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.
If you can write engaging, informative and fun features for younger readers aged 9 to 12, then children’s nonfiction could be your market. Over several years, I wrote many pieces for publications including Hoezit!, MiniMag and others. Here’s what I learned…
Market Guides for Nonfiction
Resources for finding places to publish include the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market (published annually) and their website listings, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Educational Markets for Children’s Writers by Evelyn Christensen, Writers Write Children’s Market Listings and author Aaron Shepard’s online list.
Pitches that Work
Many pitches are seasonal: Things to do for the holidays, movies to watch in winter. Other times, articles discuss fascinating facts related to school subjects like math, science and biology. Your sweet spot is subjects that are both educational and interesting. Current pop culture hits the mark, too.
Engaging Your Reader
Children’s nonfiction is shorter (300 to 800), make it count. Shorter sentences and paragraphs apply, with no need to “talk down” to your readers. Bullet-points and interesting “fun fact” side-bars are your friend. It’s much easier to lose a young reader’s attention with jargon, so always include explanations to terms they might not have heard before.
An Educator’s In
If you don’t have an educational background, have a good source in education: They can tell you more about what’s currently going on in the school’s curriculum and classroom, and what kids are currently reading, watching and talking about.
Always note your sources at the end, and make sure they are child-friendly sources for readers who click through. That means zero adult content anywhere else on the website as far as you can tell, including sponsored advertising. Your website should also have a special, separate section for younger readers.
Publications will source most images and illustrations, but if you’ve got a specific idea, diagram or puzzle to illustrate, leave your notes in the sideline for the staff illustrator.
Educators will also be reading your work and might even find them useful in their lesson plans. So, use this platform and send educators copies of your articles, or have a section “For Educators” on your website filled with links and useful resources. Involve schools by asking if you can host a talk on a topic you wrote about: This gives you hands-on access to your readership and what they want to read.
Resources for Readers
Readers enjoy having something to take away from an article. Include plenty of stuff they can check out elsewhere related to your article – videos on YouTube, further reading on the topic, an all-encompassing website that’ll tell them everything they need to know. Writing children’s nonfiction means you get to teach something while you’re freelancing.
BIO: Alex J. Coyne is a journalist and writer. His features and essays have appeared in publications like Folks Magazine, People Magazine, Great Bridge Links, Re:Fiction and FundsforWriters.
A new UK company has launched offering aspiring novelists an alternative to publication: a salary from £2,000 per month to write novels. De Montfort Literature (DML) will pay writers a salary to write novels which DML will then design, print, publish and promote. After salary, production and marketing costs, authors will receive a 50 percent share of the book sale profits.
Imagine having to report to work every day, sit at your desk, and produce a certain amount of work. To earn a full-time writing income, you have to write full-time. A lot of people don’t like that. They think the rigorous schedule takes the fun out of writing. Well, guess what? When a hobby becomes a job, there are days you don’t want to come to work. Just because it’s writing doesn’t mean it’s exempt from a work ethic. Income success correlates with work production.
Write every day.
You get better.
You get stronger.
You get faster.
You build confidence.
You become dependable.
You get to the point that whenever your butt hits the chair, your brain kicks into gear and your fingers itch to write. It’s called habit. It’s teaching your body what to instinctively do. And it makes a mockery out of writer’s block.
Most authors are afraid to write daily. Those who aren’t, are the ones making more money. Doesn’t that just make perfect sense?
BIO – C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Carolina Slade and the Edisto Island Mysteries series. www.chopeclark.com
I just failed at my writing goal for a second year in a row. I wanted to write a million words in a year. In 2017, I wrote 927,000 words, up from 900,750 in 2016.
Some might not see that as a failure. So how do I get to a yearly word count that many writers think impossible?
Put in the Time
Work ethic is more important than talent. Writing is my day job, and I work 50+ hours a week. For those who have other day jobs, slip in time whenever you can. Write before your family gets up in the morning. Write on the bus. Write after everyone goes to sleep. Snatch fifteen minutes here, half an hour there. You’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up.
