feedback, be gracious and understand that these people are just trying to help you. They aren’t your enemy. They aren’t trying to make you fail. They truly, and honestly, want to make your book the best it can possibly be. If you’re not able to handle critique, you may want to reconsider publishing so soon because, believe me, this world is filled with critics (both good and bad).

Another thing to keep in mind is hiring editors, sensitivity readers, etc., does not come cheap. Make sure you budget for it, or find other arrangements with the readers. Whether it’s swapping book edits for book edits, or giving free copies of your book to readers, make their time worth it. If you respect and appreciate them, they’ll respect and appreciate you.

What about you? Do you have particular readers you go to when you finish a book? What’s helped you the most? Let us know! Also, if you’re an editor, sensitivity reader, proofreader, beta reader, or ARC reader, feel free to post your services below!

 

Marketing Tip: Street Team

This week’s marketing topic was inspired by Byrd Nash’s instagram post about street teams. Be sure to check out her many writing tips, as well as her new book:

Wicked Wolves
Find it on Amazon.

To start off, what is a Street Team? This is essentially a group of people who are your go-to folks for marketing your book. They’re the ones who share your posts on social media, leave book reviews, provide writing feedback, etc. They’re the backbone of your whole marketing plan who can help get the word out about your novel. I’ll go more in-depth in a moment, but one thing to keep in mind is that these people are usually volunteers who take time out of their day to help you promote. Treat them with kindness and respect and understand that sometimes they can’t always be “on” to help you. Some of my street team folks, like Brian K Morris, are there to provide me with moral support when I feel kicked down, and I can’t appreciate it enough. So be kind.

Why Have a Street Team? 

Whether you’re trade or indie, you’re going to have to do some marketing for your book. As an indie author, I wear the hats of the writer, editor, proofreader, designer, marketer, website creator, book signing scheduler, etc. It’s a lot of work. But, as I’ve expressed in many blogs, you don’t have to go it alone. The street team helps take some of the burden off of your shoulders. When you need to reach a wider audience, they’re there to spread the word. You can’t beat having a lovely group of people to help you.

Who Are They? / Where Can You Find Them? 

Honestly, your street team can be anyone. Family. Friends. Editors. Fans. They should be people you trust who have shown interest in your book and your journey.  They may even be fellow writers that you’ve met on twitter or instagram, or during writing conventions. Be sure to ask them before you add them to your street team, though. People don’t like being bombarded with information that they never asked to receive. One way you can keep track of who’s on your team is by creating a facebook group specifically for them. I have a group called The Purple Door District: Street Team! where I share my information. Generally, my street team is the first to see new content before it goes out to the rest of the public. Interested in becoming part of my street team? Let me know!

Arc/Beta Readers

One way the street team can help is by volunteering to either become a beta reader or an arc (advanced reader copy) reader. They’ll read your book and provide feedback about possible things you need to change to help make your story stronger. Specifically ask them to review topics/plots/characters you’re most concerned about because your beta/arc readers will be your last line of defense before you go public.

Reviews

Having people willing to leave reviews is so important for an author. Like it or not, the algorithms on Amazon will determine how your book gets promoted. The more reviews you have, the more likely Amazon will be to share it around. I believe the key number is 50 reviews, but frankly, any amount helps. Reviews don’t have to be complex, either. Your street team can leave a rating and something as simple as a one word review. Granted, getting a full review is wonderful, and I wouldn’t snuff that if they’re willing to do it. I’ve had some excellent reviews from Ellen Rozek, Byrd Nash, and Shakyra Dunn for example. The best ones are when the readers are willing to provide constructive feedback along with their kind words.

Social Media Sharing

Another way your street team can help you is by sharing important news about your book across their social media platforms. The more people you reach, the better chance you have of selling your book, or acquiring followers. They can share things like cover releases, book releases, giveaways, or, hey, even your quest for a reader’s choice award. Be sure to give them ample notice and all the information that they need to share your news around. While you may have some of the same friends, chances are all of your street team members will have an audience that you don’t know. The more platforms you can get across, (twitter, facebook, instagram, goodreads, allauthor, bookbub, etc) the better.

