Creativity and the Writing Process

Traditional Publishing FAQs | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Aug 16, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, FAQ | 12 comments

Traditional Publishing FAQs | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

In regard to the writing industry, one of the areas I am questioned about the most is the arena of publishing. People often ask if they should publish traditionally or independently (see my post about that here) and how they should go about becoming traditionally published should they choose that route. If you’ve decided traditional publishing is for you, and you want to know how to get started, I recommend four things:


1.  Build your on-line platform

At its most basic, this means develop an on-line presence. You must have a web page, preferably with a blog, but focused mainly around displaying your novel. If your novel is not front-and-center on your web page, then you need to reformat it. You are a writer—you sell stories. Everything else is bonus.

In addition to a web page, you want a strong presence on at least two forms of social media. Facebook and Twitter are common, as are Tumbler, Instagram, and WattPad. (If you are a writer and you don’t know about WattPad, you need to check it out. Major potential to build a following there.)

What if you’re not published yet? It’s never too early to get started. As a matter of fact, starting now will give you an advantage when your book finally hits the market. All of your social media followers will be more likely to purchase your published work so, viola, instant sales numbers!

The thing to keep in mind about an on-line platform is interaction. Don’t try to do everything, because you can’t, but also because this will spread you too thin. Pick two or three social media forums to master, then interact with others (I can’t emphasize this enough). Prospective editors are looking for the number of potential buyers your social media followers represent. It does no good to have followers in the thousands if they are not interested in purchasing your work. Demonstrable interaction with your followers is a huge draw to potential editors because it shows that you will bring a likely return on their investment.

As for what to put on your blog, I’m still learning about that. I’ve read that it’s easier for non-fiction authors because they can continue to blog about the topics of their publications. For fiction authors, however, it’s not quite so easy. If I find a good list of topics to recommend, I’ll let you know, but if you have any suggestions for blog content for fantasy novelists, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.


2. Obtain a copy of the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, published annually by Writer’s Digest. (This is not an affiliate link)

If you publish something else, like poetry, never fear… they have a plethora of different market guides. This is just the one I’m the most familiar with. However, no matter what you write, if you are seeking traditional publication, then you NEED this book in your life. It contains everything: a section of advisory articles about current topics in the publishing industry; a section on how to format query letters and manuscripts for submission to agents and editors; a section on writing competitions; another section on writer’s conferences; and, most importantly, a list of agents and a list of editors who are seeking clients, along with the specifications of how to submit your work to them.

Wait, why did I mention an agent? Do you need an agent? That depends. If, like me, your eyes tend to glaze over when it comes to fine details and deep analysis of numbers, then yes, you need an agent. Also, agents already have an “in” with publishers. They have relationships that allow them to recommend your work, which gives the added bonus of someone beside your mom who loves your work enough to recommend it to someone else. (Don’t worry, I’m not dissing moms. My mom is one of my greatest supporters. She will tell people to by my book before I even think to address the topic. So moms rock, but they are a bit biased…)


3. Follow all formatting guidelines

You are seeking professional publication. Take the time to find out what the professionals want, and tailor your submission to their specifications. This sounds easy, but you would not believe how many people disregard this advice. Trust me: following submission guidelines to the letter will set you apart and get you noticed in a good way.


4. Attend writing conferences

As a writer on a very tight budget, this one is hard for me (see my post about it here). I always struggle about whether or not the cost of a writer’s conference is a necessity or an indulgence. However, for reasons I detail in the a fore-linked post, I believe this step is crucial. Many agents and publishers are beginning not to accept manuscripts submitted from out of the blue. There is such a glut of writing in today’s market, and such an abundance of authors who want to be traditionally published, that a significant number of agents and publishers are only accepting submissions pitched at a writer’s conference.

What if you’re not pitching anything? In my opinion, this is even better because it places you in a position to meet industry professionals with no strings attached. Get to know the agents and publishers as people; build a relationship with them before you pitch to them. This will allow you to obtain insight into their work and what they are looking for without the uncomfortable 15 minute speed-query, which will save you a lot of rejections in the long-run.


This, then, is the list of things I always tell someone who asks me about getting started with traditional publishing. However, this list is not exhaustive! If there are any questions I have not addressed here that you would like me to answer, or if you have any other recommendations, please let me know in the comments below. Happy writing!

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Writer’s Conferences: Are They Really Worth It? | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Jul 18, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process | 5 comments

Writer’s Conferences: Are They Really Worth It? | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

One of my favorite things to do as a writing professional is to attend writing conferences. I am a true nerd by definition—I love learning or the sake of learning, so much so that I actually cried with sorrow, not joy, when I graduated from college. I love to dip my toe back into the pool of focused learning, and I do it whenever I get the chance. Writing conferences are so much fun for me that I would go just for the atmosphere, if nothing else.

