Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Having a Rock Star Agent Matters

The Benefits of Having a Great Agent

I'm sure you've all heard the warning that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I've read horror stories (and even heard in person from a best-selling author) about what happens when an agent goes bad and they have to start over and find a new agent. I've also read a lot online saying you don't even need an agent these days, especially if you plan to self-publish. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I went to a talk by a best-selling self-published author, and guess what she had? A top agent from a great literary agency. Another top-earning self-publisher just blogged about recently obtaining an agent for her books. Why? I'll discuss that in a minute. Overall, I agree that having no agent is better than having a bad agent...but having a rock star agent is golden. I know a little bit about this because I have a rock star agent *waves at Jessica* from a great literary agency. So here is how a fabulous agent can benefit both traditional and self-published authors:

1) Editorial relationships. A great agent has a wealth of publishing knowledge and solid relationships with editors, so they know who is be looking for a specific project. For instance, they know if an editor has been dying for a book about killer space monkeys, or conversely, if an editor will stab themselves if they see one more monkey story. Though I try to stay abreast of publishing industry news, I don't have the years of relationships with publishers that my agent does, and I'm so glad she knew exactly where to send my book (which sadly, does not involve killer space monkeys). Some self-publishers are pursuing the hybrid model, which involves having some books published traditionally while they self-publish others, and for any author who wants a traditional publishing deal, a reputable agent has access to publishing houses that don't allow non-agented submissions. 

2) They know books.  This might sound obvious, but it's true. Agents read a ton of queries (after doing my "query critiques for all" giveaway earlier this year, I have even more respect for the massive amount of work they do). They also read a lot of manuscripts and you know, actual books. The bottom line is that agents know books. They know what makes for a great story and can easily spot what works and what doesn't. Every suggestion my agent made for revising my book was spot-on. Her knowledge made my book better, and I'm not saying that just because the book sold to a great publisher...I'm truly satisfied that I created the best book I could.

3) Contract negotiations. Can you say "reversion of rights?" Yes, technically you don't "need" an agent to sign a publishing contract, but have you read one lately? I got a headache after seeing one paragraph. An agent knows their way around the technical language of the contract, and knows where to push for change (e.g. more money, reversion clauses, etc.) They will also likely be more successful in having those changes accepted than if the author negotiated themselves, because part of being a good agent involves killer negotiating skills. Could someone do this themselves if they spent enough time on it? Yes, but personally, I'd rather focus on writing. I have enough trouble negotiating bed time with my kiddos, and am happy to leave legal negotiations in my agent's capable hands.

I'm also including foreign rights in this category, and it's a big reason why some self-published authors either already have or desire an agent, even if they don't want a traditional publishing deal. I can't imagine the time and energy involved in navigating foreign rights contracts, nor do I want to. The agented self-published author I heard speak said that the foreign rights sales alone was the impetus for her to get an agent.

4) Trust. This one is more intangible but just as important (to me, anyway). The author-agent relationship is a business partnership, and if you don't have trust in your business partner, then you're screwed (and yes, that trust goes both ways). For the writer, it's important to feel like you have someone watching out for your best interests. Yes, an agent only makes money if your book sells, but I believe that most agents go into the business for the same reason that writers do--we are all passionate about books. Most agents only take on a book because they love it. They wouldn't devote hours of their time to something they didn't believe in. When you trust that your agent is competent and skilled, it frees you to focus on other things--you know, like writing (well, and marketing, but that's a whole other post).

What have I missed? Any other opinions out there from the agented or unagented?  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Need an Agent?

If so, then get your loglines and manuscripts polished for Miss Snark's First Victim 3rd Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. Agents will bid against each other to compete on your manuscript. Check out all the details over on Authoress' blog, but you need to have a completed manuscript to enter. She is accepting submissions for both young adult/middle grade and adult fiction (all genres except erotica). Best of luck to all who enter!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Shiny New Book Deal plus Mega-Giveaway

In case you missed my squeals of joy yesterday, this is the official news about my debut YA book deal from Publisher's Marketplace:

September 25, 2012
Young Adult

Kristi Helvig's sci-fi series BURN OUT, after the sun has burned away the atmosphere, Tora Reynolds
survives, protected by lethal bio-energy guns that bounty hunters and governments are desperate
for, to Greg Ferguson at Egmont, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2014, by Jessica Regel at Jean
V. Naggar Literary Agency (world).

I am beyond to excited to be joining Egmont, and am super grateful to my rock star agent for believing in this book! The deluge of awesome emails, tweets, and FB messages yesterday was amazing, and I feel lucky to know so many wonderful people. Wow, I use a lot of adjectives when I'm excited.

Also, don't forget to enter the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway to win books and all kinds of critiques (including the Wednesday Query Critique)!  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Perils of Being a Full-Time Writer

For the first time, my kiddos are both in school and I have oodles of time during the day to write. I'm not even a full-time writer yet as I work two days a week in my private practice, but that leaves THREE whole days of interrupted free time. Therein lies the problem. I wrote three novels in the past two years, and did it in the one to two hours of time I had in the evening after the kids went to bed. Those one to two hours involved nothing but fast, hard writing--because it was all the time I had to do it. I envisioned that once the kids were in school, I'd be able to multiply that output by ten, and could crank out a book every two months. The kids have been in school a grand total of 5 weeks now, which means I should have another book almost finished, right? 

Not quite. First, I discovered the joy of grocery shopping without little ones underfoot. If you haven't tried it, it's an amazing experience. Next, I thought I'd conquer my possessed laundry basket which never empties no matter how many loads I do. I've seen the bottom of my laundry basket several times in the past few weeks, a sight I haven't seen in years. My to-do list has been tackled, my dogs have have enjoyed walks with me in the morning after I take the kids to school, and I've caught up with friends for lunches and brunches and other food-related outings. The most productive writing time for me in the past few weeks...has been in the one to two hours after the kids go to bed at night.

What the hell? I mean, I'm still writing but not nearly the amount I thought I'd be. Part of it is probably the habit of night writing, and part of it is probably the fact that I have quiet time in the house by myself for the first time in over eight years. Part of me worries that even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't be writing more than I am right now--Stephen King would mock my current habits (if you haven't read On Writing, you should). I'm hoping the novelty of being home wears off quickly, and I just ordered a day planner and am going to set myself up on a much stricter writing schedule (NOTE: the day planner itself looks so fun and amazing that I'm sure I'll do an entire post on it once it arrives.)

