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How to put your writing time first and get your writing done, no matter what

It’s late and everyone in your house has gone to sleep.

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance this might be your favorite time of day. No one is around to interrupt you. You’ve had time to have dinner, watch TV, maybe spend some time with friends; plenty of time to decompress from your stressful day job. There’s nothing in the way now between you and your computer.

You make your favorite beverage, fix up a snack, and then in you go to your office and close the door. Even the cat won’t interrupt you now.

You turn your computer on and after a familiar series of clicks your cherished Word document is loading. On the screen, your story flashes to life in lines of text you’ve been toiling over for weeks now — or has it been months? You’ve lost track. All that matters is this time of day when it’s just you and the story.

You might spend two hours or more with it. You really don’t keep track of time. Around 1am you get hungry and tired, but if the story is really pulling you in you might make a small meal and even have some coffee and write until 3 or 4. Never mind that you have to work tomorrow morning. Sleep’s overrated. Story comes first.

Have you found as a writer that often the night time is your best time to write? In fact, it’s somewhat of a trope for writers in general, the image of the writer nourishing their very lifeblood late at night with their story, then wandering soulless through their waking hours and menial day job, eager for night to come when it’s time to feed again and revive.

I certainly can relate. My greatest writing experience of all time happened quite similar to the above scenario.

The only problem is, romanticism aside, it’s not sustainable. If you as a writer want to embrace the reality of being a writer, in the context of living a wholesome life, then unless you work night shift at a hotel where you’re allowed to work on your story, this routine can only go on so long.

Is it true, though, that there is a magic to that late night creative zone?

First of all let’s look at the psychology behind why this “magic” exists.

First things first, a principle that will give you true power as a writer

Stephen R. Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, describes a principle by which one can take action to shape one’s destiny proactively. It is the third of his seven habits, which he calls “putting first things first”.

You might be familiar with President Eisenhower’s “priority matrix” (here’s a good article on that if you aren’t). The topic of how to prioritize decision-making based on this matrix is worth an article unto itself, but what I’d like to draw on is what Eisenhower himself said regarding why he created this matrix to prioritize his decisions: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

We often spend our time reacting. We get up and check phone messages that are waiting for us. We go into our email and answer email. We catch up on the games on our phone. We deal with interruptions. We get pinged in Facebook messages or see on our Facebook feed something interesting and vanish in a conversation that steals away our day — then dammit, what the heck happened to that wonderful afternoon of writing you had planned out?

The most important step to take to claim your creative time is to recognize, like Eisenhower did, that what’s urgent is not truly important, and to instead make the decision to make what’s truly important urgent. And if you’re a writer who wants to write a novel, probably many novels, then how you use your time and how you choose to put your writing first, before anything else, is critical.

First things must come first, as Stephen R. Covey outlines in his third habit. You must make the decision, though, that you are going to put your writing time first and that means embracing your writing time as sacred.

So now we’re ready to unpack the psychology of night owl magic.

If you’re writing late at night when your “creative spark” is going strong, and if you feel that this time is your sacred time, the only thing that matters, then what’s happening here is you’re putting first things last.

There’s a magic that exists because, psychologically, you can go to bed knowing you’ve ended the day doing what’s most important. Your creative mind is fully awake because all the distractions and madness of your reactive day, from the time you woke up to a blaring alarm all the way to perhaps putting the kids to bed and cleaning the kitchen, has finally come to an end and your mind is able to exist solely for your story.

But does it have to be this way?

I personally affirm the value of healthy living. This means work does not crush the other three quadrants of life (personal, social, spiritual). It also means getting sleep, 8 hours minimum if that’s possible.

While I have been mystified by the magic of late night writing, I’ve proactively made changes to how I write and when, which brings us to the other popular myth about writers.

You must write first thing before you do anything with your day: myth or half-truth?

Many writers squeeze in their writing time before work. This might mean getting up at 4am and writing until 7am before the rest of the family gets up. It might mean writing on the train ride to work if you have a long commute.

The point, though, is that it doesn’t matter exactly what time you write (that’s going to vary according to your schedule). What matters is that you write before you turn your mind to any kind of work that’s going to get you into reactive mode.

I personally prefer this method over all the other methods I’ve tried, and I don’t write before I do anything else. My schedule is fairly set (I have developed a distinct morning ritual which I follow every day): I wake up to an alarm, shower, have a cup of coffee and pray and reflect, then I read for an hour. During this time I do not touch my phone so that I can’t react to the world at all (I use an app called Forest which blocks my phone and plays a calming background thunderstorm recording). After this I eat breakfast then I usually will get in the car and find one of my favorite coffee shops to write at. When I arrive I order a drink then, using Forest again to block my phone, I write for 2 hours. I do not stop writing or do anything else until that timer is finished. As soon as this is finished, I usually go to the gym for my run and/or strength training, then I go home for lunch and begin my work day.

The result is that I carry into my work day a fresher energy because I know I’ve done what’s truly important.

Now, I am at an advantage with my time in that, being self-employed, I can decide when and how I work. I apply similar methods to my work as an entrepreneur and editor as I do writing. At the end of every day I make a to-do list and from it I select the six most important things I need to get done the following day. I then put them in order. When I start work, usually around 1-1:30PM, I set a timer for 2 hours and I focus. For example, it’s Thursday and I’m writing this article, which is an important task that I do as one of the roles for my company. My timer is on and I’m listening to the sound of a thunderstorm. I’m focused and I haven’t reacted to anything yet today.

Doing things this way leaves me a space of time every afternoon to deal with things I need to react to. My team and everyone who works with me knows that I work this way, so I can be rest assured that unless there is an emergency that comes up (rare), I can remain focused on important work first, then give urgent matters the attention they require in the time that remains until 6PM. Just like entering my work day fully charged from having done my most important work (writing) first, I likewise enter that small period of time fully charged knowing I have doubled down on the most important work tasks that require my time.

And the effect ripples further. I stop work at 6PM and eat dinner and spend time with my husband. Right now we’re watching Better Call Saul (such a good show). The whole evening is mine and I can relax knowing I stacked my day correctly. When 9 o’clock rolls around I usually begin a wind down period that involves playing piano, more reading, cleaning the house, and relaxing. I like to think that my day actually begins when I go to bed tired and properly wound down, because really, it’s putting a good night’s sleep first that allows me to enter the next day ready to dive into story.

There are many hybrid ways to get your writing done first without losing sleep

This method works great if you are completely free to schedule your own time, but what if you work a job that fills your day where you don’t have the flexibility to plan it around your writing?

Regardless of what you do for work and how your day is structured, there are other ways to put your writing first. It will mean sacrifice (I’m sure some of you already do this).

