Writerly Round Up: November 2015

Writerly Round Up monthly template (1)Happy November 30th! For many, today is a bittersweet day: the end of NaNoWriMo. Throughout the month, you’ve likely fallen in and out of love with your story a million times, and it’s both relieving and saddening to close the cover on a beloved (though exhausting) 30-day challenge.

We’re here with our monthly round up to help you both celebrate and mourn the end of November with some great articles we spotted across the web this month. So take a breather, do some reading, and set your sights on the road ahead!

Outlining… Or Not: Some Tips For Discovery Writers

Posted by J Young-Ju Harris

With NaNoWriMo officially coming to a close, there are plenty of writers out there who have learned something new about themselves and/or their craft this past month.  For many, that thing is a love for discovery writing. If you’ve found yourself loving the less structured approach these past 30 days, check out J Young-Ju Harris’s tips on discovery writing like a pro!

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Deals for Writers (and Those Who Love Them)

Posted by Joe Bunting @ The Write Practice

The title says it all! Though Black Friday has passed, there are tons of great writerly deals out there today for Cyber Monday, from cheap e-books and e-readers to discounted writing courses.

The Character Evolution Files, No. 4: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 2 – The Comfort Zone (Act I)

Posted by Sara Letourneau

This month, Sara Letourneau posted part 4 to her wonderful “The Character Evolution Files” series, which explains the various stages of the Character Arc in great detail. Take a look at the series from the first post on—there’s lots to learn, especially if you plan on revamping some of your characters when editing your new novel!


Have you read any great articles this month? Feel free to share them with us!

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Guest Post: Sara Letourneau – Seven Keys to Maintaining Your Writerly Well-Being

Our healGuest Post Template(1)th and wellness are two of the most important “possessions” we have. Yet as writers, sometimes we take them for granted. If we’re too engrossed in our work and lose track of time, or a crucial deadline on a blog post or a round of rewrites is looming, we might feel tempted to ignore sleep, hunger, and other needs.

Here’s what I can tell you from personal experience: It’s not worth it. In fact, it’s essential for us to step away from our craft now and then so we can take care of ourselves. And by remembering to balance creativity with self-care, we can be productive, happy, and healthy.

So, how can you maintain your well-being without sacrificing too much of your writing? Here are seven keys that focus on all-around areas of physical, emotional, and mental wellness.

Key #1: Hydration

Staying hydrated isn’t limited to physical exercise. Drinking enough beneficial liquids during the day can improve energy levels, mood, and concentration – all of which are crucial for writers. So, don’t wait until you’re thirsty. (It’s a sign that you’re already dehydrated.) Have a cup of water, coffee, tea, or other beverage of choice ready when you sit down to write and use your breaks to get refills.

Key #2: Nutrition

Do you find it impossible to write when you’re hungry? (I do!) Not only does hunger lead to a distracting sensation in one’s stomach, but it also throws the brain “off-balance” by forcing the hypothalamus (which regulates a body’s homeostasis) to work overtime. As a result, the body’s focus shifts to finding food. Malnutrition, or the state of not getting enough food or enough of the right foods, can also affect memory, sleep patterns, mood – even motor skills such as writing manually or typing.

Don’t let an empty stomach derail your ability to think or write. Instead, have a snack handy for when those familiar pangs pay a visit. Some healthy choices include fresh vegetables, dried fruit, cheese or peanut butter with crackers, or nuts and seeds. And when it comes to meals, take a break from writing to feed and refresh yourself, or set a deadline so you can wrap up your session at a reasonable time.

Key #3: Exercise

Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but it also has emotional and creative benefits. It can enhance your mood, improve energy levels, and boost self-esteem. It can also put your brain in a relaxed state that opens the spontaneous pathway, which happens during free association and idea-generation. (In other words, those “a-ha” moments that happen when you’re away from writing? Your spontaneous pathway is open then!)

Since every writer’s schedule differs, it’s important to fit in exercise when it works best for you. And whether you prefer cardio (aerobics, swimming), toning (yoga, pilates), or strength conditioning (weights, indoor rock climbing), there’s no shortage of activities to try. Also, have a journal or recording device ready for when your spontaneous pathway opens. If I’m outside walking, I take my cellphone with me for safety reasons – and for saving “text messages” when inspiration strikes.

Key #4: Rest

Some writers have no trouble sacrificing sleep for their craft’s sake. A few even advocate that insomnia boosts creativity. Not me. I’ve learned first-hand that sleep deprivation can hinder concentration, disrupt the ability to fight stress, and make you super-cranky. And when the cycle goes on for too long, it can force your body to shut down.

If this happens to you, listen to your body. Ensure you get enough sleep by going to bed and getting up at times that work for you. You’ll feel refreshed as well as mentally and emotionally prepared for your next writing session.

Key #5: Relaxation

One of the perks of being a writer is using our craft as a form of stress relief. When something troubles you, journaling can often help you find a solution. Not only does journaling allow you to acknowledge your current emotions, fears, or worries, but the act of writing by hand can also put you in a meditative state by slowing your breathing, relaxing your muscles, and clarifying your thoughts. I’ve kept a journal off and on for years, and it’s been a savior for problem-solving and for calming my (sometimes) anxious mind.

