5 Reasons Story Structure Is Important (Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 1 of 12)

What’s the single most overlooked, misunderstood—and yet important—part of storytelling? If you read the post title, you already know the answer is story structure.

Twelve years ago, I shared the series “Secrets of Story Structure” on this site. That series became the basis of one of my best-known writing-craft books, Structuring Your Novel. That original series and the book that followed were founded upon my journey as a writer, particularly my burning need to understand how story worked. What is story anyway? And which principles and patterns could show me how to write stories that hung together, created seamless arcs, and, most importantly, resonated with readers?

Like most young authors, I was eventually told the answer to all these questions was “structure.” When I began exploring what that meant, I had no idea how monumental a journey I had just embarked on. I expected story structure to teach me how to write great stories. What I didn’t foresee was that it would also change my entire perspective of life itself.

My basic question, “What is story, anyway?” had a much bigger answer than I anticipated. This is because, of course, story is life itself. Story is a reflection of the cyclical patterns and psychological arcs we experience throughout our lives. When we examine the structural patterns that create resonant stories, what we find are the landmarks of life itself.

When we structure a story, we are trying to create a faithful facsimile of real life. This is what grounds a story’s verisimilitude, whether it is hyper-realistic modern fiction or the most fantastical and archetypal of fairy tales. The foundation of solid story structure allows audiences to suspend disbelief and identify with the story world, even if that world is filled with bizarre and unfamiliar details.

Writers often discuss story structure as if it were something we arbitrarily impose upon a story when really just the opposite is true. What we call “story structure” is the shape of life itself. As writers, it is our job to uncover this shape from within our story ideas and to polish it until it touches a point of universal resonance within every member of our audience, no matter how different they may be from us or from each other. Although the simplicity of certain plot beats, by themselves, are not enough to achieve this crystalline resonance, they are the first step.

Writers initially come to story structure for many reasons. Sometimes it is with the explicit purpose of creating that crystalline resonance. More often, it is because we’re trying to write something entertaining, realize we have no idea how to do it, and want guidance. Whatever the case, story structure offers writers a roadmap to writing solid plots. It lays the groundwork for compelling character arcs and themes, taps into the resonance of the collective consciousness, and even deepens our understanding of life.

Although the foundational principles I shared in the original version of this series remain the same, I have learned so much about both stories and life in the past twelve years. I felt it was time to revisit the incredible importance of this information, to polish its rough spots, to add new information, and to correct a few areas where I have refined my perspectives.

I was inspired to revisit this series and, for those who prefer the book experience, to create a revised and expanded second edition of Structuring Your Novel (the book teaches scene structure too). I have also just released a “sequel” Next Level Plot Structure, which goes even deeper into principles of story theory, chiastic structure, and the deeper meaning and purpose of important structural beats. I hope you will enjoy joining me over the next few months as we update this important series and take a deep look into the secrets of story structure. My wish is that you will be able to use this fundamental knowledge to write easier, better, and deeper stories!

What Is Story Structure?

Most uninitiated writers have two different reactions to the idea of story structure. Either they think it’s great but too mystical and lofty to be understood by common mortals. Or they think it’s formulaic hooey that will sap the art right out of their books.

I started somewhere in between—in the “huh?” camp that didn’t even realize there was such a thing as structure. From there, I progressed to reading complicated outlines that left me shaking my head. If that was structure, then it seemed my story would practically be written for me before I even came up with a decent idea. Thanks, but no thanks.

What I didn’t know is that even as I subjected the idea of story structure to my ignorance and ridicule, I was already structuring my stories without even realizing it. In the following years, I was introduced to many theories of structure representing the inevitable components found in good stories whether their authors deliberately structured them or were just lucky enough to wing it on their own good instincts.
The macro level of story structure that I present in this series is a happy medium of the two: ten plot beats that, when arranged correctly, give both authors and readers the biggest bang for their buck.

Foundational story structure creates nothing more than the arc of a story. It does not tell the writer what events must happen at certain beats, only what those beats need to represent to create a functional arc. Although specific beat sheets can sometimes be helpful (especially when dealing with genre formulae), this over-specification can distract from the beautiful simplicity of what story structure really is.

And what is it?

1. Story structure creates a foundation for the plot that mirrors the arc of psychological transformation. It ensures the story contains all the pieces required to make sense while eliminating the temptation to create redundancy.

2. Story structure creates pacing.  Standard plot beats divide the story into eight (ideally) equal parts. Although structural timing will be stressed throughout this series, what is most important to understand is that it exists to create pacing, which in turn exists to control the audience’s experience of the story—to keep them engaged and invested in every moment.

From the book Structuring Your Novel: Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition (Amazon affiliate link). Graphic by Joanna Marie Art.

Over the next eleven weeks, we will be exploring, beat by beat, the most important moments in story structure:

The First Act (1%-25%)

1. The Hook (1%)

2. The Inciting Event (12%)

3. The First Plot Plot Point (25%)

First Act Timeline

The Second Act (25%-75%)

4. The First Pinch Point (37%)

5. The Midpoint – Second Plot Point (50%)

6. The Second Pinch Point (62%)

Second Act Timeline

The Third Act (75%-100%)

7. The Third Plot Point (75%)

8. The Climax (88%)

9. The Climactic Moment (99%)

10. The Resolution (100%)

Third Act Timeline

5 Reasons Story Structure Is Important

Over the next few months, we will explore the mysteries, fallacies, and opportunities of story structure. For now, let’s consider a few reasons every author should care about structure and why none of us should fear it.

1. Structure Is Required in all of Art

Dancing, painting, singing, you name it—all art forms require structure. Storytelling is no different. To bring a story to its full potential, authors must understand the form’s limitations and how to arrange its many parts in the proper order to achieve maximum effect.

2. Structure Does Not Limit Creativity

Authors sometimes fear story structure will inhibit their creativity. If your book follows a specific road and observes certain pit stops, won’t the story be written for you? This is not the case. Structure presents only a shape—the curve of the story arc. It allows us to be concrete and confident in creating that arc, ensuring its effectiveness.

3. Structure Is Not Formulaic

Another fear is that if every story has the same structure, won’t every story ultimately be the same? This isn’t any truer than is the idea that because every ballet incorporates the same movements, every ballet must be the same. Structure is only the box that holds the gift. What that gift may be varies as wildly as the wrapping paper that hides it.

4. Structure Offers a Checklist of Must-Have Elements

Don’t we read how-to books (and blogs like this one) because we want to discover and remember all the elements that make up a successful story? Structure is nothing more than a list of those elements organized in one tidy package.

5. Structure Solidifies Mastery of the Craft

Learning to consciously understand the techniques you’re probably already instinctively using will broaden your understanding and tighten your mastery of the craft. When I first discovered the intricacies of structure, I was amazed to realize I was already incorporating most of the elements in my stories. Learning about these elements allows you to strengthen your raw creative instinct into purposeful knowledge.

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Ready to open up a whole new world of storytelling? Structure is exciting, comforting, and liberating all at once. Whether you’re discovering the ins and outs of story structure for the first time or just brushing up, I hope you’ll enjoy our journey into the most salient and crucial moments in the creation of a story.

Stay tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about the Hook.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do feel about the idea of story structure? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

Intuitive Discovery Writing And Serial Fiction With KimBoo York

How can you lean into intuition and curiosity to embrace discovery writing? How might serial fiction fit into your business model? KimBoo York gives her tips and more in this interview.

In the intro, BookVault now has integration with PayHip; 7 lessons learned from 5 years writing full-time [Sacha Black, Rebel Author Podcast]; My author timeline; List of money books; Crowdfunding for Participation, Profit, and Payment [Self-Publishing Advice]

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

KimBoo York is the author of romance, fantasy, and nonfiction, as well as a productivity coach, and a podcaster at The Author Alchemist and Around the Writer’s Table. Her latest book for authors is By the Seat of Your Pants: Secrets of Discovery Writing.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • What is discovery writing and how does it differ from plotting and outlining?
  • How trust and intuition guide discovery writing
  • Where to begin the discovery writing process
  • Adding layers during the writing and editing process
  • The “penny drop” moment of discovery writing
  • Embracing the process that works for you
  • Differences between a serial, a series, and a novel
  • Platforms and marketing for different genres of serials
  • Building a business model based on ‘you’

You can find KimBoo at HouseofYork.info.

Transcript of Interview with KimBoo York

Joanna: KimBoo York is the author of romance, fantasy and nonfiction, as well as a productivity coach, and a podcaster at The Author Alchemist and Around the Writer’s Table. Her latest book for authors is By the Seat of Your Pants: Secrets of Discovery Writing. So welcome, KimBoo.

KimBoo: Thank you so much, Joanna. You know I am thrilled to be here. I’m very excited.

Joanna: Oh, good. So first up—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.

KimBoo: I’m one of those bog standard, ‘I wanted to be a storyteller since I was a kid.’ I loved reading as a kid. I loved telling stories. I think I got into fanfiction when I was like 10 years old, which was like after the original Star Wars. We’re talking in the 70s, because I’m old, Joanna, so this was a long time ago.

In the modern era, let’s say, I got back into writing original fiction, again, through fanfiction. I came into fanfiction during a very rough time of my life, in about 2007/2008. I wrote a lot, and doing that got me back into the habit of writing regularly. I had given up on it throughout the 90s because I just kind of decided nobody was ever going to publish what I wrote. The publishing industry was just too hidebound, didn’t want people like me.

Eventually, some friends of mine got published, got their original fiction published, and they were like, you could do it too. So I did eventually get published by a small indie publisher in 2011.

I eventually went totally independent, self-published later. I got the rights back to my books and republished them, and I’ve kind of just been rolling on ever since.

In early 2023, I really rejuvenized my author career. I realized the way things were going. As you and I talked about before the recording started, serial fiction is a huge growth area right now, and because of my experiences in fanfiction, I love the serial format. So that really just got me back into the game. So that’s where I am right now. I’m trying to make it all work, juggling a bunch of plates.

Joanna: Okay, wow. We’re gonna come back to the serial side because I definitely want to talk about that.

I do just want to mention the fanfiction. I feel like this is something that doesn’t get talked about very much. Given that you did quite a lot of it before writing your own stuff, just remind people what is the legal aspect of fan fiction. In terms of—

Can people publish what they write in fanfiction worlds?

KimBoo: So the straight legal answer is no. You can’t make money off of fanfiction. There’s a lot of people who are doing gray areas in that, I do not recommend it. Fanfiction is a hobby, fanfiction is a pastime.

There’s been some legal contest of it. I’m in the US, so that’s where the copyright laws I’m familiar with. It differs by country, as you well know, Joanna. So, no, you can’t make money off of fanfiction. It’s a hobby.

That said, there’s lots of places where you can share your fanfiction. There’s Archive of Our Own, quickly known as AO3, which is basically a repository where people can post their fanfiction that they’re working on. That is huge. I think that’s like the third biggest site in the world right now. It’s massive.

So there’s a lot of community there, which I think is the most valuable aspect of fanfiction. In fact, I am now working on a book called Out From Fanfiction which chronicles my own journey, and also gives people advice on how to morph from writing fanfiction to original fiction. They’re not the same, but fanfiction can be a great learning ground for you if that’s your passion.

Joanna: I think that’s great and really important to say. It’s good for us to remember too, as we create our own original characters. It’s like you kind of want to encourage people to love characters enough to write about them, but not to publish books about them.

I’d be really interested in that book when it comes out because I feel like a lot of people get started there. Let’s get into the current book on discovery writing. So let’s define that.

What is discovery writing? How does it differ from plotting or outlining?

KimBoo: So a lot of times people describe discovery writing as the absence of. Like you are not using an outline, you are not using a summary, you are not planning it out ahead of time.

I find discovery writing, in a more positive description, is that you’re leaning into your curiosity. So you’re not deciding ahead of time what happens to your character specifically.

You might know that your character’s going on a trip. They’re a pirate, and they’re going to go pirating around the Caribbean.

You don’t know specifically like where they’re going to go, or how they’re going to get there, and what they’re going to encounter along the way. You don’t know because that excites you as a writer.

So you get into it because you’re like, “I want to know what happens next!” So that same rush that a lot of people get when they’re reading a story is a foundational aspect of using discovery writing as a technique.

That’s one of the things I really push in my book is that discovery writing is a technique. It is a technique you use with outlining, using story beats, without any of those things. It’s a technique that you can hone and improve upon over time by practicing it. So that’s kind of the short version of what I think discovery writing is and how it can be useful to writers.

Joanna: I love this. I do think your book is fantastic as a discovery writer. Well, as I was saying, I wrote a chapter on this in my How To Write a Novel book, but you’ve got a whole book on it.