Anyone else struggle with this issue? Any additional tips you'd like to share? Pretty please. Or just let me know if you're in the area and want to go to brunch. ;)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with NERVE author Jeanne Ryan and Giveaway

Today, I am so excited to have author Jeanne Ryan on the blog (full confession: she’s also my critique partner). Her YA thriller, NERVE (Dial), releases tomorrow, 9/13/2012. When I read the first draft of this high-tech truth-or-dare game gone very, very wrong, I told her this was going to be her first published book. After getting my very own copy in the mail last week, I can tell you that the finished book is even scarier. Please check out Jeanne’s new website and make sure to follow her on Twitter.

I’m also giving a copy of NERVE to one lucky person. Enter by Tues. Sept 18th for your chance to win-- either tell us a dare you did (for the brave), or you can enter by less scary means.

Here is the cover for NERVE:

Hi Jeanne—thanks so much for joining us today, and huge congrats on NERVE! As I’ve told you before, I think the concept of a high-tech truth-or-dare game is awesome! Where did you get the idea for this book?

From watching my teenage niece and her phone. Seeing how fluidly she moved between her “real” life and her online life with her friends, with a lot of overlap between the two, got me to thinking about a story where a lot of the excitement and danger would be delivered via phones. I wondered how far a game of Truth or Dare could go if strangers could be brought together to perform and record the dares.

Yeah, this book was a far cry from the dares of my youth, like ringing someone’s doorbell and running. How long did it take you to go from writing it to publication?

I started writing it in May, 2010. It sold in April, 2011 and is being published September, 2012.  So two and a half years from start to finish.

Less than a year between starting the book and selling the book is pretty darn impressive. Was this your first book?

Nerve was my fifth manuscript. Although I decided to become a writer at age eleven, many other dreams got in the way between then and the time I started writing a manuscript that I’d actually finish. I got serious about writing in 2004, finished my first manuscript in 2006, signed with an agent in 2009 and got my first deal in 2011. That doesn’t count the years beforehand when I wrote many tortured poems, awful short stories and an unfinished novel (also awful).

It goes to show that persistence pays off, and you always need to be working on the next book. Speaking of which, can you tell us what you’re you working on now?

Two things. One is another YA thriller which is scheduled to come out with Dial in early 2014. It’s called CHARISMA and is about a terribly shy girl who turns to an experimental therapy that's supposed to make people more sociable. It does, but comes with some scary side effects.
The other thing I'm working on between revisions is an MG historical set in 1974 South Korea. It may never see the light of day in the publishing world but it’s a great way to cleanse my mental palate after working on the darker stuff.

Yay for another book deal! I love your MG historical, and definitely hope it sees the light of day…and what I’ve seen of Charisma is fantastic.  Writing several things at once seems daunting. Do you have a set writing routine or schedule?

During the school year, I try to get in about four hours a day, Mon-Fri, in the morning. During school breaks and summer vacation, I grab time whenever I can.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?

Keep working on the craft. The writers I’ve seen who eventually landed agents and book deals are the ones who kept producing manuscript after manuscript until they wrote the story that everyone who reviewed it knew was “the one.” (Sometimes, the author is the last to know. J) Sure, there are those lucky few who sell their first attempt, but viewing that as the norm is a good way to set yourself up for misery. I speak from experience.

That’s great advice. So why don’t you finish by sharing something weird or random with us. (It doesn't have to be writing related)

Weird or random. Hmmmm. When I was a little girl living in Honolulu, our house was rumored to have a ghost, which everyone in the neighborhood called a Kahuna. My parents had a difficult time finding babysitters, because everyone was scared. (Their reluctance could also have been due to the fact that the number of kids in my family was already at six and growing.) Anyway, my parents finally solved the babysitter problem by hiring two at a time. And they approached the Kahuna problem the way a lot of things were solved in the hippie days--by throwing a large party that involved lots of chanting and alcohol. Whatever the grown-ups did worked, because we never had any weird bumps in the night after that. And the babysitters were eventually willing to work solo.

That’s a great story. Thanks so much for joining us today and Happy Release Day (a day early!)

Don’t forget to enter below for a chance to win NERVE by Jeanne Ryan. The entry form is over at my blog: www.kristihelvig.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Writers and Money

I'll wait for you to stop laughing and saying "What money?" Even if you haven't gotten to the point of earning an advance, or even better, royalty checks, many writers earn some money through freelancing, self-publishing, editing services, short story sales, etc. But money earned as a writer will always be different than that earned by those who get a steady paycheck each week. Even in the scenario of royalty checks, it's never a guaranteed amount. So how do you budget or calculate living expenses on uneven income?

Though I've recently made some money through freelance work and by offering query services through the blog, I know a lot about this topic because I've been self-employed for a decade. I run my own private practice as a psychologist, and my income has always varied from month to month. I'm used to the uncertainty principle, and thought I'd pass along several tips that might help with budgeting. NOTE: This is my own personal experience and should not be construed as financial advice. That's what CPA's are for. :)

1. Keep good records. If you're earning money from various sources, such as selling several articles or short stories a year, keep careful track of all your income (and expenses.) Money spent on websites, marketing, editing, etc. will help offset the cost of your total income. You can track this through a program like Quicken or Excel, or you can use an old-school ledger and pencil. Just make it thorough. This will make step 2 easier.

2. Pay Estimated Taxes if needed. I've paid estimated taxes for years, but look at it as a positive thing, because it means my business is profitable. A good accountant, or a reliable tax program like the Business Edition of TurboTax, can help you figure out what you should pay. A good rule of thumb is to set aside at least a third of what you earn for taxes. 

3. Make your budget based on the lowest expected amount of income. After a few months of receiving writing related income, you can probably get away with taking an average of those months to determine your budget, but I use the lowest amount I make in a given month to set my budget. That way, I make sure I'm covering basic expenses, and if I make more than that, it can be added to an emergency fund for unforeseen crises. If no crisis occurs, the money can be used for other things, as mentioned in the next step. 

4. Use the bucket method for your income. I'm a huge fan of the bucket method, because it allows you to put a little money towards fun things, along with boring stuff like the aforementioned estimated taxes. I have a savings account labeled for each "bucket," so you could have designated accounts for things like taxes, mortgage, etc,. but make sure to include at least one bucket for something fun. Even if you can only put a few dollars in your fun bucket at a time, it will eventually add up. Then you can get that new laptop or go on a weekend getaway--and what writer doesn't need those things (BONUS: that new laptop may even qualify as a tax deduction depending on your situation!)

