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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 29, 2014

TOOLS OF THE (WRITER’S) TRADE: Lots of them FREE + reviews, how-to videos and cheat sheets.

by Ruth Harris

Like plumbers and carpenters, architects and astronauts, cellists and golfers, writers need the right tools to help them get the job done. New tools appear constantly and many of them are FREE. Here is a round-up of current offerings.

Word processors on steroids:

MSWord is the industry standard, the app editors and agents prefer. Has its lovers and haters but it’s powerful, sometimes kind of clunky, and can do just about anything including format your book into epub and mobi files for upload.

Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You is JW Manus’s quick primer directed especially to fiction writers. JW explains why over formatting and useless manuscript styling is a counter-productive waste of time for authors.

MSWord also provides the tools that allow you to create a cover. Here’s an on-line tutorial about how to make a cover in MSWord.

Book designer Derek Murphy offers DIY professional-looking book cover how-tos plus templates you can use in Word.

Scrivener (about $40 but you can find often it on sale) comes in PC and Mac flavors and is coming—soon! everyone hopes—for iOS. Powerful and very flexible, Scriv is a must-have for many writers including me. Scriv has a cork board function, an outliner, will file images and web-based research, and compiles to epub and mobi.

The manual is extensive, the video tutorials are excellent and the help forum is outstanding. Keith, Scriv’s developer, often appears to answer questions and his savvy crew is responsive and will walk you through any dilemmas.

Gwen Fernandez’ book Scrivener For Dummies has bailed this dummy out more than once and will help both beginners and experienced users.

If you’re still unsure about Scrivener and want to know more, Gwen has written a post about why she ditched Word for Scriv.

Google+ Scriv forum is another go-to resource. Scrivener enthusiasts answer questions, offer templates and share creative approaches to getting even more out of Scriv.

I found Ed Ditto’s How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and CreateSpace...in One Afternoon indispensable for working my way through the compile process.

Scriptito: https://www.scriptito.com/tour/write.html is a FREE online Scrivener-like text editor and project manager. Scriptito offers storyboard, research folders and linking, autosave and versioning and will also compile epubs and other export formats.

To find out more, here’s a Scriptito review.

Nisus (Mac only—Express $45, Pro $79) is a superb word processor, one I’ve used for years. Nisus works well with Scriv, it’s elegant but powerful, very stable, and the Pro version lets you compile epubs and mobis from within. Their user forum is terrific and Martin—I think he’s one of the developers—is there to answer questions and help trouble shoot.

In this article, Joe Kissell, Senior Contributor, Macworld, tells why he prefers Nisus and puts it on his A-list.

Intuitive, safe and reliable, superfast, portable and entirely customizable, Atlantis (PC only—$35) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord-like app. Comes with a 30-day try-before-you-buy offer, offers on-line help and a user’s forum. Atlantis, which can encrypt your files, can do much of what MSWord does including turn your text into epub and mobi files.

Here’s a helpful review of Atlantis.

Google Documents is cloud based, fast, responsive, and FREE. Google docs does its job well, can be accessed from all your devices and is useful for collaborators who can log in from different locations and work together. Since Docs is cloud based, you get off-site back up along with a fine basic word processor.

Pages (Mac only) is iOS native, often FREE or modestly priced ($9.99) word processor to use on your iPad, iPhone, iPod. Pages also compiles to epub and mobi.

In addition to the brand names listed above, there are even more FREE word processors available on-line. You will find a round up plus reviews of FREE word processors for the pc here. FREE for the Mac is a clean and simple word processor called Bean.

E-book builder:

Vellum (Mac only—FREE to download. Pricing depends on how many you purchase. Right now on sale.) is easy to use and does only one thing: it builds elegantly designed ebooks. Upload a Word file, style text, preview a live version of your book for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or Nook; and export multiple versions with a single click.

Serenity Caldwell reviews Vellum, citing its easy templates, excellent preview support, and beautiful multi-version export.

Office Suites:

My generous and tech-savvy twitter pal, @RangeWoman_Inc, clued me into three FREE powerful office suites.

Apache OpenOffice is FREE, has many the same features as Microsoft Office and is available for Windows, Linux, MacOS X, Linux X86-64, Solaris X86, Solaris Sparc. Through "save as" you can export your OpenOffice for Microsoft Office (inter-exchangeable).

Open Office extensions (includes dictionaries) and templates can be downloaded at http://extensions.openoffice.org/

OpenOffice extension "After the Deadline" (FREE editing and grammar check extension).

NeoOffice is a FREE office suite for OS X and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and graphic program. You can export NeoOffice documents in different formats, including .doc, .xlsx and .xml.

NeoOffice user's guide is a FREE download as are the language packs.

LibreOffice is FREE open source office software for Apple OS X, Linux and Windows and includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and graphic program. It has received awards from the Linux and Apple communities. In 2013 it was awarded the InfoWorld Bossie Award:

"After the Deadline" is a FREE editing and grammar check extension for LibreOffice and here are five recommended grammar and editing extensions for LibreOffice.

Back Ups:

Dropbox is a must-have essential for off-site back up. It’s FREE, creates one file in the cloud and another on your desktop as you work. DB also synchs on all your devices and works seamlessly with both mobile and desktop apps.

Microsoft offers FREE cloud storage called SkyDrive and Apple’s version is called (guess what?) iCloud. Google’s cloud storage, Drive, is also FREE and works on all popular systems.

Mozy, Carbonite, CrashPlan are remote backup services. Each one offers a FREE trial and various subscription plans for personal and business back up.

Publishing blogger Passive Guy—who has worked on computers for thirty years and knows first hand the soul-searing tragedy of lost work—shares his belts-and-suspenders back up method in his must-read post Never, Never, Never Lose Your Work!

Ooopsie Fixers:

India Drummond takes on editors (the cyber kind) in this review of White Smoke, Style Writers, Serenity Software, and Autocrit.

Hemingway app aims to make your writing—guess what?—bold and clear. Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors, highlights passive verbs, points the finger at adverbs.

Ginger, a spell & grammar checker, offers various monthly plans and works with MS-Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, IE, Firefox and Chrome and enables cross-platform users to correct their text with a single click. Ginger’s Text Reader lets users hear what they wrote in a U.S. or U.K. accent as spoken in the voice of a male or female reader and is useful when proofreading.

ProWritingAid is a FREE online editor that checks your grammar but also acts as an online plagiarism checker, finds overused words and phrases, improves readability and checks for consistency of spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization.


Although I’m still addicted to old-fashioned paper notebooks, I find the cyber versions indispensable.

Ubiquitous Evernote, is a powerful, FREE note keeping app that works on all platforms. Searchable by keyword or tags, includes reminder and web clipping functions, great for keeping research including images, for brainstorming ideas, for parking stuff you’re not yet sure what to do with. Cloud-based, Evernote synchs across all your devices.

One Note is now FREE and comes in Mac, Windows, iPads, iPhones and Androids flavors. An electronic version of a 3-ring binder, OneNote lives in the cloud and is synchable across devices.

In this article, award-winning tech writer Ed Bott offers cross-platform power tips for OneNote.

Bestselling romance author, Jami Davenport, provides a cheat sheet to OneNote and talks about the was she uses it to keep track of her heroes and heroines.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 45 books. Preston compares Evernote and OneNote pointing out the plusses and minuses of both.

Put the prod in productivity:

Spend too much time on FaceBook and not enough writing? A Tweet-a-holic? An internet addict? Need an enforcer?

RescueTime It’s FREE, but there’s also a Premium version with a monthly bill attached. https://www.rescuetime.com.

Write Or Die by Dr. Wicked. $20. Windows, Mac and Linux which aims to eliminate writer's block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment http://writeordie.com.