At first, it was funny because I was like, how has she done a whole book on this? As you said, you actually do go through various levels of techniques and all that.

I do want to come back to this positive choice, as in it’s not like the thing that’s left over if you don’t do plotting. I feel like almost that’s the same as being an indie author. So many people have this sort of, “oh, I can’t get traditionally published, so I will self-publish.”

In the same way, this is like a positive choice for a career, this is a positive choice— Well, although I say that, I often feel like I have tried to plot, but it just is not me. So perhaps—

Is there something more innate about being a discovery writer?

KimBoo: I think there is in some way. Joanna, we both know people who do outlines. Some people do like a one sentence outline for each chapter. Some people have 30-page outline treatments. That’s per author, that’s how their brain works.

I did work in disability services in higher education for about 10 years. One of the most valuable things I took away from that experience working with people and students in the college environment was everybody’s brain works differently.

So I do think that there is a certain level of inclination for people like us, that that is how our brain works. We need that dopamine serotonin rush of curiosity to get us into the story.

I hear a lot of writers, and it was certainly my experience as well, that when they wrote an outline, and it was a great outline for a great story, their brain kind of felt like they could write the story because they had already thought that it was written. Like it was already over, there was nothing left.

I’ve tried, like you, I’ve tried using outlines. Every time I do, I either don’t write the story at all because I’m just like, well, that’s done. Or I try to write it according to the outline, and then I go off script completely because my curiosity takes me in a different direction.

So I think there is a certain level of inclination there. Then again, you know, I have used outlining and reverse outlining. So outlining is a tool that I use, it’s a technique that has been helpful for me in writing my books, but I am more inclined to discovery writing.

Joanna: Yes, I agree. It’s very interesting. We’re all different, but actually, you and I are quite similar it sounds, in terms of our writing.

You mentioned “the rush” before. I was thinking about this —

That moment of synchronicity comes, and you didn’t know where it was going to happen, but at some point, the story just makes sense.

I also write out of order, which makes it even more of a discovery process, I guess.

It’s like I just don’t know how these things are going to connect, but at some point, something happens, and it does connect. You have a whole section on intuition, so how do we trust this process? Like, can we learn more skills? Or do we just have to trust that we’re going to make it?

KimBoo: So the answer to that question is yes, because you do have to lean into trusting the process. I think this is the hardest part for all writers, right? It’s just sitting down and doing the writing and trusting that words are going to come. That is an important part of it.

I do think that honing that skill is something that you can actively work on in practice. Like as much as I want people to read my book, my book can help you, but it’s not going to write your books for you. So that’s the catch 22 we are always in.

I know Becca Syme, you’ve talked to her before. [Check out the interview I did with Becca on intuition here.]

If anybody has not read her book on intuition, I do highly recommend it. Intuition is something that you can build on and improve and create a foundation of understanding that works with your discovery writing instincts to help you write better off the mark.

There’s nothing that can’t be fixed in editing, as they say.

The more you practice discovery writing consciously as a technique, and the more you build up your intuition by studying your craft, and fixing problems, and talking with other writers, and then getting critiques and editing, the stronger your discovery writing will be.

Somebody like Dean Wesley Smith who’s famous for his discovery writing, the pantsing, whatever you want to call it, writing into the dark is what he calls it. He can sit down and write a short story, like front to back, without much editing at all, because he’s just been doing it for so long.

So I do think it is a skill you can build up. The bad news is you have to do it by actually writing.

Joanna: Or the good news, because that’s the fun of it. You mentioned Dean Wesley Smith, I love Dean. He’s been a mentor for me for many years. It’s funny, I still disagree with him on editing.

So he kind of says you don’t need an editor, you just need like a proofreader. I’ve “only” written like between 40 and 50 books now, and Dean has written like 400 books over the last four decades. So I feel like they are tools, as you say. Editing is a tool, really, to improve our work.

Let’s just go back to the beginning. You and I know what we mean by this, but you talk about practicing it as a technique. So just explain, like someone is staring at the blank page—

How does someone start with discovery writing?

KimBoo: So one of the easiest ways to do it is to ask yourself, “And then what? What next?” It’s very improvisational in nature.

So if you know anything about theatre improvisation, the big thing for them is, “Yes, and.” My version of that is, “What next?”

So you’re sitting there, you have a character in mind, and they’re there at a coffee house, sitting down and drinking tea. You know there’s got to be some kind of meet cute or inciting incident. Like you know that, but what is it? What is it going to be?

So you sit there and you think, well, what next? What would be the most dramatic thing that could happen?

Oh, well, maybe a dragon falls through the roof. Or maybe the tea shop gets held up at gunpoint. Or maybe somebody sits down and says, “Here’s the secret code that we talked about earlier,” and your character doesn’t know what’s going on.

So trying to charge up that creativity and lean into it, rather than saying, “Okay, so now this person has to have this. This is what has to happen next.” Just ask yourself, what could happen next? What might happen next? Lean into that, and then write.

Sometimes you’re going to end up going back and saying no, that wasn’t what happened next, and something else needs to happen. You’re not going to know that until you start the writing process.

Lean into the curiosity by asking yourself, what next?

What’s most dramatic thing that can happen next? What’s the saddest thing that can happen next? What’s the happiest, most joyous thing that could happen next? Just kick those gears into motion, I think is the easiest way to go about it.

Joanna: Yes, and this is interesting too, because I feel like our author voice is related quite a lot to our sense of curiosity and who we are.

So you mentioned a dragon falling down from above or whatever. That is never, ever, ever going to happen in one of my books as J.F. Penn because I don’t do dragons. What’s more likely is the character is going to fall through the floor into a crypt full of bones underneath.

KimBoo: There you go.

Joanna: There you go, and there’s an idea. That only kind of came to me through the person in the cafe.

Now I wondered, and I haven’t prepped you with this question, but in my head, I see that person in the cafe, and I see them falling into the crypt, and I can see the crypt. Like I could physically describe that for you because I am a very visual person.

How is that for you? I feel like I hear from some people they hear voices, so they hear dialogue. I never, ever, ever hear dialogue. I struggle with dialogue, but I think I’m pretty good at visual description. So talk a bit about that and how—

These choices we make creatively are based on our voice and how our brains work.

KimBoo: That is such a great observation that you made. Like for me, dragon falling through the roof would totally be what happens. Whereas for you, it’s they fall down into a crypt.

I would never have that falling into a crypt, like I would never do that. So our experience in what interests us is what comes to the fore when we start leaning into that curiosity.

I do find it interesting because I am very visual, but I’m also audio. When I write, to me, and I know there are some writers out there like this, I’m watching a movie with audio, it’s not just the scene.

So I’m very good at dialogue, and sadly, not quite as good as descriptions, which is ironic because I can see it in my head. For me, it’s very much watching a scene unfold, and then like being in the movie theater in the dark, and eating popcorn, and seeing what’s going to happen next.

I do know that there are some discovery writers who don’t have that kind of visual cue. They usually do have, as you said, audio cues. They’re listening to something, the characters talking, or they just have an idea that springboards into words on the page.

It’s very unique for each author, and I think that forms your author voice and builds upon your intuition.

What you know works for you, and what works for you as a reader, is what will come into play as a discovery writer or somebody who’s using discovery writing as a technique.

Joanna: We should acknowledge that some people do not see anything. I’ve had several people on the show who have no mind’s eye, as such. There’s nothing wrong with anyone. However you are experiencing the world is up to you.

I think what’s fascinating as writers is that what we see is the end product. You would have absolutely no clue how that got from the person’s head to the finished product.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a discovery writer or a plotter, or you dictate, or whatever you do, it literally doesn’t matter. It’s going to be the same in the future.

The other thing I was going to mention was layering, or Dean Wesley Smith uses circling. I think I kind of circle. So for example, I will circle back and add dialogue.

Even while I’m writing the scene, it will be like, okay, write, write, write, write, write all the stuff I can see, and then oh, yeah, I guess I better go back and put some dialogue in if there’s two characters, or some emotion. I definitely have to go back and add emotion. So how do you do this?

How do you add these layers?

KimBoo: So a couple of things I talk about in my book are techniques, or approaches, rather, to discovery writing. There’s the recursive style, which is what you’re talking about with circling. So you’re laying something down, and then you recursively go back, you reread it, you add elements to it as you go along.

Sometimes, for me, I get far enough into a story that when I go back, I realized that something that I put in there earlier actually is very important for this later scene. So my brain is laying down those layers as I go, sometimes without me even knowing it.

There’s also the bridging technique, which I think is something you use as well. I don’t use it as much because I do write out of order a little bit sometimes, but it’s not a mainstay for me as a technique.

You do bridging. You have these out of order scenes, and then you bridge between them. The creativity and the curiosity comes into play for people who use that technique, by wondering how they’re going to get from one thing to another.

It may seem like those two points are so disparate that they can never be connected, but you know they can. So you’re curious yourself in building and weaving all those images together to create a story.

So a lot depends on what you’re comfortable in writing and how you lay down those things. The more experience you get, I think a lot of times your subconscious is more engaged and layering down things for you.

The recursiveness of discovery writing is a feature, not a bug.

That’s one thing I try to tell people. It’s like going back and reading what you’ve already read, or going back and adding things to what you’ve already written, is you building up the foundations to continue with the creativity and the curiosity.

You may even go back and lay down things that you’re not really sure you have an answer to yet. That’s where the trust comes in.

You’ve got to be able to trust your intuition and your instincts as a discovery writer to know that, well, either I’ll come back and cut that out, or that is something that I will come back to for some reason that I don’t even know yet.

Joanna: Yes, that’s happened a lot. I think the other thing for me is —

My first self-edit is very important, in that I know that there will be some problems.

That first draft which I print out and I do it by hand, there’s often a lot of arrows, or move this to A, or move B to C.

Some of my hand edits

I write out of order, so that actually happens quite a lot. It’s like, oh, I need to write another thing here, or why is this here? So there’s a lot of moving things around and restructuring.

To me, that’s part of my process. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just the way I do it. So how do your edits go? Are you cleaner in the edit, like Dean?

How do you do that edit?

KimBoo: I’m a little bit cleaner in the edit, but that’s because I’m a heavy recursive writer. So I go back, and I will re-read two chapters behind before I even start writing. So I do a lot of on-the-road editing, in a way. When I finally get to the end, I rarely have to move scenes around.

I would say the two-thirds mark is where I always end up with problems. That’s where things start collapsing in on themselves, and I have to do a full edit of everything I’ve written so far.

So I’m doing a lot of editing as I go, which is funny to me because people like you are like, “This is my third draft.” Then I’m just like, this is my first draft of the book, but it’s like the 45th draft of this particular scene.

So as a recursive writer, I do a lot of editing as I go. That’s not true for all recursive writers, as you point out, Joanna, everybody’s process is valid. That’s just how my brain works, I need to have the back end pretty well structured in order for me to keep going forward into the unknown.

Joanna: Yes, and actually, earlier you mentioned reverse outlining, which I also do. I also, like you —

Probably around 50%, I sometimes just lose the plot entirely. At that point, I will reverse outline.

I’ll just write the chapters in a few lines as to what the hell’s happening.

I do often have to reread the whole thing at around 50%. So I guess in a way, that’s almost where you are, but I don’t do much, and then I suddenly have to do a bunch of it.

Then the penny drops, and then I know how to move on.

So again, I think that’s quite a normal part of the process, isn’t it?

KimBoo: It is, and I love the phrase that you use, “the penny drops.” With so many discovery writers I talk to, there always does seem to be that moment somewhere along the process where the penny drops, where it all just comes together.

Joanna: That’s the fun bit!

KimBoo: That’s the part I love for. I’m like, “Oh, now I get it!” Sometimes it’s frustrating because I’m not there yet. I’m like, I know the penny is going drop at some point, darn it, but I’m not there yet.

Joanna: Yes, and I love that you have that too. I call that synchronicity, what Carl Jung calls synchronicity. That is the moment when you realize your intuition has been right all along and that you were going to get there.

Probably that’s the biggest lesson for people listening is, I mean, it takes time to trust this. I think it was probably only when Becca wrote that book on intuition that I finally accepted my writing process.

It was probably over a decade of trying to deny my process. How about you?

KimBoo: Same, exactly the same, Joanna. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book. I was talking to a good friend of mine Gina Hogan Edwards, she’s a historical fiction writer. We were talking about process and she’s very into outlining.

I encouraged her to use discovery writing techniques, and it really opened up her writing in a lot of ways.

I wanted to be able to take away that stigma. I wanted to be able to say, look, this is just another technique. This isn’t bad.

You aren’t a bad writer. You’re not a terrible person for not having an outline at the start, like pre-planning.

It did take me so long, and I felt so broken. I would write these outlines, and then I wouldn’t be able to write the story. That’s just a terrible feeling. For anybody who’s gone through that, I totally get that. It did take me a long time.