Book Buyers

Now, let me be clear, just because someone is on your street team, that doesn’t mean they’re obligated to buy your book. But, it is a nice perk if it happens. Likely your street team members are readers themselves and are interested in your book or want to go the extra mile and support you by buying your novel. Can’t say no to that, right? Be sure to interact with them and the rest of your book-buying audience. Let them know how much you appreciate them for helping you.

These are just a few ways that a street team can help you, especially near a book launch or book release day. Do you have a street team? How have they helped you? Feel free to share your story below!

On another note, I really am working to get nominated for the Epic Fantasy Fanatics Reader’s Choice Award. If you have a second, please consider voting for The Purple Door District. Thank you so much!

 

My Mission as a Writer

As I was trying to think of a topic to write for this blog post, I came across an interesting list of questions on 40 Blog Post Ideas for Novelists, Poets, And Creative Writers. “What is your mission as a writer? What do you hope readers will take away from your work when they read it?”

We all have different reasons for writing, but our mission? Now that really makes you think. So, in no particular order, here are the reasons I write.

Mission 1: To Entertain/Escape

I love books. They make me laugh, cry, stay up way too late at night to find out what happens in the next chapter, and rage. They let me escape from life and get lost into another world where bills, mortgage, work, and adult responsibilities don’t plague me. I want to create a world where people can immerse themselves and feel that same sort of escapism, especially if it’s from trauma.

I grew up feeling pretty lonely. I had parents who worked, and I wasn’t the most social kid, so I had a lot of time to be alone and think. Books became my way to deal with the loneliness. I could always rely on a new Jedi Apprentice to appear at Borders (when that was still in existence) each month. The characters in my fantasy and sci-fi worlds started to become my friends. And when something happened that made me upset or hurt me, I could dry my tears with the pages. I want my books to be that for other people so they have something that can comfort them, or entertain them, whatever they need.

Mission 2: To Inspire

I have a dream that one day a reader will come up to me and say, “You inspired me to write my own story.” I’m not trying to be egotistical. I want readers to feel like they, too, can put their stories down on paper. I firmly believe that anyone can be a writer. Whether you roleplay, write fanfiction, poetry, short stories, novellas, novels, scripts, journals, blogs, random musings, etc…you’re a writer. And if you have a story to tell, you should do that. I want readers to feel like they can come up to me to ask for advice and encouragement. I have plenty to give, because I want others to succeed as well. And I know that if one of my favorite authors told me, “I believe in you,” it would have spurred me on to write even more. So, I want to be that for someone else.

Mission 3: To Be Inclusive 

Whether it’s The Purple Door District, or one of my other novels, I want my writing to be inclusive. I acknowledge the privilege that comes with being white. But I also know the struggles that come with being bisexual, morbidly obese, and a woman. I definitely do not know everyone’s struggles, and I can’t be the voice for other people who are discriminated or suppressed, but I can at least provide a space where many can feel included. I work with sensitivity readers so that when I write about folks outside of my scope, I don’t come off as a racist jerk due to pure ignorance. I know I may not always get it right, but I do try to do my research, and I do my best to improve when I receive critique.

If I’d read more books with bisexual characters, I might have recognized my sexual identity sooner. If I’d had books with strong females instead of the damsels in distress, I might have realized earlier I can be the hero of my own story. So many books focus on white cis characters (generally male heroes), so how can people feel like they’re included? I can’t touch on everyone, but my mission is to include as many people as possible because that’s our world! We’re not just one gender or color. We’re a plethora of incredible cultures, colors, and abilities. Everyone should be celebrated, not treated like they’re “the other.” So if you feel like you’re missing from my book, tell me. I’ll see what I can do.

Mission 4: To Write For Me 

Just like other writers, I have my own stories I want to create. I see worlds and characters, and hear music in my head. I have far too many plot lines to work with, and I want to put them all down on paper…someday. Maybe when I become a full-time author I’ll be able to indulge my muses.

