In Your Corner: Doing the Subtitle … Right

subtitle

Subtitles are tricky things, aren’t they?

No, we’re not talking about the ones at the bottom of that Netflix show you’ve been binge-watching lately (though we totally get it). We’re talking about book subtitles, those handy descriptive phrases which come after the colon in a book’s title on the front page. They often hint at a book’s content in terms of subject or theme or atmosphere, but each author approaches the subtitle differently. For example, you have the original fancy-pants subtitle, invented pretty much around the same time as the novel and the bound book. A classic example is pretty much anything scientific from the 19th Century, such as Revue D’Histoire Des Sciences: Et De Leurs Applications ….

subtitles

More current examples might include:

  1. Tangled In Life: A Lainey Kelso Mystery, by Mary Meckler (in which the subtitle clarifies the book’s genre as well as indicating that it is part of a series);
  2. Wednesdays With Jerry: A teacher, a student, and lessons to bring about the greatest of life’s stories, by Eane Huff (in which the subtitle sketches out some basic content points as well as placing the book as an inspiration memoir);
  3. Turnings: Love In A Time of War, by Chloe Canterbury (in which the subtitle sets the tone and names the stakes of the book);
  4. When KIWIs Flew: The Diary of a Mad Airline Entrepreneur, by Bob Iverson (ditto, only in this case the subtitle also hints at the book’s style and atmosphere too–light, wild, and intensely funny); and
  5. BULLYING: Applying Handwriting Analysis to Detect Potential Danger Signs and Effects, by David J. DeWitt, CGA (in which the subtitle takes a very serious approach to describing the book’s field of study, as is appropriate for a book which will keep company with peer-reviewed journals, textbooks, and medical handbooks).

As you can see, subtitles perform a variety of different functions–some of them more specifically coded for a particular genre than others, as in the case of strictly descriptive subtitles in the research-driven nonfiction area and more emotive subtitles in the case of fiction. (This would hold true for poetry, too.) Subtitles may not be the first thing potential readers see when they first pick up a copy of your book, but they’re an important follow-up punch to a well-crafted cover, and serve as a bridge between your title and the blurbs and descriptions which readers will find on your back cover. They often make a difference in whether a shopper will commit to buying your book on a deeply instinctual level!

There are, of course, some instances in which a subtitle is not necessary: when the author is a celebrity (and has widespread name recognition, like Kim Kardashian) or famous within a specific field and the book is addressed to people in that field (such as a book written by a famous doctor for doctors), and when a book is a straight-up literary fiction novel. Of course, these authors may still choose to take advantage of the benefits of a subtitle! (We won’t hold it against them.)

A good subtitle is succinct, to-the-point and crystal clear. Subtitles are not the zone for hazy atmospheric inferences and poetic rambles! A strong one will duplicate nothing in the regular title, but will instead expound upon what may be found between covers. The best subtitles provide a digital boost, too, in that they’re a playground for keywords which will better enable readers to find your book (and buy it, of course). Keyword-enriched subtitles make your book marketable, and this is not a benefit to be ignored!

And a side note:

Your book’s title is not protected by copyright, so neither is your subtitle. Its role must be to capture the interest of your audience and to make your book stand out among its peers on a crowded bookshelf, so it’s well worth taking a gander through some of your local libraries and bookstores to see what titles are already trending. You want yours to resonate with current trends–but also to strike a note of contrast, to set your book apart.

My recommendation? Don’t come up with your subtitle until after your book is complete. And if you feel insecure about the direction your title and subtitle are headed, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here for you! And we love being your sounding board.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Battling Burnout

What is burnout? I love this definition from Merriam Webster, which draws inescapable comparisons to combustion engines:

burnout definition

But chances are, if you’re a writer, you’re already well-acquainted with burnout–its symptoms, and its effects. This is because the act of writing is itself exhausting, even when it is also necessary and therapeutic and good for us. Writing saps a person’s physical and emotional energy reserves, tapping into both left and right brain by requiring both creative and analytical thinking … simultaneously.

