Collaboration–Here We Go Again

We’ve likely touched on the topic of sharing ideas vs. going it alone as a writer before–and if we haven’t, there’s a first time for everything.

Continue reading


5 Big Tips For Small Publishers

And by small, I mean the person who sits at their laptop typing-up that story without knowing how they’ll go about marketing their work. “How am I going to make money off of (this novel / short story / these essays / these X number of poems) that I’m working on?,” that writer wonders.


There’s two ways for that writer to go about solving their dilemma.

  1. Self-publish through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) feature. The simplicity of this process is that you type-up and complete your story (like our example writer), then sign-in to the KDP service (and fill-out the information for your work, verify their copyright specifics, and the book’s retail value), and finally–utilize Amazon’s “Merchandising Tips” on promoting their work.
    1. They could also look into other self-publishing services such as Xlibris or OutskirtsPress.
  2. They could invest in submitting their work to a literary magazine (publishing house is another term; but we’ll stick to the former instead of the latter). Some of the biggest literary magazines out there are:
    1. Penguin Random House
    2. HarperCollins
    3. New Yorker
    4. The Atlantic
    5. Harper’s Magazine



No matter which of the two methods you choose, it is vital to understand the literary market–and this isn’t just limited to what you find on the web. Books in your local library on the subject, professionals / employees of literary jobs (or even employees of publishing houses) are fine sources to rely on for information as well. In fact, coming across someone who’s had first-hand experience in the business is probably your most important source out there. Some questions you may wish to ask publishing professionals are:

  1. Which genre is currently reaching the most readers out there?
  2. If you have some time, could you review what I’ve written? Where does my (novel / essay / poem / etc.) stand in terms of other writers in my genre?

These questions don’t just have to be limited to the writer’s perspective. Ask how you may become an editor and what skill set is required for the job. In the event you one day wish to transition from writer to editor, it would be nice to know that you made the connection with an employee or professional years prior.


So let’s dive into the 5 big tips you’ve been waiting to hear:

Make a blueprint. Who do you want your audience to be? What will your story be about? Are you writing an essay, short story, novel, etc.? Once you gather your barrings and have a map for where you’re heading, you can start the travel.

Start writing! But certainly don’t feel like you have to rush in completing your work. A quality work of literature takes time to complete–and the more time you invest in your story, the more time your editor will put into considering it for their publishing house’s magazine.

Once you’ve finished your work, act like the hound. Sniff out the publishing house you feel will best meet your needs. Keep in mind also that different literary magazines work with different genres of writing. You can browse through some using NewPages’ Big List feature. Visit the literary magazine’s website and see their policies for story submissions. You can either edit your work to fit their criteria –or– find a literary magazine that fits the criteria of your work.

After choosing a literary magazine, it’s time to submit! (Keep in mind that different literary magazines have different submission policies–so submit according to those.) At this point, you have to await the magazine’s feedback to your work (which takes time as editors of the business work with who knows how many stories on a weekly–even monthly–basis). Patience is key at this point, and all you have to wait for is the house’s response / letter that states if they’ve either decided to accept your work, wish for you to edit your work, or have–sadly–chosen to reject your work.

This is where step 5 comes in. If your work has been approved, you may (or may not) already have a literary agent who advises you on the marketing strategy / specifics of revenue you’ll receive. (Keep in mind that many publishers, however, do not pay their authors for the work they submit–or may not be able to, considering the slowness of the book market that is quite prominent in the business.) The bottom line: know where you’re stepping before you move forward with false expectations.


There is even a 6th step–the self-publishing we mentioned earlier. If you feel that you could have more success with your work through marketing it on your own terms, go for it! Try what you must in order to fulfill your goal for your story. But keep in mind that all things take time, and the process of building your audience / fan base / etc. can take time.




We Can’t Keep This Unmentioned Forever

We’ve discussed a lot of topics for writers–amateur and professional–so far:

  1. Coming up with plots
  2. Coming up with strategies for marketing your book (even if through free services such as FictionPress, WattPad, etc.)
  3. Knowing your target audience / engaging them vs. selling-to them


But now it’s time to venture into that darker subject, the one that many writers (me included) would rather not think about, because all it does is make us second-guess the work we wish to put out there. Think about it. If you remain paranoid of getting sued by someone who says that you stole their idea–and definitely fearful of lawsuits that could occur–you may never publish anything. (But this is still no excuse for putting a work out there too similar to the work of another writer.)

