Finding Your Writing Niche (Plus, A Challenge!)

More often than not, when I am writing, I find myself questioning my choice in genre. It can be half way through a project or sometimes even in the middle of a novel, but when it hits, there is nothing more confusing. I haven’t managed to pinpoint the exact thing that triggers my indecision but I think it could be the fact that I, like many other writers, haven’t explored other genres.

I read a wide range of genres and have studied all of the different components that make a genre what it is, but I haven’t used that knowledge as a writer yet. Imagine an ice cream parlour, full of new flavours you could try: you can guess what they all taste like, but you have only tried butterscotch. So you play it safe, and just stick to what you know, but there are so many other possibilities for new favourites out there.

I mainly stick to contemporary fiction or fantasy/warfare but there are so many other genres I want to try my hand at. So that is why I have decided to dedicate this next couple of months to tasting some new genres. I will be exploring many genres as well as some sub-genres in the form of short stories.

I encourage all writers to join in on this challenge, no matter how many genres you have tried your hand at. Especially if you are feeling confused about where you stand as a writer.

Since I am familiar with poetry, contemporary and fantasy, I am not going to include those in my list of genres to conquer, but if you haven’t tried them yet, add those to your list for sure.

Here is my list of genres to try:

  • Sci-Fi
  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • YA
  • Paranormal
  • Slice of Life
  • Crime
  • Comedy
  • Satire

Everyone’s lists are going to vary, because all of our interests are different. For example, I didn’t choose Horror because I can barely watch or read anything in that genre. I have a pretty crazy imagination and it wouldn’t be good for anyone if I tried to write horror, but I’m going to push myself and try to write a thriller!

Challenge time! Let’s find our niches together.

Since this is going to vary so much from writer to writer, it would be difficult to formalize an actual schedule for everyone to stick to. There are 11 genres on my list, but someone else could only have a few, so I think that this would work better if everyone wrote at their own pace.

To stay connected throughout our journeys in genre, we will be using the hashtag #findyourniche. Whenever you write a post about your challenge or try a new genre, or even if you have some questions, please tweet using that hashtag and also mention @TheSprintShack to be sure we see it, since others use the hashtag for tweets not relating to our challenge.

I look forward to seeing how everyone decides to challenge themselves, and I can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures into the worlds of new genres! Let me know in the comments below what genres you are going to try out and if you have ever felt unsure about your genre choices. Time to go exploring!
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Mazie-Bishop

Mazie Bishop is a fiery 22 year-old writer and journalism student from Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a big dreamer who hopes to be writing with the big guys some day and cannot wait for her career to start! Currently, she is in the process of writing her second novel, and is in the outlining stages of a quarter-life memoir. You can read about her little crafty adventures, read her work, and gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.

4 Essential Nighttime Habits for Morning Writers

UntitledIn case you haven’t heard, we recently ended our weekly #TNightSprints program in favor of an earlier sprinting schedule: #TuesAMSprints. This was largely due to my inability to partake much in the actual sprinting during #TNightSprints; I would host the tweets on our account, but more often than not, nighttime was quickly becoming a less-than-ideal—if not impossible—time for me to be writing. As a result, I’ve decided to try my hand at morning writing since it seems to work so well for others, and thus #TuesAMSprints was born.

But one thing I’m quickly learning is that, while mornings are great opportunity for us rare non-night owls to tackle our writing with fresh, re-energized creativity, it also presents the problem of stricter time limits. For most of us, nighttime writing sessions may stretch out longer if we wish, since “bedtime” can (though shouldn’t!) be flexible. But in the mornings, if you have a job or any other kind of strict commitments, writing for “just 5 more minutes!” or pushing to finish a scene or chapter can result in tardiness and subsequent repercussions from the outside world—not to mention stress, which is poison to creativity.

If you’re like me, though, you work well under pressure, and an hour in the morning is typically more productive than two directionless hours at the end of a tiring work day. So how can you ensure you’re as productive as possible during your morning writing sessions and still get out the door on time?

I’m still learning, myself, and this past week was a pretty rough trial period. But here are some habits that seem to be necessary for me to get anything done at all between waking and leaving for work:

Habit 1: Prepare Your Writing Space

Faye has some excellent advice on this in her Writember workshop, not to mention she’s an organizational fiend—so if you want more tips on optimizing your time through organization, I highly recommend buying her e-book or taking her course. But at its very basic core, preparation for morning writing starts with setting up your writing space; just like setting out your sneakers and workout clothes the night before makes getting up to exercise that much easier, so does setting up your writing materials in advance.

