Monday, March 19, 2018

Five Things to Know About the Middle Grade Market

Being in the middle of wrestling with middle grade myself, I am thrilled to bring you this helpful guest post from award winning author Robyn Field. 
Five Things to Know About the Middle Grade Market

The middle grade market is my absolute favorite genre to write! There’s just something about those very first slow dances, the awkward moments between friends, the tension of growing and changing…I didn’t love these times when I was in the thick of them, but I sure do love writing about them now, and I love giving kids characters in which they can see themselves.
 If you’re also interested in the middle grade genre, here are a few things to keep in mind:
 The Age Range: Middle grade spans roughly ages 8-12, and is typically separated into lower (8-9) and upper (10-12) years. Any younger, and you’re getting into chapter books. Any older, and you’re getting into young adult.
 The Protagonist’s Age Rule: Kids this age always want to be one year older – that much closer to the much-dreamed-about teenage years! Therefore, make your protagonist one year older than your target audience. For example, if you’re target audience is age 12, make your protagonist 13. If your target audience is age 8 or 9, make your main character 10.
 Romance: To Be or Not to Be? To be! Upper middle grade readers love reading about middle school crushes, princesses getting married, or older siblings having boyfriends or girlfriends. But here’s the catch: the romance MUST be innocent, pure, and age-appropriate. Young adult is the genre in which you can dive into more deep or controversial aspects of relationships, but middle grade is the genre in which you simply celebrate the innocent joys of “tweendom” or commiserate the common awkward blushes and conversations between coming-of-age kids.
 The Tension of Growing Up: Middle grade readers are still kids, but they’re also dreaming of teen years and are headed into them quickly. No matter the plot, your middle grade protagonist should always be pulling and pushing internally with the tension that comes from growing up. For example, maybe your character is excited to go to the movies alone with her friends for the first time, but while she’s there, she secretly misses the popcorn she and her dad usually share at the movies. Kids this age want to grow up, but they also don’t want to leave security behind. This tension should always be present.
 What About Animals? You might be surprised to hear this, but in the middle grade genre, you can use animals as your characters! You must do it well, of course, and the plot certainly can’t be a picture-book type of story. Your animals must have human emotions and relationships – they MUST be relatable to your reader in the way human characters would be.
 Want More Info? The best resource I’ve come across in studying the middle grade genre is Mary Cole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit. This book addresses word count questions, plot issues, character creation, and more – all for young adult and middle grade writers.
 Have fun, and happy writing!
 You can find Robyn and follow her writing journey over on Instagram at or on her personal Christian living blog, . She is a 2017 Writer's Digest Writing Competition Award Winner.

Monday, February 26, 2018

What We've Learned: A Beginner's Guide to Podcasting

If you are both a writer and someone who likes listening to podcasts while commuting, on lunch break, or while puttering around the house; (yes to all of the above for me) you are in luck. Marginally Podcast is another great one to add to your listening list. If you haven't found them already, head on over to eavesdrop on their great conversations about writing, work, and friendship.
& stay tuned here for their guest post which contains some great advice on what they've learned while podcasting in case you have been considering the journey yourself.

We call Marginally a podcast about writing, work and friendship. While we love the writing podcasts that we subscribe and listen to, there wasn’t anything out there speaking to the biggest challenge in our lives -- balancing writing and a day job. That is a reality for most writers, especially when they’re just starting out, and we wanted to change the end-game discussion of quitting it all to write and talk about keeping that day job.

So we started Marginally six months ago, and we have had a great time doing it. We’ve become better friends, we’ve become better writers, and we have built a community of people who talk to us about this issue.

We hoped the podcast would help us grow and stretch as writers and as friends, and it has -- more than we ever expected. We’ve always found inspiration from knowing we’re not the only ones with our same challenges, and it turns out, we’re not alone in that, either! Talking to others who are learning alongside us has been the most gratifying thing about this project.

So today we’re sharing our biggest lessons learned from jumping into something new and exciting without waiting until we were ready – five lessons that are big and philosophical and can be turned into metaphors for writing and life, and three practical ones specifically about podcasting.

5 Big Things We’ve Learned:

1 Persistence and commitment
Putting out a weekly podcast requires some organization, even if you’re not super-obsessive about it. You need to plan what you’re going to talk about, and you need to have a schedule for when you’ll do it. We have an added difficulty of a big time zone gap (between 5 and 11 hours, depending on our guests and where Olivia is each week). The main thing we’ve learned is to commit to this project – and to each other. And we’ve learned that you just keep doing it. Some episodes come out better than others, and that’s okay.