These are some basic tips, but I'm sure there are plenty more. Has anyone tried any of these, or have any other money tips to share?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Be An Olympic Writer

The Olympics are long gone, which is a very good thing for my writing. The nights of endless gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, diving, and track may or may not have affected my daily word count (okay, it totally did), but at least a few sports failed to suck me in (I'm looking at you, fencing and water polo). However, there was an upshot to the abnormal amount of time I spent in front of my television--I found tremendous inspiration in every athlete out there. I also noticed similarities between what it takes to be an Olympian and an Olympic writer:

1) Train. Those athletes didn't make it to the Olympics by saying, "I know I have it in me to be an Olympian," and then find excuses about how they didn't have enough time, money, etc. to put in the hours. Using Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule (if you haven't read Outliers, you should), these athletes have logged well over 10K hours in training. Michael Phelps should have gills from how much time he's spent underwater. How does an Olympic writer train? Certainly not by saying they know they "have a book in them...someday." They write. Then they write some more. Then what do they do? You get the idea.

2) Be persistent. Not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics on their first try. Those that make it to the Olympics don't always get gold--or medal at all--their first time there. I don't think that's a bad thing, as it can be a powerful motivator. Track star, Allyson Felix, took the silver in the 200m in Beijing. From 2008 until the 2012 Games in London, she trained her ass off and focused on being the very best she could be...and got her gold. Most athletes don't medal, but at least they knew they did the best they could do and were good enough to get to the Olympics. The lesson for writers? Never give up. Keep trying and get better. If your first book doesn't land you an agent or a book deal, keep trying. If you self-publish and the book doesn't sell well, keep trying. Go back to step 1) and push yourself to be the best writer you can be.

3) Hope for a little luck. Yep, even in the Olympic, sometimes winning a medal involves a bit of luck and good timing. I watched a noted BMX racer (yes, I watched BMX too--I told you I watched a lot o' Olympics) go down because of a crash in front of him. One swimmer might hit the touch pad a bit harder than another and get the faster time. Everyone has times when they feel they are "in the groove" and other times when things don't go their way. With the Olympics, athletes have only that one moment, and they better hope they are in the groove. Though not as intense, there is timing and luck involved with publishing too. Even publishers can't always predict which books will be a hit. Sometimes it takes hitting the right publisher, or the right audience, with the right idea at the right time. You don't have control over this, but you do have control over steps 1), 2), and 4), which makes this step more likely to fall into place.

4) Be a good sport. Whether an athlete won gold, bronze, or even nothing at all, most of them carried themselves with grace, poise and humility. Oscar Pitorius, the double amputee track star from South Africa, didn't medal but stood out as an Olympic hero. McKayla Maroney demonstrated great humor over the attention she's received regarding her obvious disappointment at winning silver in the vault. If you haven't checked out the McKayla is Not Impressed page, it's cute (my fave pic is the one of her in the scene at the art museum in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The lesson for writers? Whether you're a New York Times bestseller, or an aspiring writer trying to get out of the slushpile, treat others with respect and kindness. It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being, plus I'm a big believer in karma, kismet, and various other k words.

Those are the things that jumped out at me, so I hope you can use those to go forth and become Olympic writers. Did you notice other similarities? Anyone else watch as much Olympics as I did? More importantly, did anyone out there watch water polo?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Book Recommendation--Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

I haven't done a book recommendation in awhile, so here you go. My rec for this week is Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. It was a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist, but I didn't even know that until after I read it. I'm an unashamed title and cover whore, so I knew nothing about this book except that the cover grabbed me (and made me sing along in my head to the Elton John tune). I'll wait a minute while you sing it too. Done? Okay, so here's the great cover:


And the description from Goodreads:

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?

Why I liked it: This was such a fast and fun read--seriously, the chapter titles alone are worth it. I loved Sam and thought his character was well-developed and real (plus a lot of the genre YA I read tends to have female MC's, so Sam was a refreshing change of pace). Also, I love me some snark which is found aplenty in this book. There were a few plot issues I had to overlook, but I'm really nitpicky. Overall, if you're looking for fun genre fiction, this book is a definite win. I don't often get around to sequels but I would read a sequel to this in a heartbeat.Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

MSFV Blog Hop--Interview and Book Giveaway with Leah Petersen

Welcome to what will hopefully be the first of the Annual Authoress’ Success Story blog tours! Those of us who have owed our publishing successes, at least in part, to the Miss Snark’s First Victim contests and blog have decided to come together and help cross promote each other’s work.  Every day in the first two weeks of August, a different author will be posting an interview of one of our fellow Success Stories, so make sure to tune in to everyone’s blogs (there’s a list below). Also, if you haven't checked out my interview on Amanda Sun's blog from yesterday, you still have time to enter to win a first chapter critique from moi.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing the awesome Leah Petersen. Leah is giving away an ebook copy of her book Fighting Gravity to one lucky commenter! Just comment here for a chance to win this:

"When Jacob Dawes is selected for the Imperial Intellectual Complex as a child, he's catapulted from the poverty-stricken slums of his birth into a world where his status as an unclass is something no one can forget, or forgive. His growing scientific renown draws the attention of the emperor, a young man Jacob's own age, and they find themselves drawn to each other in an unlikely and ill-advised relationship. Jacob may have won the emperor's heart, but it's no protection when he's accused of treason. And fighting his own execution would mean betraying the man he loves."
Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. Make sure to check out Leah's blog and follow her on Twitter.
Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, is available now from Dragon Moon Press.

Welcome Leah--I'm from North Carolina too! I think you need to post a pic of the knitting while reading thing, because that is amazing. So can you tell us how participating on the MSFV blog helped get you where you are now?
Leah: The short(ish) version is that I got into one of the monthly Secret Agent contests (back when it was simply the first 25 or 50 that got into the mailbox, purely a trigger finger rather than a merit thing.) The agent had some pointed criticism of my opening, and little about it that she thought worked. Ouch. Well, I took her critique and worked on making it better. The next month, Authoress announced the open submission period for Dragon Moon Press. They looked like a good fit for me so I queried with my revised draft and they asked for the full. The next day I got an email asking if we could have a phone conversation. And the rest is history.

I think the nice thing about my story is that it shows how many ways authors can benefit from Authoress's site and the community there. It's not just about winning the contests or auctions. There's value in what you can learn there, and the connections and network and community Authoress has built there.
That's a great story, and highlights how every path to publication is different. One of the things that struck me about your book was the LGBT aspect. As a writer who has a gay character in my current novel, I'm wondering if this was an obstacle for you in terms of publishing.

