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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Take Some Time To Write Your Book

            My first book took me five years. By the time I had gotten it published it had eaten a quarter of my life. I still can’t picture my life without writing. Some of my absolute favorite indie books (meaning they’re not mainstream) took ten or more years to find their publishing house. They’re the kind of books I’ve mutilated with dog ears, and sticky tabs, and then rather than lending them out to my friends I buy them copies for Christmas.

            As a reader, you can tell when an author just blew through the making of a book just to add another to their list of publications. I’ve even seen best sellers do it. I’ll pick on one of my favorite series, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. The first book was amazing. I loved it! I lent it out to all of my friends and then my buddy and I, being the broke 20-somethings we were, started trading off buying the books in the series. I don’t think reading past the third book is worth it. I watched my favorite series slowly deteriorate into a pile of nothing-really-interesting-is-happening-but-hey-we-got-600-pages-of-it. When that happens in a series I love I blame a combination of pressure from fans, pressure from the publishing houses, and most of all, a lack of time to deliver.

            I have one simple rule with writing: It needs to at least age overnight before I set it free to the public. Even these blog posts! Way back in Elementary school, our teacher Mrs. Felton, had us write short stories. One day, when we went to edit, I remember her saying “Now look at these stories with fresh eyes… My teacher always told us that. I always wondered, ‘What does it mean? You want me to get some visine?’” She blinked her eyes twice for dramatic affect to make us laugh. “No! No it does not! It means read your own story like you’ve never see your own story before!”

            Of course a chorus of “Who wrote this pile of malarkey?” rang out from her students as they made fun of themselves.

            To help myself see my own work with fresh eyes I let it sit at least overnight. If I didn’t sleep then it’s 24 hours!

            As for novels, I personally cannot write one of those in an hour or two. I write the first draft by hand because notebooks are easy to carry, worthless if stolen, have no distractions, and are all around less cumbersome. After I finish one I spend some time in that odd in-between. No works in progress, and no editing. (It feels wrong!) The first round of editing is typing it up on a computer. Then over the course of a few months I edit it, and edit it, and edit it. My coffee table is the chest that holds various editions of my manuscripts. It kind of makes home home to a writer.

            Once upon a time my career goals were one book, per year, until I die. Much to my displeasure it’s been three years since I published my first and last book. I’m still trying to find the right publisher! I’ve had a few offers but I didn’t take them. Instead of hitting the shelves my manuscript, Tales from the Gishlan Wood has found its way into the hands of a capable editor. I’m always excited to have someone with better English skills than I have to look over my work! By the time it’s finished going through the ringer I’m sure it will be the best version of itself it possibly can be!

            So take some time to write your book! Enjoy making it! Edit it until you can’t stand it! Pass it around to your friends who would edit it for you in exchange for lunch! Don’t just throw it out there to say you threw it out there. Make sure your book is the best version of your book it possibly can be.

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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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No one is going to Support You if You Don’t Give Them the Chance

            When I was in high school I didn’t tell anyone I wrote. Maybe adults at whatever luncheon I got dragged to that week to impress them but not anyone I thought I’d have to see again within the next year. I never really told my peers. Why didn’t I? I was so afraid I wouldn’t be good enough and I’d get made fun of.

            I’m sure people saw me physically writing. I remember a bunch of art kids staring at me like I’d grown a third head while writing poetry on a bus to Art Symposium. My friend slapped me on the arm and said “Helen, quit writing and draw something! You’re freaking them out!”

            I glanced at a girl wearing two colors of eyeshadow, blue and pink; then to a boy with lime green spikes in his hair, and all their friends who looked just like them. They were in fact staring. “So what?” It took a lot of self-control to go back to writing and not snap at each and every one of them.

            Suddenly, in my 20th year of life I wouldn’t stop blasting my Facebook friends with ads for my first publication. “It took me five years to get here.” I told them in a post.

