Category Archives: Guest Posts

Be Connected – Making Writers Conferences Work For You by Susan Winters

Writers’ conferences can provide an excellent opportunity to learn latest trends and network. Though sometimes there’s so much activity going on, it can be difficult to absorb the barrage of information, let alone posing a question to the guest speaker who is immediately mobbed after her presentation. With such an influx of writers at a conference, meaningful one-on-one conversation can be problematic if not impossible. The cost in time and money is no small factor either. Fortunately with some advance planning and considering a few key questions you can reap maximum benefits from the conference.

Prior to the Conference

First of all, think about where you are on your writing journey. Have you just started or have you taken a new direction and aren’t sure where to turn? Or are you stranded on a plateau and trying to figure out how to get to the next level? In what area are you facing the most struggles, craft, production or marketing? What type of people do you need right now to help you reach those goals? Are you looking for a colleague, collaborator or a contractor?

At the same time, you should consider your strengths. What can you share about your writing experiences that might help someone on her journey? Is there a blog, book or podcast that you’ve found to be particularly insightful? Your conversations will be more engaging if you have something to contribute in return.

Next, study the conference panel and evaluate what they have to offer. How can their strengths and experiences help you on your journey? Have a couple of key questions in mind that you can ask if given the opportunity. Keep the questions short and specific. If you have the opportunity for a longer discussion, great but avoid monopolizing the speaker’s time. You don’t want to be that guy.

During the Conference

While it’s nearly impossible at a large conference to meet everyone, avoid the temptation to only reach out to other authors in your genre. At a recent indie author event, one of my friends, a best-selling romance author in her own right, made it a point to stop at each author’s table to chat. Talk to everyone. Someone from outside your genre may have a different angle on a problem you’ve been facing. While authors may write in a few specific genres, many authors are omnivorous readers. You could be chatting with your next fan and not even know it.

Another way that writers limit themselves is to focus exclusively on the well-known, successful authors and ignore the rookies. As far as fledgling writers are concerned, when they’re not in the throes of trying to finish their first novel they’re usually busy learning everything they can about the craft and the business. Sometimes rookies can be the best source of what’s cutting edge.

In addition to whatever notes you’ve taken during the sessions, take time to jot down your observations of the conference as a whole which should include notes on the other writers you met. Start a to-do list of people to contact and follow-up items to tackle when you return home while the ideas are fresh in your mind. Make one of those tasks an appointment with yourself to review your notes a month or two after the conference. By re-reading your notes at a later time, you may glean valuable insight that you missed while caught up in the excitement of the conference.

Afterward

In Reno, many of the local casinos offer an After-Burner deal providing Burning Man participants the opportunity to decompress with a spa/massage package after leaving the playa before they have to reconnect with the real world. While a spa weekend may not always be possible due to time and budget constraints, consider ways to ease back into your regular schedule. Can you take an extra day off work or at least schedule a date night? Your significant other would probably appreciate it after keeping the home fires burning during your absence. Or can you at least make sure the pantry is stocked and gas tank filled so you don’t have to immediately attend to those errands when you return?

Even if you can’t squeeze in a spa weekend, schedule a lunch or coffee date with to review the conference high lights with either some writer colleagues or like-minded friends. Unless the conference was solely focused on craft, the content on developing your brand and marketing would be useful to any of your friends who are self-employed or starting their own business. Chances are your entrepreneur buddies have a different perspective that would benefit your writing as well. By revisiting and sharing the knowledge you learned and reaching out to other writers you’ve met, the conference becomes a viable asset continually supporting your writing instead of simply a pleasant memory.


Susan Winters balances her writing life with her work as a full-time corporate paralegal. Raised in Northern California, Susan started writing articles for the campus paper and publishing a short story in the college literary magazine and has been alternating between fact and fiction ever since. She is the author of Ever After and Mixed Blessings. Her non-fiction has appeared in Reno News & Review and numerous indie parenting magazines.

As Mariposa Cruz she writes contemporary romance including the Rhythm & Romance series. Her Create on the Side blog features interviews with authors, actors, artists, and musicians who manage their creative pursuits with full-time work. An avid reader, knitter and Salsa dancer, Susan resides in Reno, Nevada with her family.

