Generally, nothing you do alone will be as good as what is accomplished when you collaborate with other people.
What are Beta Readers?
Beta readers are a group of people you select to read an early draft of your book (often after developmental editing). They are meant to give you a general idea of how readers are going to respond to your work. Think of it as your own market research group.
Who Can Be a Beta Reader?
Anybody (friends, co-workers, writing group members, strangers, etc). However, it’s helpful to find people who resemble your target market and who are reliable enough that you feel confident in their ability to (1) read the entire book and (2) promptly give you feedback.
When Should I Start Recruiting Beta Readers?
As soon as you reasonably can. “Reasonably” meaning you have a solid enough understanding of the book’s content to clearly tell someone what kind of story or content they will be consuming.
Where Can I Find Beta Readers?
Everywhere. Face-to-socially-distanced-face and online. Your critique groups, family members, and hobby groups. You’d be amazed how many people are willing to help out with your project.
Now that you understand the basics about beta readers, get out there and start signing people up!
Media coverage isn’t just about your next launch day.
Getting media coverage for your book has several advantages, even beyond what kinds of sales day you’re going to have on your book’s launch day. By promoting your book, you’re also promoting yourself as an author. This means that when book number two is ready, you’ll have a fresh following of people who will be eager to purchase it.
Being interviewed and featured in newspapers or on blogs also means that you have the opportunity to get in front of a new demographic. Some of whom may want you to come on their show or be featured on their outlets as well. Some authors are able to make a single news interview blossom into commercial book deals, acting gigs, speaking engagements, and more depending upon the content of their book and the kind of coverage they receive.
You are what you write with.
Classic Century 10 Karat Gold Filled/Rolled Gold Pen and Pencil Set
WhoUses Media Coverage?
Just about any author who is looking to turn their writing hobby into a global phenomenon. This is especially true if the book is simply one method for expressing a larger message. For example, if you are an inspirational speaking, writing a book about your life perspective may be just one brick in your road to holding live webinars that pay you enough to sustain your household.
What Does Getting Coverage Entail?
Reaching out to the right people at the right outlets to make sure your book gets in front of the right audience.
Show, don’t tell, with an interactive project camera from Michaels!
When Should I Start Trying to Get Media Attention?
Editorial calendars vary depending on the outlet, so this is a question you’ll have to answer based on who you plan on reaching out to. Go to that company’s website and figure out what their editorial calendar looks like so you can figure out where you fit in and try to estimate when you should start reaching out to them about your book.
Where Should I Look for Media Coverage?
Everywhere you can that fits your audience! This includes blogs, magazines, newspapers (yes, they still exist!), YouTube channels, podcasts, talk shows, and radio shows.
Readers can’t buy anything if they don’t know it exists.
If you’re shy like me (I’m working on it, I swear!), this isn’t a concern. You’re perfectly happy curling up with your phone on the couch and posting quotes and pictures of your book on Instagram to your followers. However, for those of you who are a little more adventurous and don’t mind being quoted in a magazine or interviewed on a talk show, you may be wondering how in the world you even secure media coverage for your book.
Start Your Author Website
Having an online presence is a great place to start when it comes to getting media coverage for your book (or yourself). This creates a single spot where people can go to find out more about you, review your body of work, and contact you for interviews, appearances, lectures, and more.
The Wheel Already Exists
You don’t have to code a website from scratch, pay someone to develop it for you, or spend hour-upon-hour trying to figure out how to create your website on your own. There are plenty of “drag-and-drop” platforms that offer site or blog hosting services. Many of them are free of charge, such as Wix.com or WordPress.com.
The two things that will cost you some money if you decide to use them are a domain name and an ecommerce feature.
A domain name is everything between “www” and “.com” (org, edu, gov, net, biz, etc.). So, for most authors, they will try to simply use their full name. For example, mine is TeneshaLCurtis.com. And I highly recommend something simple like that: JaneABrayon.com, LarryTenton.net, ArabiaJohnson.me.
In order to do this, you’ll spend somewhere around $10 to $20 per year on a domain name from places like GoDaddy. They usually have a search bar for you to input the domain name you’d like. The system will let you know if it’s already been taken, is available, or is being held by a third party for sale. Most sites also provide recommendations for variations on the domain name you want.
If you find that your name is already taken, try adding an extra word or an initial to differentiate. For example, instead of ClaraPeters.com, try ClaraCPeters.com, ClaraPetersWrites.com, or AuthorClaraPeters.com.