It’s a Matter of Math
At the start of my career, a prolific writer gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard. She said, “If you write a page a day, by the end of the year you’ll have a book.” My first thought was, “What if I write two pages a day?” To get to a million words a year, you have to write 20,000 words a week for fifty weeks. That gives you two weeks off. Does 20,000 sound like too much? Do a tenth of that and you’ll get 100,000 words. That’s two short novels or a heap of short stories and articles.
Writer’s Block is a Myth
There are two causes of “writer’s block.” The first is laziness. Be strict with yourself. The second is more insidious. It’s your critical mind interfering with your creative mind. You’re not blocked, you’re holding yourself back.
Your critical mind is that practical part of your head that tells you if a certain piece is right for a certain market, or if your dialog rings true. It finds all those awkward phrases and comma splices. It should only come into play after you’ve finished writing. Writing is the creative mind’s job, but all too often your critical mind will second-guess everything and stop you cold. Avoid this by giving yourself the right to write junk. No one will see your first draft. Feel stuck? Write anyway. Once you’re done, go back with your critical mind and improve the piece. Often, you’ll find you’ve written better, and faster than you thought you would.
But you need that work ethic. Isaac Asimov always recalled how his father ran a candy store, opening up at six in the morning whether he wanted to or not. He never suffered from “shopkeeper’s block.”
Stop Before You’re Done
I stole this idea from Hemingway. Stop when you still know what you’re going to write in the next paragraph or two. When you come back to it, you’ll know how to start, and your subconscious will have added more to what you’ve already planned.
Mix it Up
I’m always working on a fiction project, at least one nonfiction project, and a blog post simultaneously. If I need to think about one project for a while, I can switch to another until I’ve figured it out. I try not to write two fiction projects at the same time, however, because that tends to cross my wires.
I hope this helps. Now if I can just follow my own advice better, maybe I’ll get a million words this year!
BIO: Sean McLachlan is a novelist and historian who divides his time between Spain, England, and Egypt. Learn more about him on his Amazon page, Facebook page, and blog.
I read a lot of blogs, newsletters, magazines, and websites. As a fast reader and research guru, I can hardly resist to let some resource pass me by. However, with so limited time, I’ve had to decide which topics are worth my time. While my logic might not be yours, you might give my reasoning some thought. Or at least test-drive my choices.
First and foremost, give yourself credit for knowing what you need and what you don’t. Not everyone is an expert and not every piece of expert advice is worth reading. Topics I will immediately discard:
1) Writer’s block. This is so dang personal that nobody can tell someone else what to do. I happen to be one who believes in either writing through writer’s block or taking a nap to wake up and start writing refreshed. I don’t believe in it much, and I definitely don’t want to hear about someone else’s.
2) Self-editing. There are so many ways to self-edit, so many angles, so many levels. There isn’t one right way. If you understand good writing and appreciate proper grammar, then figure it out.
3) The best way to market. Marketing depends on your extrovert level, your wallet, your tech savvy, your social media appreciation, your genre, your platform, your region, your experience in other arenas. The best way is to analyze your strengths, and the strengths of a handful of successful people you trust and admire, and just do it.
4) Outlining or pantser. I delete those instantly. Each writer has to test both ways and figure it out.
5) Religion or politics. Enough said.
6) Finding time to write. This isn’t a secret. You make time, or you don’t. You prioritize, or you don’t.
So many of these topics are the result of someone needing filler so they write about an “evergreen” subject. Some writers talk about these subjects because they are avoiding their more serious writing. Some want to sound experienced when they are not. Fact is, they are not unique topics. They are washing machine items, constantly spinning around in the tub.
How do I know to discard them without reading them? I read the email subject lines, first lines in the first paragraph, and/or titles. Yes, I practice what we hear preached all the time…letting the opening hook dictate whether I read further or not. When I have 300-500 emails per day, I need some sort of gleaning mechanism, and why not that which we teach…opening with a bang, or at least with enough meat to suck me in. And if the writer still wants to pick such a mundane topic, then they need to show me they have a new twist that will totally wow me.
