Writing Fiction: The Keys to Characterization

Serious music students practice their scales, learning the notes by rote before they ever play a piece of music. They play the same piece over and over, receiving correction from a teacher until playing at a satisfactory level. Likewise, a writer who uses a spelling, grammar, and plagiarism checking tool to review a piece can learn from the corrections, improving her finished product. The writer who studies her craft can learn to play symphonies, while the writer who shuns formal learning and relies solely on instinct may find herself stuck playing “Chopsticks.”

What is Characterization?

Talent and learning must come together to produce great writing. Like spelling and grammar, characterization is a skill that can be learned. Characterization is, simply defined, the process by which the author reveals a character to the reader.

Details like mannerisms, dialogue, and physical appearance all contribute to the building of the character in the reader’s mind. The reader gets to know the characters through the process of characterization.

Characters, like people, reveal themselves through various means. Dialogue, appearance, speech, and the effect a person has on those who already know him all play a part in forming our assumptions of a character. Characterization can be either direct or indirect, and both types fall into one of several categories.

Direct & Indirect Characterization

Direct characterization should be used sparingly. Description of a character’s appearance, mannerism, personality, or habits is direct characterization. A common ploy, especially among new or inexperienced authors, is to have the character studying himself or herself in a mirror. The technique, when the writer uses the opportunity to simply describe the physical characteristics, results in the impression of a narcissistic character obsessed with his or her appearance, unless the physical description is secondary to the character’s thoughts and feelings about his or her appearance.

 

In Piers Anthony’s book Ogre, Ogre the main character, Tandy, examines herself in a mirror:

She was nineteen years old, but she looked like a child in her nightie and lady-slippers, her brown tresses mussed from constant squirming, her blue eyes peering out worriedly. She wished she looked more like her mother- but of course no human person could match the pretty faces and fantastic figures of nymphs.

From this short paragraph, the reader learns that Tandy is childlike, with brown hair and blue eyes, but far more of Tandy’s character and current state of mind is revealed than her physical statistics. The reader sees a troubled young woman, the child of a mythological creature who is slightly insecure in her own emerging womanhood.

Characterization with Dialogue

Actions may speak louder than words, but in writing, speech is the primary tool for revealing a character to the reader. Dialogue is one of the most effective ways of conveying not only information that moves the story forward, but details about the speaker.

Grammar, word choice, dialect, accent, tone, and delivery all come together to paint an indelible picture in the reader’s mind. Dialogue may be spoken (external) or written (internal). A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. Well-crafted dialogue will paint a picture in the reader’s mind, revealing clues about age, education, social status, attitude, worldview, and bent, that would take pages of pure description to create.

A Character’s Effect on Others

 

The effect a character has on others is another subtle yet important tool. The character who commands an air of respect is likely the hero, while the one who inspires sneers may be the villain or the underdog. Lemony Snicket, in A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, used the children’s first impression of Count Olaf to strongly influence the reader’s view of the villain:

They wondered … whether, for the rest of their lives, they would always feel as though Count Olaf were watching them even when he wasn’t nearby.

The Effects of a Character’s Name

What’s in a name? A character’s name can be an indicator of their basic personality. Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape both have memorable and sinister-sounding names that fit their personalities. Bilbo Baggins sounds like a respectable sort of individual from a long line of stolid ancestors. Huckleberry Finn is the ideal handle for the delinquent child of a drunken vagabond. By employing a combination of direct and indirect characterization techniques, the writer can create characters that come to life on the page.

Nikolas Baron discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

The Dangerous Allure of Self-Publishing: 5 Real Lessons from a Fictional Character

by Philip J Reed, of Noiseless Chatter:  television, film, literature, music, and everything else you shouldn’t be wasting your time with

I’m a huge fan of Peep Show.  It’s a British comedy that’s been running for eight seasons (so far), and a huge part of its appeal is just how painfully awkward it is.  Its two main characters — Mark and Jeremy — aren’t sympathetic at all…and yet they still manage to be extraordinarily relatable.  Watching the show is often a deliberately uncomfortable experience, but it’s never cheap; it’s always married to razor-sharp writing and two brilliant performances.

The most recent batch of episodes, however, managed to make me uncomfortable in a way that the others hadn’t.  That’s because in an installment entitled “Business Secrets of the Pharaohs,” Mark, the put-upon introvert of the show, gets swindled by a self-publishing house.  And while the details are pretty different from what I went through (I’ve been interviewed about it by this very site, if you’re interested) the way the episode explores Mark’s mindset, and the way it makes clear to the viewer what Mark himself is too hopeful to acknowledge, reminded me, uncomfortably, of my own foray into the world of self-publishing.

So I reached out to Emily and asked if I could put this together, in the hopes that an episode like this (which is on Youtube in its entirety, should you decide to look for it…) might help somebody, at least one person, somewhere, keep a level head in the face of the seductive promises of self-publishing.  Hopefully Mark’s embarrassment — and mine — can spare you at least a little of your own.

1)  Don’t Fall for a Glitzy Image

While the episode is about Mark self-publishing his book, Business Secrets of the Pharaohs, his roommate Jeremy has a thematically-similar plot:  he’s enrolling in a fly-by-night training program to become a life coach.  Interestingly enough, each of the two friends sees exactly what’s wrong with the other’s situation…but neither will admit it about their own.

When confronted, Jeremy shows Mark the same pamphlet that won him over, and explains that “It’s proper.  They’ve got a website.”

Mark’s response to him is one that he — and anyone interested in self-publishing — would be wise to keep in mind:  “Oh, well, I’m sorry.  If they’ve got a website then the people running it definitely have fingers.  And a computer!  Or at least the address of an internet café.”

Anyone can produce a nice pamphlet, or a flashy website.  Anyone can slap up some customer testimonials.  (When’s the last time you’ve checked one to make sure it was genuine?  Where would you even begin if you wanted to?)  What you have to remember is that pamphlets, business cards and websites are just things.  Anyone can appear successful and can entice you to want to work with them, but ultimately that means nothing.  Or, rather, that means that the person took the time to mock something up.  Genuine or not, that isn’t where your research about the company should end.

Look online.  Find actual reviews from actual past clients.  Ask for copies of books that they’ve published in the past.  Any reputable publisher should be happy to show off their work; if they treat your request like it’s ridiculous, take a moment to wonder why that might be.