Continue reading

Start Small Now–End Big Later

An article I recently came across from The New York Times revealed that the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House of New York (and house to NY University’s Creative Writing program) is one of only few places left in Greenwich Village to hold reading sessions of the literary arts.

While the building is not fancy–nor holds fancy equipment–it’s still in Manhattan (home to lovers of literature like you and I) and is situated in an area of affordable apartments, bars, coffee shops, etc.–which make it ideal for people on middle-class incomes to live there. (You can read the article for further information if you’d like.)


There are probably many conclusions you’re inferring from this story–one of them being that since the house was founded in 1836, its historical significance is what attracts writers, readers, and other everyday people alike. This is true, but there is a bigger picture to consider: its area. With society finding more ways to save money, writers, publishers, and other businesses are finding ways to appeal to their budgets.


But for once, let’s put aside the money equation and think strategy (and audience). Before you can end big (become that best-selling author with who knows how large of an income), you have to start small–case in point, the Lillian Vernon in NY. Starting small is the best time to build your audience–and you too could hold reading sessions with some friends or local writers you know. (Specifically reading your work to others–but certainly invite them to come with works of their own to read to the group.) Collaboration is key.


This tactic isn’t limited to finding a space to use–such as your limited 10×10 room–to read to others. You could host a live-streaming session online and receive feedback from maybe ten to twenty (or less if you’re fairly new to your website) on what’s working for your book or what isn’t.


Critiques aside, this is how you make yourself known to the writing market–and other writers such as yourself could come across your video and maybe offer you a business deal you couldn’t turn down. Posting fliers around your neighborhood for a reading session being held in your home is one way to host an event–but holding an event online opens your publicity to all the world’s eye.


Still, we writers don’t want to stay in the free space forever–and this is where I will bring-in the money equation again. You could post a video blog asking your patrons / audience / etc. to send you something minuscule as a dollar per-person–or you could monetize, say, your YouTube channel.What this entails is ads being ran on the videos you post to YouTube, followed-by some compensation that comes your way based on how many people watch a video ad all the way through. (This is further explained on a Reddit thread I found.)

One other method of hosting an online video of your reading (though there are many) is to use Google’s HOA feature (as mentioned by Kawasaki in his book The Art of Social Media, Ch. 8.) For any video you host, have an outline of where you’re going with your message (i.e. what books you’re going to read).


Additionally, start your video with a message such as “Thank you all for viewing!” or something along those lines. Follow it up with saying what you plan to cover (i.e. stories you plan to read), and engage your audience with saying something like, “Feel free to comment at any time with questions.” Remember: the audience’s engagement is crucial.


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves again. The first step: grow your audience. And even before then, know who you want to pursue. And even-even before then: know what they want–what will engage them, for instance? This has been mentioned non-stop in my previous posts, but has to continue being mentioned as this is one of the easiest steps for writers to miss. And when you miss a step, you could get a boo-boo.


So let’s get down to the bottom line: how (and where exactly) do you start?

Start writing a story (even some stories). Or if you have some stories prepared, proceed to step # 2.


Invite some friends (not necessarily family) to a reading session you intend to hold. (You can hold this either in-person–whether in your dorm lobby if a college student, or at a sleep over in your home if you’re yonger, etc.) But if you want your audience to be limitless (and your reading session timeless), go the online route. Post a video or two of you reading one of your works out loud–not the work of another writer as that could get you in serious hot water.


Devise a strategy: how many times a week will you read? Will you invite the same people, or invest in new followers? (The answer is that you should try combining both tactics–because the more followers, the bett–oh, but now we have to cut to step # 4.


Bigger is not always better. Remember, start small. This makes your relationship with your audience more intimate. (Even reading to a group so small as one person counts.) The bigger the crowd, the harder it could prove to receive feedback on an intimate, personal level. This is not saying keep your reader group small–but certainly don’t try to make it any bigger than you can handle if you’re just starting out.


Time to Market My Book! Except Where Do I Begin?