Mac Freedom $10 compatible with Windows, Mac, Android & Ubuntu that blocks the 'net 60 day money-back guarantee.

Whew! We sure are lucky to have somebody as tech-savvy as Ruth offering us this smorgasbord of tech help for the writer. What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any more fav technology to add to this amazing list? Any questions for Ruth about what might work best for you? Have any of you made a book cover in MS Word? ...Anne

This just in: Many of the tools Ruth talks about in this post are ON SALE until July 8th.

Nisus Writer Pro

"You know that feeling you get when you put on your favorite, well-worn T-shirt and jeans? I just got that feeling when I started up the program. I live in NWP." --Lou Lesko, award winning writer and photographer.

You all know Nisus Writer Pro. It is the powerful word processor for OS X. An intuitive interface, powerful writing tools, and unmatched compatibility make Nisus Writer Pro the choice of serious writers everywhere. To receive the 25% discount on Nisus Writer Pro, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout in the Nisus Store.


"Tinderbox helps you keep track of the real complexity and messiness of the world." --Ted Nelson, inventor of hypertext and author of Computer Lib and Possiplex.

Allowing you to store and organize your notes, plans and ideas, mapping and building relationships between your notes as you make them, Tinderbox also offers seamless integration with Scrivener. Claim your 25% discount on Tinderbox by ordering from this special page.


"The biggest software advance for writers since the word processor." --Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling novelist.

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. To claim your 25% discount, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout when purchasing the regular license of Scrivener, or just click here.

DEVONthink Pro

DEVONthink Pro is a paperless Mac office; your trusted supplementary brain. It's the one store for all your documents that also helps you keep them organized and presents you with the just right data you need for your work. Many Scrivener users use DEVONthink to store all their general research and ideas before bringing what they need for a particular writing project into Scrivener. To claim your 25% discount on DEVONthink, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout or go to their special SummerFest page.

Aeon Timeline

"[Aeon Timeline is] the best [timeline] program I've found for Mac OS X, and the only one... written with fantasy and SF writers in mind... It's a hugely useful program for any writer planning a complex novel, and I strongly recommend you give it a try!" --Anne Lyle, author of the Night's Masque trilogy.

Aeon is a unique timeline tool for creative thinking that works great with Scrivener. To claim your 25% discount on Aeon Timeline, enter the coupon code "SUMMERFEST" during checkout.

All of these great writing tools have demo versions for you to try on the developers websites.

Act quickly: SummerFest savings end on July 8, 2014.


#1 in Kindle 30-minute Short Reads: Humor

Kindle  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay   |  Nook

Ladies! Is Your Husband Driving You Crazy? 

Is the husband you’re living with the man you married? Or has he changed? And not for the better? 
Is he too pooped to participate? 
Does he get an “F” in foreplay? 
Don’t give up. Get even. 
Stop the ugly nagging. 
Put an end to your anger, resentment and frustration. 
Two sisters who managed to survive four husbands decided to do something about it. 
Their creation, HUSBAND TRAINING SCHOOL, is dedicated to saving marriages—and the sanity of wives the world over. 

Kindle  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay  |  Nook

Three Fed-up Wives—and only Husband Training School stands between them, murder, and a lifetime in prison.

  • Will Trailer is a super-achiever on the baseball diamond but at home? Not so much, according to his gorgeous movie star wife. 
  • Efficiency expert Howard Hopkins has just retired. His wife married him for better and for worse—but not for 24-hours-a-day.
  • Gordo Canholme would procrastinate breathing if he could, but will he ever get the new baby’s room ready? Not without HTS, according to his very pregnant wife.

Ex-Marine Drill Instructor, Robin Aguirre, and her sister, Melodie, run HTS and have been hardened by years of experience. When the three fed-up wives enroll Will, Howard and Gordo as new students, Robin and Melodie are ready for anything the most hapless and hopeless husbands of the 21st Century can dish out.

They think.


Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

Mash Stories: No entry fee. $100 prize. Quarterly short story competition aimed at promoting new talent. Flash fiction up to 500 words. Must incorporate the words: monkey, cathedral, relativity. Stories are voted on continuously throughout the submission period. Shortlisted stories are featured on the Mash website, professionally narrated on Mash podcast, and included in their magazine Deadline July 15.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to Plan a Novel without Actually Outlining: 3 Awesome Tips from Nathan Bransford

I'm so jazzed  we're hosting Nathan Bransford this week!

 Mr. Bransfordwho is a children's author, former literary agent, and blogging legendgave this blog its start when he offered me a guest spot on his blog in 2010. I wrote a piece on why you should keep writing, no matter what, called You May Be a Bestseller on Trafalmadore

In spite of endless rejections, I was able to follow my own advice, partly because of the growing readership of this blog, due in part to that guest post. A year and a half later, I got three publication offers in the space of a week. I chose to go with two small presses, and within a few months, I had seven books in print. Two of them have become bestsellers. 

Which shows how a little leg up can be all  you need to start climbing that old success ladder. So thank you, Nathan, for being the catalyst that got my career going again after half a decade of disasters...Anne

How to Flesh out a Vague Novel Idea Before You Start
by Nathan Bransford

As much as it may disappoint us, entire plots do not spring forth fully formed from our brains for us to breezily channel into words.

You will not have a Eureka moment where you suddenly have an entire idea for a novel, from start to finish, that you can transcribe in mere days, and even if this should miraculously happen to you once, you should not tell another writer because they will hate you forever.

More likely, you’ll have a vague idea that might be the merest embryo of a novel. A tiny shard. A little novel sapling that needs to be lovingly coaxed not just into a tree but into an entire forest.

The entire Jacob Wonderbar series emanated from a single idea I once had when I was feeling very relaxed. 

(Incidentally, the last relaxing moment you will experience is the moment before you figure out what you’re going to write your novel about. This is the life you’ve chosen.)

Here is the idea: a kid gets stuck on a planet full of substitute teachers.

That’s it. That’s all I had.

When I thought about that kid running away from the substitutes on a strange world, I knew I was going to write the novel. It was that unshakeable needle sticking in my brain. I just had to figure out what in the world was going to happen to fill out the rest of the story—which ended up being three novels.

I had to flesh out the idea.

And yes, all you improvisers out there, this chapter is starting to sound like planning in advance, and you have likely already broken out in hives. But bear with me. Even if you’re an improviser, following these few steps will go a long way toward helping you flesh out an initial idea, and this process will give you some surer footing before you start.

Here’s how you do it:


Let’s look back to the then-unnamed kid stuck on a planet full of substitute teachers. Here are some of the questions I asked:

  • How did he get into space to begin with? (Answer: he traded a corndog for a spaceship).
  • Why is he stuck in space? (Answer: when he blasted off into space, he accidentally broke the universe, and now he can’t get home).
  • Why are substitute teachers in space? (Answer: there’s an entire galaxy full of wacky space humans).
  • Did this kid really go to space by himself? (Answer: no way, a twelve-year-old would bring his best friends with him.)
  • Who are his best friends? (Answer: a sassy tomboy and a timid sidekick who the protagonist is always getting into trouble.)
  • Well, where did they go if the kid is stuck on the planet by himself? (Answer: they got split up along the way.)
  • Who split them up? (Answer: a rogue space pirate.)

And as they say in The King and I, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

The more questions I answered while brainstorm- ing, the more I began to flesh out and add flavor to the world of the novel. These questions aren’t just about deciding what actually happens in the plot (much of that can and will change later, anyway). Instead, you’ll begin to get a sense of what type of novel you’re going to write. Is it a funny novel? A sad one? Is it dark? Is it for kids? Adults? You’re learning about the setting of the novel, the style of the writing, and where the story is eventually going to go.