It’s great if the services listed on their website line up very well with what you were hoping to see, but bear in mind that their site exists only to sell to you.  It’s no gauge of quality, reliability, or ethics.  Dig deeper.  You might not like what you see, but that’s better than seeing it too late.

2)  Be Realistic About Your Work

The screengrab above shows the faces of two people who’ve just heard what Mark’s book is about.  Do people look like that when you start describing your own work?  Then you may have to face a difficult fact:  it might not have an audience.

It’s easy for a writer to develop an inflated sense of the value of his or her own material.  I know, because I am a writer, and everything I produce is fantastic.

But you have to be realistic.  Mark, by this point, has spent eight seasons trying to interest a publisher in Business Secrets of the Pharaohs.  And while it’s always possible that a struggling author just hasn’t found the right match for his material, it’s also possible that it’s the material that’s the problem.

Would anyone want to read about your interpretation of the presumed negotiating tactics of a long-dead civilization?  Nobody wants to read Mark’s…but he doesn’t want to admit that to himself.  At one point he even describes it as “an important work of world literature.”  Spoiler:  it’s not.  And it’s important that you can view your own work through a realistic lens as well.

If you can’t find an agent or a publisher for your manuscript, it may be worth looking at the manuscript.  It may be worth looking at your query letters, your sample chapters, and anything else you’ve been sending out.  The answer isn’t to pay somebody to publish your work…it’s to refine your work so that somebody wants to publish it.

Believe me, I know this can be a difficult lesson to learn.  I spent years shopping around a manuscript that went nowhere.  I tried a few approaches, but ultimately came to accept that even if it was a great book, it wasn’t something that many agents or publishers would take a risk on.  I could pay to publish it (there’s always somebody that will be happy to take your money), but instead I decided to work on another project, one that would be more marketable, and serve as less of a risk.  If that gets published, I may be able to find some interest in my earlier manuscript.  But even if it doesn’t, I feel good about taking a constructive approach to the solution.

And you will, too.

3)  You Need to Do the Work Yourself

At one point in the episode, Jeremy finds Mark at his computer, typing furiously away, unaware that he’s had caps lock on the entire time.  But it’s okay, the friends figure…a publisher would surely correct something like that before going to press.

Obviously this is funny for one very obvious reason, which is that your manuscript needs to be in absolutely perfect shape before you start soliciting.  There aren’t second chances, and you’d be foolish to assume that a publisher who saw a caps-locked screed land on his desk would give you a chance to fix it up later, after you’ve signed a three-book, twenty-million dollar deal.

Then again, Jeremy does have a small point:  if they wanted Mark’s book, truly wanted it, wouldn’t they be willing to make at least a few editorial corrections?

The answer is yes.  Of course they would.

Unless they’re a self-publishing company, in which case that’s an add-on service, and you’ll pay for that.

Whether it’s editing, formatting, promotion, or even a simple spell-check, self-publishers will charge you for everything they do.  And while that may sound like a nice idea for folks who can afford it, it bears repeating that paying for a service isn’t necessarily paying for quality.

My experience working with a self-publisher to fix errors in my book was a nightmare.  It actually ended up making things worse in the final product.  Money well spent, right?

If you’re going to self-publish, you need to make sure that you can handle all aspects of the process on your own.  Don’t count on them to get things right, because there’s no self-publishing agreement in the world that will force them to make good on unsatisfactory work.  The contracts are drawn up to reflect their interests, not yours, and they have nothing to lose if your book fails; they’ve already been paid.  When nobody buys your book, you’re the one who will feel foolish; not them.

You need to do everything on your own.  It’s not enough to be a great writer, or even to be an impeccably careful writer.  You’ll also need to promote the book (assuming its final form is even something you’d want to promote).  Can you do that?  Because if you can’t, self-publishing might not be for you.  You can always pay an exorbitant price for a Promotion Plan…which is usually a pack of simple fliers and a listing in a proprietary magazine no human being will ever read…but unless you’re keen on doing any and all legwork for the life of your book, you’d be better served by a traditional publishing house, which does have an interest in your success.

And that’s where you should be looking.  It won’t be an easy road…but it’s the only road.

4)  Treat Red Flags As Red Flags

It’s very easy to get swept away by the allure of being a published author.  It’s what we all want, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Unfortunately that’s exactly what self-publishers prey upon.  Poor Mark lacks confidence, he can’t get a publisher interested, and he feels as though he’s a failure.  So when British London accepts his book, he’s ecstatic.  Why wouldn’t he be?  His dream is coming true.

Or, at least, he wants to believe that his dream is coming true.  And so did I.  And so would you.  But we can’t be blind to reality.  It’s important to stay grounded, because if we don’t, we’ll get swept away.  Remember that self-publishing houses are not staffed by agents and editors…they’re staffed by sales people.  They will find out what you want, convince you that self-publishing is the way to get those things, and do anything they can in order to obtain a sum of money.  That is their job.

Throughout the episode Mark fails to notice red flags.  Not because he’s a fool — and you wouldn’t be a fool for being taken in, either; these are very good sales people — but because he doesn’t want to admit that this might be anything less than he wants it to be.

When the representative from British London asks to meet him at a food truck on the side of a highway, it doesn’t even register with Mark.  He even looks at the table of condiments and thinks, “This must be the greatest quantity of squeezable mustard ever present at a literary lunch.”  He’s thinking it in awe…but he should be thinking it in fear!  He sees a red flag, but interprets it as a good sign.

As Mark discusses his book with his representative, it’s clear that the man hasn’t read Business Secrets of the Pharaohs.  It’s equally clear that he doesn’t care about its quality…though Mark interprets this, again, as a compliment, since he has “no notes at all” on the material.

If a publisher has “no notes” on your material…forgive me for saying this…that’s not a reflection on how miraculously brilliant and utterly perfect your first-draft was; that’s a reflection of how little they care about the quality of the pieces they publish.

Does that sound like a compliment to you?

5)  Admit to Yourself You’ve Been Taken

It happens.  You were seduced.  Part of you knew better, but you were able to keep that part quiet long enough to complete the PayPal transaction.  And now you hold a copy of your book.  Your book!

Only your book is full of errors.  The text disappears into the binding.  Your name is spelled incorrectly on the cover.  You’re heart-broken.  It’s too late to go back.  You’ve humiliated yourself in front of everybody you’ve been bragging to about the publication…and you’re not getting your money back.