In a world where it’s near impossible to land an agent or publisher, and indie publishing appears to be a monstrosity of complexities, it might be time to consider contests. And don’t talk about how most of them are scams, either. There are more publishing scams out there than contests, my friend.
Why focus on contests when your goal is publishing? Because contests are a roundabout way to open a door to getting published. And you get to toy around with submitting more than that book you’ve obsessed over. You can also submit novellas, short stories, flash fiction, and poetry.
Suggestions on entering contests to aid your career:
1) Stick to contests that result in publication. Whether it’s a website, a journal, or a publishing house, getting publication credits in your portfolio matters. You need credibility.
2) Extract from your book-length work and create a short piece or two. There are way more short story competitions than novels contests. Take the gist of your longer piece and turn it into a short submission. The point is to make people realize you can write. If you win, THEN tell them you also write novels.
3) Choose reputable contests, not something cutesy and cheap, so that when you win you are respected, not chuckled at. Show that even when you enter contests, you are a professional.
4) Be willing to pay entry fees. They fund the publishing, the judging, and the prize money. Better to pay $25 to enter and win $1,000 than pay $0 and win $50. The latter doesn’t look as good on a resume or pitch letter.
5) Consider those contests that offer feedback. Those critiques might right some wrongs in your work.
6) Choose contests where the judges are agents, publishers, or editors. Even if you don’t win, you might catch someone’s eye.
Some authors enter contests regularly while still pursuing publication. There’s no point in passing up this sort of opportunity. Especially during a time that writers are a dime-a-dozen and landing attention is like screaming into the wind. While you’re planning your query letters or indie promotion, make time for a contest or two each month. It might be the catalyst to take that stalling writing career to a higher level.
BIO: C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of eight mysteries, The Shy Writer Reborn, and The Best of FundsforWriters. www.chopeclark.com
I certainly did. But as a full-time freelancer with no paid vacation days to subsidize professional development, paying to attend a writers’ retreat was not an option. After unsuccessfully applying for scholarships, I tweaked my approach—and won a full scholarship to the Writers Winter Getaway. Here are four strategies that helped me find success.
1. Read the Guidelines Carefully
Before writing my application, I read both the scholarship guidelines and event details looking for keywords. What made this event unique? What were their core values? How did they market this event to writers?
I found three concepts to emphasize in my application: Community, supportive workshop environments, and time to write. I made sure to touch on each of these in my application. For instance, my rural community doesn’t offer many opportunities to connect with writers, so the community aspect of the event was important to me.
This research was time-consuming, but it helped me organize my thoughts and outline my application. It also cut through self-doubt. I didn’t ask myself “What should I say?” or “How can I convince them to pick me?” I let my research guide me in writing a strong essay.
2. Research the Honoree
My wife, who reviews thousands of scholarship applications in her job, offered valuable insight. Many scholarships are given in honor of someone, but few applicants connect their story to the honoree. Those who do stand out to the scholarship committee—and often go on to win.
Before completing my application, I looked up the honoree, poet Toni Brown. Not only could I connect personally to Toni, since we were both LGBTQ writers, but I found ways to touch upon her story in my application materials. While I never mentioned Toni by name (due to word count constraints), doing so can make a positive impression on committee members.
3. Use Details to Create a Sense of Urgency
I almost didn’t apply for this scholarship, because applications closed the day before I left for a two-week vacation. With my bags packed, I found time to review the application and pull something together quickly. With no time to stress—if I didn’t finish this now, it wouldn’t get done—I found urgency that allowed me to be transparent in expressing my need without feeling the shame or embarrassment that can come up when asking for financial assistance.
My application explained what I wanted to work on at the retreat (a new novel), where I was in the work (10,000 words in), what specific goals I wanted to accomplish (which tied back to their guidelines), and why now was the ideal time for me (I was facing burnout). My time constraints helped me demonstrate urgency to the scholarship committee. When I received a phone call that let me know I was a finalist, they said as much, telling me “It sounds like you could really use this opportunity.”
4. Send Your Best Work
Even though I planned to work on a new project, I sent my strongest work—in my case, five pages from my polished novel. A committee member sought me out at the retreat to let me know how much she enjoyed my writing.
