Earning Money From Writing

Writing is work. It takes a lot of time and effort to brainstorm, outline, research, and then finally put into words a topic or story. Then afterwards there’s a lot of editing, revising, and proofing. Electric Literature published an essay about how writing is a job, even if it doesn’t really pay:

The fact that writing is hard and there are many hobbyists doesn’t mean it isn’t a job either. It is very hard to be a professional athlete or a head chef, and many people practice sports or cooking as hobbies. But we would not pretend an NBA player or a head chef doesn’t have a job.

The argument is that if we think of writing as a hobby, it will be treated as a hobby, and then only people who can afford to write as a hobby will be writing. This reminds me of when I was in college and went to see Jeffrey Eugenides give a talk. I remember he told a story of how people don’t really think of writers as having a real job. He meets someone new and they find out he’s a writer, and the reaction is, “You know, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, I just haven’t had the time.” And Jeffrey said he thought that was strange, because you’d never go up to a heart surgeon and say, “You know, I’ve always wanted to operate on someone, I just haven’t had the time.”

Obviously, the two are not the same, but both take a certain set of skills that take time to develop. So in the spirit of treating writing as a job, here are some tips and ways you can earn money from writing:

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Indie Authors: Tips for Writing Characters That Resonate

By Stagg Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Stagg Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Characters are an important element of every story. So how do you make sure your story has characters that stand out? That readers find interesting and believable?

Writers in the Storm posted an article about becoming your character, so that you don’t make mistakes like head hop or have multiple viewpoints for one character. The best way to do that is to become your character. That way, Marcy Kennedy explained, we can better remember that we only know our own thoughts and feelings, not someone else’s, we can only experience things within our eye sight or within our ear shot as they happen, and our past and personality determines how we react and interpret things.

According to Marcy, who wrote the book Point of View in Fiction:

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall. It’s the opinions and judgments that color everything the reader believes about the world and the story. It’s the voice of the character that becomes as familiar to the reader as their own. It’s what makes the story real, believable, and honest.

A character’s self-sacrifice can also help pull readers in. K.M. Weiland, from Helping Writers Become Authors, said that “Self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love—and so, of course, it’s an endlessly powerful story catalyst.”

To make the self-sacrifice even more powerful, K.M. said that you should have a scene earlier in the story that sets up the self-sacrifice, by showing how much your character wants something. Doing that shows the reader that the character is doing something really hard when he or she self-sacrifices.

Another aspect to consider to round out characters is internal dialogue. Writers in the Storm shares in a post that internal dialogue helps show emotion, in addition to helping to pace the story. According to Marcy Kennedy, the most effective internal dialogue is not repeated in actual dialogue or action, it should be used to share important thoughts, and it should be told in the character’s voice, not the author’s. Additionally, internal dialogue should sound like dialogue, so that it sounds natural.

Author Zoo also recommends using juxtaposition, to help show a character’s motivation. Lana Pecherczyk gives two examples of using juxtaposition: as a flashback in a tense scene or in characterization, to make the reader think more about that character.

Last, if you want some advice for how to become an overall better writer, check out McSweeney’s “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do.” Colin Nissan lists tips and explains in a tongue-in-cheek way why those tips are useful. Advice includes writing every day, not procrastinating, reading a lot, and finding a muse (though he cautions, “Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes”).

Originally published August, 2016

From Grammarly: How well do you know your grammar? Affect vs. Effect

All writers know that grammar is important. And the company Grammarly likes to put a fun spin on learning grammar. How big of a grammar nerd are you? TakeTake Grammarly’s quiz to show how much you know about affect vs. effect:
affect_effect_grammarly

To learn more about affect vs. effect, check out Grammarly’s in-depth blog post that explains the difference between the two.

Writers: Going the Traditional Publishing Route

Courtesy of Pixabay

Courtesy of Pixabay

Not all writers wants to go the indie route, which is understandable. Publishers have teams to help with editing, publicity and marketing, and distribution. And it’s cool to be able to say, “XYZ published me.”

It’s a tough route to go though. I have a few friends who have written manuscripts and are currently sending them out to agents. But it often takes months for agents to get back to them, and when they do, they’re sometimes vague about what they’re looking for. You definitely have to have thick skin, and be patient.

According to Huffington Post, you should limit your query letters to 20 at a time and follow up after 2 months:

If they don’t get back to you, they don’t want to represent your project. Move on. Remember that agents only get paid when they sell your book. They have a trained eye toward what publishing houses want, and they represent projects that they think they can sell for significant money. Consider that a $5,000 advance garners an agent a measly $750 (15% commission). No matter how much they might love your book, they’re financially motivated and they sell books for a living.