For example, maybe you bring a small laptop with you to work and work on your story on all your breaks. That’s time you could be checking email or playing games or chatting on Messenger. Instead, if you wake up and decide your story comes first, then as the day passes on, every time you get a spare chance, out comes your story. You might set a goal for yourself (usually a word count) and when you hit it you can move onto other things.

Or maybe you get up really early like in the above example. The sacrifice here means going to bed earlier. Your friends might call you a hermit for retreating back home at 8:30, but you can affirm, “I’m sorry, I get up at 4am to work on my book because that’s the most important time to me.”

There are many ways to claim your writing time and put it first, within the context of a healthy lifestyle, so long as you can orient yourself to devote the time you get to yourself first and foremost to your writing.

And once in a while, allow yourself to discover the late night magic. After all, as much as rules are great, there’s something to be said about being spontaneous.

How do you fit in your writing time? Do you have a unique method you’ve had to develop that works well for you? Please share!

Posted in John's blog, Story Perfect Newsletter Posts, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 lessons to improve your world-building: with guest Susan K. Hamilton

Continuing our series of guest posts, Susan K. Hamilton, the author of Shadow King, brings us some important tips to make your world-building great.

SusanFantasy and fiction author Susan K. Hamilton published her first fantasy novel—DARKSTAR RISING—through Xlibris in 2003. The experience only fueled her interest in writing and in 2016 she was a Top Ten finalist in the Launchpad Manuscript Competition. Her entry—SHADOW KING—will be released later this year from Inkshares, and she is working on a new manuscript tentatively titled THE DEVIL YOU DON’T. An avid horse enthusiast, Susan spends her spare time (when not writing) at the barn and in the saddle. She lives near Boston with her husband and cat.

Five Lessons I’ve Learned About World-Building

When writing fiction, especially when it is some sort of fantasy or science fiction, the world you build is a fundamental and critical part of your story. Your world is the backdrop, and sometimes the bones, for your story. There are many wonderful and terrible ways to create your world. Top-down world building means you work from the broad concepts—politics, religion, cultural social mores—and directs how your characters interact. Bottom-up world building, as you may infer, grows more organically: as your characters evolve, so does their world.

Frequently the two types of world-building can co-exist. You may start with one, and then find there is a need to switch. And you also can vary in how extensive or minimal your word is.

Personally, I have written two novels (that the public currently has or will have access to), as well as three others that are in various states of disarray. Each one of these has required that I build a unique world, and I’ve learned several lessons about world-building through my various efforts, both the successes and the mistakes.

Lesson #1: Don’t let anyone tell you “no”

There isn’t one right way to world-build. You are the all-knowing, merciful (or merciless as the case may be) God or Goddess of your Universe.

It’s your world; build it the way you want.

Don’t let anyone tell you that top-down world building is best or bottom up is best. What works for J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, R.A. Salvatore – or me, for that matter—might not work for you and that’s okay. We all think and work differently; that’s one of the wonderful things about creativity.

Personally, I feel I’m more of a bottom-up world builder. While it might be possible for me to get an idea for a world, if I don’t come up with a character who speaks to me, I don’t end up connecting with the world emotionally and then I get tired of it very quickly. Writing the story and meeting the characters makes me wonder what kind of world I want them to live in, love in, and—yes—often die in. That’s where the fuel for my world-building comes from. So often my world emerges organically and the story unfolds.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve never delved into top-down world building.

I think a great example of my blending of the two can be seen in my first novel, DARKSTAR RISING. As I wrote the first draft, I started to build a world around my main character, Darkstar, adding details as needed so that the world suited the story I wanted to write.

But then I hit a point where I realized Darkstar was really starting to interact with people from other countries and races, and I felt like I didn’t have a solid grasp of who these people were. That was when I switched to more of the top-down system. I took my countries—and the characters who were from there—and put some thought into each. I thought about religion, customs, social mores, how the genders related to each other, and more. I knew I had to define these broader parameters because these things would influence how my characters interacted.

That system worked for me… But remember: Your world. Your method. Own it.

Lesson #2: Your memory isn’t as good as you think it is

When you find those key, critical parts of your world, the ones that are the foundational bricks and interdependencies, for the love of everything good, write them down SOMEWHERE.

I don’t care if you’re totally tech-savvy and know how to build a wiki to keep track of your world (which sounds like a pretty cool option), or if you kick-it old school and use a notebook, or if you’re somewhere in the middle with an Excel spreadsheet. If your story is detailed enough, at some point you’re going to forget something, and you’re going to need to look it up.

Having a system is going to make that so much easier for you.

If you don’t have a system to help you remember, you run the risk of putting conflicting details in your story, and these—even very minor ones—can create a kind of cognitive dissonance in your readers. If this dissonance is significant enough, it will pull your reader out of the flow of your story, and no one wants that.

I’ll confess, I’m not the greatest at writing things down, and when I do, it tends to be a bit of a hodge-podge. In fact, I just went through some of the folder I have for SHADOW KING and made an attempt to organize it into “Older Material,” “Background,” “Drafts,” and then a folder for things pertaining to my publisher. And even with that, it is still pretty disorganized.

I tend to just keep track in a Word doc or Excel sheet where I can keep the things I need to reference about both the world itself as well as the characters’ bona fides. I probably ought to make myself a standard template to use; but that’s been on my “gotta get to it one of these days” list for a long, long time. I’ll be starting work on my next manuscript soon so maybe this is the time!

Oh, and one other thing: back up your files. Seriously. You’ll thank me for that someday.

Lesson #3: Do the autopsy—even if you don’t want to.

If this is the first time you’ve done world-building, you’re going to look back on parts and think, “Sh*t, that didn’t go the way I planned.”

You know what? Even if this is your fifth novel, or tenth, from time to time, you’re still going to ask yourself that very same question. That sentence crosses my mind, and comes out of my mouth, more times than I care to admit.

We’ve all done it. Mistakes are how we learn and how we do things better the next time around. There’s no shame in that, but you need to remember to learn from your mistakes.

Once you’ve completed your story, I highly recommend you do some sort of personal debrief or post-mortem. Think about how you went about not only writing the story but also how you built the world and the characters within it. I bet you think of a few things that bogged you down or sidetracked you.

This is a much harder thing to do than it might first appear. For starters, once you’re done with a story, you want to move onto the next thing whether that is marketing or pitching what you just finished, or starting to write that next great manuscript in your head. Who has time to go back and deconstruct what you just did? We’re burning daylight!

You should. I should. We all should.

We should make the effort to figure out what didn’t go so well and then remember those things so that maybe, just maybe, we can do it a little differently next time. Conversely, if you found something that worked AWESOME, then keep doing it! There is a reason people tell you not to mess with a good thing.

Lesson #4: Don’t just build empty cities

World-building is wonderful, and it’s fun, but a world without characters and emotions and turmoil is nothing more than an elegant ghost town.