Once you set up your free website, you can attach your custom domain to it. The steps are a little different for each platform, but the instructions are readily available. If you want to do everything on the same site, you can simply buy a domain name from wherever your free site is hosted.
With most free sites, being able to sell digital and physical products is not a standard component of the website. You will have to pay (monthly, in most cases) for the ability to sell anything directly from the site. That being said, you don’t necessarily HAVE to use these features. You can just as easily use a button that leads to Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, or wherever else your book is being carried and let them deal with customer service, order processing, warehousing, packing, and shipping. Adding the ability to sell things is usually somewhere around $10 to $20 per month.
Be sure to represent yourself professionally on your site including having a clear way to contact you, highlighting your latest book or work-in-progress, and a way to see past books you’ve written.
Create Your Email Template
You can find hundreds of media contact templates on the web. The reason so many exist is because there are so many different ways to construct a media request email. If you’re not going to be hiring a PR firm to help you with your media campaign, you’ll have to be patient and thick-skinned as you trudge through the process of finding, researching, vetting, and contacting media outlets about your book.
Two common, key components of this email are including what exactly you want from the outlet (a book review, an interview, etc.) and how it would be of benefit to the outlet (how does it help them to cover you?). Don’t just tell them it’s content for their website, channel, or publication. Just about ANYTHING could be. But what is it about you or your book that’s going to solidly connect with their audience and make them glad that they subscribe to that outlet?
I’m Tenesha L. Curtis and my new creative self-help book Book Outlining Basics would be great for you to write about for NYT.
Please get in contact with me at 404-579-7252 when you’re ready to schedule an interview.
The brevity is awesome, but I’m not sure Horatio would know exactly what I want or what’s special about my book versus the hundreds of other book requests he probably gets on a daily basis sent to his inbox. I’m not claiming perfection or a guarantee of coverage, but here’s something a little better than that:
Good morning, Horatio!
I’m Tenesha L. Curtis and I’m writing to request a book review in the nonfiction section of the weekly New York Times book roundup, BookShowcase, that you produce.
My latest work is called Book Outlining Basics: Strategies for stronger first drafts and provides a succinct, actionable set of instructions for creating outlines for books and screenplays. Readers don’t have to sift through any fluff like theories and history to find the knowledge they’re looking for. With the bulk of your audience being readers who may have considered writing a book, but never acted on it, a book like mine would give them the exact kind of straightforward instruction they’re looking for regarding how to start planning a manuscript. They would appreciate creating a book that might one day end up on BookShowcase, I’m sure!
I have included the Book Outlining Basics introduction and first chapter in the body of this email for your convenience.
Please call me at 404-579-7252 or email Publish@VoloPressBooks.com with any questions.
Thank you for your time.
At the end of the day, without having an intimate friendship with a contact at the magazine, news channel, Instagram profile, or other outlet of your choice, it will be difficult to know exactly what to include in your email. Many authors describe the media pitching process as one of trial and error (much like sales copy writing or keyword selection for advertising). So, be patient and keep plugging away at it. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from most or all of the people that you reach out to.
Create Your Contact List
Research YouTube channels, magazines, blogs, talk shows, podcasts, and other outlets that cater to your target audience or directly deal with the central theme or material your book covers. For example, if you write a novel about a cancer patient falling in love, you could market that to romance outlets, cancer sites, and dating sites.
For each outlet, make note of their:
audience demographics (what are most of their viewers/readers/listeners made up of? Their sex, socioeconomic status, nationality, native language, location, etc.)
site content (what is most of the information on the site focused on?)
media contact (their name, email, and phone number or social media account)
link to their editorial calendar (if applicable)
If you’re creating a table, I’d also recommend adding space for noting when you contact them, how, and notes.
That’s okay! This is why PR firms exist. Click here to do a search and simply choose from the available options.
The newest addition to the text gallery is our memoir designer.
This simple form takes you step-by-step through all the critical elements of constructing a memoir that readers will love. If you’ve ever considered sharing your life story with the world, the memoir designer is a great place to start. You can find it in the text gallery.
In my experience helping people with their memoirs, there are a few key components that they leave out and a few odd things that they seem to think are really important. One of the easiest first steps to writing in any genre is to actually read books in that genre. It’s often obvious that people haven’t because their memoir is so disorganized and makes the mistakes mentioned below.