Writing is work. It can be fun and wild and wonderful, but writing is work.

Luckily, there are ways to combat burnout and to write past the sticking point. Emmy Award winning Gene Perret, in a 2011 interview with Psychology Today‘s Carolyn Kaufman, says that writers are “not people who can be superb 24 hours a day. We must allow ourselves to be mediocre at times…maybe even semi-terrible at times.” He cites Shakespeare as an example of a famous author who was still constrained by the same laws of time and energy–and self-criticism. “Burnout,” he says, “is a real phenomenon. Writers get weary of turning out so much similar material. The best cure I’ve found for this situation is to retreat to some sort of vacation. Get away from it all.” He continues with an anecdote:

However, I’m talking more about a brief vacation. Get away from your desk and take a walk, watch something on television, read a chapter or two of a book, take a brief nap. Then come back to your task refreshed. Many times my partner and I would struggle to get a new sketch idea. It would be so hard that we would often have words with one another and sometimes partners almost came to blows. Then we go to lunch, tell each other a few stories, trade insults, pay our bill, come back to work, and discover that one or the other had come up with a great idea for a sketch. – Gene Perret

And look, we’re not all Gene Perret. We’re all going to require different means of getting over the hump and back into a place where we can write comfortably. But taking our cue from Perret’s suggestion of taking a break or a short “vacation,” here are five tips for combating burnout:

  1. Know the signs. Burnout can present differently from person to person, but generally it shows up as a constellation of symptoms: exhaustion, lack of motivation, an unfocused general negative attitude towards people and situations you normally enjoy or tolerate, memory and perception troubles, poor health, and quality fade in your writing. There are plenty of other things which might cause these symptoms, of course, so it’s well worth reaching out to a professional to help verify that your problems stem from burnout and not depression, chronic fatique, Lyme’s, or any of the other possibilities.
  2. Accept that this is burnout, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone runs out of gas sometimes, and it’s not a sign that you’re in the wrong profession or somehow otherwise “messing up.” It’s a sign that you need a break–nothing more or less.
  3. Unplug. You won’t truly ever get away from your writing unless you make a couple of big changes and physically distance yourself from the act of writing for a while. But you’ll also need to distance yourself from those sources of frustration and inspiration which remind you of writing, so it’s best to unplug not just the computer you type on but the smartphone or tablet you use to browse Twitter and Facebook and Instagram … and read New York Times Book Review and other works of literary criticism. A break means a break. A total distancing of yourself from the act of writing.
  4. Do something you’ve been putting off. For me, this is usually cleaning the house. I know, it’s disgusting. But I find cleaning does a good job of getting me out of my head and back into my body where I belong, and it also … well, it cleans the house. And having a clean, uncluttered workspace is vital to my own mental health, I’ve discovered. But maybe cleaning isn’t something you put off–maybe it’s going to the doctor, or the vet, or meeting up with friends. Maybe it’s a camping trip you’ve always wanted to go on but haven’t ever found the time for. Do the thing you never have time for when you’re chained to your writing desk!
  5. Remember your audience. As Pettit tells us in his interview, “Writing is a solitary profession. Many of us sit in a quiet room with only a keyboard for company. But to be a good writer, you must remember that there are readers out there. They’re waiting for what comes out of your printer. Keep them in mind and your writing will be all the better for it.” And your readers are why you do what you do, so don’t forget as you return from your break that you’re not just combating burnout because it feels bad and lowers your productivity–you’re in the battle because burnout alters your relationship to your readers, and they are a precious part of what you do.

burnout matchsticks

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: How to Rewrite WITHOUT Going Off the Deep End

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? FAcing the manuscript, the first draft, with the question “What’s next?” dying on our lips, and a growing realization sitting like a lead weight in our bellies: Rewriting. That’s what comes next. The Elysium Fields of publication seem to hurtle themselves back into the distance, once so close we could almost touch them, and that’s how we find ourselves staring at our computer screens at six in the morning, wondering how not to tear out our hair over the rewrite process.