Make sure your workspace is clear and only contains the items you’ll need to write. If you need coffee or tea to get started, set out a mug and set the pot up so all you have to do is get it started when you shuffle out of bed. Sometimes the hardest part of working in the morning is simply showing up to your work station, and by having everything set up ahead of time, you’ll be giving yourself one less obstacle between you and your writing (and maybe even a few more winks of sleep)!

Do you write at a café or from another public space? Check out our Coffee House Checklist and ensure you have all your items ready to go in the A.M.!

Habit 2: Set A Goal

The biggest mistake I personally make when setting aside specific writing time is not knowing what I’ll be working on. Sure, there are countless projects at my fingertips—that unfinished WIP, the first draft that needs revising, a short story begging to be written. But with any given project comes a pile of notes, plans, and ideas, and not knowing what I’m working on only results in wasting precious writing time gathering my thoughts.

Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, this can happen to you. Regardless of if you’re embarking on a new project, revising an old one, or simply planning a free-writing session, having a goal—or even just a starting point—allows you to jump straight in from the moment you sit down.

Of course, great writing can come out of unplanned sessions, too. My first-ever published short story, “Petals to the Sea,” was born of an unexpected lull in my work day and some spur-of-the-moment writing. But when planning a writing session in the groggy hours of the morning, it’s typically best to have direction.

Habit 3: Prep Your Project

Once you have a neat writing space and an idea of what you’ll be working on, take Habit 1 a bit further and prep your project. This can be as simple as opening a new writing document for a free-writing session or flipping to a blank page in your notebook and setting out your pens—or, if you’re more in-depth with your planning, as involved as mapping out the details of your next scene in a spreadsheet. However you prep for writing sessions, this is the time to put those rituals to use.

If you don’t have any preparation rituals, try this one: every night, while preparing your writing space and your goal for the next morning, read over what you wrote in your last writing session (if you’re working on an ongoing project) or jot down a few potential ideas for your next session (if you’re working on something new). Heck, even just adding a sticky note to your computer monitor or notebook with a motivating quote is better than doing nothing; rituals help set the stage for your work, and by performing the same one each night, you’ll wake up in the right mindset to tackle your next writing session.

Habit 4: Get Enough Sleep

This one doesn’t even need explanation. Just do it. You know you—and your writing—will be better off if you do!


Do you have any unique nighttime habits that set the stage for morning writing sessions? Let us know—and hopefully we’ll see you every Tuesday morning for #TuesAMSprints!

Tips For Marketing Your Self-Published Book

Marketing SelfPubed BookNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

When it comes to self-publishing, writing and publishing your book is only half the battle. The other half is an arduous, never-ending process of self-promotion. Many indie authors would prefer to write than to spend time networking and marketing. And many writers don’t even know where to start marketing. But being an indie author means that you are the only person responsible for the success of your book. You choose how it’s marketed and where. And to tell the truth, I’ve often found this to be simultaneously freeing and terrifying. So let’s take some of the mystery out of marketing and start selling your book.

Why Marketing is SO Important
As an indie author (especially while your fan-base is still new), gaining exposure is the hardest thing to do. Making money with your writing is typically not as simple as putting your book up on a website and then watching the dollars roll in. In most cases, people won’t even know your book exists. That’s where marketing comes in. You need to put your book in front of potential readers and grab them with your awesome cover and product description in order for them to buy it, read it, love it, and then tell all their friends about it.

When to Start Marketing Your Book
As soon as possible! You can start marketing before you’re even done writing your book. This way you can create buzz about your book and get readers waiting to buy it. But I’d advise that you only do so once you’ve decided on the final title. Nothing’s more confusing to a reader than ever-changing titles.

And before you start spreading the word, make sure that you know – without a doubt – that you will deliver your book by the date you’ve set. Don’t let your readers down, or they might not come back when you actually do release your book.

When to Stop Marketing Your Book
Never! If your book sales dip one month, who’s to say that they won’t spike the next? Keep making your book known. You never know when you’ll reach a new reader that will become a life-long fan.