Dates and Names
I have been repeatedly amazed (I know, you think I’d be used to it by now!) by how many memoir manuscripts come to me filled to the brim with dates, streets, detailed estimates of the time of day that something took place, and the names of high schools or companies.
That’s not to say this information isn’t helpful for orienting a reader to time and place, but only when added to a more robust retelling of events in the person’s life that readers will care about and can relate to.
Here’s an example.
I remember it was around 11:00 p.m. because my neighbor worked third shift and I had just heard him pull out of his garage in his yellow Toyota Camry. I used him as a timer to help myself go to bed at a decent hour on weekdays so I wouldn’t be so exhausted when it was time to get up and go to work. I was the shift supervisor at the Wriot Gear selling writing equipment like journals, whiteboards, and printers. It was the one in Atlantic Station next to the Publix. I lived on Fletcher at the time (in Mechanicsville) so I didn’t have to deal with Atlanta traffic too much.
I heard a weird noise outside, so I went to my front door. I had windows in the front but they were frosted glass so I couldn’t see anything out of them clearly, just shadows really. My father would replace those later with a wall of glass that made my living room blazing in the summer and freezing in the winter. I thought maybe my neighbor’s car was acting up. I thought that might be weird because I heard that Camrys (and most Toyotas) were reliable vehicles. When I get to the front door to look out, I saw a man walking up my driveway with a gun!
I don’t know about you, but I’m practically asleep until the very last line. Look at all that wasted time and information. It’s like that key incident gets pushed to the back burner so the writer can insert a bunch of details that aren’t all that interesting or helpful. Now, let’s try this version on for size:
I heard my neighbor pull out of his garage, heading to work to start his midnight shift. I closed my book and turned off whichever Vivaldi concerto I was listening to at the time. I didn’t want to be too drowsy to get up on time in the morning.
“The hell is that?” I mumbled to myself.
The sound came from the driveway, so I went to check, wondering if my neighbor’s old Toyota had finally broken down on him in the middle of the street. But when I cracked my front door, I almost collapsed and instantly broke into a sweat. I hadn’t been this terrified since the war. It was my ex-husband, in his fatigues, walking up my driveway with an assault rifle.
See how much more quickly we got to the main event? If the crux of reading the memoir is because it’s about a life spent overcoming the aggression men have toward the writer, that’s where the focus should be. The reader picked the book up because they want to understand how the writer overcame those situations, not to learn where they worked and what street they lived on.
A Lack of Emotion
We feel emotions every day. Yet, when it comes to recalling traumatic or exciting things that happen to us, I find that a lot of writers gloss over this key component of telling their story. I’ve had people reduce rape attempts to two sentences, but spend three paragraphs on the architecture of their boyfriend’s house. Take a look at your manuscript to make sure you slow down at critical moments and recall the emotions involved. Adding the other senses doesn’t hurt either. What were you hearing, smelling, touching, etc.? Bring your reader back into the moment with you.
Hops, Skips, and Jumps (in Time)
Some memoirs do slip back and forth a bit (that means only a little!) between distant past (childhood, early adulthood) and recent past (old age, in most cases). Skipping around frequently and without reason is a great way to confuse and frustrate your reader. Generally speaking, relaying your life events in chronological order is best. You can refer back to things that happened when you were younger in a sentence or two, but traveling back forty years to spend ten pages on a series of events isn’t always the best course of action.
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In the End
Ultimately, your developmental and line editors will help you work around these issues in your manuscript as long as you hire and listen to their guidance. However, if you’re going to be trying to produce your memoir on your own, a well-structured, easy-to-use guide like our Memoir Designer is going to be an essential tool for you to have on hand.
Creating an audiobook for your latest work is key to helping boost your brand and your sales. Though it will take some time and effort, as detailed in ‘How Do I Create an Audiobook?‘, the investment is worth it for the vast majority of authors.
What is an Audiobook?
An audiobook is a recording of you or a voice actor reading your book. Instead of getting a paperback or hardcover copy of the book, or downloading the digital text version on to an e-reader, audiobooks allow people to listen to the book being read to them.
Who Uses Audiobooks?
Audiobooks are used by readers of all ages and genre affiliations. It’s difficult to make an audiobook for things like journals, workbooks, or books with lots of images (such as a children’s picture book), but every other kind of book is pretty much fair game. Audiobooks are also helpful for people who have problems reading small text, are legally blind, or who have trouble sitting still for extended periods of time. An audiobook can be listened to while engaging in another activity such as running, swimming, cleaning, or shopping.