Instead of setting out ahead of time to write a particular type of novel, I let the idea guide me. When I had that first glimmer of an idea for Jacob Wonderbar, I had no prior notion that I wanted to write a wacky middle grade novel. I just went with the idea. When I started fleshing it out, it sounded like it was for 8- to 12-year-olds, so okay. I had the beginning of a middle grade novel.

Ask questions until your idea starts to make sense and you know what you have. The more you know about your world, the more you can build around your central idea and let it guide you.


Don’t stop with questions. Think about what matters in your novel.

A secondary idea I had while brainstorming for Jacob Wonderbar was that his dad could perhaps be lost in space. It would be too easy if Jacob knew for certain that his dad was out in space, so I created a mystery around it: Is his dad wandering around somewhere in outer space, or did he really just move to Milwaukee when Jacob’s parents got divorced?

With every character I introduced, I tried to figure out at least two things they wanted, preferably the type of things where I could put a “but” in the middle when I described them because they don’t easily go together. The space pirate loves pulling off wild stunts, but he also wants to be president of the universe. Sarah, the sassy tomboy, cares about her friends, but she also wants to be tough. Dexter, the timid sidekick, wants to stay out of trouble, but he’s also loyal to Jacob.

For the novel as a whole, I raised the stakes for everyone: space humans might just want to destroy Earth.

Again, not all of this has to be figured out before you start. It’s okay to go in with unanswered questions, but starting to think through the motivations of the characters will help you to guide the story.


Once I knew that Jacob wanted to find out what happened to his dad, I created one huge obstacle and one huge thing he cared about: he didn’t know where his dad was (obstacle), but he really wanted to find him (the thing he cares about).

And oh yes, there is that pesky obstacle of having broken the universe, so it’s not easy to get home.

Don’t just think about how to get your characters from Point A to Point B as you flesh out your idea, but think about how to make this journey as difficult for them as possible.

With just these initial questions, a few big obstacles, and the underlying motivations of the main characters, I had the basic arc of the entire first novel, and the groundwork for the series, before I started writing.

Jacob trades a corndog for a spaceship and blasts off into space with his best friends. They break the universe (obstacle), they get separated by a rogue space pirate (obstacle), and Jacob eventually begins to suspect his dad is in outer space (obstacle + what he cares about), but he also wants to get back home (another thing he cares about, which competes with his desire to find his dad).

This still wasn’t enough material for an entire novel, and there was a ton I didn’t know about the story and the characters before I started. However, I had a rough idea of where things were going to go, and I was well on my way.

If you ask yourself these questions and begin to figure out what your characters want, why it all matters, and why their task is difficult, you will be on your way, too.

How about you, Scriveners? Are you a pantser or an outliner? If you're a pantser, do these tips help to flesh out that vague idea in your mind? Do you have any other tips for getting that idea growing without hemming yourself in with a rigid outline? Do you have any questions for Nathan?

Nathan Bransford is the author of How to Write a Novel (October 2013), Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, May 2011), Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Dial, April 2012) and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp (Dial, February 2013). He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the Director of Community and Social Media at Freelancers Union. He lives in Brooklyn.


Note to readers of How to be a Writer in the E-Age: Yes, Catherine Ryan Hyde and I have been promising a new version of the print book for ages, and it has been delayed once again. Our agent left for a new agency and our book got lost in the shuffle. We were actually unpublished for about 24 hours, but my intrepid fiction publisher, Mark Williams, got up from his sickbed to help me self-publish it. So it is now available again in ebook, although the reviews haven't yet migrated. The paper book may take another month. The cover art seems to have been misplaced. Publishing! Never a dull moment....Anne


How to Write a Novel by Nathan Bransford

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA , NOOK and many other retailers

Read the guide that New York Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs called “The best how-to-write-a-novel book I've read”!

"Nathan Bransford's book on how to write a novel is smart, generous and funny as hell. Read it. No matter where you are in your writing life, whether you're on your first book or are a grizzled, multi published veteran, you'll find practical advice to help you through the process -- and plenty of wisdom to inspire you along the journey."
Lisa Brackmann, author of ROCK PAPER TIGER

"In his 47 brilliant rules, Nathan Bransford has nailed everything I've always wanted to tell people about writing a book but never knew how. Wonderfully thought out with lots of practical examples, this is a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel. It's also a great review for experienced writers. Highly recommended." 
-James Dashner, New York Times bestselling author of THE MAZE RUNNER


Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31, 2014.

Mash Stories: No entry fee. $100 prize. Quarterly short story competition aimed at promoting new talent. Flash fiction up to 500 words. Must incorporate the words: monkey, cathedral, relativity. Stories are voted on continuously throughout the submission period. Shortlisted stories are featured on the Mash website, professionally narrated on Mash podcast, and included in their magazine Deadline July 15.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

MARK TWAIN HOUSE HUMOR WRITING CONTEST  ENTRY FEE $12 or $22. First prize $1000. Other cash prizes. Celebrity judges. Two age categories: Adult (18 and over) and Young Author (17 and under). Submit 10,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. They want you to make them laugh! Deadline June 30, 2014.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

How to Blog: Essential Do's and Don'ts for Author-Bloggers

by Anne R. Allen

Do all authors have to blog?


Blogging doesn't sell books. Not directly. And it's not a particularly good way to attract an agent (agents will glance at your blog if they're considering your query, but mostly to make sure you're not wearing a tinfoil hat and advocating the invasion of Canada.)

So what is blogging good for?

It's a way to make friends. With your readers and other writers.

John Green, superstar author of The Fault in Our Stars said on NPR last week that writing books is a life "in which you're in your basement alone for years and years, saying, 'Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. And then if you're lucky, someone writes you and says ... Polo."

A blog provides people with a place to say "Polo."

(For non US readers, "Marco Polo" is a kind of annoying game of tag American children play in backyard swimming pools. The origins are unknown, although lots of people offer inventive stories "explaining" it on the Marco Polo game Wikipedia page.)

I spent the first few years of my blogging career saying Marco, without getting many Polos in return, until I won a contest run by uberblogger and then-Curtis Brown agent, Nathan Bransford. The prize was a guest spot on his blog.

That was my first lesson in "DO" #6 below.

I recently found my old journal from the day I got that guest spot. I had also just got the 70th follower on the blog. What an exciting day!

Four years later, the blog is getting 75,000 hits a month and Nathan is going to visit HERE next week...

So if you have a new blog, hang in there. You will get a readership. But it takes time.

I got an email from a reader recently asking if I was ever going to write about blogging for authors. I thought I'd been writing about blogging entirely too much. But I realized I hadn't written much recently, and other pieces have usurped my "how to blog" posts in the Top Ten posts in the sidebar.

So I figured it might be smart to provide an index of my "How to Blog" posts. Eventually I'll put a version of this post on a separate page for easy reference.

The problem with starting an author blog is that most of the instructions on blogging come from marketers and SEO specialists—people who blog with the purpose of getting revenue from the blog itself.

But as an author, you don't need to worry about advertisers and SEO isn't your top priority. Your blog is simply a part of your social media presence—your home on the Web where folks can stop in to chat. The only thing you want to advertise is your own books (and maybe your guests' books.)

Unlike a monetized blog, an author blog shouldn't be your main focus. And it shouldn't take too much time from your WIP.

Not that there's anything wrong with deciding you prefer blogging to writing books. Last week Nina Badzin wrote an inspirational post here about what happened when she did exactly that—and turned her love of blogging into a successful freelance writing career.

If you write primarily nonfiction—as a freelance essayist, journalist, or nonfiction book author—a blog is essential. You should start one as soon as you hang out your shingle. It's your portfolio on the Web: the place where people can stop by and see what you do.

But if you're pretty sure fiction is your primary medium, when should you start a blog?