That’s the golden question of many authors new to the market–including me. Fortunately, even those of us who have never published a book before can use the internet and its knowledge in giving us the need-to-know aspects of earning (not buying) our audience.


For you specifically, using Google and other search engines may be your best bet in learning how the marketing process of books work. I came across two articles (from Business to Community and ArtsHub) that share some helpful advice on marketing procedures. Some of their advice ranges from knowing who buys your book vs. who reads it –to– establishing an active platform for readers / buyers / etc. to engage with you (i.e. directing your audience to a dead Facebook or Twitter account isn’t ideal) . If you want to learn more, I would definitely recommend giving them a read–at least some of their key points, if not all.


There is no strategy set in stone for book marketing, because every author / writer has their own tool set for how to engage their audience and sell their product.


Still, there is some general advice to keep in mind:

  1. Do some research on your key audience. If you’re writing a mystery novel, what books are people currently interested in and why? What should you do in order to make your own mystery story one that will appease them? The easiest solution to this is researching reviews online, but nothing beats some face-to-face interaction with a friend of yours / a professor / etc. (You could turn to getting feedback from your family as well; but them supporting your work no matter what may not make them the first people you choose for honest feedback on what’s working vs. what isn’t working for your story.)
  2. Devise a marketing strategy. And I don’t mean create videos of advertisements (or use Twitter to say something like, “My new book is out! Buy now at only so-and-so percent of its retail value for a limited time!”). The age of social media has transformed the spectrum from customer buys product to product buys customer. If your book can’t buy their attention, then find out what isn’t working. Ask them what engages them about a book / its author / etc. And yes, how the author acts or carries their reputation is just as pertinent. Is the author approachable? Do they respond to fans? Do they invite the engagement of their fans (through questionnaires, poles, surveys, etc.?)
  3. Don’t get over-confident after making a lot of sales. Remember what made everyone want to buy a copy of your work; what strategies you employed to keep them engaged and feeling connected with what you had to offer. Sitting back and letting your social media channels turn to inactive statuses may harm you in the long-run when sales are decreasing and you need a new strategy that will–oh, yeah! That’s right: don’t think that one size fits all. One marketing strategy could earn you many fans and potential customers, but may not last forever as your book will often find competition with other books and sellers. This is what brings us to our final step…
  4. Develop a SWOT analysis. This analysis helps the content producer / seller / business / individual learn their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. To elaborate, your strengths could be that casual personality you carry with others / your way of responding to comments, questions, etc. in a reasonable amount of time. Weaknesses could be your lack of knowledge in certain aspects (though not all) of the book market, or your inability to use certain social media platforms / channels. Opportunities could range from a business / author / etc. wanting to promote your work–and you should certainly respond to them as soon as possible, even if it’s with a “Sorry, but I cannot…” kind of statement. (I too have had to do this before, but still expressed my interest in accepting the offer at a later time.) Threats are those other authors / businesses / publishers / etc. who are working in your same industry–maybe even your same genre (for example, mystery books). Keep an eye out for what they’re doing to promote their works and grow their target audiences. Where do your strategies stand in the spectrum and how can you improve them?


Of course, if a strategy you’ve been using so far has kept you on par with the standing of other businesses / authors / etc.–those “competitors” of yours–certainly don’t try to change it. In fact, the strategy you’re using–even if it’s not getting you where you want to be–could have the potential to make you stand above (though not all) other authors of your genre. Giving things some time to play out is sometimes the best advice an author can follow.


Romance: Say Goodbye to Traditions

The RWA (Romance Writers of America) website produced a research study in 2014 that revealed females (82% specifically) as the primary readers of romance works (with males making-up 16% of the audience). The study also found that the audience for romance books is mostly between 30 – 54 years old. (The specific date in 2014 when this study was produced is unknown.) You can take a look at the article for yourself if you wish–and you may be surprised to find that the study found (after 12 months later) that many romance readers were reading romance more often (while only a smaller half of them were reading less often).


Here is what I’m getting at: the romance genre is not set-in-stone to be only for women (and no genre of writing is for that matter). A skilled author knows how to break old conventions of a genre and experiment; they know how to try new things that could even change a genre’s target audience to a broader range of people–but experimenting could just as easily decrease the range of their audience. So it ultimately comes down to not whether or not you break the rules of a genre, but how you break them.


