Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Final Chapter

by all of us

It is not with sadness, but melancholy, that we at From The Write Angle announce we are disbanding, inter-marrying and moving into condominiums.

Wait, that was Doonesbury.

We have only been the imaginings of an autistic boy looking into a snow globe. … No, that was St.Elsewhere.

The war is over – nope, M*A*S*H.

We can’t continue because we’ve been jailed for criminal indifference. We haven’t, that was the characters of Seinfeld, but maybe we should all do a little time for that offense.

What we’re trying to say is we are moving on.

From The Write Angle began in 2011 on the premise that we are often best helped not by those who have reached the top of the climb, but by our peers just a rung or two ahead of us. As a collection of writers at different levels on the ladder, we offered our thoughts from our point of view, our angle.

But our angles have changed. Each of us has kept to our own climb, which now takes us away from this blog.

For our readers who have journeyed with us, thank you. We hope we have helped. For those who have just found us, we leave behind these articles not as sage advice, but just as clues, hints, of how we got where you are now, with the hope that they will guide you toward a better tomorrow.

And we wish that your success will one day inspire others.

In the comments of this post each of the contributors to From The Write Angle, past and present, will write a little something about where they were when they joined us, and where they are now. After that, the automatic lights will go out. This blog will be dark.

But as soon as someone walks through the door, the lights will click on.

If you are a budding writer who has stumbled on this anew, please keep posting comments. We’ll be listening. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Genre Jumping - Yes, You Can

by Mindy McGinnis

I've had many writers and readers comment on my upcoming novel, not only because it interests them, but because it's such a huge departure from my previously released works.

A MADNESS SO DISCREET releases next Tuesday. It's a Gothic historical thriller set in an insane asylum, and yes, it's vastly different from NOT A DROP TO DRINK and IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, which are post-apocalyptic survival stories. And if that makes you double-take, process this: my next release from Harper Collins in Fall 2016 is a contemporary, which will be followed up by the beginning of a fantasy series from Penguin/Putnam in the Spring of 2017.

As my students often say: Wait.... what?

I've fielded a lot of questions about writing across genres, most of them revolving around the fact that I'm publishing under the same name in all of these instances. While these books are different from each other in many ways, they retain what my audience comes to me for - my voice, and the feel of an author brand.

A brand can cross genres with you, easily. These novels may take place in different worlds and time periods, be populated by characters that bear no resemblance to the ones that came before, but there's a feel to them that marks them as mine. A reader who enjoys the darkness of my post-apoc writing will find the same element in my Gothic historical, and in my upcoming works as well.

As my critique partner and fellow FTWA blogger RC Lewis likes to say, "It's not a genre. It's a McGinnis."

************************************************************************************

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer's Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET in October of 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. Mindy is represented by Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What makes a good villain so bad?

by Brighton Luke

Everyone loves a good villain, and if there’s one truly great gift you can get your hero it’s a worthy foe. So, how can we avoid getting stuck with one dimensional, underwhelming, or just plain confusing bad guys/ gals? 

1) Motive
I often see variations on the idea that evil characters (or people) don’t see themselves as evil, that no one thinks they’re the villain of the story. It’s a simplified way of trying to get at the point that villains need a motive. They can’t just go around being evil or the sake of it, that’s boring. Though if you look at some of the most popular villains some of them are well aware of their status as the bad guy, and even relish it. Look at Voldemort in Harry Potter, or Richard III, who got to headline his own Shakespeare play, but comes right out from the start admitting what a bad dude he is. The exciting part wasn’t that they were evil, it was how the villains motives contrasted and interplayed with those of the hero. 

Giving your villain a motive is more than just having him/ her want something. Them wanting world domination, or to kill the hero is the WHAT, the motive is all about the WHY. 

Think about anytime you see a gruesome crime on the news, Why? Is always one of the questions that crosses your mind. Why would anyone do such a thing? In real life we aren’t always lucky enough to find out, but it’s always something we crave, because the why is inherently interesting. So while a real life court case may not legally require a motive for conviction, your readers may very well require one for their interest in your story. Why is the thing everyone wants to know, and in fiction we have the power to give it to them. 

If Voldemort was just killing people for the heck of it there would not have been enough story to fill up seven books. What made Voldemort such a good villain was WHY he was killing people. The WHY of Voldemort’s actions are so interesting that Harry and Dumbledore spend most of the 6th book on a hunt for information about Voldemort’s past and what clues it gives to his motives. In fact it’s his motives that lead to the climax of the story and his ultimate defeat, his obsession with magical superiority and purity meant he chose Horcruxes that had magical significance making them much easier to find, an adventure that had enough juice to fill up almost the entire 7th book. 

So take some time to really go through and work out why your villain is pursuing their current goal, and what impact it has not only on how they go about achieving it, but also on how it affects how your hero will stop them. 

2) Compatibility 
I have commercials for online dating sites to blame for the fact that when I hear the word compatibility I now think questionnaires, and lonely single folk looking for love. Compatibility isn’t just for romance though, it’s key in finding your hero the perfect villain. 

If your hero dispatches the main villain without breaking a sweat, you’re doing it wrong.
If your villain wins, you have a tragedy, but if your hero never stood a chance then your story is just depressing. 

A compatible villain and hero challenge each other to the max, and make us seriously wonder who’s going to come out on top. Writing is hard, you have to go to work and hurt people, especially your hero. 

So, if things are too easy for anyone in your story take a look at their antagonist and see if they need a bit of upgrading.

3) Stop smirking.
This one comes from the land of TV, and anyone who has seen the BBC’s otherwise delightful Merlin series will know what I’m talking about. Morgana (who everyone not a character in the show knows turns bad) starts off the series as a decent person, but just incase we were not catching on to her obvious and inevitable transformation to the dark side the writers and show runner decided to have her give an evil smirk at the end of nearly every line she gives once she starts going bad, all the while the characters around her are completely oblivious to it. I love Morgana, she is a badass formidable foe, (and I totally ship her and Merlin together) but all the smirking made me hate the writers. 

Do not make your readers hate you. If you think your readers need to be hit over the head with some plot point it means you either did not write it correctly to start with, or you are writing for the wrong audience. 


Questions for the comment section:
What are your favorite villain motives? 

What villain pet-peeves do you have?


You can find Brighton on twitter @brightonAwesome or Instagram @brightonL or motivating other writers via Jennifer Connelly memes over on Tumblr

Monday, September 21, 2015

Commas With Conjunctions

by J. Lea López

Are you one of those writers who agonizes over commas? Some writers sprinkle them through their paragraphs with abundance and weed them back out during editing; others use them sparingly and add more to taste later on. Regardless of which type of writer you may be, it never hurts to try to learn the rules of comma placement and hopefully get it right on the first try. Now, I know that in the world of fiction writing, there's little more we hate than "rules," even when it comes to grammar. But I firmly believe that to break any rules, you must first know them well enough to understand how and why you're breaking them in the first place. Today I'll talk about a comma mistake—it's sort of two commas wrapped into one—that I frequently see during editing and also make in my own writing.