Fill your cities, your countries, your planets! Fill them to the brim with love, hate, despair, adoration, revenge, recrimination, passion, lust, bravery, cowardice, insecurity, arrogance, hope, sorrow, joy, betrayal, forgiveness, humor, and sarcasm. Fill them with the wise and the foolish, the smart and the stupid, the seers and the blind.

I mentioned this earlier but I’ve definitely noticed that my method for world-building is inextricably connected with my characters. As the characters grow, so does the world. As the characters grow, they tell me about their hopes and fears, about their childhoods, and those details inform the world I’m creating.

In my current book, SHADOW KING, the very first thing I created was my male lead: Aohdan Collins. Once I knew who he was, the world he would live in started to take shape. This was an interesting world to work with. Because the novel is a dark urban fantasy, the main setting is the city of Boston, so there were certain things that had to be real and concrete, and that I didn’t need to create. What I did need to create was this alternate Boston where Aohdan (who is a Fae) and his companions exist, blending elements of the human realm that we all know with elements of the faerie realm that Aohdan and the others have brought to the world.

And in Aohdan’s story there is plenty of love, lust, ambition, betrayal and revenge. One of the things I found especially interesting was how the faeries and humans interacted in my world, how much prejudice there was (or wasn’t).

Each aspect of the world is enhanced by the emotions that fill it.

Lesson #5: The Devil’s in the Details

This lesson is a crazy, kissing-cousin to #4. When you’re building worlds, you need to fill them with characters and feelings, but you also need to make sure you remember the little stuff. Because the small stuff matters!

Have you built an industrial city? Make sure people get soot on their hands, and have the odor of fuel on their clothes. Is your society agricultural? Include the smell of warm soil and fresh vegetables, of sweaty horses and cow manure. Include the grunt of oxen as the pull the plow and the feel of calloused, work-weary fingers. Do your characters gather at a seedy pub? Include the sour taste of inferior wine and the greasy texture of stew made with gristle and half-spoiled vegetables.

Those are the details that make a world come alive once you’ve built the beautiful bones: What does it feel like, what does it smell like? Are there places where your reader would feel at home? Where they would have a beer with a friend? You don’t have to overload your work with these details, but a few very vivid ones, strategically placed can make your world so much more real to your readers.

In my own work, I tend to focus much more on dialogue than I do on details, and I often need to remind myself to go back and look for opportunities to put these small details in. At one point in SHADOW KING, one of my characters is walking down the sidewalk, and it is winter. At first I didn’t say much about the snow but when I read the scene over, I realized that snow in the city can look a lot different than snow in the country. So, I made sure to add in that the snow was gritty and blackened from dirt, sand, and salt used by the DPW crews. It was only a few words here and there, but in the end I think those details help (plus, they are a good reflection of how this character feels on the inside during that moment of the story).

You’re missing a huge opportunity if you leave these things out.

These are just five lessons I’ve learned as I’ve made my way through my various stories and manuscripts. I’m sure for some of you they’re familiar, for others maybe I sparked a new idea or two. And I’m sure that there are thousands of other lessons out there that we can all benefit from – I’d love to hear more about your lessons in the comments!

Discover Susan’s latest book, Shadow King!

Susan CoverShadow King was a Top Ten finalist in the 2017 Launchpad Manuscript Competition out of over 1,000 entries from 24 different countries. It will be published by Inkshares through their Quill imprint later in 2017 (anticipating fall, but specific release date is TBD).

Connect with Susan:



Twitter: @RealSKHamilton


Amazon Author Page:


Inkshares: (if you register on the site, you can follow both her as an author and Shadow King as a book)

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How to edit a book: a writer’s guide to understanding the process

I have been working as an editor with self-publishing authors for several years now. A year and a half ago my work load grew so big I had to expand and form a team. Since that point I’ve become a senior editor, and recently, thanks to connecting with some great talent my editing company is expanding into a publishing services company with a publishing division.

As time goes on, my duties for my company mean I get to spend less and less time involved directly in editing, but I am still heavily involved in the editing process as I work on a more “meta” level through training apprentices and directing the team on editorial standards. But still, in my heart, I am an editor, and a large part of that is because in my heart of hearts, I’m a writer.

One thing that has been on my to-do list for more than a year now has been to write a manual on editing. Such a document was meant to be internal, something in-depth for my editors to consult, since (to the best of my knowledge) no such book exists. Imagine that: a book called “How to Edit a Book”. I sure wish I’d picked that up when I decided I wanted to try my hand as an editor. I suspect it’s never been done before because the subject is so nuanced and one editor’s opinion cannot account for the body of editing practices as a whole. You can ask any editor and most will tell you the same thing: in order to learn how to edit, you need to read a lot of books, consult various manuals and read up on writing craft and techniques, and get practice by apprenticing under a more senior editor.

I agree with all three parts of that, and indeed my path to being an editor involved following each one, but nonetheless, I have a to-do list item to cross off, and limited time with which to do so. Given that I devote a set period of time every week to preparing an article for the writers who I like to help, it made sense to me that, instead of being overly ambitious and writing a book on editing, or being insular and writing manuals for my team only, why not cover all the bases.

How to edit a book: a comprehensive guide via blog series

Starting next week, I’m going to start a blogging thread that will be ongoing, a “book in progress” of sorts. Though book is the wrong way to think about it because in my mind I don’t see there being an exact beginning or end or reason to read the things as a whole.

For the last several weeks, as I’ve explored topics on writing, I have been building a content directory (and will continue to build it based on the red slippers that fall out of each post), the equivalent of a table of contents. I’ve also been asking the editors on my team to send me topic requests and I’ve been organizing it in the master list accordingly.

Nothing is going to change from what you’re used to seeing. Every Friday I will write something inspiring relating to writing, publishing, or the writer’s lifestyle. However, periodically I will add another installment to this series on how to edit a book.

Based on the feedback and requests I receive, I may write a post weekly just on this topic, in addition to my Friday post. This would mean one day of the week is devoted to the editing series and you can look forward to the next installment in your morning inbox every day that week.

My goal is that, long-term, both my editors, and writers / other aspiring editors will have a great reference on editing and how it works. The good thing about doing it this way is it doesn’t mean adding an extra duty to my mountain of duties. (Apologies to any Lan Mandragoran fans for butchering his eloquent expression.)

Stay tuned for the first in the series: proofreading, what it is, how it works, and techniques to do it effectively for yourself or someone else.

If you have any topic requests please leave them below! I can write endlessly on topics and will organize my topic directory accordingly, but my goal with this series is to be as comprehensive as possible, so why not make this a community endeavor.


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World-building hidden meanings and messages into fantasy, with guest Laura E. Thompson

I am pleased to welcome Laura E. Thompson to the blog to contribute another great article on fantasy world-building. Laura has recently published her first book, the Burden of Destiny, which you can discover in more detail below.