When Should I Start Audiobook Production?
Depending upon the length of your book and how you plan on producing it as an audiobook, the answer to this can vary. If you want the audiobook to be available on the same day as your other formats (paperback, hardcover, ebook, loose-leaf, etc.), you’ll normally want to start the production process three to six months ahead of your proposed release date. Keep in mind that this means your text needs to have been written, edited, designed, and proofread in order to make sure your listeners are hearing the same version of the book that your readers are seeing. So, if you normally have a finalized version of the book ready six months before your release date, that’s when you would want to open auditions to find a voice actor/producer or start recording your own audio.
Why Should I Create an Audiobook?
Creating an audiobook has several benefits that can help you build your fan base and provide convenience for your fans.
As mentioned earlier, audiobooks are often the easiest way for someone with visual impairments of various kinds to consume your work. Each time you publish text-only versions of your book, you are missing out on engaging avid readers who just so happen to not be able to see (very well).
An audiobook provides a higher level of convenience for reviewers and busy readers. Reviewers often have dozens of books they have been asked and/or paid to read by authors and publishing companies (not to mention whatever they read for fun). So, being able to listen to a book while they drive their kids to school, vacuum the living room, or wash the puppy makes their lives a lot easier. Sometimes, offering an audio file that a reviewer can listen to may help move your book to the top of their list. The same benefits apply to friends, family, and other people who want to read and review your book in order to help support your authorship, but find they have a lot less time than they thought they did to sit down and read a book.
Being more accessible to more people can result in more sales, more reviews, and more fans—all of which help you grow your career as an author!
Should you create an audiobook for your work? The answer is ‘yes’ for the vast majority of pieces. If having the time and money to do it professionally on your own are a barrier, review my post on how to create an audiobook and learn more about how to do it for $0.00 and get it distributed on platforms like Audible and iTunes.
Creating an audiobook is easier than you may have assumed. This article will walk you through the basic steps of making an audio version of your work. First, I’ll focus on how to do it without any third-party sites, then we’ll go over how to use ACX.
Set Up Your Recording Area
Look for a place in your home that is enclosed and relatively quiet (silent is best, of course). If you’ve got the funds, feel free to either install professional recording equipment or pay for studio time. Your basic needs will be:
Editing software (Audacity is a common, straightforward program).
Consider printing or drawing signs that can be placed on the refrigerator, in the hallway, or on the door to your recording area so that people in other parts of your home know to keep noise to a minimum until you’ve finished your recording for the day.
Don’t forget to turn your phone, clocks, and other noise-making devices off before you begin each recording session.
Record Your File
Use your equipment and software to record yourself reading your book. Be sure to keep water on hand and take breaks as needed. Slow down and speak clearly. You only need to be within a foot (6 – 12 inches) of the microphone in most cases, so there’s no need to have your mouth touching or an inch aaway.
For each section (each chapter, in most cases), stop and listen to the recording from beginning to end. If you had to stop because a train passed nearby or your phone rang, that’s fine. You can simply cut that out in editing. However, if you skipped a word or mispronounced a word, you may need to rerecord that passage so that you’ll have a clean version of it that you can insert during the editing process.
Stopping to review a chapter at a time allows you to notice and fix problems early and often so that you don’t finish hours of recording and then have to go back and review hours of audio that then needs to be edited. Doing this can feel overwhelming and burdensome.
Edit the File
Now that you’ve gotten through recording the entire book, it’s time to tidy it up. Here is a list of common problems you’ll be looking out for and correcting:
Long pauses (cut and close the gap).
Interruptions (cut and close the gap, insert re-recorded clips if necessary).
Rushed speech (insert space between sentences).
Skipped words or segments (record a clip including the needed material and insert it where appropriate).
Review the entire file from beginning to end to listen for any problems that may have slipped past you. If you have a fellow writer who’s willing, ask them to listen to it for you as well and give you their notes.
Upload the File
If your website has a shop with the ability to sell digital products, you should be able to simply attach the edited audio file to the product description in your shop.
That’s it! It’s time to start promoting and selling! If you want to go beyond selling your audiobook directly, read on to find out how to sell your audiobook on ACX.com (Audible, Amazon, and iTunes).
Publish Your Book
ACX can pull from books available for sale or pre-order on Amazon. So be sure to upload your book there first.