Leah: You know, I expected it to, but the opposite was true. In fact, my editor told me that someone she mentioned it to remarked that it was the LGBT angle that made it such a unique and interesting concept.

That's awesome. So can you tell us what you're working on right now, and why are you excited about it?
Right now I'm working on the sequel to Fighting Gravity, currently called Cascade Effect. I was actually less than excited about it a few weeks ago because the summer is such a busy time for me and it was just another thing that required my time. But a couple of weeks ago my dad read Fighting Gravity for the first time and he liked it so much that my aunt decided to read it and she raved about it so her assistant is now reading it and my coworker... (this is a family business, so we're all working in the same office.) 

Anyway, watching real people in my life get excited about my characters and want to know what happens next has helped my find my excitement again.
I can relate to summer being super busy, but how cool to have family that is so supportive of you!  What advice do you have for those who are still in the query trenches?

Learn from it. Don't just flog the query process with an exclusive focus on landing an agent. I learned A LOT about writing and the publishing industry from querying at a slow, measured pace and reading as much as I could about how to go about it in the meantime. 
That is so true--I felt like I had gained so much knowledge about writing and the publishing industry by the time I got an agent. What is your writing process like (e.g. are you a morning/evening writer?)

I'm a catch-it-when-you-can writer. I tend to devote chunks of time to writing one or two days a week rather than smaller, regular periods. Even I don't think it's ideal, but it's what works for me. My muse resents being told what to do. If I dictate time and place to her, she tends to get huffy and uncooperative.  
Your writing style sounds a lot like mine--your muse and my muse must be related. Can you tell us something about yourself we'd be surprised to know?

I celebrated the sale of Fighting Gravity by getting a new tattoo. It's a solar eclipse.   
That is very cool, and very brave. My tattoos are applied by my 5-yo and wash off easily. Last bonus question for you: What are you reading right now? Which authors inspire you?

I've been on a huge reading kick lately and I've probably read three books this week already. (It's Wednesday as I write this.) Today I'm on Kushiel's Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey.

If the characters are compelling enough that I hurt and bleed and jump for joy with them, then that's a good book. I'm inspired by any author who can do that. 

Oh, the Kushiel series have been read by several women in my book club (myself included), and are such a great guilty-pleasure read! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today, Leah.  

Don't forget to leave a comment on my personal blog to be entered in Leah's book giveaway, and check out Leah's blog tomorrow when she interviews Monica Bustamante Wagner.   
Visit the whole crew:
Blog Twitter Posting   Date
David   Kazzie @davidkazzie 1-Aug
Leigh   Talbert Moore @leightmoore 2-Aug
J.Anderson   Coats @jandersoncoats 3-Aug
J.M.   Frey @scifrey 4-Aug
Elissa   Cruz @elissacruz 5-Aug
Amanda   Sun @Amanda_Sun 6-Aug
Kristi Helvig @KristiHelvig 7-Aug
Leah   Petersen @Leahpetersen 8-Aug
Monica   Bustamante Wagner @Monica_BW 9-Aug
Emily   Kokie @emkokie 10-Aug
Monica   Goulet @MonicaGoulet 11-Aug
Peter   Salomon @petersalomon 12-Aug
Sarah   Brand @sarahbbrand 13-Aug
Angela Ackerman @angelaackerman   & @writerthesaurus 14-Aug
Tara   Dairman @TaraDairman 15-Aug

Monday, August 6, 2012

First Chapter Critique and Interview

Today is my day to be hosted on the Miss Snark's First Victim Blog Hop! Check out my interview over at the fabulous Amanda Sun's blog where I'm giving away a first chapter critique to one lucky winner. Stop back tomorrow when I interview the awesome Leah Peterson.

Contest Monday - Get Published by HarperTeen!

You may remember way back in January when I announced that I would have a short story appearing in the upcoming HarperTeen anthology DEFY THE DARK, that I said there'd be more exciting news about how YOU could be in the anthology too. Well, that day has finally arrived!

HarperTeen and Figment have opened up the DEFY THE DARK Short Story Contest.

This cover is NOT FINAL, but isn't it pretty?

The contest is open to any unpublished writer, or published writer who has earned less than $2000 from their writing. All you need to do is write a 2000-4000 word story of any genre that mostly takes place at night, or in the dark.

You can be creative with this. It doesn't have to be dark and scary. A girl sneaking out at night to meet her secret crush fits just as well as those creepy things that go bump in the night.

You have until September 1st to write an upload your story to Figment. The winner gets:

  • The winner will get paid and have their story published in DEFY THE DARK!
  • Two second place winners will also win cash prizes from HarperCollins and have their stories published on the Defy The Dark website.

So what are you waiting for? Get all the contest details at the Figment.com DEFY THE DARK contest page!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Writing Isn't Enough

I'm not saying that you can't call yourself a writer if you do nothing more than toil away on your manuscripts for hours, days, even years. However, at some point, most people want others to see their work. Though the joy of writing is what keeps us going, behind it is the hope that others will find joy in our work through reading it. Whether you're writing a family genealogy meant only for close relatives, or you're writing a commercial novel for the masses, at some point, writing means putting your work out there...which can be scary.

It's much safer to keep your writing tucked away on your hard drive, or in a trunk under the bed, because exposing it to daylight invites possible judgment and criticism. Some writers are sensitive by nature, but writing is not for the skin-thinned, so where should you start? I started with a critique group, and think a good critique group (consisting of fellow writers) is worth its weight in gold. Other writers are the best resource (IMHO) for pointing out your own strengths and areas for growth as a writer.You can find them through professional writers groups, conferences, and online message boards or blogs. Use the feedback to make your work the best it can be. But you can't stop there.

At some point, you have to bite the bullet and put your work out there. Whether it's querying agents and editors if you aspire to a traditional book deal, or hiring an editor and then self-publishing, no one can read your book if it's not available. This doesn't mean rushing things. Take your time to write, revise, edit, and polish your book to a high gloss. But if writing and all that goes into making a complete novel is Step #1, make sure you eventually push yourself to do Step 2). Put it out there. 

Which step are you on? Any tips for those struggling with Step 2?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Do You Reward Yourself?

When you're writing a novel, I'm a big believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the baby steps along the way. For instance, when I'm in the revision process after finishing my first draft, I reward myself with chocolate after revising each chapter (don't judge). I'd like to say the satisfaction of writing and revising is entirely its own reward, but sometimes I need that extra shot of motivation.