I have some thoughts on that.

  • Take a clue from your normal writing habits.

This is assuming you have writing habits, of course. I’m an extremely disorganized writer, which means I’m writing at all times of days, usually in my pajamas with a cup of tea, but sometimes with a bowl of pretzels. Still, take a clue. Rewriting is often a point of contention because it doesn’t feel like “real writing”–it feels more like butchering something you produced while doing “real writing.” So put yourself in the same creative space, frame of mind, and habitual place as you would if you were generating new material–and make the leap to recognizing rewriting as an opportunity for creativity, too. Maybe if you feel the way you do about “real writing,” you can trick yourself into resenting it less! That’s my theory, anyway.

  • Pay attention to your body.

Some of the writers I went through school with ascribed to the “starving artist” stereotype, churning out reams of paper on old-school typewriters at 3 AM fueled solely by cigarettes and certain controlled substances. These authors were incredibly productive–to a point. They were also complete emotional wrecks who could do nothing else with their days than write (often disorganized) manuscripts. But you and I? We can’t afford to burn the candle at both ends, to let ourselves be eaten up by life-destroying fuels like these. We have lives and families to take care of, that we delight in taking care of, when we’re not writing. So writing, of course, has to take its place among an ever-changing, always difficult to manage, list of priorities … and the only way to manage them all is not to go off the deep end. So: pay attention to your body. You will produce your best work, and leave the most room for life outside of writing too, if you take care of this collection of bones and blood vessels and brain cells to the best of your ability. Write healthy, with a full meal under your belt and a full night’s sleep just over with. Don’t rely on anything that’s not good for you to be your brain fuel–even the seemingly harmless caffeine, which in point of fact is a strong bowel irritant and likely to break up your concentration with a half dozen bathroom breaks each writing session. (It also, naturally, will dehydrate you–even if you’re constantly chugging caffeinated liquids.)

  • Alternate between a “GET-UR-DONE” attitude & a more forgiving one.

Look, for some people, it’s never going to be fun, this rewrite thing. But constantly punishing yourself for not getting it done is counter-productive, and will leave you feeling more and more dissatisfied with the whole process over time, just as constantly forgiving yourself for not working on it will also snowball into a giant lump of self-loathing and regret. So: set yourself some deadlines, and carve out some time just to slam away at that keyboard. But also: establish some boundaries within which you can forgive yourself for not being as productive as you’d like, and etc. Always remember that rewriting, like “real writing,” requires moderation in all things. So alternate between those driven and those relaxed modes of working, and you’ll find yourself chipping away at the monolithic manuscript, despite your fear of the thing.

  • Accept change.

Duh, right? Only … no. This is actually the hardest part: reconciling your original vision for a book with what’s coming off of the page before you. There’s no more obvious place or time for this to happen than during the rewrite, when your analytical mind is hard at work trying to sew up loose ends and fix flaws. But producing something with a mind of its own isn’t a flaw–it’s a natural consequence of creating interesting characters who evolve past your original vision and into something greater, more complex, and … different. If you can, take a step back and admire the reality of what you’ve written instead of wasting time and energy bemoaning the departure from your intent. Then approach your book the way a professional editor might, from a mindset of: “This is what I’ve been given to work with, so how can I make it the best possible version of itself?” instead of feeling cheated of something different. You’re your own harshest critic, remember? And whatever you’ve put on the page, predicted or not, changed or not, is magnificent and wonderful–and we’re proud of you for it. Work with and not against this new and wonderful thing! You won’t regret it.

rewriting

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: What is Criticism & What Can It Do For Me?

The latent question lurking under the title of this post is perhaps a more honest one, but we’ll talk about honesty versus insight in a moment. You might say we’re going to spend this post looking at:

Can Criticism Be Anything Other Than A Tool Of The Snob & A Misery For Everyone Else?