Create an ACX Account
Audible books are born on ACX.com in order to be sold through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes directly. Go there and open your account as an author.
Answer all the registration questions and confirm your email so you can move forward.
Pick Your Book
A list of books the system thinks belongs to you will appear based on your account details. If not, you can find your book using your author name/pen name, title, ASIN, or ISBN. Even if your book is in the pre-order phase on Amazon, you should be able to find it.
It’s helpful at this point to start creating the audiobook version of your cover. ACX will attempt to squish your portrait-style image into a square one and that looks awkward, so I encourage you to design your own. It won’t differ much from your ebook cover. The two major changes are:
Adding the name of the person performing the book (i.e., “As read by Jayn Doh”). If this is you, or you’re certain who you’re going to hire for this, you can add this information to the cover image now. However, keep in mind that the best-laid plans can come undone. So, until the person you plan on hiring has actually completed the project, it might be better to hold off on including their name on the cover. They could quit the project, get sick, die, etc.
Changing the aspect ratio to 1:1. This means creating a square cover image instead of a rectangular one.
Consider what you want to pay for someone to complete your book. Audible will provide you an estimate of how long your audiobook will be based on the length of your paperback / ebook. Remember that your producer will be reading the entire book, listening to the entire book, and editing the entire book (almost like three different jobs!), so do your best to come up with a price that is fair based on how much work they’ll have to do. Once you settle on a price, this will be what you’ll pay the producer that you end up choosing based on their audition. You’ll pay their fee one time in advance and then all royalties from the book will go to you.
Another option is to do a royalty split with the producer. In this arrangement, you agree to split the royalties evenly with them for a span of seven years. The major upside of this arrangement is that it costs you nothing up front. You can get started and get your book produced for $0 and earn royalties on the back end.
Choose whichever payment option works best for your goals and budget.
Audible will allow you to include specific text that you would like for the auditioning producer to read. This will help you get a feel for how they sound reading various pieces of your work. The word count is limited, so I’ve found it helpful to do a “spot check” version of the book, not just start from the beginning. Here are my suggestions for segments of your book you might want to include:
The opening passage
A scene with multiple character, especially if there is a rapid back-and-forth (such as a heated argument).
A high-tension, dramatic scene.
A funny scene.
Put one or all of these into a single document that you can attach so that producers can review it and use it to audition for you. Having them show off their skills for each of these different kinds of scenes so you have a more robust idea of what their overall performance will be like.
Set up a rating list on a piece of paper, a Google Doc, a whiteboard, etc.
As entries come in, write the name of the voice actor and how you would rate their audition. It doesn’t really matter what rating scale you use, so long as it’s consistently applied to each submission (letter grades, low-medium-high, one through ten, etc.).
Once you’ve closed auditions (I usually leave them open for about two weeks), it’s time to finishing listening to them and rating them. Review all the ratings and choose the one that rates highest. This is your audiobook producer!
Contact them to review and finalize pricing for the project. Here are a few things it’s helpful to let them know before they start working on the audiobook:
How to pronounce certain words like names and cities. A common one for me is “Louisville” because most narrator’s I’ve run into want to say loo-is-vill 😖 which sounds to any Louisvillian like nails on a chalkboard. So I always let them know that I prefer loo-uh-vul or even loo-ee-vill.
How to denote certain visual cues in the audio. For example, how will a listener know that a character is thinking something, versus saying it? They can’t see that the text is italicized. They also can’t see things like images and footnotes.
That you want regular submissions. Getting a huge batch of audio files dumped on you all at once can be overwhelming. It’s helpful to let your producer know that you’d prefer that they submit each chapter as it’s completed. This will also help you catch problems early instead of letting them seep into the remainder of the chapters.
How you would like the intro and outro stated or what you want them to include. Grab any audiobook from the big girls like Hachette or Simon & Schuster and you’ll notice that they start with a brief intro letting you know some of the same information included in the frontmatter of a printed or digital book (i.e., the title and author, the publisher, the copyright date, etc.).
Promote and Publish
Now that you’ve had the audiobook produced and have reviewed the final product for accuracy, it’s time to submit it for a quality review that Audible conducts. Depending on how long the piece is, this process can take from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. In the meantime, start reminding people that the audiobook is being released soon.
Once your book had been approved, Audible will let you know and you can make it available for sale!
While creating your own audiobook does take time and effort, it’s not impossible and you can literally do it for $0.00 if you so choose. But even if you do decide to invest some money into getting it produced, the investment is likely to be worth it. Audiobooks open your work up to new swaths of the population that you would never reach with an ebook or a paperback.