            “Omigosh, Helen! We hung out every day back in high school! I had no idea you wrote!” one friend said. I think she felt guilty for not knowing. And I felt guilty for not telling her. It felt too risky! I was blessed with a string of awesome English teachers (Mrs. McCafferty, Ms. Holroyd, and Mrs. Harshberger in that order!) but I remember darting through the hall with my War and Chess manuscript freshly edited by Ms. Holroyd. It was a glossy purple folder and I wouldn’t tell anyone what was inside. “It’s from a teacher.” I said ominously so the other kids would leave it be.

            When I published my first book everyone showed up, showed out, and bought a copy. I was grateful for all the support. Now people ask me all the time “When is the next one coming out?!” [and God knows I wish I had an answer!] So while I’m waiting to find a publishing house I’ve been posting updates on the series I never realized would become a series, via a social media, and a ton of poetry on Wattpad. A few short stories here and there too. It’s awesome to see that I have a fan base that is so involved and so supportive of my work! There’s even people I’ve never met in person cheering me on. And of course, plenty of people I do know too. What I’m driving at is that if you don’t put yourself out there no one is going to support your work. How can they if they don’t know you’re working?

            My advice? Put yourself out there! My handwriting is terrible so I’m able to post #Aesthetic pictures of my works in progress on Instagram. So somewhere out there there are people invested in the snippits I give them. A ton of people I’ve never met are invested in me “dragging a pregnant woman through the woods while she chants swear words under her breath and a bunch of people follow her around asking her ‘what do we do now?’” and my ‘sassy half-mermaid child who’s favorite weapon is that look”.

            I mainly use Instagram these days. It helps me get my messages out to three other social media sites to reach a broader audience. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Instagram has turned me into a bit of a photographer. It’s all visually oriented so there’s quite a bit of pressure to make things pretty. Filters can do wonders. Trust me. Sometimes you just have to make ordinary things seem extraordinary. Like, while on vacation I took a walk in a field and wrote next to the creek until sundown. I made a collage of all the pictures I took and simply said “Had a great writing sesh out in the bushes. Wild roses, hawthorn, and blackberries. I only came out with one scratch!” Don’t forget your hashtags. It’s how people with similar interests find you. I recommend starting with Facebook if you’re just learning.

            Aside from being active on social media it helps to write for different platforms. Find someone with a blog that needs guest writers! (There’s a ton of blogs. I promise there’s one that suits your interests.) For instance, I am a young adult fantasy author. But I also have written devotionals for several Christian newsletters, blogs, and other assorted projects. It doesn’t have to be in your genre. You just need to know what you’re talking about. It works best if you try for a more competitive market, like Wyoming Writers of WyoPoets.

            Earlier I mentioned Wattpad. So far it’s my favorite story sharing platform. I’ve tried Figment, Quizilla, its predecessor Quotev, Teenink was wonderful and gave me a springboard for my career but I aged out, Goodreads, Get Underlined, Deviant Art, and probably a few more I’ve forgotten. Wattpad is my favorite because it’s got such an active community there’s actually people there to interact with your work. It’s also got a really diverse selection of reading material. But as with any site, if you want the site to work for you you have to interact with it.

            Self-publishing has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people and it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated than when I jumped into the book bizz at 14 years of age. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions. As I am not a self-published author and I do not know that sect of the industry well at all. Also, I don’t want to color anyone’s thinking with my opinions and speculation. However, self-publishing is fantastic way to deliver your final product into the hands of your readers. Read more about the different types of publishing in this previous blog post. It all depends on you. Is the end game getting as much as you can, as fast as you can to your readers?

            Sometimes, the best thing, if you’re really shy is handing your work over to strangers. There’s 1 million different social media sites and social apps. A lot of them mirror Snapchat with their “stories” feature. Take for instance Bottled. There’s a ton of apps just like this one. But this app could potentially throw your work to a few people around the globe who may or may not appreciate your short stories and poetry.

            What matters is that you try. That you tell people you’re creating. That you give yourself the chance to build a fan base. That you put yourself out there. Honestly, you just might be surprised to see who comes along to support your dreams.

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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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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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