The Best Advice I Ever Got Was Never Take Advice

           Before giving me any advice my mentor, June Wilson Read, would lead with “Take it with a grain of salt”. As in “Take it with a grain of salt, but I, the reader, find chapter 7 to be full of useless information. I feel the entire novel could benefit from deleting it entirely.” My version of this is reminding my mentees (or anyone else who cares to hear me blather on) that “The best advice I ever got was never take advice.”

            I cannot stress that enough. Always think for yourself. “Never take advice” doesn’t just apply to your life as a writer. I’ve been writing these advice articles to writers but I feel the need to remind the audience that I only have the knowledge of one person.

            It’s not really a secret I don’t hold self-publishing companies in high regards. But I’ve known plenty of authors who found the right fit for them and their manuscripts with self-publishing companies. I admire them and I’ve enjoyed their books. I’ve read plenty of authors who will blow through every cliché and played out story line, yet have absolutely dazzled me with their brilliant storytelling. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars makes me angry because the author admits outright that although he did massive amounts of research, he ignored every bit of it and made up a type of cancer that didn’t exist for Augustus. His book is so wildly popular it was adapted into a film.

            There is not a person alive that knows everything there is to know about the writing world. When you submit work to a traditional publisher they’re taking an educated guess on how it’s going to do on the market and in front of their readers. Always trust your instincts but remember to keep your ego in your back pocket. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. Don’t forget that whoever is giving you advice cares enough about you and your cause enough to give it. Sometimes it doesn’t always ring out in a pleasant manner. All in all, just be choosy as to which advice you follow and weigh it in your mind before putting it to use.

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Just How Accessible Should You Be?

            In last month’s blog post, You don’t have to be Accessible All the Time, we talked about our rights to privacy as entertainers. What feels like, in the same breath, we’re going to talk about people actually being able to find you and your glorious books you poured gallons of blood, sweat, and tears, into to be able to share with the world.

            Once upon a time I was lucky enough to be able to write full time. I was told the number one thing that kills indie authors (like you and I) is remaining unknown. So I’d spend my day marketing on social media, establishing connects within the industry, and figuring out where the people who liked to read young adult fantasy novels hung out. Publishing a book is not one of those “if you build it they will come” type deals. You need to market. You need to put yourself, and more importantly, your book out there. Or else your gallons of blood, sweat, and tears are for nothing.

            So! For starters, one thing I didn’t think about until I went to that Wyoming Writers Conference is having a website. I started with a Facebook page and assumed that everyone would be able to find me that way. Now this is going to blow your mind… Not everyone likes using Facebook! It completely blew me away. Honestly. I met a very successful author who built her own publishing press. During a presentation she said “Most of you will be daunted by being told you need a web page.” The room nodded. “But you need a web page.” The room was daunted. “You don’t have to update it once a week. You can do what’s called a business card page.” Which is what I have. A business card website is exactly what it sounds like. This is the author, these are their books, here’s some links to every book seller ever, and every social media site the author is active on. Really, bare minimum you just need something so everyone can find you. At least the author part of your life.

            I don’t suggest having any sort of feed or blog on your website unless you’re actually going to generate enough content to update it at least once a month. It really turns people off when they come to your website, saying “Wow, the book I read by this author was really good. When are they due to put out the next one?” and they find a happy Thanksgiving message from 2017 first thing. I find people will get just as invested in your career as you are. Invest in your career.

            And when I say “invest” I don’t necessarily mean financially. When I was writing full time, selling my book was my main source of income. My secondary income was my Etsy store. All in all, I didn’t have much money to invest. So I found every free venue I could use to put my message out in front of the public. You know what that often is? Social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, Tumblr, and many more. Wherever the people you want to reach are, and whatever you’re comfortable using. No matter what venue you use the goal is to reach the people who would be interested in your book, and start a relationship with them. Yes, a relationship.

