Saturday, June 27, 2015

Basics of Traditional Publishing

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Last time I talked about self-publishing, which is considerably easier to carry out. This time I will talk about traditional publishing, which, though easier to wrap your head around, is much harder to accomplish. Either way, success is very difficult, but traditional publishing gives higher chances, which is why it requires more effort to even begin.

     A traditional publisher is one that accepts manuscripts from authors (sometimes through agents or by request), works with them to improve the manuscript, provides a cover, marketing, printing, and distribution, and then pays the author royalties, and occasionally an advance.
     Getting accepted by a publisher is a rather complicated process, and you can expect it to take several years (or decades, if you are unlucky) and dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of rejections. Here are some tips to improve your chances and shorten the process.

Have a good product

     I mentioned this in the last one too, but it is very important. Don't send them the first book you write, and preferably not the second or the third, until you have written several other books as well. Rewrite your book several times. Send it to friends, maybe even an editor, preferably a developmental editor.
     Continue to work on your book as you submit it. A book can always be improved. This becomes especially important if you get something other than a form rejection letter. That is a good sign, it means that you are getting close.

Have a good cover letter

     Hardly an easy thing to accomplish, but this is your first impression. If your cover letter isn't good, your novel won't even get a glance. Keep your cover letter short and informative. Do not use a form letter. You will probably want to use the same synopsis each time, perhaps tweaked for the particular publisher, but the rest of it needs to be made completely new for each one. Use the editor's name, say why you think they are a good fit, name some of the novels that they have published recently that have similarities (but aren't too close!) to your book.

Choose the right publisher

      Please, please, please do your research. There are lots of companies that look great that you should never go near. If they ask you to pay them (aside from, maybe, a reading fee) then they aren't good. That means that they don't have enough confidence in your book to take a risk.
     In the part about cover letters I said to include why you think that your book is a good match for them. Well, you should actually believe that you are a good fit for them. Otherwise, what is the point of submitting to them?

Get an agent

     This is optional. Agents are kind of odd, because they make getting published easier, yet to get an agent requires the same process, just to the agent's company, rather than the publisher's. However, the truly important thing that agents do, is they negotiate the terms of publication. They will get you a better deal by far than you can get yourself. In fact, if you decide to forgo an agent during the hunt for a publisher, once a publisher accepts you, go find an agent. They will jump at the chance to represent an author whose book is already accepted.

Build an author platform

    An author platform is essentially your following. Building a following while you still don't have anything published can be difficult. One of the most commonly recommended methods is to make a blog, though I would say that the most necessary is a website. A website won't really build you a platform, but it is a place for people to look you up at where you can put your contact information.
     I would recommend also using one or two social media websites, like Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr. Experiment with different ones and find which you will be able to keep doing. Pinterest tends to be a favorite with authors, and it is the easiest one to advertise with that won't annoy people, but is also the least direct. Don't go overboard with building your author platform, but don't neglect it, either. This is one of the things publishers look at when considering a book.

     Traditional publishing is a hard route, and there is less creative control, however, you have much more assurance that you will end up with a fantastic product, and once a publisher accepts you, your chances of success skyrocket. Don't think that once you're accepted that you can quit your day job, though. Writing for a living is a hard job, no matter what way you go. The publisher will take most of the profits in exchange for the work and money they put into it, so you will need to either because a huge bestseller, or, the more likely, publish a lot of books.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK and on Tumblr here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Self-Publishing Basics

Post by co-founder, Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     I asked some people if they had any questions about publishing, and the answer was "How do you publish?" So I'm going to cover self-publishing this week, and traditional publishing next week. I will also expand on certain points I will touch on at some point.

Have a Good Product

     Pretty obvious and basic, but something that people constantly complain about self-published books lacking. Your book is not good enough. When you have gone through several drafts, edited it, perhaps given it to some friends to read, it is not good enough. If you published this traditionally, at least one editor would work with you on it for at least one more draft, probably more, in order to make it a product that will hopefully sell. So, how do you make it a good product?

Do several rewrites

     An important beginning point, rewrite it several times, and leave space in between them. It is important to look at it with new, critical eyes and to do your best to make it the best book you can make it. It will be hard, it will hurt, but some things will have to go, and some things will have to be added. You will need to make major changes and minor changes. Write the first draft with that in mind.

Find beta readers

     This is very important. Get the feedback of several people. Friends an family will do, but make sure to stress that you need them to tell you the problems. Remind them that if they don't tell you now, it will end up in the finished book, which is hurting you rather than helping you. Listen to their feedback, respond well, consider it, then decide if you want to use it.
     Beta readers who are writers are very helpful as well. You can trade beta reading, as well as pay professional beta readers.

