Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode Three


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

We're baaaack!

Today we're bringing you Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode Three in which we discuss how to hook readers and create a story that stands out from the crowd. Enjoy the video! (And forgive me for being so quiet! I'll have to double check my microphone next time...)





If you'd like to ask us a question that we will answer LIVE in the future, simply participate in the writing exercises as they become available on this blog and be sure to enter on the Rafflecopter entry form below each exercise.

If you missed the other two episodes of Go Teen Writers: LIVE, the links are below. While you're watching, be sure to click "like" and to subscribe to Stephanie's YouTube channel. Also, leave us a comment and/or feel free to ask further questions about the talk. We love talking with you guys!

Go Teen Writers Live: Episode One

Go Teen Writers Live: Episode Two


Monday, April 24, 2017

When to Start Marketing if You’re Unpublished

You guys! NADINE BRANDES IS HERE!!!

I met Nadine almost a year ago at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop, and she's a lovely person. We didn't have much time to chat then, but I've gotten to know her through social media. I'm in awe of her Instagram account, her blog, and just her as a human being.

When I asked her to post about marketing, I pretended like it was for you guys, but it was selfish. I really wanted to know what Nadine would say! She's a master, and you're going to love it:






Nadine Brandes is an adventurerfusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.

Find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or nadinebrandes.com


Hellooooo teen writers! I’m popping my head in to the cool kid’s club to talk about…marketing. Maybe you haven’t really given much thought to marketing or you’re not sure what it is. Maybe you have given a lot of thought to it and you loathe/love it. No matter where you’re at with marketing, I’m here to tell you that 1) it can be fun (I love it!) and 2) it doesn’t have to eat your soul.

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

When approaching marketing, you need to know that…numbers matter.

You also need to know that marketing is not about the numbers.

Confused yet? Sorry ’bout that. Let me explain. When the day comes for you to pitch to a publisher or click that “self-publish” button, you need an audience. (thus…numbers matter.) Otherwise how will anyone find your book?

But when you’re trying to build an audience and grow a following, it’s all about relationship and being totally you and totally real thus…it’s not about the numbers.

*rubs hands together* Now that that’s clear as mud, let’s get into the nitty gritty. Whether you’re published, unpublished, thinking about self-publishing or traditional publishing, you need to start marketing NOW.

I used to be intimidated by the idea of marketing. I’d start imagining me with a billboard or speaking in front of an audience or forking out advertising money. In other words, I pictured a whole bunch of bo-ring. And that made my little world-building brain want to run and hide. I avoided the word “marketing” or any marketing talk or classes like the plague…until I was published and realize, “Oh. Well…I should have tackled this sooner.”

Then when I tackled it, I ended up liking it.

What is marketing?
There are whole blog posts on this, so I’m going to give it to you in a cute little bow-tied nutshell: marketing is finding a “tribe” or following of people who are interested in what you write/do.

AKA: Marketing is finding virtual friends. Hundreds of them. And don’t worry introverts, you can still do this without having to become an extrovert!

What does this look like?
It looks like presence. Online. You need to be online, have a place to connect with others and grow a following. That could mean through having a blog, or through a Twitter, or a Facebook page, Instagram, an email newsletter, Tumblr, or even Snapchat. The fact you’re reading this post means you know how to use technology.

Marketing starts with being accessible. Building relationship with other readers, other writers, etc.

You need a constant place that is constant where people can find you and follow your shenanigans.

Example: Let’s say you hang out here a lot on Go Teen Writers. You connect with other commenters, you guys chat a bit. But if they don’t have your e-mail address or your Twitter handle or your snapchat code…how will they find you if they want to see what you’re up to or how your writing is going?

So pick a social media as your “base camp” of sorts. And then start directing people there.

Be real. Be you.
The #1 rule of marketing is be real. I know it’s tempting to create a fa├žade in social media, but friends and readers like authenticity. As you grow as an author and as your books go out into the world and crawl onto other people’s bookshelves, your readers are going to be watching you. They’ll want to feel like they can connect with you, probably just like how you wish you could connect with your favorite author. You don’t want to meet a cardboard cut-out or a plastic smile. You want to feel like you know them.

And that’s what your readers will want from you. Authenticity.

That doesn’t mean sharing every single little thought or vent. It doesn’t mean exposing your entire private life and letting them read your journal. It just means being real. After all, don’t we all want to be accepted as we are?

When/How do you start?
Start now. Take a look at what social medias you’re on. One? Two? Ten? Try to limit yourself to 1-2 favorites and direct your focus there. Twitter and a blog? Be fully present and invite people in.