This is what happens to Mark, and it’s not any kind of exaggeration at all.  Self-published material is often shoddy.  Somebody makes you big promises, but what you hold in your hands is a physical manifestation of artistic disappointment.

Here’s what I want to tell you about that:  it’s okay.

Really, it is.

You’re not an idiot.  You were taken.  And that’s okay.

Why do I say it’s okay?  Because if you don’t believe it’s okay, you’ll try to convince yourself otherwise.  You’ll convince yourself that next time it will go better.  In short, you’ll do it all over again.  This is why you need admit you have made a mistake.

Mark gets so swept up in the excitement of his impending publication that he spends more time deciding what kind of nuts to serve at his self-financed launch party than he does thinking about whether or not he’s working with a reputable publishing house.  But when the book arrives, with that misspelt name on the cover and the text printed in an unreadable format, he owns his mistake.  He lets everybody at his own launch party know that the book is a disaster, a tragedy, and proof of a broken promise.

His money isn’t coming back, and neither is his pride, but at least he won’t lose more money and pride by trying again.

You’re a human being.  You have desires, needs, and goals.  If you’ve lived long enough to consider yourself a writer, then you’ve lived long enough to know that there are those who will exploit your ambitions for their own personal gain.  In fact, there’s an entire industry out there designed to do exactly that.

Watching “Business Secrets of the Pharaohs” was something I had to do through laced fingers.  Mark’s an intelligent guy who just wants to believe that the universe has offered him a break.  I remember that feeling well.  It’s a nice thought…but it’s no substitute for reality.

Be careful.  Be honest with yourself.  And, for heaven’s sake, keep your wallet in your pocket. You’ll thank me later.

How I Found My Editor

by Ellis Shuman

After I finished writing, revising, and polishing my manuscript – a suspense novel set in Bulgaria – and after receiving very few responses from the many literary agents I had queried, I decided to take my next step in a completely independent direction. The world of publishing had changed, making it easier than ever to self-publish. I had read the success stories of indie authors and I was convinced that I could follow in their footsteps.

Before I clicked the submit button to make my novel available to the public, I had to be totally convinced that it was in the best possible shape, free of embarrassing punctuation and  grammar mistakes. I had reviewed the text repeatedly, but I no longer could see sections requiring further revision. I needed the assistance of a professional editor.

How would I find a suitable editor, one who would connect with my fiction and provide professional assistance and advice at a reasonable price? Just when I was ready to begin looking, Emily Suess added a Self-Publishing Services Directory to her blog. I also found listings on the Editorial Freelancers Association website. I selected fifteen candidates that I felt would be the most suitable to edit my fiction and I sent each of them a short email with a sample of my writing.

I have written a suspense novel (104,000 words / approximately 400 pages) and have been querying literary agents/publishers. I am interested in receiving a quote for editing services (proofreading + just having a set of professional eyes review the manuscript). Thank you in advance for responding with a cost and time estimate for this project.

To my surprise, and very much unlike the process of querying literary agents, most of the freelance editors replied with huge enthusiasm for my project. A suspense novel set in Bulgaria? Exciting! A missing Peace Corps volunteer? That’s just the kind of book that interested them!

With so many eager candidates, I had to select which editor would best edit my manuscript at the most reasonable price. Each of them had been sent a short sample of my writing, although in some cases I was asked to send a longer version. Three pages, one chapter, 50 pages – whatever was needed to demonstrate my writing abilities, showing the prospective editor how much work was to be done and showing me what editorial changes each would suggest.

The responses I received were quite varied. One editor said he wouldn’t change a single word in my first chapter, so I ruled him out right away. Another said he could only provide revision suggestions if he saw the entire manuscript in advance. I ruled him out as well.

The rest of the candidates sent back Word documents with suggested changes highlighted by the tracking function. Unintentionally, I had made a simple punctuation mistake in the very first sentence of my writing sample. Most of the freelance editors immediately pointed that out to me. The majority suggested simple sentence restructuring, occasional word replacements, and a tightening of the text. All of the suggestions were truly helpful, and on target, so how would I choose to work with just one of them?

“The correct way to write the name of the Bulgarian currency is lev,” one of the editors wrote in a comment listed in the Word document sent back to me. “Also, why do you repeatedly refer to your main character by his last name? Was that intentional?”

None of the other freelance editors had pointed out these two issues. In addition, this same candidate had presented the most comprehensive editing of my sample writing, incorporating most of the suggestions made by the other editors and adding many other original revisions. She was the only candidate who had gone out of her way to research the simple elements of my manuscript, to make sure that what I wrote matched the facts.

Of course, setting the price for the freelance editing was also a major factor in the process. To edit a 400-page work of fiction I received quotes ranging from $900 to $3,500. One freelance editor refused to state his price until he had read the entire manuscript. All of the editors stated that they were ready to start work on the project immediately, with quick turn-around times.

Luckily, the candidate who had displayed the best sample editing, was available at a reasonable price. Having a good working relationship with your freelance editor is crucial to the success of a project. Questions, comments, suggestions, observations, and revisions have to be part of an ongoing two-way street of communication. I am pleased with the freelance editor I selected; we worked well together. I have no doubt that my manuscript was vastly improved with her assistance.

My suspense novel, Valley of Thracians, was published for Kindle at the end of January, 2013, and is now available in paperback as well. I would like to thank Amber Jones Barry for helping transform my writing into something I’m truly proud to present to readers. I highly recommend her to writers interested in hiring a professional freelance editor.

Ellis Shuman and his wife, Jodie, lived in Sofia for two years 2009-2010. During that time they maintained a very active blog, Ellis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures, detailing their travels. Ellis is the author of Valley of Thracians, a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. The book is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. Ellis writes frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, and other interesting things at his blog.  

13 Ways to Boost Your Freelance Career (Without the Internet)

By Terri Huggins

My name is Terri and I have a problem. I think most Americans can relate to it. (I can’t be the only crazy one.) I am addicted to the Internet. I always knew my excessive Internet use was a problem but I didn’t know how big an issue it was until October 2012. I, amongst thousands of other Central Jersey residents, found myself the main target of Superstorm Sandy. I was one of the fortunate people, though. I am alive, my home was intact, and we never lost power. Yet, I still found myself suffering when it came to work.