In a nutshell, here's what you need to know: you only need a comma with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, so, etc.) if you're joining two independent clauses. An independent clause is one that can stand on its own as a sentence.

If you're allergic to grammar speak, I know what you're thinking right now. Commas, conjunctions, and clauses, oh my! But I promise, it's not that difficult, and once we go through this one tiny example, you'll wonder how you ever got it wrong to begin with. I'll be the guinea pig and use a sentence from my own WIP to demonstrate.

He backed me up against the car and rested his forehead against mine. 

You might be tempted to insert a comma after car, but you don't need one there. He backed me up against the car is an independent clause, but rested his forehead against mine is not. Therefore, no comma.

He backed me up against the car, and he rested his forehead against mine.

Now you need a comma, because both clauses are independent. When in doubt, split the sentence before/after the conjunction and see if each clause is a complete sentence. If so, you need the comma along with the conjunction. He backed me up against the car. He rested his forehead against mine. See, wasn't that easy?

You need that comma whenever you use a conjunction to join independent clauses, but I see a lot of people leave it out. If the two clauses are relatively short, you can leave it out, but otherwise, comma away! Here are a few more examples to reference:

I turned around to push the elevator call button, but Luke grabbed my waist and whipped me around again, his arms closing around me like a vise. Correct. But joins two independent clauses, so you need a comma.

The priest makes eye contact again, and holds it this time. Incorrect. "Holds it this time" is not an independent clause, so there shouldn't be a comma before the conjunction.

It’s one of the stranger things I’ve ever found myself doing, but strange seems to be my only constant right now. Correct.

He released me and stepped back. Correct.

He released me and I stepped back. Comma optional. The clauses are short, so you can leave it out. But if there are issues of clarity or consistency, you should keep the comma before the conjunction.

Do you struggle with comma placement? Let me know if I've confused you more than I've clarified this issue in the comments!

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She also provides freelance copyediting focused on romance and erotica as The Mistress With the Red Pen. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Have I Built My World Enough?

by R.C. Lewis

A funny thing happens sometimes when you read book reviews—your own or otherwise. (I know, I know. "Don't read your reviews." Good advice in general, but you do you.) You see a lot of contradictions, and one in particular I've been thinking about.

Reviewer #1: This book is full of amazing, rich world-building!

Reviewer #2: This book could've been good, but the world-building was pretty much non-existent.

(Not real review quotes!)

So, who's right?

They both are. Reading is subjective, and I think when it comes to world-building especially, it varies by both perception and preference. Some readers crave detailed descriptions painting the exact picture as the author intended it. Others want just enough on the page to trigger a mental picture of their own, leaving some of the work of creation up to them.

Neither is wrong.

Some readers focus on the visual aspects—geography, clothing, architecture, art. Others pick up on the less concrete details—sociological, cultural, historical influences on characters' lives.

Again, neither is wrong.

Perhaps the most objective evaluation of world-building would look at how fleshed-out and detailed the world is in the author's head. If only we could know. Alas, all we have is what's on the page, so that's what we have to go on.

That's why it's tricky assigning value judgments like "good" and "bad" to it.

My advice to authors (including myself!) would be to focus first on that off-the-page world-building. Make sure your virtual world is fully realized and makes sense. Then let that reality filter and ooze and weave through the story in whatever way fits your style. Always try to do better, but realize that if readers knock it, it may just be that your style isn't for them. And it will be for someone else.

What do you like to see in world-building? Pet-peeves? Tips for excellent execution?

R.C. Lewis is the math-teaching, ASL-signing world-builder of Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight (Oct. 6, 2015), both from Hyperion. You can find more information at her website, or find her random musings on Twitter.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Twittequette Tips Part 2

by Jemi Fraser

Last year, I posted some Twittequette Tips (Etiquette on Twitter). If you're new to Twitter, you might want to check some of these out, especially if you're considering interacting with agents/publishers.

Today's rant topic is DMs. DMs are Direct Messages, private conversations between 2 Tweeps.

If we've only just met (meaning you followed me, and I followed you back), there's probably no need for us to have a private conversation yet. Let's get to know each other first!

I've had plenty of DM conversations with people I know well on Twitter, but for the most part (for me at least), Twitter is about having fun and making connections with other people, and most of those conversations can be carried on in public. DMs are a great way to warn Tweeps when their Email accounts have sent me spam, to ask/send email addresses, along with other more obvious uses.

(Warning: Personal Pet Peeve Rant Ahead)

If we've just met, please don't send me a DM and:

  • ask me to buy your book or other product
  • link me to where to buy your book or other product 
  • ask me to give you money through a fundraising link
  • ask me to like your FB page

If you met someone in a coffee shop, on the street, or at a friend's house, would your first sentence to them, your first conversation, be to ask them to buy your stuff???? I sincerely hope not!

Don't do it on Social Media either.

I've bought dozens of books written by friends I've met through social media, probably well over a hundred by now. NOT ONCE have I bought a book by someone asking me to do so via a DM.

Marketing is tough. Lots of our authors here at FTWA have posted advice on that, and will continue to do so (click on the Marketing link in the sidebar!). Maybe this seems like an easy way to promote, but, for me, it has the exact opposite effect.

(Okay, rant complete)

What do you think? Are automated DMs requesting a new follower buy something okay or annoying? Have you bought anyone's book that way? Or (like me) have you unfollowed people who pester in DMs?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Make Your Novel Sellable - Step 2

by +Denise Drespling


Edit Novel


Welcome back for more editing fun! A quick review of the 7 steps:

  1. Initial Read Through
  2. Seek and Destroy Problem Words
  3. In-depth Word Analysis
  4. Read it Out
  5. Get Some Feedback
  6. Let it Rest
  7. Repeat!



Onto step #2!

Step #2: Seek and Destroy Word Problems


It’s time to get out your editing gun and go double-oh-seven on some pesky words.

There are some words in the English language that are overused, misused, or used in vague and weak ways. Your mission is to find the offenders and punish them—with death!

The easiest way, I think, is to have a list. Then you can use the find feature in Word, or whatever your favorite writing program is, to go to each one and decide what to do with it. In some cases, the word might work and should stay. In some, it can be yanked out, and in others, it just needs to be changed or finessed a bit.


Here is my list of words that come off vague or create wordiness: that, thing, stuff, very, really, actually, quite, just, perhaps/maybe, amazing.


