I Swear I Don't Work For Goodreads

            It makes me feel like a product of my generation but having an online presence as an author is paramount. Even if you’re running around doing book signings people want to be able to Google you before you get there. The biggest problem with indie books (an all-encompassing term for self-published books and books from small presses) is that they never reach the hands of people who would read them because those people don’t know they exist.

            Now there is an easy way to combat this. You don’t have to be super computer savvy or a tech guru. (Trust me, it’s taken me years of hard work to get this far.) Goodreads. I highly encourage you to go look into creating an author account on Goodreads dot com. When you sign up you will be able to set your own author page up with a photo of you, a small bio, a list of your published works, and more! If you get really brave you can post blog updates, short stories, and list your favorite books to share with your fan base. Really, a page like that gives the librarians who are making posters for your upcoming book signing enough information to make an informative flyer. *COUGH*

            If you’re a self-published author or a small press owner you definitely want to make sure the information on all of your books is on Goodreads. People like me like to brag about how smart we are and how much we read (I’m kidding). There is a feature on the site that allows Goodreads users to update their reading progress as they go. I often update my Twitter following with every page turn so the books I love can gain more visibility. At the very least, if you’re a published author you need to go make sure your book’s information is true and correct, which you can do as soon as you finish creating your author profile.

            No matter what you do in this day and age, being visible on the World Wide Web as an entertainer is important. Goodreads is a great way to get your feet wet if you’re iffy on the whole computer thing. I swear, I don’t work for Goodreads! It’s just helped my career, and helped me help other authors. That is why I recommend it so highly.

 

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Write From Your Own Voice

            I’m all for giving the “go sit on a tack” to “write what you know”. You think I know what it’s like to be royalty in a monarchial society? What it’s like to use a sword on another human being? My work in progress involves a sassy, pregnant, woman, with shorn hair, who’s in charge of leading a nomadic tribe, and their prisoners, through a wide expanse of forest. I happen to be sassy but that’s about the only thing this main character (MC) and I have in common.

            I also enjoy reading Amy Tan’s work. It occurred to me the other evening while reading The Joy Luck Club that I will never be able to pattern my work after hers. I think all fresh creators have a master they wish they could be like. But I will never be able to write what it’s like to be part of a Chinese-American family living in San Francisco. If you haven’t read Amy Tan’s auto-biography I highly recommend it. She and I have had completely different life experiences and that’s not something to despair over. It’s something to celebrate. She can’t write like me, either.

            I don’t mean to send you mixed signals, but what I’m trying to say is that not every novel you write has to be a thinly veiled portrayal of your own life, nor does it have to be something completely disaligned from your perception of reality. I often find that the books written to please crowds of people and [hopefully] top best seller’s lists are dry things that feel like they were pasted together with the whims of an entire nation. I don’t like them. As a reader, I want to hear your voice shine through your work. I don’t need to know how good you are at using a thesaurus. I find the most well written books read like having a conversation with someone. Write like you talk! Be yourself when you write.

            That being said, although I write fantasy I can confirm I’m not delusional enough to believe I live in a fantasy world. (Ask me about the lengths my fantasy writer friends and I go through to make sure we’re not mocking things like physics.) No matter how fantastical I get there’s always one thing at the heart of every story that makes it mine. My voice.

            Don’t feel obligated to write what you know. Do write like you. Write from your own voice. Do not write like the writer you admire.

 

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Making the Most of Research

            Writing a book often goes hand-in-hand with researching the subjects you’re writing about. If the character is a mechanic, the author needs to know a decent amount about cars and what a mechanic does to fix them. No writing, except for maybe an autobiography, is without its simultaneous research. (Even stories that seem simple.)

 

                Research can seem daunting and terrifying, mostly because there’s so much that someone needs to know.  If a character needs to know everything about a subject, it seems like the author needs to know the same amount. But if your story is about a grouchy mechanic putting together an old ’67 Chevy from his childhood, you as the author probably don’t need to know anything about BMWs.

 

                There are lots of different types of resources, especially on something that involves life experience. There are often nonfiction books explaining the mechanics of what you’re researching (for an example, how an autoimmune disease affects the body), as well as memoirs describing people’s personal experience. If you can’t find a memoir, try reaching out online for people who have similar life experiences to the one you’re planning on writing about.

 

                With so many resources and so much knowledge available in today’s modern, technological age, it can be hard to decide what your characters need to know. If they are an expert hacker, do they need to know everything about computers, or just the software? If you know too much about a subject, the story can be hard to get through as a reader, but knowing not enough can make it inaccurate and feel unrealistic. Therefore, it becomes a challenge to find just the right balance of research. You can’t have too wide of a field.

