Tips and Tools for Serious Writers. Time to get serious about your writing career You won’t be able to quit work and write, but you might find a grant to make your writing goals easier. Or a crowdfunding opportunity to fund your project. Find serious contests, too.
Every once in a great while, a typo or grammatical error appears in the newsletter. I have a wonderful proofreader, and, between us, we comb the newsletter each week. But hey, sometimes when the stars align and we both have a bad week, an item slips by. And someone will inevitably, gleefully correct us.
There is little more insulting than for someone who never offers positive feedback, to smugly tell someone that their grammar is wrong. Let me explain why.
1) Once the words are said and/or published, they cannot be taken back, regardless of how noble the criticism. “You did wrong,” becomes more the message.
2) Rather than educate the person (as the critic often states is their motive), they’ve insulted them. Unless the critic is personally close to the individual, their criticism will be considered critical, not enlightening.
3) The critic is remembered as a critic. They are burning a bridge.
4) The mistake might be a one-time thing. Better to wait and identify a trend rather than pounce on a happenstance slip.
Critics will often begin their assessment with one of the following remarks:
1) I normally love your work, but this mistake bothered me…
2) You are normally keener than this, but I couldn’t help but notice…
3) I used to be an English teacher/bestselling novelist/editor/term paper grader and cannot help myself…
4) Sorry, but I’ve always been fanatical about grammar, and I couldn’t help but notice…
If it’s not repetitious, don’t do it. Even then, think twice. Trust me; you aren’t remembered in a fond light.
A week ago, a gentleman wrote about using THEIR as a singular pronoun, stating that I made a mistake. Then he downplayed it, joking, typing in jumbled up, misspelled words that he wasn’t necessarily a professional but just wanted to bring it to my attention.
My response was that I don’t correct other people. Once something is published, it cannot be undone. However, since he opened that door, I wanted to cite places that use/endorse/explain using THEIR in a singular context. In return, he got mad for being corrected and unsubscribed.
Just think twice before correcting someone else. We aren’t always so perfect ourselves.
I’m the co-author of a new comic novel, Kitten on a Fatberg, which is currently crowdfunding on Unbound.
Unbound uses a different model to the traditional publishing one. Essentially, a book’s author(s) have to raise a certain amount of through pre-ordered copies before the book goes into production.
Once that happens, Unbound handles promotion and distribution. And because the publisher has covered its costs up front, the payment deal isn’t a royalty percentage but a 50:50 profit share. Another advantage of this approach is that the publisher gets to see what sort of demand there is for a particular title, and who the market is.
At the time of writing, we’re currently 31 percent funded. Here are some of the many things we’ve learned along the way…
Don’t mistake crowdfunding for vanity publishing. Getting accepted by Unbound is just as tough as getting accepted by a conventional publisher. You need to make sure that your submission is as ready as possible.
Understand your potential base. With crowdfunding, you have two target audiences – those who know YOU (family, friends, co-workers) and those interested in the book (who may not know you at all). Focus your efforts on the first group.
Work your network. Beyond your inner circle, you have lots more connections you could approach: former colleagues, old school friends, social media contacts. These people are all easier to interest than strangers because you are a known quantity, so long as you approach them with care.
Get your approach right. There is no one right way to approach people, but a personalised message is essential. Some education about crowdfunding may be useful. Humour can be effective. Above all, nothing too hard sell.
Don’t beg. Avoid framing your ask as if you are seeking donations. You are selling a book, not asking for a handout.
Avoid the temptation to batch-and-blast. Don’t just email all your contacts in one go. Far better to send a handful of emails every day, topped and tailed with a personal message.
Explore press and PR options. In our case we’ve written a series of articles on writers’ blogs, in literary magazines, and in the local press. Where there’s a fee for an article, we put that towards our target too.
Be savvy about social media. Find different ways to spread you message. Ask for influencers in your world to help spread the word. If you’ve been published by online litmags, for example, editors are usually only too happy to share news of your book. Imagery and video play very well in social media too.
Work those nudges. People often need to hear a message three or four times till they act on it. So find ways to subtly remind people about your book – add a message to your email signature, share updates on Facebook, put up flyers in local cafes and bookshops – the more imaginative your ideas, the better.