Coming back to fanfiction, one of the breakthroughs for me was when I was looking at my fanfiction at some point, this was 2018, 2019, 2020, I don’t remember exactly when. But I realized that most of the fiction I wrote, and certainly the most popular stories I’ve written in fanfiction, were all written by the seat of the pants.

I started realizing maybe this is my technique. Maybe this is how I can get back to writing as a professional author who enjoys my work and enjoys the stories that I’m writing.

It’s the penny drop moment. I was just like, oh, I’m already doing this. Maybe I should apply this to my own original fiction and see what happens, so it took a while.

Joanna: As we’re talking, I am wondering if the reason plotting is considered so much more acceptable is that when you submit to a publisher or an agent, you generally submit three chapters and an outline of a book. Or if you already have a traditional deal, for the next book, they’ll want an outline.

It’s so funny, I talked to someone the other day about this, and she was like, “Oh, if you’re going to submit, you do this.” I’m like, well, I couldn’t do that because I have to finish the book before I can do an outline. So that’s just crazy. So I mean, it just struck me as we were talking, what do you think? Do you think that’s why it’s become so much more acceptable?

The assumption is that you will do an outline.

KimBoo: I think that’s part of it, but I would go back further than that. I think that a lot of times when you look at people who are teaching creative writing historically, in the 20th century and throughout those years, discovery writing tends to be the first thing that a lot of new writers do.

They have an idea, they sit down, they write a story. Oftentimes, it’s not a very good story. Then they go to try to get education, they try to learn how to do the craft.

So all these teachers and educators are looking at these stories and go, “See, this is a bad technique. You need to outline first, and then you won’t have these problems.”

So I think it was like kind of a problem solving method for a lot of creative writing teachers to really hone in technique onto newer writers. Then it just expanded.

Yes, I think the traditional publishing want those outlines because they’re hedging their bets. For them, it’s a business, they want to know what the full story is before they invest any money in it. So I think it’s a lot of these elements at play.

As you were saying earlier with indie publishing and self-publishing, the times have changed. So now we can talk about these different techniques.

We can say that there are ways that a person like you, Joanna, can make a whole career writing a lot of books using this technique and be successful on your own terms, without having to conform to the way someone else wants you to present your work. That’s certainly a privilege for us to be living in an era when that’s true.

Joanna: I literally have not outlined or plotted any of my books!

KimBoo: That’s awesome. I love it.

Joanna: I think it was Rachael Herron I talked to about this. I was having a private conversation, and I was like, “Oh, why can’t I just change?” She was like, “Look, you’ve managed to write all these books. What is even the problem?”

KimBoo: Exactly. That was kind of my thought. Then I’m like, wait, hold on, I’ve written all these stories just doing it this way. Maybe I can keep doing it that way.

Joanna: Yes, like you’re not broken. So I hope that this has really helped people listening. Of course, it might be interesting to people who do plot. There’s nothing wrong with that either.

KimBoo: They’re okay people too! You can’t help yourselves, you just have to outline. We get it.

Joanna: Yes, fair enough.

I do want, while you’re here, I’m also interested in your other book for authors which is Become an Unstoppable Storyteller: How to Craft Compelling Serials. Now, I don’t read serials, so I don’t even try to write serials, but I know many people are interested. So first up, tell us—

What is the difference between a serial, a series, and just a novel?

KimBoo: So the very basic rule of thumb, and I just want to start by saying that these categories are very flexible. You know, these are all modern categories, there’s just so many different ways to tell a story. My rule of thumb is that a serial consists of a story with nested story arcs.

Now, you can have a novel series that has nested story arcs, but generally a novel itself has a story arc. It’s either the three act structure, the seven act structure, save the cat, or the hero’s journey. That is the main structure.

The individual character arcs in a novel will dip and turn, but they all adhere to that one main story structure. With some novel series, or what I would call a legitimate serial, there could be a very long story arc while there’s smaller story arcs within it.

Of course, the best example that we can give for this these days is a television show. Like you have something, like Game of Thrones or some long running show, that has big story arcs that go across multiple seasons even. Then you have the smaller story arcs that are the monster of the week, or the dragon or the week, or the killer of the week, whatever that might be.

Those individual story arcs kind of exist not quite independently, but they do exist within the larger story arc and feed into it, but aren’t necessarily the same as larger story arcs. So that’s a very short and definitely incomplete description of how I would describe serials.

Some serials, for instance, One Piece, which is popular right now because the live action, that’s a manga that has over 1000 volumes. These types of stories can go on, and they’re just searching for the one piece.

They’re searching for thing, that’s the whole long story arc. But you have the shorter story arcs that are just absolutely brilliant that rest on that longer story arc.

Joanna: A lot of people hear about the success some people are having on serial platforms. I get this question all the time. Should I just post my chapters on serial platforms, like take my finished novel and just post chapter by chapter on a serial platform?

I generally say no, because most serial chapters are not the same as actual chapters in a book. As you say, you need to keep people reading through. So what do you think about that?

Can you take just any novel and post it on a platform for serial writing?

KimBoo: Absolutely, you can. A lot of romance writers do that, and I use romance writers because they’re certainly the biggest ones who are taking advantage of that.

They treat it as a funnel to their books. So when you have a novel, and you’re splitting it up, and you’re posting the chapters, you’re serializing it. It’s not a serial, but it is being serialized. If people are comfortable with that, it can be a great way to funnel readers into your book ecosystem, into buying the books.

I would stress:

Know your own business model, know your own comfort zone, and know your readers. Serial readers and book readers don’t always overlap.

So you can grab some serial readers with a serialized novel, and they may not buy the book. You may get some people who will look at a serial and go, I’ll wait until it’s done and buy the book. Then you’re going to have some overlap.

I think it’s possible, but again, I really caution people to know your own business model, what you’re doing. Know your audience, are they people who read serials at all? For instance, like the thriller novel demographic, they’re not big on serials.

Joanna: No, not at all.

KimBoo: Not at all. If you are writing like LitRPG, or you’re writing romance, some form of romance, yes, you can get a big readership serializing your work. Just be aware of how that feeds into the whole ecosystem that you’re building for your business.

Joanna: What are the main platforms for selling serials?

KimBoo: So Ream is a new up and coming one. I’m on Ream. I really like their approach, and I like what they’re doing. A lot of people look at it and see there’s a lot of romance authors there, but it is for all genres.

For instance, my friend Gina that I mentioned, she’s actually serializing her historical fiction novel. It’s not romance at all. She’s doing that on Ream. So there’s a lot of opportunity there on Ream, but there are other platforms.

Some authors are on Patreon, which has its own issues, depending on what you’re writing. Some people self-host it, which you can do these days, of course with WordPress, you could do it on Wix, you can do it on Kajabi, you could do it on Squarespace.

There are a lot more options for writers these days to either self-host their own subscriptions or use other platforms to do it. There are a lot of different platforms out there.

I will say this, that these days, platforms like Wattpad, Royal Road, Inkitt, they have their own specific demographics. Like on Royal Road, it’s very much fantasy and LitRPG. Wattpad is still heavily romance oriented.

If you’re going to be giving away free chapters on those platforms, then look carefully at the demographics. There’s so many options these days, and I do go into that in my book Become an Unstoppable Storyteller, different options for posting.

There’s still Vella and Radish, which are ways to get money, but it’s more like the Kindle Unlimited model. People are subscribing and you’re just getting a piece of the pie in that model. So it just depends on what your tolerance level is for how much control you have over your property.

Joanna: Yes,

Definitely read those contracts! And when we say contracts, people, we mean the terms and conditions when you upload a file to a site. That is a contract.

KimBoo: Yes, absolutely yes.

Joanna: There are some difficult ones, let’s say. We are recording June 2024, you could go to one of these sites now and it might be fine, and then you upload another book in a month’s time and it might be different. So I think it’s very important to look at this.

So you mentioned the demographics are different, you write different kinds of books and serials.

How are you marketing serials differently than you are marketing books?

KimBoo: So with books, I’m much more focused on—I’m not running a lot of advertisements right now, but I’m gearing up to do that for the last half of this year. I’ve been busy for this last year, putting all the pieces in place for my own business model.

So for books, I’m going to be using things like Facebook ads more. For instance, The Queen’s Aerie, which is a love triad, fantasy romance novel, I did serialize that. I actually serialized it early access on Ream for paying followers.

I then, much later down the road, put chapters up for free on Wattpad, and Inkitt, and Archive of Our Own. So people can go read the whole book for free.

Then I will be doing advertisements for buying the book itself, and possibly doing a Kickstarter down the road for doing an audio version or a special bound edition for it. So there’s a lot of different ways I’m trying to funnel people into my author ecosystem.

I know you’ve talked to Joe Solari, and he’s somebody I really admire. Much bigger brain than I have. One thing I took away from a lot of his lessons is to be aware of all the different ways you could reach out and reach your audience.

So I do have a Substack, The Scriptorium, which is my blog. There I focus less on the fiction and more on the nonfiction, which is something else that I write, because nonfiction people aren’t going to be on Ream.

I know that if I want to reach other authors to talk about my books on writing and my craft books, Ream is a bad place for that. I need to be doing it on my Scriptorium blog. There’s just a lot of moving parts on something like that, but I think I will be using advertising for my books more than I would be doing for my serials so far.

Serials as a popular format subscription platform, particularly, are still very new. So I think there’s still a lot of poking and prodding by authors who are using subscription models on what kind of advertisement actually works well. I haven’t seen a lot of success on that yet.

So we’re still relying heavily on organic growth, which is not ideal, but we’re figuring it out.

Joanna: These are kind of a borrow model, aren’t they, with a serial, or they pay a micro payment, or they get it as part of their subscription. So it is kind of difficult to get the return on investment with, say, a Facebook ad. Unless, I guess, it’s a really long thing or, like you say, like a book one in a series.

I think it’s so interesting, this kind of splintering effect. There’s so many platforms for different types of readers and consumers, because you could also do audio serials, audio fiction. So let’s just mention podcasting.

You’ve got two podcasts. How does this fit into your business and your marketing?

KimBoo: So here’s the thing that I think when I get back to talking about knowing your own business model. So my business model is not niching down, my business model is not “I write dark romance, and that’s all I do.”

My business model is me, as a person. Me as a writer and the voice that I bring to my stories.

I want people to read my stories because I wrote them, not because they’re a love triad fantasy with dragon shifters. So for me, it’s a lot about personal marketing.

The Author Alchemist Podcast I started a long time ago when I had a completely different business model. I’ve morphed it a little bit to talk more about mindset, process, and productivity, which is a new tagline for it.

Because I am a productivity coach, I talk to a lot have authors and creatives about what it takes to be productive and what kind of productivity tools you can use. So I’m focusing more on that on The Author Alchemist side.

The Around the Writer’s Table, I’ll be honest with you, that’s a fun gig. That’s me with two of my best friends. We all had great conversations around writing and creativity, and so we started that because we just wanted to share what we were talking about. So that’s more of a vanity project, really.

I do love what we’ve talked about. I encourage people to go listen to that because we’ve covered some fascinating topics. That one doesn’t quite fit into my model so much, it’s just something that’s fun and gets my voice out there. That’s kind of how it is.

I really think that, and you’ve heard me mention this a lot in this conversation about business models, and I know in one of your earlier podcasts you were talking about Spear of Destiny and how you’re doing Kickstarter, and then you’re also doing preorder.

The preorder, of course, is available later. People who sign up for the Kickstarter are going to get the book earlier. To me, that really represents what we’re talking about when we talk about splintering. It sounds like a negative term, but to me, it’s like it’s reaching readers where they are.

There’s some people who aren’t going to support your Kickstarter, they’re just not. There’s some people who love preorders, and so they’re going to go and do the preorder. There’s some people who just want the audiobook, they’re just going to wait for the audiobook.

So you, of course, have multiple different versions of audiobooks and different ways people can access audiobooks.

It’s all about reaching people where they are.

So when I look at my business model, which is selling me as an author and my voice, it’s less, “Oh, here’s a podcast on the side.” It’s, “Here’s something that people can get to know me.”

In fact, I’ve started doing a daily short on YouTube called Coffee with KimBoo, where I just talk about what I’m going to be doing that day. It’s just to get people to know me as a writer and be interested in me. So that’s my business model, and that’s not the business model for other people.

Joanna: It’s pretty much my business model!

KimBoo: Not everybody, but certainly the two people in this virtual room right now.

Joanna: I think it’s interesting, I do feel this is more and more important. You know, I’ve said many times now to double down on being human, and kind of proving that you are a human.

We’re all weird in our way, and some people like us, and some people don’t. That’s fine.