For more about Susan and her writing:
https://createontheside.wordpress.com/
https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Winters/e/B00J7QD870/

EVER AFTER

Selling Books at Conventions by Lydia Sherrier

Some authors have asked me before about how I sell so many books at conventions, so I thought I’d do a post here with some insights I’ve learned over the years for you all to pick through and see what might be helpful for you.

First of all, to understand my situation, I write a clean urban fantasy series that targets Harry Potter fans and cat-lovers (it has elements of cozy mystery and there’s a talking cat in it). So starting out I’m writing in a very popular genre targeting a very large fan base, so these methods aren’t necessarily going to get the same results as a book in some small niche genre.

Second of all, I’ve been publishing for 3 years and have 7 books out (5 in my main series, 2 spinoffs). When I first started and only had 2 books out, I still sold a lot of books comparatively, but keep in mind that the more books you have (specifically in the same series) the more books you will sell.

Third, I’m an extrovert, and have been selling things for a while. First it was Mary Kay, then it was art, now it’s books. There is a definite skill to engaging people face-to-face and pitching a product. If you aren’t an extrovert and you don’t like talking to people, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell books, but it does mean you will have to learn to put on your “engaging” face at an event and be willing to talk so that people have a reason to buy your books.

Okay, so keeping all that in mind, I just got back from the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention in Lexington Kentucky. It is a four-day convention, and this year they had about 20k people attending (which is down from 33k last year because the convention center is being renovated and has less space, but to my great surprise, I sold almost twice as many books this year as last year). In this weekend, with a total of 27 hours of convention time over four days, and with the help of my husband and one assistant, I sold 380 books for a gross profit of about $3800.

That is a lot of paperback books. How did I do it? Read on.

1. This is my third year at Lexington CC, and I’m a known entity there. A good third of my sales were from returning readers getting the next book/s in the series, and people who had seen me there previous years and finally decided now to buy a book. So, if you are just starting out, don’t feel bad if you don’t sell a lot of books. KEEP AT IT. Remember the law of 7 touches (it often takes a customer 7 exposures to a product before they buy, so the more you can get in front of eyes, the better).

2. I do a ton of bundle deals. Only about 10% of my sales were of just one book. Most of the sales were either the first two books (I do a 2 for $20 deal) or the first two books with my cat novella thrown in for $5 (so 3 books for $25). That is an easy deal for the customer, it is nice even numbers with clear savings (I have my individual book prices prominent so they can see how much they are saving with the deal). My other popular bundles are the 5 book series for $55, and all my books for $70 (though I don’t sell many full sets compared to just books 1 and 2). But a BIG help this year and upping my sales numbers was my novella about the talking cat in the series, which was normally $7 but I threw in for $5 if they bought any other book. First of all, my audience loves cats, and second, it is a very low amount to add on so it is easy to convince people to do it.

NOTE: I price all my books so that at a bundle discount, I’m making 50% profit (so sale cost is twice the cost of printing/shipping). That way when I do sell a few full price, I’m making some extra money, but if I do mostly bundle deals, I’m still able to profit and cover expenses.

3. I actively ask for sales. THIS IS HUGE! I. Ask. People. To. Buy. My. Books. I know that sounds super scary, or maybe super offensive and pushy, but if you do it right, you end up making a lot of people happy, and you make money. They key to this is asking questions to engage the con-goers passing your table and narrow down who is your target audience. Here’s my method. I could probably teach this method in a class and make a ton of money, but I just want to help other authors get the readers they deserve, so here it is free:

–1) Watch the crowd, and for anyone passing whose eyes linger on my table/banner more than a few seconds, I ask them “Hi there! Do you like to read?” (AND, anyone wearing fan material of my target genre, so people with Harry Potter t-shirts, robes, cosplay, etc as an example. I’ve also gotten good over the years at figuring out what my target audience looks like in terms of gender/age range/what type of clothes they wear, so I can usually spot them in a crowd. If that sounds creepy, it isn’t, I promise, it’s just paying attention over hundreds and hundreds of customer interactions).