Sometimes you need “that” for clarity, but many times, it’s extra. Unless your voice or character are more on the formal side (which having lots of “that’s” tends to feel), you can cut a bunch of these.

Thing and stuff are excuses for ambiguity. Say what the thing or stuff is. Even if you actually don’t know what it is, you can probably find a word to somewhat describe the “stuff.” In this sentence, “He stepped in sticky goo,” is better than “He stepped in sticky stuff.” At least goo provides a visual and a texture. Stuff and things could be almost anything.

Very, really, quite, actually, and just are words that find their way into writing and seem to amplify, but most times really just actually need to disappear. See what I did there? ;) That sentence is quite fine as “most times need to disappear.” Once again, these words can be voice-specific or may come out in dialogue that fits a character, but it’s still worth searching them out to see if they’re very necessary.

Perhaps and maybe also don’t have a place in most cases, unless it’s in dialogue—internal or external. “Maybe I’ll go to the store, or maybe I’ll just go home and read,” works if it’s being said or thought, but something like “the sunrise glowed a red that looked perhaps more orange” sounds like you don’t know. Is it red or orange? Be clear.

Have you ever read something so amazing that you really just had to tell everyone how amazing it was? This is, sadly, a word overused and worn out. I’m guilty of it myself. Not so much in my novels, but if you catch me on social media, most things are amazing or awesome. It should only be used for situations that are “causing great surprise or sudden wonder,” which is what the word amazing actually means.

This brings me to adverbs. What a point of contention in the writing world! Are they evil? Are they fine? What are they? Most adverbs end in ly, but not all. They are any word that describes how something is done. She didn’t just walk, she walked “quickly.” He didn’t love the movie, he only “sort of” liked it. The biggest problem with adverbs is overuse and poor word choice. She doesn’t have to “walk quickly.” She can hurry along. She can dash, speed, rush, or make haste. Chances are, if you remove an adverb and the word it’s modifying, you can find a stronger word to use in its place. Watch these especially around dialogue tags. Don’t do this: “He whispered softly,” “she said angrily,” or “he said coyly.” A whisper is already soft, the anger should be obvious anyway, and the coyness can come out in a gesture. But, they are not evil. You can use them if necessary (which should be sparingly). But make sure it’s truly necessary.

And finally, one of the most important problem word areas—verbs! Using a weak or vague verb can take the fight out of your writing faster than anything else. Some are just plain nondescript like “got” and “went.” “I went up the stairs” can be more colorful as “I dashed up the stairs” or “I shuffled up the stairs.” Even “I walked up the stairs” is better than “went.” Still, you can probably find a better word than just “walked” to describe in what way you moved up the stairs. Take this as an opportunity to show something about the character. Is she excited? Maybe she hopped up the stairs. Is he feeling dejected? Maybe he lumbered up the stairs. Scrutinize every verb and see if there is one stronger than what you have.

And at last, we are at the weakest of the weak words—to be verbs! These are: was, is, am, are, been, being, were, be. I’ve heard it said that “was” is one of the most-used words in the English language. With each of these, as with all the words mentioned here, sometimes they just work. You can’t always cut an “is” or an “are.” What you want to look for are constructions like this: “She was telling me about her trip.” No. She told me about her trip. “Was telling” is passive voice, and it’s something you want to avoid. You want your writing to be as strong, direct, and as clear as possible. Too many of the “to be” verbs in there and the story starts to sound like your distant relative rambling on and on about her month-long vacation to Idaho.

* Special Note: To all my yinzers out there (that’s someone who lives in Pittsburgh, for all you non-yinzers), I will give this warning. DO NOT REMOVE THE "TO BE" WHEN IT’S NEEDED! One of the most confusing and frustrating bits of Pittsburgh-ese are sentences like this: “The house needs vacuumed.” If you’re not originally from the ‘burgh (like I wasn’t when I arrived 15 years ago), this sentence construction sticks out like a sore thumb. But, if you try to explain it to someone who watches the Stillers dahntahn n’ at, you might have trouble getting through. I love Pittsburgh. It’s a beautiful city, filled with amazing things, and the best sports teams in the country (most Super Bowl rings of any NFL team—that’s all I’m saying). I even love the Pittsburgh-ese, but when someone tells me something “needs updated,” my eye twitches at them a bit. It needs TO BE updated. The house needs TO BE vacuumed. Pulling out the “to be’s” in these cases doesn’t make your writing better, it just makes you sound like a jagoff.

Now that the little pesky words are gone forever, we are ready for step #3 (my favorite step)—In-depth Word Analysis

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

There's An App For That: Apps for Authors

by MarcyKate Connolly

If there’s one thing most writers would like more of it’s time. Time is precious, time is words on the page.

This is a thing that really hits home when you’re launching a book, but writers at all stages feel this pressure. Fortunately, there are apps that can help streamline your process, keep you organized, and most importantly save you time. Since I never leave home without my iPhone, I thought I'd share a few apps I’ve found particularly useful:


Dropbox

Available on: Web, Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Have multiple computers and devices you use to write your books and collect notes? Save them in Dropbox and keep everything synced across devices.

Why I love it: Ever had a laptop or device stolen? Or malfunction and lose a whole day’s work? If you saved your work in Dropbox , your files are still available to access on the web (and download to your new computer/device when you replace it!). Basically this is a MUST HAVE for writers!

Zoho Projects

Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: A project management app in your pocket (and web browser!). The free version of this app has a calendar to track things like events, and a task and milestone function to keep your writing on track and meeting deadlines. You can also track your progress on how much of the task you’ve completed, add notes, and even invite people to your project (handy if you’re co-authoring a book!)

Why I love it: I have book ideas coming out my ears, guys. This app is a necessity for me so I can keep track of which project I’m supposed to work on now, and when I want (or need) to complete it by. Also hugely helpful in ensuring I do all the big and little things I need to do to promote my books. I use this daily, and even setup the paid version for my day job (and my employer loves it!).

Save the Cat! Lite (also paid version with more features)

Available on: Desktop, iPhone (lite), iPhone (full paid version)

What it is: Do you love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beatsheets? Well, there’s an app for that! Comes in free (Lite) or Paid versions ($21.99).

Plot your book on the go! Pro features also include scene cards, characters, locations, notes, and more.  However, if you just like to plot beats on the go, the free version should totally meet your needs.

Why I love it: It’s Beatsheets meets Scrivener on your phone = WINNING (especially for those of us who have been waiting for a Scrivener app FOREVER.). Basically, it’s my two main writing tools in one, and that’s pretty dang awesome.

Evernote

Available on: Web/Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Available in 3 versions: Basic (free), Pro ($29.99/month), or Premium ($49.99/year). Create “notebooks” to store various notes, pictures, checklists, audio files, and more.