2 working on something, then putting it away and moving on
Similarly, in many ways, having this podcast has taught us about working on something, getting it as good as you can in the time available, releasing it to the world, and then moving on to the next episode.

We don’t have time to be perfectionists about every small detail, even if we’re committed to the quality of sound and discussion. A podcast (just like writing) isn’t meant to be perfect; it’s about connecting with your community and your audience.

3 The benefit of having a writing partner
Because we talk about writing every week, sometimes a few times a week, it has meant that we keep each other motivated to finish our projects, and we check in with each other.

It’s a kind of super-supportive writing accountability partner, mixed with a very close friend. We don’t even share our work with each other -- though it’s important to share with someone, it’s easier when we share with other writers, to share with those we have less of an emotional connection with.

It’s really worked for us, and it’s kept us more committed to our writing. That said, not every writing partner is equal. This is a great fit for a writing partnership because we are similar enough to understand each other but different enough – and with different enough projects – to not compete.

4 It feels really good to experiment 
Maybe it’s a theme in this post, but having a podcast was always an experiment for us. Besides listening to a lot of podcasts, we didn’t have any professional skills that lent themselves to this project. And that’s why it felt so exhilarating to do it. That, and our monthly writing prompts , have kept us experimenting in our writing as well. You can fail. This is just an experiment. It takes so much pressure off. It brings back fun 

5 Measurable goals aren’t always the best goals
Just because you give yourself permission to fail doesn’t mean you have to do it. In fact, you can change your mindset about your creative projects by making your goal something that you can’t fail at.

We didn’t say we wanted to have the #1 podcast in writing, and we don’t measure ourselves by how many listeners or clicks we get. We don’t control those things, not really – and we have enough anxiety in our lives. We just want to put our ideas out, to fill a void we saw in the online writing world, and to find some people who felt the same way that we did. We can’t fail at that, and so we haven’t.

Practical things: 

1 Get some tools (but you don’t need a lot)
Podcasting is so popular because the financial barriers to entry are so low. Here are the main tools of our trade:

- mics – This is probably the most important, as you’d imagine – the microphone in your laptop is usually not good enough quality to record. We both use the Samson Q2U, which is under $100; Olivia once forgot her microphone while on the road so she got the Blue Snowball iCE, and it also had great sound and was cheaper. And lots of people swear by the microphones built-in to smartphones. Whatever you do, test your mic before recording. Every single time. We won’t tell you how many times (and how recently) we’ve realized we didn’t have the right one turned on, or selected, and that leaves you with bad audio or none at all.

- Audacity – we edit using this free programme, and there’s no real reason to pay for any other software. You just need some time to google what you’re trying to do (edit out background noise, for example, or change the volume levels), but it’s pretty straightforward. 

- Canva – we use this free image software to make our quotes for Instagram and other social media. It has paid and free options; we usually use the free ones.

- file-sharing -- we don’t live on the same continent, let alone the same city. So we need a place to put all our stuff so we can both work on it. We opted for Dropbox Pro, which has a price tag, because we both already use it for other purposes. If you don’t, Google Drive is another option, and may work better if you’re collaborating more synchronously (because of our time zone gap, we’re usually not working on the same file at the same time).

2 Edit your sound a little (but again, not a lot)
We have a casual podcast, so we do light edits, but don’t go crazy. We chose not to script, but instead work from a rough outline. This makes our conversations less smooth, but more serendipitous.

We try to edit out the pauses and ums that can interrupt a listener’s enjoyment, as well as background noise, but we don’t need every sentence to be perfect. We also record our own tracks separately and combine them in Audacity, so the quality is the best. There are a billion guides out there to using Audacity, but here’s the one we used ,and it’s about as technical as we get.

3 Decide what your goal is – and agree this explicitly if you’re in a podcast partnership
For us, we had a lot of discussions initially about what we were trying to do. We wrote our four points of our mission statement , but we also talked about practical things: do you want to make money from this, or are you doing this for fun? Do we want to focus on numbers of listeners? How will we know if we are doing a good job? These questions are so important for avoiding misunderstanding if you’re podcasting with someone else, and they’re also critical for determining all your outreach strategies: will you have a blog? How will you use social media? Who’s going to do what? We tend to pick up whatever tasks we have time for each week, but others may want a more formal division of labor.

