Category Archives: Guest Posts

Author Branding by Rennie St. James

Marketing Books Photo
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Are you branded?

No, this isn’t some writing kink post. This is a post about the business side of writing though. I originally did a guest post on 10 Minute Novelists on this topic. This post is a re-vamp of that one with some new ideas and discussion.

If you’re an author, you have probably worried about sales. You’ve probably adjusted your pricing and ran sales. You’ve probably also despaired of ever making a living by your books alone.

Have you seen (or posted) the example of people happily paying $5 for coffee before tipping, but then complaining that a book costs $0.99?? I have posted that myself and ranted and raved privately about the injustice of it. It’s taken time for me to see this in a new and different light.

By time, I mean the seven years I’ve been writing and six since I first self-published. This may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to your writing life…or it could seem like I’m incredibly ancient. It doesn’t really matter – even if writers aren’t in the exact same boat, we are setting sail on the same waters. These waters can be annoying calm (no sales or reviews) or terrifyingly turbulent (release week or bad reviews).

Branding is a way to sail those waters more comfortably and profitably.

This advice isn’t my own though I do follow it. I’m also not earning a living by books alone. As with anything in this world, I’d suggest you keep reading, research for yourself and try out some new things. Which means we need to get back to the topic of branding and those people paying so much more for a cup of coffee.

See, those people aren’t just buying a cup of coffee. They are buying a brand. In the case of Starbucks, one that has been around since 1971. Those people have bought countless coffees that met or exceeded their needs and that’s what they are paying for – that guaranteed success of getting what they want when they want it.

As authors, we have to build our brand too. We have to give readers a clear expectation and meet/ exceed it…and we must do that many times.

What exactly is your brand and how do you build it?

1. Rainbows

A marketing author on FB described a brand as a rainbow. Being an author is only one color and no rainbow is made up one only one color.
What type of books do you write? What do you like to do outside of writing? What type of books do you read? Do you have family (furry or human)? These are all part of your rainbow.

Author Kristen Painter shares personal stories about her cats and her cooking (both figure into her books). If you are writing about things you love then you have some easy things to add to your rainbow.

2. 70/30 Rule

Spamming drop and go links in hundreds of groups is a strategy. Here’s another one – post 70% about your life and only 30% about your book. This means those rainbows of color we discussed above get a chance to shine.

Check your social media feed. How often do you post ‘buy my book’ things? Add some more colors to your rainbow and see what type of interactions you get. This is not to say promoting your book is bad. That 30% of your feedback is for your self-promo.

3. Be a reader.

One easy color to add to your rainbow is that of a reader. Join groups and follow hashtags as a reader, not just an author. Fanboy/ fangirl out and stalk your favorite authors and celebrities. As readers, we all know that seeing someone read our favorite book automatically makes us like them (at least a little bit). Seek out those people who love the things you do and build those relationships. Again, it should be something you enjoy so it’s not work. It is smart marketing (esp when you stalk authors who are successful).

4. Support fellow writers.

Being part of the writing community is another color for your rainbow and should be another easy addition.
I love the motto that ‘other writers are not my competition.’ Yes, we are all trying to make a living and sell books. This means only other authors understand the hazards of sailing on the ocean with us. Writers are our Tribe and we should support one another. Join writer groups and be active…and not just when you need something. Retweet generously, like often, and comment whenever possible.
We’ve all been there during those rough times when a random-like or comment absolutely makes your day. It may seem small and it is which also means it’s easy to do.

5. Your book baby is your product.

No parent should have to pimp out their baby, but that’s what we have to do as authors. Work to separate the creative writing side from the business selling side.

Remember Starbucks and their $5 coffee? You want to make sales too, right? It’s a business. Be professional in your interactions and remember that selling your book is a job.

To go back to Starbucks again, they don’t just offer customers one cup of coffee every 2-3 years. Build your library of books and consider waiting to publish until you have more content to offer. Join some anthologies, try online magazines, blog, etc. There are many ways to add to your products. Again, if you pick things you like, it will seem less like work and be more enjoyable.

Are you ready to build your brand?

Are you already branded and have ideas to share?

I would love to discuss further with my fellow writers. I have stolen the ideas above from others and still have much to learn. There are also many paths to success and many of us will have to try various ones. In the interest of full disclosure, not only did I steal the ideas above but implementing them hasn’t made me a successful writer by traditional standards. However, I am a writer with a fulltime job who needs to make the best use of her time and wants to continue sailing these hazardous waters of publishing. I’m also a writer who wants to share things I’ve learned along my journey so far.

Share your thoughts here so we can all learn together!