Why I love it: I create a notebook for each project I’m working on so I can jot notes down on the go, store photos of places I visit that are featured in the books or remind me of the books, and keep track of revision ideas and to dos.

Expensify

Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: App for the iPhone and your browser to track expenses by category (things like postage and mileage, etc) and give you a handy PDF export at the end of the year. You can enter expenses manually or scan your receipts. The free version has plenty of features but those who want the bells and whistles can upgrade.

Why I love it: Taxes! Also, it’s very good to know how much I spend on each category every year. I had no clue I spent so much on Postage but uh, yeah. Kind of a huge expense when you add it all up!



MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, is out now from HarperCollins Children's Books, and the companion novel RAVENOUS will be out on 2/9/16.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lead Me Gently, Author...

by Cat Woods

When I open a book, I embark on a magical journey. The path is set before me, and page by page, I explore a new world until I reach the destination at The End. If I'm lucky, I will walk away changed somehow. Your words will have touched some inner part of me and asked me to evaluate and re-evaluate the way I live my life and the way I see the world. It will challenge me to be a better person, one more cognizant of the people and places around me. It will fill some small part of me I didn't know was empty.

And so I ask, lead me gently, author, and I will follow.




Help me discover amazing gems off the beaten path.







But please, please, please do not tell me what you want me to know.

Rather, let me attach my own meaning to your words. Ignite my senses so I can take away what I need from your writing. Help me feel your book in my heart and soul, not just swallow the sustenance you believe I need.

Tread carefully and don't moralize. Let your characters grow so that I may, too.

Guide me, don't instruct me.
Share without preaching.

Dear Author, I've been told that readers are lazy, that they need you to draw them a map from Point A to Point B. That assumption scares me. It means you are responsible for making the reading experience equal for every reader. It means there would be no need for book discussions because we've all walked in each other's footsteps over the same rocky terrain with our eyes trained on a sole destination. It means we will miss the greatest opportunity to look past the words and see between the lines.

We will miss not only the forest, but also the trees.
We will fail to see the magic hiding right beside us.



And so I ask, dear author, don't give your ending away on page one, and don't beat me over the head with your message.
Don't foreshadow so much...


...that you ruin the surprise.



Your book isn't a soap box.
It's a gift to the world.


Treat it as such.

How do you share your passion without crossing the line? At what point do we risk losing our readers to a pedantic attitude? When is it our job to connect the dots, and when do we allow readers to make their own connections? Is it important that our readers understand and feel exactly what we want them to, or is it more important that they walk away from our writing with the message they need?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat is an avid hiker and lover of all things amazing. She enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path with her daughter in State Parks across the upper Midwest and thinks that regardless of the destination, the journey is half the fun. When she's not hiking in the woods, she's blogging at Words from the Woods or writing juvenile lit from her little house on the prairie.

Monday, August 17, 2015

ISBNs: An elementary primer

by Matt Sinclair

A few years ago, when I was planning to publish what became Spring Fevers, I started to look into what was involved in becoming a publisher. I was a neophyte to the whole independent publishing thing, but it seemed pretty exciting and I wanted to learn.

Initially, we planned to do everything electronically. It soon became apparent that I’d need to either use an ISBN provided for free by the distributors I’d be going through or buy one for myself. Free is one of my favorite words, but when big companies – or even medium-sized companies – offer you something for free, there’s usually a catch or at least a reason that is to their advantage. Well, in this case the reason was because they became the actual publisher.

In the United States, ISBNs, which is an abbreviation for International Standard Book Numbers, are administered by R.R. Bowker – and only Bowker. Each country has a single representative agency responsible for the registration of ISBNs. I imagine those folks around the world know each other pretty well and have little get-togethers every year where they talk about ISBNs while sipping wine and noshing on grapes and cheese. Anyway, the folks at Bowker sell the ISBNs to publishers.

Of course, in the twenty-first century, a lot of authors have decided to become their own publishers. Self-publishing is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long, long time. But it’s become super easy in the past five years or so when e-readers became popular -- and especially now that half of humanity reads books on their phones. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much.

So that free ISBN that Smashwords or Amazon Kindle will give you? It means they’re the publisher of your book. Now, for a lot of writers that’s perfectly fine. I mean who needs any additional headaches? In my case, I was publishing a collection of stories by several different writers. I’d had to develop contracts with them all.

To my mind, it would have been irresponsible for me to take the free ISBN when I’d entered into agreements with all these authors. Looking at the prices of ISBNs, however, I understood why many writers might opt for free. To buy a single ISBN cost upwards of $125. If the book had any success and inspired us to create a second anthology, then I’d presumably pay the money again. Or I could buy ten ISBNs for $250. It was one more milestone in my path toward creating Elephant’s Bookshelf Press.

In a little more than a month, EBP will publish its tenth book, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. We’ve long since exhausted the ten ISBNs I bought back in 2012, and I bought a hundred more. So, I have ISBNs “to spare,” or so it would seem. But that’s the funny thing about ISBNs: you can’t give them away. What was it Uncle Ben in Spiderman said … With great cost comes great responsibility? Something like that.

As I mentioned earlier, each ISBN is associated with the publisher. So if I let a friend use an ISBN, I’d be publishing their book. That might not be a bad thing; I know some pretty darn good writers. But it’s something that carries responsibilities. At least nominally, the revenues would be associated with me and my company, for instance. I’ve learned that a good way to spoil a friendship is to get money involved. But even if that situation had been addressed appropriately to begin with, you might also have advertising issues to contend with as well as promotional sales and opportunities. All of a sudden, you and your buddy are in business together. Again, that could be wonderful. Or it could ruin a friendship.

That said, most self-publishers I know have opted for the free ISBN. And to my knowledge, they’ve not had any major problems and do not regret their decision.


Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. In September, EBP will publish its latest anthology, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Fear

by Riley Redgate

I am studying for a degree in Economics. I am the type of person that economists call, kindly, "risk-averse." This is a much more forgiving term than "a large wimp," but in my mind, they're synonyms. I admit it! I am a large wimp. This is objectively true. I hate roller-coasters because of the panic centers in my brain that helpfully supply scenarios in which I fly, screaming, off roller-coasters and to my doom. I hate walking home alone at night because of an overactive imagination, which plants serial killers behind every ominous-looking dumpster, and also because I am a human female. And I hate deep water because Jesus, have you guys seen The Perfect Storm?

I'm getting published next year, and it's surreal and wonderful, and part of me is still expecting to wake up from what is clearly a fever dream. People understand those emotions, those of disbelief and excitement, which I've been experiencing ever since the sale. I haven't spoken nearly as much about the fear.