Writing has been a part of my life since I was a little kid. One of my fondest memories is scribbling down a dragon story on notebook paper and watching my world, and characters come to life. I roleplayed on websites, and learned to develop my characters. I created fanfiction to show my love for Redwall, Harry Potter, and, yes, even My Little Pony, because it made me happy. When I hit a writer’s block, I tend to crumble because I feel like I lose a part of myself. I can’t do the thing I absolutely love because I’m stuck. Some people don’t get it, and that’s fine. My writing doesn’t define me, but it does make me really happy. It’s what I want to do, and I hope that one day it can become a full-time job.

Heh, I think all writers have that dream.

I guess, in a nutshell, my mission is to write for myself, inspire others, provide an escape, and be inclusive. Who knows, maybe as I become a more experienced writer, I’ll realize I have even more missions.

What about you? What’s your mission as a writer? Feel free to share below!

Musical Musings

There’s nothing better than curling up on the couch with your novel and a good song to set the mood. While not everyone likes to write with music, there are plenty of us who need that additional inspiration to guide us through our craft. I’m one of those people who can listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end because it elicits a certain emotion that keeps me going.

Music has always been important in my life. When I was a kid, I remember listening to the Little Mermaid soundtrack. I could tell my mom what was happening based on the music. And I’m not talking about the songs with lyrics. I mean the instrumental pieces. I played the clarinet in middle school. My dad introduced me to the world of opera and operetta (still love it that Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was the first operetta I attended). I also loved musicals like Cats, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Sound of Music, Rent, etc. I learned how music can tell a story, not just in the lyrics, but with the instruments alone.

As I got older, I started creating my own stories to the music. I’d pick a song like Vivaldi’s “Winter” and I’d sit back, close my eyes, and try to imagine a story that was happening through the music. Characters sprang to life. Icy forests caught in a snowy storm. Snow fairies darting through tree branches and bushes. It wasn’t just music to me; it became an entire world.

So I started collecting songs that did several things for my writing; created the world, represented my characters, and quieted my mind. I made playlists that were 40 songs long because they all reminded me of my characters or world in some way. Right now, Naomi Scott’s “Speechless” from the new Aladdin movie is my song of choice. The lyrics remind me of one of my characters who survived an abusive relationship and came out stronger than ever. Some of the lyrics like “I will take these broken wings / and watch me burn across the sky” make me think of my character who literally has a phoenix living inside of her.

So what can you do to help you get into the creative mood using music?

Character Playlists: Find music that reminds you of characters. I pick out lyrical songs for most of these because the words invoke feelings about the characters and what they’ve gone through in their lives. I used to create separate playlists per book, but sometimes when I don’t know what to write, I just put them all on shuffle and see which character speaks to me the most.

World-building Playlists: I mostly choose instrumental music for these, but having lyrical songs that represent your story’s time frame or world can be just as useful. James Horner’s “Avatar” and Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” soundtracks are definitely ones I use for my fantasy/medieval stories. On the flip side, I might use pop music or gothic rock (thank you Within Temptation and Evanescence) for my urban fantasy world because it just fits the setting and the characters. Play around. See what catches your attention.

Mood Playlist:  I also create playlists that have nothing to do with my characters or worlds. These are generally songs that I know won’t distract me from writing and will actually sooth me if I’m stressed out. Some easy choices are meditation soundtracks with water, music, and soothing chimes or bells. Another day, I might replay the “Night King” from the Game of Thrones’ season 8 soundtrack 15 times. Right now, I’m listening to “Lord of the Rings Music & Ambiance.” Most of my mood music is a mix between gentle or sad. It’s rare, but sometimes I’ll have louder, head banging music. Again, it depends on the mood. But this might help you get into the groove of writing. Turn on your playlist, settle into a comfortable spot, and get writing!

There are also fun programs out there where you can create your own ambiance.  Check out Ambient Mixer. Maybe you want to spend an afternoon in the Gryffindor common room or explore Rivendell. Perhaps Loki’s quarters are much more to your liking. You can listen to premade background music or make your own.