Some writers start to blog too early in their careers and find it’s a time suck that keeps them from their fiction writing goals.

I don't think you have to worry about blogging if—
  • You’re at a stage where you need to put 100% of your writing time into learning your craft and getting that WIP onto the page. 
  • You’re a student who loves your creative writing class and hopes to be a writer someday, but you’re not sure what genre you’ll want to write or if you'll want to write novels, screenplays, poetry or whatever.
  • You’ve written a NaNo novel and a few short stories but you know you've got a lot to learn and you're not ready to start submitting things yet. 
  • You’ve been to a few writers conferences and you’re working madly on edits on your first novel and you’ve got this new idea you’re just dying to get on paper...
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with blogging if you’re at any of those stages. For some of us, blogging is just plain fun. Playing around with words is good at any stage of your writing career, as long as it doesn't keep you from your basic writing goals.

But don’t feel pressured to jump in before you're ready. Blogging is a commitment. Don’t start if you don’t have the time or discipline to follow through.

I suggest you write at least four blogposts (more is even better) and have them ready to go before you set up the blog.

When should you start?

It's good to have a blog going by the time you start to send out queries or self-publish your first book.

You will need a website anyway. (Sending out a query when you don’t have a website is a waste of time. Many agents and editors reject on that item alone.) A blog is a website—while a Facebook, Google +, Twitter or Pinterest page is not. Nothing that requires membership counts. And a blog hosted by Blogger or Wordpress is free as well as being interactive—as opposed to a static website. So it counts as “social media.” It’s a two-bird stone.

Blogging provides the most effective long-term strategy for writers to get their names out there into the marketplace and interact with the public, because:
  • You’re a writer. Blogging uses a skill you’ve already got. 
  • Other social media are subject to faddism and rapid changes. (Facebook has become much less effective now that you have to pay to reach more than a handful of readers.) 
  • Blogging is the social medium that gives you the most control over your brand.
But author-bloggers usually make one huge mistake: we follow rules established by other types of bloggers.

I made this mistake myself. 

Thing is: as an author, you are not blogging to monetize, so a lot of the standard rules don’t apply. You're blogging to make yourself an interactive home on the Web—a place for agents/fellow writers/fellow bloggers/publishers/editors/readers to find you and communicate with you. It's a place to establish your brand.

And your brand is YOU.

Here are some basic blogging rules authors would be wise to heed:

1) DO use an uncluttered, easy-to read design

Be aware that a light font on a dark background is hard to read for most people. Plus it tends to look like a 1980s computer interface. And it can scream "amateur". Light and bright and uncluttered is appealing and gives your blog a modern look.

If you use a standard Blogger or Wordpress free blog, the templates are pretty hard to mess up as long as you don't choose one of those white-on-black ones. (pale gray on white isn't that great either.) If you go with a Web designer and a self-hosted blog, don't let them talk you into too many bells and whistles.

And remember most people find pop-ups annoying.

2) DO learn to write good headers. An intriguing header is essential!

A good header should:
  • Ask a question or provide an answer. 
  • Attract search engines. 
  • Make a good Tweet (even if you aren’t on Twitter, you want somebody else to tweet it and spread the word.) 
  • Promise the reader something of value: information or entertainment 
Note: One-word and enigmatic titles may delight your muse, but minimalism won’t attract blog readers. Also stuff that’s unfocused, doesn’t inform, and nobody’s likely to Google.

Titles like “Scribbles”, “Alone,” or “Sad Thoughts” are not going to get you many hits. These are not words or phrases people are likely to search for, and they don't entice or offer anything. Look at the titles of our top ten blogposts for ideas on what works in a blog header. Numbered lists and questions work best.

3) DO include share buttons, a "follow" widget and a way to subscribe to the blog

Hey, somebody might stop by and like what they see. You want them start spreading the news. And come back.

Those little "f" "t", "g +1" and other buttons allow people to share your brilliant words to their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages. They are the way you will build a following. Put them up there even if you personally don’t use those sites.

It's how people will hear about your blog.

If nobody can Tweet or share a post they like, you're relying entirely on search engines for discoverability. Trouble is, a search engine can't find you unless you have a lot of traffic. And you can't get a lot of traffic unless people Tweet you. The Catch 22 of social media. Use the buttons.

And you want people to be able to subscribe by email. It's great to get people "following," but that just means they see the blog in their RSS feed when they happen to check it. A blogpost that lands in somebody's inbox is a whole lot more likely to be read.

I use MailChimp for our subscription service here. It's great as long as you don't get more than 2000 subscribers. After that, it costs 30 bucks a month, so when your numbers get up there, you have to do periodic housecleaning of subscribers who don't actually open the email. (But hey, that's what you call a First World problem.)

I know there's a lot of pressure to get people to sign up for author newsletters rather than subscribe to a blog. But I think a blog subscription is more useful.

Newsletters were big a decade ago, but there are just too many of them. And they're mostly self-serving and spammy. But a blog generally has actual content. So most people are more likely to subscribe to your blog than a "look at how fabulous I am" newsletter. I'll be writing more about this on another post.

4) DO post a bio and contact info—and your @twitterhandle, if you have one. 

You're doing all this so that people can find out about YOU. And contact you. And discover your books.

But you would be amazed how many bloggers don't even put their names on their blogs.  Or let people know what genre they write. ((The shy opposites of those braggy newsletter people.)

Even if you're a newbie and haven't published anything and haven't picked a genre, you still need a bio. It's best to put a short bio on the main page with more info on an "about me" page.

Yes. Your blog has many pages. Just click "pages" on your dashboard. In Blogger, you get twenty.

Here's a piece on how to write an author bio.

It's also important to put your @twitterhandle on your main page. That way, if somebody wants to Tweet the post, they can give attribution. Most share buttons only say "via @sharethis" but if you're on Twitter, you want it to say "via @yourname." Remember you're doing all this to establish that name!

5) DO ask questions, respond to comments and treat your visitors well

Be welcoming to people who visit your blog. Ask interesting questions that will get a discussion going.

You also want to respond to comments and make commenting as easy as possible.

You can’t control all the Blogger/Wordpress hoop-jumping. (I apologize to anybody with a Wordpress ID who can't comment here. I have the same problem trying to comment on a Wordpress blog, which is why I  use a Gravatar ID for Wordpress. If you have gmail or you're on Google Plus, you have a Google ID, so it's best to use that.)

If you haven’t had a barrage of spam, you can turn off the “word verification” or “CAPTCHA”. That will triple your comments. (Especially from people with older eyes who can’t read those %#*! letters to save our lives.)

I also suggest you don't moderate comments on new posts. I only moderate ones more than a week old. That allows for real conversation to happen on a new post. Older posts are the most likely to attract spam, anyway.

6) DO visit other blogs: comment and guest post

Reciprocate those visits. Nobody’s going to know you’re there if you stay home all the time. Get out and socialize! Social media is about networking.

The single best thing you can do to raise your search engine profile is comment on high profile blogs that are already on Google's radar.

Once you make friends with other bloggers, ask if you can guest post. And do invite other bloggers to guest for you. Guest posting is one of the best ways to increase your reach and your readership.

7) DO learn to write for the 21st century reader. 

People skim on the Internet. You need short paragraphs, subheaders, bullet points, lists, bolding, and lots of white space. Draw the reader's eye through the piece.

More in my post on How to Write Blog Content.

And some things author-bloggers DON'T have to worry about:

1) DON'T feel you have to blog every day.

Or even every week. Or on a schedule. (Although a schedule will give you a better chance of building a solid readership.) But it’s all good. For more on this, read my post on The Slow Blog Manifesto.

2) DON'T feel you have to keep to 300-500 words.