It's kind of a mood-killer. What If, the fear helpfully supplies, every review for the book is filled with the most vitriolic hatred imaginable? What If the general reader response doesn't even merit hatred, and is a resounding 'meh'? What If you sell exactly two copies, and they are to your parents and your sister? What If your words are lost within this wash of human noise in a virtual instant, and ground down to nothingness by the inevitable progression of time? (That last one will certainly happen, which is rough.)

Most of my fears terrify me because they are unanswerable. What if I fall overboard in deep water? I don't know. I could get eaten by a shark (which would be sad, because I love sharks). I could do the boring thing and drown. The difference between that sort of fear and writing fears are twofold: 1) I'm not going to die from bad reviews. I'm just not. And more importantly, 2) with writing, I have an answer to all the horrible hypotheticals in my head.

So, What If every terrible thing I'm imagining does in fact come to fruition after I'm published? What if it's all exactly as horrible as my pessimist side imagines?

Well, too bad. I guess I'll keep writing, because it's a compulsion.

Whether you're just starting to draft that first novel or on the road to your eighth publication, if you're afraid, that's all right. The only question that matters is this one: do you need to write? If the answer's yes, then the fears don't matter. Which isn't to say they're not valid. Just that they can be beaten by sheer stubbornness.

I need to write. This is the only thing that calms my nerves, because nobody can stop me from continuing, no matter what happens. Unless, of course, we become subjected to an Orwellian dystopia, and an overreaching governmental hand snatches all writing materials from my grasp. In which case I will move to Canada.

Cheers!

Riley

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a senior at Kenyon College represented by Caryn Wiseman. Her debut novel, Seven Ways We Lie, will be released by Abrams/Amulet in Spring 2016. Her site is here, and she Tweets here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Waiting for “Mr. Write”

by Sophie Perinot

I am in a rare and sometimes frightening place. Those of you who’ve finished more than one book know it. I am awaiting the publication of a novel (4 months), and yesterday I handed a completed work-in-progress over to my trusted critique partners in anticipation of that manuscript’s “date” with my agent later this month.

This is that moment when the grain has been harvested, but you are not quite ready to thresh.

It should be a time of thanksgiving for a good harvest—for a manuscript I am extremely proud of. And it is. But it is something else too. For this writer at least, it is a period of mourning and nervous energy.

I have lost the closest companions (save my human family) of these last months. The characters who interrupted and informed my days and peppered my dreams are gone. Even when I turn back to editing, I will be merely arranging flowers on their graves. They will speak to me no more. This is grief profoundly real and unimaginable to those who do not write. I miss my protagonist at odd moments. I tear up driving my car. I have been widowed, and I suspect the only non-writer person who understands that is my flesh and blood husband (who, god bless him, is not the jealous type).

Yet, because I’ve done this before, my sadness is underpinned with anticipation. I know, in a way that newbie writers do not, that a brain that wrote once will do so again (just like those widowed from happy marriages are the most likely to marry again)

So I am waiting, waiting for Mr. Write.

I can’t force it. I have manila files (don’t we all) of research, neatly gathered by time period and story idea. But I am not looking at them. I have helpful friends who want to introduce me to characters—most recently my middle-child who, traveling in Europe, skyped me absolutely giddy with an intriguing story from Saxony.  But even if Mr. Saxony is ultimately my next beau, it is just too soon. Go on a first date with him now and he will become my rebound. That would be a waste.

I piddle around. I do the things that everyday life requires. I organize the notes from my wip into a
tidy folder. When I think no one is looking, I open up my “inspiration” folder and gaze lovingly at the characters who have gone. I listen to “our songs” (yes, the characters from my wip demanded a playlist). But one corner of my brain is on alert. I am waiting to glimpse something special out of the corner of my mind’s eye. I am waiting to hear a voice behind me in the produce section of the grocery store—a voice that says, “excuse me, are you Sophie? I have a story to tell you.”


Ah, there you are Mr. Write! 

Sophie Perinot’s next novel, Médicis Daughter--set at the intrigue-riven, 16th century French Valois Court--will be out in December of 2015. She could tell you about her wip but then she'd have to kill
you. To find out about Sophie's previous literary endeavors, visit her website, or her FB page.  You can also  follow her on Twitter as @Lit_gal 


Monday, July 27, 2015

A First-timer's #RWA15 Highlights

by J. Lea López


Broadway, baby!
Last week I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference for the first time. It was held in New York City, which was both amazing and slightly overwhelming for my introverted brain. But aside from the noise and the hustle and bustle of thousands of other people at nearly all times, there were dozens of workshops and speakers to inspire and inform attendees. Now, I will be completely honest with you: I was traveling back home today (yesterday when you read this) and I'm exhausted from the week, and my brain is a bit mushy from all the information swimming around in it. So instead of a critical analysis of the conference, or an in-depth discussion of some of the things I learned, this post will cover some of my highlights from the conference in small tidbits. In no particular order, here are my RWA conference highlights.
  • Kresley Cole's brilliant technique for avoiding the dreaded back story info dump. She uses brackets and symbols (such as [**] or something similar) to mark every time she talks about a character's back story while she's writing. You could use a different symbol for your hero and heroine to track both of them. Then you simply do a search for those brackets/symbols and use the navigation pane in Word to see how well you've spaced out that information throughout the story. I think this is an especially great technique for writers who like visual representations.
  • Sherry Thomas and subtext. I love subtext, which is all the stuff in a story that is implied under the surface, but never explicitly stated. Author Sherry Thomas gave a great presentation on subtext, and one of the great things she said was, "Subtext well done does not call attention to itself." I wasn't familiar with her as an author prior to the conference, and even though most of her romances are historical (which is not my favorite subgenre), the way she spoke about subtext during her presentation, and her humor and fun personality during that presentation and also another panel I attended have me wanting to rush out and pick up one of her books.
  • Jenny Crusie's presentation on turning points and character. This was one of the presentations that I wish every author could attend at some point. The presentation notes and handout are available on her blog (along with those from her Motif and Metaphor presentation that I was unable to attend) so anyone who is curious can at least look at those notes. The general concept of turning points was nothing new to me, but she expanded and explained it in a way I'd never encountered before. I found myself thinking about my WIP a lot during the lecture and how I had already incorporated the technique to some extent, and also how I might be able to further incorporate turning points. A major takeaway from this presentation was the symbiotic relationship of plot and character: characters change because things happen, and things happen because the characters change. While it may seem obvious, it's a complex relationship.
  • Your proofreader is not your copy editor. This presentation was given by Carina Press editor Angela James. I often see conflicting opinions and expectations about what the different levels of editing actually entail. She explained, in depth, the four levels of editing at Carina Press, as well as tips for hiring the right editor if you're looking for a freelancer. But in short, these are the different levels of editing: 
    • Developmental editing - Macro level; all about the story and little about the mechanics of writing
    • Line Editing - Little to do with the story itself and everything to do with the mechanics of writing
    • Copy Editing (or final line edits) - Very detail-oriented look at story, craft, and grammar usage, with some overlap of things covered in developmental and line editing
    • Proofreading - The final, micro-detailed pass; catches any missed errors as well as any that were introduced during previous editing steps
  • Championing the importance of an engaging, well-written story with characters readers love. Throughout many of the workshops I attended, whether they were about the craft of writing or trends in publishing, there was this constant positive message about writing your
    Keynote speaker Barbara Freethy
    story and utilizing techniques in the way that best fits your story. I didn't feel like anyone was encouraging writers to chase cash trends, and the craft sessions weren't about "rules" of writing.
  • Sarah Wendell! There were workshops about diversity in romance, and the topic also came up during a panel discussion about trends in romance publishing. Sarah Wendell, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, was on that panel, and she differentiated the need and desire for more diversity in romances from any trend. Trends rise in popularity and then disappear. Diversity, she said, is not a trend, but rather a necessity to accurately reflect our society. I wanted to cheer. And then I had a bit of a fangirl moment when she cheered my question about the market for more beta heroes in romance. So basically we're best friends now. That's how that works, right?
And now, while I said this list was in no particular order, I did actually save the best for last. The biggest highlight of the entire experience was getting to meet (some for the first time) and talk shop with a small group of amazing author friends from across the globe. We chat online and compare notes on writing and business stuff, but getting to do that in person made it even more special. To my friends, authors Julie Farrell (from the UK), Jean Oram (from Canada), Lucy Marsden, Evelyn Adams, Cali MacKay, Mallory Crowe, and Lori Sjoberg: Thank you ladies for helping to make my first RWA conference a lot of fun! Can't wait to do it again sometime.