Send it to an editor

     Do NOT publish your book before sending it to an editor. First get over-all, character, plot, and logic editing. Make sure that the base book is good. Be willing to listen to your editor, they know what they are talking about. However, you do not have to do everything that they tell you to do. Next, get an editor to do proofreading. One of the most frequent problems with indie books is grammar and spelling mistakes.

Have a good cover

     Not exactly a part of having a good product, but you should have an eye-catching, fitting cover. You can usually tell the genre of a book at a glace, without the title. I could tell you one of those erotica "romance" books through frosted glass, and I don't even read them. You want your cover to make sense to your genre, but not be so close to others so as to look like a part of the mass.
     Also, don't copy popular books. The main reason that I never read Divergent was because, on top of the similar setting, the cover looked so close to The Hunger Games. Seriously, a bland, dark background with a circular symbol? A bit familiar.

Choose a Good Platform

     One of the most important factors for visibility and profitability is how and where you self-publish. There are two types of platforms, print and electronic, and two forms within them, hosted and self-hosted.


     POD is the easiest, though least profitable, method of selling print books. You find a company such as CreateSpace, upload your document and cover, set your price, and they take care of the rest. Once someone orders your book, they print a single copy of it and ship it. Because of the one-at-a-time printing method, they are more expensive to make, which is why it will be less profitable.  But still, you don't have to take care of it yourself.

En mass printing

     Another option is to pay a printing company to make a large number of your books (the more they print, the cheaper per book) and then sell and ship them yourself. This involves more effort (and storage space) but you will earn more money.

Mini publishing company

     The last printing option is to purchase your own printing equipment and do the whole process yourself. This has a huge start-up cost, but would eventually get you more money, if you sell enough books.

Hosted ebooks

     There are a variety of places that will host your ebook, from Amazon's KDP to Smashwords. These work pretty similarly to POD, in that you just upload everything, and the they sell your book, while taking a cut. The cut is generally smaller than with print books due to there being no printing costs, but the price of ebooks are usually cheaper too.

Self-sold ebooks

     You can make your own ebooks (as PDFs or mobile files) and sell them on your blog or website. This generally has less visibility than when they are hosted and is harder to do, but you get more money per book.

Market Your Book

     Marketing is one of the things that most authors hate doing, but it is extremely important.  There are infinite ways to market your books, so I'll just give some tips on how to go about it.

Begin marketing before your book is ready

     I used to think that I didn't want to market my books until they were released so that people could buy them immediately. However, marketing your book before it is out allows you to build up interest before the big day. Don't market too early, though, or people will forget about it.

Use free methods

     There are lots of ways to advertise your book for free, and many of them are very effective. Pinterest is a great one, if you already have it, as well as Tumblr, Twitter, etc. A blog or website is great too. (You should probably have at least a website, even if you don't pay much attention to it.) They are more natural ways of getting your book out there. People tend to ignore ads, knowing that they are ads, and thus not actually of interest to them.

Don't be obnoxious

     It is easy to fall into the trap of posting a bunch of "Buy my book!" tweets/blog posts/etc., but in the end this will just annoy people. Be nice, think of your customers, and keep promotional posts of any kind down to 50% or less.

Find the good paid services

     There are certain paid things that are completely worth it. Whether this is a book tour, an ad in a big magazine, or paying to get an awesome website, is dependent on your book, platform, and who is offering the service. Be careful with this, you don't want to go overboard, but do keep it in mind. A few good paid services can really help to launch your books.

Bonus tip: Paying for followers, likes, subscribers, etc. is never a good expense.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK and on Tumblr here:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Write What You Need to Learn

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

We've all heard the phrase "Write what you know." It's a bit of a controversial topic in writing circles. I agree with it to an extent--writing something you know about is definitely easier than writing something you've never experienced.

But what if it's something you want to experience?

That's a tricky phrase. I deleted it a few times before I decided that it's what I really mean. Because, really, who wants to experience Nazi Germany? Or losing both of your parents? Or being governed by a cruel, dystopian government?

(If you're like me, you might almost be able to risk it, just for the adventure of the story.)

As always, I'm focusing a little more on the characters-and-emotions side of the coin with this post. Because, really, isn't the difference between a good book and an okay book how it made you feel?

Even on this side of the phrase, it's a little tricky. We don't want to feel heartbreak, or grief, or betrayal, or go through all of the problems you put your poor main character through. (Or do we? There's a reason we read, after all...)

What we do want to feel, though, is the joy, the strength, the unnameable-feeling when the hero wins. When she survives despite the odds. When the theme is proved true after all.

We want the hope of knowing that, even though life is dark and times are hard, we can still win.

Sometimes, we forget about that. I know I do. I get lost inside my cynical, pessimistic mind, and I lose sight of hope, lose sight of joy. I'm so caught up in my own problems that I don't see the way through them.

This is where my writing comes in for me. When my main character (who, oddly enough, tends to reflect myself at the time of writing) makes it to the end of the story and finally figures out who he is and why he's been chosen, and then decides that it's been worth it all along, I decide that it's worth it for me, too.