Rennie St. James shares several similarities with her fictional characters (heroes and villains alike) including a love of chocolate, horror movies, martial arts, history, yoga, and travel. She is proudly owned by three rescue kitties including an all-black lady adopted on Friday the 13th. They live in relative harmony in beautiful southwestern Virginia (United States). The Rahki Chronicles is Rennie’s first urban fantasy series, and the first five books are available now. Her Atlantic Island: Guardian Trilogy will be released in 2020. Rennie also has drabbles and short stories included in several multi-author anthologies by a variety of publishers. You can find her all over social media as she loves to interact with fellow bookworms and authors.

Website: https://writerrsj.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerRSJ/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writer.rsj/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterRSJ
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/rennie-st-james
Book link: http://books2read.com/RahkiWorld

In Praise of Creative Play by Dorthy Winsor

Photo by Jacky Watt on Unsplash

In February, I attended Capricon, a speculative fiction convention that took place in the Chicago suburbs. It was fun. Some of those attending were writers who gave readings or spoke on panels, but Tobias Buckell, the guest of honor, was the only well-known author there. Mostly, it was a fan convention, and the writers at the con also saw themselves as fans. Attendees could wear costumes, browse the art show, shop in the dealer room, experiment with the starship bridge simulator, and join in role-play gaming.

Afterwards it occurred to me that these local speculative fiction cons are everywhere, particularly if you count ComicCons. Speculative fiction is not the most widely read genre. That honor belongs to romance. Yet spec fic seems to have the most fan conventions. I started to speculate (pun intended) on why that should be so.

I suggest two reasons. First, world-building is a strong element in the genre, and a desire to explore or even live in those author-built worlds is common. Second, in spec fic, the line between writers and fans is thin and porous. The genre seems to encourage creative play, and conventions nourish it.

The Importance of the World

I can think of speculative fiction set in, say, Chicago. For example, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series features a magician/detective operating in my fair city, though it’s a city that’s altered by the presence of paranormal beings. But it’s very common for both science fiction and fantasy to set their stories in worlds that the author creates more or less from scratch. Those worlds can be future space colonies or kingdoms that never existed or a huge variety of other options.

For spec fic fans, such world-building is important. They want to be lifted out of their everyday world and transported elsewhere. They fantasize about what it would be like to be the characters they read about and live in those worlds. That’s why Universal Studios can have a Harry Potter World that people rush to visit, while they don’t have, say, a Jack Reacher World, despite the popularity of Lee Child’s mystery series.

Fan conventions offer readers or movie/TV viewers the chance to live for a day or two in a bit of their favorite pretend world, even if it’s only in a minor way. That’s one thing those costumes are about. Conference-goers slip into character and tacitly agree to respect one another’s fun. Want to wear that Gryffindor jacket hiding in your closet? A con is your chance.

Overlap Between Writers and Readers

The second and most important element enabling spec fic cons is the overlap between writers and readers. In a way that undermines the pretenses of the Artist with a capital A, the genre seems to encourage breaking down the barrier between those who create art and those who consume it.
Some of the attendees were literally writers or podcast producers or graphic novel designers. But among story creators, I think you have to count the role play gamers who create characters and lead them through adventures. You also have to count the folks in costumes who are acting out their own stories.
In an utterly delightful way, spec fic seems to encourage play and creativity, and fan conventions are the result.
Other Genres Can Share the Fun

As I thought about this, I couldn’t see why spec fic readers should be the only ones to have this kind of fun, though it’s true that some genres lend themselves more than others. Regency romance? Those fans are enthusiastic and can probably think of apt costumes and games. Historical fiction has many of the same opportunities for costume and world that spec fic does, and a historian friend says she does occasionally see someone in costume at their big conference.

It seems to me that what holds us back from widening the fan convention world is that we are embarrassed to be caught pretending. We think we’re too old to play. But to me, a reader is always pretending for a while. You’re always imagining that you’re someone else, living another life. That’s not embarrassing. That’s good. It’s enriching.

So here’s advice for readers of all genres: Go forth and play!

Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle-grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland.

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE
INSPIRED QUILL
TWITTER

Haiku Finds Wabi Sabi by Marjorie Miles

A Haiku paints a word picture. It is simple in form – three lines, the first containing five syllables, the second, seven, and the third, five, for a total of 17 syllables. But there is nothing simple about a Haiku’s power to capture the heart of your life experiences.

I was in the last phase of cancer treatment when I heard the Voice for the first time. While awaiting the arrival of the radiologist, I closed my eyes. That’s when I heard, the command.

“You need to write a poem!”

Without missing a beat, the same Voice insisted, “And it needs to be a Haiku!