If you were at the conference, what were some of your highlights?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She also provides freelance copyediting focused on romance and erotica as The Mistress With the Red Pen. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Query Verb Power!

by Jemi Fraser

Verbs are awesome!

Oops. Are.

Not so awesome.

Obviously, we need to use 'to be' verbs in our stories. I imagine someone somewhere has written a story without using any 'to be' verbs, but I'm never going to attempt it. Contrived exercises like that drive me batty.

The being verbs can be passive. Boring. Not always, of course, but sometimes. And, in our writing, we need to avoid the boring. This is especially true in a query. Passive verbs and boring writing will both turn off agents - quickly. I've pulled out an old query to find out what verbs (in order) I used at the time...

surviving
turns
protects
torment
save
books...

If you're querying, or planning on it, check out your verbs in a list like this without the rest of the query. Do they convey action and/or the flow of your story? Do they match the style of writing in your story? Do they implore the agent to read on?

If not, maybe it's time to change it up.

Like many of my fellow FTWAers, I've learned a lot of my writing/querying tips from the awesome people over at Agent Query Connect. There's a forum for query help if you're so inclined.

Anyone willing to share the first 3 verbs of their query or story?

Jemi Fraser is (ACK!! Time to rewrite the bio!) an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Monday, July 13, 2015

To Kill a Watchman

by S. L. Duncan

As I write this, the summer heat has fallen upon Alabama and cocked it up good and proper. Ain’t nothing working right. Temperatures are topping out in the upper nineties and the heat index is in the triple digits. Every day, the weatherman promises a twenty percent of something that’ll never come. I suspect all weathermen were once weatherboys that liked to poke at frogs and lizards with sharp sticks.

It’s the humidity, you see. It makes people weird.

These days nothing is weirder or more talked about than the imminent release of an actual book written by the actual Harper Lee. Y’all may not know this, but Alabama is a bit protective of its favorite author. Might be because they share so much in common. Both are capable of giving the world beauty, controversy, and most assuredly, both are probably just a little bit crazy as hell.

Over the years, the acclaimed author has lived a reclusive life. She’s kept to herself, managing to avoid TMZ, communicating only through her legal representation, ever since her sister (and former lawyer) Alice died. From the outside looking in, Lee has completely disengaged from the world at large. And yet, those that know her and see her and visit with her say she’s still just good ol’ Nelle, living her life in Monroeville like most other residents do – quietly, and unconcerned what the outsiders think. Most Birmingham and Montgomery reporters that have journeyed south and gathered enough courage to visit her front door did so at the risk of threats of arrest for trespassing.

Of course, being threatened by Harper Lee is a bit of a rite of passage for reporters around these parts.

That’s a story you could tell for years.

But here we are, in the sitting, wet heat of Alabama, and most of us are in a bit of a state of shock. In fact, I’ve not taken a poll, but I suspect that before the news broke, more people in this state would be less surprised to see Jesus Christ himself in a Barnes and Noble, than they would a second book by Harper Lee. But in a matter of hours, that’s exactly what is going to happen: A second coming.

The early reviews point to a very different world for Scout and Atticus Finch, and those that were fans of To Kill a Mockingbird are a bit troubled. Scout has grown up and become a woman not content with the expectations set upon her by the world, and Atticus it seems has become a racist.

This damn heat, y’all.

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how or if things will change after the release of Go Set a Watchman. All this happens as I’m trying desperately to cross the finish line on time for the last book in my three book deal, a deadline which also happens to be the publication date of my second book. I find it amazing that Harper Lee, excuse me, Pulitzer Prize-winning Harper Lee, may be experiencing a lot of the same anxiety that I am. Will this sequel meet expectations? Will people want to read it? Will it make the first book better or worse?

We’ll both find out soon enough. In the meantime, I’ve got to finish my third book. Nelle is probably just drafting some early notes for her third release. We can expect publication sometime in the summer of 2068.

Should be a hot one.


S.L. Duncan is the author of THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, available now (ebook for $.99 through July!), and the upcoming SALVATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, (August 2015, Medallion Press), available now for preorder. You can find him on twitter @SLDuncanBooks and occasionally blogging at SLDuncan.com.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Celebratory Giveaway From FTWA!

It's summer, and while the dog days are not quite upon us yet, the initial relief of sunshine and warm breezes may have lost their allure as those exact things sometimes heap guilt upon writers when they hole up inside their cave to crank out words.

We want to celebrate an upcoming pub date for one of FTWA's own, S.L. Duncan, whose sophomore novel, THE SALVATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, releases next month. What's that? You haven't read the first one yet? No worries, we're giving away 10 Kindle copies, internationally.

And by the way, those e-readers can go outside, too. ;)




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writer's Dreamland: the good, the bad and the ugly

by Cat Woods

A few weeks ago, I received a message in my inbox. It came from an editor I was courting about a chapter book series. I was on my phone at the time, and the message with the first few words popped up on my screen:

What are you, a deaf mute?

A second later, another email popped up from a different editor:

You have an inflated sense of self.

