Seeking Inspiration

Writers have active imaginations – fiction writers at any rate. It’s a job hazard. We call it a muse, creative juices, inspiration…

We seem to have been writing a lot of posts about the business of writing, so I thought it might be a good place for a bit of a break. When we go to conferences, we are often asked where we get our ideas.

I can’t speak for Marcy about where she gets her ideas, though I’m sure she’ll jump in. (She probably would have contributed more if I had thought to write this post more than 6 hours ahead of posting it…. yeah – I know. If I had ‘planned’ I wouldn’t be behind. I work better under pressure!) Me, I get my inspiration from a lot of different places.

The thing about inspiration is that it’s a starting place. I think a lot of people get caught up in the beginning idea and never work to develop the idea. My English teacher in high school used to say that every writer had a glass ceiling over their heads. All your initial ideas happen beneath the glass ceiling, but when you work on them, develop them, you can get past the big easy, the over-done, the unoriginal, to where new unique stories happen above the glass ceiling.

Movies

I love a good story in almost any form (though radio dramas tend to put me to sleep). I love to watch movies. I’ve had many story ideas come to me by watching movies – a twist on this concept or that, or how it should have ended, etc.

Books

Of course. Enough said? Whether it’s a encyclopedia, a biography, a fiction story – anything can be a jumping off point for a story.

People Watching

I get lots of great story ideas watching people at the park, at the mall, stopped at red lights, waiting in lines. Sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation, maybe the body language, a gesture or expression. It’s the seed of an idea.

News

I’m a news junkie. I’m constantly scanning the trending headlines on yahoo or whereever. I have this crazy story inspired by the Robert Picton story that happened out in British Columbia. I should get back to that story… 😛 Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Walking

When I’m stuck for new ideas, I go for a walk. CJ, my black lab, and I have taken walks at all hours of the day and night because I was stuck on a story. There’s something about the mix of getting active, new scenery, and fresh air that rejuvenates my creativity.

Take a break

Sometimes the best thing I can do is shut down the laptop and go do something else. I will do laundry, wash dishes, make cookies, take a nap (never underestimate the power of a good nap), or play with my kids. When I stop working so hard to find an idea, that’s when something pops into my head I can use.

But don’t stop with the idea…

Then you take that kernel, that seed of an idea, and you play with it. You noodle it for a bit. Maybe you write a few things down. One writer described the process (yes, he’s a planner – I’m surrounded) like working a ball of clay in his hands, shaping the idea, working with new angles and shapes until it begins to take form in his mind.

Where do you get your ideas? What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’ for a new idea?

Lisa

Reminder: As of the end of this month, Marcy and Lisa won’t be posting full blog articles here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

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Do Writers Deserve to Be Paid for Their Work?

Two great discussions of interest to writers flew around the internet this week. So great in fact that I couldn’t choose between them to highlight for you.

Do writer’s deserve to be paid for their work?

This debate blew up after Seth Godin was quoted as saying, “Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage.”

You can read the original argument-inspiring article Godin to Authors: You Have No Right to Make Money Any More, and also literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s respond on her blog with do Authors Have A Right to Be Paid?

Should writers avoid controversy on their blogs?

Kristen Lamb wrote an excellent post called Deadly Doses – Politics, Religion, and Our Author Platform suggesting that unless you’re a religious or political writer, you should avoid talking about religion and politics on your blog (or at least be very careful about how you do it).

This ended up sparking responses both in the comments and on other blogs about not just politics and religion in blogging but controversy in general. My favorite reply came from Amber West in her post The Controversy Over Controversy.

Marcy

Marcy’s Posts This Week

What Do We Mean By “Strong Female Characters?” – Do female characters need to deny all traditionally feminine qualities to be considered strong? The first in a series Marcy is starting.

Yoda Was Wrong – At the risk of a nerd lynching, Marcy argues that Yoda was actually wrong when he said “there is no try.”