Be patient. Crowdfunding is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be days when you get flurries of interest – especially near the beginning – and days when nothing happens, despite your best efforts. All you can do is keep plugging away, keep emailing, keep thinking of new ways to reach people…
BIO: Dan Brotzel (Twitter handle: @brotzel_fiction) is co-author of a new comical novel, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound). As a reader of this blog, you can pre-order Kitten on a Fatberg for a 10% discount – simply quote promo code KITTEN10
When you’re a hungry freelance writer, it can be hard to say no to a prospective client. But not every freelance-writing job is one you should take. Some clients are simply a nightmare.
The good news is, you can often tell you’ve got a PITA (Pain In The A*) client before you ever get started. After more than 20 years of freelancing – and 7 years coaching 12,000 writers in my Freelance Writers Den support community online — here are my warning signs.
1. The freebie request
Based on what I’m hearing, there’s been a resurgence of the ‘free sample’ scam. If you have portfolio samples, there’s no reason to do a custom, unpaid piece as a tryout. These clients rarely hire writers. They just tell you no, and then use all the free-tryout posts and ideas they get.
2. Buy-to-work offers
Ever get what sounds like a big-name client who’s dying to put you to work, as soon as you write a check for the computer or supplies they insist you need to do their job? Yeah – that’s a popular scam. Even if they send you a check to cover that cost, it bounces.
3. Low pay and promises
Many faltering startups have work available now, at terrible pay rates, but they promise it’s only temporary. Don’t believe it. If you start low, you’re likely to stay there. And clients who can’t pay pro rates often go bust.
4. Paid in dreams
Some clients have an exciting startup story to tell you, and they’d like you to work for shares of stock in their company (a/k/a equity). Those will be worth a fortune someday, they insist. Only take these gigs if you can afford to never get paid.
5. Paid for the win
Some shady companies and nonprofits will ask you to write a grant, Kickstarter campaign, or bid proposal for them, paying you only if they receive the sought-after funds. These are highly unethical. Grants, Kickstarter money, and government-bid funding cannot pay the writer. A similar offer in PR writing is to get paid only if you succeed in securing a story for them in their target magazine. Again, that’s a no-go. You need to get paid for your time, regardless.
6. No-boundaries alert
These needy clients are going to ask for your instant-messaging ID. They plan to ding you late at night, on weekends, all the time. And they’re going to birth a calf if you don’t respond right a- -way. If you don’t want to be available to clients 24/7, set your work-hour rules right away. Hint: Set the example by not answering new-client nibbles outside business hours.
7. Contract phobia
Is your new prospect all excited to work with you, but when you ask for a contract, you suddenly hear crickets? Hesitation to sign contracts clearly defines a client unfamiliar with freelancing. That means you’ll spend way too much time training them, or they’re planning to stiff you and don’t want you to be able to sue. Also, don’t agree to, “We’ll do the contract later.”
8. No deposit, no workee
When writing for companies, your request for a 30 to 50 percent up-front deposit will flush out the losers. Experienced, legit companies won’t blink at this requirement. Bogus companies will act like you’re insane.
9. Peer in the Glassdoor
Hop on Glassdoor.com and put in their company name. Read the reviews. I know many writers who could have avoided unpleasant clients and ripoffs, if they’d read Glassdoor first.
10. LinkedIn clues
Every good company has a LinkedIn company page. Put their name in a LinkedIn search and narrow your search to ‘Companies.’ No page? Bye-bye.
They DO have a LinkedIn page? Take a look at how many employees link to it. This is your yardstick for whether the firm is big enough to pay decent rates and have ongoing work. If they have 3 employees, it’s a questionable situation. Feel reassured with 20 linked profiles, and 50+ is best.
Watch for red flags
If you notice one of the problems above, think hard about whether you want the hassle this client will bring. The time you spend working for clients who underpay or don’t appreciate you is better spent seeking great clients who love you, understand your value, and pay appropriately.