You could also try to directly sell your book to publishers, though this works best for niche books and if you submit to small- and medium-sized publishers.

Forbes has a list of tips for how to get a book deal. Most of the advice is geared toward non-fiction writers, but a lot of it could apply to fiction writers as well. They include the usual, be persistent, be active on social media, and write a lot tips. But they also encourage writers to book speaking gigs and become experts on their topics, as well as contributing to other books and attending conferences and other events where you can meet people who could potentially publish your book.

As a writer though, the best thing you can do for yourself is to write. John Scalzi, author of Agent to the Stars, wrote about the 10-year anniversary for the print version of his book, which started off as started off as a practice novel he wrote back in 1997 and then posted to his website in 1999. Scalzi then posted his second novel on his site, which Tor picked up (though they didn’t pick up Agent, because they didn’t think it was marketable at the time.)

Another publisher, Subterranean Press, ended up buying the rights to a limited hardcover release of Agent, which eventually allowed him to sell it to foreign markets and to Tor for paperback and audio.

John Scalzi then sums up his experience:

Occasionally at signings, people will come up with a copy of Agent and confide that it’s their favorite novel of mine, as if that’s something weird, because OMW or Redshirts are the usual suspects for that title. But I like it when they tell me they like Agent. It’s my firstborn (if second-published), and it was written not because I wanted to sell, but because I wanted to learn. Writing it was a joy, if for no other reason than the dawning awareness I had writing it that, yes, in fact, I could do this thing, and I liked doing it, and that I wanted to do more of it if I could. That’s what Agent gave me that no other novel could, or will. It’s special to me. I’m glad when it’s special for other people too.

So, no matter which route you decide to go, just remember that the important thing is that you write.

Guest Post: Shifting from Writing Literary to Commercial Fiction

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By Tantra Bensko

Tantra Bensko is a talented writer and wonderful teacher. In fact, she taught me how to write experimental fiction at UCLA Extension. She is the author of numerous books, including her latest, Glossolalia, a psychological suspense novel that is part of her Agents of the Nevermind series. Below she shares her experiences her shift from writing Literary to Commercial fiction, and gives great tips on how to succeed. Find out more about Tantra on her Facebook author page.

In the olden days, masses of people enthusiastically read poetry, Literary Fiction, academic criticism, and in-depth analysis of profound novels. Now? You’ve got to be kidding. No way.

Statistically, Literary interests have dipped so far down as to be arguably pathetic. What to do? If you grew up inspired by the geniuses taught in school, and you hoped to write books that would be classics included in anthologies of great American thought, you may have realized by now that emulating those authors is no longer likely going to get you many readers. That’s OK. But still…

Have you ever secretly considered switching allegiance from Literary Fiction’s beautiful language, artistic sentiments, profound subtle themes, startling metaphors, intensely unique narrative voice, conceptual brilliance and meaningful structural innovation to – just plain Genre entertainment? Fast action, pop sensibility, sex and death, splashy heroes and heroines and adrenaline-based excitement? I know. It’s like becoming a new person to make that kind of change. But it’s actually possible. I know because I did it.

Granted, my novels aren’t simple entertainment. There’s a political analysis and history there. But otherwise, they follow The Mighty Formula instead of veering from it meaningfully like my earlier writing did. They titillate. Things explode and there are chase scenes and fight scenes. The endings are not ambiguous and gray like real life. They’re victorious, straight up.

To make the transition, I made myself watch popular movies and novels in the genres I was exploring instead of my usual foreign art film and avant-garde literature fare. I no longer read Experimental Lit for fun. I embraced uber-conflict and linearity. I followed trends (God forbid.) I literally set out to change my taste and I had no idea it was actually so possible that a personality could be so malleable. And while I’m very glad I was the previous me—previously, I’m thinking the new me might possibly make more money—or, at least rationalize spending more money on advertising because there’s some chance the ads will lead to a reasonable ROI. Yeah, marketing jargon everywhere. Instead of creating a plot organized in concentric circles, I’m now “splintering the tripwire.”

I used to embrace my obscurity. Now it leads to gnashing of teeth. Bruxism was never a way of life for me before, but now, bring it on! Who needs sleep? I’m going to be “famous”: in other words, I’m going to watch my Amazon rank rise when the Kindle Select books are set to free for five out of every ninety days and they’re announced to the free-book groups.