Lisa’s Posts This Week

Mare-Milkers and War Lords – The Scythians aren’t a well-known people group, but their innovations revolutionized ancient warfare. In their day, they were the boogey-men of the Greek world. These guys were downright scary.

Reminder: As of the end of this month, Lisa and I will no longer be blogging here at Girls With Pens. Instead we’ll still be writing the posts on writing and social media that you’ve come to expect on our own blogs, and we’ll be creating a monthly Girls With Pens newsletter to bring you amazing interviews with industry professionals.

Sign up for our NEW free Girls With Pens newsletter!

Subscribe to Marcy Kennedy’s Blog by Email

Subscribe to Lisa Hall-Wilson’s Blog

Reblogging Etiquette

ReBlogging EtiquetteLately I’ve seen a lot of bloggers wondering what the etiquette should be around reblogging (blogging something previously posted on another blog).

Before I get into the tips, let me say that I think re-blogging can be useful. If you’re being reblogged, it’s an honor that someone found your content worthy of sharing with their followers, and it can extend your reach and bring people back to your site without the effort of guest posting. If you’re the reblogger, it can sometimes be a lifesaver in terms of getting content up on your site when your week has fallen to pieces. Plus, you’re providing your readers a service through vetting material for them and bringing them the best.

If done incorrectly, though, reblogging flirts with the line of plagiarism. You don’t want to flirt with plagiarism. She carries some really nasty diseases.

So how can we reblog in a professional, mutually beneficial way?

Ask First

Unless you know that the blogger doesn’t mind others reblogging their content, always ask first.

With all the social media options available, it’s not that hard to reach a blogger anymore. If Lisa or I don’t respond to a comment on our blogs right away, you can usually catch us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or through email. I know that we’ve entered an age of instant gratification, but patience is still a virtue.

You should do more than just ask permission though. Not all reblogging is created equal. Find out the format the original blogger prefers. Are they alright with you copying the entire post onto your site? Or would they prefer you copy only the first couple of paragraphs with a link back to the full article?

Why does the format of the reblogging matter?

Comments – While I can’t speak for every blogger, I like to try to reply to comments on my post. If my post is appearing in full someplace else, chances are good I won’t be able to monitor the comments there as well as on my own site. With a guest post, you’re able to plan in advance. With a reblog, unlike with a regular guest post, I haven’t planned the extra social media time into my day to be able to check and reply to comments on two (or more) sites where my content is appearing.

Site Stats – If you’re a writer who’s blogging as part of building a platform, your site stats matter. They can influence whether you get an agent, whether people take you seriously, and (if you choose) whether you can eventually sell ad space on your site. The click-through rate for a post reblogged in full is much lower than for a partial repost with a link.

Common Courtesy – A good blog posts takes me 1-3 hours to write, depending on the complexity of the topic and the amount of research necessary. While I’m happy to share and to help, I’ve made significant sacrifices to produce my content, and I believe that still gives me the right to decide when and how it’s used.

Credit the Original Source

If something goes viral and you find it four people down the chain, go back and reblog from the original site. It’s respectful to the owner of the material, and it’s kind to your reader who won’t want to go back through a chain of sites to find the original source to see if they have more excellent content to read.

What if you follow the chain to a dead end? Part of being a responsible writer is doing your research and exercising due diligence. Run a Google search, and see if you can locate the original poster on your own.

Add An Introduction/Conclusion

If you end up reblogging the content in full, add an original introduction or conclusion telling people not only where you found the content but also why you thought it was worthy of reblogging. What’s the point that resonated the most with you? What do you disagree with?

Have you tried reblogging? What other pieces of etiquette do you think should be observed? Do you think reblogging is a great new trend that can benefit everyone or no better than plagiarism?

Marcy

**Remember that next week will be our last full week of posts here at Girls With Pens, so be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter (space is limited) and subscribe to Marcy’s blog and Lisa’s blog to continue receiving posts on writing, marketing, social media, and all the other goodies you’ve come to expect from us.**

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Facebook Timeline Mashup

Timeline got you down? Don’t have time to learn all the new tips and tricks? I can’t beam the info into your brain, but since I appreciate you all so much I’m sharing my research. I’m sure there a few more articles published in the last couple of days, but this is a good start regarding Facebook’s Timeline for pages.