 

                “Everything” is too much to learn, but “just this one part” is too specific and will you’re your character seem too much like a fictional creation. Narrowing down your research can be hard, so here’s some tips:

 

                Decide what your character needs to know. If your character has cancer, they need to have a patient’s understanding of their cancer, not a doctor’s knowledge of every kind of cancer in existence. If your character is a Shakespeare nut, they probably don’t need to know everything about every playwright of Shakespeare’s time. Let your research only involve what the character needs to know – anything else will be overwhelming.

 

                Learn about what you’re writing about. Maybe your character is a dancer, but you don’t know anything about the dance world or even how a dance class works. Talk to someone who does, find books about dancing, and ask dance students. Real-life research can sometimes be better than reading books about something. Even if your character doesn’t have explicit information about the world they exist in, the world still needs to feel accurate and real.

 

                Know just a little bit extra. Even if your main character doesn’t need to know everything about their situation or world, it’s never bad to know a little bit extra. There may be a character, such as a doctor, with a higher level of information, or you may find in editing that you want to add a little extra detail. It’s never bad to know extra, but researching large amounts makes it harder for you to remember what you know.

 

                As long as you know what you need to know to write your next best-seller, you can research it. Online databases, libraries, and people with life experiences are all great resources for you to learn about the thing that will make your story just a touch more realistic. If you follow the simple steps above and find good resources to match them, you might just find that researching your stories can be fun!

 

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The Root of Your Writer’s Block May Be Insecurity

            In this blog post we’re going to talk about feelings. Run while you still can.

             In recent years around this time I get a serious case of the Christmas blues. I have lost a lot of close friends throughout the years, and not so much as sending them a Christmas card reminds me of their absence. Because those close relationships had to end I begin examining myself, asking myself what part of my behavior led to the breakdown of our friendship. Because I try to place the blame on myself I become insecure. When I feel like something within me doesn’t meet the measure I suddenly find myself unable to write.

            Sometimes you need to stop looking for what your characters are doing next and look inside yourself to see what’s holding you back. It’s not what you want to hear but sometimes it’s best to shove through, write some short stories (because giving up isn’t an option), ride out life’s storm’s, and write. Write even if your main character just happens to be intensely studying the wood grain of a table! You can always edit it out later!

            Sometimes it’s not the pen and page you need to look it. It’s the hand that’s holding it.

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The Recipe for a Successful Book Signing

            Take 12 ounces of published book
            100-300 pounds of enthusiastic author
            Add a venue
            and some curious bookworms

            Yield one book signing

            If only it were that simple! At the heart of it it is but from being on both sides of a book signing— the venue host and the author, it’s also not. Last month Joan and I discussed how authors should approach libraries to ask about having a book signing. We came up with so much helpful information I felt the need to split it into two articles. Once you’ve landed the book signing, and hopefully several in a row from several different libraries so you can do a book tour, then comes the hard part. The execution!

            You’ve got your presentation planned, right? No? Fret not. It’s not as terrible as it sounds. Public speaking frightens everyone. The trick is to be confident but not conceded, and humble but not shy. One of my favorite quotes is “Writing is show business for the shy.” From Lee Child. That’s why I treat book signings like concert nights. (I also sing and play the trumpet. I don’t make time for either now.) For any performance you dress up, show up early, and have a well-rehearsed plan for what you’re going to do once you have a room full of people’s eyes on you. I even do my preshow rituals in my car. Think of going through your presentation like putting on a show. Not public speaking. (Public speaking burns!)

            For the content of a presentation: Think of some questions your friends ask about writing when they take you out to lunch. Write those down, then answer them confidently in a projected tone that the entire room can hear. Honestly, it helps to pretend you are either friends with or becoming friends with the audience. When CJ Box was here the crowd spoke to him like they all knew him, and he spoke back in the same manner. They were a crowd of people who had been following his work for years, who had been hearing his voice in their minds for years. They did know him well because it was like they had been one sided pen pals with him for years. And he knew them because they had been the ones breathing life into his career. The audience is either your friends or people who want to be your new friends. Tell them about what inspired you to write the thing, what kept you going, which publisher did you use and why, what drives the plot. All of it! They’re all very curious book worms who are very excited to see you.

            One of the things that phased me the most for my first book signing(s) was “Omigosh, what am I going to wear?” What does “dress nice” and “business casual” even mean? At the time I published my first book I was a dewy eyed 20 year old with crazy hair. I had no idea. So a lot like I did for job interviews, I had a book signing shirt. It was white and I paired it with black slacks. A lot like I did for concert nights as a kid. Having one thing I’d wear for book signings made it easier because it was one less thing to think about during the event but the downside was that, unlike job interviews, pictures of you show up on social media. Everyone knows you’re wearing the same shirt. No one’s called me out on it so I haven’t ever changed my evil ways. Really, wear whatever it is you’d wear if you worked in an office (I didn’t at the time so that was unexplored territory). Either way, the goal with your look is to look like you want to be there and meant to be there.