Laura E Thompson

Laura E. Thompson grew up in a small town on an island that sits in the middle of Lake Champlain in Vermont. She has been writing since the young age of seven and has been an avid reader for longer than that. Her first novel was written and completed at the age of sixteen while taking a creative writing class. Laura started writing the Elven Quest Series in 2007. She had not written for pleasure in a long time and one day the characters from The Burden of Destiny entered her mind and wouldn’t leave. She had no choice but to sit down and write their story, now she’s so excited to share them with the world. Laura also co-wrote the published ethical theory model entitled Key Factors in Making Ethical Decisions Model, a chapter in the textbook: Ethical Decision Making for the 21st Century Counselor (Counseling and Professional Identity) by Donna S. Sheperis and Stacy L. Henning.

Fantasy World Building: Hidden meanings & Messages

One reason that I love fantasy is the fact that it is a brand new world where anything can happen. If a writer wants to remove the laws of gravity and have the characters float everywhere, they can do that. If they want people to have reflective fur that blinds their opponents, they can do that. I could go on and on, anything goes really. But what does this mean for a writer? What kind of things should you include in your own world when writing fantasy?

Personally, I think that no world would be realistic without some rules.
There should be laws of nature that make it clear that there are limits to what characters can  and cannot do. For example, with “the Force” on Star Wars, it can guide Luke, strengthen his gut instincts and allow him to use his mind to move objects, like when he loses his lightsaber and can use it to pull it back to him. However, he cannot use the Force to heal himself. When Vader cuts off his hand, he cannot grow a new hand using the Force. Does this make sense? Rules. There needs to be clear lines in the sand as to what the characters can accomplish to make your world believable.

It also helps the reader engage with your story and find it more believable if you can create a backstory for your world, a rich history of how things came to be the way that they are. This allows the readers to imagine the way the world was before.

It is important, while creating a history for your world, to consider connections. Each character must have some personal history, somewhere that they came from or things they’ve done. How can you, as the writer, connect these personal stories and histories to the current story or the main character? Weaving in ties between characters creates a nice platform for struggles, disagreements, and ways for characters to overcome obstacles or barriers. It creates a tapestry and allows the readers to connect the dots.

The Marvel MCU movies are masters at doing this. They can tie Thor and Loki, who came from another world, into conflicts with the characters on Earth. These ties allow for great action scenes, like Loki bringing his army of Chitauri through a portal to battle in New York City. At the end of every Marvel movie, they foreshadow into the next movie and create another tie. This has allowed their franchise to keep going and they do it wonderfully.

Writers have done this too, not just to create more books but also to enrich the novel itself. One of my favorite epic fantasies is the Pellinor Series by Alison Croggon. In her world of bards, magic and barding schools, there is so much history, it is insane. She talks about legends of the bards, songs and poems that they sung before they had written language, conflicts between the light and the dark even before the land was forged. It is so deep and rich that it sucks you into this world and makes you want to be a part of it. It made me wonder the first time that I read it if Croggon was writing about a real, ancient world or society that had died off. I was shocked when I realized that she, like Tolkien, Lucas, Lewis, Jordan, Pullman, Rowling and many others, had completely imagined the whole thing.

While creating your history you can subtly insert hidden messages about your own views on things like politics, religion, power, education, etc. Even simple things like the names of characters or places can have hidden meanings. For example, while writing my novel The Burden of Destiny: Elven Quest, in the beginning I was using my imagination to create names of characters and places. After a while though, I started getting bored with trying to think of new names and I decided that I wanted the names to mean something. In my second book, for example, all of the new characters that are introduced have names that have a meaning that describes who they are and what makes them special.

One of the first new characters you meet in the second book is an Elf named Cailean. He is the leader of the Wood Elves guard and he has the ability to transform himself into a wolf. I created Cailean’s name by researching name meanings and found one that I thought fit. According to one site, the Scottish meaning of the name Cailean is “triumphant in battle or war.” According to another site, the older Gaelic version of this name meant, “Young dog, whelp or wolf”. I felt like this was a good fit to describe Cailean’s character. I did the same with every other character I introduced as well. They all mean something that is connected to who they are. I know that I am not the first to do this. Rowling for example did this with Remus Lupin. He is just a wizard, you think at first, you find out however that he is also a werewolf and Remus is an old mythological character that was raised by wolves and Lupin is a form of the Latin Lupus, which means wolf. Again, she does this with many of her characters, Draco Malfoy, aka, bad faith and snake/dragon. What is neat about doing this is that your fans might not notice it at first, but it is something that if they look deeper into your story and research and find these meanings, like the Harry Potter fans have done, then they love you even more and they respect your time and dedication to your writing.

In terms of hiding your own views on things, this has to be done subtlety and in line with the story. My story has a lot to do with different races of people who had a history of wounding each other. So within my story I weave many conversations about working together, learning to accept differences and how important cohesiveness is. I do the same with discussing the natural elements, Earth, air, fire, and water and how important it is to protect and care for them. This is my way of discussing global warming and the destruction of our Earth today. I think that we should all be working together despite our differences with the common goal of protecting the Earth, which we all share.

Back to my girl Rowling, she did a great job of weaving in ties to our history. If you look at the structure of Harry Potter it is very much a reflection of World War II and the Nazi’s. Voldemort of course being Hitler, characters like Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange enjoy “punishing” the “Mudbloods” because they are not “pure” wizard blood. This is very much like the Nazi’s that felt the same about the Jews, gays, and pretty much everyone else who were considered “enemies of the state.” There is a scene when Bellatrix uses her wand to cut into Hermione’s arm the word “Mudblood” this is similar to when the Nazi’s used a metal stamp to “tattoo” a serial number into their prisoner’s skin in the concentration camps.

Another good example of inputting the writers view into a fantasy story was C.S. Lewis and the Narnia tales. Lewis was a Christian and he admitted that his novels were what he called “an imaginative welcome to the Christian faith.” He uses symbolism for his faith throughout the books including the obvious Aslan as Jesus. Aslan is stabbed by the White Witch, killed, he was dead as a doornail, but then, the table cracks and he comes back to life. Hello…remind you of a certain savior that was nailed to the cross? It should, that’s what Lewis was going for. There are other instances too that are a direct correlation in his story to the Bible, but I am running out of space dear readers, so I would suggest researching on your own if you are interested in learning more. 😉

I hope you enjoyed my discussion of creating your fantasy world and weaving in some hidden meanings and ties. If you would like to learn more about me, my novel, or my thoughts on writing and also life, you can visit me on my blog Elemental Words, the link is listed below.

Enjoy creating your own worlds, dear readers, and as I say on my blog: remember, writing=happiness ;).

Laura coverFind out more about Laura’s book, The Burden of Destiny available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and  other leading book retailers.