Obviously, never losing electricity wasn’t a problem. The problem was that everyone else did. That meant I wasn’t able to email editors, follow up on pitches, or schedule interviews and expect a response. When everyone lost all connectivity, I lost all connectivity. That loss made me feel like a fish out of water. (Of course, it wasn’t as extreme as those who actually lost electricity.) It turns out I didn’t know how to function without sending emails with instant gratification, calling people and sending tweets for sources. As a result, my productivity and business really began to suffer. It was then that I learned I rely on the Internet way too much.

Sure, having access to Gmail, HARO, and WordPress have boosted business and helped journalists stay organized, connected and on top of breaking news. However, when you lack the ability to operate without these tools your business may be in total jeopardy. It was a life lesson I learned the hard way. To spare others from learning that lesson the way I did, I’ve come up with a list of 13 Internet free tasks that can boost your freelance career.

1. Do some cold calling

Most people lost phone service during the storm. Truth be told, I got a lot of busy signals, error messages, and voice mail prompts during my cold call sessions. However, I did strike gold every once in a while. But when cold calling proved to be pointless, I decided to make a list of people I planned on contacting once business went back to normal. When it was time to return to my normal routine, having the list on hand made my work schedule easier and increased my productivity.

2. Assess your client list

It’s easy to take on clients blindly out of excitement. After all, it’s extra work and pays the bills. But they don’t always fulfill your mission or may not be worth the time. Revise, your list of clients and analyze which ones aren’t as profitable. Are you satisfied with your relationship with them? Do you have too many clients to handle right now? Do they assist in reaching a bigger goal? Can you afford to cut some loose? Do you need more clients? Now is the perfect time to reevaluate.

During the loss of connection, I found that many of the clients I took on don’t assist in fulfilling my reason for being a writer. By the time, everything was restored I was able to begin eliminating those who no longer fit my needs and work towards getting clients that do.

3. Revise your marketing strategy

It is always wise to have a marketing strategy. Otherwise, you will be moving blindly toward your goal. If you don’t have a strategy, take out a pad and scribble down your plan of attack. Should you already have a marketing strategy, decide whether or not it’s helping you reach your goal. Do you practice in-person networking? Are you writing guest posts? Do you send out email campaigns? Are they working? It’s normal for marketing strategies to not fit as businesses they grow. Take the time to analyze and see what needs to be amended.

4. Edit your resume and bio

The rumors are true. Even as a freelance writer, you need a resume. Occasionally, you still might run into the potential client who decides a resume, bio, and portfolio are necessary before hiring you. Make sure they paint an accurate picture of you. Update your resume to reflect your best and most recent gigs. Make sure your bio is still relevant. I had been putting of the update of my resume for a long time. Sandy provided me with the nudge I needed to get it done.

5. Write

As freelance writers, this one should be a given. But the truth is finding uninterrupted time in which you can draft that blog post, start that article, or complete that copywriting assignment is difficult. There’s always the distraction of an open email box, Twitter alerts, Facebook messages, and phone calls. Take the time to unplug and actually do what you’re paid to do for a living.

With no Internet and calls to follow up on, I was able to write more than I ever had in a long time. It was really rewarding being able to complete my blog posts for the month in one day!

6. Meet the neighbors

Unfortunately, constant access to Internet has made it unnecessary for people to actually see each other face to face. However, it’s good for business. Getting out of the home office for a while, mingling with others, and networking with neighborhood businesses is revitalizing.

7. Set and evaluate your goals

As time goes on, goals change. Unfortunately, we never take the time to stop and realize it. Think about goals you’ve already made. Are they still in progress? Have you reached them? Are the goals still relevant to your career path? Once you set and evaluate goals, you will be able to be more efficient as a freelance writer.

8. Assess your budget

I hate numbers. It was one of the reasons why I went into journalism. Journalism or not, numbers are important. It can’t be avoided for long. Tracking expenses, and income is necessary for running any business. Once you assess your budget you can determine if you need more income, slash your budget, or search for new clients.

9. Create templates

As great as personalized, unique documents are, they take a lot of time. They aren’t suggested for everything, but it can be very beneficial to have templates. If you happen to use the same format for email follow-ups, or some pitches, create a basic template for it to save some time.

10. Back up files

Technology is great, but sometimes we have to accept that it will fail. If you don’t have several copies of documents you are out of luck. Dedicate an afternoon to backing up all your documents. You’ll be happy you did should your computer crash.

11. Revisit your reading lists

Remember, all those magazine clippings, printed blogs, and downloaded e-books you saved? If you are anything like me, they are still sitting in your “rainy day” pile untouched. It’s about time you actually go through the pile. You may come across new ideas to pitch, potential sources, and inspiration for your blog post. Sandy gave me the opportunity to slash my “rainy day” reading file in half. I learned so much.

12. Organize your source list

There is nothing worse than scrambling to find sources for a story at the last minute. If you’ve been in the business for a while there is probably a collection of sources in disarray. Save yourself the time and stress by organizing your sources. When you need a source at a moments notice you’ll know exactly what to do.

13. Go to the library

The library is a foreign land to many people. After all, who needs the library when you’ve got Google, e-books, and I-tunes? The problem is many people forgot how to research without the use of Google. A visit to the library can help you relearn the basics of thorough research.

Terri Huggins is a Freelance Writer/Journalist in NJ who specializes in bridal, beauty, relationships, education and business topics. She also writes marketing paraphernalia such as brochures, press releases, blogs and newsletters for local businesses. By night, Terri is a arts enthusiast, prima ballerina, education activist, and dedicated volunteer. Connect with Terri on Twitter: TERRIficWords or stop by her blog, www.terrificwords.wordpress.com. Professional Website: http://www.writingbyterri.com/

 

Image credit: svilen001

2012: A Year of Guest Posts

If you’re interested in pitching a guest post idea to me for 2013, contact me. Those who pitch articles related to writing, freelancing, and publishing have the best odds of being accepted.

The 100+ Project

Patrick writes about his experiences with asthma and how he is raising money and awareness for The Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter.

Self-Publishing Fundamentals

Kim gives a great overview of the process of self-publishing and helps you understand what steps are involved in writing, formatting, and publishing a book without using a traditional publisher.

The Definition Of Freelance Writing

What does it mean to be a freelance writer anyway? Charlotte talks about the key characteristics of freelance writers and what makes them—and their work—unique.

Writing A Book? Set Goals And Stay Motivated.

Stacy challenges authors to finish their works by setting attainable goals. Don’t let your desire motivation fizzle.

5 Unavoidable Creative Writing Quirks

Creative writers are a quirky bunch. If you’re a writer, chances are you’ll identify with one or more of these common quirks. I admit I sometimes talk to myself.