The Newbery-winning Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski captured my imagination when we read it in school. Lenski meticulously researched the life of a real girl who was captured in 1758 and raised by the Senecas, an Iroquois tribe from the area in which I lived. The concept of a war captive being raised as family was intriguing. I decided I wanted to write a similar book.
The librarians at Patterson Library in Westfield, New York, took my ten-year-old quest seriously and gave me access to the closed-off balcony with its stacks of dusty archived books. I spent weeks filling hundreds of three by five cards with notes from accounts written by people who had been captured or by someone to whom they had told their story. These were even more entrancing than Lenski’s book, illuminating a variety of experiences. But by summer’s end I realized anything I wrote would be distanced and inferior.
While I dropped the project, I had unconsciously absorbed the difference in primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Those accounts written by people who were captured were primary sources, the ones written by someone to whom they told the story were secondary, and mine would have been tertiary. When you are using information from people as a source, the closer you can get to primary, the more life it will have.
When using a written source, the primary is the original document. If you find something quoted in a resource, that resource should be saying where it came from – follow that back to the original document. If there’s no attribution, I’ve found the quickest way to find an original source is to search the person or quote + searchable manuscripts. There are usually multiple hits. Look for websites from governments, libraries, universities, or other solid sources.
At Amazon’s “Look Inside” for Lenski’s book, you can read the foreword, in which she describes how she researched the story and adapted it for fiction. She researched Jemison’s entire life and the Iroquois (of whom the Seneca are a part) in depth. She talks about the fact it was a transitional time for the Iroquois and how she tried to address that. Her illustrations are modeled after traditional Seneca artwork. It is clear she knew as much as possible about Mary Jemison and the world in which she lived.
However, while Lenski’s writing was undoubtedly informed by that broad base of acquired knowledge, she did not dump it all into the story. If she had, the book would have bored children and gone unnoticed. Instead, she kept her audience in mind while writing. In the foreword, she tells the reader “Certain liberties have, of necessity, been taken with Mary’s own story, to adapt it to fictional use for modern young people, but the essential facts remain true to Mary’s actual experiences.”
Lenski mentions various specific resources throughout the foreword and ends with two paragraphs of thanks. As you do your research, keep track of key source information you’ll need for citations and bibliographies. The online writing lab at Purdue can help you give credit professionally if you’re writing nonfiction. If you’re writing fiction, share your sources with the reader and say thank you.
BIO: Sheri McGuinn is an award-winning writer and self-publisher. With Master’s degrees in both education and professional writing, she also does writing and editing for hire, coaches other authors through self-publication, and conducts self-publishing workshops.
I received yet another email telling me how online promotion has changed. A message telling me how I need yet another podcast, book, or blog series about how to sell my book differently in order to do well. I deleted it. And I’ll continue to delete them. . . for now.
Because right now I’m writing. I’m into Chapter 8 for one book, and Chapter 6 in another. (Yes, for some strange reason I’ve tackled two books at once.) I lay my head on the pillow at night purposefully with a scene in my mind so that my subconscious will work out the kinks. I often pop awake with ideas. Or maybe I don’t, but when I sit to write, more ideas still happen to flow.
But study now about how to market a book that isn’t close to being published? Nope. Delete. Delete. Delete.
But we’re supposed to be marketing around the clock, if you read the gurus online. I swear there are more gurus than there are novelists. But I’m deep into plot, sculpting dialogue, infusing the senses and depth into character. . . honing the twists. I’m making magic. I have no time for lessons on becoming a salesman.
No, I’m not procrastinating. Really, I’m not. I’m making a conscious decision to conserve and preserve my talent and energies for the story. We learn a new language best from immersion into the culture. Where everyone and everything around us is about that language, and we are forced to adopt it, embrace it, and become fluent in it. Which doesn’t happen when we are half one language and half another.
Besides, per the emails I received just today, in reading just the subject headers before I deleted them, apparently Amazon Marketing has changed, BookBub marketing came up with new methods, and Facebook Advertising takes a new sort of deft hand to not lose your shirt. So why worry about marketing now when it will become a different animal by the time you write THE END?