Connect with Laura E. Thompson:




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Self-editing for writers: how to approach revision and drafting effectively

I bought my first house a few years ago. It’s a well-maintained home in a quiet residential area with a quaint little office overlooking the street, which makes it an ideal place for an editor to live. I’m grateful that the previous owner took such good care of this house, and for the most part few things have gone wrong.

Of those few mishaps, most were things we could fix ourselves. The latch on the front gate shifts out of position now and then, but it’s nothing I can’t fix in a few minutes with a wrench. The deck needed a new coat of all-weather stain, and even though the job led to sweat, sunburn, and sore muscles, it was doable in one day. We’ve installed a new dishwasher, a new washer-dryer unit, and a new element in the stove. We even did our own vinyl flooring.

But then there are the major problems. Late last year, we became aware of a leak in the bathroom. On heading down into the crawl space under the shower (we have a dugout basement and the shower hovers over an expanse of dirt ) it turned out a bracket on the pipe draining the shower to the sewer was wide open. Water was pouring out onto the now-mud. We called in a plumber and, on inspection, it turned out that was just the beginning of our troubles. The pipes behind the shower were also leaky and had caused considerable rot in the wall and the bathroom floor, which in turn was making the toilet slowly sink through the floor.

That was when we reached our limitations for homeowner repairs. We lucked out finding a handyman who not only provides excellent service at a competitive price, but he also likes to teach homeowners how to do further repairs. So he came in and told us what to tear out for him (saving us money by not having to pay him to do it), then he fixed everything, he put some things back in place (like a new wall and a new floor), but then to save us more money, instructed us on how to put down vinyl flooring rather than having him do it. As a result, not only do I now have the bathroom put back together again, I know much more about how this house is constructed, and I’m also experienced at laying vinyl plank flooring.

Self-editing vs. hiring an editor: knowing your limitations

Many authors feel they can edit their books themselves.  To a certain extent, they can. This process is called self-editing.

Self-editing a book is like doing the basic repairs on a house. You can fix tense and POV and verb agreement issues.  You can fix plot holes and pacing and dialogue.  You can tighten sentences, cut your word count down by 10% (a pretty standard recommendation across the board), make great scenes awesome, make weak scenes great, improve sensory details…I could go on and on.

There’s no limit to what you can do with self-editing, and the more experienced you are, the more you can apply your skills to self-editing to make your editor’s/editors’ job(s) less tedious.

However, no matter how good you are at self-editing, you are the equivalent of one hand clapping. Why is this?

No matter how detached we try to be, as writers, we are prone to seeing what we want to see, not what a reader will see. So, while we can self-edit and perfect our book until there’s not a thing more we can find wrong with it, this will be limited to our sense of how we react to our own book. Where this becomes a real problem is in scenes or elements of our book we feel are exceptional, which might actually be lackluster and problematic — sometimes even having the opposite effect on readers.

That scene you can’t stop laughing at? You might not realize there’s a problem until your editor gets back to you on it and tells you it’s self-indulgent and eclipsing the gravity of the mood. The kick-ass climax that had you buzzing while you wrote it and which you can’t stop playing over and over in your head because it’s so awesome? Your editor might be the one who has to break it to you that the scene doesn’t even fit in your book, that as a whole it’s not consistent with the promises you set up in your opening. It has to go, or if not, it has to change to line up with the expected payoffs.

Now, you might learn to identify these things, but it can be a two-edged sword. We could have definitely tried to rip our floor up, replace the rotted sub-floor, cut away rotten boards, replace a toilet, do the plumbing, learn how to do drywall and paint our own wall…but all that time we could have been busy living our lives and working while someone with the refined skill set would do the job right, efficiently, and quickly.

Likewise, a writer can consult a dozen craft and editing books and try to be objective and become their own editor, but all that time they could be busy writing more drafts; the revision to follow when they work with an editor will take them eons further than if they did it all themselves, and for a fraction of the time in.

But, like we did with out major home repair, through self-editing, a writer can pick up many of the pieces through learning from working with their editor(s) over time. The greatest skill is developing detachment and learning to identify your blind spots.

In my own self-editing, I have become as cynical as the King Solomon of Ecclesiastes. In fact, this last week I just wrote the plot climax of A Thousand Roads and I thought I pulled off something amazing, I was pretty sure, but I kept a healthy skepticism because I knew that, while that ending definitely paid off for me, I have deluded myself all too often in past; off the pages went to my editor and I heard back from her a few days later — indeed, I did rock that scene, but there were some issues, nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but it wasn’t the perfect Hollywood production I saw it as in my mind; essentially, my instinct was correct that the scene was working, but because of the emotional intensity of being in the middle of it, living it as only an author can, I’m prone to being blinded to other things that, without being addressed, will hinder the reader’s experience.

I applied this feedback and already the chapter is taking on a dimension of payoff it wouldn’t have without that professional input, and light-years faster than were I to kick my way there through self-editing alone.

Self-editing to death: how to avoid circular revision

The floor in my detached garage is badly cracked and starting to sink.  I need to fix the problem and I know that means fixing the concrete floor, perhaps by laying down fresh concrete.  However, I happened to show it to the same handyman who fixed our bathroom, and with his professional expertise and his emotional distance (as it’s not his house), he was able to point out the painful truth.  The garage was poorly constructed and is very slowly falling down and is irreparable.  It might be a good decade before it actually needs to be demolished, but due to faulty construction, the fix is not at all easy. In fact, it’s a waste of money unless we’re willing to re-pour the foundation and build a new one from scratch.

I came across a similar situation in a novel I wrote several years ago — my first one. As most first novels go, there was something major wrong with it, but I didn’t know what.  When I was in the midst of writing and revising again and again and again, I was rapidly identifying and repairing all of the little things that were wrong with it, and it was improving a lot with each revision. I even worked with an editor and he pushed me through further revisions, inspiring me to dig deeper. I even cut two of the characters who I really liked when he helped me understand they didn’t serve the plot, but still, it just wasn’t working. We got up to an eighth draft, and I pushed into a ninth and I was determined that this time I was going to figure out what that deep problem was.

What I had run into was a case of circular revision. Eventually, I had to put it down and walk away.

Several years passed and I wrote several more novels, and always that novel was lurking somewhere beneath the surface of my mind. Gone, but not forgotten, as it is with stories we create, no matter how we go about producing them.

What I found was that over the time that passed, I gained emotional and creative distance that’s allowed me to appreciate that book on a deeper, conceptual level. Most importantly, I’d grown so much as a writer and developed my self-editing skills to the level where recently, riding the wave of some caffeinated inspiration, I was able to map out an outline for what a new draft would look like. But like the handyman with the garage, this isn’t a plan to “fix” the older story; rather, it’s a plan to write something completely new, using the the viable parts of the plot ideas and the same overall concept. Basically, when the time comes for me to pick this one up and redraft it, I’ll be making a new novel that works; a new draft vs. a mere revision.