However, what about the times when a journal isn’t available? Try listening to new age music or guided meditations that can reduce stress and anxiety. Practice yoga, which promotes relaxation by combining stretching exercises with focused breathing. Other artsy hobbies such as knitting, painting, and adult coloring books can also help.

Key #6: Social Life

As much as we love writing, we shouldn’t let our passion turn us into hermits. ;) Take some time to meet up with friends, attend events that appeal to your interests, or volunteer for meaningful charities and causes. It nurtures your current relationships and helps you build new ones. And on a wellness level, it can buoy your energy and self-confidence.

Key #7: The Occasional Reward

Did you recently finish a draft? Or hit an important word count milestone? You should celebrate! A chocolate bar, a dinner at your favorite restaurant, a shopping trip, or a day at the beach – whatever brings you euphoria or peace, give yourself permission to indulge in it for the moment. Then, when you go back to writing, you’ll feel satisfied with your progress so far and even more motivated to reach for the next goal.

What are some of your tips for maintaining your “writerly well-being”? Is there one particular area you want or are trying to improve on?


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Sara Letourneau is a Massachusetts-based writer who practices joy and versatility in her work. In addition to revising a YA fantasy novel tentatively titled THE KEEPER’S CURSE, she reviews tea at A Bibliophile’s Reverie and contributes to the writing resource site DIY MFA. Her poetry has been published in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two anthologies. Learn more about Sara at her website / blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Review Copies: The Indie Author’s Best Friend

Review CopiesNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

For any seasoned indie publishers out there, it’s no secret that getting reviews (which fuel sales) is often a struggle. “Why aren’t people buying my book?” they sigh to themselves. “Why aren’t they leaving reviews?”

More often than not, self published books need more than a great cover and stellar marketing. Sometimes, potential buyers need to hear from someone else that this book was great before they invest their money. That’s why, dear indie authors, you need reviews for your book.

But how do you go about getting reviews? How do you get other people to read your book and then take the time to say nice things about it?

The answer lies in review copies.

What is a review copy?

If you’re not familiar with review copies, they’re essentially copies of your book that you send off to people for free. In exchange for the free copy, those readers give a review of your book once they’ve read it.

Who to send review copies to?

Now, as tempting as it might be to just start chucking your book into the social media void and hope that some stranger picks it up and gives you a five-star rating, you’re going to need to strategize just a bit more. Be discerning with who you select to review your book. I recommend giving complimentary review copies to people you know and trust: try your beta-readers, a critique group you belong to, or die-hard fans that have been following your writing (or subscribing to your site)  for a long time. Try close friends and family.

Remember that reviewers are doing you a favor.

Give your reviewers time to complete the review. They need time to read, process, and then review. Don’t bug them incessantly to get the review done. Be respectful of their time. And it’s worth noting that it is possible that your reviewers might only think your book merits 3 or 4 stars. You might not get all five-star reviews. Remember that the goal here is not to coerce people who like you into giving you false, five-star reviews. Their reviews should be honest (because if you have a bunch of phony reviews, customers down the road will figure it out for themselves and feel cheated). But by picking people you think will like your work, you’re stacking the deck in your favor.

How to get reviewers their free copies.

Be as accommodating as possible. Ask which format would be best for your reviewer. Be ready to send them a .mobi, .epub, or .pdf file at the very least.

What if I’m worried about the file getting pirated?

When I first started sending out PDFs of my work to reviewers, I had a fair amount of anxiety.

“What if someone shares it with their friend, who then shares it with their friends? What if no one buys my book because it’s out there for free?”

This is a reasonable thing to worry about. But my advice to you is: don’t worry. I’ve found that if someone really wants to pirate your book, they will (no matter how many precautions you take). But not everyone will take advantage of this. People will buy your work if they really want it or like it or want to support you as an author.

If you still have reservations about sending out free files to your reviewers, try shifting your perspective on pirating: it’s better to lose out on a few sales and get attention and reviews for your book than to waste away in review-less obscurity. Not to say that you shouldn’t take action if you find out someone is giving your property away for free – but it’s just a way to look at it to ease your worries about putting your work out into the boundary-less internet.

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Have any other questions, comments, or tips about review copies (or self-publishing in general)? Leave a comment below!

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!

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!

Writing Stellar Product Descriptions: How To Write Back Cover Copy That Sells

product descriptionsNote: this piece is geared toward writers interested in self-publishing. Find other pieces on self-publishing here.

Product description, blurb, back cover copy. It doesn’t matter what you call the text that goes on the back of your book, inside the dust jacket, or on your website – that text is one of the most important things you’ll need to successfully sell your book.

Why is that? Think about what happens when you come across a book you’ve never heard of before. Sure the cover might draw you in, but what’s going to sell you on actually buying that book? The description.

In order to help you write the best possible product description, I want you to ask yourself this question: If you were at a bookstore and picked up your book, what would need to be on the back cover that would entice you to open up the book, flip through the pages, and buy it?