So when I really want to push myself, the reward needs to be bigger, and then I'm way more likely to reach my goal. I don't watch much television and don't have any of those recording thingies to watch shows later, but I have a crazy addiction to Design Star on HGTV--I know, some people have a  wild side, and mine is dan-ger-ous. Anyway, guess who hit her word count goal last week with over 30 minutes to spare? This girl. It's on again tonight and I'm sure I'll hit my goal today too, because no way in hell am I missing David Bromstad's pep talks regarding room decor (I'm so badass like that).

Now that I've confessed my sure-fire writing reward, I want to know about you. How do you reward yourself? (It's okay if your method isn't as hard-core as mine. Not everyone can be this cool. ;)       

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Longhand versus Laptop

Up until now, I've written my novels solely via laptop. Sure, I've mapped out outlines, ideas, and characters in a notebook (okay, so I have notebooks everywhere, and it might be an addiction, but that's a different post), but the actual writing has taken place at my computer. Then I had something weird happen a few weeks ago.

(NOTE: This is not the actual pen used, but I am SO getting this pen one day!)

I had a client need to reschedule an appointment at work, which left me with an entire hour of writing time--except that my laptop was at home. For some reason, I pulled out my legal pad rather than the cute flowered notebooks I usually carry, and decided to write a chapter. The words flew onto the page, and when I typed them into the computer that night, I'd written almost 3K words...in an hour. For me, that's a lotta words, and even though I took shorthand in high school, I also took typing, so I couldn't believe how fast I was. The other strange part was that when I went back the next day to edit, it required way less editing than usual. In the next two days, I easily wrote two more chapters that way. I know there are studies out there about enhanced neural activity and increased memory capacity in writing versus typing, but I'd never tried it out for myself.

Summer with the kiddos has challenged my writing time, but my goal for this week is to get 10K words completed, because I'm excited to finish my new book...and because my agent is waiting patiently for it.;)

Have you tried writing in longhand versus typing? Anyone else notice a difference?

Oh, and Happy July 4th! The Wednesday Query Critique will be back next Wed. 7/11 on my personal blog.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Do You Have What It Takes?

Writing is fun, but it's not easy. It takes long hours, dedication, and the willingness to revise something for the umpteenth time until you (or your agent/editor) are happy with it. 

"I'd like to write a book someday too, when I have the time to fritter away." I got that comment from a well-meaning friend of mine who knows I'm a writer: I think it was the "fritter away" part that actually made my teeth grind together. Writers know that there is no magic time fairy who waves her wand over us and gives us blocks of time that other mere mortals don't have (that would be SO cool though). The difference between people who write books and the people who just talk about writing books is simple. People who write books commit to the writing. 

We write when other people are watching reality shows. We write until the wee hours of the night when everyone else is asleep (long after the caffeine has worn off). We rise at ungodly hours to squeeze in several pages before work or before the kids wake up (long before the caffeine has kicked in.) Even when not writing, we are thinking about writing. Plot issues and characterization get worked out in the shower or while folding laundry. Whether we eek out a paragraph at a time, or multiple pages in a sitting, we keep writing...and writing...until we have a finished book.

We have families, jobs, volunteer commitments, and chores (did I mention laundry?), just like everyone else. Unlike everyone else, we commit to telling stories, one sentence at a time. I'm a writer. What about you?

Do you have what it takes? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everybody's Got One

A secret that is. Everyone’s got a secret. What were you thinking?

One of my favorite filmmaking tips is as the director, to give each actor a secret about their character. One they can’t share with anyone, but will inform everything they do in every scene.

Secrets can add depth and subtext to a scene that might otherwise be merely functional, or ordinary. For (a poor) example: A character who is hiding a fear of heights, might try to convince his crush not to hike up to a popular make out spot on a cliff despite wanting desperately to make out with her.

While it works really well in film where we can both see an actor’s face, and hear their change in tone when responding to an innocuous request, I think it can also work well in a novel.

You probably already know your main characters darkest secrets, and maybe even some of their love interest’s or antagonist’s, but what about everyone else? This ties in with my previous post “Why Are You Here?” about every character having a reason to be where they are in every scene.

In this case, having a secret can help give conversations between characters more depth and realism. If you know a character’s secret, it will color everything they do and say. It will make the world feel more real, because the people in it are real. It might even change your main character’s or the reader’s opinion of the character, and that can be used to your advantage when working on stories with mysteries. (And I believe every story should have a mystery, even if it’s not a mystery story, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!)

I would bet that if you’ve gotten pretty far into writing the book, that most of your characters already have a secret, you just haven’t picked up on it because you’ve been too busy forwarding the story. If you’re just starting your book, or you haven’t seen your characters dropping any hints, try giving them one and see if it perks up one of your lackluster scenes, or changes the way your characters view each other. You might just make a discovery or two!

What about you, do you give your characters secrets? What are some of the ways you add subtext and depth?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Guest Post over at Rainy of the Dark

If you haven't checked out my guest post over at Rainy of the Dark, head on over: When the Writing Gets Tough, The Tough Get Writing...eventually. Thanks to Rainy for having me! :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Query Strategies--The Batch Method

For those who wish to pursue the traditional path to publication, it often involves finding an agent who will, in turn, submit your work to editors at publishing houses. In order to find an agent, one must send out query letters. The purpose of my Wednesday Query Critique Giveaway (which I swear I'm getting back to next week) is to help people polish their queries before they send them out into the world. If you're at the stage where you're ready to query, and have carefully researched agents using sites such as Querytracker and AgentQuery, here's why I'm a proponent of sending queries out in batches of 3-5 (aka The Batch Method):

1) If you don't get any responses other than form rejections or the sound of chirping crickets, your query likely needs work. The good news is that since you only sent out a few queries, you haven't used up all your top picks at once.

2) If you get partial requests off the bat, then you know your query doesn't suck, BUT that's all it means (sorry, harsh but true). Wait and see what happens. If the partial requests are all rejected, then it means the book didn't live up to the query. Take any personalized feedback to heart and work on the book again before sending out more queries. Again, because you're using the batch method, you still have a ton more agents to query.

3) If the partial requests turn into full requests, then you should do a little happy dance because it's definitely a step in the right direction. I'd also recommend sending queries to any remaining top choices if you haven't already because things can move pretty quickly at this point. Some people recommend waiting until you actually have an offer of representation and then dashing off queries to any remaining top picks, but that feels icky to me. If you've done your research, you should only be querying agents that you feel confident about in the first place.

Has anyone used this method? Any other tips people would like to share about querying? 