The key lesson for me has been that self-editing is a skill that helps us improve our edge as writers so that our time with an editor, or with revision and redrafting, will be more efficient. But, just as critical to the art of self-editing, is the wisdom to know when self-editing is killing your story, and that it’s okay — in fact, it’s good for you and your health and growth as a writer! — to walk away for a bit and write something else.

Putting it all together: always write, always self-edit, always revise; develop your own sequence

With writing, we can’t always take five years away from a project and rewrite from scratch.  We need to write, polish, publish, repeat. We have to put out books for our readers. We need to build our career.

I’ve always liked the wine bottling anecdote to describe an effective writing routine. Some bottles of wine can spend years in the cellar before they are sold. But the vineyard produces grapes every season. Grapes are pressed with care. Yeast is added and fermentation begins. Sugar converts to alcohol, then when the desired amount of dryness or sweetness is reached clarification begins. Wine is racked, then it’s bottled and the wine maker can decide if it should be bottled for sale or aged. Some wines must age, while others are good to drink right away. But the wine maker makes lots of wine so that every harvest, there’s wine to sell, even if some of the finer wines must spend years aging until they are finally corked and ready.

Likewise, a writer must write. Draft daily (as most do), your necessary output. This is your grape harvest. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of a given manuscript, and the draft is done. You can self-edit, work with an editor, and decide, depending on the needs or considerations of that given book, if it’s ready to publish, or if it’s not ready and you need perspective. This is your choice of if the wine needs aging or not.

If your given draft needs more time, put it away, but if you have the habit of drafting every day (my habit is to spend 2 hours drafting every day, no matter what), then this means if your given draft is put away then you have no choice but to write something else. (You will probably find, as I did, that what comes out of this conundrum is a very very good realization about just how much wider your storytelling universe is than one simple book.)

Eventually, this is going to add up. Most likely you might write different things. As a rule, never write something unless you really want to be writing it. But always be writing something, and try to write something different after you finish any given draft and its relevant revisions.

This is your sequence as a writer — think of it as the equivalent of a to-read pile, except as a writer, it’s your to-write pile. The point, though, is that you will continually be writing and self-editing and revising, and, for many of these drafts, you will be publishing and making money and building your readership, and your career.

In all this, you will come back to your older drafts. When you have the right perspective on those, you’ll know it and you’ll write that new draft with the expert skill you’ve gained because in all the time that’s passed, you’ve kept on writing, and self-editing, and revising.

Self-editing might not be a means to an end, but, used with these other principles, it can serve to add an edge that lets any writer push their drafting power upward in steady quantum leaps.

Where do you draw the line between self-editing and editing? How do you decide when you are done self-editing and when you need someone to step in and give you input? Have you ever had to abandon a book before, and if so, did you find you gained the perspective you needed after writing something else?

If you want to receive more of these kinds of inspiring posts on writing, editing, and productivity and wellness practices for writers, sign up for my weekly newsletter with Story Perfect Editing Services, here.

You can also listen to a more in-depth discussion on this topic in our week’s episode of the Write Right Podcast, here.

Posted in John's blog, Story Perfect Newsletter Posts, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Steps to becoming a great fantasy world-builder: guest Viel Nast

For those who saw my recent call for guest posts on fantasy topics, today I’m excited to share the first article on world-building, from author Viel Nast. Viel celebrates the recent release of his book, Savage Swords: The Great Old Ones series, which you can find out more about at the end of the post. (And no doubt after reading about the awesome tips he shares, using his world as a case study, you’ll be curious to check it out!)

Viel NastMy love for reading came from an early age when my parents read me children’s books. Later, when I learned to read, I devoured any book I could get my hands on. The turning point for my immersion into epic fantasy was buying the Lord of the Rings centenary edition at 1992, celebrating the hundredth birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien. From then on, and with my small teenage (and later student) allowance, I grew my library. Now it includes more than a hundred books (and many more comics), most of them on epic fantasy.

My first attempts at creating stories involved the background information I made for my rpg characters (a D&D 2nd edition). I tried to make them as elaborate as I could, although for many years I haven’t written anything down. It was five years ago when I began writing down an epic campaign in the Birthright world setting of TSR. Even when the campaign finished, I continued to write. I grew to like and expanded with stories we didn’t role-play.

But my serious writing started when I was searching for a new rpg setting when I decided to make one of my own and wrote its history and timeline. As the information grew, I realized that there were many stories I could write to make my world, Land of Oyr, feel alive and real. Also, I decided to make a tribute series with short stories dedicated to great authors I have read and this shaped my taste in writing while introducing the world. Thus I recently published my first book, a tribute to R.E. Howard, a classic Conan sword & sorcery story. There are many to follow and I have plans for a larger novel and an even larger heptalogy, where Land of Oyr will be reshaped by cataclysmic events. I am also a self-publisher and have learned in the past few months before I publish the gigantic effort that’s needed. Writing is only a small percentage of the effort!

In day life I am married and we have a happy little boy of four months old. I work in a bank and suffer as a regular person the ordinary daily routine until I become a famous writer! I compete in HEMA events, sword-fighting being another great love of mine, and between or beside all these activities, I listen to epic metal music.


As an insatiable role-player, I will put my fantasy world-building process in (almost) rpg terms:


Most fantasy worlds, (at least the ones I have read) have a long history. But the most glorious moments and greatest heroes belong to the past, while the events of the books are a finalizing touch to already ordained events. I decided that my world would be new and young! It will still have a history and background (a rather long one as it is) but it will grow as the reader follows the history. I will allow a possibility that the reader will decide the fate of the world. In my mind, there is a timeline running for thousands of years in the future that I will unfold as the stories grow. Living through changes and great events in the books that reshape and change the face of the land is more interesting than reading about these events as an old history. The most distinctive part of my world is the Cosmic Rains feature. Cosmic Rains fell twice, the first time they shaped the land and created flora and fauna. The second time they created the original denizens of the land, Men of light and dwarves, and of course the various monsters that roam the wild. Through the fabric torn off the multiverse created by the second cosmic rain came the elves, servants of the great old ones. The demons, their enemies, entered the world and thus the interesting part began…


No world could be real unless it has unique and many monsters for the heroes to fight. Also, there must be a structured racial history and every race must have a distinctive flavor. I took a new approach here using well-known materials. There are elves, dwarves, humans and orcs, but taken into a different perspective and their outlook is unique. Elves, for example, live in tall mountains. The concept is that the world is evolving during the reader’s lifetime. New monsters and races are coming as cosmic events change the land of Oyr. (There are no dragons in Land of Oyr yet…). There are also various beastmen and half-beastmen types of various sizes as well as many hybrids between demons and men, and elves and men as well.