Playing The Name Game

When is it okay to use an editor’s first name? Is a more or less formal approach appealing to editors? Terri talks about the challenges of choosing how to approach an editor for the first time.

How To Choose A Domain Name — An Author’s Guide

Part of building your author platform includes setting up a website. Learn a few tips and tricks for picking a memorable and effective domain name for your author site.

From First Draft To Finished Product: The Editorial Process

Editing is a long process that involves multiple steps. Kelly explains the difference in substantive or developmental editing and copy editing and why both are important.

Writing For A Micro-Press In The Age of Self-Publishing

As self-publishing continues rising in popularity, Jessie contemplates what this means for the micro-press and weighs some of the pros and cons of each.

The Cover’s The Thing

Great advice for writers who plan to self-publish. Claire explains what makes an excellent cover and shares a handful of resources to help you get started.

Attention Writers: 6 Ways To Spot a 5-Star Publisher

With all of the negative attention surrounding poor self-publishing companies, Sara offers tips to help you evaluate and find a 5-star publisher for your next book.

5 Things Publishers Care About More Than Good Writing

Brooke, writing coach and publisher at She Writes Press, explains how writers can make themselves more appealing to traditional publishers.

5 Things Publishers Care about More than Good Writing

Brooke is giving away 2 copies of What’s Your Book? this week. Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway at the end of this post by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Friday, October 26, 2012. Open to residents of US & Canada.

by Brooke Warner

Many aspiring authors are naïve about what it takes to get published in today’s publishing climate. I know, this is a harsh way to start a post, but over the course of my 13 years in book publishing, I’ve found this to be true.

Recently, a reader told me my new book, What’s Your Book?, was sobering when it came to the part about getting published. And that’s because I want writers to be armed with the right information so that they have a shot at getting traditionally published if that’s what they want.

Being savvy about getting published, for better or for worse, means becoming a bit dispassionate. The relationship you’ll eventually have with your publisher is not one in which they do (or want to do) a whole lot of hand-holding. Publishers (understandably) want to work with authors who bring to the table not just a good manuscript, but marketing and publicity ideas and initiative. You don’t have to be a marketing expert, by any means, but you do need to understand how much it matters.

So, in the spirit of dispassion, here are 5 things publishers care about more than good writing.

  1. Your platform. I have an entire chapter of my book dedicated to platform because it’s central to getting a publishing deal. It means having a great website complete with a blog and being active on social media—with a decent number of followers (at least 500 for Facebook and 1,000 for Twitter to make an impact). Your platform is about increasing your visibility, and because, as an author, you’re up against a lot of competition in the marketplace, you must grow your visibility, and you must do it before you start shopping your book to agents or publishers.
  2. Your connections. If you don’t have a database, start one now. The number of people you’re connected to or have the capacity to reach should be a highlight of your book proposal if you’re writing nonfiction, or your pitch letter if you’re writing fiction. Your connections are more than your social media following. These are people you can sell to, who will be the shoo-in buyers of your book when the time comes. If you know the only shoo-ins you have are you’re friends and family, you need to start tending to your database.
  3. Your can-do attitude. You can showcase this in your pitch, in your proposal, and in the simple existence of a strong online presence. You need to come to the table with enthusiasm, but be realistic. Hype-y language will not get you very far with agents and editors who know the world of books. A can-do attitude is expressed on the page by writing about your willingness to try new things, to reach out to everyone you know, and to think outside the box. For a good example of this, see the sample marketing ideas proposed in the Marketing/Publicity section of “Create a Winning Nonfiction Book Proposal.”
  4. Your professionalism. Do a lot of heavy-lifting before you start shopping your book. Get an assessment. Work with a professional. Spend money to be edited, multiple times. Many authors will work with a developmental editor, a copyeditor, and a proofreader before they shop their work to an agent. Does this cost money? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
  5. Your ability to be collaborative. Again, you can showcase this in writing by talking about how collaborative you are in your proposal or your pitch, and the energy behind what you say will go a long way. Think of it this way: no one wants to work with someone who’s going to be a hassle. Prepare yourself to be a good partner on the journey that is getting your book published. You need to look out for your interests, of course, but the notion that some writers still harbor, that the publisher is somehow getting an asset when they sign a new author, is off-base. A book is a liability until it sells well (at least until it earns out its advance)—and all parties, but most especially the author, have to work their butts off to make it an asset.

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Brooke Warner is founder of Warner Coaching Inc. and publisher of She Writes Press. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing, and she is an equal advocate for publishing with a traditional house and self-publishing. What’s Your Book? is her first book, and she’s honored to be publishing on She Writes Press.     Find Brooke online: www.warnercoaching.comwww.shewritespress.comFacebookTwitterPinterest

5 Unavoidable Creative Writing Quirks

By Megan Harris

Writers are notoriously peculiar people. We have different ways of telling the same story and a variety of characters to help us. We might write for clients that appreciate our vision and appetite for the written word. Here are some quirks writers have a hard time escaping. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in these quirks!

Talking to Yourself

Writers might not admit it, but creative writing often involves speaking out loud. I find that I do this not only in my fiction writing, but writing for my freelance clients as well.

People around me might think writers are crazy when we do this, especially when working in public around strangers, but it helps in many ways. Not only can you find better ways to write, but you can change awkward wording you didn’t realize was there from the beginning. Try it! It might be a quirk you come to love.

Writing Out of Order

It’s very rare that I can start writing from beginning to end. Usually, I begin writing from the middle and fill in the gaps as I go. I’m sure other writers do the same thing…right?

Writing out of order makes sense to me and to other writers as well. I don’t think in a linear fashion when it comes to writing articles, so working from the middle outwards makes perfect sense. Whatever I happen to be writing works better if I wait to write the beginning. Plus, getting too attached to the beginning of a story makes it difficult to move forward. Beginning with the body paragraphs can help you develop your introduction and entice writers to read the rest of your story or article.

Continuous Revisions

Maybe it’s just a quirk specific to me as a writer, but I find myself constantly changing dialogue or reworking scenes when I write. Same with blog posts; I write, revise, and repeat. It’s a hard habit to break, but the editor in me likes to correct as I go. Same with my freelance articles for clients; what I begin with is not often the same as the end result, but that is a good thing.