I was thinking about my use of social media the other day, and I was thinking, you know what, I am using social media now more as a proof that I am human. Posting photos and kind of things like that much more than I used to.

It used to be more about like marketing or whatever. Now it’s sort of evidence that I’m human. So I love that Coffee with KimBoo idea. I don’t want to do it myself, but I think that’s really interesting. For people listening, doing more of that, more about you, I think is a really good idea. So we are out of time.

Where can people find you, and your books, and your podcasts online?

KimBoo: I do have an online hub. I call it a hub, but it’s a website. It’s HouseofYork.info. So that’s House of York, all one word, dot i-n-f-o. You’ll have links there to all my books, there’s a section on my books. There’s a link to all my podcasts, and also my podcast shows. So any interviews I’ve done are on that page as well.

Also to join my online membership club for writers called 1 Million Words Club. It’s on Discord, and it’s focused more on productivity and process than craft. So it’s a little bit different, but we have a great group of people there. So you can find out all about that at HouseofYork.info.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, KimBoo. That was great.

KimBoo: It’s been wonderful, Joanna. Thank you so much.

The post Intuitive Discovery Writing And Serial Fiction With KimBoo York first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Preparing Your Manuscript For Pitching Agents With Renee Fountain

How can you make sure your manuscript is ready for submission to an agent — or for publication if you go indie? What are the benefits and challenges of traditional publishing? Will they really do all the marketing for you? Renee Fountain talks about these things and more in today’s interview.

In the intro, Referencing and citations [Self Publishing Advice]; will.i.am on the WSJ talking about AI, music and media; Behind the scenes of Pilgrimage [BookBrunch]; how a chapel visit in Zambia led to a published short story [X @mwanabibi]

This episode is sponsored by Publisher Rocket, which will help you get your book in front of more Amazon readers so you can spend less time marketing and more time writing. I use Publisher Rocket for researching book titles, categories, and keywords — for new books and for updating my backlist. Check it out at www.PublisherRocket.com

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

Renee Fountain has more than three decades in the publishing industry, including being a literary agent, a developmental editor, and story analyst. She is the president of Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Management and founder of Gryphon Quill Editing.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Main issues seen with manuscript submissions
  • Is your manuscript overwritten?
  • Tips on pacing
  • What is developmental editing?
  • Key elements of a pitch package and query letter
  • Will traditional publishers do all the marketing for you?
  • Using an agent to get a TV or film deal vs. going indie
  • Dealing with rejection
  • Cash flow management in traditional publishing

You can find Renee at GHliterary.com or ReneeFountain.com.

Transcript of Interview with Renee Fountain

Joanna: Renee Fountain has more than three decades in the publishing industry, including being a literary agent, a developmental editor, and story analyst. She is the president of Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Management and founder of Gryphon Quill Editing. So welcome to the show, Renee.

Renee: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

Joanna: Yes, indeed. So first up—

Tell us a bit more about you, how you got into the publishing industry, and what you do now.

Renee: Well, I’ve loved books since I was a little kid. I was that kid getting yelled at for reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping.

So after a bunch of boring jobs, I wanted to do something I love. So I was living in San Diego at the time, and Harcourt Brace was the only publisher there. So I thought, I’m going to do that. I started in the very boring division of accounting guides before landing a coveted spot in children’s books. I eventually moved back to New York City, just in time for 9/11. So that kind of dashed my hopes of growing my publishing empire.

Now I’m wearing a few hats. I’m a literary agent—when I did come back to New York, I did go with Simon and Schuster eventually. So now I’m wearing a few hats.

I’m a literary agent. I’m a developmental editor, working with writers in my private business. I’m also on the faculty of Manuscript Academy, working with writers there. I’m also writing reviews for Kirkus Indie because it’s one of the few ways I get to keep my own writing skills sharp while dipping my toe in the indie pool.

Joanna: A portfolio career, as they call it.

Renee: Sure, why not?

Joanna: I say I’m a multi-passionate creative, so don’t put me in a one-genre box! Now, when you pitched me, it was really interesting. You said,

“I get a lot of manuscript submissions that are just not query ready.”

I was like, oh, my goodness, that is a super juicy topic. So let’s get into that. What are the main issues you see with those manuscript submissions?

Renee: Mostly it’s the writing, whether at a line level or the overall story structure. It could be the writing isn’t strong enough yet or the word count may be too high for the genre they’re writing. It’s mostly due to loose writing, bad pacing, excessive description, or the scene goes on way too long.

Or what I call “story for story sake.” Just telling the reader a lot of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the big picture, no matter how interesting it is. You’ll know if you have that if you take out that section and it still makes sense. So it’s just a lot of things just aren’t quite gelling yet.

I’ve talked to so many people that are just like, “Well, I want to work on a new project, so I just need to get it out there.” Like it’s a time limit, and you’ve got to shove it out the door. You really don’t. You really need to take your time.

Joanna: There’s a few things to come back on there. I want to address the word count first because this is really interesting, and people don’t really understand why word count is an issue.

Could you talk a bit more about word count for some of the most common genres and why it’s a problem if it goes on too long?

Renee: I hear a lot of talk about they say that for my first book, I shouldn’t exceed X amount of words. Well, if your story holds it, then it’s fine. The problem is when you say, “Oh, Renee, I’ve written this 150,000-word romance.” It’s like, mmm, probably not.

I mean, I know you wrote it, but you probably have a lot of stuff in there that doesn’t need to be there. So genre in general has a word count that you should kind of be shooting for.

A thriller can be done between 70 and 90, depending on the story. Fantasy is one of the few things that are going to go above 100. That’s really what we’re looking for. You know, you talk about red flags when you see a query, it’s like if I see 150,000-word romance, I know there’s a problem.

Joanna: So back in the day, I understood it to be that word count was very much about spine size. So you mentioned there thrillers, 70,000 to 90,000. I write thrillers, but I write shorter thrillers than that. I mean, 70 would be the highest.

When most books are sold online, how big a deal is spine size?

Or is it more about, for example, editorial budget for 150,000 words is much more than a 60,000-word book?

Renee: Well, I mean, with George R.R. Martin still getting published with his microscopic font in his giant 1000-plus page books, like I say, he’s still sticking in genre, but I don’t know how much times have changed now.

Editing in the Big Five, they really want you to do all that heavy lifting before it gets to them. Things have evolved, it’s changed.

I never really thought of it in terms of spine size so much as what the story tends to hold. So if you’ve ever seen 150,000-page romance, that’s quite the book. You have to imagine it’s overwritten.

Now, opposed to going the other direction of having something where the word count is too small. Like if you said, “Renee, I wrote this 52,000-word romance,” or whatever it is, the problem becomes pricing at that point. They really like the sweet spot of around 70. They really don’t like it under that because of the pricing issue.

Joanna: Yes, this is so funny. I feel like we’ve been so boxed in with pricing because of Amazon’s $9.99 cap as well. I read a lot of nonfiction too, and nonfiction can be shorter and readers will pay more. It really is only a fiction issue with pricing, I think.

Renee: Yes, you expect nonfiction to be a slightly lower count. Somewhere in the 60s and higher, depending on the topic. I think where nonfiction comes in is that you can be more direct in whatever it is, the issue that you’re talking about.

It can also go higher. If it’s a narrative nonfiction, you’re going to another 320-page, 350-page book. So it all varies within there too, but yes, they can hold a lower count.

Joanna: Well, let’s come back to the word ‘overwritten.’ You know what that means, but it’s very hard to know what it means when you’re the author.

What are some ways that an author could analyze their own manuscript to find whether or not they have overwritten?

Or you mentioned story for story sake. How do people know that they have these problems without working with an editor first?

Renee: Well, I think with a lot of stuff with authors, it’s tough. You can be a great writer, but you’ve been working on it so long, you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore, and your brain fills in all the gaps.

So sometimes it’s hard to see it for yourself, and that’s where you get a fresh pair of eyes. Whether that’s a professional editor, or whether that’s another author that you admire, that their books are good.

Anybody who understands pacing because that’s where it’s all going to come into, the fact that you have the story for story sake. You’re writing this long scene, and you’re describing everything on the person’s desk and everything on the walls, trying to “set the scene,” but none of it is really that important.

You’re giving the reader a lot to remember and think about. Whereas if on that desk was a secret relic, that magical thing, yes, you’re going to say, “among the pens and the other stuff, you’ve got this relic.” That’s the part we’re going to remember.

The idea is if you take some of this extraneous stuff out and the story keeps moving forward, like you’ve not missed it. If it’s like you had to know about this part, you of course, don’t take that stuff out.

It’s when you take the stuff out and nothing is missed and the story is still whole, that’s when you know you’re just giving a lot of information.

I’ve read books where the information was fun, I enjoyed reading it, but in the real big picture, it didn’t have anything to do with it. It was just taking up a lot of real estate for no productive reason.

Joanna: You also mentioned before, that feeling of ‘just get it out there.’ I totally understand that. I mean, sometimes we’re just sick of our own books.

Interestingly, as self-published authors, obviously we can just upload, publish, and it can be selling the same day. So there is a sort of positive sense of getting it out there more quickly.

What tips can you give us around patience or coming back to something with fresh eyes after waiting?

How can we do that? Is it just a matter of leaving it aside for a time?

Renee: Yes, and actually, I wrote an article on that on my Substack of how patience pays off. In the sense that with you guys, and especially you, Joanna, that have had a lot of books out there, you know what to do here, and you know when your stuff is finished.

These first-time authors a lot of the times are like, I just have to hurry up and get this published. They don’t realize that you’re just detracting from the possibility because you don’t get a second bite at the apple.

Usually, when you’re tired of that project, or it’s not quite right, or you haven’t sent it to an editor, or as I said, other person that can give you actual feedback, put it in the drawer for a little while.

I mean, this is why painters turn around their paintings so they don’t look at it for a couple of days, and when they turn it back around, they can see where the improvement needs to be made.

So there is no deadline to rush it out the door as a traditional publishing person because no one will pick it up because it’s not ready. You knew that when you did it, but you were just hoping that someone would love it enough to fix it. That rarely, rarely happens.

Joanna: You also mentioned pacing a couple of times.

What are some tips around pacing?

Renee: Well, that’s hand in hand with the overwriting and bringing scenes that last way too long. You’re getting mired down in all these details that really aren’t moving the story forward or enhancing your story in any way. So that will drag down the pacing.

So if I’m slogging through three or four pages of what’s on a person’s desk, only to have someone walk in say, “Hey, would you like that glass of water now?” and they leave the room, what was that for?

I’m not saying that everything has to happen in a split second. I can appreciate the slow burn, but there’s that fine line between just having the words there just to have them, rather than having them be productive and add to the story.

If you’re spending a lot of time writing about things, introducing a character, “Oh, he was bullied as a child. Now he’s got these dark thoughts,” and on and on. Then all of a sudden, he’s gone. You never see him again. He just got off the school bus, and you decided to tell me all about this person who got off the school bus, but he doesn’t show up again.

If you take that out, it doesn’t affect the story. You leaving it in, I’m reading this, and that’s kind of slogging the pacing a little bit.

Joanna: I feel like the biggest shift of this, certainly for me as a writer who’s been doing this a while now, is changing my head from my author head to a reader head. Obviously, as an editor, you’re acting as a reader as well.

So how can we do that? I mean, I guess we’ve talked about getting some distance. For example, I’ll tell you how I do my own self edits. I will print out my draft two pages to a page, so it looks more like a book. So you can fold it up, and it would be like a book.

Then I hand edit with a pen on paper, and I scribble all over it. The font I use is different, so it’s not on the screen. So this kind of helps me disconnect.

Some of my hand edits

Have you got any tips for other people to change your head around?

Renee: I think that’s a great tip. It’s a matter of stepping away, getting some fresh eyes, and then doing something like that, or reading it out loud. If you’re reading it out loud, especially with your dialogue, that’s a great way to fix dialogue that’s going on too long, or is too on the nose, or whatever.

If you read it out loud, then you can see that you’re going on and on and on about something. Then you’re like, well, I can say this so much more succinctly and have way more impact and not lose anything in the story as a whole.

Joanna: Yes, it is difficult. Again, it’s very interesting, I think it takes a number of books before an author can be more confident in their voice.

How have you seen authors develop their voice over the years? Is it a matter of developing creative confidence over time?

Renee: Yes, I absolutely do. I have a client that I’ve worked with a number of times. He’s a veteran, and his writing feels like it’s more cathartic for him. It’s a lot of very angry stuff. It’s not necessarily well thought out, etc.

Then a couple months later, I’ll hear from again. A year later, I’ll hear from him again. He’s like, I wrote this new romance thing because he’s got it all out of his mind. This stuff was way different, and that’s what I would tell him.