–2) If they answer yes (which most do), I ask them if they like magical adventure, snarky humor, and talking cats (which are three “keywords” for my books, that is three things about them that my target audience like, so if you like them, you are probably my target audience). If they seem at all interested, I do one of three things:

–3a) Only slightly interested and looking like they want an excuse to keep walking, I hand them one of my flyers which is a picture of my book on the front and a blurb on the back, and say something like “Here, take one of my flyers, we’ll be here all weekend if you decide you’d like some really fun books signed by the author herself!”

3b) Somewhat interested but looking like they could easily move on if given a reason, I hand them one of my books turned so the back synopsis is facing them and say “great! well if you like those things you’d probably enjoy my books, would you like to read the back of the first one to see what it is about?” VERY FEW PEOPLE say no when you hand them something, so it is a great way to get them interested without seeming pushy salesy. This is also a GREAT method for introverts or people who are shy about talking/selling, you let your book do the talking for you.

3c) Looking excited and interested in the books (this is a fair number of people, especially when I mention a talking cat). For these people I give them my 15-20 second elevator pitch for the series and then hand them my first book and say 3b) because that gets the product in their hands and gets them thinking about buying.

–4) After they have read the back of the book, unless they ask a question and start engaging me themselves, I ask them “Does that sound like something you think you’d enjoy? Or “Does that sound like a fun story?” If they say yes, I go straight into pointing out my bundle deals. If they seem skeptical, I mention that the books are great for fans of things like Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, etc, and probe them a bit to find out what kind of books they like to read, looking for a way to relate that to my books (if applicable) so they can form a good comparison in their mind. Then I say something like “if you’re interested in taking home some books, I have these special bundle deals this weekend” and let them know about how they can save money while getting a fun book they will really enjoy.

Selling books is all about identifying your target audience, hooking them with “keywords” showing them they will enjoy what is in your books, then showing them the value they will get when they buy (a great story and book sales/bundles), as well as overcoming objections (taking card as well as cash, emphasizing the value of a signed paperback copy vs. getting an ebook online, etc).

4. This is sort of already covered in my selling method of #3, but UPSELL UPSELL UPSELL!!! No matter what they say they’d like to buy, always ask for that next sale up. So if they want Book 1, mention the value of getting Books 1 and 2 for $20, since “you know you’ll want the next book as soon as you’re done with the first” and “why torture yourself and make yourself wait for the next book” etc. Don’t be pushy, just make sure they are aware of the sale they are passing up on. At least half of my sales come from upselling. This is basic marketing, I’m not reinventing the wheel or anything. You know how at fast food places they always ask what else you want? And they always ask if you want to make it a supersize meal? That’s up-selling.

5. I have really pretty covers. Many, many people stop because my covers are colorful and eye-catching. I did my research of my target market, looked at bestselling books in my genre on Amazon, and hired a professional cover designer. I also put my book covers on all my banners, which can be seen from a ways away.

6. I buy TWO artist tables right beside each other (I’m in the artist section at conventions, I rarely buy the big 10X10 booths because that is extra space I don’t need and it puts me among comic book and toy sellers instead of among the artists and crafters where people are looking to buy indie type stuff.) That gives me enough space for all my books AND gives me space for two people to be selling books at the same time. I always do shows with either me and my husband, or us two plus a helper, sometimes two helpers so we can all get more breaks. You can only sell so many items an hour, so having two people pitching/engaging the crowd at the same time doubles the amount you can sell.

——–

So there you go. That is all after, of course, I know I’ve written a good book that my target audience loves to read. Obviously some of the things I do won’t work for you, or you’ll have to adjust it to fit your books/situation. But everything I do is based on basic marketing strategies.

If you have any questions about anything I mentioned above, or other questions about how I do shows, feel free to ask in the comments. As long as you know your target audience, know what makes them tick, and you are willing to engage the people walking by your table, you can sell a good number of books. Good luck!

***Addendum***

DO NOT STEAL CUSTOMERS FROM THE VENDORS ON EITHER SIDE OF YOU!! This is extremely rude and you wouldn’t want others to do it for you, so don’t do it to others. This is the exact reason why I try to make sure there is always a non-author vendor on either side of me so that I’m not directly competing with my neighbors. This is also why I prefer doing comic conventions as opposed to book fairs, where everyone else is selling books too. It just makes it easier to not accidentally steal a customer.