Faiths and priests are a basic element in every setting. Once again the unconventional model led me to have temples dedicated to Demons and no other Gods. There is an old faith to the earth mother, Oyr, kept by druids who seem more like the historical counterparts and not the transforming nonsense D&D has turned them into. Essentially, all religions are evil and there are no priests of good except the druids. All men share the common faith to the land and mother Oyr, but it varies between different regions. Dwarves have a peculiar ancestral religion while orcs and beastmen have primitive shamans. Of course in the future, there are coming changes and there are going to be many different options.


I have noticed that as you outline the history of the world and put elements, there comes a time when these elements interconnect as if by their own. You can make great stories just combining notes and materials you have already written. It is a great process and it feels peculiar to see your world evolving as if by its own volition. So you must write without ceasing, putting down anything you think in your wake or dreamy state!


Fantasy world means a new map with peculiar unfamiliar names and places (in the beginning) which the reader will eventually learn better than his own hometown and will love and will wish to visit.


Nothing great is done by sitting home leisurely drinking, eating and sleeping in a cozy environment. So a world of fantasy needs conflict, war, opposing factions and lots of blood! So you must put in wars and battles of epic proportions that shake the land and shape the history of the world. In these wars, the heroes will emerge and become famous showing their abilities, skills, honor and faith to what is right, while their faith and honor will be tested and some would succeed while others fail.


Put as many details as you can including time, weather, landscape, kingdoms and cities. I have a world with many unique characteristics in the aspects of time and weather which I will unfold during the books, leaving a feeling that you are reading something new and original. The most distinctive element is that the sun is in the south and doesn’t change its course in the Y-axis so it remains in the same position and night and day are changed when the sun diminishes his light.


The approach I used in creating a detailed world was a bottom-up. I needed to have a detailed (as much as possible) pattern from it to draw elements for my stories. Although in the stories there will be many details portrayed that will reshape some details of the world, the setting and the history is something I have thought beforehand and placed in my stories to put emphasis in major events. As I plan to turn Land of Oyr into an rpg setting eventually I want for the character to have a framework where he can maneuver and evolve feeling secure that there is much planning ahead.


I have put Land of Oyr in a multiverse as one world among countless others, but unique in the concept of its creation and separation from the general cosmology and theology. I am not sure if it would be possible to travel to other worlds but I have not decided entirely against it.


The famous concept of bloodwar as it has evolved in the D&D settings has been blended with the concept of the battles of Titans in the ancient Greek mythology. So there are gods or greater powers that rule the many worlds (even gods of evil). But they have defeated the Demons who represent entropy. The demons want only chaos and destruction, having no power of creation at all. In this concept, I have made the demons trapped in Land of Oyr unable to create creatures that will obey them. So orcs and beastmen remain chaotic and malevolent tormented creatures of darkness. The bloodwar in my world is a struggle of the gods to keep the major greater demons at bay and the demons manipulating to break the magically sealed prisons they are contained in.


The many gods of the multiverse exist but don’t have access to the Land of Oyr. They can send their servants, the elves, to harvest power but they cannot enter by themselves, because they will be trapped as the demons did. So the struggle is played indirectly using agents and keeping the bigger truth hidden…


I am totally against powder in fantasy worlds and I am going to keep Land of Oyr free from all modern industrialized troubles that keep us away from nature. I take a Tolkien approach in thinking everything not involving manual labor is inherently evil. Men of light and dwarves are like medieval people in social structure and amenities except that they have magic.


I have long considered the changes the presence of magic would bring in a medieval world. Sometimes it can substitute technology and many times it could be even more easy to use. It depends on the extent magic reigns in your world. I hate totally magical worlds where ordinary people have access to magical items, although I don’t like magic being totally isolated and legendary. I tend to take an approach that blends the two theories, having enough magic to be of general help, but not too much to become mundane. Magic in healing and battle can put a great difference in a kingdom’s success and the amount of magical power it can gather will dictate much of its progress. In the Land of Oyr, there is divine magic from the temples of the demons, druidic magic which comes from the land itself, arcane magic that comes from manipulating the cosmic forces and the inherent abilities and elemental magic, forcing the elements into your power.


In the end,  if you want to tell stories and if you love creating things with your mind, you will be able to build your own world. A personal world built by your mind is something very akin to a child where you see it growing and despite all the pains you took to raise it, it gives back more by only just existing! Be creative, be epic, and leave this mundane world for others made by magic. After all, we are escapists trying to find a way out of routine. 


Nast CoverA short story, the first of the tribute series to the Great Old Ones, dedicated to R. E. Howard and Conan! It will be available for free download until the 22nd of March! Click the link below to check it out!

Savage Swords: The Great Old Ones series

Nast Map

Connect with Viel Nast:

Oyr blog:


Our self publisher!:

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The basics of book marketing: What every self-published Indie author needs to know to sell more books

Due to popular request, today I’m going to segue into the topic of marketing for self-publishing Indie authors.

Before I do, I want to be clear on where my knowledge on this topic comes from. Craig Gibb, the outreach coordinator for the Story Perfect team, is the author of over seventy titles (under various pen names), most of which are self-published. For the steps involved in self-publishing a book, Craig has a lot of practice. Earlier this year, for the launch of our Story Perfect Books imprint, we published How to Self-Publish Your Book. Originally, the goal of publishing this book was to make it a ready reference for our editing or cover clients since we get a lot of requests on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. However, in putting it together we realized that, between the two of us, we have a wealth of knowledge on the aspects of marketing for self-publishers and had to streamline most of these discussions in the book.

The result: We’re working on the follow-up book, How to Market Your Book, which we hope to have out this summer. You can look forward to more marketing articles from me, based on some of the core topics from our book, over the next few months.

To start, let’s tackle the basics of book marketing.

Your book is out…now what?

You’ve done all the hard work — you’ve written and revised your novel, you’ve had it professionally edited, you’ve purchased a top-notch cover, you’ve formatted it perfectly for upload, and now it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and more.

Now’s the time to sit back and wait for the money to roll in as the reading public discovers your book and recommends it to all their friends.

Only…that last part isn’t happening.

Book marketing is one of the most difficult steps in the whole process of publishing a book. Everything else is clearly defined as something you can check off a to-do list. Fixed plot holes? Check! Typo-free? Check! Formatted properly? Check! Strategic keywords chosen? Check!

Book marketing is a lot more ambiguous and amorphous to the Indie author who is stepping into daring new waters.  It also involves a great deal of work with little immediate payoff.

But the good news is as an author there are steps you can take to ensure you are optimizing your chances that you will connect with your ideal readers and ultimately, sell more books. These steps involve setting up an effective platform and developing an effective engagement system.

Pick your platform with care: know where your ideal reader will show up.

Simply put, platform is the place where your readers can find you. I’m going to focus on internet-centered marketing, since this typifies the approach of most Indie authors. Hence, your platform in this case can be thought of as your “online presence”.