Scrapping the Story

Have you ever written a story, only to completely scrap it? That was me last year during NaNoWriMo. I wrote about 20,000 words before I realized my story was going nowhere, so I abandoned the idea. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve done it! Writers are usually critical of their writing, and even the good ones can judge their work harshly.

It might be a weird quirk, but sometimes writers just have to realize when a story is going nowhere.

Commiserating with Other Writers

Writers everywhere often find themselves in conversation with other writers about their ideas. This might include talking about the progress with our current manuscripts and articles, and the scenes we’re trying to write. It’s a quirk that goes back well before social media, but it’s one that writers are likely to keep going for a long time.

Writers and their controlled chaos may not always make sense, but it helps the creative process and leads to better writing. So what if we’re quirky? We embrace it!

Megan Harris is a freelance copywriter, editor and social media manager. She writes about the freelance life at MeganWrites.com and likes to motivate others with her story of how she became an independent writer. When she’s not writing, she researches her family tree in her spare time and is earning her Masters in Public Administration at University of Illinois-Springfield. You can also connect with Megan on Twitter or her Facebook page.

The 100+ Project

Last week my brother asked me if I had room for a guest post to help spread the word about his friend’s 100+ Project. So today, we’re shifting gears a little. Check out how Patrick Albert is raising money for The Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter.

I couldn’t breathe!

Something most people take for granted I struggled with day in and day out. Every breath required a conscious effort. It went a little like this, breathe in, breathe out, repeat.

The year was 1997, Bill Clinton was president, “MMMBop” by Hanson was rising up the pop charts, and I
was diagnosed with Asthma.

During my initial phase of suffering, asthma never crossed my mind. The only thing I “knew” about asthma was that the nerdiest kids in the schoolyard were the only ones afflicted. I was 26 years old. I did know that the source of my suffering was my roommate’s cat. I had been allergic to cats for a long time and quickly figured out what was stealing my breath. Still thinking I was dealing with a really bad allergic reaction I tried everything I could think of to get some relief (except go to the doctor). I popped antihistamines like Skittles, and inhaled steam from a boiling pot with a towel over my head, and many other useless attempts that all had one thing in common: they didn’t relieve asthma symptoms!

The straw that finally broke the wheezing camel’s back was when it got so bad I couldn’t sleep. After being in bed for hours I would eventually fall asleep. But remember, when I said every breath required a conscious effort, I wasn’t kidding. After I fell asleep I would stop breathing and wake up. It went a little something like this, fall asleep, stop breathing, wake up, repeat. Clearly not the recipe for feeling fresh in the morning.

When I finally went to the doctor, he listened to my lungs and I told him my story and he said, “Sgt. Albert, you have asthma.” Did I mention I was in the Army at the time? Well I was. Feel free to wish me a happy Veteran’s Day. What he said to me next was very sobering. He said, “You could die from this.”

Say what? How did all those nerdy kids in the schoolyard survive if asthma was such a serious condition? Apparently I was ignorant of all things asthma. Once it was spelled out to me in the simplest of manners it made pretty good sense. Not being able to breathe is a pretty good way to die. It was so simple I just couldn’t see it.

After my diagnosis my roommate got rid of the cat and eventually I got back to normal lung function. Things were going good until I came home one day and saw a litter box in the kitchen. Filled with a complex cocktail of emotions—chief of which were fear and anger—I immediately went to my room and put a towel at the bottom of the door to keep the dander out. The next morning I packed up all my things and left. There was no way I could go through that again, not even with a proper diagnosis and medication. Not then, not now, not ever. I suspect my roommate’s wife wanted me to move out and attempting to kill me in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable was way easier than confrontation. Mission
accomplished (the terrorists have won?).

Since those horrible horrible days in North Carolina, I have been relatively symptom free. I stay away from cats whenever possible which has been 99% of the time. I am careful to figure out which of friends own cats so I know not to go to their houses. It requires a bit of work but it beats looking forward to an evening with friends only to find out I have to leave before I have an attack. I have been symptom free enough that I enjoy endurance sports, running, cycling, paddling, adventure racing, you name it. All sports that require some serious lung function, the very thing that asthma takes from people.

Fast forward to a little over a year ago.

After a disappointing race, I was at a really low point thinking about giving up racing and finding something else to occupy my time. I was adrift at sea (or the in the river) with no direction. Somehow I found out about this guy from the UK who was stand up paddleboarding down the entire length of the Mississippi.

What a great adventure! I was intrigued. This wasn’t even his first adventure. He had skateboarded across Australia and ridden a tandem bike from Vancouver to Las Vegas. Since I live about 20 miles outside of St. Louis I decided I had to meet this guy as he paddled down the river. We exchanged emails and arranged a time and place to meet and I would join him for a day on the river. Waiting at the arranged location I had no idea what was in store for me. Eventually he paddled over to the river bank where I was waiting and offered me some crisps. That was how I met Dave Cornthwaite. The direction of my life was about to change. In a good way.

Dave seemed very happy and full of life and I wanted to feel the same way. I won’t go into his story, you can read that for yourself, but his solution wasn’t going to work for me. You see Mr. Cornthwaite raises money for charity while out on these adventures and I thought maybe , just maybe I could do something of the same sort, only on a smaller scale. There were quite a few adventures that I had been putting off because that is what I was conditioned to do, go to work and put off all the things I always said I wanted to do. Well no more! Adventure awaited and I was eager to get started. That’s the nutshell version of how I came up with the idea for the 100+Project. One hundred or more miles each time on a different
form of transport.

The decision of what organization to benefit was easy once I actually sat down and thought for a moment. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation St. Louis Chapter does really great work in the community to improve the lives of allergy and asthma sufferers. I was nervous that they would tell me to get lost, but the Foundation was very happy that I wanted to do something to help. While asthma and allergies don’t have the fundraising clout of cancer and wounded warriors, it is a cause that I can identify with because I know what the sufferers are going through first hand and believe me it is no picnic.

Not everyone who suffers from asthma and allergies is fortunate enough to be able to stay away from their triggers like I am. Imagine what it must be like for a kid in the lunchroom not knowing if today would be the day that he accidentally came into contact with some peanut dust. Anaphylactic shock can be hard on your social status, not to mention life threatening (the double whammy for any school-aged kid). AAFASTL helps children and young adults (up to the age of 22) who are uninsured or underinsured receive medication, treatment and supplies to manage their conditions. They also provide training for school nurses so they will know how to handle an allergic reaction or asthma attack. Those are just two examples of the great things they are doing in the community to make people’s lives better.