Life is hard. But I'll get through it.

I write a combination of what I know--the problems--and what I need to learn--the hope at the end. And somewhere between "once upon a time" and "the end," I end up a little stronger than I was before.

Do you write what you know, or what you want to learn?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

5 Tips for Co-Authoring a Novel

Post by co-founder, Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Co-authoring a novel is a very interesting experience for a writer (especially for an indie author) because the writing process is traditionally solo. I've personally found that it is a lot easier to keep motivation on a collective novel. They allow you to meld your skills with those of another author, making for a product neither of you could have created alone. Also, being exposed to another author's skills and viewpoints so thoroughly can teach you a lot. Here at a few things to keep in mind when partaking in such an adventure.

1. Don't Trample the Other Author

     It is very important that you allow the other author to express their thoughts, ideas, and sentiments. If you don't, why write a collective novel at all? Why not just write a normal novel? This is a co-operative endeavor, so listen to your partner. You will learn from them if you do, as well as end up with a superior product. Also, how do you think it would feel to be trampled? It wouldn't be pleasant, so respect your fellow writer and listen to them.

2. Don't Let the Other Author Trample You

     This works the other way around as well. Don't let yourself be trampled, as it will make the whole experience a nightmare. Make your voice heard, don't just be silent. Compromising is great, and important, but make sure that you are not the only one compromising. The next point ties in with this one.

3. Choose the Right Partner

     This may seem obvious, but you need to choose someone who can work well with you. If you are a hardcore sci-fi author and your partner does Amish romance, you aren't likely to get very far, unless you are somehow combining the two into something you both will like. But also temperaments are important. If you are a meek person, choosing someone who is more on the pushy side may be a mistake, unless you are sure that they can keep their shortcomings in mind. Also, the other way around. If you tend to be more pushy, either choose a person similar to you, or make a point to ask the other what you think.
     A good way to choose a partner you can work with is to each critique the others work first. This will allow you to understand them better (both from their writing and their critique) as well as build trust. And remember, opposites aren't always bad. If you tend to be character-based and your partner tends to be plot-based, your novel will likely be strong in both.

4. Make Sure Your Goals Align

     Writing a novel is a long process. Make sure that your co-author is committed to finishing the project, and also that you agree on just what the project should be. Many conflicts can arise later on in the process, such as late rough draft or even redrafting and editing, because of differing assumptions. Maybe you both agree on the plot, cast, and theme, but how a particular character thinks, or the meaning behind a certain event, might be completely different in your minds.

5. Be Ready for Compromise

     This may seem like a repeating chant, but it's really the most important point. You WILL have differing opinions on different aspects of your story. It is impossible to prevent that, because you can't talk over every single detail, and a lot of times there is no "better", just "preferred". In these cases, you will have to compromise. This may mean you give up your idea, they give up theirs, or you both give yours up and look for a completely new solution.  But it does mean that the novel will not turn out how you envisioned. This is true for any novel, but much more so with a collective novel. You need to be ready for this, and relinquish that expectation. It is a lot easier to deal with when you have prepared for it.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

3 Ways to Make Unintentional Foreshadowing Happen

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

One of my favorite experiences in writing is when unintentional foreshadowing happens. I know several other writers who agree with me.

In case you're not quite sure what unintentional foreshadowing is, allow me to explain. Foreshadowing is, according to the dictionary definition, "a warning or indication of a future event." In writing terms, it means a hint at a bigger plot point.

Say that the main plot twist in your story is when it is revealed that the previously-thought antagonist turns out to actually be on your Hero's side. To foreshadow this, you might have the antagonist appearing briefly confused in the one scene he is in when Hero attacks him. You could have him say something that doesn't line up with the mantra the bad guys believe. Any little hint that he isn't quite as evil as we all are led to believe is foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a tricky thing, though. If it's too obvious, you'll spoil the surprise of the plot twist. (Ever watch a poorly done movie, hear a line and go, "Okay, now I know how the movie is going to end"?) If it's too subtle, the reader won't notice it at all.

This is where unintentional foreshadowing saves the day.

So what exactly is unintentional foreshadowing? It's when you're re-reading your rough draft, and there in the second chapter is a line that hints at your climax...and you didn't even think twice when you wrote it. Only now does the importance stand out to you.

In my opinion, unintentional foreshadowing is the best foreshadowing. Why? Because since you didn't notice anything unusual when you wrote it, the reader isn't going to notice anything unusual. They won't suspect the plot twist because of the line, but once the plot twist happens, they'll remember that part and be like, "OH."

The tricky thing about unintentional foreshadowing happen, though, is that it's unintentional. When you try to put it in, it becomes intentional.
So how can you make sure unintentional foreshadowing happens?