Most major cities offer artist grants for those of us involved in the arts. In my town there’s an annual drive for locals to apply, and back in 2014, I gave it a go. According to the rules, anyone in the arts field, including literary arts, was eligible. “Hot dog, I’m going for it!” I said.
I followed the guidelines, crossed my Ts, and dotted my I’s. I was rejected. I applied again in 2015 and was rejected, 2016 rejected, 2017 rejected. If you’re reading this, you are a writer. Rejections are commonplace. You’re told “don’t take it personal because this is a subjective business.”
Applying for grants might fall into that “subjective business” category, but by now I’d reached a state of frustration. Then in 2018 I applied again, told myself that if I didn’t win, I was done. The process was simple enough: submit an application with writing sample, letter of recommendation (at one point the Director of the Local library system wrote the letter because several of my titles are in the Public Library), and a request of how the funds would be used. I submitted and told myself to move on.
Looking back it never dawned on me the lesson I’d learn from all this. The more you work at something the better you become.
I received a phone call. I already had the grant organization in my contacts so the name popped up. I thought “Wow they’ve never called me about a rejection. This is a first.” Reluctantly, I answered.
“I’m calling to personally congratulate you. You won the grant.”
“Don’t play with me,” I said. “This isn’t funny.”
“No, seriously, you won. And I know how long you’ve pursued this. Congrats.”
Honestly I don’t remember how many times I heard the word congratulations in that phone call, but that day was a turning point. As a writer you crave recognition. You yearn to hear that all this work you put in hasn’t gone in vain. We may never amass the riches of JK Rowling, but we do seek readership and acceptance. I felt vindicated.
Then I researched, eager to learn how many writers had won this grant. Most grants are required to list all past winners, and I went back to when the records were first kept online in 2012. The only writers awarded grants were journalists, poets, a screenwriter, and a children’s picture book artist. No fiction author had ever won. Wow, right?
What had I done differently? I had tired of rejections and attended a couple of webinars on grant writing, learning it’s more than filling in blocks on an application. You pursue a grant with the same serious mentality you infuse into your writing. You make the judges believe in you wherever you can.
Where do you find grants? Online sources like FundsforWriters, state arts commissions, and local arts councils, for starters. Join one of many writer’s organization like AWP, SCBWI or Author’s Guild. Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and Poets and Writers magazines also list them.
When you see a grant opportunity in FundsforWriters or anywhere online or in print, go for it. Maybe it won’t take you the five years it took me but consider a grant in your destiny. You are worthy, and writers are not quitters.
BIO: Attracted to words at an early age, Rod’s first book was created in grade school, and his teacher used it to encourage creativity in her students. His high school English teacher told him to try short story writing. He listened, and the rest – as they say, is history. http://rodmartinez.us / facebook.com/authorrodmartinez
Clint Eastwood and squinting. JK Rowling and YA. Clean billionaire romance stories and $80K in sales.
Last week a blog poster bashed Clint Eastwood and his squinty eyes, saying he had only one look. Whether you feel he is or isn’t limited in his screen personalities, Mr. Eastwood became quite successful acting, writing, producing, and directing stories. He’s highly respected and made a lot of money being so. . . limited.
In JK Rowling’s early years of Potter, she was accused of promoting evil, demonism, and anti-Christianity. Today she’s revered and most people don’t recall what those earlier days were all about.
A handful of authors jumped on “clean billionaire romance” stories of 40,000-50,000 words, capitalizing on 50 Shades of Grey only wanting to make them G-rated and quick reads. A friend of mine made $80,000 with those books one year, and her cohorts in the sub-genre made six figures.
I love Clint Eastwood, have never read Potter, and do not enjoy reading cozy romance. However, I will indeed admire the business acumen of anyone who figures out a niche, a marketing gimmick, a subgenre, or a voice, and becomes successful at it. I can respect the skills while not enjoying the product.
A while back, I created a post titled How to Further Your Writing Name. The feedback was pretty positive, but one reader replied, “Good article! A similar article from you is to write the same for nonfiction freelancers. It would be very helpful.” So if you are a freelance writer, here is a list of how you can promote yourself and your brand.