Don’t let Facebook Timeline leave you bloodied and defeated – rise up!

Timeline Brand Guide from Mashable – Quick overview. Did you know you can only fill out your page’s milestones until 1800?

Have a social media plan for Facebook. Excellent idea, Mashable. Great resource.

Hats off to Mashable, they were all over this! Read why you need to pay attention to the newsfeed!!

If you don’t know what Edgerank is – read this. Learn about Edgerank – it’s important! This wasn’t changed by Timeline – but it’s a foundational kind of building block you should know about Facebook.

Mashable again – I’m beginning to think I should be getting paid for this (I’m so NOT getting paid to do this – I wish) Learn about Timeline’s real-time analytics. Yes, your Facebook page has built-in analytics that give you fan demographics, interaction graphs, etc. Important tool. (Only the analytics still haven’t hit the real-time part they promised…but that’s another post.)

Here we go – Hubspot jumps into the ring with this fabulous post about getting started on Timeline. Lots of great practical tips here – if you only read one of these – make it this one.

Techcrunch weighs in on the death of the custom landing tab. This may be for more advance Facebook page users – good stuff though. Jump in.

Another great post about how the newsfeed works from Techcrunch. Did you know on average you’re only reaching 16% of your page’s fans? That’s not great. Read this to find out how to do better at reaching more of your fans – and their friends.

A great post from Author Media about 10 ways to increase the number of Facebook Fans you have – the right way (which is not the quick and easy way – be warned). This is a less technical look at the topic from the article linked directly above.

Author Media rounds out this mashup with a great post on what these changes mean to authors, and how authors can best make use of them.

So what? I can read all these posts – doesn’t help me. I want to see this in action. I thought you might say that. There are a number of authors using Facebook to reach large audiences, and have active Facebook communities. I’ve listed a few here. Lurk their page (you don’t have to like what they write) and see how they’re connecting with fans. I’ve tried to have a number of different genres reflected in the list.

Paulo Coelho – 7.7m fans

Neil Gaiman – 477k fans

Frank Delaney 1,187 fans

Karin Slaughter 27k fans

Ted Dekker 157k fans

Laurell K Hamilton 238k fans

Kelley Armstrong 15k fans

Finally…

A behind the scenes interview with author and Snowflake method creator Randy Ingermanson about his new book Oxygen

The Most Underestimated Key to Success from The Matrix – “There Is No Spoon”

Ever wished for a do-over? What moments in life would you really want to live again?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Have a question about Timeline? Leave it in the comments, or start a discussion on our Facebook page. Still  hating Timeline – tell us why. 🙂

Lisa

6 Reasons Authors Should Love Timeline

I’ll admit, Facebook’s changes are hard to keep up with, but I’m excited about Timeline and have 6 reasons why authors should be happy about some of the new changes.

We have a BIG announcement to make regarding GWP. It’s at the bottom – make sure you read (or skip) to the bottom to get all the details.

I spent the weekend tweaking 3 of the Facebook pages I’m responsible for, and there are some cool new features writers and authors should be embracing not cursing. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but an overhaul this big is only going to happen…once a year? lol Not my point – this change is worth the effort.

Plus – here’s the kicker. Reportedly, Timeline will be offloaded on your page whether you want it or not March 30 so you’re better to learn about the changes and take advantage of them.

A screenshot of a few of the new Timeline features

1. When creating a new Facebook page, you no longer have to bow down to the 25. Previously, I had to beg family and friends to please Like this new page for me so I could hit that magic 25 fans number to get a custom url. Don’t have to anymore. You can get a custom url with only one follower – you! Yay!! (Don’t know if this is due to Timeline or not – but still awesome)

2. The custom landing tabs game has changed. Previously, you could go to a site like Wildfire, Lujure, Tabsite or others, and drag and drop a free or paid upgrade custom landing page – you know, that page you first land on before you like a page that says “Like” with a giant arrow or offers a free download of a song or ebook for ‘Liking’ our page. Gone! Sort of.