From what I’ve learned of romance works, the basic conflict evolves around two characters who have differences that make it seem impossible for them to fall in love (Morrell says this in Ch. 7 of her book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Usa work I highly recommend to you all to read, as she gives very thoughtful and advanced advice on writing skills and how to make your own work well-written by the book market’s standards).

So what are some good ways to break the traditions of romance works? I will be thoroughly honest with you in saying that your target audience will ultimately be the ones to know the answer to that question–but it takes the will to experiment with new ideas on your part. So if you don’t have faith in the idea of, say, having a story where the two characters do love each other at first, but learn that being enemies is what truly attaches them, try it out. (I’m an audience member of your work, and I will gladly say that such an idea sounds genius to me–I’m quite curious to see how enemies could care for each other more than friends.)


But you’re still probably wondering, “Ron, what are some absolutely bad ideas?” If by bad ideas, you mean ones that are guaranteed to not work (though I don’t believe in thumbing anything down an author has yet to try), I would say that the worst kind of romance story one could write is a one-sided (or even offensive) one. For instance, if your two characters fall in love (and the rest of the story features them doing what they love to do best: ruin other people’s relationships), I would certainly turn my head away from a work like that. Who wants a story that promotes being a jerk? (Unless your story ends with those two characters not only getting payback for their actions, but learning from their mistakes and changing for the better.) Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind reading a story from the villain’s perspective; but there still needs to be a degree of fairness in any work of literature–not just romance novels–if you want to avoid infuriating your readers.


The point that I want you to understand is that literature is for all genders–not just one. So when a writer hears about a study that proves one gender isn’t as in-touch with a genre of writing as another, they should certainly experiment with a story of their own in that genre and see if, maybe, the work will capture an equal share of both audiences. Maybe romance stories need more action or mystery themes in the present day in order to round-up more male fans–and you could be the first author to try it out! 🙂


Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when writing a romance work of your own:

1. How many stories out there mirror the work you’re writing? If you’ve read too many books with the good girl falls for bad boy cliche, then it’s time to write, maybe, a story where the good boy falls for the bad girl.

2. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: research is crucial. There are many research studies outside of the one I cited that show whose reading what, what genres are trending, etc. Your mission: do a little research of your own. In Quesenberry’s book Social Media Strategy (Ch. 11), it is said that there is a new method of research outside of demographic studies, focus groups, etc. Digital marketing research (as Quesenberry defines it) involves contemporary research methods such as learning information of an audience through online communities, surveys, social media sites, etc. It goes to show how technology is changing–and how research methods are keeping pace with the change.

3. Learn from other authors. Discover how many romance writers gained such a fan base, made their work a best-seller, etc. The old saying “I learned from the best” truly is essential to us writers. We learn from the successes (and mistakes) of other authors, giving us the knowledge we need in knowing the dos and donts of writing.

4. Points 1 – 3 don’t just count for romance stories, but all genres. Not all the skills will be mastered at once; they come with time and experience. Patience (if you take out the t, e, c, and the other e) can be a pain; but without pain, there is no gain. We all know that saying–and again, it is very true for writers.

The key takeaway from all of this: learn from other authors and how they gained their fan-base. Discover how their work became a bestseller (fan reviews on websites such as Goodreads and Barnes & Noble will certainly help you come to answers). Research is key–and you are the key to your story.


Autobiographies: Are There Any Rules?

So far, we’ve talked about fiction works and their rules–but writing comes in many forms, including those works that tell us a little bit–or rather, alot–about yourself.

But what rules are there to follow for autobiographies? Some sources would say that the autobiography (like fiction / non-fiction stories) needs a protagonist and a conflict (or antagonist). Others would say that it should have a central theme and at least be an interesting story. This is all true, but the main thing I want you to remember (again) is that an autobiography is supposed to tell us about you. However, I wouldn’t recommend getting so caught-up in telling us about yourself that you forget to describe details of your setting.

How do certain foods taste on your tongue? What are the smells of your surrounding an environment? What sounds do you hear throughout your story? Remember the five senses–sight, sound, smell, taste, feeling–and your audience will remember your story 🙂








In addition to some of these rules I’ve already mentioned, there is another method to use in determining how to make your autobiography successful–learning how others succeeded in the same field.