Happy Querying! And I'll be back with Query Critique Wednesday next week.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Contest with YA Book Giveaway

Want to win the YA book of your choice? Hop on over to my personal blog where I'm hosting a contest of a different kind. HINT: It involves curse words. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

YA Book Cover Trends

All around awesome writer and blogger Kate Hart did a comprehensive analysis here of 2011 YA book covers. I can't even imagine the time it took her to compile all this info. She told me she doesn't watch television at all, but this was still an enormous task to take on. Her study yielded results from the interesting (blue is the most common color of traditionally published YA books) to the sad (the downright dismal amount of ethnic diversity in cover models).

Kate followed this up with another post that clarified some reader questions, and addressed what writers can do to help--especially writers who are white (like me). It's very thought-provoking and has me thinking about my own responsibility as an author. Though I have characters in my books who are ethnically and sexually diverse (LGBT), I'm not sure how much control I'd have over the covers. Per Kate's post, even mega-author John Green admitted not loving several of his book covers. I'm not sure what the answer is but Kate poses some great questions that we, as writers, need to keep asking.

Have you read these posts? What are your thoughts on these issues? Anyone else happy to see the decrease in dead girl covers?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Release Date for SUFFOCATE by S.R. Johannes

It is May 21st and guess what that means?

S.R. Johannes’ Suffocate is out today! 

Suffocate is the first novelette in THE BREATHLESS series. It is a 15,000 word young adult thriller that combines the dystopic and science fiction genres.

Here’s a little about the novelette…

“For centuries, the world outside the Biome has been unlivable. Today, marks the first time anyone will attempt to leave the suffocating ecosphere. Eria is not worried because her scientist father has successfully tested the new Bio-Suit many times. It's a celebratory day until something goes horribly wrong. In the midst of tragedy, Eria uncovers a deep conspiracy that affects the very air she breathes. 

If those responsible find out what she knows, they won't stop hunting her until she takes her last breath.”

The 2nd novella in the series, CHOKE, is scheduled for Fall 2012. The 3rd, EXHALE, is scheduled for Winter 2013.

You can purchase Suffocate for only 99 cents at

Also you can add it on Goodreads! - http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13648347-suffocate

And in case you were wondering here is a bit about the author –

S.R. Johannes is author of the Amazon Bestseller Untraceable and a current nominee of the Georgia Author of the Year in the Young Adult category. After earning an MBA and working in corporate america, S.R. Johannes traded in her expensive suits, high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-flops, and her love of writing. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her goldendoodle Charley (notice he is listed first :), her British-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess, which she hopes- someday- will change the world.  You can find her hanging out online and visit her at srjohannes.com

Goodreads- http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5235537.S_R_Johannes

Friday, May 18, 2012

Twitter Tips

After joining Twitter about a year or so ago, I have to say that I love it. This says a lot coming from someone who was reluctant to join the social media scene--I was the last person in my book club to join Facebook and only did so due to peer pressure. I'm on Twitter much more than Facebook these days because I like the immediate back and forth it allows between people, and I enjoy the constant stream of information. NOTE: If you don't yet follow me on Twitter, you can do so here. All the cool kids are. ;) Here are a few tips I thought I'd pass along, and please add your own observations/tips in the comments:

1) Share useful information. I love it when people pass along informative links or RT articles on the publishing industry.
2) Engage with others. Though it's great to share, don't solely rely on RT's and links to other things. Spend some time engaging with your fellow writers and industry peers.
3) Be yourself. The people that I enjoy following the most are those that seem to just be themselves. Whether you are naturally interesting, witty, or funny--embrace it and do that. Trying to present as something other than you are comes through.

1) Promote your book constantly. One of the few things that will cause me to immediately unfollow someone is if they follow me and I follow them back--only to get a "message" a minute later asking me to buy their book or check out their site. Don't do this!
2) Follow people just so they'll follow you back, and then unfollow them to jack up your numbers. Rather than making you look popular, you look like a [insert favorite curse word]. NOTE: People reading this post are clearly awesome people who don't do this.
3) Don't exclude. Even if I can't follow everyone back (because it's only possible to keep track of so many people in my feed), I always respond to @replies. Unless you're Neil Gaiman, you are not too cool for school, and will come across as a [insert favorite curse word] when you are only seen interacting with published writers.

What are your Twitter tips? Do you autofollow everyone? Share below.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Act of Kindness Blitz

Hi all--hop on over to my other blog to see why I'm participating in The Bookshelf Muse's ROAK Blitz and why I chose my wonderful blog Sisters (Valerie and Lacey) here at Sisters in Scribe as gift recipients. HINT: They're made of awesome! Now go out there and commit a random act of kindness for someone!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Are You Here?

Wired has a great interview with Joss Whedon. It's very long, but a great read if you're a fan of his, or interested in his thoughts on writing, characters, and plot. Here's the part that I want to talk about though, it's about characters and their motivations:

"...everybody is here for a reason and they deserve, while they’re on film, or on the page, for people to know what it is, even if we don’t like it."

Reading this made me feel good because it's something I've always tried to do with both my characters and my plot. I think it's important that in any scene you write, you should be able to turn to each character there and ask "Why are you here?" and they should have an answer. Whether the reason is personal, "I'm here because I love him." or not, "This is my English class, I have to be here." they should be there for some reason that has to do with THEM, and not your plot. If I ask and my character answers, "I'm here because you need me to overhear this argument so that later I can use that info to solve the mystery." then, in my opinion, I've failed to make him three-dimensional, he's merely a plot device in the shape of a person.

Every character, whether they're the main character or one who pops in for one scene, should have a full life, regardless of how much we see of it. When people appear only to prove a point, or drop a clue, or to tell us something about the main character, the whole world of your story feels a little less real.

Achieving this can be tricky. You don't want a minor character to walk into a scene and say, "I'm here because this is my English class, where I'm supposed to be, and I just noticed that your hair looks different." Subtlety is key. This is one of those things where the reason doesn't always have to be spelled out on the page, but YOU need to know it. When you know why a character is there, it shows in your writing, and scenes feel more real.

When it comes to plot points, I always check that all the characters involved are there for a reason, and not because I NEED them to be there in order for the story to move forward. Without that reason -- personal or practical, things can feel "too convenient" or false. You want those moments to feel inevitable, where your readers can almost see it coming, as they weave all the pieces together, and they think, oh no!, at the same time that they think, of course they would all end up in this place just as the bomb goes off, it couldn't be any other way.