Timeline makes the wall the default landing page. Boo. That’s disappointing because landing tabs were said to exponentially increase the number of likes on a page. Tabs are still there, but you can’t make anyone look at them anymore. We changed our custom welcome tab into a Meet Marcy and Lisa tab that’s more of a visual bio page. Experiment to see what works for you. Timeline now allows you to change the thumbnail for the landing page – so those of you with Mailchimp subscription forms no longer have to stare at the chimp (eep eep – I don’t want your monkey face on my Facebook page!).

The new design makes your photos and fan counter the top two tabs by default – you can’t change those. There is room for 2 more on that first line. Users now have an extra click to access any additional tabs so think through which ones you want front and center.

3. Facebook is apparently the largest photo sharing site on the web. Everyone posts photos of all sorts on Facebook. Timeline taps into all that photo sharing goodness by making everything more visual.

Utilize this visual nature. People love to share photos and funny pics. If you want to post a quote – make a quick jpeg of it with a non-copyrighted photo (there’s a variety of programs that will let you do this – you don’t need expensive Photoshop software – Paint, Powerpoint, etc.). Consider telling your author story in pictures. Post a photo often because a huge majority of fans never visit your page – they interact with your posts as they appear on their newsfeeds. Make use of the extra real-estate photos are given to get noticed.

4. The cover photo. There are rules for cover photos for pages – learn them. I don’t always understand Facebook’s rules, but if you want a turn on their playground you have to play their way.

Cover photos may NOT include:

  • Price or purchase info (no discount offers or buy this here or there stuff)
  • No contact info like websites, email addy, mailing info, etc. Put it in your About section
  • No ‘Like’, ‘Share’, ‘Get It Now’, or ‘Tell Your Friends’ call to action stuff – OR an arrow pointing to any of those features.
  • Cover photos can’t be false, misleading, or infringe on 3rd party rights (duh)

The best cover photos employ powerful images that pull people in. Use a portion of your book cover, a shot of you at a book signing or speaking, a promotional photo. But follow the rules.

5. Milestones. Timeline is a lurker’s dream – indulge your fans and give them some fun milestones to nose through using compelling or interesting photos. On your personal profile this is called a life event. This isn’t required, but seems to me like a valuable tool. Some companies have documented their entire history – like Manchester United. I found out Coca Cola first became known as Coke in 1941. It was fun browsing the classic Coke ads, and learning a bit about the company history.

I’m pretty annoyed that you have to publish your Timeline before it lets you add your Milestones – but there it is. Tell your fans about your publishing or writing journey in a visual way with photos.

Customized content from personal profile now appears on pages you visit

6. I didn’t post that on my page! Moment of panic – where did that post in the right-hand column come from? Well, Facebook put it there. Timeline will now pull statuses you or your friends have posted about whatever page you’re visiting and place it on pages so it appears like a built-in recommendation. At a glance, you can see how you or your friends have interacted or commented about this page. Cool – right? I think this is great.

7. This is a bonus afterthought. Timeline for pages allows fans to message you, like a friend would message you on your personal profile. The default setting for this is ON. It’s a simple box to uncheck in the admin panel (now found above the cover photo), but think through whether you want fans to be able to send you personal messages on Facebook or not. For companies, this could be a great way to deal with customer complaints or other issues they don’t want to plaster on the wall – but authors generally don’t have an HR department so I’m on the fence about the functionality of this feature for writers right now.

What do you think about Timeline? Do you think any of these features will be helpful on your author page? What other features are you excited about?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Marcy and Lisa

The Pinterest Problem

How many of you are on Pinterest? How many of you are thinking of joining the newest social media trend?

I joined only two weeks ago and fell instantly in love with the beauty of it. I’m a very visual, hands-on person. No other social media site lets you collect and share images in the same way. For writers, it provides an opportunity to create inspiration boards for our novels, promote each other’s books, and drive traffic to our blogs. It seemed to be the best of what social media has to offer in that it was both fun and functional.