On a small scrap of paper, I wrote the following:

Radiation! Zap!
Search and find the mutant cells
Going…going…gone!

As I re-read what I had written, my hands involuntarily clapped when I reached the word, “gone”. Then, a quiet calm permeated my being, along with a certainty that I would survive.

That night my husband, Ben, suggested I challenge myself to write five a day. And so began my haiku writing practice…

2011
I was grateful to begin a new story. Having pushed past surgery, chemo, and radiation, a new hair color, and a new “normal”, I was ready to start a new story.

After years of neglect and silence—thanks to my haiku writing routine—my poetry Muse, and I had been happily reunited.

About a year later, I heard the Voice again! It said, “Start a Writer’s Group to support individuals whose words and stories need to be heard”.I didn’t have a clue how to accomplish this. However, during a sleep dream, I received a guided meditation to invoke the Muse and guidance to use the images, symbols, and feelings that surfaced as writing prompts.

So, began “Writing with Your Dream Muse” classes, and we are still writing today…

2015
Life was good. I finished writing my book, “Healing Haikus”—A Poetic Prescription for Surviving Cancer”, and was the contributing author to five other books.

I was beginning my fifth-year cancer-free. Once you have heard the words, “You are cancer-free”, you think the “scare” is over. However, some stories have a sequel.

Mine does and it begins, “You have a recurrence”.

I continued my daily poem-making…

I had just completed my latest CT scan, and I was looking forward to the weekend.

The telephone rang.

The voice of my oncologist cried with urgency into the telephone, “Get Marjorie to the Emergency Room! It’s in her brain!

Fear gripped me. The next chapter in my continuing story would be a game-changer!

And it was…

The last entry in my haiku journal before my brain surgery was July 17, 2015

Cancer in my brain
You slipped by the barrier
Back into my life

The following day, I underwent brain surgery to remove one large and three smaller cancerous tumors. While recovering, my intestines perforated, and I required an emergency colostomy.

Life’s crescendos come
Quietly as a sunset
Dipped in marmalade

Despite the odds against my survival, I did!

I am a miracle!

I needed—more than ever—to write again.

At the same time, I was learning to wear a colostomy pouch, I needed to adjust to my new “compromised” brain.

My precious communication skills forever changed! How cruel to return my Muse to me… Damaged!

However, the most painful and serious deficit I encountered was difficulty in writing. Writing and haiku connected me to my Muse and to all my important relationships. Sending even a text or a simple email can be excruciating. Words come out scrambled. My ability to express myself on paper is severely hampered. Writing for long periods can leave me cranky, tired, and disoriented.

Yet, I NEED to write a daily haiku.

Invisible ink
Where I look to retrieve words
That are still hiding

I was struggling with my conflicted feelings about what cancer had taken from my life, and gratitude for being alive. I decided to write everything I was feeling…raw and uncensored.

Tears flow today for
What was and what might have been
Grief robs gratitude

I wrote furiously until I finally exhausted all the anger and frustration I had been holding inside.

Then, something magical happened.

For the first time, I saw my cross-outs, squiggles, write overs, BIG LETTERS, and small letters as ART!

Letters and words swerve
On road maps of consciousness
From an artist’s hand

Through several thwarted attempts to write a “perfect” haiku, I was astonished that my frustration and my pain could be transformed…into art.

Writing haiku has given me a different lens in which to view the world—one that is much rosier.

When I learned about the Japanese art and philosophy called, Wabi Sabi, a way of life that focuses on finding beauty the within the imperfections and impermanence of life, I decided that I was a Wabi Sabi Practitioner,

Words tumbled wounded
Bleeding blessings from poems
Created to Heal

My next chapter, Wabi Sabi Haiku Word Art, has already started…


Dr. Marjorie Miles is a best-selling Amazon author and Wabi-Sabi Haiku Word Artist. She fulfills her passion for creative expression as a writer, dream worker, poet, and speaker. Her miracle-filled life includes living beyond lung cancer, brain cancer, and a life-saving colostomy.

She facilitates monthly “Writing with Your Muse” groups, offering inspiration and guidance to aspiring authors. Her uplifting memoir, Healing Haikus: A Poetic Prescription for Surviving Cancer, demonstrates the powerful effect of creative expression on healing.

Incurable romantics, she and her husband exchange original poems they create each morning. His are rhyming poems, and hers are haikus.

Writing Tips by Avril Sabine

Creating a story isn’t just about sitting down and pouring words onto the page. You need to fill your ‘toolbox’ with the right tools. There’s no need to start from scratch trying to figure out the techniques of those who’ve gone before you. Learn the skills other writers have figured out through the ages and build on them with your own discoveries about the craft.