Unfortunately, when it comes to deciding if I should attend a conference or not, there are a few cold, hard facts about life that I can’t escape. Conferences can be expensive, and my budget (like most of yours) is terribly limited. I have a lot of responsibilities—even when I’m not teaching because of school holidays, I still do a lot of planning and preparing; I also have children to feed and raise, a small menagerie of pets to care for, and a house to clean and keep in running order. To top it all off, I am an ambivert with strong introvert tendencies, so it can be painful to place myself in a room full of strangers.

When these reasons are piled all together, I can very easily talk myself out of attending a conference. I can justify just about anything and, if left to my own devices, I can use any of the above factors to prove to myself that attending a writer’s conference is a selfish indulgence on my part—a frivolous extra that I don’t really need, especially since I have to be responsible with my time and money. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you are a writer at any level, writing conferences are essential to your career. Here’s why:

  1. Continued learning about the craft of writing

If you are a new writer, it seems abundantly clear why you need to attend a conference: the classes you can take to learn how to master a skill, or to learn about an aspect of the industry, make the cost worthwhile many times over. However, even multi-published authors can benefit. As a teacher I am required to obtain a certain amount of continuing education each year, in order to improve my skills and to ensure I continue to provide my students with a quality education. Many other professions require the same thing. It is no different for a writer; there is always something new to learn. Even if you’ve mastered a given technique, listening to someone else teach that technique may lead to fresh insight, which could breathe new life into your next work.


  1. The chance to meet with agents and editors

Most conferences offer the opportunity for writers to meet face-to-face with, and pitch their work to, agents and editors. More and more of these industry professionals only obtain new clients through appointments at conferences, so attending a conference can be crucial for the advancement of your career. These one-on-one meetings also come with a bonus: feedback. Instead of receiving a bland standard manuscript rejection, most agents and editors will not only tell you why your project is not right for them but will also provide insight into how you can improve.

What if you’re independently published? Instead of conferencing with agents and editors, you can connect with other authors who are independently published and learn what works and what not to do from their experiences.


  1. The opportunity to build a tribe

Another extremely valuable aspect of writing conferences is networking—getting to know people in the industry as individuals. I love the experience of sitting next to someone in a session, striking up a conversation, and really connecting on an individual level only to find out later that he is an agent from such-and-such literary agency, or she is an editor with some major publishing house, or they are both New York Times bestselling authors. These personal connections, where I am not asking anything of anyone but am rather focused on building honest relationships, are my favorite aspect of writing conferences, especially when they deepen into friendships. This is what networking is all about, and it is not something you can do very well in the comfort of your own home.


While summer seems to be the height of conference season, there are a variety of writer’s conferences happening at all times of the year, and all around the world. If you are at a spot in your writing where you don’t know how to move forward, I recommend you find a conference that fits your needs and budget and sign up. For those of you who are at a good spot in your writing right now, attending a conference can still be a significant investment in your career.

What do you guys think? Are there any conferences you just can’t live without? Or are there any other reasons you can think of why attending conferences is an essential rather than a luxury? I’d love to hear your observations and remarks in the comments section below.


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On Podcasts, Cave Dwelling, and Studying the Art of Writing | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process | 11 comments

On Podcasts, Cave Dwelling, and Studying the Art of Writing | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Unless you have been living in a cave in a very, very secluded part of the world, you have most likely heard about, if you are not actually engaged in, the trending phenomenon known as the podcast.

I, myself a resident of said cave, have heard of the term only thanks to the fact that I teach high school. Were it not for my students, my technical savvy would be lacking on a much greater scale. My students keep me updated on all things trending, and we have a secure enough relationship that they don’t laugh too much when I ask them how to use whatever new technological marvel currently obsesses their media-saturated interests.

For those of you who are quite content in caves of your own and are unfamiliar with this new-ish technological marvel, a podcast is an episodic, radio-style talk or video show you can subscribe to, most often for free. Once you are subscribed, new episodes will download automatically to the media-playing device of your choice.

I tend to ban myself from excessive use of media. It is easy for me to lose hours in the time-sucking vacuum created by the computer or television screens dotted throughout my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it… I enjoy it too much, and I don’t have a lot of down time. So when I first heard of podcasts, I noted the idea, then filed it in the portion of my brain labeled “Highly Interesting but of Unlikely Benefit” and moved on.

Oh, how wrong I was.