LifeHack cites 15 autobiographies that are worth our time to read. While I won’t list-off all the good qualities they mention, it is worth stating a few (and you can see the rest in their article).

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, for instance, is compelling because it tells us about the livelihood and culture of the 18th century–a century that is new to the modern generation whose only experience is with today’s technological advances. (And when your own autobiography of today is read by an audience of the future, they’ll be curious to see how life was before the age of human robots, flying saucers, or holographic trees.)



Nelson Mandela’s autobiography allows us to walk with him from the days of his childhood to the time he is an adult. It’s one thing to start us off with the story of your older age–but the adventure of learning how you grew from the time you were a kid is a whole adventure in itself.

However, I’m not saying that you have to wait until you’ve lived to be an elder to start writing an autobiography. If anything, the best time to start is now. Your current word choice and speech will likely be different from the way you’ll talk in the future–and an autobiography that shows that is surely authentic and worthy of praise. Show us how you blossomed.



And while you’re at it, give us some insight into your own philosophy on life–just like Ghandi did. How do you see, perceive, or view the world around you? What are your opinions about your own life and the lives of others?


Historically, the autobiographers I’ve cited thus far are male because many women were raised in environments (back in the older centuries) where writing was not taught to them. Nowadays, there are some women autobiographers out there. Malala tells us how she stood-up for the right to education–even though she was one girl against such a big world.

Then there is the autobiography of Sue Kleboid (mother to Dylan Kleboid–one of the young men responsible for the Columbine tragedy in 1999). Think about it–who wouldn’t want to read the story of a mother whose son did such a horrible thing? We wonder what her thoughts were and how she’s coped with the heartbreaking news all these years.

But this isn’t saying that your autobiography has to measure-up to the works of others. While you may think your story isn’t exciting or interesting enough, your audience could beg to differ. Truth be told, my own autobiography could be the kind of story told many times before.

But what makes your story different is how you handled certain situations (think of it as that “character development” rule we writers follow when making our stories). Anyone could have lived in the days of the Civil War–but the way each person responded to those days is what we want to hear about. You’re the only one who’s lived your life–not me, nor anyone else–and only you can tell us the story.



Now All I Need is a Plot

You started writing a story last night. Your character (we’ll call him Jorge) is taking a train to Washington, D.C. When he finally makes it to Washington, he meets the president face-to-face and shakes hands with him. He later goes to a flower shop and buys some roses for his wife back in Houston, TX. He spends the rest of his time in Washington staying at a hotel and watching different programs on his TV day-after-day. By the end of the week, his train returns to take him back to his home state. While on the ride, he pulls out a pair of earphones he bought while in Washington to listen to some music. -The End.


But there’s something wrong with this story, isn’t there? All Jorge does is go to Washington, chills and buys some flowers for a character we only hear about, but never see. And what point did him shaking hands with the president serve anyway? The story doesn’t know where to go, and it needs a plot.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before (trust me if you’re new to writing, you may not know what it is), the plot is what sets your story in motion; gives it reason for being. There are further specifics for it as I found in one article I stumbled on (and the Creative Writing Now website is a decently straightforward guide for writers). (Chapter 4 of a book out there called “Fiction Writer’s Workshop” by Josip Novakovich also explains plot–and there are some reasonable prices for it on Amazon if you wish to buy it for further guidance in your writing career.)

After reading the article I’ve mentioned (or Ch. 4 of Novakovich’s book, if you have access to it), you’re probably overwhelmed by all the details of plotting (and it can be overwhelming if you haven’t heard of it before). But to summarize, all you really need are these basic ingredients for a plot–and for the plot to work:

1.  A vulnerable, main character (though I’m not saying go over-the-top with making them a weakling–but they should have some weakness, even a flaw, that makes the goal they want to achieve… well, hard to achieve). After all, even a flame can’t stand to water.


2. (Though I forgot to mention this in my video), there needs to be an exterior weakness as well (i.e. a villain who is thwarting the protagonist’s goals–and this doesn’t have to be a physical, living being; it could even be a disease spreading throughout their hometown, or a natural disaster that strikes when they least expect it–so long as the disaster somehow adversely affects the protagonist’s goals and doesn’t just give the ground they stand on a shake-up to spook them. What’s the point in that?