I can't begin to describe the feelings that washed over me. Terror, confusion, anger...I was literally sweating and couldn't force myself to open the email to read the scathing rejections I knew were coming my way.

You see, we writers bust our butts to do things right. We work hard to balance story, plot, character, description and dialogue. We want to woo our agents, editors and public with our wonderful words. What we don't want is a rejection so hurtful we never pick up our pens again.

I rolled over and snuggled closer to Dear Hubby, thankful my nightmare was nothing more than a dream.

Ah, I know what you're thinking. I just cheated you out of a good rejection story. I started my piece with a dream, which is a huge no-no 99.9% of the time. But this dream happened to be real and since it isn't the opening scene of a novel I'm trying to pitch, I thought we could dissect it together, as I'm a huge proponent of believing my dreams.

So, long story short, I am a pretentious deaf-mute. At least according to the monsters trolling my sleep. Or am I?

Instead of letting my dream ruffle my writing feathers, I took the rejections seriously. What about my writing could possibly make me seem like a deaf mute? The answer was actually quite simple. I am a sparse writer in regards to description. I tend to favor the less is more approach and let my readers fill in the details with their own imaginations. (Personally, I feel my dream rejection would have been more solid if it had called me a blind mute, but beggars can't be choosy, and dream editors apparently aren't perfect.)

That said, I had something solid to consider before actually sending my submission out to the editor I want to woo.

That's the good part of dreams. If we stop a second to consider what our subconscious is trying to tell us, we may just learn a thing or two.

The bad part of dreams: dreams are so tempting to use in our writing because we dream every time our heads hit the pillow. Dreams are an integral part of our night life. They help us sort through problems. They lend us support and can be a huge source of inspiration. It is an easy trap to start stories with dreams, solve our MC's problems with dreams or to finish off a plot line with the whole "it was nothing more than a bad dream" solution. Readers tend to hate these devices, and for good reason. They are over-used and seldom done in a way that doesn't feel trite. Often, readers feel cheated out of a good story.

The ugly: dreams can be dream killers. Inflated sense of self. What the heck does that mean? I try to be humble. I don't like to be snobby or snotty or pretentious. And while I know that good intentions don't always work out the way we want them to and that we mere mortals tend to be really bad judges of our own characters, I'm not quite sure how to interpret this dreamy tidbit.

Inflated sense of self.

That really hurts. It rubs raw my self confidence and makes me second guess what I'm doing and why. It makes me want to stuff the submission package I've been laboring over into a huge e-file and leave it there for the cyber monkeys to steal the next time they are being naughty.

Inflated sense of self.

This terrifies me. Does it mean that my writing sucks? Or that my subconscious is begging me to quit planning a series when I'm incapable of following through? I have no idea: I was too busy sweating and trembling and being too much of a baby to open the dreammail and find out.

All I really know is that dreams have an ugly side that has nothing to do with trying to run away from a murderer and not being able to move our legs. They have the uncanny ability to make us second guess ourselves and believe things that may or may not have any truth in them.

As writers, it's ironic that our waking dreams of hitting it big can clash so painfully with our night terrors. Finding the right balance is crucial to our success--and our sanity.

So, dear readers, what writerly dreams have haunted you? How much stock do you put in your dreams, and how do you let them affect your writing? How, if ever, have you used a dream in your writing? What are your pet peeves when reading about dreams in novels?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods loves to dream. In college, she kept a dream journal for her psych class and found that her subconscious is as quirky as her waking self. She also learned that her uncanny ability to change her dreams is called lucid dreaming. She'd been "changing the channel" on her nightmares since she was bit in the foot by a wolf in the second grade, and thought that doing so was normal. Alas, nothing about Cat is normal except her dream to write. For a peek into her whimsical life, you can find her at Word from the Woods or Cat 4 Kids.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pushing Past the Wall

by Charlee Vale


Writer's Block. There's a whole host of people who claim Writer's Block doesn't exist, others who swear there's a magical block keeping the words from pouring out onto the paper like Shakespeare. But no matter which school of Writer's Block you ascribe to, I don't think there's anyone that can deny that sometimes you're just stuck.

And being stuck? SUCKS.

I'll be perfectly honest, this has been me quite a lot lately. I can come up with a million different reasons for why my writing feels like wallowing in quicksand--and they'd all be right to some degree. I have a difficult job that sometimes saps any creativity I have before I get home. I'm writing a book that goes against my normal writing process. The book is far more complicated than anything I've ever tried. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I just don't feel like it.

But in the end? None of those explanations and excuses matter. What matters is putting in the time. When I sit down and open the document--even the times when I don't write a lot of words--it's still progress. Who knows what kind of future breakthrough that time spent thinking unlocked. Who knows what kind of genius is brewing under the surface while you stew? And sometimes I manage to sit down and get into the groove. Before you know it you've got a couple new chapters under your belt and the world seems bright again.

My point to all this is to say that if you're feeling stuck or blocked or drained or defeated, push past it. This is a wall that can seem higher than we can reach, but we can make it through it when we are determined. I know it's hard, but few things that are good come easily.

Do whatever you need to do. Make a playlist, a Pinterest board, draw a sketch of a character, or write some backstory. But whatever you do, put in the time. The time is the only thing that puts cracks in the wall. Enough cracks and it will come crumbling down.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, agency intern, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and chipping away at cracks in her wall. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ruts

By Matt Sinclair

I’ve been in a rut lately. Since the year began, a bunch of little things have gone wrong. Car accidents. Promises unfulfilled. Goals unmet. Projects not started or incomplete. Too much time spent on others that should have been nixed. Now, here we are, halfway through 2015, and it seems like I’ve struck out looking. (Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m a Mets fan, but I digress…)

Ruts are worrisome because they’re comfortable. They’re developed over a long time of doing mostly the same thing. As a creature of routine, I like having a sense of what is ahead; it enables me to address problems when they occur. But a rut is different from a routine. For me, recognizing a rut usually means I’m at risk of getting stuck in the mud, and boy those wheels can spin, can’t they?

Doing something completely different seems to work best. The other night my wife was working on a home project. She was invigorated. She felt creative. She couldn’t be stopped. I bet she felt darn good after accomplishing what she set out to do. It certainly looked good.

A part of me was jealous. So I decided to write something different. I like the initial results. Of course, the jury’s out on whether what I create will be worthwhile, but that isn’t the point. The goal is to get out of the rut, to see things from a different perspective, to make progress.


What do you do to get out of a writing rut? Care to share?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Basic Guide to Tumblr

by Riley Redgate

These days, social media is the fastest way to engage with readers, if that's your sort of thing. Some people, of course, choose to create a veneer of mystery instead, not Tweeting, not Facebooking, nada. But the great thing about social media is that it's so simple! You can do it all while sitting at home, not wearing any pants! I don't know why you're not wearing pants. Better not to ask.