A student’s question highlights a few important points about editing apps like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid.
So, you’re using the free version of a program like Grammarly and you’re considering paying for the premium version. After all, there seem to be an awful lot of alerts that you’re missing out on because you’re not a paid user. But, is that really in your best interest?
“Is paying for premium versions of grammar software worth the investment?”
This question was brought up during my “How to Shop for Professionals” class, and we were specifically speaking about finding, vetting, and hiring literary professionals like editors and illustrators. Using a grammar checker to go through your 80,000-word science fiction novel is not something I would recommend for most authors. Since you’re going to hire a copy editor anyway, paying for the premium version of grammar software is just more money out of your pocket for the same service.
“But isn’t a computer algorithm more accurate than a human?”
Not in my experience. The problem with a lot of grammar apps is that the program just isn’t sophisticated enough to be able to make judgments about things like style and context (don’t even get me started on character dialogue!). This means that the program may highlight something as being incorrect when it’s really fine. For example, if you were to write ‘Dam,’ on a line by itself, your spellchecker might not alert you because it knows the word ‘dam’ and sees that it is spelled correctly. But if your intention was to have a character think ‘Damn!’ then the algorithm hasn’t helped you at all. Whereas, a human reading the context of the scene would immediately catch that this is the wrong word being used.
“Okay…but what if I’m not going to hire a copy editor for my book?”
Then, by all means, get every bit of help you can! If you don’t think you can afford a professional copy editor, paying for a program to help you out is still better than letting the grammar mistakes fall where they may.
Whether you are preparing to publish independently or to start sending your queries to agents or acquisitions editors, making sure your copy is clean is always a good idea. If you can afford to get a professional copy edit, that’s always best. But, if you can’t, algorithms are certainly better than nothing. When you get to the copy editing stage of your manuscript development, just make sure you make the decision that works best for you, your bank account, and your publication goals!
A collection of books to help you prep, begin, or enhance your writing project.
If you’re one of those people who has been talking about writing a book, but never started, there is a new collection available that’s got your name on it! This set of works can event guide you as you start or if you’re in the middle of your literary project.
The Author Tool Kit is a collection of works by experienced literary professionals like myself who want to help you transition into the world of being a writer as smoothly as possible.
The main thing most new authors are lacking is knowledge. They have the desire, they have the drive, they’ll make the time, and they have the hardware (keyboard, laptop, tablet, etc.) and software (word processor) to get their book done. They just need the insights of someone who has been through it all before to help them with some of the details.
Included in this collection:
Ditch the Fear and Just Write It!
The Newbie’s Guide to Book Development
The Indie Writer’s Handbook
Do Less, Write More
Time Management for Writers
Top Ten Tips for Enhancing Your Creativity
Writing as a Business: Production, Distribution, and Marketing
Pantsers Plotting and Planning Workbook
Writing Day In and Day Out
Write Like a Boss
and twelve more helpful pieces on everything from following the “show, don’t tell” rule to writing sex scenes.
Not sure what your next screenplay or book should be about? The five ideas can help your figure it out.
Variations on a Theme
One of the easiest ways to come up with an idea for your next piece is to borrow the core of another one and make it your own. This could be a classic tale like Jack and the Beanstalk or Snow White or something a little more modern like The Hunger Games or The Notebook. Choose a film or book that you like and break it down into its central components. What would its premise be? What would its slim, basic, or detailed outline look like?
Once you have all the pieces dissected, start swapping things out. For example, instead of a galaxy far, far away from Earth, make the setting an island far, far away from the United States. Instead of a human man reliving the same day over and over again, make the setup a country reliving the same atrocity over and over again. This method of switching out key components of the story or content and then writing it in your own style can help you create your next new piece. This is the process described in comparative statements made when people are pitching manuscripts and screenplays to acquisitions editors and film producers: “It’s like [insert bestseller / or blockbuster] meets [insert bestseller / blockbuster]”.
You are taking the same theme (the damsel in distress saved by a prince, the underdog overthrowing a tyrant, the financial glutton falling into poverty, etc.) and creating a variation of it that’s all your own.