I have a strong, solid reputation in the Innovative Literary Fiction world, have spoken on panels at conferences, guest edited a magazine, teach Experimental Fiction, had hundreds of publications and won awards. But if I offered the influential free-book groups about my previous books of short stories that subverted the dominant paradigm with kaleidoscopic perspectives and an avant-garde novella that collapses time, the group members would have made funny faces that could have gotten plenty of hits on YouTube.

Now, some people will still think the new books are too niche because they question US policy rather than just setting up the secret agents to be glorious good guys; instead, they’re the antagonists. But at least mainstream readers of my new books won’t be twitching, belching, backing away and staring out into the distance with their eyes unfocused while they regroup and try to forget what just happened.

My personality hasn’t changed completely. I still don’t go to the latest blockbuster movies in the theaters or read Stephen King. I have no idea what most people are talking about when they’re on the topic of current pop culture. I still do aim to veer the dominant paradigm of spy novels to ones that acknowledge the messed-up US policy. But I’m starting to allow myself to get that people like reading books that have a buzz right now, because they want to talk to people about them at work, at coffee houses, on dates. I can now even look at the covers of commercial fiction without a twinge of nausea.

I already knew the rules of all the genres well, as I’ve taught them for many years. I’ve had stories published in most genres, to at least demonstrate I know what I’m teaching. But I narrowed down to only one of them for The Agents of the Nevermind series and lo and behold, I actually like it. It’s not constricting at all. And it doesn’t feel shallow or like I’m selling out. In fact, it’s liberating to feel I’m an insider instead of an outsider with my nose pressed against the window of all the Genre authors networking, advertising, and gaining visibility on Amazon.

Lit Fic is known in the Commercial circles as “those books where nothing happens.” Or, “all the thoughts of academic professorial characters experiencing existential angst in middle aged crisis.” “Language being inexcusably flowery.” “The land where semi-colons go to die.” “Snob city.” It’s nuanced motifs and ambiguity. Depressing endings and lots of pondering.

Conversely, commercial fiction is happnin’. Commercial fiction is hip. It’s action; it’s triumphant battles of good vs evil. It embraces a predictable formula instead of fighting it tooth and nail to create something new and fresh and unlike anything ever seen before. The audience is wider and to really succeed, needs to appeal to people of average intelligence and lower as well as higher. This is the part I personally find most difficult, because the ideas I want to get across take a lot of brain-power to absorb, and guessing solutions to the mystery puzzles in the plots requires earnest conjecture. Getting my books requires going against propaganda and assumptions, stereotypes. They’re thrills for thinkers. I have to have faith there are lots of readers out there interested in the world around them, intrigued by going deep and using their smarts.

Apparently, however, most people don’t want to think too deeply about what’s behind the scenes in politics, details that call into question popular memes, international economic realities, and true history which has instead been changed by the Pentagon in its presentation in popular movies. But then, most Literary readers don’t either. Not really. Some people do, however. And I want to give them something to revel in. Just like I did with my Lit Fic, in a different way. And I want to make it fun.

What’s a simple universal formula for Commercial/Genre Fiction? The main character, who is usually the protagonist, is seen at first in regular life, with a hint of a flaw that makes the reader wish the character would grow up, get a life, and listen to her ideas about how he should change. Good. OK, then, the inciting incident, bam, the requisite hesitation, the First Plot Point, in which he decides to take the plunge and enter the adventure, after which there’s no going back, and bam, the story has begun in earnest. The tension builds, of course—we all know that. But how it builds has been carefully analyzed by many authors, including the midpoint in which there he actually or symbolically looks in the mirror to assess the reality of who he really is.

The Second Act (out of four) has him reacting to the events and the Third Act shows him becoming more proactive, but he’s still learning from his inevitable mistakes. He’s in a pickle because of that particular tendency for mistakes, so he makes lot of wrong decisions, and learns from each one. Each encounter with the antagonist teaches him new lessons and he veers off on his approach, creating Plot Reversals. There must be plenty of zigs and zags as the protagonist learns the skills he will be called on to come out of the terrible Crisis and successfully fight the antagonist in the Climax in Act Four, ideally making a difference to the world at large.

While Literary Fiction can target only above average English skills because there’s little hope of being a best seller, anyway, obscurity being an acceptable status, fiction meant for a large audience statistically needs to be able to be understood by people who have average and below average as well as above average IQ, education, reading abilities, and understanding of the English language. Prose accessible by ninth grade reading level is generally recommended. Showing rather than telling directly is good, so the readers can figure things out on their own, but some amount of hand-holding can help people who are a little slow follow along with enjoyment.