Pants aside: when it comes to various social media platforms, people don't seem to think Tumblr is as simple as Twitter or Facebook. Every time I mention Tumblr to people who don't Tumbl, they react with alarm, bafflement, or a mixture of the two. This makes sense to a degree, since Tumblr culture is, erm, sort of weird. But never fear! I know the place a little too well, since over the last few years, my blog has stumbled its way into 10,000+ followers, and I also spend about 10,000% of my free time on the site. I've made this cheat sheet to explain a few things about Tumblr if you're looking to get started.

But first: why should you, gentle author, care about starting a Tumblr? Well, if you write Young Adult, Middle Grade, or New Adult, here's why: in a recent article, TechTimes says that more than 70 percent of Tumblr's users are age 16 to 34. Moreover, "Tumblr, now the fastest growing social site, has seen an increase in its active users by up to 120 percent within the last six months." Tl;dr -- it's where your target audience is hanging out.

Without further ado, here are the five things you need to know about Tumblr Culture:

5) Keep Up

One thing that can seem intimidating about Tumblr is the pace, which is breakneck. The Dashboard -- home to posts from all the blogs you follow -- is active 24/7 and constantly updating, so things get easily lost in the mix. Tumblr even has a specific function to encourage constant activity: the Queue. You can set your queue to post automatically for you, up to 24 times a day. Compared to hosts like Blogspot, that can seem like an extreme number, but on Tumblr, a steady stream of activity is good.

"Wait!" you might say. "What about the quantity of stuff I will need to generate, if I want to post that often? Am I supposed to sell my soul? Quit my job to make Tumblr posts all day?" No, friend. Although I'm sure Tumblr staff would love for you to do that, you don't have to, because ...

4) To Blog is to Reblog

On most other social media outlets, people focus primarily on their own content -- displaying it, advertising it, etc. But the climate on Tumblr is one of sharing. The site prides itself on being full of not only creators, but creative communities. For instance, you might find fanartists who draw pieces based on a fanfiction writer's work, or people who write 3,000-word essays about a TV character's psychology just to share with others and discuss.

Tumblr is hugely about interplay, which is why -- even on many popular blogs -- you'll find that the percentage of original content is relatively low. Each blog feels something like a miniature aggregate site, a collection of art, writing, opinions, etc. that the blogrunner enjoys. Like a little internet gallery! (For those unfamiliar, reblogging works quite simply: by clicking the "reblog" button, you rehost an original post from somebody else's blog to yours, and thereby share it with all of your followers.)

All this is to say that you don't have to stress about making your own stuff 24/7. The general mood of Tumblr is to stay active by reblogging others' work to support them, and you'll find your kin through common interests. This is best if you ...

3) Learn the Tag System

Some people migrate from Twitter to Tumblr and assume that tags function in essentially the same manner, but this is not the case. On Tumblr, people use tags in several primary ways. Firstly, you can organize your blog through tags. On many blogs, you'll find tag-based Navigation pages -- here's a screenshot of what mine looks like:


... so, whenever I make a post with a horrible pun, I tag it with "GET THEE TO A PUNNERY!" Then, on my Navigation page, when you click the "Get Thee to a Punnery!" link, it can take you to a page that displays every post I've ever made (or reblogged!) that has a horrible pun in it.

The second primary use of tags is to add commentary. On Tumblr--unless you have something vital to contribute to a conversation--it's seen as weird to reblog and add a comment to the post, because the original poster will see it as a response. This might feel counterintuitive, because on most other sites, commenting is seen as the best way to connect. But on Tumblr, people often get concerned that too much text messes with the ~aesthetic~ of the post.

If you do have an opinion but don't want to address it to the author of the original post, what many people do is reblog the post and write it in the tags, like this:


Tags are also gathering spaces. This function is more like the way Twitter uses tags. If you go to the Doctor Who tag, for instance -- http://tumblr.com/tagged/doctor-who -- you can see every post that Who fans have tagged with "doctor who". For smaller fanbases, the tag becomes like a little home base.

Phew! Okay. Tagging is a lot. Moving on ...

2) Do Not Engage with Call-Out Culture.

I waffled on whether to include this. For people just looking to make an author Tumblr and connect with their readers, one would hope it wouldn't be an issue, but you never know.

Tumblr users tend to be impulsive, passionate, opinionated -- and overwhelmingly socially liberal. It's a haven for LGBTQ+ people and intersectional feminist discourse; it has huge communities for the marginalized. And in people's desire to make Tumblr a safe space for social discussion, they often turn to "Call-Out Culture." This is where people present problematic behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) and eviscerate it publicly. And for those who are actually famous, public opinion can turn on a dime and give the site a feeling of mob mentality. (See: that recent John Green debacle.)

Mostly, call-out culture is nothing to be afraid of, assuming you're not actually sexist/racist/etc. But it's the internet. Misunderstandings abound. A few months back, one of my joke posts got popular, but -- alas! -- it had a snarkier tone than I usually employ, and a comment arose claiming that I was jeering at young, female writers. (Which would be weird of me, as a young, female writer.) I tried to clarify, but people were already coming to my askbox yelling cursewords at me. So I didn't engage. After making a separate post to clarify the situation, I deleted the original post and turned off my askbox, and things simmered down.

There are far worse things than the overly enthusiastic social justice community. Like, say, the pro-anorexia side of Tumblr, or the shoplifter community. Also, a few years ago, I was mobbed by Men's Rights Activist users, who gave 18-year-old me appalling threats of sexual violence. Same solution: turn off the askbox; don't engage. This too shall pass.

Moving on now to the most important thing:

1) The Golden SocMed Rule: It's Not Really About You

I think this holds true for any social media platform: engaging with an audience should be about the audience first and foremost. A Twitter that consists mostly of a bot posting promos every five seconds is about the most self-defeating thing in the world. People are inherently self-serving, and if what you're posting isn't funny, useful, or in some way pleasing, there's no reason they'll want to connect with you.

Of course, the more famous you are, the less the Golden Rule applies. If you have a giant, rabid fanbase, you can probably talk about yourself all day and night and people will still love you. But for people trying to build buzz through social media, incessant self-promotion doesn't make sense.

Anyway, if you're already famous, all of the above is totally irrelevant. You could probably post just the word "butts" on Tumblr once a day and get a hilariously huge following.

I hope this is helpful! Questions about Tumblr, or about any of the above? Leave them in the comments. Until then, signing off.

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a senior at Kenyon College represented by Caryn Wiseman. Her debut novel, Seven Ways We Lie, will be released by Abrams/Amulet in Spring 2016. Her site (hosted by Tumblr, no less) is here, and she Tweets here.