Comment on other people’s blogs. Like, retweet, reply to other people’s tweets. ENGAGE. Make friends and let them know what you’re doing. And your numbers will slowly grow. Then, when you tell that agent or that publisher about your book—they’ll see that you have a following and they’ll realize that you take writing seriously enough to interact with your readers.

A few tips
  •           Focus on 1 to 2 marketing platforms. If you try to be active on all of them, you’ll burn out.
  •           If you’re not comfortable with social media, start gathering e-mails for a quarterly newsletter to send writing updates to people. E-mail newsletters are gold! They grow slowly, but they’re worth it!
  •           Try to create social media platforms under your writing name. A Twitter handle like @Iluvbooooks45996 is going to get lost on the internet. And people won’t remember it. Use your writing name and start “making a name” for yourself. J
  •           Do what you enjoy! If you hate blogging, maybe don’t start a blog. If you love photography, jump on Instagram and join the #bookstagram community. If you like doing videos, start a Booktube (Youtube) channel.
  •           Read up on marketing. My favorite book on marketing is The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Leudeke. It’s short and BRILLIANT.
  •           Observe your favorite authors. What are they doing on Twitter or Tumblr or their newsletter that you like? Take notes.


What makes you nervous about marketing? Or, on the flip side, what makes you excited about it? (Pepper me with all your marketing questions!)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode Two

Hey all! Shannon here. Everyone had their doughnuts today? Friday is doughnut day around these parts.

Once you've got your doughnut in hand, settle back and click that PLAY button, because it is my absolute pleasure to bring you the second episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE!

If you were selected to ask a question for one of our episodes and you don't see your question featured this time, rest assured it's coming! We have several episodes going live over the next two weeks.

And remember, if you'd like to ask Stephanie, Jill and me a question, simply participate in the writing exercises as they become available, and use the Rafflecopter below each exercise to enter the drawing. We've been so impressed with your writing, friends. Thank you for choosing to write with us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Routine


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

You know the drill.

No questions required.

You have done or seen this many times.

You know what comes next.

You know what to do.

That kind of knowledge creates the ease that comes from having a routine. It makes hard things second nature.

The word "routine" is a French derivative of the word route. A routine helps you know the way to get somewhere or achieve something.

From Dictionary.com:

routine [roo-teen]

noun
- a customary or regular course of procedure.
- commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity.
- regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.
- an unvarying and constantly repeated formula, as of speech or action, repetitious.

adjective
- of the nature of, proceeding by, or adhering to routine: routine duties.



Did you know that your mood, resilience, and performance are greatly determined by your daily actions? How you spend your time can affect your entire day. The choices you make when you sit down to write are a big deal.

If you start by procrastinating, by the time you finally do get to work, you're often working with an underlining tension. You know you're behind, so you feel anxious when you should be in the zone! And this anxiousness often makes it more difficult to get into the zone. So you've not only sabotaged yourself, but now you're struggling to get the job done as well.

It can be really difficult to reach your daily word count goals when you first have to overcome obstacles, distractions, and all kinds of random "surprises" that interrupt you from your work. Wouldn't it be best to at least try to set yourself up to succeed?

I'd like to suggest coming up with a work routine. Once you have a routine, if you repeat these actions each time you sit down to write, they should help you get into the zone and be more productive. The routine will train your brain to focus more quickly. It should keep you from getting sidetracked and help to make your work become second nature. A habit.

You might be thrown off by some of the words in the definition above. Words like: unimaginative, repetitious, or rote procedure. I in no way mean to imply that your writing craft should be these things. Not at all. I am suggesting that you create a routine to set yourself up to do your best work.

Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit, that once you're in a routine, "the brain can almost completely shut down [and you'll] have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else."

That would be creating a wonderful work of fiction.

The goal is to move on autopilot. Remove all distractions, get to your writing space, sit down, and start creating. This will likely involve some trial and error. Some things will work for you, others won't.

Here is what my current routine looks like. I'm still perfecting it. But I think this will be very helpful.