Unfortunately, Pinterest’s terms of service have caused some concern across the web this week. According to the terms of service, if you upload your own work, you’re giving Cold Brew Labs complete and irrevocable rights to use, sell, or modify your work as they see fit. Without compensating you. Anytime someone wants all rights to my material, I get nervous. Especially if they’re not going to pay me for it.

But I don’t upload any of my own pictures or artwork, you say. This is an equally big problem.

Check out what you agreed to in Pinterest’s terms of service: “Neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.”

What this means is that if you don’t have the express permission of the person who does own the copyright to the images you pin and they decide to sue Pinterest, you’re 100% responsible.

If you want to do a little more reading on this (and believe me, I will be) here are a couple helpful articles I’ve come across.

Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards

Why Pinterest Is No Longer of Great Interest

Now, for a happier note, what have Lisa and I been up to this week…

Marcy’s asking Do You Believe in Second Chances? Tolkien did.

Lisa shares her recipe for Soldier Cookies, the ones she used to send to the troops in Afghanistan.

Marcy

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

And don’t forget to subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

6 Ways to Develop Your Voice

writing voiceA distinct voice seems to be the thing that everyone wants but no one can tell you how to get. And I have to admit this annoys me. I’m a very practical person. If you can clearly tell me how to do something, I’ll get it done for you. If it’s ooey gooey and you tell me “it just has to develop over time,” I’m going to be cheesed.

I’m also going to set out to figure out how to do whatever you’ve just told me can’t be taught and has to develop organically.

Developing your voice–like everything else in writing–takes time and discipline, but it can be done. So here are some ways you can actively work on developing your voice.

(1) Learn the Basics of Writing

Before you argue that this will only teach you to write like everyone else, hear me out.

Can an artist sculpt a lifelike statue without first learning about the features of different types of stone and without learning how to use a chisel and other tools? Can a pianist compose a sonata without first learning which notes sound good together?

One of the most important things a writer trying to develop their voice can do is to read craft books. Writing is just like any other skill, whether that be painting, woodworking, engineering, or neurosurgery. You have to be so solid on the basics that they come instinctively before you’re able to truly create something fresh and unique.

(2) Set Boundaries

In her excellent post on Ways to Develop Your Unique Writing Voice, social media maven and bestselling author Kristen Lamb pointed out how boundaries can actually free your creativity rather than limit you. She likened setting boundaries in writing to narrowing down what means of transportation want to use to take your vacation.

If you want to develop your voice more quickly, pick a point of view (first person or third person – if you’re not sure what that means, check out our post on point of view) and a genre and stick to it until you’ve mastered it.

How will this help? Each genre comes with conventions that you need to follow to write in it. POV adds structure and establishes how you can tell your story. When some of these big decisions are settled, you’re free to focus on the actual writing. In other words, you’re free to allow your voice to come out. 

(3) Read and Analyze

Read a lot is one of the few pieces of advice novelists are given for developing their voice. But reading alone isn’t enough. You need to figure out what works in these books and what doesn’t. What do you love and hate about them? It could be something big picture (like the way they weave their theme throughout the book) or it could be something more subtle (like the cadence they use in their sentences).

For each book you read, try to identify and write down three things you loved and three things you didn’t. For the things that you didn’t enjoy about the book, ask yourself why you didn’t like them and how you would have done them differently.

(4) Make A List of Words that Describe Your Personality

In her post about Author Voice Vs. Character Voice, romance writer Roni Loren describes her author voice and then points out how it directly relates to who she is as a person and how she approaches life. Your voice is you.

Sit down and make a list of 15-20 words that describe you, then elaborate on each and how you see that trait expressed in a normal day.

For example, I’m quirky, sarcastic, thoughtful, structured, and equal parts dark and optimistic. So is my voice. By identifying who I am, I can look at my writing and see what parts are true to me and what parts aren’t.