While it was a true gift to receive a scholarship to a writers’ retreat, the process I developed to handle applications is what I’m most proud of—and hope to put to good use again soon.
Bio: Lindsey Danis is a freelance writer based in the Hudson Valley. Her writing has appeared in Cognoscenti, AfterEllen, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and Verity La. Learn more at http://www.lindseydanis.com.
Entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin recently spoke about speaking. He believes for a five-minute presentation you give a four-minute talk and take your time. You don’t want to rush, and you don’t want to appear less professional by going over time.
The concept works for every other aspect of writing as well.
Submission deadlines – Submit early rather than late or exactly on time. Being late is inexcusable, and being on time can give the impression you rushed to the end.
Word count – Submit under the word limit rather than over. The latter appears as if you do not respect the publication’s rules.
Newsletters / Blog posts – Better to be shorter than longer. If in doubt, cut back. Readers appreciate it.
First drafts – Give yourself less time to write, just as long as it’s daily. To press too hard or to give yourself a time span that you cannot honor day after day is to invite disenchantment with the job.
Query letters – Brevity is your friend. It appears you have more command of the language and craft, and it’ll make you concentrate your words and your message.
We all have the same amount of time to perform while on this planet; however, you must coordinate that performance. Time management is critical, even as a creative. Buy yourself time and you will not only look good to fellow professionals, but you’ll feel better about yourself in your accomplishments.
BIO: C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters and author of the Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries.
Every so often, a friend will hand me a children’s book manuscript and ask if I would review it and offer an honest opinion. I’m always delighted to do so, but, over the years, I’ve discovered that almost every one of those potential book projects suffers from a critical and quite frequent mistake. When I ask them about it, they will often hang their head and sheepishly admit that, yes, they are guilty of breaking this rule:
If you are going to be a successful children’s author, you MUST read children’s books on a regular basis!
Interestingly, many novice writers think that just because they’ve raised some children or read a book to their grandchildren, they are ready to write their own children’s book. Unfortunately, that alone does not adequately prepare one for writing juvenile literature. Prospective authors need to soak themselves in the culture of children’s literature, regularly! They need to know the language, the themes, the concepts, the tenor, and the presentation of children’s literature. And, the ONLY way to do that is to read children’s books on a regular basis…every day…every week…every month.
If you are not reading children’s books, then you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage in the marketplace. The books you read as a child are not the same books kids read today. Today’s books have a certain flavor, spark, and presentation. You need to experience that unique culture if you are to write equally compelling and engaging books.
Reading current children’s literature on a regular basis has enormous benefits for you as a beginning children’s author. Here are a few:
1) Introduces you to a wide range of authorial styles. If you want to get a sense of what good writing is all about, you need to sample many different kinds of writing – the good, the bad (and the ugly). In so doing, you are getting a full picture of what writers can do (or, what they are unable to do) in terms of characters, conflicts, and settings.
2) Shows you language patterns that resonate with readers. When you read the stories and books of other authors, you can get a sense of the language appropriate for different age groups. You’ll also immerse yourself in the semantics and syntax of different genres.
3) Gives you the opportunity to compare good stories with bad stories. To know good books you need to experience bad ones. The bad books give you a frame of reference necessary to your compositional efforts. That diversity is essential to your writing success.
4) Allows you to see how different authors handle similar themes. By exposing yourself to a wide variety of storytellers, you learn a sense of how various authors tackle universal themes. By studying the various ways of presenting a story, you give yourself an education available nowhere else.
If you want to write children’s books you have to read children’s books! One without the other is like vacationing in Maui without going to the beach. It’s only half-done! Read, and keep reading, lots of children’s books. and you will notice a decided improvement in your own ability to craft stories for a new generation of readers.
Some days it sure feels like we’re writing into the air with nobody enjoying our words. Readers no longer leave comments on blogs. Few leave reviews for books. We can’t tell if people read our magazine features unless they reply in an email, and we cringe at the open rate of our newsletters.
It feels like nobody’s there.