1. (Ahem.) Visit bathroom so I have no reason to get up from the chair once I sit down.
2. Gather my necessaries. (Full water bottle, map from story, any notes I need for the scene, etc.)
3. Put cell phone of vibrate and leave it in the living room where I cannot hear it. (I will get up to walk the house at least once an hour to stretch my legs and arms, so I can peek at the phone then for emergencies.)
4. Remove all snacks and candy from my desk. (Snacking keeps my fingers busy not writing, so I instead choose to bribe myself with food. When I complete my first writing goal, I may have X. Second writing goal? I may have lunch, etc. I sometimes even set the snack on the other side of the room where I can see it. Ex: A Cadbury Creme Egg, glimmering on the distant dining room table, can be a great motivator.)
5. Close the internet--or at least close out of Facebook and email. Turn off that Facebook notification that pops up on my computer even when I'm not on Facebook to tell me someone did something. (Talk about a distraction . . . )
6. Read through my plan for the scene I'm about to write/edit.
7. Walk laps around the inside of my house until I come up with the first sentence I want to write.
8. Sit down and write that first sentence, then keep on going for a thirty-minute word war with myself. The "time race" will help me keep on task (and hopefully also keep me from biting my fingernails, another thing that keeps my fingers busy not writing.)
9. When I finish the word war, I may get up (if I want to) and walk a lap around the house to stretch. But if I'm into the scene, I can go another thirty minutes.
10. Every hour I must get up and walk a lap around the house (and stretch my arms) to keep me healthy. If I'm in the middle of a scene, I'll work on the next line in my head so that when I sit back down, I'm ready to type.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, share in the comments. If not, do you see how one might be helpful?

Monday, April 17, 2017

What is it like to be an author?



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.


If you read our publication stories last week, maybe, like me, you noticed a common theme that being a published writer was not Jill, Shannon, or I thought it would be like.

I imagine this is normal for most, if not all professions. Maybe you've even found it's true for events like going to college, having your driver's license, or getting your first phone. You thought you would feel a certain way, or have some kind of specific freedom, but the experience is different.

In my post last week, I made the statement, "I had spent all these years learning how to get published, but I didn't know a thing about how to be an author." Melanie left a comment asking, "Any advice on how to be an author?"

I had already planned to talk today about life as an author but I had really struggled with the post, honestly. I wrote a thousand words that bounced all over the place. Until Melanie asked her question, I just couldn't figure out how to approach what being an author is like. So, thank you, Melanie!



***Quick note about my use of the terms "writer" and "author" throughout this article. I chose to use writer when talking about being pre-published and author when referring to someone who is paid for their writing.***

The Writing


The obvious piece of being an author is the writing. This is the reason we wanted to be an author in the first place, our love of writing and stories. As we did all our striving to write a book that was good enough for others to want to read, we kept thinking, "Wouldn't it be amazing if I could get paid to write stories?"

It is amazing. I feel grateful nearly everyday that writing stories is my job.

But what does the reality of it actually look like? I've said it before that when I originally imagined my life as an author, it meant living in NYC, writing when I felt like it, sending my finished manuscript to my editor, and then starting on the next one.

It's certainly not that, so what does the writing piece of being an author look like?

Selling your ideas: One thing that surprised me about being an author is the need to sell my stories. My first taste of this came in the form of describing the story I had already written to agents in a way that I hoped would convince them to represent me. Then later, it was trying to describe my story in a way that would excite editors enough to ask to read more of my book.

I thought after I received my first contract, my days of trying to sell my story were over, when actually they were just beginning. I needed to learn how to sell my novel to potential readers, whether it was on my website, on social media, or in person at signings or my day-to-day life.

Maybe you've heard the hardest book you sell is the first one, but I don't think that's true. With every book you want to write, you have to convince your agent and your publisher that this book is worth their investment.

Juggling projects: Another piece of the writing life as an author that surprised me was the need to juggle projects. Before I received my contract, I had trained myself to stop chasing shiny new ideas and focus on one manuscript until it was completely finished. This discipline served me well for learning how to finish a book.

My first contract was for a three book series, and since I hadn't planned on the book being a series, I had two books that needed to be written from scratch. As I was writing book two, my editor got back to me with content edits for book one, and they were due in a few weeks. So I set aside my draft of book two and made the changes she requested to book one.

Then I got back to working on book two, only to have my agent ask me to put together a few more contemporary YA ideas that she could pitch for after this series released. Again, I paused work on book two to brainstorm new ideas. Then while I was editing book two, the copy editor sent me line edits for book one, and again I had to stop to pay attention to those.

Sometimes (often, it seems) when you have a deadline you have AN AMAZING STORY IDEA and you want to go run after it so badly. But you can't because you're lucky enough to be an author, and you have deadlines.