To start with, it’s simple. Each and every single day you promote yourself. For instance:
1) Write a guest blog post and pitch it. Any nonfiction article you’ve written makes you a semi-expert on the topic. The byline will say something like: Author of fill-in-the-blank of title and where the article appeared.
2) Leave deep, well-written, intelligent replies on other blogs demonstrating who you are and how personable you are. This works for any sort of writer.
3) Post on social media something related to your brand or writing.
Make your social media page as good or better than your website, where people come to get a taste of your expertise and personality.
4) Find mentors on social media and connect with a post.
5) Create a small book with a collection of the articles you’ve written as a sort of resume.
6) Connect with a local bookstore with above-said book and speak.
7) Connect with a library and speak about being a freelancer, or a topic on which you’ve written.
8) Attend a library event then introduce yourself to the speaker while gathering intel for new articles.
9) Join the Chamber of Commerce and send them an ad.
10) Attend a Chamber event and give out your card or above-mentioned book. Chambers have many members who need freelance material and prefer to remain in the fold of membership to do business.
11) Start a biweekly or monthly newsletter about the niche in which you write.
12) Create an email signature block about your writing.
13) Write a feature for the local paper.
14) Speak at the area service organization breakfasts and lunches (Rotary Club, Lion’s Club, Civitan Club, etc.)
15) Write a feature and pitch it to a local magazine.
16) Attend all sorts of events in your area to see if they can joggle ideas for stories, but most of all, meet the people there. Ask questions of the speakers or experts present, introducing yourself.
17) Send letters to your politicians, telling them what you admire about their platform or recent stance, and let them know you’d be happy to write for them or about them.
18) Start a podcast about being a freelance writer. Clearly note your brand whether it be sassy, uplifting, educational, or investigative.
19) Write reviews for nonfiction authors, emailing them with a copy of the review, your card, and a thank-you for writing the book.
20) Become familiar with the other freelancers in your area. They will refer material to you.
21) Never leave home without your business cards. Give one out per day.
22) Ask a school if you can make a presentation.
Don’t forget colleges.
23) Contact your local community center and ask about making a presentation.
24) Send postcards to your community – make them simple and professional. Few freelancers think of this, which means they are putting themselves into everyone’s head as the only freelancer they know…which means recommendations.
25) Send a press release to your local television station to the specific journalist who does human interest pieces about the most amazing story you’ve ever covered. The go-to story you love to tell.
26) Be seen writing.
27) Write “Freelance author” in any place that asks for your profession.
28) Tell someone you are a freelance writer and have snappy and colorful answers for those standard questions of “What do you write?”, “Where can I read your work?”, and “How can I do what you do, too?” Do not waffle. Own being an expert.
29) Focus on becoming known as the writer who sees all, or promotes the positive, or loves his hometown/state, or some other brand/niche so that you are easily memorable.
30) Create striking cards. Never go with a standard Vistaprint template. Spend the extra money on something memorable.
31) Never meet anyone without letting them know who you are and what you do…with a card.
Keep a calendar. Each day you promote yourself in any way, cross it off with a big red X. Be honest. And when you don’t, leave it blatantly blank. Develop the habit of self-promotion. The point is to become that person everyone recognizes as “that writer,” not just someone who sometimes writes.
BIO – C. Hope Clark is the founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of nine mysteries and three nonfiction books. Her FFW website has been chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers, and her South Carolina novels have gained an eager fan base, ever waiting for the next release. www.fundsforwriters.com / www.chopeclark.com
When an actor reads a script, he’ll think about how to approach his character, his motivation, his arc. When a cinematographer reads that same script, he’s thinking about lighting, camera angles, and what cinematic style to employ. The art director thinks about how to use design principles and visual techniques, while the editor assesses how everything will cut together.
But what about the producer? After all, she’s the creative gatekeeper who has committed to bringing all these people together to turn your script into a movie. What does she look for? In short, everything. (Albeit from a macro level.) Because if she doesn’t understand what the script needs, how will she assemble the right team for it? Moreover, how will she find its audience? Below are six main areas that a good producer will consider when reviewing your script.