That's an old rule from the early days of blogging, when it was all about frequency of posts, not content. Google's algos have changed since then. They discovered people can feel cheated when they click through to a 3-paragraph post. The current ideal now is at about 1000-1500 words.

Make your post as long as it needs to be to cover the subject. If you go over 3000 words, you’ll probably lose some readers before the end, but some of our most popular posts come close 3000 words.

3) DON’T use a cutsie title that masks your identity.

The number one reason for an author to use social media is to get name recognition, so for heaven’s sake, PUT YOUR NAME ON THE BLOG.

Yes, a lot of blogs have cutsie names and the bloggers are anonymous. Many product reviewers prefer to remain anonymous. Ditto political bloggers.

But the reason you’re blogging is the opposite of anonymity. You want people to be able to put your name (or pen name) into a search engine and find you. Don’t make them rummage in their memory banks trying to remember if your blog is called “Songs from the Zombiepocalypse”, “Lost Marbles” or “MommiePornCentral". A whole lot more people will find you if they can just Google "Your Name."

Every minute you spend blogging anonymously is a minute wasted. Let the public know who you are and where you are and why we should be reading your stuff instead of the other 10 billion blogs out there.

4) DON'T limit yourself with a restrictive niche

For product bloggers and reviewers, niche is important. It's better to be the #1 blogger for jelly doughnut reviews or vegan baby food recipes than the 10 millionth blogger "musing about stuff".

But you're an author. Your product is YOU. Don't keep yourself hemmed in by a limited niche.

For a long time, I believed all the stuff about how you have to have a niche. So this is a niche blog. It's serving us well, but it hems us in.

Remember people surf the Web looking for two things: information and entertainment. Your blog can spin a good yarn, make people laugh, provide information, or all three, as long as you are putting it all in your own honest, unique voice.

I used to caution writers against  putting fiction on blogs. It is still less likely to be read, because people are mostly skimming blogs for information, but there's been growth in the "story blog" recently, so if you have flash fiction you don't intend to send to contests or journals, it's okay to put it on your blog. But do realize it will be officially "published" so you have given away first rights.

NOTE: It's still not smart to post raw bits of a novel in progress. Agents and publishers won't consider that book because it's now published (unless you're getting 100,000 hits a post.)  Also, readers respond much better to self-contained short fiction than unedited bits of novels. And remember your job is to entertain, not seek free editorial advice.

Another caveat: one of the least interesting topics to readers is your writing process. Hardly any potential reader wants to know your daily word count or your rejection sorrows. Other writers may stop by to commiserate, and you do want to network with other authors, but don’t make your writer’s block or attempts to get published the main focus of your blog.

You simply want to offer your unique voice talking about the things you feel passionate about: the research you’re doing on medieval armor; your theories on why raccoons are going to take over the planet; the hilarious adventures of an erotica writer running for PTA president. Anything that will draw in readers will work.

If you have "blogger's block", or are brainstorming for fresh content, author Linda Maye Adams offered this tip in the comments: there's a blog that provides daily "blog prompts", called the Daily Post. It looks like fun.

5) DON'T put a lot of energy into images.

(Unless you're a photojournalist, of course.)

You're showing off your WRITING SKILLS, remember?

Bloggers with monetized blogs need to spend a lot of time on images, and visuals do draw people in, but do you want people to notice somebody else'e photography or YOUR writing? 

Don’t waste lots of time looking for the right photo (or risk getting sued for using copyrighted material.)

If your blog is about travel, or fishing, or antiquing, yes, take lots of photos, but if the post is about books or ideas—don’t sweat it. The blog is going to be a showcase for what you can do with the written word. We’ve never used images on this blog, and we’re doing pretty well. If you do use images, make sure they are in the public domain. Try Wiki Commons or WANA Commons

6) DON'T obsess about SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Yes, you want to be picked up by the search engines, but your primary concern is entertaining your readers, not optimizing keywords for search engines. Early on a blog gets discovered by word of mouth, so it's more important to be networking with other bloggers than getting the attention of Google.

So that marketing jargon that goes over your head? Let it keep sailing by. It's not a priority for you.

7) DON'T start multiple blogs 

Professional bloggers sometimes have dozens. They have a Cupcake Recipe Blog and a Mommy Blog and a Support Blog for Persons who Suffer from Chronic Dandruff. All fine and dandy. They run ads for kitchenware on one and Pampers on the second and homeopathic shampoo on a third. And they aren't writing novels.

And you aren't running ads. So unless you write in wildly conflicting genres, like Christian Middle Grade fiction and Bigfoot erotica, you only need one blog. Blogs take time. And you have books to write, remember?

If you've started 15 blogs, go back to the first one, put all your best content on it (you can change the header, but the oldest one is the one Google knows best, so keep it.) Then delete the others.

Then go work on that WIP!

Here are a few examples of great author blogs

Some are superstars, some are midlisters, and some are pre-published, but they all do blogging right.

Here is an index of my posts on how to blog

How to Write Blog Content April 2014  

Guest Blogging for Authors February 2014 

Blog Communities Guest post by Alex J. Cavanaugh from Sept. 2013

How Not to Blog December 2011

How to Blog: A Beginner's Guide for Authors December 2011

(Also this information and a whole lot more is available in the book I wrote with superstar author Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A Self-help Guide . Only $2.99. And yes, the paper version of the second edition will be available very soon.)

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog? Have you been resisting blogging? What do you find are the best ways to get traffic? Do you have any tips for the new blogger? What general blogging rules do you find don't apply to an author blog? 


This week I'm doing a cover reveal: new cover by Keri Knutson of Alchemy Book Covers  I love the exploding cupcake!

  Food of Love: a Comedy about Friendship, Chocolate, and a Small Nuclear Bomb.

In honor of the re-launch, Food of Love is on sale for the next two weeks!  99c on Amazon.com and the equivalent on Amazon UK, Amazon CAAmazon.com.au, (etc) and NOOK

Two sisters: one white, one black. Two world views: one liberal, one conservative. But these two women have one goal in common—one they share with most women in modern society: the urge to diminish themselves by dieting. Food of Love is a comedy that carries a powerful message. It offers some of life’s darker truths—told with a punchline. 

After Princess Regina, a former supermodel, is ridiculed in the tabloids for gaining weight, someone tries to kill her. She suspects her royal husband wants to be rid of her, now she’s no longer model-thin. As she flees the mysterious assassin, she discovers the world thinks she is dead, and seeks refuge with the only person she can trust: her long-estranged foster sister, Rev. Cady Stanton, a right-wing talk show host who has romantic and weight issues of her own. Cady delves into Regina’s past and discovers Regina’s long-lost love, as well as dark secrets that connect them all.

"I loved everything about this novel, the quirky humor and larger than life characters above all. The plot took me in unexpected directions and I could not guess what would happen next. This is a delightful surprise package skillfully bound by the author's immaculate writing. And like all stories involving a princess, it has a happy ending. HIGHLY recommended!"...The Bookkeeper


Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

MARK TWAIN HOUSE HUMOR WRITING CONTEST  ENTRY FEE $12 or $22. First prize $1000. Other cash prizes. Celebrity judges. Two age categories: Adult (18 and over) and Young Author (17 and under). Submit 10,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. They want you to make them laugh! Deadline June 30, 2014.

The Golden Quill Awards are no longer recommended. 

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Thinking Outside the Book: When a Writing Dead End Becomes a Detour to Success

Today we're excited to be hosting freelance writer Nina Badzin. I've known Nina since she started blogging and it's been fantastic to watch her career soar. 

Nina was a compelling blogger from the time she wrote her first post. It was obvious she had tons of talent and skill. And her "query addiction" post really hit home with me. I'd been a query addict too. 