He’s like, do you think we should submit the other stuff? I said, you know what, step away for a little while and go back to it. Then you’ll see that you got out what you wanted to say, but maybe now you know how you want to say it a little bit more gently, a little bit more productively, if you would.

He’s done that, and he’s come back and said, you’re right. He realized it was not ready to be to be sent.

Joanna: That takes some maturity.

Renee: You’ll get that with your practicing of writing. The more you write, the more mature you get. I mean, I can see how my writing has changed. I was reading stuff from 1985, and I was laughing. I’m like, oh, my god, what was I thinking?

Joanna: In 2022, I rewrote my first three novels which I had self-published in 2009/2010. I was like, I’ve become a lot better writer, and because those three novels were the beginning of a 13-book series, it felt important to rewrite.

It’s funny, you said earlier, you don’t get a second bite of the apple or whatever, but as independent authors we do. We can do that. I think you meant if you’re pitching an agent. Although, people get their rights back, don’t they, and often rewrite things.

Renee: Well, that’s a road that can’t go back to the traditional. That’s the same thing as an indie writer, you cannot pitch most—I’m not saying every—most agents, including myself, cannot take anything that’s been previously published in any way.

Whether it was just online or whether it was out there online but didn’t sell anything, I can’t have anything. In traditional publishing contracts, it’s going to state that this has never been out there.

Now, if it’s been a long time and you have rewritten 80% of the book, it’s different then. It’s the same with the second bite at the apple for when you’re sending to an agent.

Do you know how many times it’s very frustrating for an agent to get, “Here’s my manuscript, I hope you’ll love it.” Then literally a week later, “Oh, I redid a whole bunch of sections. Here’s the new one, try this one instead.” Someone has done that to me like four times, and I’m like, no, I can’t.

Then there was times where I’ve gotten one that said, “I sent this to you last year. You gave me some great notes on it. I wanted you to know I completely rewrote it. Will you look at it again?” That is usually very okay to do it that way.

Joanna: Right, we’re going to come back to the agent stuff. Let’s just talk about developmental editing because you do that. I feel like the word editor is so difficult because it can mean so many things.

What does a developmental editor do that is different to a line editor, a copy editor, a red-marks-all-over-the-page editor?

Renee: Well, a developmental editor could still give you red marks, but they look at the whole big picture. I can’t help myself from line editing because I’ll see it and I’m like, no, that’s not right. So I’ll do a little of that as well.

Otherwise, they look to see that the story starts in the right place, the scenes are all necessary and productive, like we talked about before, meaning they serve a purpose to the story and move the story forward, back to pacing.

They often see where the story can be improved by moving some things around, adding or deleting things. If something is said a certain way, you can say, hey, what if you said it this way? Or what if you told that in dialogue? Or what if you showed it this way?

So that’s what they do, it’s just like moving things around. Where line editors and copy editors are down to the nitty gritty of grammar, continuity, cohesiveness of style, consistency, making sure the words used relay the intention that the writer was trying to.

I took a copy editing class through the University of Chicago, and that was very not for me. You have to keep a style sheet. There’s a lot of technical things that go along with it. It’s a completely different animal.

Joanna: Yes, I think you have to go with what your strengths are and seeing that story as a whole.

It’s interesting, you said ‘checking whether the story starts in the right place.’

I feel like some people won’t understand what you mean by that. So could you expand on that?

Renee: Sure. I just read one recently where I got all this information, all this preamble, and nothing was really happening. There was no inciting incident, nothing was really happening in like the first 10 pages.

Then by the time I got to chapter three, some major event happened, and now it was off to the races. I said, you might want to bring that in the beginning and less preamble of where nothing was going on.

As an agent, I can read within the first five pages to see voice and style and everything like that. So you’ve got to get to certain benchmarks, or you’ve got to stop turning the pages because it’s taking too long to get there. Like I said, fine line between slow burn and bad pacing.

Joanna: Yes, and even if it’s a slow burn, you’ve got to hook the reader. So I read fiction on a Kindle, and I’m pretty much a three click on a Kindle Paperwhite. So I mean, that’s not many pages.

If I download a sample, I’ll know pretty quickly whether I want to read something. Then if I get to the end of the sample, I will usually buy the book because I am hooked in.

That inciting incident, something happening, is a genre specific thing. The reader has to know, this is the book I want to read now.

Renee: Well, yes. You’re showing that this character is going to go on a journey to get a want and a need, and we’ve got to know what sets them on that journey.

You’re going to want to know that within a certain period of time, or we’re just reading about these people’s lives, and it’s not really going anywhere.

If you’re, as a reader, sitting there and you’re a couple chapters in going, what’s happening, where’s this going? It’s harder to say that if you’re reading like a finished book, as opposed to submissions that come in. I’m talking about traditional again.

So there’s certain kinds of rules that are adhered to, in a sense. I mean, not hard and fast. You know if the rules are meant to be broken. Yes, it’s tough. Okay, so once the manuscript is in shape, many authors want to pitch an agent.

Joanna: What are the key elements of a pitch package that authors need to put together in order to make it through the first mass delete of an agent’s email pile?

Renee: A strong query letter is key. I’m actually going to be teaching a masterclass at StoryFest in South Carolina on this because it’s the first thing that gets you noticed. It’s one of the basic things, but it takes a lot of practice and patience to get it just right.

So you want to have your strong query letter. Keep it to a single page, 250 to 350 words is best. If it takes more, that’s fine. Succinctness and showing that you can tell your story and give all this information shows that you’ve tightened your writing up.

If I’m reading a three-page query letter, I’m going to guess that their manuscript is overwritten as well. So it’s very important to have that.

I’ve created a helpful template for query letters that can be found on my site under the resource tab. That’s free for anybody to use. I did a proposal one as well and it kind of walks you through the process.

That brings me to synopsis. You should have a one- to two-page synopsis on hand in case an agent asks for it. I always ask for them. It’s because you’re going to invest a lot of time reading these books.

While the voice and the writing seem great, four or five hours into this book, you don’t want to suddenly see that it goes off the rails, and suddenly there’s a donkey flying through the air throwing glitter everywhere. Then you’re like, wait, what just happened? You don’t get the time back.

So when I’m reading, and I see the voice and the structure, and everything is all lining up, I like to look at the synopsis to see the story arc itself, to see how it’s going to play out. Sometimes I can see errors there and say, listen, that doesn’t really track.

I may read forward before I make my assessment, they just maybe didn’t write the synopsis as strong as they should. I’ll still read forward to see if it actually played out in the manuscript.

If you’re a nonfiction author, strong query letter and a strong proposal is very key. Like I said, templates are under my resources if you want to take a look at that.

Joanna: Just so people know, what website should they be looking for there?

Renee: It’s ReneeFountain.com.

Joanna: Great, we’ll come back to that at the end. Just on the query letter, let’s just cover a bit more detail now. So obviously, we need to talk about the story or the nonfiction project, whatever it is.

Should we also include elements of our sales, our platform?

Like I’m an established indie author, or there might be newer indie authors than me, but should we be including that information as well, to kind of talk more about the author? We’re always told we should talk about author platform, basically.

Renee: Yes, you should.

Indie or traditional, it’s understood that you are going to be the marketer of your book. You’re going to do most of the heavy lifting.

Traditional publishing will do like very basic stuff, but it’s up to the author.

When traditional publishers are looking at a book, if you have a strong platform, if you have a lot of high sales, that will get you absolutely looked at. So definitely showing that you have a strong platform and high sales is great.

You can say, “I’m a successful indie author making my traditional publishing debut,” and go on after that in your letter.

At the end, you can talk about your sales, but your sales have to be fairly high. You know, 3000 is great, I would be very impressed with that, but publishers want to see it as high as possible.

At the converse of that, if you don’t have any sales or you don’t have a high platform, take the time to start building your platform more. Your followers, your social media, all that for your reach.

Just because you don’t have any sales, don’t let that stop you. Everybody starts somewhere. So if it’s not impressive, don’t talk about it. If it is impressive, absolutely. Put it in red, put it in big giant letters.

Joanna: Yes, but start with the story. So I guess, “I’m writing to pitch this project. Here’s a bit about the story. Then here’s my platform. If you’re interested, let me know.”

Should we pitch multiple agents at the same time?

Renee: Yes, but not in a way that you’re just throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Research the agents.

Joanna: What are some tips for finding a good match for a book and an author?

Because there’s a lot of agents out there.

Renee: It’s simply the research. Whether you’ve read a book that you really like, and you’re like, this is just like mine, or this is the type of book that this agent handles. Look in the acknowledgments, find out who the agent is for that book.

Look on Publishers Marketplace, Manuscript Wish List. I think Writer’s Digest provides some guidance. I thought I saw something from Reedsy not too long ago where they put up the agents.

I wasn’t among them, by the way. I stay off the grid. I don’t use QueryTracker or other similar sites, because they’re probably a good place, but that’s not the way I work.

Attend writing events like PNWA, or Killer Nashville, or whatever fits in your genre, to see their list of agents. They post them up there, who’s attending, what they’re looking for. Then you can go back for the last two or three years, and I think you can garner a lot of information that way.

Joanna: Yes, I mean, it’s better to pitch five agents you’ve heavily researched than just scatter-gunning twenty-five.

Renee: It’s not good to just throw it out there. Also, too, remember you want to work with this person. Maybe there are agents that you’ve identified from past things that you’ve been doing, or books that you’ve seen, or other authors, so pitch them first.

Maybe you have your top five, or whatever it is. Then pitch ones that are relevant to what you’re doing. Don’t pitch a military agent your romance book.

Joanna: Yes, very important.

Are agents and publishers open to indie authors pitching?

I mean, you mentioned there, if you have a good platform, mention it, if you don’t, don’t mention it. But are they open to it? I mean, obviously even if you don’t mention it, you’re going to have to mention it when you have a conversation.

Renee: It’s not something to hide at all. I’m just saying what will kind of work for you and what will work against you. Saying, “I’m an indie author. I didn’t do very well, and I have no sales.” You don’t want to lead with that.

Joanna: Not a good start.

Renee: Absolutely, agents are open to it. Just like I said, you can’t pitch a book that you’ve already published. Unless you said, “Listen, I published this. I sold 50,000 copies.” Then they’ll be very interested.

You hear about those Wattpad sensations were they had a million Wattpad followers, and then I think it was Simon and Schuster who swooped in and grabbed her. So it all depends, but yeah, you should absolutely go out there, just not with a previously published book.

Joanna: Yes, I think that’s really important. The other thing is, you mentioned before quite briefly, that you are the marketer. I feel like a lot of authors turn away from being an indie author these days because they don’t want to do the marketing.

What sort of marketing can a new author expect with a traditional publisher?

You said they do a little bit. What is that little bit?

Renee: They have a group of reviewers that they’ll send it to. They might include it in some kind of round up. They’re not going to send you on a book tour, you’re not going to go on signings.

You don’t know how many times I get these submissions that say, “I just want to go with a traditional publisher because I want them to do all the marketing for me.” Well, that doesn’t work.

Again, your platform, that’s why it’s important to raise your numbers. They want you to have a ready-made audience who’s already interested in what you have to say and what you’re writing and a fan of your work.

They want you to go on podcasts, and be a guest on a podcast, or a blogger, or something where you’re talking about your book. Some people have access to television shows, and they go on there and talk about their books.

I had a sports agent who would be invited to talk about sports, and then he’d say, “And then here’s my new book.” So you still have to do the main heavy lifting.

Sometimes traditional publishers will say, depending on what your book is, maybe they’ll have a set of magazines that would work well for a piece that you could write an article on, or something to that effect.

Again, it’s only when you’re frontlist. It’s only leading up to your launch. Then they’re onto the new frontlist book to give them the attention. So you’ve really got to try to get the irons in the fire yourself as well. It’s an unfortunate part. I didn’t say it was easy.

Joanna: No, it’s not easy either way. It’s funny, because I feel like traditionally published authors think going indie is the easy way, and indies often think, oh, I’ll just go traditional because then I won’t have to do marketing. So there are pros and cons either way. Given what you said—

What are the benefits of going traditional?

Renee: I was going to ask the indie people that question!

Joanna: But from your perspective.

Renee: I think for a lot of people it’s kind of a goal for them. It’s kind of fun. I mean, not for nothing, having bragging rights of saying St. Martin’s took my book, that’s great. That’s quite a feather in your cap. I think you should do that if that’s what you want to do.

I always tell my clients, the publishing landscape is tough. It really is. I will try so long, sometimes it takes me two years to sell their book, depending on what it is. I will do everything I could, send it out, get some feedback.

Then when I say, listen, I think I’ve exhausted all my possibilities, at least they have the option of self-publishing, a smaller press, going to a hybrid, whatever they want to do to get their book out there. I believed in that book enough, and I’d love to see it out there too.