            What I mean by “relationship” is that you actually check in with them like you do your distant family. I used to make videos on my Facebook page once a month-ish. (I am so awkward on video. It’s painful.) Post pictures of you working, your work, or quotes from your work in progress. As you use your platform more and more you’ll get those five guys who like everything you post and laugh at all of your memes. When one goes on vacation you’ll find yourself inboxing them to say “You still okay, over there?” I often compare success on social media to growing a garden. Let it grow. It’s an investment of time.

            It is also wise to set up an email account that is exclusively for business. These days you can usually butt-up your email accounts into one inbox. Dig around your email provider, so that way you don’t have to remember 50 passwords. Either way, no one wants to do business with someone whose email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It makes people uncomfortable. I’m glad your friends have cute nicknames for you but keep those among your friends. Unless you want the guy you’re negotiating a contract with to slip up and call you “Grandma Blipsy Bunny”. The fail safe formula for a professional looking email handle is first initial, last name, like This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. (Go John Smith! Live your dreams of being a famous author!)

            At any rate, it’s important that you’re accessible. It is also important to your mental health and well-being that you establish boundaries. There is nothing wrong with having a public life and a private life. Keeping the two separate works best when you have two accounts for everything. There is a balance. Your fans love you and want to interact with you, but you still have to be the one to decide what you want out there.

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Do you have a burning question for Helen? Feel free to email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Picking a Title Clickbait Style

            It was actually my cover artist who suggested to me I might need to reconsider my titles to catch new reader’s attention. “Think like clickbait!”

            “What do you mean? ‘Will this random teenage girl save her country? The answer may shock you!’”

            He sent me a bunch of laughing emoji’s. Being in England we only communicate through text. “No! Not like that! You need to make people curious about what the book’s about! Kind of like clickbait.”

            So I pondered it for a while, while drinking coffee and cleaning my house, and then one of my WIPs (work in progress, plural) went from being named Emerald, First Queen of Gishlan to To Craft a Country. “Whoa.” Richard, the cover artist said “That’s much cooler.”

            “I blame you! Thank you!!!”

            That’s the trouble though. You have to tell people what the book is about with five words! Titles are not easy! Somedays I feel like I haven’t come up with a good title since War and Chess! However, once Richard told me to think of a book like clickbait it got me thinking “What kind of question do you want to invoke?”

            Just scrolling through my Facebook feed now I see titles like “Where Nebraska Stands in the Flood Fight” this makes me ask “Are my friends and relatives in Nebraska okay? What’s going on over there?” Now I want to stop writing this blog post and read it. And “Wife Reads out Husband’s Affair Texts Instead of Vows at Wedding”, “Boy Scouts Welcome First Girls Joining Local Troop with Brand New Uniforms”, “The Animal You See First Reveals the Essence of Your Soul.” All of these raise a question. Like a game of jeopardy. So I ask again, what kind of question do you want to invoke?

            I did a poll on Twitter. “Would you read a book called Emerald, First Queen of Gishlan?” I only got one vote and it was “No”. Frankly, no one knows who Emerald is, no one knows why they should care, a lot of people aren’t sure what a Gishlan is, even the people reading my work probably forget the name of the country because sometimes I forget the names of people I’ve known all my life. That’s just how humans are. However! With the title To Craft a Country everyone knows what a country is. We live in one. Craft means make. Is this book going to teach us how to make a country? That sounds neat. Oh, it’s fiction? Helen’s writing another warrior princess type deal? Neat. This reader is down.

            Someone told me (probably Richard) that “no matter how good a book is if it’s got a crappy title it’s not going to get picked up and read. Good cover art can only go so far” (and trust me, it goes far! If you’re self-publishing invest in good art!) an intriguing title will make people pick it up and read the back, add it to their To Be Read on Goodreads, Google it, write it down, actually bother to look in to buying your book. Which leads to getting read, which leads to building a fandom, which leads to your work gaining popularity, which leads to having the phrase “New York Times Best Selling Author” in front of your name. That way you don’t have to sell your soul to Satan for a mere 10 years of achieving your dreams. Work hard on your book’s first impressions!