The way to avoid accidentally stealing customers is to make sure to wait until a person looks at your booth before engaging them. If someone is standing in front of your booth but looking at your neighbor’s booth, don’t say anything! Wait until they look your way. If they are standing in front of your neighbor’s booth and looking at yours, you might even want to wait until they are in your space before you speak, just to be safe.

Also, if you ARE around other authors and the person you are talking to happens to mention they like a genre you don’t sell, then immediately point them to your closest author neighbor who sells that genre. You might even ask the authors around you for some of their bookmarks so you can give them out to people who might like their books. Also, once you are done with your sale, you can tell your customer, oh by the way, if you like these sorts of books, you should totally also check out XYZ author over there because her books are also amazing!! This is NOT a zero sum game, readers love reading tons of books, and the more books they buy, the more books they will read (including yours). So support your fellow authors and share the love!

****Addendum #2****

Someone wrote how they have trouble asking for sales because they hate it when other people sell to them, and I thought my response might be helpful since it is a common problem:

I am the exact same way, I hate it when people try to sell me stuff! So look at it this way: if you follow my instructions, you will be weeding out the people who A) don’t like to read and B) don’t like reading your type of book (because you are fishing for what they like with your keywords and figuring out if they like reading your genre, etc). So if you get to the selling part, all you are doing is showing them the benefit and joy they will get from an awesome product that you can provide them.

Let me ask you this: you buy stuff you don’t need, right? Of course you do! You buy things for your enjoyment, things that will make you happy and bring you pleasure. Everyone does, and it is a good and right thing to do. It is good to find joy in life. So, why wouldn’t you encourage people to buy one of your books if you know it will bring them joy? That is why knowing your target audience is so important. I’m not “cold selling,” where I’m just trying to get everyone to buy my books regardless of whether or not I think they will like it. I KNOW my books are good, and I know the kind of reader who likes them, so when I find those readers, I do my best to encourage them to buy my books because I KNOW they will enjoy them. See? You are helping the reader find something they like and convincing them to pamper themselves a little. After all, it’s only $10-20 bucks, right? That’s like, a meal. Nobody’s life is going to be hurt if they splurge a little and get a good book that they are going to like.

Now, one thing that is hard to do is believing in your book and believing that it will bring your reader joy. I have imposter syndrome just as bad as the next author. I squirm inside every time I tell people my books are good and that they will enjoy them, and a little voice tells me “liar, your books suck and nobody should waste their money on them.” But, I have over 400 five-star reviews for my series between Amazon and Goodreads, and THAT MANY PEOPLE CAN’T ALL BE WRONG about my books being fun to read. So, instead of listening to that voice in my head, I smile and tell people they are great books and if they like XYZ (in my case Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Supernatural), then they will like my books too.

So, maybe you struggle with imposter syndrome and have trouble selling your books because deep down a voice is telling you your books aren’t good enough and no one should spend money on them? Only you can answer that question, but if that IS the case, that is certainly a hard struggle to overcome. You can do it though. You have to, and you will, because if you don’t believe in your books, nobody else will either.

BELIEVE IN YOUR BOOKS. BELIEVE IN YOU.

Award-winning and USA Today-bestselling author of magic, tea, and snark-filled fantasy, Lydia Sherrer knows the world is built on dreams and aims to add hers to the mix. When not writing she loves to play her ocarina (think Zelda), and also enjoys traditional archery, cosplay, larping, and art.

Growing up in rural Kentucky, Lydia was thoroughly corrupted by a deep love for its rolling countryside, despite the mosquitoes and hay fever. Having been instilled with a craving for literature early on, and her parents had to wrestle books away from her at the dinner table, and hide them from her so she would go to sleep at night. Though she graduated with a dual BA in Chinese and Arabic, after traveling the world she came home and decided to stay there. Currently residing in Louisville, KY, she is supported by her wonderful and creative husband and their two loud, but adorable, cats.