The producer wants fleshed-out characters, dramatic tension, coherent theme, and appropriate narrative structure. These are the underpinnings of viable cinematic storytelling. The story should resonate with your target demographic – whether through comedy, drama or thrills – ultimately offering a two-hour journey that encourages the willing suspension of disbelief. Bottom line, you can take a great story and make a so-so movie, but you’ll never turn a so-so story into a great movie.
Producers are not only the film’s creative shepherds but also its fiscal ones. They’re responsible for deciding how much the film should cost and then securing that amount from investors. They also maintain a fiduciary duty to make choices that will benefit those investors. Smaller stories that require over-the-top set pieces or excessive visual effects might turn what would otherwise be a greenlight into a pass. Similarly, material with a low-budget feel might turn off a producer seeking something with wide theatrical appeal.
The right cast is almost indispensable to selling a film, so it’s no great mystery why producers rarely read a script without thinking about who would play key roles. Think about known actors whose look, style and personality might best befit the characters and let that inform your writing. The producer may ask you who you see playing those characters. Just make sure the actors you pick have a decent track record of starring in successful films.
Execution & Logistics
At the end of the day, remember that the producer is tasked with turning your words into images. That means finding the right locations, hiring the best crew, securing vendors, determining a feasible schedule, and doing it all in a way that protects the integrity of both the story and budget. If she sees a workable path for bringing your script to screen within the budget parameters, she’s more likely to take a chance on it.
Loving a script is not enough. The producer wants to know that others will love it, too. Those people will make up the movie’s audience. As she reads, she’ll be thinking about how to grab the audience’s attention before they ever buy a ticket, from posters (how will the stars look on it?) to trailers (are there some good action-oriented set piece moments?) to awards potential (can I parlay a win at Cannes into an Oscar?). Considering such things in the scripting stage yourself might make your material more marketable.
A feature film is ultimately a product. Making it is only the first step. Releasing it to an audience is the rest. The producer thinks about which distributors, sales agents, and platforms will find the story appealing, whether it be a made-for-TV movie, an international blockbuster, or a small Spanish-language indie for the Latin streaming market. Elements like scope, scale, plot, tone, genre, cast type, and marketability factor into this decision, so your understanding of such things help you better craft material.
These six elements are critical to how a producer analyzes a screenplay, but they don’t operate in a vacuum. They all relate and affect each other. For instance, story and budget will affect the level of cast you can attract, while all three will affect logistics. Cast and budget will affect the marketing plan, and so on. As such, multi-hyphenates like writer-producers who actually produce some of their own material are in the best position to consider another producer’s mindset when writing future scripts.
BIO: Mark Heidelberger co-founded Beverly Hills-based Treasure Entertainment in 2000, serving as a film executive, producer, and literary manager until 2011 before going freelance. He has produced music videos for artists Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, and John Michael Montgomery as well as commercials for Lamborghini, Con Air and Cox Media, to name a few. Film and TV credits include Harsh Times, Comfort, Ninja Apocalypse, It’s Not You It’s Me, Pray for Rain, and Hallmark Channel’s You’ve Got a Friend. Often times, he also performs ghostwriting services on screenplays in addition to his producing duties. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America. He holds a BA in Film Studies from UCSB and an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.
New writers/unpublished writers are quick to say “I am passionate about writing. I just don’t know how to publish.”
Okay, but that’s apples and oranges. To be passionate about anything means you are skilled at it to a certain degree. You may not be a master or a best-seller, but you have written for long enough to make mistakes, learn from them, and have direction. . . at writing. You can self-correct. You have dreams about the stories. Publishing, however, is not writing.
Publishing is about the business.
You cannot be passionate about being a published writer simply by dreaming, talking, or thinking about it. You can’t become passionate about publishing until you’ve done it enough to make mistakes, learn from them, and have direction. You can self-correct. Passion comes after you know what you are doing.
Passion is a strong feeling, emotion, or like. You cannot have passion for another person without knowing them well. Same goes for writing. Same goes for publishing.
In other words, you have to do it long enough to tell whether or not it’s a passion, because a passion sticks with you for a long, long time. . . and you’ll do anything to make it happen. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get disenchanted. It sticks. It’s purpose. It’s about making it happen regardless of what gets in your way.