Where to Market Your Book
The key is to reach as many potential readers as possible – and it’s even better if you can target people who you think will actually like your book. You’ll want to research where your ideal readers are (what sites are they on?) and cater to them. Here are just a few examples of the most popular methods of self-marketing:

  • Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc.
  • Your blog/website
  • Your mailing list of people who have subscribed to your site
  • Other people’s blogs/sites (by doing a guest post or blog tour)
  • Book advertising sites (this one takes some research, but you can find sites that will advertise your book for you – this usually requires a fee or that your book meets certain criteria)

How Much Will It Cost?
Basically, marketing a book will cost as much as you want it to. Some people swear by advertising on sites like BookBub (which can get pricey), others like to spend a couple bucks on paid Facebook or Twitter ads. And then there are people who like to advertise without spending any money whatsoever (social media, your own site, etc.).

I can’t say that any method is any better than others. But this is how I approach my marketing:

  • I market anywhere that I can for free
  • I make sure any sites that I choose to advertise on are legitimate
  • I’m not afraid to spend money to make money (provided my budget allows for it)

Sticking to the Guidelines
If you’re marketing on any sites that are not your own (this includes social media), make sure you are adhering to the guidelines set forth by that site. Don’t lie about the genre of your book just to get advertising space and don’t spam your audience (see below). This sort of behavior will only alienate potential readers. Be respectful of platforms that are willing to market your book for you – read their guidelines and follow them as though your writing career depends on it.

A Word About Spamming
Please, self-published authors, do not spam your audience or followers with incessant tweets or posts or pop-ups pertaining to your new book. Yes, keep it on their radar, but do not send out 100 messages a day telling the same people the same thing over and over and over. Make sure you are professional and that you’re representing yourself in a way that you’re proud of.

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Any questions or thoughts on marketing your self-published book? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

 

Goodbye #TNightSprints; Hello #TuesAMSprints!

Hey there, word sprinters!

It’s with half regret, half pleasure that we’re here to inform you that we will no longer be hosting #TNightSprints on our Twitter account and will be replacing it with another weekly sprinting event. It’s been almost a year since we started running #TNightSprints, and while we are no longer able to host it, we thank you for joining us in our many productive Tuesday and Thursday night sessions!

Cristina’s schedule has changed, leaving her with more writing time in the morning than at night. So without further ado, we’re introducing #TNightSprints’s replacement: #TuesAMSprints!

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Cristina will be hosting sprints from @TheSprintShack every Tuesday morning from 6:30 am EST to 7:30 am EST to give you fellow morning writers an extra boost (especially helpful if your motivation is usually lacking on Mondays)! For those of you who are voraciously productive in the mornings, these sprints directly follow those hosted by the @5amWritersClub and finish with only a half hour to go before @Novel_Adventure‘s morning sprints… this way, you can knock out ALL THE WORDS between 5 am and 10 am EST! (That’s 5 hours of writing. If you have that much time on a weekday to write, we salute and envy you).

We hope to see you out there for some early writing! If you can’t make #TuesAMSprints, remember to check out our Sprinting Schedules page to find sprints that work for your routine.

Happy sprinting!

Navigating The Eight-Point Story Arc

yzu1CGEoRQ6IE7yj8rc9_IMG_8812 copyAs we all know, writers tend to fall into one of two categories: plotters or pantsers. There’s the ambiguous gray area between the two that some of us wade into from time to time, but ultimately, most of us tend to lean one way or the other.

However, whether you choose start your Big New Idea with a blinking cursor on a blank Scrivener document or by filling entire notebooks with outlines and character profiles, your story has to have one thing in common with everyone else’s—regardless of their planning methods or lack thereof. For your story to incite curiosity, pull a reader through the pages, and ultimately fulfill its promises, it has to have a narrative arc, also known as a story arc).

Take any classic or modern work of literature and you’ll likely find elements of the Eight-Point Arc. I’m going to describe it here, and I’ll use examples of several different works to avoid creating one big spoiler for any particular story. Keep in mind that your story’s narrative arc goes hand-in-hand with your character arcs, which I discussed a while back here.