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Love, Lies & Hocus Pocus Book Cover

What Every Writer Needs by Loren Rhoads

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I’ve worked on both sides of the editor’s desk, reading nonfiction, short stories, and poetry, as well as submitting both short and book-length projects of my own. I’ve edited for several small presses and for Scribner, for print and for the web. I’ve written for anthologies and magazines, published a novel, two chapbooks, and a collection of essays of my own. The one thing I’ve learned from all of that: every manuscript benefits from editing.

A good editor wants your work to shine. She wants to add polish and clarity. She’ll suggest changes and be able to give you the reasons behind them. She’ll ask you questions to open up the text so you can see for yourself what you’ve left unclear or unfocused.

The bigger publishers offer editing as part of the deal. Some of the small presses have started requiring authors to hire their own editors so that the submitted manuscript is print-ready when it’s accepted. If you self-publish, hiring your own editor is an absolute requirement.

Your writers group can help you hone your story. Your friend the English major can help you buff up your prose. You need a professional, though, to give your manuscript the final gloss, the attention that lifts it from acceptable to professional.

Every editor has pet peeves. Personally, I hate gerund constructions and passive verbs, but I’m fine with conversational writing and starting sentences with but or and. I just worked with an editor who hates dialogue tags. I worked with another who preferred academic writing. It may take a while to find an editor who meshes with your work.

It’s totally worth the search. It’s all too easy to discount a book that’s poorly written or full of typos, even if the subject matter is life-changing. Don’t give readers — or publishers — a reason to reject something you’ve labored over. If you’ve poured your heart into it, give it the best possible start and hire an editor.

Author Loren RhoadsLoren Rhoads served as editor for Bram Stoker Award-nominated Morbid Curiosity magazine as well as the books The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, Death’s Garden: Relationship with Cemeteries, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual.

Her newest book is Tales for the Camp Fire, an anthology of stories written by Northern Californian horror writers, which raises money for survivors of last year’s devastating and deadly wildfire.

Rhoads Camp Fire lo-res

Self-Publishing: Is It A Viable Way To Make Money by Carmen Webster Buxton

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Self-Publishing: Is it a viable way to make money as a writer?

The answer to the question above is a resounding “maybe.” Or possibly, “it depends.” The factors involved include not only your skill at writing but also your skill at promotion. There are many reasons for that.

In the past, publishing your own book was a huge expense. In addition to the costs of editorial help, as well as page layout and typesetting, you had to pay a printer and a bookbinder to print thousands of copies, so that you would have them on hand to sell. You needed not only a big chunk of money, but also storage space for cartons and cartons of books. And once you had the books, you had to sell them yourself, either directly to readers or by persuading booksellers to do it for you.

The invention of the ereader (mostly the Kindle, frankly) and the tablet computer have meant an explosion in publishing. With print books, once a title sold out of available stock, if it wasn’t selling fast enough to justify the cost of a new print run, the book was declared out of print. In the past, most book contracts gave publishing rights back to the author after the book was out of print. Since an ebook is never in print, it’s also never “out of print.”
And in fact, another invention called the Espresso Book Machine has changed print book publishing, too. The EBM looks like an oversize photocopier, but it can bind the book as well as print it. With properly formatted PDF files for the cover and book interior, the EBM can create a single copy of a paperback book in a matter of minutes. This process is called print on demand (POD).

Between POD and the lower cost of ebook publication, a writer’s backlist has become a revenue source again—maybe not as much as his or her newer titles, but every little bit helps. Also, the creation of self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook Press, Draft2Digital, etc., has meant a huge increase in the number of titles for sale online at any given time.

This means if you publish a book, it joins the ever-growing stream of titles available for sale. Millions and millions of books, all for sale.

So, writing the book takes time, but not that much money. Getting an already edited book ready to publish takes some level of technical skill; if you have the skill, the task can take more time than money. If you don’t have the skills, you can hire folks to do it for you. The one task that’s beyond most people (unless you’re a graphic designer) is the creation of your book cover; for that, you will need to spend money. But once you’ve got that book created and into the online marketplace, what is going to let readers know your book is out there?