But what I most love about her story is that she took the writing road less travelled, and she's turned it into a professional career. 

I always advise fiction writers not to spend so much time on their blogs that they lose sight of the "prize": finishing and publishing their books.

But what if you'd rather blog? 

That doesn't have to mean you're a procrastinator or a failed novelist. It means you've got what it takes to be a successful nonfiction writer! And guess what? Nonfiction writers make good money, even with today's shrinking print markets. 

The Web is fueled by content, and writers who provide good content are thriving. As I said in my post about writing for the 21st century reader, and The New Golden Age of Short Fiction "the book" is a construct of the age of Gutenberg. In the digital age, readers' habits are changingthey are reading shorter pieces on smaller screensand wise writers will change with them...Anne

Recognizing the Difference Between a Writer’s Dead End and a Detour

by Nina Badzin

This post is about embracing the writer you are rather than the writer you thought you would be.

It’s about allowing your goals to change and your vision to shift even if you’ve worked hard to make one particular path work. It’s about redefining success as a writer and accepting your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also about seeing potential for a writing career that does not include a book.

Let me give you some background first.


As a child, I daydreamed about becoming a novelist, the only kind of writer I knew about at the time. Many of you can relate, I’m sure. I imagined book tours, and as I got older, I noted the place on a shelf where my books might sit.

In hindsight, however, my writing history, even the earliest moments, pointed towards the short form. In fifth grade I wrote short stories about my teachers, and I occasionally won essay contests in junior high and high school.

I took two creative writing class in college, and my professors would tell me, “You are a writer.”

Although the work these instructors based that statement on were essays and short stories, I still chose to hear “you are a novelist.” A writer had to write books, I thought. Even a nonfiction writer was not the real thing without a book.

I took a break from writing while I was an English teacher, a career choice that seemed more responsible and realistic for a lover of literature than trying to be the person who creates fiction. I enjoyed the job, but when I had my first child, I did not want to be stuck on a teacher’s schedule nor did I want to grade 125 essays every other week. I stayed home with my son, filling my days with play dates, baby classes, errands, and reading. I did not, however, revive my desire to write until my second child was born.

“I should have been a novelist,” I would say, through tears, to my husband.

“So do it,” he said. “Write novels. It’s not too late.”


To make a very long story decently short, in a year I had a draft of a novel. I happened to mention the manuscript in a “Mommy and Me” class, and as luck would have it, one of the other moms had recently moved to Minneapolis from New York, where she’d worked as a foreign rights agent at a big agency.

“Let me read it,” she said. 

I was shocked that she loved the manuscript and wanted to send it to a former colleague. During a long phone conversation months later with Becca, my classmate’s best contact for women’s fiction at the agency, she explained why she didn’t think the book worked. But Becca helped me identify the storyline in my manuscript that she could picture as a novel. (It’s unusual to get this kind of attention on the phone from an agent who is not signing you. Becca was doing her friend a favor.) 

Grateful for some much needed direction, I then spent the next year writing the book that Becca envisioned. In the meantime, I had a few short stories published, one of which was the first chapter of the new book, an excellent fact for my query letters to agents once I completed the new novel.


I wrote a killer query letter if I may say so myself. (See, another short form success!) 

I then spent the next six months responding to emails from agents who requested chapter samples or the entire manuscript. 

One dream agent took enough interest to speak to me on the phone with suggestions for revisions. She read several more drafts of the book and was willing to read yet another draft when it hit me: 

I hate this book. 

In fact, I didn’t like writing novels at all. 

I told the agent that I wasn’t interested in pursuing the idea anymore, and of course thanked her profusely for the time she’d spent on my work.


I wanted a break from novels, but I didn’t want to stop writing. Luckily I had seen a few calls for submissions from two writing blogs I liked: Writer Unboxed and Write it Sideways. 

I also answered a call for guests posts at my friend’s very popular parenting site, Scary Mommy, as well as a local Jewish site I enjoyed called tcjewfolk.com. Within a matter of months in the middle of 2010 right after my third child was born, I had four blog posts up on four different sites. 

But I didn’t have a slice of the Internet to call my own.

While I was writing novels, I had always claimed that I would never start a blog, but by November of 2010, I quickly learned how to use the most basic version of a free Wordpress site. 

I made a separate page for my published short stories and a page titled “essays”  where I listed my four guest posts. I threw together my first few original posts and watched friends share them on Facebook. 

My first post had about 20 comments, which I thought was incredible. After those years writing novels alone with little feedback, I was hooked.

Somehow I discovered Anne’s blog early on, and I’m so grateful that she encouraged me to change my blog’s name and URL from the silly “A Mom in the Middle” to “Nina Badzin’s Blog” with the URL as the simple ninabadzin.com.

She also helped me stay on the manageable posting schedule of once a week rather than slopping together several posts a week. This allowed me to keep writing and publishing short stories, as well as gave me time to build a readership through regularly reading others’ blogs and commenting thoughtfully.


Before I could abandon the old daydream of writing books, I had to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. I pursued four new novel ideas, one after the other, but never got further than 25,000 words before I’d get to what I called the “so-what factor.” 

I was forcing something that simply was not there.

The essays and short stories, while still hard work for me, became a challenge I enjoyed. And I was successful at earning new opportunities. I continued to get short stories published as well receive invitations to guest post for other writers’ blogs.

I had my first acceptance at The Huffington Post, which gave me some desired “street cred” with friends and family even if as a writer it’s not particularly impressive to give away that much work for free on a site so littered with ads. (That’s an entirely separate essay. I don’t mind writing for free for other writers’ blogs like the Twitter tips column I wrote for Writer Unboxed or the stories I submit to literary journals, but for sites that are successful businesses, it doesn't feel right.)

I’m proud to say that at this point I’m a paid contributing writer at two sites I enjoy and respect. One is Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Moms and the other is Kveller.com a website focused on Judaism and parenting. Both sites fit my strengths and my voice well, and they have an active readership, wonderful editors, and good reputations.

I’ve had other exciting opportunities like a recent assignment for a local magazine, speaking and teaching engagements, and other freelance gigs. I feel confident that the more I continue to tackle new topics and try new outlets for creative nonfiction or short fiction, the more I will continue to get my words out there, even if those words are not between the covers of a book.

Perhaps I am not the writer I thought I would be when I started, but I am a writer. And I’m having a darn good time with it, too.


Nina Badzin lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children and blogs at ninabadzin.com. She's a contributing writer at Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and at Kveller.com.

She has published many articles in The Huffington Post, Writer Unboxed, The Jewish Daily Forward, various anthologies, and elsewhere.

Her fiction has appeared in Compose Journal, The Drum Literary Magazine, The Illanot Review, Independent Ink Magazine, Literary Mama, Midwestern Gothic, Monkeybicycle, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac: a Journal of Poetry and Prose, and others. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her favorite story “Son.” Nina tweets at @NinaBadzin and is on Facebook at NinaBadzinBlog.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you found yourself taking a detour in your writing? Do you feel guilty when writing blogposts or creative nonfiction instead of working on your novel? As a reader, do you feel the novel is a "superior" art form to essays, reviews, stories, and articles? Do you think the novel will continue to be the most respected form of verbal self-expression? Have you ever considered giving up on the query/self-publishing process and making money writing for magazines or the Web? 


This week we hit a million pageviews! Thanks everybody! And thanks to Moira Allen at Writing World, for giving this blog their monthly "Awesome Blog" spotlight. 

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former Curtis Brown agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.

October 12 Jessica Bell: author of Polish Your Fiction, a Self-Editing Guide.