So you got your bragging rights, the nice feather in your cap, something that I think is wonderful.

You’re also looking at the other side. You’re giving up a big piece of your pie. You’re still doing a lot of the marketing. You may have better distribution the other way.

I don’t know about in the UK, but we don’t have many brick and mortar stores and more. They’ve all been reduced to online. I think there’s a couple of Barnes and Nobles left, but this still happens. There’s still airports and all that you could try to get your book into. I think there’s definitely pros and cons to both sides.

Joanna: Yes, indeed. One of the other things I was considering around this is film and TV rights because your agency looks at that. I mean, there are agents who have relationships with film and TV agents or studios. Is that a better way to go, as well?

For example, I pitched to a person in TV a while back, and they said, “Well, why isn’t your literary agent doing that for you?” I was like, “Oh, well, I’m doing it myself because I’m not with an agent.” So do you think that it’s a benefit to have an agent do that?

Is there a better chance of getting a film or TV deal that way?

Renee: I think some of them require it. Just like the Big Five requires you to have an agent, it’s because they don’t want to deal directly with the author.

So that’s why they want to have the intermediate of an agent to make sure you have representation, make sure that you have someone saying, “They said this, but really, this is what’s gonna happen.” So that’s the pro to having an agent, to do that kind of stuff.

For the most part, film and television, I don’t know if like Amazon Studios doesn’t require an agent or some of those that have popped up in the last few years.

Film and TV, for the most part, are going off of a great story. A lot of times it could be high sales figures that catch their eye, but it also has to do with what’s working at the time.

Hallmark, Lifetime, they’re always looking for new stories that fit their profile and demographics. They want an agent to send them their stuff.

When I was optioning books for film and TV at Harcourt, I was obviously only working with my own books, but I would have celebrity managers calling me up going, “Do you have a female-driven vehicle?” She was representing Cher, and it’s like, well, I’ll see what I have.

When I was a scout for CW Television Network, I looked for the story and what was interesting, whether it was indie or not. It could have been a magazine article, but whatever worked for adaptation.

So I was doing double duty back then, running a book review site. So I was reading all sorts of different things. So in that aspect, just because you’re an indie author, doesn’t mean you can’t pursue that avenue.

There are some agents that just do—like I don’t represent the script, so I don’t go the other way—but there might be some other agents that take your indie book and sell for film rights. We tend to work with just the books that we represent when we do that.

Joanna: Then just coming back to something you said earlier. If you take on a manuscript, for example, it might take a few years, or it might not even happen.

What stops a publisher from publishing a book or taking on a book?

Is it just their list, they don’t want that kind of book right now? Or a timing problem? Like if it’s gone past your level of quality, there’s this next level at a publishing house.

Renee: It could be a lot of things. A rejection by them would be, “This doesn’t quite fit in my list,” or “I have something similar,” or what I always hear the same is, “Paranormal doesn’t sell.” I’m like, it doesn’t sell because you guys won’t take any.

Joanna: It’s selling pretty well for indie authors!

Renee: Exactly. It’s like, well, maybe take one and see how it sells. I understand there’s tropey stuff, and I found a werewolf one which I usually don’t take. I say please don’t send me witches, warlocks, werewolves, vampires, zombies.

I read one from one of our indie authors, actually, she came in as an indie. I thought she put a nice twist on an old trope. It came close at Macmillan, but didn’t quite pass the finish line. You know, it happens.

Joanna: What should an author do with these rejections?

I mean, I find being an indie author very empowering because you don’t have to ask permission. Any success and any failure is entirely my fault, basically. No one’s in control except me, so I can just keep trying to make things happen.

Obviously, the same as anyone else, some books sell better than others. That’s kind of the way it is. So I feel like I’ve never experienced the kind of rejection that people get submitting to agents or to traditional publishing. So how can authors deal with that?

Renee: It’s tough.

It’s tough not to take it personally, but I have to tell you, do not take it personally. I’ve seen them pass on brilliant writing and brilliant books.

It’s either because they were so overwhelmed with the work on their plate already that they have their stable of agents that they want to look at, or they just weren’t in the mood. I don’t know, but it is not personal.

Like I said, if it comes to me, and I’m like, this kept me interested and really thought this was great, and then I send it out, I’m dealing with the rejection along with everybody else. It’s like, this is really good, did you read it?

That’s what happens when we’re in a subjective industry. My fantastic is someone else’s meh.

Joanna: Yes, exactly. It really is, isn’t? As a reader, you know, someone can say, “Oh, this is an amazing book.” I’m like, oh, no, not for me.

Renee: “I couldn’t put it down.” Then you’re like, “I can’t pick it up.”

Joanna: Exactly, and sometimes I’ll try books because they’re just so popular. Then I’ll be like, I don’t understand why this is so big.

Renee: Sometimes we have conversations, my partner and I, and she’s like how did this get out there, but this won’t go? Well, it’s like, listen, we don’t know what kind of blackmail is happening out there.

Joanna: What the hell is going on?!

Renee: What dirt people have on the other?! I don’t know. But again, it’s subjective.

Joanna: Yes, and it’s always changing. I feel like the other piece of advice is to just write another book, because as creative people, that’s what we do. I feel like the more ideas I have, the more ideas I have. The time problem is getting everything written.

I have two particular projects I am thinking of pitching, but I love to move on so fast.

I was thinking, like let’s say this project I’m working on right now, let’s call it the vineyard book, if I finished that, and then I pitch an agent, it might take, I don’t know, six months—maybe never, obviously—but let’s say it takes six months to get an agent.

Then it takes six months to a year, you said two years, to get a publishing deal. Then it takes a publisher a year or two years to get the book in the world. Is that about right?

Renee: Well, some of it. Depending on how quick you get an agent, that’s the first step. Then for it to go to publishing, you can hear back sometimes within two weeks of “no, thank you,” or it could take a year.

So it’s somewhere in between two weeks and a year that you’ll hear back, depending on who you’ve sent it to and how much stuff is on their plate.

Then, if you do get, “Yeah, we’d like to greenlight this,” and when I said it took me two years to sell something, it was because, again, it’s timing. We talked about it, it may not be right now, but maybe it’ll rewrite later.

So it just took me two years that we sold it, finally. Then she wrote her second book with them. So it’s just finding the haystack, then finding the haystack with the needle in it, you know? Then if you get a book deal, right now they are backed up to where it’s taking about two years to pub, unless they fast track you. Although I haven’t seen that lately.

Joanna: You can get some money on signing, but then you get paid on publication.

Renee: Correct. It’s half on signing, and usually the other half on publication.

Joanna: Yes, so just keep that in mind, people, in terms of cash flow management.

Renee: Okay, not on publication. Let’s just say on accepted final manuscript.

Joanna: But they’re in control of that, they can just send it back with some more issues. That’s not up to the author.

Renee: We don’t usually try to drag it out.

Joanna: It’s so interesting. Like, why are we in this industry, Renee? It’s so hard!

Renee: Because we love it!

Joanna: We love books!

Renee: Back to one of your other points, too, is your first book may not be your first book published. It’s like, “I love your voice, I love your writing. The story, not so much. Send me your next project.” That’s what I’ll tell them. Then the next one might be a really great story, and then you send that one out.

So they get their foot in the door, you get published on the second book you wrote, or third or fifth or tenth. Then you get that first one out there, and then the publisher—if it sells through, you have to sell through because you won’t get your second book in there if it doesn’t.

Now they’ve sold through, and they ask what else are they working on. Then you go, “Here, I have these other options for you.” At that point, they’ll be more apt to edit you or help shape up what it is that you sent.

Joanna: You mentioned ‘sell-through’ there. Can you just explain that?

Renee: Sure. Let’s say when you sell it, let’s say you were given a $5,000 advance. There’s a price for your book, and you get a percentage of that wholesale price. So it’s not retail, unless it’s negotiated that way, but let’s just go with wholesale numbers.

So you get the couple of points on the wholesale price, and that goes against your advance. So you have to sell X amount of books at your 8%, usually, depending on what you negotiate, and that goes towards that $5000. Then when you sell enough and that $5000 is paid off, then you start seeing royalties.

Joanna: Yes, I think that’s really important too. The word advance means advance against royalties, and yet people lose track of what that actually means.

In that case, it’s really interesting because here in the UK, I have one author in mind in particular who got a massive, massive deal, like really, really huge, and then we never heard from her again.

Whereas I know other authors who started on much lower advances, but sold through like multiple, multiple times. Then the next time, they got a better deal. It’s hard to know which way is a better way to go.

Renee: Yes, it is. As an indie author, you’re not used to getting an advance anyways. So if it was a matter of between getting a lower advance and knowing that you could sell through and getting your royalties, there really is no difference, right? So it’s six of one, half dozen of another.

If you don’t know that you’re strong in the marketing aspect. I’ve had authors come to me from like St. Martin’s and whatever, and they didn’t take his next book because they didn’t sell through. Then he came to me without me realizing that, and then I found out real quick why. I sold the book, and they did nothing.

Joanna: I guess the other thing is —

Don’t be an idiot and treat people nicely, because it’s not that big an industry really, is it?

Renee: You put your book out there, you always have to be selling, you always have to be working at it. Building your platform, getting the word out. I’m not that kind of person, which is why I’m off the grid. I’m by referrals, usually only, or when I go to events and meet people. That’s how I build my list.

It’s always trying to get your book out there. Obviously, if you sell through, like I said, you’ve got it made.

Also, what helps selling through that advance is if your book is right for other countries. They’ll sell foreign rights, and all those other things get an advance as well. That goes to pay back the advance that they gave you so you can earn out faster.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, we’re out of time. I do want to just ask—

If people want to pitch you, tell them what you are looking for?

In terms of clients for editing, or whether or not they can contact you.

Renee: Well, I’m usually into like really great writing, really good voices, and really great stories. I mean, it’s more easy to tell you what I don’t take. I’m not a big fan of the post-apocalyptic depressing books, or erotica, poetry, westerns, the vampire, zombie, etc. as previously said.

I find it very difficult right now for fantasy, like with elves and magic and that other world, for me. There’s a lot of other agents out there that do very well with that. I just find that that’s not really my thing.

I do enjoy great chick lit, although the editors don’t seem to. I love humor, if it makes me laugh, especially. Thrillers, mysteries, all that. Also, I don’t do children’s books, even though my career was in that. I don’t take picture books or middle grade. I do handle YA. Again, it’s got to be based on story. You know, that’s the clincher.

Joanna: Nonfiction? Memoir?

Renee: Oh, absolutely. I do a lot of nonfiction. If you guys go to my agency site, GHliterary.com, you’ll see the book covers that we’ve done. I’ve done a lot of nonfiction.

If you go to ReneeFountain.com, under the tab of my work you’ll see a lot of the books that I helped get out there, and worked on proposals with the authors, and edited the books, etc. I think that’s a great place to start there because it kind of hones down to specifically me more on that site.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Renee. That was great.

Renee: I appreciate your time. It was great to be here.

The post Preparing Your Manuscript For Pitching Agents With Renee Fountain first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Launch Day! Two New Books for Writers (+Win a Freewrite Alpha!)

Hooray! Today, I am so happy to be sharing with you not one but two book launches—a revised and expanded second edition of Structuring Your Novel and a brand-new “sequel” Next Level Plot Structure. (And be sure to check out the giveaway for a Freewrite Alpha at the bottom of the post.)

If you want to write a story that works (and that doesn’t have you pulling out an unreasonable amount of hair), plot structure is the foundation upon which everything is built. Once you learn to recognize and understand the structural underpinnings that create a story’s arc, you can turn your imagination loose on your own stories, “knowing that you know” what you’re doing.

Structuring Your Novel is one of the most important books I have ever written. It was based on my cornerstone blog series “Secrets of Story Structure,” which I will be re-publishing starting next week (so if you’ve already read the first edition, you can catch up on the most important updates for free).

Structuring Your Novel continues to be one of the books I hear about most often from writers who are celebrating their successes in finishing and publishing manuscripts. When the book reached its official ten-year anniversary last year, I was inspired to revisit it, to update some information, add three new chapters (on the Inciting Event, Midpoint, and Third Plot Point), and just generally spit and polish it up a bit.

While working on the second edition, I realized how much I’ve learned about structure in the past decade. I wanted to share the nuances, theories, and understandings of structure that have helped me fall even more in love with story and to understand how and why plot structure works on a deeper level. However, because Structuring Your Novel has become such a mainstay for so many writers (80,000 and counting at this point!), I didn’t want to change it too much. So I decided to create a sequel!

Next Level Plot Structure compiles my last decade’s worth of discoveries and teachings about story theory and plot and scene structure. Specifically, it looks at how all of structure—from the macro level to the micro—can be constructed as two halves that mirror each other.