The Eight-Point Story Arc

  1. Stasis. Known sometimes as “exposition,” this is the part of the story that sets the scene. Think of Katniss hunting just outside District 12 and observing the starvation and desolation when she returns within the broken electric fencing.
  2. Trigger. Something happens that triggers the protagonist and kicks off the Quest. In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s sister, Primrose, is selected for the reaping and Katniss volunteers in her place.
  3. Quest. The protagonist embarks on a quest; in The Hunger Games, Katniss’s quest is to partake in—and win—the Hunger Games for the sake of her family.
  4. Surprise. Self-explanatory, the surprise is something unexpected that changes the story for better or worse. One surprise that may stand out to Harry Potter fans is Harry’s discovery that he can speak Parceltongue in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, which decidedly alters the direction and outcome of the book.
  5. Critical Choice. The critical choice is, by name, critical—that is, it can’t be made by accident and the result has a lasting effect on the story and its characters. Often, this is where we get a full picture of the protagonist’s true colors, such as that fateful moment in which Robb Stark chose to marry outside his arrangement with the Freys.
    (Note: arguably, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice And Fire series is composed of MANY different intertwining story arcs in order to create a massive epic in which there is no true single protagonist. For this example, I’m focusing strictly on the story arc of the Starks’ quest to vengeance in the HBO show).
  6. Climax. A direct result of the critical choice, the climax is the height of drama, the point in the story at which all the built-up tension over hundreds of pages finally peaks. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this is the moment when the war against Voldemort erupts at Hogwarts.
  7. Reversal.This point in the novel is what separates a true climax from a fireworks show. Your climax shouldn’t solely fill the purpose of forcing a reaction; rather, it should be a consequential moment that leaves your characters forever changed. This state of altered being is the reversal, the decelerating moment in which Jasmine is safe, Aladdin’s selfish ways are changed, and the genie is set free.
  8. Resolution. The story has come full-circle and the characters are now in a new form of stasis. This isn’t the way things were, it’s the way they are and will be (or, where the sequel will pick up with a brand-new trigger!). Example: the hobbits returning to the shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, those of us who wing our way through novels may have a hard time with this because we feel restricted by outlines and spreadsheets; that’s okay, and it’s not expected that everyone prep and write a story in exactly the same way. If you’re struggling to wrestle out all the main plot points of a story before you get writing, try applying the arc to your story after the first draft is written. Hold up the skeleton of the arc to your full, well-rounded story, like a star frame to the expansive night sky, to identify the constellations of scenes and events that correlate with each of these phases.

Examining your story this way, through the lens of the Eight-Point Arc, can help you smooth out the narrative flow and identify kinks in your plot. Likewise, if you’re having a hard time with unruly characters whose actions aren’t matching up with their personality or the direction of the plot, character arcs can also help—whether you use them as planning devices or editing tools.

Do you use the Eight-Point Arc to plot or edit your story? Let us know how it works for you—or whatever else you use to polish up your narrative instead!

Driving Book Sales and Visibility by Mastering Key Terms

Driving Sales & Visibility byNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

So after you’ve uploaded your book, your cover, and product description, you’re met with a page asking you to pick your “key terms”.

“What are key terms?” you think to yourself, scratching your head and settling for a handful of vague words that describe your book. “That should be good enough, right?”

Wrong! Key terms, while short and sweet, are very important! They’re one of the driving factors in how people find your book and where it appears on the platform you’re selling on. Essentially, key terms help the site categorize your book and match it up with people who type in those same (or similar) key terms.

So let’s talk a little about what your key terms should do and how to select them.

Make Them Count

You only get so many key terms (usually 10 or less), so make sure yours:

  • Are accurate and succinct (don’t misrepresent your book!).
  • Help you find your target audience – or rather, help them find you.
  • Place you in a niche category so competition is less fierce and it’s easier to get noticed.
  • Don’t repeat words that appear in your title/subtitle. Those are already taken into account by the platform’s algorithms that you’re selling on. Don’t waste a precious keyword by repeating yourself.

Pick Only the Best

  • Think about how people find books. What terms would someone search that would lead to your book?
  • Browse through the platform you’re selling on by clicking through their categories. See which books come up under certain categories. Are these similar to your book? If so, that’s likely where your book belongs. Make sure to add keywords in that will land you in those categories.*
  • Make a list of key terms for your book, then try to hone them down to about 10.
  • Ask your beta readers or editor to create a list of key terms that they think would best suit your book. They know the book, but can likely give a more objective opinion of it.
  • Test out each keyword on your list by typing it into the platform’s search engine and seeing what results come up. Are these books similar to your book? You’re on the right track! Are there too many results? Try another word that might land your book in a less competitive category.