And this week Anne will be speaking to the Nightwriters of San Luis Obispo at their monthly meeting. She's going to be talking about all the bad advice new writers get...and why to ignore it, and how to avoid being scammed by people who prey on new writers. 6:30 PM at 2201 Lawton St. (near Corner of South & Broad) San Luis Obispo, CA. More on the SLO Nightwriters website.  Open to the public. No charge. She'll be signing copies of her books as well. 


Chanel and Gatsby

Two great comedies for the price of one!
Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper and Anne R. Allen's The Gatsby Game

Together in one volume for only $2.99

Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy! Perfect for summer beach reading on either coast.
Available at  NOOK, Kobo, and Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA

The Chanel Caper
Nora Ephron meets James Bond. Or is it the other way around? 

The Gatsby Game 
A Hollywood mystery with celebrities, murder and a smart-mouthed nanny.


Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

How Book Launches Have Changed in the Digital Age

by Anne R. Allen

Most writers have been picturing it since we started scribbling ideas for our first novel. It's the light at the end of the tunnel, the goal that keeps us slogging along, the Holy Grail of our writing journey—


We've watched the scene in so many films and TV shows we know it by heart: the newly minted author is feted at a gala event at some posh restaurant or upmarket bookstore (preferably in Manhattan, of course.) Readers line up around the block to buy a signed copy of the fabulous soon-to-be-bestseller.

Rich and famous literati raise glasses of champagne in the author's honor. The author basks in all that well-earned attention. And maybe gets to gloat when the ex-spouse shows up, looking unprosperous, with the illiterate new significant other in tow.

Screenwriter David Congalton did a great send-up of this writer fantasy in his film Authors Anonymous, staging the book launch of Dennis Farina's hapless vanity-published character in the crowded hardware store where his girlfriend works (and sweetly buys up all his books when nobody shows up.)

So when your book debuts, are you going to get one of those parties? (Not the one in the hardware store—the glittery one.) Should you be planning your perfect Carrie Bradshaw or Richard Castle outfit to prepare yourself for this all-important event?

Sorry. Probably not.

Unfortunately, the era of the splashy book launch is pretty much over. Even big-name authors are lucky if they get a congratulatory phone call from their agents on launch day.

And as for successful self-publishers, the day their book goes live on Amazon, they're probably at home in their sweats, pounding out the next novel.


This is the age of infinite online shelf space: a book no longer has to be launched like a rocket that explodes in a blaze of glory and soon falls to earth.

Before the age of the ebook, launches were all-important because print books are given only a few months on valuable book store shelves before they are sent back to the publisher to be remaindered and/or pulped. All print books are in stores "on consignment" and can be returned at any time for lack of sales. So with the old print/warehouse/bookstore paradigm, you have a very small window in which to get your book noticed. (Even smaller if you're not one of the lucky few who get "co-op" space at the front of the store purchased by your publisher.)

But ebooks are forever. An ebook is just as valuable five years down the road as it is the day you launch it. Retailers don't have to return it in order to make room for new merchandise.

Most Amazon bestsellers I know launched their first ebooks quietly (what's called a "soft launch"), then waited for buzz to build. Many bestselling indies didn't sell at all for the first few months—or even years.

These days, it's very unusual for newbie authors to see real sales with their first book.  Most authors don't see money coming in until they have at least three titles for sale.

So what's the best way to launch a book in this new publishing world?

Get to work on the next one.

Becoming a successful writer these days is a slow, ongoing process that begins when you start establishing your platform—usually long before you publish—and builds with each book.

Bu-but, sez you, what about book launches online? Can't I at least have an online launch party?

Yes. You can. The institution of the splashy launch is strong enough that the industry has found ways of marking the debut of a new title with online events. Some are effective, some not so much, but they all can have a cumulative effect.

But 99% of the effort will probably have to come from you.

Big publishers may send you on a blog tour, although you shouldn't expect any major festivities unless you're a politician with a Super-PAC, a Rolling Stone, or a regular on Duck Dynasty. A long-time bestselling author I know who's recently signed with an Amazon imprint was amazed to get flowers on launch day of her new title with the Zon. She'd never got a thing when she was with the Big Five.

Small presses usually make an announcement—with maybe a sale on their website—to spark interest in a new title. But don't expect much more.

Self-publishers sometimes turn to publicists and professional social media marketers for innovative ways to launch ebooks online. Some work and some don't, but most authors find the promotions they do themselves are as effective as the ones they pay big bucks for.

There's no "wrong" way to launch a book. Almost any of these methods will be effective, at least in a small way. The point of a launch is to get your name and your book cover/title in front of as many eyeballs as you can (without annoying the heck out of people.) Your method should be based on the strengths of your own personal platform, your promotion budget, and the time you have to devote to the launch. Go where your readers are, either online or in person.

Book Launch Pages and "Parties" on Facebook

Here's a great post from author Lynne Hinkey from the blog Where Writers Win on how to host a "virtual book party" on Facebook.

You don't have to be a tech-whiz to put one on. Just go to your FB page and click "events", then "create event". You'll get a pop-up screen and you just have to fill in the blanks.

There are even services that will do these for you, but they're easy enough to do on your own.

Some authors do an individual Facebook page for every book.

But note: they also sometimes add all their "friends" and followers to the group and everybody gets daily "only 13 days till launch" messages in their notification feeds for weeks.

You don't want to do this. It will lead to mass unfriending.

Ditto sending personal messages to random "friends" who aren't likely to read your genre. (My rule is never send a DM to somebody you haven't had at least one public online conversation with, and never, ever put your promo on somebody's FB wall.)

It's probably best to do a countdown to launch from your personal Facebook page, which will get many more views than your author page, due to Facebook's newly stingy ways. Or, if you do have a good, engaged readership for your author page, this might be the time to "boost" your post with a $30 ad. (Although the general buzz is that paying for Facebook "boosts" isn't cost-effective.)

Do these events boost book sales? Depends on who you ask. Some authors think they're a waste of time. Others have huge successes with Facebook parties. Especially if they're done with a group of other authors in the same genre. Generally, it seems to be Romance genres that do best with FB, but we'd love to hear from writers in other genres who have used them.

Hangouts on Google Plus

Google Plus hangouts can be more interactive than the FB pages, because they're more like a group Skype call. Some tech-savvy authors love them. Personally, I'm a cybermoron, and I have no camera on my computer (not by accident—I am not of an age where video is my friend.) So I don't do hangouts.

But don't let that stop you. Depending on your genre, these may work great for you.

For more on how to host author hangouts on Google Plus, Joel Friedlander at the Book Designer has a great step-by-step guide.

Do hangouts sell books? I haven't heard from anybody who's done it and had significant results. Any readers who have, please let us know! I know some people really love those hangouts.

Blog Tours

Blog tours used to be de rigeur a few years ago, when they were new. Some Big Five publishers provide them to launch new titles. There are also lots of independent blog tour companies out there.

A blog tour can cost from $20 to $1000, depending on the company and the number of blogs involved. Here's an excellent overview of a number of blog tour companies with info on what they charge from Greg Strandberg on Joel Friedlander's blog, and another from blogger Danielle Forrest with a handy spreadsheet.

Or if you're already in the blogosphere, you can plan your own. BookBaby offers a collection of links showing how you can set up your own book blog tour.

A blog tour involves visiting many blogs in your genre over a short time period. You provide guest posts, interviews (sometimes interviews with your lead character), plus free review and contest copies, then you visit each site to answer questions and get to know the blogger's audience.

They can be kind of exhausting, but compared to the old fashioned in-real-life book tour, they are a lazy day in the park.

On the other hand, a lot of authors have questioned how well they work, as in this piece by Lev Raphael in the HuffPo last year.

Cover Reveal Tours

Cover reveals are like a blog tour, but all you have to do when you "visit" is show a photo of your new cover. No iffy reviews, complicated contests, or cranking out 30 blogposts in two weeks.