But as you can see, that title is a bit too long to fit, despite feeling more accurate (to me, anyway. I suppose I’m projecting some of my fears here. Apologies if that doesn’t hold true for you!).

The last time I was in a setting where I was exposed to criticism of my writing from multiple points of view was during my last stint as a student. For many of you, that will also be true, but some of you are lucky enough to have stumbled across writing clubs and manuscript exchanges where you can get some of the same experiences outside of academia. This post is geared towards any author who is looking to develop some serious skills in giving and taking constructive criticism, however, not just those in structured group environments.

Here’s a truth:

No matter how well-prepared you are to receive it, any kind of correction or less-than-enthusiastic take on your writing can fall like a blow. The only times where this hasn’t felt true to me were when I was completely wiped out from pulling all-nighters and didn’t have the emotional capacity to take in what I was hearing. (Don’t be that person. Don’t stay up all night to get this effect! It comes with other problems. It’s not an admirable skill to cultivate.) Accept that it’s going to hurt, or feel uncomfortable, or at the very least come awkwardly.

If you relax too much, you might fall into the trap of being honest instead of insightful.

What do I mean by this? I mean that not everything is useful to hear. I’m being serious here. Not everything is useful to hear. The key to giving constructive criticism is in paying attention to both your own personal needs and to the expressed needs and wishes of your fellow writers. Don’t, for example, spend a lot of time breaking down spelling errors and grammatical issues if the author whose manuscript you’re reviewing has asked you to pay attention to plot holes and characterization. Maybe the spelling stuff can be dealt with later, or will naturally resolve itself as the author moves into his or her next draft. But it’s not something that will help that author right now, so it’s best to focus on what will.

Pro tip: when you’re the one receiving the criticism, you can’t always get people to act this way toward you … but you should always be free to lay some ground rules and boundaries for what sort of feedback you want. I’ve had professors give caveats at the beginning of every semester about how to respect and support other authors, so it’s worth approaching whoever is facilitating your group meetings and requesting this, or if you’re doing it digitally you can store some guidelines as a file on Dropbox.com or Google Docs for easy access. If your consortium is a little more casual than this, maybe take a line from Christopher Nolan’s movie, Interstellar:

 

Cooper: Hey TARS, what’s your honesty parameter?
TARS: 90 percent.
Cooper: 90 percent?
TARS: Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.
Cooper: Okay, 90 percent it is.

But look, you’re not a robot or a space-farer (probably), and you are in need of the support and guidance of your fellow authors. So how do you take part in that community in a way that produces construction (the building of something good and new) rather than a cataclysm of doubt?

Simplicity is the enemy.

Seriously, though. Saying “this story was badly written and I dislike it” is definitely critical, but it leaves no room for construction. Along the same lines, unabashed praise–“I loved it! It’s great!”–creates a similar vacuum of opportunity. A few small compliments throughout a critique may be helpful for keeping morale high, but they’re not your stock and trade. They can’t be your bread and butter, or no work will get done.

So complicate it. And ask for people to complicate their feedback, if it’s too simple.

Giving is as good as receiving, if not better.

Okay, maybe not better. But it’s important, this giving thing. Honing your critical capacities on someone else’s work–and seeing how other authors receive specific kinds of insights–will help you understand what to do with criticism when you’re on the receiving end of it … and it will also help you spot flaws in your own work before anyone else even looks at it. As other, wiser people have said: It’s one thing to develop a nagging sense that something is wrong with a work, but to be able to figure out where that sense of wrongness is coming from–character, language, plot, or something else–and then act to address it is what differentiates good authors from great authors.

 

It’s not personal.

It’s not, we promise, but it will sure feel like it is–especially if, as we mentioned earlier, someone takes a snobby approach (they’re no doubt working on some personal crisis of identity or insecurity of their own). Still, try to put aside your personal feelings, and bring an objective lens to what you’re looking at. Your manuscript and the manuscripts of others are mysteries waiting to be deconstructed and reconstructed. And even if you’re not a fan of the genre of manuscript you’re reading, you can still be useful to the author by putting your personal tastes aside and looking at the bricks and mortar of what makes for universally good storytelling.