Our biggest worry when we started this podcast was that it would take away from our writing, but it’s turned out to be the best thing we’ve done. It pushes us to experiment, to be honest, and to embrace our creative identities. When we’re less afraid, we’re freer to try. Now if we can just remember to test our mics before recording. 
Meghan and Olivia are the writers and podcasters behind Marginally Podcast. You can learn more about them here

Monday, February 12, 2018

4 Ways to Maximize Book Sales - A Guest Post

If you've been overwhelmed at the thought of writing, selling, and marketing your book, you will be encouraged to hear from straight-talking, goods-delivering, USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Shirk who has ten books to her name and is on the blog today to tell us her top 4 ways to maximize book sales. Check out her fun author instagram account if you enjoy a chuckle with your morning coffee. 

Hi, all! Jennifer here.
I've written and published about ten books now and believe me, I'm still looking for the magic formula on marketing a book. I constantly hear I should be on Pinterest or I should be using my newsletter content more, and I even should be blogging more. But of course, you can't be everywhere all the time or you'd never get any writing done. Plus, I see plenty of successful authors who are not pros on every aspect of social media. (Thank goodness)
So where is an author to start with marketing his/her book? Well, as much as social media and marketing changes, there are still some key ideas for maximizing book sales that DO seem to stay consistent. (At least for now!)

1.     Reach out to authors who write in your genre
One thing I really believe is that authors are not in competition with each other. The real enemy is TV, Netflix, and movies. And unless you are an author who writes 365 books a year, a reader HAS to read something else while waiting for your next book. So why not collaborate with authors who write in similar genres? Send them an email and ask if they want to do a Facebook party together, or run a contest together, or just recommend each other's books in your newsletters. Chances are you'll both walk away with increased fans.

2.   Reach out to bloggers who read your genre
Word of mouth is THE most popular tool in any kind of sales. So ask bloggers who enjoy your genre to host you for an interview or to review your book. The worst that can happen is they say no thank you.

3.    Don't underestimate value of  Facebook and Instagram advertising
Once your book is released, it's a good idea to keep in the public's eye for a few weeks after as well. Remember the Rule of 7. A buyer usually has to see an item or message at least 7 times before they decide to make a purchase. And even if advertising doesn't translate to direct sales then, if/when your book goes on sale in the future, readers will remember your book from the buzz you created and grab it then.

4.    Reach out to your newsletter subscribers
Don't be shy. Your subscribers obviously like you and want to hear from you. Ask them to sign up to review ARCs for you or to help promote your new release via social media outlets. You'd be surprised how much your readers really do want to help you.

I hope these tips help for your next book release or your next book sale.
Thanks for having me today.
Until then, happy writing!

ABOUT JENNIFER SHIRK:  Jennifer Shirk is a USA Today bestselling sweet romance author for Montlake and Entangled Publishing who also happens to be a mom, pharmacist, Red Sox fan, P90x grad, and overall nice person. Don't forget to check out her latest sweet romance, Bargaining with the Boss at an etailer near you.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Long Hand: In Praise of Inefficient Process - A Guest Post

Today's post will resonate with you if you've ever wondered if you were doing it "right" & pursuing your writing in the most efficient way possible. Author Crystal Cestari, whose second book (The Sweetest Kind of Fate coming to you from Hyperion this March) is very forthcoming about her inefficient and successful process and if you visit her colourful instagram account, her love of ice cream, unicorns and all things nerdish as well.

In her words...

I am the World’s Most Inefficient Writer.

It’s not a title I consciously pursued, or that I’m particularly psyched to have, but over time, I’ve accepted my fate, knowing that while the way I write may not work for everyone, it’s the only way for me.

I write everything longhand. Everything. Whether it’s a blog post of a first draft of a novel, I always put pen to paper before committing to type. For some reason, opening an empty word doc makes my mind go blank, and the constant pressure of watching my word count grow (or worse—not) in the corner of the screen makes me absolutely crazy, and trust me, I’m already crazy enough without that extra element.

A blank notebook is different, though. The open lines call to me, giving me a place to scribble and play. None of my misspelled words jump out with jarring red underline; nothing documents the progress I’ve made. Paper has proven to be much gentler than the screen, and the physical act of forming letters is calmer than the clicks and clacks of the keyboard. When I’m stuck, I can draw in the margins or make little notes to myself, planning ahead for future chapters.

Does this take forever? Yes. Is it effective? YES.