  1. Know about your plot twists while you're writing.
    I'm the sort of person who plots out every little thing before I even put down the first sentence. I know what the plot twists are before I'm anywhere near them. Even if you're not the outlining type, taking the time to figure out what all of the surprises in your story will be can be a great help. Your subconscious, since it knows about your plot twists, will affect the sentences you write and you'll end up putting in more hints than you realize.
  2. Don't overthink things.
    Don't stress about putting in unintentional foreshadowing. Remember, it's unintentional. Just let yourself think maybe-just-a-little-too-much about your story, and it'll come naturally.
  3. Let your characters be themselves.
    The best foreshadowing lines come straight from the mouths of characters. More than anything else, I've found that when I just let my characters talk as they would naturally talk, unintentional foreshadowing comes out. And more than that, foreshadowing of character change becomes visible.

Have you ever found some unintentional foreshadowing in your writing?

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Pixel Art: Dithering

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Pixel art is the oldest form of digital art. You know those old Mario games? They used pixel art. Pixel art is basically any art that is manipulated on the pixel level. This is still used in many games, such as Pokémon. (The little tiny figures are definitely pixel art, I'm not so sure about the larger ones.) Because of the smallness of pixel art, it requires some different skills that make it work better for certain people than other art forms. The fact that you don't need even average motor control is a huge plus for me, as my finders don't seem to respond to my brain very well.
     For pixel art, the most important things are patience, an eye for detail, and creative use of color. You see, you don't get the gentle gradients that other art forms get. While technically you can use as many colors as you want, usually the style limits it. Ever heard of a 16-bit color scheme? That's very common in pixel art, and it means you only get 16 colors to work with. If you have white, grey, black, blue, red, yellow, green, purple, orange, brown, cyan, pink, and skin color, you only have three colors left. Even harder is an 8-bit, and the easier on is 32-bit. But I've found that sometimes you end up using less colors than you have available, especially if you don't count "transparent" as a color.
     Anyway, because of the limited colors available, a shading technique used in pixel art is dithering, which in appearance is similar to crosshatching.

     See the parts where the pixels are arranged next to the corner of a pixel of the same color? That's dithering. It can be hard to make that look good, but it works better when the image is smaller.

     It's not as blocky-looking now, huh? It's still kinda sandy, but I was actually working in 4-pixel clumps, so if I had done this pixel-by-pixel, it would look a lot smoother. Anyways, you use dithering just as you would shading, or to make a new color if you're working with a limited number. For example, with an 8-bit color scheme, you can dither black and blue to get dark blue. As long as the image is small enough, the colors will blend to the human eye, rather than looking sandy like the image above.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

3 Tips for Writing a Prologue That Works

Post by co-founder Catsi Eceer

Hi guys! I know it's been a while since I've posted anything on here, and I've missed you all a ton. But now I'm back (hopefully for a while this time), and I've got lots of post ideas for you.

Today I want to talk about prologues. I know a lot of people who are completely against them, and some who absolutely adore them. My views aren't on either extreme, but I'd like to explore the aspects of what makes a prologue work or fail in a novel.

So many people skip prologues, if they're boring. They might put up with a slow first chapter, but they won't stick around for the prologue if it's dull. Lots of people skip prologues without even glancing at them. (I once accidentally skipped a prologue because I didn't realize it was there... I don't think that was the prologue's fault, though.)

However, there are some very good prologues I can think of. Ones that definitely help the story, rather than detract from it. What makes those prologues work? I've come up with a few ideas.

  1. Make your prologue interesting.
    This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it goes a little deeper than you might think at first. There needs to be some kind of action, some kind of conflict, just as if it were a chapter on its own. Do not, and I repeat, do not spend the entire prologue rambling about the history of your fantasy world. If your reader really needs to know all of that, put it in the actual story. They won't stick around for the prologue.
  2. Make your prologue relevant to the story.
    Another seemingly no-brainer, that's often ignored in prologues. Make sure that what your telling us about in the prologue is actually important to the story. If you took the prologue out, how would it affect the rest of the novel? If it doesn't affect the story, chances are, it shouldn't be there at all.
    Maybe you need to write out the history of your country, or the details of an old war. That's fine--write it for yourself. But don't put it in the prologue.
  3. Give your reader someone to care about in the prologue too.
    If it's relevant, and it's interesting, that's great. But make sure we have a protagonist to follow in this scene, a main character of sorts. If we don't know who we're supposed to be paying attention to, we might not be paying attention at all.
    And this is where a tricky part of writing successful prologues comes in. If you manage to get the reader attached to the main character of the prologue, they're going to be disappointed when they get to the actual novel and find a completely different character waiting for them. So if it's at all possible, use the main character of the actual story as the prologue main character too.
Do you have a prologue? Does it match up to the 3 Tips I've come up with? Do you have another idea of what makes a good prologue? I'd love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.