            Your book’s title should invoke a question in your potential reader’s mind. You want the question to demand an answer! It’s your books first impression. Try to spark people’s curiosity! Tell us what it’s about in five words or less. And if you need inspiration you’re welcome to come shelf read for us here at your local library! ;)

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A Little Humility Goes a Long Way

            Picture this. You just spent three years building an imaginary world, your imaginary friends are doing well, and someone finally cares. You’re a published author! Finally. Now you’ve got people treating you like you’re smart, like you’re worth something. It’s hard not to let it go to your head. You have a place where the sun rises and sets at your command. However, getting high off your own greatness is an addiction in itself.

            One of the most brilliant things one of my friends said to me was “You can’t learn with a full cup.” And she was right! If you know everything there’s not going to be room for you to learn anything. And whether you’ve published 12 books or just 1 you’ve still got room to grow. My mentor, who used to grill me about my short stories so hard I’d break a sweat, after I published my first book I started showing her all the online resources she could use to promote her books! (And don’t worry about the grilling! It was for my good. That’s why by the time you read this blog post it’ll be only the second or third draft!) Never approach a situation like you know everything.

            Honest to goodness, Gene Gagliano, CJ Box, John Nesbitt, Zack Pullen, and Craig Johnson have been some of my favorite authors to work with in my career as a librarian. These fellows have all “made it”, but that is not what made them my favorites. Their kindness, their gentleness, their humility are what struck me. None of them swaggered into the library¾ or into my email’s inbox¾ acting like, well, the bestselling authors that they are! Even the ones who couldn’t make it to Goshen County Library were still polite enough to make a good impression with me.

            Publishing a book can make you feel like you’re sitting on top of the world. At least it did for me! But whether you’ve published, one, none, or 76 you’ve still got room to learn and to grow. This is coming from someone who’s writing blog posts on how to run your writing career. I still have a lot to learn. Being humble and polite will get you a lot farther than stuffy and full of yourself, and people will actually enjoy working with you.

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Do you have a burning question for Helen? Feel free to email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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What Does a Publisher Do?

           There is often confusion about the role of a book publisher. Some people think that a publisher should just take your manuscript, format it as a book, and put it up on Amazon. Then in a few weeks, the author sees the money roll in. The process is quite different, and there is much more involved.

            In brief, the publisher solicits manuscripts, decides if there is sufficient interest to contract an editor for the manuscript, and prepares a contract for the author. This is just the beginning of what can be a very lengthy process.

            Traditional, big firm publishers often rely on agents to find manuscripts. Today, one can contact small independent publishers directly. Thus, the publisher is the first person to look at submissions. I read at least the first 50 pages. If the plot, characters, or grammar errors are substantial, then the manuscript needs developmental editing. I send it back but remain open to looking through it again. If the resubmission is clean and a good fit for our company, then I assign the manuscript to an editor. Once I have an editor for the book, I send the author a contract. I negotiate and answer questions about the contract. The publisher issues all contracts.

           It is important that the author and editor have a good working relationship, and if there is a problem, then I find one you can work with. The author/editor relationship is crucial. It may take several months to get the manuscript in shape.

             When the author and editor have completed their work, then I look at the manuscript again. I am the last person to look at the manuscript before it is published. I am the ultimate quality control. This averages 90 hours per book. Multiply that by the number of novels published in one year and you can see where the majority of work lies.

            The most common problems that arise are authors who think they have submitted a completed final manuscript which they believe needs little editing. Afterall, they have likely worked on the manuscript for months—sometimes years. However, the authors who are most successful are those who are willing to compromise and accept that others are offering input which they believe will increase the likelihood of success for the book.

            Publishers aren’t running a charity for authors. There is no reason for a publisher to invest in a book if the author thinks that it can’t be improved. If you think your manuscript is already perfect, then you can easily and fairly quickly upload your manuscript to Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. The reason to sign with a publisher is because you are seeking their expertise for editing, grammar, cover design, and layout.

            The other issue that arises is marketing of the book. Some people think that signing with a publisher means that someone else will do the marketing and the author can sit back and wait for the money to roll in. This is far from what actually happens. Traditional publishers—the big firms—require their authors to go on extensive book tours. This usually involves lots of travel and lots of time over weeks or months. Any money that the traditional publishers spend on this marketing is subtracted from the expected royalties.