Take notes.

Many workshops limit the author being critiqued from responding during the main critique session, but every group looks different. I’ve found that even without that restriction, simply watching and observing is more useful than trying to guide the conversation myself–if I do, I end up missing out on really useful advice I didn’t even think to consider asking for! So … take notes. It will distract you when the criticism is too pointed or your feelings too close under the surface, and it’s also just good advice for retaining detailed memories of the event. You can dispense with any advice that isn’t useful once you’re out and away from the session, or some advice might leap out to you later that didn’t in the moment. Time and distance is a great healer, no?

Lead with the positive.

Choose a handful of things the author did well–specific things–before diving into the rest of your critique. It’s also a good idea to end with a positive, for mood boosting effects. You can’t control how others do this on your work, of course, unless you make it a part of your collectively-agreed-upon rules for critiquing, as mentioned earlier. But remember, specific is vital. If you liked a character, what did you love about her? Was it her snappy dialogue, her peculiar tics and traits, or her back story as a mathematician during the Space Race that fascinated you?

Find your ideal reader(s).

Every workshop has one or two people who really know how to give good, useful, smart, and insightful constructive criticism. Latch on to those people and never let them go. Some of the people who were ideal readers while I was in college are still in touch today, and we still do good work together. There’s something symbiotic about it, of course–they get my work, and I get theirs, so the feedback goes both ways–but these people have become something more than just workshop fellows. They’ve become friends.

 

Joining a critique session is anxiety-inducing, there’s no mistake. But when everyone participates in good faith, it can be one of the most enriching experiences of your life as a writer.

“Don’t trust a mirror that only tells you how wonderful you look.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo

criticism

 

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: How Does One Stay Creative in the Midst of the Doldrums?

Have you ever struggled to figure out just how to keep generating good new material, as an author? Have you ever tangled with the doldrums when it comes to dredging up new ideas for marketing your self-publishing book?

Staying creative is hard.

Perhaps this is self-explanatory, or the sort of statement which prompts a “duh” reaction in some of our readers, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. Recognizing and honoring a difficulty like this is paramount in moving forward to address it. Denial is not a friend to productivity, on any level.

In all of my years working alongside self-publishing authors, one of the most common questions I receive is simply: “What else can I try?” The unspoken statement, uttered in the silences between words, is this: “I’ve run out of ideas, but I know I need to try something different since what I’m currently doing is not working or somehow not enough.” And perhaps that’s part of the difficulty; when authors go looking for just “enough,” they are hoping creativity will do what dogged persistence and dedication to craft won’t. They’re hoping creativity will level up their book’s success.

But that’s not strictly true. Creativity is a part of the whole, just as dogged persistence and dedication are. Creativity, however, differs greatly from those other two things, which can be counted on to produce measurable and reliable results. Generally speaking, if you put time and energy into something with persistence and dedication, you’ll be guaranteed to see results. Creativity, on the other hand, is fickle. It’s hard to qualify what it is, much less quantify what it does. I think of it as part of your navigation system; alone, it won’t get you anywhere, but it can certainly help you find your destination … but I don’t know, I think my metaphors tend to break down sooner than I can pin them down in pixels or on paper.