Admittedly, I reply less on blogs than I used to, because it’s just something else to keep up with. I do try to leave book reviews, because I know how important they are, but since nobody responds to a book review, it does make one wonder if anyone notices.
We’re swamped with reading material, swamped with how-to-be-better material, flooded with newsletters from writers who’ve become editors, teachers, promoters, motivational speakers, agents, or publishers because there is more money to be made selling services to desperate writers than in simply writing.
Before someone teaches me how to become a better writer, I want to know where they got their expertise. Where have they excelled? How well did they write before they crossed over? But that’s too much trouble, so I usually delete their messages, too.
You’ve got to be a writer because you love words. And you become a writing teacher because you have a history to teach from. In this crazy time when everybody calls themselves author, when I’m asked what’s the best advice I can give a new writer, I say something along the lines of this:
Write daily. Write because you enjoy it. Write for the long term. If you want immediate money, get a job. This writing career is about loving to tell stories. Readers want to hear about how great your story is, not how many copies you sold or how brilliant your promotion campaign was. Readers want to be lulled and drawn into a new world they love, not sold a popular fad.
Writers need to be paid. Fact. But sometimes, you don’t have to be paid in cold, hard cash. Working for perks in lieu of monetary compensation has always been an integral part of the industry. Of course, this doesn’t help pay the bills, but these perks are definitely not to be sneezed at, especially if you target products and services you would spend your money on anyway.
The first thing you need to understand is that virtually every major company in the world has a PR and marketing department. The reason these departments exist is to spread the word about their business, and this is where you come in.
An easy starter is to write to companies asking what new or upcoming products are available, and if they would like anything reviewed in exchange for samples. Don’t go crazy and start demanding a new TV. The more expensive the item, the more likely it will be that the manufacturer will only loan it to you and expect it back. To secure items you may have to ‘pitch’ the manufacturer, saying specifically who you intend writing for, and provide information like circulation figures and market demographics. Most importantly, highlight why it would be in the company’s best interests to be featured in this particular publication.
A concept prominent in consumer magazines is the ‘road tested’ feature where new-to-market products are tried out. Look for extra sweeteners you can offer such as a post on your personal blog, a Tweet, or even an Amazon review. The more exposure you can offer, the better. Personally, I review a lot of books, albums and computer games. Therefore, I work with a lot of publishers, publicists, and record labels. The first step is to approach these people (their contact details are freely available online) and ask them to add you to any mailing lists they keep. Then you’ll be among the first to know of any new or upcoming releases, as well as press trips and interview opportunities.
In 2012 I fired off a quick email to the developer of my favorite computer game asking for a ‘check disc,’ including a link to my blog and mentioning my reach on social media. The company, eager to generate publicity ahead of a new launch, was more than happy to accommodate. Furthermore, they’ve sent me a new and updated version of the game every year since, amounting to over $250 worth of free software. In fact, my expenditure on entertainment has been practically non-existent for years.
With a little experience, you can ‘build’ features from the ground up, get paid AND collect masses of free swag. Let’s suppose you wanted to go on a camping trip. Pitch your idea to editors who may be interested, then, when a commission is secured, use it to approach various other entities. Firstly, you are going to need specialist equipment and camping gear, so contact outdoor suppliers and ask them to kit you out. New boots? Track down well-known brands and ask. And how about a camera to document the event? Again, ask.
Standard practice is to offer to give their product a subtle ‘in copy’ mention (“I couldn’t feel a thing in my new Karrimor hiking boots!”) and a ‘thank you’ at the end of the article, along with perhaps a link to their website. You might not be able acquire everything you require, but, taking into account the fee you will receive from the publication, you should at least be able to procure enough to make the trip profitable.
To help make the whole process easier, try using a service like PRweb which hooks you up with PR companies and enables you to put out requests for products or services. They exist to make your role as a journalist easier.
BIO: C.M. Saunders is a freelance journalist and editor. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in over 60 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Record Collector, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Gore, Liquid Imagination, and the Literary Hatchet. His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut) and Human Waste, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications. He is represented by Media Bitch Literary Agency.