But remember, “it’s not logical to think that all advice fits all writers and all writing projects at all times even through much advice fits many writers and many situations much of the time.” (Beth Hill, Editor.)

Grammar, Spelling And Word Choice

Grammar is the structural foundation that allows us to express ourselves in a way to allow others to understand what we’re trying to say. Spelling allows the reader to recognise and understand the words we’re trying to use and help make the meaning of the story clearer. Particularly when it comes to homophones. When choosing the right words for your story you don’t want to sound like you’ve used a thesaurus in every sentence. Nor do you want to use the same word repetitively so the reader becomes sick of seeing it. Finding the correct balance is extremely important.

Sentence Structure

Sentence structure isn’t just about the grammatical aspects of it such as whether it is a simple, compound, complex or compound-complex sentence. This is important to understand, but what is more important is to learn how the different structures make the reader feel. Short sentences can make a story race forward and create high tension moments. Longer sentences have a more relaxed feel to them. You do of course want to vary your sentence lengths. Learning how to use sentence structure to change pace, create emotion and draw readers into your story is important.

Peers

People form groups with other likeminded people. In business, sports and other social activities. Yet often they’re hesitant to do the same when it comes to their writing. Groups are great in that where one member may be lacking the skills in a particular area, another member might have those skill and be able to share some of their knowledge. There’s also nothing to say you can be a member of only one writing group. There are many groups all focusing on different aspects of writing. Both online and in person. Some groups focus on different genres, some on the techniques of writing, some on short stories. It can take time to find the right groups suited to your writing needs.

Reading the works of other writers can also help teach you the way books are created. And I’m not talking about how-to books. Studying other books in the genre/s you wish to write in can teach you a lot of techniques that can be used in your own writing. When it comes to learning from other writers using this method it’s important you only use the techniques you’ve learned from them and not plagiarise their work.

Research

Even those who write fantasy need to learn how to research. If you’ve loosely based your world on a period in history you’ll want to learn the logistics of living in such a time period. If horses are your method of transport, or even a completely made up animal, you can research horses or something similar to give you an idea of the care and abilities of that animal. What ground can your transport cover in an hour? A day? Does it need rest, or if it’s mechanical, what sort of maintenance does it need? Researching actual objects similar to what your own fantastical object is like can help create a more realistic and probable object.

If you’re writing something set in the real world it’s even more important to get your facts right. Whether it’s location, a historical event or a job. There’s sure to be a reader out there somewhere who knows the subject you’re discussing and will point out the mistakes.

Voice

A writer’s voice is their own particular style that sets their work apart from other authors. It’s a mixture of everything that goes into their story including characterization, sentence structure, grammar, topics, pace, word choices, POV choices, and influences. It can take a lot of time, even years, to develop your own voice. Quite often it develops once you’ve learned many of the rules about writing and understand how they can be used as well as when they can be broken. Once you have all those basic tools, you can start to develop the more complex ones such as voice.

Creativity

It’s important to learn how to write and understand how other great writers create their stories, but it’s also important to sometimes ignore the rules. Let yourself be creative. Let yourself explore different types of writing and unusual ideas. Not every piece of writing has to become a story. Practicing and exercising your craft is equally important. Make notes about your ideas so you don’t forget them and go over your notes sometimes and see if one of your old ideas is urging you to write about it. Give yourself permission to try something even if everyone tells you it won’t work. It might not work, but you might surprise yourself and learn a little bit more about your own methods of writing.

Experiences

Never underestimate the experiences that have occurred in your life. Even if you think they’re ordinary. Those experiences are unique to you and even if someone else has also gone through the exact same event, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have experienced it exactly as you did. You can use those emotions, feelings and events to help understand other emotions, feelings and events. To draw conclusions about other occurrences or even use the event exactly as you experienced it. When writing different scenes in your story you can think back over past events and draw on them to add another layer of authenticity to your work. I’m sure most people have, at different times in their lives, experienced love, hate, frustration, satisfaction, failure, success, compassion and heartlessness. Relive those experiences. Understand them and allow your characters to feel them too. Taking into account their unique personalities, how would your different characters have reacted in those situations?


Avril Sabine is an Australian author who writes mostly young adult and children’s speculative fiction. She has been writing since she was a young child and wanted to be an author the moment she realized someone wrote the books she loved to read. Avril is the author of more than seventy books, including Guardians Of The Round Table series, Dragon Blood series, Realms Of The Fae series, Elf Sight and The Irish Wizard.