Because that's the moment that really connects with the reader. That's where the emotional connection to the story comes in. When they can look back at everything each character has done, and know that this is exactly the way it has to be, because they understand why each character has done what they've done so far, and why they're there at that moment. Without that it's just another thing moving the plot along.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reading Across Genres

I'm sure you've heard how important it is to read widely in the genre you write. For instance, if you write young adult (YA), you should read a truckload of it to know the expectations and nuances of the genre. YA is typically faster-paced and more action-oriented than say, literary book club fiction. There are always exceptions but you should at least know the rules before you break them. Reading is crucial if you want to progress as a writer. Even Stephen King mentions that he reads as much as he writes during a day.

I agree completely with this, but I'm also in favor of reading outside your genre as well. Though I write YA, I just finished The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht (loved it), and am about to start The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach for my book club. I think reading widely allows you to gain more perspective and opens up new possibilities for your writing. Several women in my book club just read 50 Shades of Grey, and though I'm not sure I want to read quite that widely, I admire their resolve to read mommy porn across genres. ;)

What about you? Do you often read outside of your chosen genre? What was the last book you loved that wasn't in the genre you write?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Structure

Ha! You thought this post was going to be about plotting or outlining or something else story-structure related. But it is not. Today I'm talking about structuring your writing... life.

One of the most surprising discoveries I had about living my dream of working from home is that it is very difficult for me to actually... work. Despite having a home office and plenty of time to dedicate to writing, I tend to find myself doing all sorts of other things when I should in fact be writing. It's strange really. I love to write. And it's not really that hard for me to hammer out 1k a day, and yet... frequently I find myself turning on the laptop and then... sorting clothes for a load of laundry, organizing my bookshelf, running to the store, reading the news, all with the thought in the back of my mind that I have ALL DAY to get my writing done, but these other things really should be done NOW.

Right. I am definitely one of those people who, the busier I am, the more I get done. If I can only squeeze in 30 minutes of writing in a day, I will write during that time. I work best with deadlines or when someone is waiting for something from me. I like having a list of things to do (okay, I like lists in general, if I'm being honest) but when the things I need to do are only for myself, I tend to falter. And then my dream life becomes, not quite a nightmare, but like one of those dreams where all you have to do is walk down the hall to the next room, but the hall keeps getting longer and you just keep walking and walking, but not reaching that room.

So. I'm going to try coming up with a strict schedule for myself. Something that has a lot on it, and a little time for writing. (I'm also going to finally start using Mac Freedom. I think.) I'm interested in knowing how those of you that have more "free" time available to write manage to actually write and not do something else. What are your tricks to staying focused?

Monday, April 2, 2012


We are off for Spring Break this week and will see you soon! :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Overall, I find that movies rarely live up to the book *glares at Twilight*, though I loved the cinematic version of The Help. Along with most everyone else, I devoured THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy by Suzanne Collins and couldn't wait for the movie. I saw it last night with my nephew (who also loved the trilogy) and my sister-in-law (who didn't read the books and was hesitant about a story filled with teens killing each other.)

Did the movie live up to the hype? I thought the movie rocked. The casting was great--Katniss and Peeta were perfect, and Rue couldn't have been more adorable. And Lenny Kravitz as Cinna? One word: yum. Of course, a movie can't capture all the nuances of character and setting the way a book can (I wanted more of Haymitch in the movie), so if you haven't read the book, I highly recommend reading it before going to the movie. My nephew gave it a huge thumbs up as well. As for my non-YA reading sister-in-law, she was surprised by how much she liked it and said there wasn't nearly as much graphic killing as she thought there would be. We also voted on the method of death we would least prefer and "the evil mechanical dogs" was the unanimous winner.

Have you seen THE HUNGER GAMES yet? What did you think?

Also, just a quick note that we'll be posting a little less frequently here (once or twice a week) due to general life craziness. Hope everyone has a great Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How to Attain Your Writing Goals

One of the many hats I wear is that of a certified life coach where I assist clients in reaching certain goals (e.g. losing weight, changing careers, finding a partner). I've had several clients whose goals were to publish a book and thought I'd share how general coaching tips apply to this specific goal.

1) Break down your goal into smaller, manageable steps. I like to use the metaphor of mountain climbing--when you stare up at the top of the mountain from the bottom, it can seem like it will take forever to get there and you might be too intimidated to even try. If you focus instead of taking "x steps at a time," you will soon find yourself halfway up the mountain and feel more empowered and confident that you will reach the top. To relate this to writing, if your stated goal is only "Write a novel," you may not know where to start and feel overwhelmed, so the key is to break the large goal into smaller steps.
Better goal: Write 1,000 words per day (or one chapter per week, etc.)
The important thing is to make the goal manageable for you in order to set yourself up for success, and to always include a time frame to push you to reach the goal. When I'm doing a first draft, I set a minimum goal per day which helps me to crank it out.

2) Focus on what you can control. Say you have a goal of wanting to lose weight and your only stated goal is to lose 25 pounds. So many things can impact your daily weight that this goal leaves a lot out of your control, but if you focus on what is within your control, you might come up with a goal of exercising 5 times per week and cutting out refined sugar (NOTE: this goal also incorporates step 1). With writing, your goal might be to "Get an agent" or get published but that is also (sadly) not under your control. What is in your control is writing the best query and book you can, and then researching the industry.
Better goal: Submit 5 queries per week to agents that represent my genre.

3) Surround yourself with supportive people. I once worked with a client who was trying to lose weight, and she complained about a friend who kept pushing french fries at her. This "friend" was not supportive of her goals and frequently attempted to sabotage her. You are more likely to succeed in anything if you have a supportive person at your side. For writers, this might be your critique group, blog friends, spouse, family, etc. If someone is telling you that writing isn't a "real" job or puts down your goals, run away as fast as you can!

I'm also a motivational quote nut and hand out a sheet of my favorites to clients at their first session, so I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

"Whether a man thinks he can, or thinks he cannot--he is right." - Henry Ford

Have you tried any of these yourself? Any other tips that you've found helpful with your writing goals?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Do You Count?

Recently I was talking to a fairly prolific writer friend and commented that while she had written two books and edited a third last year, I had only managed on 7k word short. She was horrified. She went on to say how many thousands of words she'd written and deleted in that time and estimated that just those alone would be another full-length novel. And that was when I realized that I count much differently than most writers.