(5) Stop Reading Novels

I know. I know. Up above, I told you to read and analyze. That was one step along the path. But eventually, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re starting to sound like you rather than subconsciously copying another writer. The only sure way to do that is to stop reading other people’s work.

Take 1-2 months and use your reading time to write instead (or exchange novels for books on craft).

This isn’t meant to be maintained long-term. You only need to stay in this stage until you start hearing yourself. I made the biggest jump in developing my own voice when I stopped reading temporarily.

(6) Read Your Work Out Loud

What flows off your tongue? What comes naturally? What doesn’t?

Reading your work out loud helps you smooth out the tongue twister passages and create more realistic dialogue, but it also helps with voice. What sounds right to your ear? Could you see telling the story this way out loud to your friends?

(7) Blog to Get Comfortable Being You in Public

In a post she wrote back in November, YA author Susan Bischoff said that one of the benefits she gained from blogging was that ” I learned how to be myself. In public. I don’t think that’s something that comes naturally to most people.”

The only way you can develop your unique voice is to be proud of who you are and how you sound. As soon as you start worrying about what other people will think or whether they’ll like your voice, you’re going to start trying to change it.

Blogging helps you learn to be comfortable with who you are and with sharing who you are with readers. Writing magazine articles is another way to help develop your voice in a public forum.

What other ways have you found to develop your voice? Do you agree with me that it can be developed or do you think it needs to develop organically? What author’s voice do you love the most?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

 

The death of genre?

New writers and authors are told to know what genre they’re writing when querying agents or editors, but how many of the recent mega-bestsellers lately seem to defy genre categorization?

When Marcy and I were at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, super-agent, author, and writing teacher Donald Maass gave a short talk promoting his soon to be released book Writing in the 21st Century. Maass made 2 primary statements that had me sitting up straighter.

1. There’s a significant rise in cross-genre fiction

2. There’s a decline in straight genre fiction

One claim logically seems to follow the other, but I hadn’t really thought about it. Maass pointed out the enormous surge of novels that seem to defy genre categorization. Is it literary fiction, women’s lit, romance, popular fiction – maybe a little of two or three.

I haven’t personally done the legwork of verifying this (feel free – let me know what you find out) but Maass claims that historically books were lucky to spend a month or 6 weeks on the bestseller list. That was a phenomenal showing as far as publishers were concerned. But within the last 2 years or so, there’s been these blips on the list – books lasting weeks and months at the top. Now, Hollywood has long poached the bestseller list for books to turn into screenplays, but being turned into a movie later doesn’t explain how debut books immediately shot to the top of the list, and stayed there long after the movie was released.

The following stats were taken from the USA Today’s Bestselling Books site:

Water For Elephants – 194 weeks

Twilight – 220 weeks

The Help – 144 weeks

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – 145 weeks

The Hunger Games – 130 weeks

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 273 weeks

The Lovely Bones – 223 weeks

The Notebook – 215 weeks

And you contrast those numbers against well-known bestselling authors:

44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel – 12 weeks

The 9th Judgment by James Patterson – 25 weeks

11/22/63 by Stephen King – 15 weeks

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks – 55 weeks

Now – don’t get me wrong. If I had a novel on the bestseller list at all I’d be doing a happy dance right now. Maass’ point was to look at what made books last so long on readers’ lists and minds? He drew 2 conclusions:

1. In the 21st century, the concept of genre is dying

2. Genre is being replaced by high impact fiction – beautiful storytelling and powerful writing that touches your heart and changes how you think about things.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t just a thriller about a reporter and his assistant chasing a grisly serial killer. It’s about a girl who’s gotten the short stick all her life, but has managed to survive and live life by her own rules despite what society says. It’s about one man’s integrity and his stand against a bully.

The Help isn’t just a period novel about racial inequality, it’s about Skeeter taking the biggest risk of her life to achieve her dream, about Minny breaking free of an abusive husband.

Harry Potter isn’t just about a boy training to be a wizard.