Website: http://www.avrilsabine.com/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/avrilsabine

Finding Your Path to Writing Success by K.G. Anderson

There’s a reason why they call it a path to success and not a ramble or a meander. Envisioning the steps — some of them painful, some of them thrilling — that take you from beginning writer to published pro can save you time and reduce frustration.

  • You are writing regularly, at whatever pace you’ve set for yourself.
  • You are moving forward as a writer, by whatever measures you use. This could be words written, stories or queries submitted, works published, markets entered, or dollars earned.
  • You are closer to your writing goals now than you were a year ago.

If you meet those three criteria, it’s likely you’ve found a path that’s working for you. Congratulations! But if you’re not making progress in your writing, I’d like to talk a little about the value of paths and how some writers find theirs.

In 2010, after a career as a nonfiction writer, I decided I wanted to publish speculative fiction, specifically short stories, at the professional level. I had no idea how many years that would take. (Answer: in my case, 9).

The first thing people told me was to write, write, write. So I put my butt in the chair, starting with four hours of writing every Tuesday night and then adding regular weekend writing sessions.

The speculative fiction authors I hoped to emulate were quick to tell me that thousands of hours of writing was just the beginning. Some of them attributed their breakthroughs to workshops; others, to critique groups and retreats. Others talked about transformational publishing connections they’d made at conferences or through online professional groups.

So it was clear that I needed to do more than just write. The question was, what?

I mean — there were workshops, critique groups, professional organizations, conventions, retreats, online communities, websites, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. No one could possibly do it all, could they?

Of course not. The big “aha” for me was the discovery that nearly every successful writer I met had put together a customized path to navigate this crowded landscape — a defined path to take the beginner to pro.

Some did it very deliberately, envisioning every step and then working their way along the path. Others were more experimental, trying one thing at a time, discovering what activities worked for them, and discarding the activities that didn’t. For some people, having a small, tight critique group made all the difference. For others, the key was attending conferences with agents and editors and learning about the market and the industry. For others, it was refining their craft through workshops. For yet others, it was establishing a distinctive voice through a blog or social media, and using that channel to attract interest in their talent and their work.

But it took me three years of throwing myself into just about any activity labeled “speculative fiction writing” — including a few drama-filled “critique” groups and poorly edited anthologies — to realize that I needed to calm down and focus on a viable path.

My path began in 2013 with the week-long Viable Paradise workshop. It focused on what I wanted to write: short fiction. After the workshop, I attended a critique session at Orycon run by a Viable Paradise graduate, Curtis Chen.

By then, I was hearing about online listings for magazines and anthologies that buy short fiction. After checking out three listings sites, I settled on the Submission Grinder, a free service which also lets you track your submissions. I began submitting stories to semi-pro publications and sold my first speculative fiction stories in 2015.

I attended one-day Clarion West workshops taught by Ken Scholes, David D. Levine, and Seanan McGuire. I chose sessions that addressed my specific pain points (like writing endings, and writing for anthologies). I also took online classes, again, dealing with my specific writing challenges, from Dean Wesley Smith.

By this time, I was selling 6 or 7 stories a year to semi-pro markets (many of them indie-published anthologies). In 2018, I made my first pro-level sale. And I joined a critique group of writers who publish with some of the magazines and anthologies where I’ve had work accepted — and with some magazines I aspire to. In 2019 I had enough sales to qualify as a pro with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). My next step? To sell to major magazines.

The strategic path you map out may have quite different landmarks than mine (Agents! Book sales! Self-publishing! Editing an anthology!), but, if you follow it, I’m willing to bet you’ll see progress.


K.G. Anderson is a late-blooming speculative fiction writer. She writes short fiction — urban fantasy, space opera, alternate history, Weird West tales, near-future SF and mystery. Most of her stories focus on families, communities, secrets, and transformations.

She has degrees in psychology and journalism and has supported herself by writing everything from book reviews and political exposes to home repair columns and corporate websites. She was a member of the launch team for Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

K.G. studied at Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise and Cascade Writers and is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You’ll find her stories in Galaxy’s Edge and Luna Station Quarterly, in podcasts from Far Fetched Fables and StarShipSofa, and in anthologies from B Cubed Press and Third Flatiron. In Seattle, she’s part of the Sound of Paper writing group and often reads her stories at Two Hour Transport. You’ll find her at regional conventions such as Foolscap, Orycon, and Norwescon.

She lives in a Scandinavian fishing community just north of downtown Seattle with her partner, bookseller Tom Whitmore, quite a few cats, and thousands upon thousands of books.

Visit https://writerway.com/fiction for a list of K.G.’s publications and links to stories you can read or listen to online. You’ll find her on Twitter @writerway