*Note: some platforms require you to use specific keywords to land your book in niche categories. Research each platform’s rules, guidelines, etc. to get a better idea of what keywords you might need to select.

Remember that you can always change your key terms at a later date! Being a self-published author means you have the power to make changes to your book and its listing at any time. Take advantage of that!

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Any questions or comments about key terms? Let us know in the comments below!

Freelance for Beginners: Where to Start

This is the first in a series of posts on freelancing by Mazie Bishop. You can find future posts on Freelancing and read the rest of the series here.


One of the most daunting aspects about a freelance writing career is figuring out where to start. Upon searching this topic at the beginning of my journey, many freelancing professionals claimed that the best way to start is just to jump into it. After taking their advice and not doing the research that I originally wanted to do, I found that this method was not realistic whatsoever.

I found myself hunched over my laptop, scrolling the seemingly infinite list of freelance jobs and trying to submit my bids. I spent endless hours tweeting about my services and my experience as a writer and editor, but after almost a week of no responses, I knew that just jumping in wasn’t the right decision, and that I had to take a different approach.

So, if you’re looking to start a career in freelancing, here is my step-by-step guide on how to get started!

Step One: Do your research

Find out what kind of freelance you want to get into. Do you want to write fiction, non-fiction or maybe even reviews or news? Do you want to edit or transcribe? There are so many options for us because as writers we have a wide skill set; not only do we have the ability to write, but we also have the ability to edit and type fast!

Step Two: Pull together a writing resume

Now this isn’t going to be as structured as a normal employment resume. Instead of selling your skills as an employee, you are going to be selling your service as a writer. This resume is to include all levels of education, all non-institutional education that has contributed to you as a writer, and any and all writing experience. Your goal is to show people why they want you to work for them. They want to buy your skills, and you want them to come back to your service with all future projects.

Step Three: Find a secure venue

For your first couple of freelance gigs and beyond, it’s important to find a venue where you will will be securely and regularly paid for your services. You need to make sure that there are contracts and that there is someone watching your transaction to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Hopping on Twitter and finding a client that wants to work with you over email and PayPal is not the ideal first gig, but there are tons of other websites that make for a safe freelancing environment.

One example is Fiverr, which is a simple marketplace style website with tons of traffic. You create an account, build your profile and offer your services. The catch is that the base price for each gig is $5, so you want to consider this for how much you want to get paid in the end. On my profile, I have a very popular service that says I will proofread 2000 words for $5, but other people on the website sell their editing of 700 words for $5. There are so many options for gigs, from press releases to copywriting; all for $5 and the clients come to you! The best part is that you can create custom offers for customers that want larger projects done.

Step Four: Build client relationships

In my experience on Fiverr, most of my bigger projects have come from the same clients I had when I started. They liked my work and they came back. So I started thinking about ways to get more business from them. I started messaging them occasionally, asking them if they needed any work done for their books, websites, or projects and 9 times out of 10, they would say yes. Then I took the step to letting them know that they could refer their partners and friends to my service as well. This is all based on the workload you are interested in taking on. Sometimes it gets a little bit stressful, but it’s worth it in the end.

Step Five: Don’t get discouraged

If freelance is what you want to do, than you need to know that it’s not going to be easy from the get go. Even after these steps, I had a hard time with a few set backs. You just have to keep telling yourself that it will get better, business will pick up, and in a year from now, maybe even a month from now, you will have a successful freelance career as a writer. As long as you keep working for it.

In my next post, I’ll be clearing up any confusion you might have about what to charge for your services, how much is too much, and how to get your client to keep coming back! I hope this helps inspire you to try professional freelancing and I look forward to hearing any stories or experiences you have along the way! Feel free to leave any questions below and I will try my best to answer them for you!
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Mazie-BishopMazie Bishop is a fiery 22 year-old writer and journalism student from Canada. She is self-published and also has several poems and short fiction pieces published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a big dreamer who hopes to be writing with the big guys some day and cannot wait for her career to start! Currently, she is in the process of writing her second novel, and is in the outlining stages of a quarter-life memoir. You can read about her little crafty adventures, read her work, and gander at her photos on www.theselittlepieces.com.