As a writer who is addicted to research, one of the ways I work myself out of being stuck is to dig deeply into researching the concept I’m stuck on or the technique I’m wrestling with. I am new to the marketing game, so as I was researching marketing strategies, I discovered for myself what a wonderful thing the podcast is. I discovered that podcasts are portable, free, and abundant. I subscribed to one focused on marketing for authors, and now consider podcasts one of my first go-to resources, especially for research on the go. I can listen to podcasts while completing mindless chores, such as folding laundry or washing dishes. Thanks to current technology that allows me to sync my phone to the sound system in my car, I can even listen to podcasts while I’m driving. As I spend a lot of time driving, this is a beautiful thing.

I should come out of my cave more often.

For those of you who are new to the podcast form, or for those who are looking for some new podcasts to try, here is my current lists of writing-helpful podcasts.  They are listed alphabetically with brief descriptions of major focus in the parentheses. I hope you find something among them that meets whatever need you are experiencing on your current writing journey, and I’d love to hear of any writing or creativity based podcasts you are listening to. Happy listening!

  • #AmWriting with Jess & KJ (writing in general)
  • Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach (writing in general)
  • Book Launch Show (book marketing)
  • Create If Writing (authentic platform building)
  • DIY MFA Radio (writing-specific how-to)
  • Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (grammar how-to)
  • Hastag Authentic (social media how-to)
  • HopeWriters (writing in general)
  • Podcast Communicator Academy (writing and creativity)
  • ProBlogger Podcast (blog tips)
  • Save the Cat! Podcast (story structure and form)
  • Story Grid Podcast (story structure and form)
  • The Author Hangout: Book Marketing Tips for Indie & Self-Published Authors (book marketing)
  • The Creative Penn Podcast (writing in general)
  • The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins (book marketing)
  • The Sell More Books Show (book Marketing)
  • The Writer Files (writing in general)
  • Write Now with Sarah Werner (writing in general)
  • Writing Unblocked with Britney M. Mills (creativity and inspiration hacks)


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No Plot? No Pants? No Problem! | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on May 17, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 4 comments

No Plot? No Pants? No Problem! | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

“Are you a plotter or a pantster?”

Utter this question in a group of writers and watch from a safe distance as the formerly unified whole splits into two parts like the ground on a fault line in an earthquake (and with about as much noise). Notice the shifty glances cast as writers discreetly shuffle to one side or the other of the gap now forming, ever-so-subtly aligning themselves with those who are likeminded. Look on and wonder, “What have I done?”

What you have done, my friend, is broached one of today’s literary hot topics.

While the divide is not nearly so dramatic as an earthquake, many authors are firmly established as one or the other, and knowing which side you stand on could be foundational in your career as a writer.

A plotter is someone who outlines an entire work before sitting down to actually write it. Writing this way gives authors a detailed map, allowing them to plan minute details before even writing a word.

A pantster, on the other hand, is someone who writes without the outline, literally “flying by the seat of the pants”. Pantsters prefer this method because it allows the story to grow more organically, and allows the writer to be surprised during the writing process.

Well known plotters include Katherine Anne Porter, John Grisham, R.L. Stein, and J.K. Rowling. Nora Roberts, Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown, and Stephen King are among the pantsters. Many authors fall into one of the two camps, and you can find a lot of resources online to help you identify which style suits you the most.

Me, however… I’m more of an excavator. As I’m playing with my initial idea, I find scenes scattered throughout the plot like bones peeking through surface dirt. I craft those scenes carefully, executing the tools to hand as precisely as an architect excavates fragile skeletal fragments from the earth. Once out in the open, I hang them on a plot diagram in rough-guestimation about where they belong. As I write, more of the current work’s structure is exposed, and a better picture of the overall whole begins to form, allowing me to plan the positioning and execution of the elements of the work accordingly.

Much like exhuming a fossilized skeleton from the ground, my method is slow, painstaking work. It requires many drafts, but what work-in-progress (WiP) doesn’t? And, oh, the surprises I find along the way!

If, like me, you find you are neither a plotter nor a pantster, never fear. Writing is subjective, even down to its very creation, and no to authors work exactly the same way. My suggest is to experiment with both plotting and pantsing, borrow what works from each method, and meld them into a combination of your own. Then, when your WiP is completely excavated and ready to be viewed by the masses, look on and wonder at the amazing thing you have done.


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The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 17 comments

The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

I am knee deep in the revisions of my current WiP—a sequel to my debut fantasy novel The Healer’s Rune—and I’ve come upon a problem. Although my plot is technically correct, the story itself lacks the spark of life. This is not an uncommon problem among authors, so I turned to two Internet-based writer’s groups that I belong to for help. In the course of the discussion, I was introduced to The Emotional Craft of Fiction by literary agent Donald Maass.