Literary Fiction can get away with lots of internal dialogue, plots resting on epiphanies, long descriptions of landscape, older main characters, language-driven or character-driven material, Genre Fiction needs action. Thriller/Suspense, which my series falls into, needs explosions, chase scenes, fight scenes, sex scenes, lots of twists and turns, a ticking clock, urgency of solving the problem to save the world or at least a life. Murder is almost inevitable. However, Psychological Suspense is the closest to Literary in that it explores issues such as identity and self-delusion, is focused on a complex personality, requires long suspension of understanding, and has to be character-driven to some degree. Suspense is slower paced than Thrillers, which is an accepted trait of Literary as well, and while in Thrillers, something big needs to happen, in Suspense, the dread of something happening, even if not much ever does, is key. So Psychological Suspense is a good move for Literary authors trying to branch out for a larger audience.

Advertising the books is completely different. Before, I networked with the Literary Community, such as at local readings and on Facebook, where we shared and commented on each other’s links, reviewed work we loved, interviewed authors we liked, all for small press magazines.

Now I use Facebook ads, for example, bringing attention to my new Tantra Bensko Author page, and entice people to my newsletter with lead magnets of the first chapter with illustrations of the characters as well as videos, slideshows, and more. I create sleek images for the ads, Twitter posts, etc. with Canva, using the 20 % text rule, instead of painting avant-garde works on actual canvases. I used to make surreal trailers for my books myself and now I hire professionals and license the music.

Glossolalia_Cover_for_Kindle

I spend a lot more money on the Genre writing than the Literary, based on continually studying marketing, especially for authors, and I make sure to use the right color CTA button in the location on my website proven to get more clicks. I analyze the different interest groups I target in marketing for who signs up for my newsletter most often. I’ll be setting up ads, targeted to the specific audiences, that say “Fan of Barry Eisler? You’ll love Glossolalia.” “You liked Eyes Wide Shut? Read the book that finishes what that movie tentatively started.” I feel like a businesswoman my father would have been proud of while maintaining the integrity of my art that my mother would have been proud of. It’s actually possible to do. I know I’m facing competition of authors putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and box sets to give away as lead magnets. I’m competing with authors who outsource all their books and put out new ones in popular genres every month.

People who want to support my efforts to write about the reality of US foreign policy, corruption in intelligence agencies, media lies, and heroes who expose propaganda will buy my books and if they love them, word of mouth will set the novels free to make a difference to the world. In the Literary community, controversial political topics are taboo but in Thrillers/Suspense it’s becoming a possibility now indie publishing means we don’t have to kowtow to censorship by the domination of the Big 5. And I like that. I like the new me, and I like my new readers and fellow Genre authors. I still like the Literary crowd too. My world just expanded, is all. And that’s a good thing.

tantrabenskoauthorTantra Bensko, with an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, teaches fiction writing at UCLA Extension Writing Program, Writers.com, Writers College, and her own Online Writing Academy. Her Agents of the Nevermind series begins with Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense, about the lives of secret agents who are so secret, even they don’t always know that’s what they are. http://www.insubordinatebooks.com/

Indie Authors: Editing Tips to Attract Readers and Save Money

By Digital-Designs (Red Pen, Yellow Pen....) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Digital-Designs (Red Pen, Yellow Pen….) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

No first draft is perfect. That’s why editing is such an important step in the writing and publishing process.

There are a few types of editing:

  • Developmental editing
  • Line editing
  • Proofreading

In a nutshell, developmental editing looks at the big picture of a story, and makes sure the tone is consistent and things make sense. Line editing is more granular, and looks at improving sentences and paragraphs. And proofreading is the last step, making sure everything is grammatically correct.

IngramSpark has an article with nine common questions and answers about editing, if you’d like to read more. Some things to keep in mind are that you, as the author, do not need to blindly accept whatever changes an editor recommends, editors specialize in genres so you want to work with editors who have worked in your genre, and using a style guide is important.

There are a lot of things that indie authors can do on their own, but editing should not be one of them. That said, most of my budget for my self-published books goes to editors, and it can be on the expensive side. To help save some money upfront, it’s good to go through a few rounds of revisions, by either going through a checklist yourself, or asking for feedback from beta readers, or both.

If you’re looking for some help in this area, it may be worth considering joining an author collective or co-op. According to Jane Friedman, “Typically, author collectives are groups of writers who meet for the purposes of workshops, education, and networking. Some require members to pay yearly fees, and some, like the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, have a board that arranges events and provides services to the community.” The article goes on to recommend author collectives and give tips on how to start your own.