3. Challenges! Challenges… and more challenges! Wow! That’s a lot of challenges for your character to face–but the more, the better. Seeing how they overcome obstacles and other problems is the thrill that comes with reading your story. (Just don’t make them that wealthy king who will cry in his crown if he loses his followers. Suck it up, your highness.)



But what about that final question I haven’t answered: will the protagonist get what they want in the end or not?

That’s for you to decide. You know your character(s) better than I do. You know what they do in different situations and how their course of action will either positively or negatively affect them. These factors (and the others I’ve mentioned) will all determine whether or not your hero has that “happy” ending. (But even happy endings come at a price, and your character should definitely have lost something along the way that makes their happy ending more bittersweet than anything else.) I learned that from Chapter 4 of a book called Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us (author: Jessica Page Morrell). I’d definitely recommend buying her book / renting it / etc. as she is very well-versed in advice on making your creative writing a success.


E-books: How Much Longer Will They Last?

I just finished reading an article and discovered that the sale of e-books has not risen over the past year, but come to a standstill in growth. This just goes to prove that technology hasn’t entirely dominated the literary industry–but you should still be aware that the e-book isn’t “down for the count” (as the old saying goes).

So which format is better than the other? An e-book or a physical print? The answer is that neither format is going to ensure better sales than its competitor. Stores like Barnes & Noble are still packed with customers on a daily basis (and it hasn’t even been a year since I last visited their store and noticed this). What will ensure your success as a writer is being able to produce your work both in a hard-copy and digital medium.


What will better ensure the success of your work is knowing your audience. Ask yourself, What does my target audience want? –versus– What do I think they need?

Furthermore, the temptation to price your e-book at a high value is hard to resist. But as a customer of literary works myself (digital and non-digital), I can easily say that I would rather purchase Book # 1 for $5.00 by seller A–instead of purchasing Book # 1 for $10.00 by seller B. Let’s face it: we do need our money for other things such as food, gas in our cars, bills, our kids (for those of us who have children to raise). Paying $10 – $15 for a book could have gone to some food we needed in our stomach one night.

Yet it is surprising that the e-book (even with so many authors over-pricing their digital works) still rivals the industry of physical, print copies. Why is this? I would encourage you to visit your local bookstore and notice that the pricing(s) of books on their shelves isn’t much different than ones you would find online (even though sellers on retail sites such as eBay can make the price of a product ten times higher than what you would find in your local, physical store if they so-well desired).








What matters is not the format of your book, but the format of your advertising strategy for your work. How do your customers perceive your literary works–or even that first book you’ve published? If you really want to understand what readers are looking for these days, use websites like FictionPress, WattPad, or Figment. I have personally used the first two mentioned before (and the third is one that I have just started using to view the works of a friend of mine). These sites don’t pay you for the works you publish, but the pay-off is the feedback you receive from users on where your literary work stands. I know from my personal experiences as an amateur writer that criticism can be hard to take–but it is needed if you want to know how to make your book a success–whether a digital or hard-copy medium. No one’s work is ever “bad”–but criticism helps us perfect what we are trying to achieve. And if you want to be successful in selling an e-book or a hard-copy book, listening to your target audience is a crucial first step to take–and remember, walk carefully.


Every Writer Has One

Every writer must find their voice or writing style.


George Mier (an author) hosts many videos on his YouTube page “PsycheTruth” that give aspiring, professional writers the tips they will need to make their work successful.

There are some key points that Meir makes in his video:

  1. Writers soak-up the world around them like sponges.
  2. If you read a lot, read books outside of the genre you work with as a writer. (Reading within your genre could make you a “copyist” and not an “originator”.)
  3. Speaking of reading, try reading books from a viewpoint contrary to your own.


Let’s take a look at how one writing style compares to another:

image 3

Now let us look at this same opening, but written by a different voice:

(image 4)

As we see, one narrator sounds like a city-dweller–the other a person with a country accent. As for their gender, it isn’t clear in either of these vague openings–but you definitely shouldn’t assume either of them are male just because they may sound like it.

(image 5)

Should you know your voice from the moment you start writing? Nope!

Beginning writers especially take time (maybe even through multiple short stories) to develop a voice or writing style that sets them apart from the rest.