Instead of digging myself a deeper hole to step in, I thought I might shift gears a little bit, and talk about some of the tried-and-true methods to coax creativity out of hiding. What are some ways we can boost our creativity in at least a semi-reliable fashion?*

creativity listening

Ten Starter Tips to Summon Creativity

  1. Sleep (& walk to work) with a notebook and pen. The best ideas crop up when we least expect them, which is why it’s important to … well, expect them. Put yourself in the best possible position to jot down those nuggets of dream-time wisdom (at night) and kinetic inspiration (while you’re on the move) and contemplative excellence (when you’re at work, or eating dinner). And just as important as writing them down is the need to do something with them … so schedule a half hour or more every day to expand one of your jotspirations into something that later might fit into your larger project. Don’t put too much pressure on the individual pieces to become anything; they’ll assemble into something larger or inform your work as you go.
  2. Change your project. This is the scariest item on the list, perhaps. But it’s important to be open to changing directions mid-stream, no matter how far along in your project you are. I’ve known artists to destroy eight or nine of every ten artworks because they weren’t what they wanted, and I’ve known authors to strike one of every two pages during the editing stage, or delete entire drafts and start over from scratch. This might be a bit extreme for you, and there’s no need to go that far if it doesn’t fit your feeling for what’s right, but you should pay attention to your intuition. Is your current manuscript headed where you want it to? Has what you want changed? Should it?
  3. Steal like an artist. Beg, borrow, steal. You know how it goes: we are what we read, what we see, what we witness. Instead of feeling shame or repugnance at stealing from others whose work you admire, consider instead a system by which you acknowledge, pay homage to, honor, and celebrate these influences. I guarantee you that you already have a number of influences that are bleeding into your work; it’s simply a matter of recognizing them and working with them as a feature rather than a distraction.
  4. Get up earlier, don’t stay up later. Quite a few items on this list could have been taken up with “self-care” instructions, but use this item as the lynchpin of a body-friendly, healthy writing strategy. Studies show that getting up earlier (and going to bed earlier to account for the difference) and eating well, getting out and about, and seeking out friendly company are all significant physiological boosters for creativity and productivity both. You won’t be able to pin down your inspiration if you can’t even concentrate, so take the time and set a schedule which allows you to inhabit the best, healthiest possible body–and therefore create the best possible work you can.
  5. Read, read, read. Books are food for the soul, friends for the lonely, and so many other things. They’re also the raw material we chew up in our heads and turn into fuel for inspiration. Don’t shut down the assembly line which delivers this vital ingredient of your work! Spend as much time reading as you do watching television or scrolling through your Facebook timeline, and I guarantee your work will benefit.
  6. Diagram it. Not all brains work the same way, but many brains benefit from branching out and trying out some of the tried-and-true methods of people who might be gifted in other ways. Case in point? I am terrible at math. Or at least, I wasn’t a fond student of the subject. I’m a rather predictable writer in that I love words, words, always words–but once in a great while, when I get stuck, I find I really benefit from posing the question: “What would my friend A. do?” A. is an engineer and gifted mathematician. And what would she do? She’d diagram the thing. She’d figure out how to visually represent the component parts of an ongoing project: inputs, outputs, time and energy budgets, and the architecture of the piece itself. Seeing it laid out in this way helps me grasp where the holes are, and where to spend (or “budget”) my next writing session.
  7. Sing in the shower. No, seriously. Get up out of your chair if you’re struggling and go take a shower. Eat a piece of fruit. Pears are great for this, as are apples. Did you know a single apple contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso? True fact. I heard that one from my family doctor. Kick up your heels; put the radio on for a minute and go for a drive, just because. Belt out one of your favorite songs as if no one was listening. (If they are and don’t like it, well they can go lump it.) Get your blood moving, and vary your activities every fifteen or thirty minutes while writing.
  8. Clean your work space. Ha. Yeah, I know, I’m not doing too good on this front myself right now. But it’s a fact that most people operate best, focus best, when their work spaces are organized and cleared of clutter. Also, the act of cleaning often knocks out some of the cobwebs, maybe even knocks some new ideas loose. Don’t underestimate the power of those bubbling shower cleansers and elbow grease in prompting creativity to scuttle out of some dark corner.
  9. Finish something. And by this I mean: “If you can’t finish the big project, finish a little one.” It can be something related to your piece, as in, a chapter or a paragraph. And reward yourself for this! Or it can be something completely unrelated to your writing, like cleaning the bathroom or writing a thank-you letter to your niece for that lovely Christmas gift you forgot to mention earlier. (Oops.) Some people call this procrastination–but if you recognize the need to vary your tasks, and turn it into a productive deviation, one that you can reward yourself for finishing, your morale will spike. Just make sure you do get back around to writing again afterward.
  10. Count the ways. Count the ways you’re doing well. More than anything, struggling with creativity can sap your self-confidence, your morale, and your sense of your work’s value. But you’ve done so much good work already! Make a list, maybe, but no matter how you count the ways, make sure you celebrate each and every accomplishment!