If you want to try doing a round of edits yourself first, BookBub offers a list of 12 editing mistakes that authors often make, which can be a good starting point. The first thing is the common adage, “Show, don’t tell.” However, also keep in mind that you don’t want to over describe things to slow down the pace. Also make sure you have believable conflicts, a consistent point of view, and good grammer.

On that note, HubSpot has a list of 10 edits that will improve your writing. A lot of the tips apply more to copywriters, but copywriting is important for indie authors too (think book blurbs). Tips include, making sure your benefits stand out (great for non-fiction books), using active voice, removing adverbs, and keeping paragraphs short. Most of these tips can apply to creative writers as well.

Last, many authors write informative blogs where they share their writing process and other helpful tips. Writer’s Write has a list of their favorite author blogs, as well as group blogs, blog directories, and other blog resources.

Happy writing and editing!

Guest Post: The Alchemy of Words

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By J.D. Lakey 

J.D. Lakey is the author of science fiction series, The Black Bead Chronicles. She shares how she became a sci-fi writer. Keep reading for a synopsis of the third book in her series, Spider Wars: Book Three of the Black Bead Chronicles. You can also get the first book in the series, Black Bead, free on Kindle today.

Continue reading

Guest Post: TaleHunt, An App That Brings Out Your Inner Storyteller

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By Aby Matthew – Co-founder and CMO of TaleHunt

TaleHunt is an app that features stories 250 characters or less. The platform has built up a community of writers and readers.

Imagine how amazing it is for us to craft a story and others to get enraptured by our imaginary world of tales? The most powerful way to articulate our lives is by writing a story. Writing helps us to understand ourselves from yet another perspective, to feel each and every moment in our lives, to explore a “deep me” within ourselves, and much more. So next time you dismiss the thought of writing a story because of lack of time, dedication or perseverance, checkout the TaleHunt mobile app that brings out your inner storyteller. Continue reading

Indie Authors: Organization and Writing Tips

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.54.05 PMAs an indie author treating writing as a business, it’s important to stay on top of deadlines and to always work on improving your craft.

Organizing Your Time

To that end, Duolit has provided a helpful free monthly planner for authors. The idea is that to-do lists can be too daunting, and if you schedule activities in your calendar you will actually get more done. The planner has you choose a focus for the month. For example, building a website, writing, planning promotions, etc.

Of course, writing (arguably) the most important activity you can do as an indie author. So you want to make sure you spend some time each day writing. Monica Leonelle gives some great advice on how to write more. In addition to using dictation software, she advocates making a small to-do list for the day (so it can complement your calendar), where you fill in things to do for a two hour chunk of the day, three 25-minute sessions, and five five-minute tasks. I haven’t tried this method yet, but I can see how it would be satisfying to do.

Shelley Hitz also advocates scheduling your writing time as a way to improve.

Improving Your Writing

Yes, the more you write, the better your writing will become. But it’s also good to figure out what makes writing good, and how you can improve your skills. Forbes recommends three books that will help with just that, including The Sense of Style and The Getaway Car. Sounds intriguing, especially for books on writing.

Writing flash fiction can also improve your writing as a whole, according to Kate Tilton. This is because in flash fiction, you have to make every word count.

According to Brain Pickings, great storytellers must have three qualities: magic, story, and lesson. And R.S. Mollison-Read wrote about two other essential writer skills: imagination and analysis.

Live Write Thrive provides a 10-item checklist of questions to ask about your story. Questions include character reactions, what the conflict is, and what the point of the scene is.

And The Book Designer talks about joining writer groups to help you write, and also promote your book. The article also provides a long list of groups you can join.

And last, if you’re looking for some inspiration, Writers Unplugged shares 21 quotes for novelists. Here’s my favorite:

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” ~ Beatrix Potter

Indie Authors: Getting Your Book Discovered

By Santjo2011 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Santjo2011 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With hundreds of thousands of new books being published each year, it’s hard for indie authors to stand out.

One strategy I’ve written about before is going permafree, meaning you set one book in a series to permanently free, as a way to entice readers to buy the rest of the books in the series.

To add fodder to that idea, M. Louisa Locke writes about how using the permafree strategy freed up more of her time for actually writing (instead of working to constantly promote all her books). And Bacon and Books shares their experience with giving away books for free, at least temporarily.

If you’re looking to promote your book (whether you’re having a sale, offering it for free, or making it permafree), here a few websites you can try:

Additionally, check out my post, “7 Strategies and 110 Tools to Help Indie Authors Find Readers and Reviewers.”