            Another tip: Buy a cash box and keep $50 of $1’s and $5’s. It helps to have someone run the cash box so you can schmooze. It works even better if the person running it isn’t your identical twin. That way people who saw your picture before the event won’t ask your cash-man questions about writing books.

            Don’t do exactly what I do before every event we host at the library. Don’t get stressed up! Go with the mindset that you’re there to have a good time. That’s what the audience wants to have too. They left the comfort of their homes to be entertained, meet this cool person who wrote a book, and have a good time. Go make some new friends!

            All you need to remember is have a plan, have another plan, be a showman, the audience wants to be your friends if they’re not already, show up early, dress nicely, watch the cash box, and act like you want to be there.

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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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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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NaNoWriMo is Weird

            Let me start by saying I am a self-proclaimed NaNoRebel. This isn’t a dis post. I really love what the organization does on a grand scale! National Novel Writing Month is a good thing! I will friend you on the site and support the snot out of you! (I’m nelehjr) This will be my third year organizing the Come Write In Space at our library. NaNoWriMo is amazing!

            But NaNoWriMo is also weird.

            Write an entire novel? In a month?! Are you nuts?! I’m pretty sure I’d sprain something, if not then I’d definitely let it take a toll on my mental health. Don’t these people know I work for a living?! I don’t just flick my wrist and a book falls out! (I write by hand. There’s a lot of wrist flicking.)

            I used to get a little sick to my stomach every November 1st. Everyone who knew me would say “Oh Helen, you write! Are you going to do that NaNoWriMo thing?” So. Much. Pressure. Writing is the only thing I’ve been dead set on doing with my life and passionate about. Sometimes I get a little too intense. But how could I be a real writer if I couldn’t and wouldn’t even attempt with all manner of Hell-bent determination, try?

            NaNoWriMo made me face down my biggest personality fault (my intensity) and leap over my biggest hurtle (finding balance). I knew that if I tried to meet the full goal like all the other writers were doing I’d hurt myself. I’d sacrifice things like sleep, personal hygiene, coming to work on time, eating, spending time with loved ones. I’d write. That’d be all. One year I decided to set a personal goal to write one sentence per day, at the very least. Honestly, that helped! A lot! I got to feel included, I got held accountable, it set some good habits, but best of all I got to tell people what I was working on! I used to be super private about my work and wouldn’t let anyone know about it until I had it finished and polished. But now it’s kind of fun because people get really invested before you even finish your story!

            So, dear friends, I say we begin the revolution. I am a self-proclaimed NaNoRebel because I like to be included but I know full well I’m not going to complete the full challenge. It’s okay if you know your limits and NaNoWriMo’s goals are far above them. NaNoWriMo is weird. Don’t sacrifice your health to participate, but NaNoWriMo is for everyone and you can still participate! There’s even a “NaNoRebel” badge on their website! Try it out, test out having a community of writer friends, and writing goals. NaNoWriMo is an awesome opportunity to challenge yourself just don’t hurt yourself doing it.

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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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Some Advice for Facebook

            Well, I’m a little peeved because I have a long night of computer work ahead of me. This is a piece of advice you probably won’t hear from too many other people because it’s oddly specific… Make sure it’s easy to tag you in event photos on Facebook!

            So. My oddly specific problem: After Wyoming Author Day I, the library’s web manager, tried to go through and tag all of the authors via their professional Facebook pages. It came to my attention that I’m the only one who has a page under their book’s name, not their pen name. Thinking back, people had tagged me in author photos on my semi-private “Helen the Human” page. You know, the part of Facebook you keep posting vacation photos to? Selfies for your gramma? That sort of thing. The content only your friends can see. I don’t want people from the public part of my life in the private part of my life. But! The poor web manager from your recent public event won’t go looking to tag the name of your book(s), they’ll go looking for you.

            Do yourself a favor, especially if you’re not published yet, put your public page under your pen name. When I wrote War and Chess I didn’t expect to make it a series. So I made the “War and Chess” Facebook page. Now I’m working on making a series that takes place in Gishlan (I’m taking a break before I write book 5 and I’m in the middle of editing book 3), and I don’t only write about Gishlan, much less fantasy. *Looks around* Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore! This is blog isn’t Gishlan!

            It’s going to take me a max of three hours to go through the strenuous process of changing the page. It’s not just submitting a name change request, which Facebook will generally deign until you appeal it twice, it’s also rebranding, and tracking down all the graphics I use to decorate my Twitter and Instagram, both under my pen name. Then last but not least, I have to change my personal page enough that the two won’t be easily confused.

            In conclusion, right from the get-go, act like the bestselling author you’ve always wanted to be and celebrate your talent, not your individual pieces of work. Own your name.

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