So far the 100+Project has raised close to one thousand dollars over three different journeys. I have skateboarded 107 miles, cycled 241 miles, and kayaked 340 miles. Not being a natural fundraiser or self promoter, I am always looking to learn more ways to achieve these goals. Always coming up with ideas for adventures, it is hard not to keep one upping myself. Next year I have a really long run on the schedule, a long trip down the Illinois river by canoe, and a long walk on the Ozark trail. During all these adventures I try to keep focused on one thing, all the people that the Foundation helps.

Asthma and allergy sufferers want the same thing everyone wants, to live a life without limits, and that is what the Asthma and Allergy Foundation strives to help them achieve.

Patrick Albert is a part time adventurer and sometime fundraiser and founder of the 100+Project. His blog Trail and Error chronicles all of the adventures not related to his fundraising efforts. When Patrick is not behind the keyboard he can be found out on the trail, or the river gearing up for the next big adventure.

The Cover's the Thing

By Claire Ryan

…the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
—Hamlet

Shakespeare was talking about theater, but the principle is the same: just like a play is a reflection of real life, a book cover is a reflection of what’s in the book.

At least, it should be.

I honestly believe that every book needs a good cover. Some indie authors like to publish with a serviceable cover and upgrade it to a better cover later, after they’ve made some sales. I think this is horrible advice. The cover is the first point of contact for most readers – going with a merely adequate one is just going to make it that much harder to get those initial sales. Authors should strive to publish with a cover that gives their book the best chance it can get from the very start, depending on their budget. Sometimes this does mean creating their own, but it’s not a job that can be done in a few minutes. A couple of days is not an unreasonable amount of time to spend on a cover for a book that took a couple of years to write.

Covers are tricky as well as important. They have to communicate a lot of information, consciously and unconsciously. If you’re going to create your own, you probably already know the basics – readable title and author name, looks good at scale, etc. Unfortunately, a truly effective design takes more than just the basics.

Visual Cues

It’s very interesting to examine what kind of visual information people pick up on when they see a cover. Little things make a lot of difference in how the book is perceived, and perception is everything. The cover should entice the reader to look at the blurb. The blurb should interest them enough to read a sample. The sample should convince them that the book is worth buying.

It’s obvious that the blurb and the sample can’t do their part if the cover doesn’t pop.

The visual cues of a cover are things like the fonts, the placement of text, the colors, the focal point. They can be simple, but they should never look unprofessional. Here’s an example:

This is by far one of my favorite examples of good cover design. You can see that it’s quite simple at first glance, but there’s a lot going on there that you may not even realize you’ve processed.

The illustration is the focal point. That’s the first thing you see when you look at it, as it’s a large, centered block of color, and it tells you exactly what the book is about. It’s about struggling with questions. (The book is a literary work in which every sentence is a question.) Now, look at the position of the figure and the way his arms curve in the same rounded shape as the upper part of the question mark. He is effectively a bigger question mark that surrounds and emphasizes the smaller one.

Look at the choice of font, and how the question mark itself is a different, probably serif font to the sans-serif of the title and author name. Using a serif font there is less harsh, and more elegant, and this communicates that the question he is wrestling with isn’t entirely serious.

Now, look at the placement of the text. Why would the artist offset the first and third words in the title instead of centering them all? To leave more room for the illustration? No, that would be too easy. Instead, look at the sight lines of the cover – this is examining where and how the viewer looks at it as a whole.

The eye starts at the focal point, then is pulled up to the title, which is the biggest text and the next most obvious thing. The offset of first and third words pulls the eye to the side and down, where it crosses the little description – “A Novel?” – and ends at the author’s name, which is centered.

Notice how the sight line also makes a curved shape like the top of the question mark?

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the obvious information, like who the author is and what the title is. Visual cues are just as important in describing a book as that. A viewer can follow the sight lines of a cover in a single glance without realizing it, and it’s up to you to make the most of that glance and make sure your book is reflected in it.

This is why nothing about a good book cover is accidental or done for convenience.

What Information?

Okay, knowing all that, the next question is what information should you convey about your book. The title and author’s name is obvious, but the choice of visual information isn’t.

It comes down to what your book is about in a couple of words. It’s about the big ideas, and there are always big ideas. I don’t mean what actually happens in the book, although you can use a scene as the illustration, because the plot is just a means of delivering the big ideas.

Think about this example: the sci-fi classic, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

Rendezvous with Rama is about encountering something far beyond what we have ever known. It’s about the wonder of a technological marvel, and the fear of what it might do to us. This is reflected in the cover. The strange, cylindrical Rama dwarfs the human spaceship, beautiful, threatening and fascinating at the same time. This is what I mean by the big ideas of a book.

Fantasy and sci-fi books sometimes fall into the trap of putting a scene on the cover without any kind of context and without really saying anything about the big ideas of the book. (The original covers for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are guilty of this. The most interesting one is The Dragon Reborn. The rest are generic and mainly consist of people standing around or on horseback. They don’t do any kind of justice to the rich world Jordan created or the major themes of sacrifice and epic destiny he incorporated into his writing.) Now, it’s certainly important to follow the trends of your genre and develop a cover that will play to your target readers, but there’s a difference between having a good cover for a particular genre and having a cover that could be put on ANY book in the same genre if you changed the text. If your cover is too generic, you’re not making the best use of it.

Start with an elevator pitch, if you like. Think about how to describe your book in as few words as possible. Think about how you want the reader to feel when they read it. This is what the cover needs to convey.

Useful Resources

Here’s my round up of the best resources to help you dig in to cover design:

Inkscape – I know plenty of authors make their covers with Photoshop, but my preferred program of choice has always been Inkscape. Just watch out for the steep learning curve, and the filters tend to slow it down considerably if you overuse them. Inkscape is a vector program, so you need to have your photo or illustration ready beforehand, but it makes the actual construction of covers very easy once you get used to it.

Google Webfonts – here’s a couple of hundred free fonts. You’ll find something there you can use if you want a particular look for your cover.

Color Scheme Designer – mostly used for websites, but I also like to use it for testing different color combinations and for getting ideas. Just be aware that the color in print (if you’re publishing on something like Createspace or Lulu) will not be exactly what you see on the screen.

The Book Designer’s Ebook Cover Awards – good for looking at a snapshot of different trends from month to month, and you can submit yours if you want.