A big part of the answer is promotion. If you self publish, promotion is entirely up to you. And promotion can take a huge amount of both time and money. Again, the question of skills is part of how promotion will work for you. Are you someone who is comfortable going to conferences and talking about your book? And are there venues where you know you will find an audience that would like your book? If you’re not comfortable with in-person promotion, there are other things you can do. You can pay for advertising, either the kind that appears to users on platforms like Facebook or Amazon, or you can pay to have your book featured in one of the many email newsletters that ebook readers sign up for, like BookBub, Ereader News Today, Robin Reads, The Fussy Librarian, etc.

Generally, the bigger their subscriber list is, the more expensive the service is, and the more stringent are their requirements for inclusion. As an example, some email services require a minimum number of reviews.

Another consideration is genre. Some categories of books sell much more than others. Remember that “marketable” and good” are not actually synonyms. It’s worth it to research the ebook best sellers in your genre and see if your book is anything like them. Self-publishing with POD is helpful, but the overwhelming volume of self-published books are sold as ebooks, and some genres are more popular in ebook format than others.

A handful of self-published authors have broken through with very successful books, like Hugh Howey with his post-apocalyptic Silo series, Amanda Hocking’s paranormal romances, and the huge hit Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
A good number of writers make a living self-publishing, but by far the huge majority don’t support themselves from writing. You don’t want to quit your day job until you get a really good multi-book contract or a movie deal.

What it all adds up to is, self-publishing can work for you, if you have the right book(s) and the right skills (or a willingness to learn), but it’s by no means an easy way to make money.


Author Carmen Webster BuxtonA voracious reader since childhood, Carmen Webster Buxton spent her youth reading every book published by Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, and Georgette Heyer. As a result, her own books mix far-future worlds, alien cultures, and courting customs.

Sometimes a specific event from real life will trigger a story idea for her, but she always works it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. When her parents divorced after 28 years of marriage, this led her to ponder the nature of marriage and create a species that mated for life, in her novel Alien Bonds. But most of her books began merely as an image in her head of someone in a specific situation—a thief selling stolen goods to a fence, a man hunting game in a forest, or a young woman walking behind her father while he looked for someone to buy her. The urge to find out who those people were and what happened to them would almost always result in a book.

Carmen was born in Hawaii but had a peripatetic childhood, as her father was in the US Navy. Having raised two wonderful children, she now lives in Maryland with her husband and a beagle named Cosmo.

Carmen’s blog
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Alien Bonds on Amazon

Book Cover Alien Bonds

Ideas For Stories. Where Do They Come From? by Catherine E. McLean

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Image by 453169 from Pixabay

When I first began attending workshops for writing fiction, there would be a question-answer session after the presentation. Invariably someone in the audience would ask the author-speaker, “Where do you get your ideas from?” The reply was basically “If you have to ask that question, you aren’t a writer!”

At first, I agreed with the assumption that you’re not a writer if you can’t come up with ideas because I never lacked for ideas. Then it dawned on me that the people asking the question of where do you get your ideas from, didn’t know how, or had never been taught, how to look for and be aware of ideas with story potential.

To be aware is to have or show knowledge or understanding or realization or perception. So, in a nutshell, the secret to generating story sparkers (ideas) comes from awareness—either on a conscious or subconscious level.

Awareness is also about sensory perceptions coming into play. For instance, take the sight perception of seeing and reading a newspaper headline at the bottom of page ten: “Bank Safe Explodes.” The awareness factor strikes, you pause and re-read the headline. The mind begins to extrapolate— what caused the vault to explode? Who would put a bomb or chemicals, or explosives in a bank vault box? What if instead . . . maybe after the bank was evacuated because of a wild fire, thieves came in, robbed the safe, tossed in explosives, then got away.

You then read the news item and become enthralled by other possibilities—ones based on the reality of the situation. And so the what-ifs multiply and the idea blossoms and intrigues even more. This is exciting stuff that stories are made of.

As to awareness on the subconscious level, remember the subconscious is always in the background recording and noticing things. Therefore, anything noted by the subconscious might trigger a heightened reaction of awareness that sparks an idea for a story. However, when it comes to outside-the-box concepts and ideas, the subconscious mind is an innovator. The subconscious has a penchant for randomly mixing-and-matching things or relishing in the juxtaposition of elements and concepts. Good fodder for stories.