You're not just writing stories: In addition to writing stories you love, you now have lots of other things you need to write. Including, but not limited to:
  • Your author bio: Before I became published, I always thought authors had assistants who did this for them. Nope.
  • Back cover copy and a hook sentence: Back cover copy is self-explanatory, but a hook sentence is your book boiled down to a sentence or two. Like for The Lost Girl of Astor Street, mine is, "When her best friend is abducted during the spring of 1924, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail will hunt for answers amidst the corruption that strangles Chicago, but she will have to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the truth when her amateur sleuthing skills lead her back to her own front door." If you're traditionally published, these things often get tweaked or rewritten along the way, but you're still responsible for providing it. If you're self-published, obviously this is up to you unless you outsource it.
  • Story synopsis: When you're pitching a book, whether to agents or editors, this is often the first thing you're asked for. Even if you've written multiple books for them. My editor likes me to turn in 2-3 page synopses. Not everyone in the publishing house is able to read every book, so sometimes this is all they have to familiarize themselves with your story as they put together marketing campaigns and sales copy.
  • Social media posts: Content for Twitter, Facebook, or wherever you like to hang out online.
  • Blog posts, articles, and interviews
  • Website copy for your author site
  • Classes: I teach at several workshops throughout the year, and those all involve writing out my talks.
  • Emails: With my agent in Portland, my editor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my closest writing friends living everywhere from Calfornia to West Virginia, I write a lot of emails. Writing good emails is also important for asking for favors, like endorsements or help from other authors.
With that lengthy list of not-stories to write, you might be asking, "If I do all that, how will I have time for writing stories?"

It's not about finding a balance, it's about identifying seasons

I spent the first few years of my career chasing balance.

I wanted to balance writing with marketing, and my career with parenting, and I frequently felt like I was failing at all aspects of my life.

As I prepared for my debut novel, Me, Just Different, to come out back in July 2009, I was completely unprepared for how much of my time launching a book would take up. I was a real grouch about not being able to find time to write. 

Somewhere along my journey, I started to understand that balance wasn't going to happen. That not everything could be a priority all the time.  I learned to identify seasons when different aspects of being an author became my highest priority. 

When The Lost Girl of Astor Street released in February, for about three months my focus during my work time was marketing. I said yes to every interview, every opportunity to promote the title, and I set a date for when I got to start writing again. Whenever I felt grouchy because I missed writing, I could look at my calendar and say, "This is when my promotions schedule clears up enough that I can start writing again." At first, I would only allow myself to write for 25% of my work time, and then I made myself shut things down so that I could take care of all the marketing work. But eventually I was able to go back to the split that I like, which is about 50% writing and 50% "other stuff" like social media.

A few other surprises I experienced when I became an author:

Money is inconsistent: For most authors, it takes several successful books before checks start showing up on any kind of regular schedule. Even then, a lot of publishers only pay out royalties 2-4 times a year. Indie writers get paid much quicker, of course, but they're also fronting the money for cover design, editing, formatting, and so forth.

Being published doesn't cure insecurities: Every writer I know has similar insecurities to what they had before being published. Sometimes, if you've had a book do really well, insecurities only grow. (What if they don't love the next book like they loved this one???)

Being a writer is like being a small business owner: Not many writers or artists go into their craft for the love of the business. I'm an author because I love writing. But because I make an income from it, the government views me as a business whether I do or not. I pay taxes, have inventory, hire professional services (web design or hosting, etc.), and other businessy things. Some writers are an official business, with a staff and everything.

Few writers stay with one publisher or agent forever: I had very idealistic notions about finding the perfect agent, who would then find me the perfect editor, and then we would all live happily ever after when I hit the bestseller lists.

The truth is, I hardly know any writers who are still with their first agents. And even if you're lucky enough that your editor stays at the same house for several years, there are lots of reasons that authors and publishers part ways. 

Nobody cares about my career like I do: When I was an unagented, unpublished writer, I imagined that having one or both would feel like I was on a team. There's some truth to this. I adore my agent and my editor. Both of them care about me and my career ... but neither of them care about my books as much as I do.

If my book fails, my agent and editor both have other authors they're working with. They can just cut me from their line. I, however, am stuck with me.

Nobody makes sure I'm writing as much as I should be. Nobody reminds me to blog, network, or forces me to use Facebook Live. Nobody makes sure I'm take care of myself so that I don't burn out. While my agent certainly cares about my career, and while my publisher wants me to succeed, ultimately nobody cares like I do, because nobody is stuck with me like I am.

Even though being an author is different than what I imagined it would be, I absolutely love it and can't imagine walking away. Does anything on this list surprise you? Are there questions I left unanswered?