*PLEASE NOTE: These tips are tricky, and the object elusive. If you’re struggling to make any one of them work (that is, you’re struggling to summon that spirit of creativity), there’s nothing at all wrong with you or with your methods, necessarily. There are no failures in the pursuit of creativity, merely delays. And as always, if you’re facing a daunting prospect, remember that we’re here for you, both to commiserate and offer up all of the expertise we collectively have on offer.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Hook, Line, and Sinker

fishing reading hook

Hooking your reader is, shall we say, important. There. I don’t want to dance around the point, because that is the point–when it comes to getting a potential reader to become an actual reader, or better yet, an actual reader who buys your book, you don’t wan to hedge around the issue. You want to go straight at it, and nail it down with a few well-placed expert strategies.

So how does one hook a reader?

As with actual fishing–the kind involving scales and tails flopping in the bottom of your boat–there are different methodologies and categories of fishing, and within those categories there are umpteen number of hook varieties.

There’s what you do with the text itself.

Don’t worry, I won’t draw out the analogy much farther, and I won’t compare any one strategy to fly fishing vs reel fishing vs net fishing vs spear fishing. I will leave those distinctions to your imagination instead and simply say this: The first line has to count. And the first paragraph. And the first page. In the digital age more than ever before, a book has to sink its teeth into a reader immediately. Gone are the days of Tolstoy, sad as this is to say, when readers were more likely to give a book a couple hundred (or thousand, even) pages before passing judgment. These days, we are all bound by the necessity to impress in an online preview, such as the “Look Inside!” feature provided on Amazon.

It’s not such a bad thing; pithy first lines and impactful first pages are not the worst thing in the world, and neither is a reader’s predilection to choose a sure hit over uncertainty. I like to think of the root cause as something other than simply that tendency towards “instant gratification” which many people tend to levy against younger people as a kind of weaponized term; when it comes to picking books, people of all ages tend to make their choices much the same way. No, I like to think of the “first line fever” as the natural and healthy response to a world simply saturated with possible books to read.  People have to narrow the list somehow, and previews are an effective, efficient way to do this. (Ever been overwhelmed just walking into a bookstore or library with how many good books there are out there that you’ll never have a chance to read, simply because of time and quantity? I have.)

Self-published books have long been known for their first lines, as Andy Weir’s The Martian exemplifies. (I won’t repeat it here, since it includes some language.) Indie authors have the freedom to push boundaries and that can result in some pretty wonderful things, so if you’re looking to ramp up your opening pages, take the time to immerse yourself in examples that worked and which you admire. Many people will point you towards Jane Austen and the classics; but remember, they had a different audience.

But there’s also what you do with the book once it’s written.

I’m talking about marketing, as you might have guessed. But I’m also talking about presentation. If first lines are about first impressions, so too is your back cover copy, your cover design, and your online presence. To quickly and effectively hook a reader, you want to present yourself and your book as easy to access. Make sure your social media platform is well-developed and that your website and book page listing on Amazon are as rich with information and as sharply-written as your first page. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t pay to beat around the bush when it comes to presenting your work to the world. And if your book looks beautiful online and in the hand when someone pulls it off of a bookstore shelf, they are so much more likely to pick it up.