            Small publishers typically do not have large marketing budgets but like the traditional publishers must rely on the authors to do most of the marketing. The publisher may share some of those costs—entering book contests, for example, but it is up to the author to blog, create a website, and in general have a social media presence.

            Everyone wants to write a book, and today, with the Internet and companies such as Amazon and Lulu, anyone can be an author. In fact, an entire cottage industry has popped up, eager for their share of the pie. Many aspiring authors are intimidated, confused, or even discouraged from pursuing their dreams because the publishing process is complicated and varies from one company to another. It doesn’t have to be that way. Dreams don’t have to be realistic, but the manner by which you attain those dreams must be grounded in reality.

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Visit Crystal Publishing LLC's website here

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The Pitch

            You are five minutes early for your pitch session, take that last sip of water.  You’ve found the right room; you’re next.  Dressed in business casual, you chose your favorite colors.  The blue jacket with the lighter blue shirt evokes tranquility.  Or perhaps, you go for some shade of red, the power color.  Stand straight.  Smile!

            You introduce yourself as you approach the table, making eye contact with the publisher or agent who has been listening to pitches for the past three hours, twenty minutes at a time.  Shake hands.  Are you smiling?  Sit down.

            Pause, lean a little forward.  Start that two-sentence pitch, designed to hook the listener into wanting more.  (Helen M. Pugsley described an elevator pitch in her blog from February 11, 2019.)  Lean back slightly.  Push your One Page across the table.  You spent days working on that One Page.  With some bright graphics, it contains a synopsis of your story, details such as word count, age of targeted audience, and genre as well as your contact information.  If possible, include a photo of yourself.  Keep in mind, you want the publisher/agent to remember you, to be able to sort you out from all the other hopeful writers. 

            Give the publisher/agent time to read your One Page.  Don’t fidget.  Be ready for questions, which you can prepare for days in advance.  Think through how you would answer:  what was your motivation, how long have you been writing, and what do you want to happen to your story? 

            When the publisher/agent finishes examining your One Page, lean forward once more.  Make eye contact.  Actively listen.  Too often we start formulating our reply before we have heard all that is being said.   Are you smiling?

            The first time I pitched my stories, I was so focused on those opening two sentences, making certain that I had memorized them to the letter, but I never thought past it.  I had my One Page, which the publisher liked, but I had not given one thought to how we might fill the eighteen minutes left of the twenty-minute session.  Find a friend, perhaps a writing buddy that will practice with you.  Brainstorm questions that a publisher might ask.  Construct your answers so you aren’t left “umming” and pausing while you think.  And of course, smile.

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Visit Diane Nighswonger's website here

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Develop a Thick Skin

            And now for the touchy subject of rejection. It’s going to come before fame and fortune. It’s going to come with fame and fortune. There will be people who absolutely, do not, no matter what you do, will not like your work. That’s okay. Keep going.

            If you choose to traditionally publish you will have to work through an entire tracking sheet of queries. (I recommend The Writers Market for a nice tracker graph.) If you choose to traditionally publish you will get rejected a lot. You will get rejected so many times you will make “JK Rowling got rejected seven times before she found a publisher for Harry Potter!” look like a joke. It’s good and it’s normal. I’ve heard of groups of published authors coming together, sipping coffee, and comparing rejection numbers like badges of honor. “18? Go home, kid. Try 35!” War and Chess got 25 in the five years I worked on it, and Tales from the Gishlan Wood is at about 15 right now. According to the anonymous void that is the internet, the internet says you should query about 80-100 publishing houses and agents before you give up.

            If you choose to self-publish, and thus sign yourself up to do your own marketing, there will be rejection too. Only, after the book is published! Book stores will tell you they don’t want to carry your book, libraries might choose not to carry your book if you’re not a local author, some of your friends won’t like your book, not everyone you know will read it, and not everyone who reads it will like it. (Traditionally published authors face these trials too.)