Not only does this create built-in foreshadowing and solid plots with cohesive set-ups and pay-offs, it also offers incredible opportunities for deepening character arcs and leveraging the built-in symbolism and meaning found within the plot beats themselves.

I am so happy to celebrate the second edition of Structuring Your Novel with all of you. Thank you for embracing it and making it a part of your writing journeys for the past decade! And I am ecstatic to get to share Next Level Plot Structure as a thoroughly up-to-date exploration of all my favorite ways to write stories that explode off the page and screen to remain with audiences for their entire lives. I can’t wait to hear about the new stories you will write with these books!

Where Can You Buy The Books

You can purchase Structuring Your Novel (Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition) at the following links:

If you have already read the first edition, I would totally appreciate it, if you’d consider leaving a review on the new one! Creating a new edition meant losing the thousands of reviews the book collected over the past decade. I would totally appreciate it if you’d help me rebuild the review section!

Also, in case you’re wondering, I am planning to update and create a second edition of the Structuring Your Novel Workbook next year sometime.

You can purchase Next Level Plot Structure at the following links:

(Audiobooks are hopefully coming later this year!)

More About Structuring Your Novel (Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition)

Is Structure the Hidden Foundation of All Successful Stories?

Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this 10-year anniversary edition, you will discover the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will help you to not only perfectly time your story’s major events, but will also provide you with an unerring standard to use in evaluating your novel’s pacing and progression.

Structuring Your Novel will show you:

  • How to recognize and create powerful plot points at the right moments throughout your story.
  • How to determine the best methods for unleashing your unique and personal vision for your story.
  • How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
  • How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
  • Why you should NEVER include conflict on every page.
  • How to craft a solid line of amazing scenes that create your story’s dramatic arc.

Revised and expanded with updated information and three brand new chapters, this second edition will help you join legions of writers who have learned how to write masterful plots.

Story structure has empowered countless bestselling and classic authors. Now it’s your turn!

More About Next Level Plot Structure

Elevate Your Storytelling with Expert Plot Structure

Unlock the secrets of compelling storytelling with Next Level Plot Structure, a brand-new guide from K.M. Weiland, author of the popular Structuring Your Novel. This comprehensive resource delves deep into the intricacies of plot structure, revealing the rich vein of narrative techniques and philosophical underpinnings that have shaped storytelling throughout history.

  • Delve beyond plot beats to explore deeper symmetry and symbolism in story.
  • Discover how every plot beat and scene is composed of two mirroring halves, contributing to the narrative arc.
  • Introduce readers to chiastic structure, a mesmerizing mirroring technique that unites the two halves of a story.
  • Master the dual beats of each major plot point to create dramatic scene arcs.
  • Explore innovative ways to structure scenes to keep readers engaged and eager to turn the page.
  • Examine the symbolic significance of a story’s four “worlds” and their influence on plot and character arcs.
  • Evade formulaic story structures by understanding the deeper meaning and purpose of each plot element.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, Next Level Plot Structure provides invaluable insights and practical techniques to help you take your storytelling to new heights.

 

Enter to Win

To celebrate the launch of Structuring Your Novel and Next Level Plot Structure, I am giving away a Freewrite Alpha (value $349).

Description of Freewrite Alpha:

Alpha is a dedicated drafting device for anyone who wants to write without the distraction—or temptation—of browsers, email, or notifications.

Get in writing flow and develop more prolific writing sessions by separating the drafting and editing processes. When it is time to edit, your drafts wirelessly sync to the cloud for export into your software of choice.

Push your productivity forward and tap into writing joy.

To Enter

Winners will be announced Monday, July 15th (via email and on Instagram). Enter below! (Note: no purchase is necessary to enter.)

Good luck to everyone in the drawing, have fun, and thank you for helping me celebrate the launches of Structuring Your Novel and Next Level Plot Structure!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

The post Launch Day! Two New Books for Writers (+Win a Freewrite Alpha!) appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

Everything You Need to Know About the Lie the Character Believes

Hello, everyone, and welcome! In today’s post/podcast/video, we’re going to be talking about what is very possibly the single most important element of any successful story. And that is the Lie the Character Believes.

The Lie the Character Believes is a mistaken or limited perspective the character holds at the beginning of the story which will be challenged as they go through the plot. In some stories, they will overcome it in exchange for a thematic Truth, which is a broader and more expanded perspective of themselves or the world around them.

In other stories, they may fail to see past the Lie, in which case, they’d be arcing negatively probably into a worse Lie.

It’s also possible they start out in possession of the Truth, and it’s the world around them that represents the Lie. They are able to use their broader understanding of something to bring more refinement and calibration to the characters in the world around them. This is a Flat Arc.

Fundamentally, it is this push-pull—this conflict between the Lie and the Truth—that creates character arc. It creates change within the character. By doing that, it also drives the plot and is driven by the events of the plot.

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

This is something that I discussed in depth in my book Creating Character Arcs. If you want more information than what we’re going to talk about in this 20-minute video transcript, then you can check out the book.

What Is the Lie Your Character Believes?

To start with, let’s talk about what is the Lie and what is the Truth.

I like these terms because they are very black and white. They immediately give you a sense of their deeper archetypal purposes within a story.

However, it’s important to understand that both can be very relative within the story. Fundamentally, all the the Lie is is a limited perspective. It’s something the character believes to be true about themselves or the world. It may be true to a certain point. But it’s limited. The events of the story—whatever is happening that’s asking them to step up within the plot—is challenging this limited perspective. The events of the plot indicate that this old perspective is no longer good enough. It isn’t going to get the job done anymore.

What is the Thematic Truth?

Writing Your Story’s Theme (Amazon affiliate link)

The thematic Truth stands in opposition to the Lie as something the story is positing is “more” true about the world than this limited perspective with which the character starts out. I call it the thematic Truth because theme in a story is whatever this story ultimately is consciously or unconsciously trying to prove about reality.

Sometimes the thematic principle will be very explicit, as when the character learns some sort of aphorism or axiom like the golden rule or something like that. Other times, the thematic Truth is never outright stated within the story. It’s just proven through what is effective in the character’s actions as they move through the plot.

In a very plot-driven story, the Truth may be simply that the character needs to learn something—“e.g., you need to learn Kung Fu in order to defeat the bad guy.” They need to learn this new way of being in the world, this new skill. Or they may need to learn something like “Darth Vader is your father.” They need to perceive something that is mistaken about how they are interacting with the information they need in order to reach the plot goal.

Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Luke Skywalker Noooo

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), 20th Century Fox.

In other stories, the needed Truth is much more personal and can be hard to define in concrete terms, such as “you are worthy” or “you are lovable.”

How Your Plot Proves Your Story’s Thematic Truth

Whatever the Truth is in your story—and therefore whatever the theme is—has to do with what the story proves works for the characters. The story will posit that the Truth is a more effective way of thinking about and being in the world. This is then proven by how the characters are able to move toward their plot goal and whether or not they achieve it.

If they’re effective in reaching their plot goal by the end, that indicates they were able to overcome the limitations of the Lie and move into this more expanded and effective perspective of the Truth.

If they’re in a Negative Change Arc, they will end up being ineffective in the plot in some way. Even if they’re able to gain their plot goal, there’s some sort of moral failure or defeat because they were not able to grasp the Truth. Even in stories in which the Truth doesn’t “win”—as when the characters are not able to use it to get what they want or to be more whole within themselves in the story world—it still prove sitself by the very fact that they’re not happy or they’re not effective or that they fatally compromised their integrity in some way.

Every story–whether it’s plot-driven or character-driven—will revolve around some level of this conflict between Lie and Truth, between a limited way of being and a more expanded and effective way of being within the story.

How to Create a Character Arc Using the Lie and the Truth

To create a character arc, you start out with a character believing a Lie—a limited perspective. What it is will depend on what you’re trying to explore in your story. It can be many different things, but regardless, they will start out with this limited perspective.

Then, as the plot kind of rolls into view, something happens. The Inciting Event comes online, and the characters’ reality begins to change. That’s the whole point of why you’re beginning this story at this moment,  or why you’re telling this story at all. Something’s happening—something’s changing within the character’s reality—that is going to challenge their perspective of the world and of themselves. Their old perspectives will no longer be as effective as they may once have been.

The character begins to experience inner conflict as they try to grow into the person they need to be to meet these plot challenges coming at them.

Character Arc in the First Act

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

Generally speaking, the First Act (the first 25% of the story) is where you’re really going to be exploring the Lie. This is where you’re exploring what this looks like for the character, how it may have been effective for them up until this point, and also how they’re developing a new plot goal in response to the changes that have begun happening.

This is where you can start exploring the dysfunction of the Lie and why it will no longer prove effective as they move forward. You can explore why they need to change—in essence why they need to accept that Call to Adventure to change, so they can become more effective as they move through the plot.

Character Arc in the First Half of the Second Act

As the character enters the Second Act (the middle 50% of the story), after the First Plot Point, they enter that threshold through the Doorway of No Return, and they enter the full-on conflict of the Second Act.

The first half of the Second Act is very much about the characters reacting to everything that’s changing. They’re a little bit off balance. The primary reason for this is they don’t have an understanding of the Truth yet. Right. They’re still trying to operate out of their old mindset—the Lie. However, what has been their perspective and mode of being up until this point actually isn’t effective to meet these new challenges.

This is what I call a “grumpy-bumpy” period, where you’re growing and everything  feels uncomfortable. You don’t quite know what’s going on. You’re maybe not completely embracing the process. You’d rather just stick with your old way of being and keep pretending. You have a hammer, and so you think all the world’s a nail. The point of this story is that the character is meeting challenges that are not nails. These problems are bigger than what they’ve ever encountered before. Slowly, it starts to dawn on them that the old way of doing things is not going to work.

This is a time in the plot when they’ll be running into defeats—maybe not definitively, but as they try to use their old perspective, it doesn’t completely work. It’s not completely effective. They have to adjust and learn as they go.

Character Arc at the Midpoint

As they slowly began to explore the limitations of the Lie, it begins to dawn on them that maybe this old perspective isn’t the end-all-be-all of how to see things. That will bring them to the Midpoint, which is defined by what I call the Moment of Truth. This is a moment where something big happens, and the accumulation of everything the character has been learning leads them to really see the opposing viewpoint. They see the story’s thematic Truth and how effective it could help them be in getting what they need.

Basically, a light bulb goes on and they’re like, “Oh, this is what I have to do to get what I want.” In some stories, it’s as simple as that. The Moment of Truth can be simply a plot revelation like, “Oh, we need to go find the plans to the bad guy’s evil base, because that’s going to let us get what we want!” It can be something very practical and action-based.

However, specifically within theme and within character arc, the Moment of Truth will also a deeper understanding and expansion within the person. They have to be able to see something in a way they’ve never seen it before and to expand into that. It’s challenging them to become a new version of themselves in some way.

Even though the characters recognize the Truth at the midpoint, they do not yet reject the Lie. Basically, get this shiny new toy, and they’re like, “Oh wow, I totally get it! This is amazing! I’m going to be awesome from this point on!” But they’re not yet willing to totally give up who they were before or their old modes of being.

This could be for ego reasons (i.e., they’re very identified with whatever it is), but it could also be just for survival reasons. They might be thinking, “This is how I’ve always survived. I can’t let this go yet.” That’s not necessarily an inaccurate perspective because they haven’t yet fully integrated the new way of being. If they just let go of the old way too soon, then it could be very destructive, depending on what it is. So they continue to hang onto the Lie.

Character Arc in the Second Half of the Second Act

From this point on, they can take this Truth they gleaned at the Midpoint and move into the second half of the Second Act, which is very much an action phase. They’re able to move out of that hapless reaction where they don’t know what they are doing or quite how to get it done. Now, they become more and more effective as they go.

It’s likely the antagonistic force will also be pushing harder and getting bigger. In this section of the story, the protagonist won’t necessarily be “winning” in the conflict, but they are learning how to become much more effective by using a more accurate understanding of the conflict and of themselves in that conflict.

Throughout the second half of the Second Act after the Midpoint, they begin to move more and more into the Truth. But they’re experiencing this inner conflict between Truth and Lie, feeling like, “How can I hold these two perspectives or ways of being at the same time?”

Character Arc in the Third Act

It becomes clearer and clearer the Lie and the Truth are in fact incompatible and that the character is probably going to have to let go of the Lie completely at some point. That is going to lead them to the Third Plot Point, which is the Low Moment. It symbolizes death/rebirth within the story.

Specifically on the level of character arc, what’s happening here is that if the character is to succeed in achieving a Positive Change Arc and embracing the Truth, then the person they used to be—the person who believed in the Lie—is going to have to die. That old identity is kaput at this point. If they’re going to succeed, they’re going to have to be reborn into this person who is fully integrated and embraces and understands the Truth of the story.