My handwritten drafts adhere to one rule: don’t stop. I don’t let myself get caught up on word choice or finding the perfect turn of phrase. If I’m using the same adjective too many times (which I often do), I go with it, underlining all the examples of the duplicate word so I can find better synonyms later. If I don’t know exactly how to describe a character or setting, I move on, making a note to fix it later so I can keep moving forward. More often than not, I’ll find the instructions “MORE HERE” sprinkled throughout my draft, and it works out, because when I get around to typing up my work, I’ve had more time to visualize what I was stumped by, allowing me to flesh out my trouble spots. Also, my word count usually doubles as I’m typing up what is now draft two because now the entire story is clear; I’ve found my way to the end, and I now understand the beats that need to happen along the way.

Terry Pratchett once wrote that “the first draft is just you telling yourself the story” and that resonates with me. First drafts aren’t perfect; they’re messy, just like my handwriting. The important thing is to keep going, and writing longhand helps me do that. Yes, it makes my hand cramp, and sometimes I don’t understand the notes I’ve left myself, but this technique gives me momentum, and that’s what counts.

However you can take pressure yourself is worth it, even if you acquire a ridiculous title along the way. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Imposter Syndrome: A Guest Post

Much of the emotional work of writing is pushing through the feelings of not being the real thing or not being good enough. You may think that when you land a publishing contract, that Imposter Syndrome would not affect you anymore. YA Author Beth Ellyn Summer (whose cheery IG account I recommend following to get your dose of pastel, pretty, and words) shares how Imposter Syndrome can strike anytime. I loved reading this guest post and can't wait to share it with you:

Imposter Syndrome: A Guest Post by YA Author Beth Ellyn Summer

When I was little, I couldn't wait to be a “real author.” This past April I published my first novel with Bloomsbury.
Last week, I found myself telling a friend, "I can't wait to be a real author."

No. That's not a typo. I said these words just.last.week. Seven months after my YA novel debuted.

I've met a lot of writers and we all seem to have the same problem: we wait our whole lives to do this writing thing, and then we either shy away from telling people we're writers or awkwardly dance around the title. You know how it is. You go to a party and someone asks you what you do. You duck your head and shrug apologetically while saying " books?" Imagine if doctors introduced themselves by saying, “ people?”

It’s called Imposter Syndrome. This idea that we’re just faking it till we make it to the point where we’re waiting for the world to catch up to the fact that...well...we’re all a bunch of fakes.

The problem with creative endeavors is that there's no degree or graduation ceremony telling us "you're a real writer now." It’s so much simpler to point to a diploma on your wall to back up your profession.  All we have to go on is publishing milestones which are a) far and few between, and b) based on more than studying for exams; luck and trends play such a huge role in what we do.

At one point I was convinced getting agented would crush any doubt that I'm legit. Well, that happened, and it was amazing, but I still couldn't admit I was an author. The next step was obviously to land a book deal. That happened too. And I really believed this was it. I’m now a Real Author. But nope! All I felt was terror. Because now I didn't just have to prove myself to my agent, but to an editor, then The World. 

My next train of thought was along the lines of “once the book is out, and someone tweets me telling me they loved it, then it's real.”

Not even close. Because when I got my first good reviews, and tweets saying how much the reader loved it, my brain said: "OMG. I'll never write another book! And if this reader knew just how much I struggled they'd laugh at me. They'd know that I don't know what I'm doing, that this book was a fluke."

So, why is it so hard for us to accept that what we do matters? I think we need to stop looking at success as one definable achievement, but rather the sum of all the small moments. The journey from opening a fresh document to typing The End is wonderfully torturous, and stringing dangling threads of ideas together until there’s an imaginary world to show for it is about as real as it gets. 

Twitter: @BethEllynSummer
Instagram: @BethEllynSummer

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How to Adapt Your Novel Into a Screenplay

I am thrilled to introduce you to Sam Wilson of Any Possibility. She is a screenwriter in LA who specializes in helping writers with career strategy. I first came across Sam's work on her fun instagram account that had great insights into the life of a working writer, especially one who collaborates with others so well. If you dream of writing with other writers in cool cafes in LA, you will want to take a break from your workday and head over to her account to see how she does it.
I have talked to more than one writer who wonders how to best tackle writing a screenplay or adapt their novel into a screenplay. Her website is must visit for resources and she is also sharing strategy with us today.

Without further ado...

How to Adapt Your Novel into a Screenplay
Guest Post by Any Possibility

Have you ever written a book and thought, this would make a great movie? Don’t stop there! Consider turning your novel into a television pilot or a web series as well. Now is the time to learn how to adapt your novel into a script. The entertainment industry thrives off of intellectual property adaptations, so where exactly should you start?