No Longer Unsolved Mysteries
Watching a news report about an unsolved crime is another great place to find a new source of ideas. Take it upon yourself to speculate on what happened to the little girl whose body was found ten miles from her home in the middle of a school day. Give us the play-by-play for how a man who appears to have been caught red-handed is actually innocent of extortion. Sniff out all those cases that just don’t seem to make sense and have confounded local detectives and federal agents alike.
The Problem (and The Solution)
Especially useful for self-help and documentaries, consider some of the biggest problems in the world right now and what some solutions are. Do you have a stellar method for organizing the mountain of syllabuses that students are emailed at the beginning of each semester? Do you know the perfect way to explain to people why we see the sky as blue during the day instead of green, yellow, or some other color? Do you know that one secret that people need to understand about personal finance that will increase their net worth by 40% within the next three years? Even if you don’t have answers to these questions, if you know there is an answer (and that answer is one that people are desperately searching for) turn your research skills into your next literary venture. Put all the research together and give the people what they want!
Tell your own story, with a dash of creative license thrown in! Many people don’t write their autobiography or memoir because they have been fortunate enough not to experience any major, life-changing challenges. They haven’t had most of their limbs amputated, they haven’t survived civil war, they haven’t been to prison, they haven’t battled severe mental illness. In their minds, there is nothing about their lives worth reading, let alone writing about. If this is how you feel, that’s okay! First of all, it’s awesome that you don’t have some major drama or trauma going on for someone to be interested in reading. That just means you got lucky to have a life less stressful and painful than most people’s.
But you can always jazz it up (figuratively, of course) by exploring something that’s never happened to you and what your reaction would be to it. Never punched your supervisor in the face while he was man-splaining something? Write that scene! What happens next? How do you handle the consequences? Most important of all—was it worth it? Why? What did that moment teach you about your alter-ego?
Answering questions like this means you’ll start building a plot in no time, all by using all the experiences you already have available to you.
We’ve all got fancy ideas about a paradise, the perfect spouse, or the best job in the world. In order to turn that vision of wonder into a book or screenplay that someone wants to read or make, we just need to add some conflict and resolve it. What’s the catch to living in this paradise? What one flaw does this near-perfect spouse have or how does their perfection harm you or those around you? The best job in the world really would be so if it weren’t for the fact that…what? And is that downside worth quitting or not?
If you’re like many people who love to write but don’t always have a steady stream of new ideas, these can at the very least help get your creative synapses firing so you can start dreaming up your next big project. Have some other ideas for new ideas? Share with your fellow members in the comments!
Writing speculative fiction is a little bit different than writing an essay or a romance. For starters, you have to create multiple major world or character elements from scratch. Fortunately, there are plenty of books on writing genres like science fiction and fantasy out there to help you. Here are some of the best of 2020.
Stephen King’s writing book is a memoir-reference hybrid and contains some fantastic words of wisdom for writers. King’s success means he must be doing something right, so who better to teach you how to write horror (or anything else for that matter)? You are bound to pick up some gems reading On Writing. Anything by Stephen King is an excellent read for screenwriters as well because his books translate so well to movies and TV.
Containing all your favorite SFF authors, Now Write’s fifth volume is a compendium of SFF writing prompts and exercises. There is endless fodder for your imagination and lots of advice on how to do things like build worlds from scratch and create riveting characters. You can use this book as a jumping-off point for your writing sessions each day.
Philip Athans’ book covers all areas of fantasy and science fiction, and it even includes an original story by R. A. Salvatore, a famous author in the fantasy genre. Reading a story by one of the masters, alongside excellent advice, is the best way to learn how to write well. Philip Athans is an editor at Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons and Dragons, so he has a lot of experience in both the genre and the industry.
Dan Koboldt’s book is a treasury of in-depth articles written by scientists who are also writers. The book includes things like ant sociology and takes a look at how to apply this to a science fiction story. The best science fiction doesn’t shy away from real science, and Dan Koboldt’s book (and associated blog) will show you how to do this too.
The Teach Yourself series produces excellent guides for everything you can imagine, and their writing books are no exception. Get Started covers all aspects of the SFF genre, including children’s books and young adult fiction.
Reading books like the ones listed here has several benefits:
● You can take advice from successful, popular authors ● They usually include exercises or prompts that can help spark new ideas ● If you’re new to the genre, books like these can help you navigate the genre-specific writing challenges ● You’ll pick up a lot of general writing advice that you can apply anywhere in your career
If you’re interested in writing SFF or horror, any one of these books is a great place to start. They are also fantastic sources of guidance and inspiration for the more experienced SFF writer.