In the opening pages of this writing resource, Maass states: “The most useful question is not how can I get across what characters are going through? The better question is how can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?” (2).

Maass goes on to argue that, although a manuscript can be well written and technically correct in every aspect of plot, those characteristics don’t guarantee that readers will be caught up and carried away by the story. He proposes that what is lacking in this instance is an emotional connection.

Ah ha! I thought. This sounds like exactly the problem my manuscript is suffering from.

My guess is, I’m not the only one. If Maass is right when he states, “Emotional impact is not an extra. It’s as fundamental to a novel’s purpose and structure as its plot. The emotional craft of fiction underlies the creation of character arcs, plot turns, beginnings, midpoints, endings, and strong scenes. It is the basis of voice” (4), then the emotional impact of our stories is something all authors should look at more closely. But where to begin?

In The Emotional Craft of Fiction Maass proposes three primary paths to producing emotion in readers. He calls them “inner mode,” “outer mode,” and “other mode.”

  • Inner mode involves the telling of emotions – authors repot what characters are feeling so effectively that readers feel something, too.
  • Outer mode involves the showing of emotions – authors provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action.
  • Other mode involves causing readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not feel themselves.

Maass does not spend a lot of time on inner mode and outer mode. While he discusses them in sufficient detail in chapter two, and includes advice on how to wield them most effectively, he postulates that writers are already most familiar with these two modes. With this in mind, he devotes the rest of the book expounding upon what he calls other mode, which he says is not a single technique or principle, but a “vast array of elements tuned like the instruments in an orchestra to create a soaring emotional effect” (30). He spends the remainder of the book detailing these elements and includes writing exercises to help authors develop or enrich the emotional levels of their current works in progress.

As I write this blog, I am half-way through Maass’ book. Working through each of the writing exercises has helped me discover and develop the missing spark that my work lacked, and I am once again excited about my current WiP.

How about you? How important do you think developing an emotional connection is to the full development of a novel? How easy or difficult is it for you to include/develop the emotional layer of your work?

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What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 in FAQ | Comments Off on What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

You’ve done it. You’ve put in the grueling effort, the rear-end numbing hours, the family-alienating dedication. You’ve studied your craft, honed your technique, and parsed your rough draft until you have a final product worthy of public consumption. You have written a book / short story / poem / screenplay and have decided to publish traditionally, and you are looking for an agent and / or an editor to represent you.

There’s just one problem: most editors, and a lot of agents, are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. So how do you get your finished product in front of someone who has the power and resources to publish and distribute your work?

There are two very good ways. The first is to get the most current copy of the Novel and Short Story Market (or whatever version of the Market fits your work–there are several), produced by Writer’s Digest (you can get it from the Writer’s Digest website, or from most bookstores). That book is a comprehensive list of which agents and editors are searching for clients, what they represent, and how to contact them. It also contains essays that discuss current publishing guidelines and  how to prepare your manuscript for submission, and a section listing contests for the current year. Everything I learned about how to submit my work for publication, I learned from these Manuals.

The second way is to go to writer’s conferences and make a pitch appointment with an agent / editor you want to represent you. You can also have a portion of your work critiqued by an industry professional at most of these conferences. The best thing about the whole conference experience, however, is the people you get to meet. If it’s truly not what you know but who, then conferences are the way to meet the whos. Conferences can be expensive, but they are well worth the cost. Consider them a well-made investment in your future.

A few miscellaneous details to make your efforts more successful:

  • Make sure you have a quality manuscript. Take the time and effort necessary to make your work as professional as possible. Have it critiqued and / or edited (critique groups are great for this) and make sure it’s formatted according to the proper guidelines before you submit anything. Rumor has it not taking this advice is what gets most manuscripts an express trip straight to the slush pile.
  • If you’re not part of a writing / critique group… WHY NOT?? Writers write alone, but quality feedback from like-minded artists is what makes manuscripts come alive. Seriously: get thee to a critique group.
  • Develop your on-line writer’s platform. A thriving, active presence on-line is quickly becoming a prerequisite for consideration by traditional publishers. You need to have one in place before you even start submitting. Seriously, start now. (If you need help, I have several pins on Pinterest that cover this topic.)
  • Speaking of Pinterest… more information than you’ll ever use, right there. I have 34 pages devoted to various aspects of writing how-to, writing fantasy, writing YA, writing romance… you get the idea. Check them out here.
  • If you are on Twitter (if not, see two points above) follow Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly. Both feeds frequently post tweets announcing new agents who are looking for authors to represent.


Now it’s your turn. What other questions do you have? Are there any pointers that I should add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy writing!

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