Turning your novel into a script means that you are about to become a translator. Condensing your novel into screenplay format takes time, patience, and creativity. You have a set number of pages to convey your story in the most visual way possible. 

Structure and Length
Scripts follow a strict format. Think in these terms: one page equals one minute of screen time. That’s why movie scripts are between 90-120 pages, comedy pilots are around 30 pages, and drama pilots are around 60 pages.

Pacing is of the essence. Typically, each scene in a script is about two to four pages. The scenes should build up one by one to covey the arc of your story and main character(s).

When adapting your novel into a script, choose the key plot points (aka the pivotal moments in your story that move the plot forward externally and/or emotionally). Use specific scenes as the anchors of your story.

A popular outlining method for scripts is the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, which says a movie can be broken down into forty scenes. This is just one of many approaches, but it certainly is something to check out.

There are always exceptions, but learn the rules in order to break them!

Scene description
Keep your scene description visual, clear, and concise. Cut any wordage that you would not be able to see on screen. Where a novel might thrive off of paragraphs of description, thick passages in a script are a red flag for a reader. Break large chunks into two or three sentence descriptions.

Where a novel gives you room to dive inside your character’s head and touch upon all five senses, a screenplay has less room to go in depth in that way. A script is not in its final form; it is meant to be filmed. What is written on the page has to be able to be seen by an audience or it does not matter in the context of the screenwriting medium.

Present and Active
Scene description in a script is written in third person present tense. Keep your verbs active and engaging. Find a visual way to portray internal problems or quirks. “Show don’t tell” is of the essence in a script.

In a book, you might say something like “the diner was as empty as her stomach. Emily couldn’t remember her last meal, which was typical - anxiety made her forget to eat. She sat at the counter and rang the service bell.” In a script, you could say, “An empty diner. Emily rushes to the counter. Her stomach grumbles audibly. She taps the service bell three times.”

Kill Your Darlings
Do away with the non-essentials. Kill off or condense supporting characters, take out unnecessary subplots, and cut down lengthy scene description. You might think something you’ve written – a scene or a character – is incredibly witty or poignant, but remember in a screenplay, the page count limits you. If it doesn’t service your plot or if it is redundant, cut it.

Everything you love in your book will not make it into the script. Close your eyes, cover up your heartache, and press on. You’ve got this!

Check out Any Possibility for more tips and tricks on how to foray into screenwriting and join the free 7-day email series THE WRITE TRACK to jumpstart your screenwriting career.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Creating Your Online Course Content: The Key To Your Personal Instructor Brand

As many writers and other artists move into the realm of teaching others what they know and are learning, online courses are popping up everywhere. This is a great thing. Whether you are sharing your knowledge with your peers in an informal Facebook group or are launching a course to subsidize your art; your personal brand should be considered as you create the course content. It will improve the experience for both you and your students. Here is what I mean:

The title of this blog post may strike you as odd. Should one really have to think of something as superficial as personal branding when creating course content resources such as videos? The short answer is "yes". Think about the scenarios in which personal branding already makes sense: the job interview, introducing yourself to a face to face class, and selling a class from your own website. In each of these cases, you are aiming to both inspire confidence in your abilities as well as engage your hiring committee, clients, and students to want to work with you again and again. Here is where creating your online course content can do double-duty and go to bat for you as the key to your personal instructor brand. There are a few items to keep in mind to keep your content as consistent, efficient, and engaging as possible:

1. Inject your Personality into It - Your voice, your sense of humour, your insights, and your photography hobby can all be engaged to bring together videos and resources that come from the same angle, let the students know what to expect each time, and create a cohesive experience as they move along your course.
2. Keep a Professional Tone - While I mention using humour in point one; of course, always keep it in the realm of workplace/professional humour even if the course is online. You don't want your professionalism to come into question and detract from your student's confidence in you.
3. Limit Distractions - Also important to remember in the professional approach is a clean uncluttered background in videos, polished presentation of content, and staying with one topic at a time. It will inspire confidence as well as promote a better learning experience.
4. Wrap up by Reminding your Audience Who You are - The conclusion is the perfect time to restate the main points, offer additional resources, and remind students of your availability. Knowing that you are there for them makes them more likely to engage in their learning and feel less overwhelmed by what is expected of them. This makes for the likelihood they will look for you as an instructor in the future because they enjoyed their time with you and already know what to expect from one of your classes.

Blog post image is from my own instagram account. The original image can be found here.
A version of this post originally appeared on my blog Tales from the Classroom