According to Maass, that’s what sets these novels apart. I’m eager to read his new book and see what else he has to say.

Do you agree with Maass? Have you read any of those mega best-sellers? What do you think?

Some great posts this week from around the web:

Amazon-Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts by Kristen Lamb

13 Ways To Impress An Agent by Rachelle Gardner

Author Websites – Layering yours with sticky extras by Roni Loren

Share some writerly love with Book Pregnant

Lisa

Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author

Lisa

Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

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Tips for Writers Thinking of Self-Publishing – Guest Post

We’ve decided to go the traditional route with our novel and are currently querying agents (as you may have guessed from our trip to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York a few weeks ago), but we know that many of you are considering the self-published or indie publishing route. So when self-published author Darlene Jones asked if she could do a guest post for us here at Girls With Pens, we knew exactly what we would ask. Could she give some practical starter tips on things that writers considering self-publishing need to consider? Take it away Darlene . . .

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Darlene Jones self-publishingI did all the things writers are supposed to do: joined a writers’ guild, attended workshops, participated in a critique group, had a few short pieces published, started a blog, sent out queries to agents, received rejections, and built up a thick skin.

At the Willamette Writers’ Conference (August 2011), my writing partner and I heard much rumbling about self-publishing. We agonized during the drive home. Self-publish? Oh, but the stigma. Our pitches were successful, so should we wait to hear from those agents and then decide? What to do? What to do?

I got a two paragraph response from agent number one—to say “No.” I opened the next email, which was from my writing buddy. She’d received a rejection from the same agent. Two different genres and two very different writing styles. Both professionally copy edited. The rejections were identical except for our names.

That was it. Self-publishing here I come.

Tips from my experience:

Make the decision to self-publish.

This is the biggest step, and you must be committed to going that route. Self-publishing is as hard or harder than going the traditional route.

Set yourself up publicly.

I already had a blog and was on Facebook. I joined Twitter and Goodreads since they were the social media sites most often mentioned in my research as good for author support. I also built a website using Webstarts, who I’d worked with before. Be sure to choose a user-friendly platform if you want to be able to revise it as you go without a web guy.

Research.

I spent over a month trolling the Internet, reading everything I could find on self-publishing. John Locke’s “How To” was a must and reading that really inspired me to “go for it.” Many of the sites I visited were ones recommended on Twitter, so follow other self-published authors there.

Make lists.

Make a list of websites to go back to when your book launches—sites where you can ask for reviews or interviews. I’m still adding to that list as I find sites. I also have a long list of marketing ideas and a long list of personal contacts to announce my launch to.

Hire professionals to help you.

I already mentioned I’d had my work professionally copy edited, but there are other professionals you’ll need to hire.

Unless you are a total computer whiz, I think the headache of formatting isn’t worth it. Concentrate your energy on writing and marketing.

You must also have your cover done professionally. Look at the covers of other self-published authors to find a good graphic designer. I was reading an author site and liked his covers. I contacted the artist he listed, and we emailed back and forth discussing possibilities. The deal was cemented for me when she refused a deposit, saying, “You’ve worked hard on your book. You should see my work and decide if you like it before we talk money.” I also wanted to work with her because she could do the formatting as well as the cover

Decide where you’ll publish your book.

By now, with all your research, you should have some idea of who you want to publish with. I went with Createspace for the print version, and with Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for all other formats. I chose these largely based on advice from speakers at the Willamette conference. All three have been very good to work with. The instructions on their sites are easy to follow, and their support people were prompt in answering any questions I did have.

Be patient. This all takes time.

I launched my book a couple months ago. I’ve had wonderful support from family and friends. I’m doing guest blogs like this one, and I have people lined up for reviews. I believe my book deserves readers and hope that I can market well enough to attract those readers. But I don’t expect overnight success. Gaining readers takes time.

Self-publishing tipsWant to know more about Darlene? You can find her on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter, and you can check out her book at Amazon or Smashwords.

How many of you are considering self-publishing and how many of you want to traditionally publish? What’s your number one reason for your choice?