I suppose, really, at the base of everything I’ve said here is the assumption that you’ll be self-publishing in a world gone so thoroughly digital that most book purchases are made online. There are a lot of politics and high feelings surrounding this issue, but it is the current state of things, and worth paying attention to no matter where you fall on the matter. And if you still haven’t found your hook (or hooks) and are struggling to figure out the next step, we’re here for you in the comment section below and would love to point you towards even more specific strategies.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Resolve!

What is resolve? And why do we talk so much about it at this time of year? Simply defined, the word can either be a noun or a verb, a thing or an action we espouse, involving firmness of purpose and determination to reach some sort of goal.

resolve definition

So why do we do this whole “New Year’s Resolutions” thing? Is it because starting a new year somehow frees us up to do things we weren’t able to do before? Unlikely. Or is it because, historically, many cultures have a tradition of ceremonially marking the passing of an old year by letting go of past worries and struggles? Possibly. My personal theory is that New Year’s Resolutions came about as a combination of cultural ceremony and human psychology, wherein people find it useful and perhaps easier to lay the groundwork for big tasks or challenging years if they do it all at once, while they’re in a certain frame of mind. And the winter holidays in North America are the perfect time for reflection; in many parts of the continent, we’re all stuck inside due to forbidding weather, and exhausted by the passing of a full year. Holidays like the one we’ve just had give us some much-needed emotional distance from our experiences, past and future, that can be fuel for making plans for change.

new year's resolutions

As authors, our resolutions automatically look a little … different. We might also resolve to go on diets or quit smoking or any of the other “top tens” out there, but we usually sneak a couple of writing-related objectives into the list, too. And with so many people setting the goal of publishing their next book in 2017, there are some specific resolutions which might be of use to you which I thought I might mention here–ways in which you can achieve your dream of book publication in time.

  1. Keep writing, and keep it structured. At least, you know, to the extent which is useful. I started scheduling an hour before getting ready for work each morning during NaNoWriMo this last November, and that has proven to be a habit I can more or less stick to now. Very useful for me, personally. It may not be useful for you. But one thing is certain–no matter when you schedule yourself to write, make sure that you do make it a habit. Publishing means very little if you give up on the thing you love most: writing more books!
  2. Lock in a deadline for your first draft. If you write for an hour a day, you can reasonably expect to finish a first draft within two to three months of steady writing. It doesn’t need to be a full draft, but it does need to capture the main essence of what you’re trying to get at. You can go back and diagnose problems of plot and characterization later, but if you agonize over the details during the drafting stage, you’ll never get it done. I speak from personal experience.
  3. Lock in a deadline for your second draft, too. A second draft is where you fill in all the big blank spaces you left while drafting the first manuscript, and maybe address some of the larger issues of pacing and structure. I recommend another two months for this process.
  4. Stop writing–and stop editing, too. Once you have a good second draft in hand, it’s time to leave the writing desk for a little while and look for some outside assistance. Layer your personal crew of early readers–family and friends–with the expertise of a professional editor. I can’t emphasize the importance of this professional help enough! Our friends and family are wonderful, but they tend to be bound by affection in some ways, or they  might lead busy lives which prevent them from giving your manuscript their full, expert attention. And I recommend seeking professional advice at this stage because you still have the emotional room to make big edits and changes without feeling as though you’re butchering the text. A copyeditor, later on, can catch your spelling mistakes and so forth, but a true professional edit at this stage will help you fix character flaws, plot holes, and large-scale disorganization. Very important. And editors are available in many places, including through Outskirts Press.
  5. You guessed it–schedule your last round of edits. Give yourself that deadline, maybe a month or two out. This will bring you to six months from today–June of 2017. And that gives you a couple of months before Awards Season rolls around to get your book to a self-publishing company and out into the world, making you eligible for those awards submission deadlines.

And that’s it! I highly recommend keeping your resolutions simple and straightforward, and of course … don’t punish yourself if you perceive yourself somehow “falling short.” Resolutions are guidelines and motivators, and should not ever be a source of shame. Use what’s useful, and lose what’s a distraction, I say! And may 2017 be a year of firm resolve for all of us!

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.