It needs to be a brand new cover, not yet available for sale. The idea is to create buzz in anticipation of your launch.

Many review blogs will spotlight books with a cover reveal even though they're overbooked for reviews. (Most reviewers are these days. Reviewer burnout can be a big problem with the paid blog tours. The blog tour company gets paid, but the reviewer doesn't.)

Cover reveal tours seem to help create buzz. Do they lead to big sales? I'm not sure. I'd love to hear from somebody who's used them.

Give-aways and Contests on Your Own Blog

A fairly painless way to launch your new title is to announce it on your own blog. Offering free copies or a contest for free copies of the new book makes it more of an event.

The simplest way is to enter anybody who leaves a comment, assign each person a number, then go to Random.org to choose a winner or winners with their random number generator, which will also give you a time stamp to authenticate the win.

Do give-aways from your blog sell books? Not in a major way, in my experience. But they can be good for building your mailing list.

Amazon Freebies and Countdown Deals

You can choose to launch your book in KDP Select, which gives Amazon exclusive rights to sell your book for a period of 90 days.

If you do that, you can start with a "soft launch" and work on getting reviews. Then after a month or so, stage your big launch and make the book free or very cheap with Amazon's special countdown deals.

With a countdown, you can sell the book for as little as 99c, but still get a 70% royalty, instead of the 35% royalty you get if you normally price below $2.99 on the Zon. Countdowns are only available in the US and the UK, which is annoying for those of us with a lot of Canadian and Aussie readers, but it's still a great way to give your book a jumpstart.

And note: A $2.99 book (£1.43 GBP) is eligible for a countdown in the US, but it must be priced at £1.93 GBP to be eligible for a UK countdown, so my Lady of the Lakewood Diner countdown this week is only going to be available in the US, which is dumb. Sorry everybody.

If you have got enough reviews to qualify, then advertise your freebie or countdown in one of the book bargain newsletters.

With the big newsletters, you can often hit the jackpot. I know authors who have run a countdown and advertised on Bookbub and got into the top 100 on Amazon.

Those ads, especially on Bookbub, are pricey. But if you compare them to the price of a launch party with rental of the facility and a wine bill, you might look at them in a different light.

For more on the ebook newsletters—probably the most reliable way to make your book visible—here's Ruth Harris's post on the book bargain newsletters.

Multi-Author Online Events 

Sales and promotions done jointly with other authors can give your book a nice push out into the marketplace. These have the advantage of putting your book in front of the fans of all the participating authors. 

 These can be done with a temporary landing page that features a book from each of the members (you'll need a tech-savvy member to build it for you.) Or they can be done with a blog hop—every author visits each other's blogs—or with Facebook or Google Plus.

These can be very effective if the person in charge is good at organizing and has great tech skills.

But What if you Really, Really Want that IRL Book Party? 

You even have the outfit. You've been looking forward to it for decades. I can hear the whimpers out there:

"I want a book party in real life. With cake!"

Then give yourself one!

A book launch will never be cost-effective in terms of immediate book sales, but it's a great excuse for a party. If you've been holed up in your writing cave for a year, and you finally have that beautiful book in your hot little hands and you want to celebrate, DO IT!!

Some bookstores are equipped to host writer events and may even have a coordinator to assist you in setting things up.

These people are treasures, so be sure to show lots of gratitude and treat them like gold.

But some bookstores don't have the room or staff to put on book events. If they don't respond positively to your request, don't push them. I've worked in a lot of bookstores, so trust me on this. A signing in a small store can block the aisles and drive away regular customers and lose a lot of sales.

But you can also have the party at the local library or rent a public room at a restaurant or other banquet facility. You can even have it at your own home or get a friend with an entertainment-friendly house to host it for you.

The biggest sales benefit of an "In Real Life" launch is generating publicity, so be sure to send press releases to all the local papers and radio stations and publicize the event like mad. Even if not a lot of people come, they will have seen your name in the paper and heard it on the radio.

In my experience, a reading (especially with multiple readers) is a bigger draw than a simple signing.

Good food, coffee & tea and maybe some wine are a big plus, too. (One of our local bookstore owners makes some of the most decadent chocolate cookies you've ever tasted.)

Put out lots of advance publicity and round up all your friends by sending personal invitations. Here's more on how to put on a book event from small press editor Lynn Price. And here are some great tips on how to stage a successful reading from Judy Croome at Joel Friedlander's blog this week.

The most important part of a book launch party, no matter how you stage it, is to have fun. It's a way of marking a milestone for you and letting all your friends and fans know you've achieved your goal.

Then go write that next book.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been planning your book launch party since forever? Have you had a book debut celebration, either virtual or In Real Life? Did you feel it was a success? Which events worked best for you? Do you have any tips for new authors planning a launch party? 


Amazon Countdown Deal

Today, June 1st, my new comedy The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is only 99c on Amazon! It will slowly go back up over the course of the week and on Saturday June 7th it will be back at its regular price. So grab it while it's cheap for your summer beach reading. Unfortunately, Amazon only lets us make this deal is available at Amazon US.  (International deals and epub files will come soon.)

 Who shot rock diva Morgan Le Fay? Only her childhood friend Dodie, owner of a seedy small-town diner, can find the culprit before the would-be assassin comes back to finish the job.

Boomers, this one's for you. And for younger people if you want to know what your parents and grandparents were really up to in the days of Woodstock and that old fashioned rock and roll. Plus there's a little Grail mythology for the literary fiction fans.

"A page turning, easily readable, arrestingly honest novel which will keep you laughing at yourself."...Kathleen Keena

"I borrowed this book free with my Amazon Prime membership, but I enjoyed it so much that I don't want to give it up. I'm buying a copy to keep."...Linda A. Lange

"In The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, nothing is sacred, nothing is profane. And yet, in the end, love does conquer all. If you're of an age to remember Woodstock and the Moonwalk, don't miss it. If you're not, well, you won't find a better introduction." ...Deborah Eve of the Later Bloomer

Coming up on the blog

June 8th: Nina Badzin: social media expert and freelance writer: regular contributor to Brain, ChildKveller, and the HuffPo. Nina will talk about what to do if you realize you like blogging more than working on your novel.

June 22: Nathan Bransford: Yes. That Nathan Bransford (squee!) Blog god, former Curtis Brown agent, children's author, and author of How to Write a Novel.

July 20th: Janice Hardy: host of Fiction University and bestselling YA author. Repped by uber-agent Kristen Nelson.

August 10th Jami Gold: editor, writing teacher, award-winning paranormal romance author, and awesome blogger.

September 14th Barbara Silkstone: bestselling indie author and owner of the Second Act Cafe.


Win $5000 for Fan Fiction! You read that right. This is a contest so innovative and different I couldn't resist posting it although you have to join Booktrack to find out all the details (membership is free, apparently). You to write a fan-fic story in the world of Hugh Howey's new book Halfway Home, add a soundtrack, post it on Wattpad, and you'll be eligible win the big cash prize, plus an edit by Mr. Howey himself. More info at Booktrack.com

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST  $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" Short fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Deadline June 30th.

Drue Heinz Literature Prize for a collection of short fiction and/or novellas. Prize of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Author must have been previously published in print journals. Deadline June 30.

WRITERS VILLAGE SUMMER SHORT FICTION CONTEST $24 ENTRY FEE. $4,800 First prize. Second prize $800, third prize $400 and 15 runner up prizes of $80. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Judges include Lawrence Block, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, and Jill Dawson, Orange and Whitbread-shortlisted author of eight novels. Winning stories showcased online. Any genre of fiction may be submitted up to 3,000 words, except playscripts and poetry. Entries are welcomed world-wide. Deadline June 30.

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