The hard part about getting ideas is determining if the idea has merit enough to spend the time and energy writing the story. It’s about asking “will this idea sell?” That is, is there a market for such a story? Another problem with vetting an idea is figuring out what kind of length the story will end up as—flash fiction or a novella, novel, or saga. In truth, a story will end up being whatever length it is when drafted. It’s in the revision process that length can be adjusted, or not.

It’s also important to reflect on the idea and ask “Has anyone else beaten me to this story idea? If so, how can I make mine unique and more appealing?”

Even though anything can spark a tale, the bottom line is that to become a producing writer of worth, you need ideas—lots of ideas. Generating more ideas means becoming far more aware of possibilities and to actively look at your environment with “new vision” and a “new sense of touch or taste” or listen for sounds or snippets of conversation. What follows is a list of 12 possibilities for increasing awareness and generating story sparks:

1. reading newspapers, especially headlines on interior pages because truth is often stranger than fiction
2. driving down a road, you see a sign or billboard, logo on a truck, a sticker on a vehicle, etc. that leads to a story spark (pull over to the side of the road and write the idea down, or dictate the gist of the idea into a voice recorder—but avoid texting and driving)
3. beginning with a crime. What is the crime (murder, theft, etc.)? Who would commit such a crime? Why would they commit such a crime? Who must solve the crime or seek justice?
4. looking at a landscape picture (on a calendar or from a magazine, newspaper, Pinterest, etc.) and asking— Would this make a setting for a story? If so, what kind of story? What kind of person or people could live on such a beautiful/harsh/exotic/sparse landscape?
5. reading poetry and discovering a zinger of an image or wording that awes
6. browsing the Internet (searching for something but coming across an interesting aspect that might spark a story)
7. being on the lookout for an animal that fascinates you *
8. being on the lookout for a flower or plant that amazes you *
9. being on the lookout for a fish that astounds you *
* these can be real (alive) or prehistoric, even drawings of the mythical
10. being on the lookout for a little-known ship or plane that had an amazing or unusual voyage in space or underwater
11. listening to snippets of conversation at parties, restaurants, etc. Ask: Who would say such a thing? Why?
12. visiting your local library and browsing the stacks for interesting titles or book covers, or looking through magazines you normally would never notice

Lastly, truth is often stranger than fiction. So, start with a reality and let your imagination ponder a fantasy worthy of a story.

Post Script — the list above is taken from “Story Ideas—32 Ways to Find Them,” which is available as a free “Writers Cheat Sheet“.

CEM Sweater mini pixAs one reviewer put it, Catherine’s stories are “brain candy for anyone liking action and character-driven stories.” Catherine writes lighthearted tales of phantasy realms and stardust worlds (fantasy, paranormal, and space opera/soft science fiction). Her stories are adventure-quests where characters are like real people facing real dilemmas. It’s where their journey (with or without a romance) has a satisfying ending.

Catherine began her writing career as a journalist and earned Pennwriters Published Penn status from articles and short stories. Her short stories have appeared in hardcover and online anthologies and magazines. Many of those short stories are in her anthology ADRADA TO ZOOL.

Her books include JEWELS OF THE SKY (sci-fi adventure), KARMA & MAYHEM (paranormal fantasy romance), and HEARTS AKILTER (a fantasy/sci-fi romance novella).
She has been giving online and in-person workshops and courses for more than two decades. At https://www.WritersCheatSheets.com, she offers free Writers Cheat Sheets and maintains a blog for writers at https://writerscheatsheets.blogspot.com/. Some of her courses are available as 1-on-1 Fiction Writing Courses (information is at https://www.writerscheatsheets.com/1-on-1-courses-for-writers-authors.html
Also available is “Terrific Titles—an all inclusive guide to creating story titles.” Her nonfiction guidebook for writers is REVISION IS A PROCESS – HOW TO TAKE THE FRUSTRATION OUT OF SELF-EDITING.

Join her Reader or Writers Bulletin List.

Catherines Books