Everyone has their own tastes in music and their own ways to get into the writing mood. What do you do? Do you have favorite songs that inspire you? How do you find them? Feel free to post below.

Happy writing and listening!

 

How to Find an Agent: 101

Ah, literary agents. Those elusive, mystical creatures that you can only find at the end of a double rainbow. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like to a new author. After the excitement of completing your book has worn off, it’s time to take the next step to find an agent (if you’re planning to go the traditional route). Yes, you can still query certain small presses and publishing houses directly without an agent, but you have a better chance of getting your foot in the door if you have someone praising your book.

So, where do you start?

Books:

  • Favorite Books: Look at your favorite books that match the genre of the manuscript you’re trying to publish and take note of the publisher. From there, you can do a search online to see what agents work with that publishing company. If the agents accept similar books, they may be interested in taking a look at yours.
    • Some publishing houses don’t require you to have an agent. DAW, for example, accepts unsolicited fantasy and science fiction novels. So if you don’t want to take the time to find a literary agent, that’s another way to go about trying to get your book published.
  • Guide to Literary Agents 2019: This book, along with those in years past, can help you select an agent. It guides you in preparing a query letter and introduces you some of the current agents who are seeking submissions.
  • Writer’s Digest: Whether it’s in magazine form or online, Writer’s Digest always has a plethora of information about the writing world. They even have their own section on locating literary agents and will sometimes promote particular agents in their printed magazines (which I highly recommend). Not only that, they provide great advice on how to prep yourself to query agents/publishers/editors.

Query Tracker and #MSWishList

  • Query Tracker: This free site is a great way to scope out publishers and agents. Not only can you see who is or isn’t accepting queries, you can categorize what fields you’re most interested in (fantasy, YA, romance, etc). You have to sign up to do a specific search for an agent, but again, it’s free. The people on this list are considered legitimate agents as well, so if you hear about an agent who might be a good match for you, run their name through Query Tracker first.
  • #MSWishList: This site shows the manuscript wish lists of agents and editors and also provides advice on writing query letters. An editor is a good route to go as well because they may be able to connect you with an agent. Scroll through and see who’s interested in your genre and click on their names to learn more about them and what literary agency they represent. Also, make sure to put their names through Query Tracker for additional information.

#Pitchwars and #Pitmad

  • #Pitchwars: This is a Twitter mentoring program that happens once a year.  Published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. The mentors then help the writer perfect their manuscript to prepare it for an agent showcase. Participating agents review the lists of books and will make requests. This year’s Pitch Wars mentee application window opens on September 25th and will stay open until September 27th, so get those manuscripts ready!
  • #Pitmad: This is a “pitch party” on Twitter where writers pitch their completed, polished, and unpublished manuscripts in tweets they share throughout the day. Agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the pitch, which means you can query directly to them. Keep in mind that you have to be unagented to participate. #Pitmad happens quarterly, and the next one is actually this Thursday, June 6th! To learn more, check out the site, or you can read my past entry, Brace Yourselves: #Pitmad is Coming.

Make Literary Friends

  • Whether in person, through twitter, facebook, or instagram, try to make literary friends. Sometimes the best way to find agents is by learning about them from other writers. You can also follow agents on twitter and see when they’re looking for manuscripts to represent. And believe me, most of them are nice and won’t bite ;-). Just be yourself, and don’t harass the agents about reviewing your manuscript. Be patient. Just like you needed time to write it, they’ll need time to read it.

Important: Before you even begin reaching out to agents, keep these things in mind:

  • Look for an agent who represents your genre.
  • Take note of the agent’s submission requirements, because everyone has something different.
  • Make sure you have your manuscript polished and ready for review. If they make a full request, you don’t want to have to tell them that you’re not done.
  • Book summary: complete
  • Pitches: complete
  • Query letter (without the personal info directed to the agent): complete.

I hope this helps you take the next step to getting your book traditionally published. Remember, you’re not alone, and I believe in you.