Here’s my list of elements for a successful blurb/product description:

  • Mention any pertinent awards or prestigious publications you’ve achieved as a writer.
  • Got any great reviews or accolades for the book that you can pull from? Stick the best possible quote or tagline on there.
  • The feel of the book should be conveyed through both the description AND cover.
  • For fiction: give a few sentences that describe the main plot points. Introduce your main character(s), your general storyline and the challenge/consequences that the character(s) is facing.
  • For non-fiction: note what the book is about and what it intends to do (answer a question, teach someone something, etc.).
  • The summary should make the genre evident. If the book is a sci-fi book, make sure the summary reads that way!
  • Engaging, vivid language.
  • Tone that is consistent with the book and the marketing language you’ve used so far (like in your launch).
  • Include a call-out to your ideal reader. Is this the perfect book for fantasy lovers? Great for people who enjoy a quick, lighthearted read?
  • Keep it relatively short and very digestible. Potential readers will often skim over this section. Make it skim-friendly with bold terms, italic quotes, headings, paragraph breaks, etc.

If you’re looking for some examples of great product descriptions for self-published books (particularly fiction), I’d recommend checking out books from David Wright, Sean Platt, and Johnny B. Truant. For example, check out their product descriptions for Yesterday’s Gone and The Beam. When in doubt, browse through Amazon or Nook and see what you think works and what doesn’t for different books.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to do a couple different drafts/rewrites of your product description. Give it the time and attention it deserves. If you throw something together last minute, it will show – and your sales will likely reflect it.

You can always hire someone to write your copy, but unless one of your beta-readers or editors is a great copy writer, I’d suggest you write it yourself. After all, you know your book best!

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Any thoughts, suggestions, or questions about writing product descriptions? Let me know in the comments below!

We’ve Got You Covered: A Guide to Book Covers for Indie Authors

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

So you’ve writing your book (or maybe you’ve already finished writing it). You’ve set a launch date and are working your way through revisions. Now comes the fun part – at least in my opinion – THE COVER!

Why You Should Care About Your Cover

I have news for you: people actually DO judge a book by its cover – especially when deciding whether they want to buy it. As an indie writer, you get to be the one who calls the shots at every step of your book’s development. This includes cover design. And I will warn you: the cover is not something to take lightly. Your cover is the aesthetic realization of your creative labor – you want it to be stunning and accurately reflect the content of your book.

What a Great Book Cover Can Do For You

An exceptional cover works to do multiple things for you. It attracts new readers, boosts sales, and breaks the indie stereotype of unprofessionalism. Ultimately, a good cover means your book can (visually) compete with the thousands of other books out there. If other self-published authors and traditional publishing houses are using breathtaking covers, you better be too.

Why You Should Probably Hire A Designer

I don’t care how much you like the cover you created yourself. Or how talented of a photographer you are. Unless you have a lot of experience in graphic design, I would strongly recommend you hire a designer to do your book cover. Don’t jeopardize your success with a sub-par cover.

Components of a Great Cover

Your book cover should be many things. But, in particular, it should be:

  • Eye-catching. This will help you stand out from the crowd and attract new readers.
  • Professional. As mentioned above, you need to have a professional cover. Make sure you’re presenting your work and yourself as professionally as possible.
  • Accurate. There should be no typos in your book title. And further more, it should accurately reflect the content of your book. Look at other books in your genre. If you’re writing a romance, make sure the cover LOOKS and FEELS like a romance cover. The same goes for if you’re writing fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction, etc. You want your reader to know what kind of book they’re getting into just by looking at the cover (this way you head off bad reviews from people who were expecting a fantasy epic but instead got historical fiction).
  • Formatted Correctly. Make sure that the digital file of your cover meets the correct requirements/specifications for each platform you upload it to. The same goes for submitting your cover for Print On Demand services.

Where to Find Designers

So where do you go to find a great cover design? I have a few recommendations (based on personal experience and word-of-mouth suggestions):

  • Fiverr. I personally get most of my designs from Fiverr. There are tons of highly rated and talented artists there that will make you a custom cover starting from $5. The rates vary, depending on the kind of cover you want, but it is usually one of the most affordable options.
  • 99 Designs. I hear a lot of indie authors using this site where graphic designers compete to design this cover, meaning you end up with a good amount of options to pick from. This is a more pricey option. They have various packages that give you more services, but your looking at spending a few hundred dollars here.
  • Freelancing Sites. You can often find freelance graphic designers on sites like Elance, oDesk, etc. I only warn that you do not pay upfront – make sure to receive your cover (or at least a sample of it) first before paying. You want to make sure you like your cover and that it’s good quality. Pricing here varies.
  • Social Media. If you can’t seem to find a great designer, head to Twitter or other social media platforms to start your search. Send out a post saying you’re looking for a designer. Or do some digging around with keyword searches. Who knows what you might find. Again, pricing varies.

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So there you have it. Making sure you have a great cover is one of the most crucial steps in self-publishing. Do you have any tips for covers? Any designers you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments below!