            What I’m getting at is that you need to develop a thick skin. You can’t just curl up in a ball and cry every time someone tells you they don’t like it. I mean, it makes Christmas awkward but Aunt Franny always spoke her mind anyway. What did you expect? Jokes aside, are you really going to have a horrid day every time an email rolls in that reads “Thank you for your submission but this isn’t what we’re looking for.”? I’ve heard of people scream crying and moping over each one. Even as a 14 year old girl I was like “Ya’ll need to calm down.”

            The only thing worse than a crybaby is the writer who explodes with anger. Sometimes, if I actually finish a book I though was “Meh” I go check the author’s Twitter page to see if they’ll come after me if I say their book was “Meh” on Goodreads. I once saw an author whose work I love but every time she got into an argument with someone she’d screenshot their Facebook profile, post their full name, the name of their hometown, and the slight, then tweet it so that maybe her loyal followers would harass the unlucky soul. “John Doe of Yoder Wyoming, you have stolen my tarts!” I unfollowed her. Another author made headlines a few years ago when he tracked down someone who gave him a poor review and smashed a wine bottle against her head. She was a teenager working in a grocery store. All’s I’m saying is don’t be that guy.

            It’s easier said than done but you need to develop a skin so thick that someone can just stand there and tell you all the things they didn’t like about your book while you sit there and don’t even blink. That’s the goal, anyway. You need to realize that rejection will happen. You’ll get your ego hurt. But how you respond to rejection is what defines you.

            It’s worth it though. It’s all worth it when someone comes up to you on one of your not so bright and shiny days and says “Omigosh, I read your book in one night! I couldn’t put it down!” and then goes on, and on, and on, for half an hour about how much they loved your book. Or even the “Your poetry is so raw and beautiful.” Comment on Wattpad. It becomes worth it when you hold a copy of your book for the first time, or your very first book signing when you introduce your book to the world, or when your close friends start giving each other copies of your book for Christmas and then they send you pictures of how happy receiving a copy made them, or a stranger within your target audience comes up to you and says “I really enjoyed this.” It becomes worth it. You just need to know there’s two sides to every coin, and prepare yourself for both. There’s nothing wrong with drawing the shades and hiding from the world once in a while, though.

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Do you have a burning question for Helen? Feel free to email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Find Your Joy in Writing

            Write ‘til you bleed! Quit your day job! Write 2,000 words a day at least! You’re a failure if you don’t work for six hours straight! So the writing world seems to scream at us. At least with all the memes. Look doll face, you’re not James Patterson. You don’t have to produce a novel every month. Cool it.

            Right now I’m between novels. Writing them, I mean! I finished the first draft of book 4, sent book 2 off to an editor, and I am editing the first draft of book 3. I got wild and started in on book 5. Unfortunately, I completely forgot the format of the Gishlan books and messed it up so bad I had to throw the whole thing out and start over. Only I didn’t start over…

            I swear I’ve been meaning to! I’m really excited about it! It just needs a little more time to gestate in my head, I guess. In the main time I’ve been writing these short stories. I don’t care if they turn out terrible, and when I write them I’m sure no one will read them. So because I don’t care they’ve been turning out great! (If I do say so myself!) I sent one to my friend when she was having a bad day and it made her laugh. I broke all the rules! I used swear words as adjectives, I made my characters talk about sex, I made a pond demon appear with no setup for magic on the timeline. It was fun! And then I polished it up and sent it to a magazine.

            I honestly feel like my teenage self again (but without all the angst). When I was ages 14-19 my absolute favorite thing to do was to sit up all night writing, usually short stories, that were just pure fun! Even though writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. Once I published War and Chess I got a little too serious and it’s only now I’m falling back in love with the craft.

            What I’m driving at is this: Write for the joy of it! Even when you’re taking yourself seriously, (finally!) don’t let yourself suck the fun out of your writing because this is what you want from life. To write. Enjoy it. If writing 2,000 isn’t working for you don’t write 2,000 words in a day. If you don’t have six hours to write, don’t write for six hours. Quitting your day job is dumb. And honestly… How does one write ‘till they bleed? Chill and find the joy in it.

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