Usually, a platform consists of website, blog, and social media. Ideally, these are all interlinked and if a reader were to Google your author name, they would enter your platform.

The purpose of a platform is twofold. On one hand, you want your platform to exist for readers of your book to find you online, so that they can become fans and buy future books. On the other hand, you want your platform to connect you to ideal readers who eventually buy your books and eventually become your fans. This means when you set up your platform, you want to think carefully about your brand (a topic for a future blog post) and ensure that comes across in your author bios (yes, your Twitter bio counts as a short author bio too).

Some authors say you should be on every single platform — Website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon author page, Goodreads, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Wattpad, Tsu, WordPress/Blogspot, Google Plus, etc — and other authors say you should chose the one or two platforms you particularly excel at, and stick with those.

In either case these two extremes are not built on sound book marketing principles. Being on every platform is like firing bullets in every direction and hoping one will hit the target. But what if the target needs five clean shots? Fifteen? You’re wasting your time elsewhere and won’t be able to give it the attention it needs. Remember: you only have so many hours in the day — and only so much energy — and as a writer ideally you want to be writing as much as you can. The other example of being only on the platforms you find you naturally excel at means you’re choosing where you want to be based on your own comfort level, which might be fine, but what if all your idea readers are elsewhere?

Both Craig and I have found it helps to be somewhere between those two extremes, and not just arbitrarily so: In deciding where you should be setting up your platform, you should be where your readers are.  If you write young adult or new adult fiction, you likely won’t find them on Goodreads or Pinterest, no matter how much you love those platforms.  Instead, you’ll find them on Snapchat, Tumblr, and perhaps Wattpad.  If you write fiction targeted at men, you’re likely wasting your time on Pinterest — but Pinterest is the place to be if you’re targeting adult women. (Though this might sound stereotypical, it’s based on market demographic research, for example, this article:

When it comes to thinking about your platform, think like your ideal reader. In fact, this ties back to my previous post on how to channel your inner ideal reader. Whatever fiction you’re writing, hopefully you are a fan of that fiction as a reader, and as such, you know where you like to hang out and can frequent those spots when setting up your author platform.

If you’re not sure, then experiment. Better yet, do research (especially, the kind that involves reaching out to other authors in your genre who are doing well and try to learn from them). One of the best platforms for an author, in my opinion, is a blog ( is easy to learn and probably the most popular) because it allows you the opportunity to both host other authors and to be a guest on other author blogs — you have an instant reason to connect when reaching out to authors in your genre. (I’ll be doing a post on blogging and how to write effective guest blog posts at a later time.)

Engage for the sake of engaging: how to use your author platform to get more readers.

The second step to connecting to your ideal readers and selling more books is to set up an effective engagement system. Simply put, an engagement system is a set of actions by which you govern yourself while using your platforms. An important sub-component of an engagement system is a content system (also a post for a future date) — your choice of what content you post (and why).

This is a broad topic and in practice, developing an engagement system is a continual work in progress. You learn as you go. Because I plan to talk about blogging and newsletters in another post (and in that I’ll be covering the topic of the importance of getting reviews and blurbs from other authors and bloggers), for now I’m going to focus on social media because, aside from author website and blog, social media is the primary means by which authors engage with their readers.

I want to emphasize, though, that your goal is to engage, not just to sell books. Promoting on social media is about building relationships. Sending out non-stop promo tweets or posts, while it might be effective for some, is nowhere near as effective as building genuine relationships with your readers. So if you’re on a platform, your best strategy is to just be yourself — share tidbits of your personal life (within the bounds of what you decide is appropriate for your author persona) and react or respond to what others are saying and doing.

Twitter makes engagement easy. You can jump into conversations by searching for relevant hashtags, or by combing through your feed of lists or users who’ve followed you and hitting “reply”. If you combine this with sharing personal information tweets, someone new who is about to follow your account will see that you like to engage your audience and they’re more likely to follow you. If you try to limit the amount of promotional tweets to about 20% of your overall tweet content, then a prospective fan will see that you’re an author and can discover your work when they’d like to, but won’t feel that in following you they are going to be smothered by endless tweets of “buy my book buy my book buy my book”. (One good tip: create a tweet that links to your book, with the cover added as a photo and relevant hashtags, then pin it to the top of your feed; this lets new followers see your book right away, as well as any other time they view your feed, reminding them of your book without them feeling like you have a case of self-promotional diarrhea.)

I’ll be posting at a later date about effective engagement on Twitter because I’m just scratching the surface.

The same core principles apply on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads, Tumblr and others, though of course each platform has its own nuances. It is worth mentioning that with Facebook, having an author page makes engagement difficult. If you’re running a page, you’re not actually connected to your readers and so you can’t see what they’re posting on their personal profiles. (That being said, and this will be yet another future post, engaging on Facebook through a page is still better than engaging through a profile, despite the connections that a profile can provide.)

While this principle of engaging vs. hard selling is a good rule to follow, different platforms and even different genres allow for different levels of marketing. In general, romance and erotica authors can engage in considerable self-promotion and maintain good relations with their readers. Authors of slower turnaround genres such as fantasy and science fiction are best to go light on self-promotion as readers typically want to see less of it. Non-fiction is a genre that allows a lot of promotion, particularly because you’re giving your readers solutions to a problem and can offer that with a natural segue to your book.

There are always exceptions to the rules. You have to figure out the undefined and invisible lines set up by your readers, and do your best not to cross those lines. You’ll make an error now and then and that’s okay. You’ll do a promo at the wrong time and lose followers, but you’ll also do a promo at the right time that attracts followers and bumps sales. Just make sure you’re continually learning and approaching engagement with the intention to learn.

Putting it all together: engage effectively on your platforms and you will gain fans who market for you.

By being engaging and focusing on building a dedicated fan base, you begin to build a readership that will buy every book you write, post positive reviews, and promote your book to their friends. And that’s just the power of this strategy: if you approach book marketing on your platform with the intent to engage your ideal readers, then you find fans who love your books so much that they help you market — or they even do it for you. A lot of times, you won’t even see this happening, so it can be very hard to quantify.

Oftentimes, it can feel like you’re putting in all this effort and getting nothing — but the truth is that a lot of the time, the results either come much later or the results are not easy to see. The key is to approach marketing without these objectives in mind, to engage with your readers as if you’re just having a good time, not that you’re there for the sole purpose of selling books.

While every author dreams of their book spreading across reader networks like fire on a field of dried grass, the reality is often for new Indie authors, success comes in the form of a rolling snowball. As you build your fan base through an optimal platform and engaging effectively, you gain momentum, and you keep on going, and keep on growing until nothing stands in the way of success.

How do you approach marketing? Did you find you had to experiment a lot to discover your ideal platform and means of engaging with readers? Are you struggling with book marketing in general, and if so, is there anything in what I’ve said that you want to try out? Any lessons you’ve learned from social media you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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