I only count what I consider "finished" and "successful". And so while I revised my first book twice, throwing out the bulk of it and rewriting from scratch, and while I made several starts on my next book, and another 15k or so of figuring out my anthology short, filled a 100 page notebook with detailed plot and character info, not to mention all my Tangled Fiction stories, I only had one thing make it to its intended destination. My 7k anthology short, STILLWATER.

It honestly never occurred to me to consider all the things I wrote that have not yet become something as something I wrote, LOL. But now I'm starting to wonder if I'm not giving myself enough credit. I suppose if I were to put it all together, I actually did write over 100k in 2011. I just never thought of it that way. Maybe I should, since each word I write, makes me a better writer. And looking at it the way I have been makes me feel more like an underachiever.

So I ask you, how do you count? And does it matter to you how much writing you've done? No matter where it goes? (Or doesn't go?) I'm really curious!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interview with Best-Selling Indie Author Shelli Johannes Wells

Today we welcome Shelli Johannes Wells of Market My Words to the blog. Shelli is the author of Untraceable, which has hit the Amazon bestseller lists in multiple categories including: Top 100 eBooks, Top Action and Adventure, and Movers & Shakers. To top it off, Shelli was recently nominated for the Crystal Kite Award (SCBWI award) and the Georgia Author of the Year in the Young Adult category! Shelli stopped by to discuss her self-publishing journey and graciously agreed to take questions in the comments section. First, a little about Untraceable:

Description from Goodreads:
16-year-old Grace has lived in the Smokies all her life, patrolling with her forest ranger father who taught her about wildlife, tracking, and wilderness survival.

When her dad goes missing on a routine patrol, Grace refuses to believe he’s dead and fights the town authorities, tribal officials, and nature to find him.

One day, while out tracking clues, Grace is rescued from danger by Mo, a hot guy with an intoxicating accent and a secret. As her feelings between him and her ex-boyfriend get muddled, Grace travels deep into the wilderness to escape and find her father.

Along the way, Grace learns terrible secrets that sever relationships and lives. Soon she’s enmeshed in a web of conspiracy, deception, and murder. And it’s going to take a lot more than a compass and a motorcycle (named Lucifer) for this kick-butting heroine to save everything she loves.

Interview with Shelli Johannes Wells

Hi Shelli—thanks so much for joining us today and congrats on all your amazing news! I'll start with some basic questions for you and then let people ask their own questions in the comments. Ready, set, go.

1) What factored into your decision to self-publish versus continue to pursue the traditional publishing route?

I was with an agent for 2 years and both of my books went on submission and even made it to acquisitions at several houses. After my agent and I separated last summer, I knew these books would not be picked up by another agent (or at least the chances were slim). So I decided to get them out as an experiment by playing around with marketing.

2) I'd imagine you have to wear many hats as an indie author. What did you find to be the most challenging part about indie-publishing?

Yes I do wear too many hats! And it is exhausting. I love it because I am good at marketing and own my marketing business anyway so I am used to running a business. I’m used to being an entrepreneur and that is not for everyone. But I had no idea how hard it would be to self publish. I guess I thought I would just edit, upload, and market but there is so much more I didn't know. Legal stuff, publishing stuff, distribution, blah blah. I did a post about all the hats I wear. http://www.srjohannes.com/2012/01/schizophrenic-indie-pubber.html

On the flip side - it's been fun and very rewarding. I have loved the process and am proud of what I have done in under 100 days.

3) 100 days seems so fast in the publishing world! Whether one pursues traditional or self-publishing, the first step is writing a great book which you’ve obviously done. After that comes the marketing of that book. You have a background in marketing (and a wonderful marketing-related blog), so what advice would you give to those interested in self-publishing who don't have that experience? I read somewhere that 80% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies, so the marketing piece becomes vital in self-publishing.

Marketing is vital with the success of ANY book. But traditional houses have the house name behind them which automatically opens doors and exposure. The hard thing with self-pubbing is that many doors are closed because you are not with a publishing house. That part is frustrating. With self-pubbing it is even more critical you stay in public's mind so being visible is critical.

Yes, 80% of self pubbed books sell less than 100 copies (JA Konrath said this). It's a tough market to stand out in so you have to find ways to set yourself apart.

4) To expand on the question, what promotional or marketing tools did you find to be most helpful in promoting Untraceable? What did you find to be least effective? How much time do you figure you spend marketing per day versus writing?

I spend 70% of my time on business and 30% on writing. Maybe that will change over time but that is what it is when I look back at last 6 months in launching these two books. Gosh, I hope it changes. I miss writing more. But I think I needed to spend more time up front getting my name out and - hopefully- with more books I won't have to do as much all the time. 

The most effective is posting ads on kindle ebook sites - especially if they have email subscribers that speak directly to kindle customers. Also, bloggers are essential as well in getting the word out. I would not be here without them. Least effective was a press release drop I did - waste of money and I was surprised at the lack of results. :(

5) One of the pros of self-publishing is the total artistic control you have over the book, such as the all-important book cover, but this sometimes requiring hiring outside people for things like the cover, formatting, editing etc. These costs could add up quickly. What would you estimate is the total cost to self-publish a book? Despite the out of pockets costs, where should you not cut costs (e.g. the cover)?

To get a book together and get it out (not including advertising expenses) I would say anywhere between $1000 and $2000 unless you go totally overboard. This includes cover design, editing, copyediting, loading fees on the ebook sites, and fees associated with paperback (if you do one.) Add in review copies, mailing, basic marketing swag. I think all these are essential - it is just a matter of where you can get better prices for covers or editing or swag. Personally, I don't see how you could do it right for under $1000 – I would question quality of editing and cover.

6) As a self-published author, you don't have to wait the traditional 18 months for your book to hit the shelves. Do you find you are more motivated to write knowing your book can hit the virtual bookshelves any time you want? Do you feel more pressure to get your sequels completed quickly?

I do feel more pressure to get books out. I think that is key to keep your audience. Luckily, I have always written very fast. While my friends write one book, I can write 2 or 3. I actually feel more pressure to put out something really good to prove myself. I find book reviewers are much harder on self pubber mistakes so you better put out high quality stuff if you don't want to get raked across the coals.

7) What's next for you?

Uncontrollable - the sequel to Untraceable - comes out late summer. That's about as far as I can see right now. :)

8) Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like people to know about your journey or any final advice?

Just know that your dream may not look like the person next to you. The goal may be the same but the path may be different. Try to be open to that.

Thanks again, Shelli, and I wish you much continued success! 

Do you have questions for Shelli? Put your questions in the comments and Shelli will stop by throughout the day to answer them.

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