ConceptArt.org – the pit of sharks itself. If you want to get brutally honest feedback from design professionals, post your cover in the Graphic Design forum here. They may not be able to tell you what’s right for your genre, but their feedback will help you make your cover look as good as it can be.

TutsPlus – this can get you started on the nuts and bolts of design. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and you’ll find the Tuts+ Network, which has hundreds of tutorials (free and paid). They concentrate on Photoshop and Illustrator so their usage might be limited, but they’ll definitely give you ideas.

Noupe.com’s Graphic Design Primer – interesting reading if you want to dig into more of the theory behind design, with examples.

Claire Ryan is a graphic/web designer, all-round computer expert, programmer, data analyst, and aspiring writer. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, having escaped from the untamed wilderness that is the south of Ireland. Claire currently runs the Raynfall Agency, a publishing business that handles technical things for writers. 

Writing a Book? Set Goals and Stay Motivated.

By Stacy Ennis

Once writers have a book idea that takes hold, the urge to write can be an unstoppable force. Many go into the book-writing process with a high amount of energy, ready to write until their fingers fall off. They envision their stories, ideas, or business concepts flowing gracefully and concisely onto the computer screen. Many make such claims as, “I don’t ever get writer’s block!” or “I don’t have trouble sitting down and writing every day.”

When I hear statements like these, I usually offer a knowing smile. And behind that smile is the knowledge of two things: 1) Most writers will hit a point when they just can’t write another word, and 2) Many aspiring authors never finish their book projects…and if they do, it’ll take them longer than they ever expected.

So, as you set out to write your best-selling cookbook or the next chart-topping young adult vampire novel, do some planning. A proactive approach to writing the first draft of your book will help you maintain focus and motivation as you accomplish a pretty impressive task. The following tips will help you overcome some of the major hurdles authors face:

#1: Choose a consistent time and space.

Figure out where you write best. Is it at a busy coffee shop? At the kitchen table, with a cup of tea and soft music playing? At the office, once your work is finished and colleagues have gone home? Wherever it is, make sure you have consistent access to that space.

Then, sit down with your calendar and determine how much time per week you have to devote to writing your book. Choose specific times each week that will be given exclusively to writing. If you keep a planner, schedule yourself out to write. Treat that time the same you would any other important appointment.

#2: Outline, outline, outline.

Now that you have your designated writing space and time set aside each week, it’s time to outline your book. Even if it’s just a loose outline, and even if you’re a fiction writer who likes to go with the literary flow, an outline can be a make-or-break thing. Proper planning can help save hours of rewriting, since the structure and main concepts (or story elements) are already established. You know all of those brilliant thoughts that strike you from time to time? How about those pages of notes you’ve been saving to eventually use when you write your book? An outline helps you place your notes, ideas, and research into the right places, as well as helps you visualize where you are in the book-writing process. It also helps you see that the end is in sight when you’re halfway through your draft.

#3: Set goals.

Goal setting isn’t just for losing weight and financial planning; it can be used while writing the first draft of your book, too. Do some research into the word count of typical books in your genre. Then, determine an approximate number of words you can write in the amount of time you have available per week (which you determined in step #1). For example, you might be writing a nonfiction business book and find that your specific niche tends to be in the 30,000-word range. Let’s say you have four hours available per week to write, split between two days, and you can write about 2,000 words in that amount of time, or 1,000 words per session (since you have two two-hour sessions per week). With our example above, it would take 15 weeks, or less than four months, to write a 30,000-word book. Not bad, right?

Next, look at your outline and assign loose word count totals for each chapter. The easiest way to do this is to divide evenly. In our example, let’s say there are eight chapters at 3,750 words each. So, it would take about two weeks to write the first draft of one chapter. Determining per-chapter word counts will help you gauge the approximate amount of time you should be spending on each chapter.

Finally, use these goals as you work on your book. Each writing day, set out to complete 1,000 words, or whatever goal you’ve set. Try to not spend more than the budgeted time on a chapter, unless you really need to. You can always go back later and expand, rework, or revise the chapter. The key is getting the first draft done. You can unleash your perfectionism in later drafts.

Setting small goals helps you accomplish little victories along the way—which can be very important in maintaining motivation to achieve the bigger goal: writing a book.

#4 Tell your friends and family.

Writing is a solo affair, but it’s rarely successful if the author works in absolute isolation. Accountability is one of the best motivators for success. Ask your friends and family to support you as you work on this big goal. Let them know that you need their help to stay motivated and focused, whether it’s verbal encouragement or helping with life tasks. The kids can do some extra chores for a little while, right? And your mom would be happy to help pick Foo Foo up from doggie day care once a week, now wouldn’t she? Just don’t forget to thank them in the acknowledgements section of your book once it’s published.

#5 Take it one bite at a time.

A colleague once told me that writing a book is like eating an elephant—you have to take it one bite at a time. Eat too much, too fast, and you’ll most likely find yourself getting overwhelmed. When you’re working on chapter 1, let it be the only thing in your writing world. Let yourself focus fully on developing that chapter, without getting distracted by the larger project ahead of you. On a smaller scale, focus on the daily writing goal. If you’re aiming for 1,000 words in two hours, then focus on finishing that goal.

#6 Sacrifice: get your butt in the chair.

You weren’t expecting that one, were you? Well, here’s the truth: Writing a book takes sacrifice. It won’t write itself…even if you ask really, really nicely. This sometimes means making personal sacrifices. Dinner with friends or monthly wine tasting may have to be put on hold until you accomplish your goal. But you can do anything for a few months, right? Stick with your goals, get your butt in that chair, and write your book.

#7 Remember: It’s not done.

Many writers make the mistake of believing that their first drafts have to be perfect. This tendency toward perfectionism can be crippling as new authors try to get the first drafts of their books finished. But the truth is that all books go through several drafts—heck, mine took six drafts over seven months! What you are writing now is just the beginning of what your book will eventually become. During later stages, your editor will help you take your book from good to great and transform your first-draft prose into the well-written book you envisioned when you set out on your book-writing endeavor. So don’t get so hung up on writing the perfect book that you never get done writing it.

Thomas Edison must have been talking about book writing when he said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” By setting goals and taking steps to stay motivated, you will be able to put in the work required to finish your book—and achieve a pretty awesome lifetime accomplishment.

Stacy Ennis is a book and magazine editor, book coach, and speaker. Her book, The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great, will be released in September 2012. Visit http://www.nightowlspress.com/e-book-store/the-editors-eye/ for more information.

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