It is important to remember, that in the most poignant stories, this is usually a very complex moment. When we hear the words “Lie” and “Truth,” we think, “Well, obviously we want the Truth. Why would we hang on to the Lie?” But in our own lives and therefore what we want to see mirrored in story isn’t this simple.

Up to now, the Lie has been like an old friend. Even though it’s comparatively limited, this perspective has been effective to some degree. Therefore, we’re kind of loath to give it up. We’re identified with it on an ego level to some degree. To give up the Lie does feel like, “I’m giving up myself. I’m giving up a part of myself—my old way of being.” In a story, this sacrifice is definitive. So there is a death of some part of the character and therefore a grief and a very real desire to hang on to the old way of being and not let it go.

The character is met with a moment where their refusal or inability to completely give up the Lie will lead them to what maybe seems like a victory at first. But it is ultimately a defeat of some sort. It becomes very clear the defeat is the consequence of their refusal to completely give up the Lie. They will not be able to overcome this defeat or reverse it or finally get what they want or become who they want to be unless they finally and fully grapple with this old identity and give up the Lie.

This can be dramatized very quickly. It doesn’t have to be this huge trip into the underworld of the character’s psyche where they’re wrestling with these parts of themselves. But it needs to be hit full-on. Don’t just brush over it. This is arguably the most potentially powerful moment within your entire story. This is it. This is where the character’s arc is decided. Are they going to be able to do this? Are they going to be able to transition into someone who believes in and embraces and embodies this story’s new Truth?

Character Arc in the Climax

A good portion of the Third Act often is taken up with this inner conflict and this grappling. Then the Climax will start about halfway through the Third Act.

By the time the character gets to the Climax, they may not be crystal clear about exactly what’s happening or what  they’re going to do. But they will have integrated the Truth (if they’re going to integrate it within this story) and rejected the Lie. They haven’t acted upon the Truth yet—it’s unproven at this point—but it’s there. It’s ready for them to do whatever they’re going to do in the Climax—to make that climactic decision, to be a stand for the story’s Truth, to use the story’s Truth to allow them to be effective as they move against the antagonistic force or toward their plot goal.

By the time they get to the Climax, the conflict is pretty much decided. What’s left is for them to act upon it, to prove it to themselves and to readers and to see what happens when they embrace the Truth—or vice versa, what happens when they reject it. What are the consequences either way?

That’s character arc—this dance between the Lie and the Truth within a story. This is such an important foundation to understand within story theory and story structure. Character arc and story structure are very much connected. You can’t have plot without character and vice versa.

So this transformation in this ongoing conflict between Lie and Truth is as important to plot as it is to character. It will be found in any type of story, even if it doesn’t go deep into the character arc, even if it doesn’t sketch a huge dramatic character arc or doesn’t spend a lot of time on the character arc. Regardles, the underpinnings are still there and exist within the plot structure.

Examples of Different Kinds of Lies the Character Believes

Let’s close with examples of different kinds of Lies. Again, the terminology “Lie” and “Truth” is very black and white. I like these terms for that very reason because it grants an immediate sense of what they are and their dynamic within the story. But, in fact, they are not that black and white. They are very, very relative. Particularly, I think we hear “Truth,” and we think “ultimate truth.” That can be what you’re dealing with in your story, but in most stories, all you’re dealing with is a viewpoint that is “better” than the Lie.

Fundamentally, what is the Lie?

1. Literal Lie on a Personal Level

It can be a literal Lie the character is dealing with at some level. Maybe they were lied to. Fore example, maybe they were adopted but they were told that they were their adopted parents’ biological child.

2. Literal Lie on a Social Level

The Lie could also be on a grander scope. Maybe you’re dealing with a government conspiracy or a cover-up.

3. Lie as a Lack of Information

Murder investigations, in essence, are a search for the Truth to overcome the Lie–in which case the Lie is really just a lack of information about who the killer may be. That’s a very plot-based example of how this works.

3. Lie as a Misconception About the World

In other stories, the Lie likely to be something deeper. Even if there is a  surface example of how it’s playing out in the world, there is also this deeper wrestling within the character of a misconception they hold either about the world around them. For example, perhaps they have a view that a certain type of people are evil and they have to overcome that. Or perhaps they have a view that people in general are unsafe or something like that. And they have to overcome that view in order to, for instance, be more effective in a relationship.

4. Lie as a Misconception About the Self

The Lie can also be a misconception the character hold about themselves. Social and personal misconceptions can be held mutually. Very often, when we have a view about the world, it’s because we are projecting something from within ourselves onto other people in the world around us.

At its most psychologically valuable, the Lie the Character Believes is a lack of wholeness within the character. It’s a shadow piece. This is something I’ve talked about in my recent course about Shadow Archetypes. Really, the inner conflict is this wrestling with the potential we have within ourselves to claim this new Truth versus the personal shadows that would pull us back or pervert this new power into something that isn’t positive or integrated for ourselves or others.

 

At its deepest level, the Lie the Character Believes is usually some belief they hold about themselves and how they operate in the world. For example, they aren’t good enough or they aren’t worthy or they need a certain status symbol in order to be okay. There are many examples. I talk about this in my book Creating Character Arcs (and the Creating Character Arcs Workbook), so you can look there for some more examples.

***

Ultimately the Lie the Character Believes is something foundational to who they are and how they’re operating in the world at the beginning of the story. That will be challenged by the events of the story. They’re going to have to work through the Lie in order to come to the place where they are integrated and effective in the story world.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is the Lie Your Character Believes? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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The post Everything You Need to Know About the Lie the Character Believes appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

Turn Words Into Wealth With Aurora Winter

Can you have a business with a soul through writing? How does the business of fiction differ from non-fiction? What are some tips for pitching a book for film & TV? All this and more with Aurora Winter.

In the intro, 100 book marketing ideas [Written Word Media]; 25 indie authors tips to finding success [Self Publishing Advice]; BookFunnel for audiobooks; Bookfunnel as landing page for Facebook Ads; TIME signs licensing deal with OpenAI; ALCS AI licensing survey; my 2020 book on AI for authors and publishing.

Plus, Corfu on Instagram and proving I am human; In My Time of Dying by Sebastian Junger; Eruption by Michael Crichton and James Patterson; De-Extinction of the Nephilim on JFPennBooks; Other stores].

draft2digital

Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, self-publishing with support, where you can get free formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Just go to www.draft2digital to get started.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

Aurora Winter is the multi-award-winning author of nonfiction business books and teen fantasy novels, as well as a publisher, TV producer, and serial entrepreneur.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • How writing can help people during difficult times
  • Actionable ways to turn grief into gratitude
  • Tips for pitching to producers
  • The importance of patience and connections in the film industry
  • How self-development can lead to increased opportunities
  • How and when to delegate tasks to a virtual assistant
  • The neuroscience behind effective pitches

You can find Aurora at AuroraWinter.com, and her latest book at MagicMysteryAndTheMultiverse.com.

Transcript of Interview with Aurora Winter

Joanna: Aurora Winter is the multi-award-winning author of nonfiction business books and teen fantasy novels, as well as a publisher, TV producer, and serial entrepreneur. So welcome to the show, Aurora.

Aurora: It’s so great to be on the show with you, Joanna.

Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you. First up—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.

Aurora: Well, my life changed when I was just nine years old, and I first read the Narnia series by CS Lewis. As I reached for the last book in that series, I just felt such a thrill of anticipation, but also anticipatory grief.

I realized the moment that my little nine-year-old hand touched that book, that writers are kinds of wizards. That with just ink on white paper, we can transport the reader to another place in time, even somewhere that doesn’t even exist.

In that moment, my little nine-year-old heart decided I would do whatever it took to become a great writer, like CS Lewis, and I’m still working on that.

Then CS Lewis changed my life a second time after my husband died suddenly. He was only 33, and our son was four. I read CS Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed, which was later made into a movie, and that book so touched me because he was willing to share those mad midnight moments. It allowed me to feel like it’s okay, I can get through this. So two times, once when I was 31, and once when I was nine, CS Lewis changed my life, and he was already dead.

What better way to leave a lasting legacy and help other people than to write books? What better way to uplift, inform, and inspire others?

Joanna: How did you get from the nine year old who really wanted to write—we’re going to come back to the grief—but you have had loads of businesses. As I said, you’re like a serial entrepreneur. You’ve done loads. So was it a case like many of us, that it was just not a proper job to go into writing? How did you end up back in writing?

Aurora: When I went to university, my father who’s an economist, scoffed at me when I said that I wanted to major in English. He’s like, there’s no money in that, do something sensible. So I studied economics, I have an MBA now.

Yet, I always had this passion for writing. So I took a minor in languages and literature, and I never stopped writing. I was writing journals, or as a nine-year-old, I wrote little illustrated stories that never got beyond chapter three.

Then eventually, one thing leads to another. I actually got sick, to be honest. I was running a profitable business with my husband. We had launched a yacht sales company, it was a seven-figure business. We sold $3 million of boats in one week when I was pregnant.

I’m like, okay, this is a very lucrative business, and yet my soul was sick. I was missing writing. So after my baby was born, I got up at 4 a.m. to write, and then I looked after the baby, and then I did the accounting for the company, and I got sick. I got chronic fatigue syndrome, or Epstein Barr.

I realized I couldn’t put my soul aside forever, that there would be a price to pay. So I went back into writing screenplays.

Then, this is a little mini miracle, can you believe it, a feature film came to shoot in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where I lived at the time. The production manager for John Badham, who directed the movie Stakeout and Bird on a Wire called and said, “Hey, we need to use a boat. Can we rent one of your boats?”

I heard my husband answering the phone, “We don’t rent boats. We’ve got brand new $200,000 boats for sale.” I’m like, “Wait a minute, hold on! Hang on a second. I’m a screenwriter. Yes, we do rent boats if it’s John Badham calling.”

So my husband skippered the boat and I crewed. I met Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, and the first assistant director on that shoot Peter Marshall and I became friends. Later he hired me to write the first screenplay that I wrote for real money.

So what are the chances that the universe would actually bring that right to me? Then through various other miracles, my life changed and I ended up in film and television.

Joanna: Wow. Okay, we’re going to come back to that. I know it’s a difficult topic, but you’ve written about the death of your husband, and many people listening, I mean, everyone at some point is going to go through grief. Of course, for you, the very early tragic death of your husband.

You’ve also helped others with grief, which again, you turned your own trouble into helping others.

How can writing help people with difficult times?

If people are going through this right now or it’s something that they’re suffering, even if they don’t want to publish their words, I think that’s really important. How can writing help that situation?

Aurora: Well, you wrote about it so beautifully in Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words, which I highly recommend. I love this book, I have it right by my night table. It’s a beautiful addition that you did on Kickstarter.

What you just said about even if it’s not being published, I think that’s the first thing to lean into. Write for yourself at first. Don’t think about publishing at first, especially if you’re writing about grief. Writers pay attention. The act of writing is paying attention.

You would be surprised how you can alchemize pain into wisdom, grief into gratitude, if you take the time to first vent and just get all that stuff out on the page.

Then later, for example, my first published book, From Heartbreak to Happiness, which was endorsed by Dr. Wayne Dyer, my hero, was simply my diary of healing through grief.

When I reread my diary, I was floored to notice how many times my prayers had been answered, but I hadn’t been grateful at the time because the prayers were answered three months later, six months later. I hadn’t noticed, hey, I prayed for that.

There is value in writing and in reviewing what you have written. That will bring you greater wisdom.

So my 90-day challenge for the listeners is write every day, even for five minutes in your journal. Read every day, you can start with reading the book Writing the Shadow by Joanna Penn, it’s amazing. Then review what you have written once a week.

If you do that for 90 days, I promise you, your life will transform. You will start to notice the things that you are complaining about. If you’re still complaining about something 90 days later, you should do something about it, or you should just stop complaining.

You write in your book, Writing the Shadow, about how grateful you were that you were in so much pain working in IT that you finally shifted.

There’s value in pain, and if we’re complaining or suffering, either we need to accept, forgive, or release.

The past will never change, but we do have the present moment we can change. So there’s a great value in writing about grief or any kind of suffering that you’re going through.

Joanna: Yes, I mean, you said it before about “my soul was sick.” Sometimes we do have to be in those very difficult places. I’m not saying, obviously, that people should die, but people do die. That is the reality of life. Turning that, as you said, into gratitude is amazing.

I do just want to say there for reviewing what we’ve written, I do read back some of my journals from like 20 years ago, and some things never change, but we hope that other things move on.

Aurora: Yes. Well, I’ve studied happiness extensively, as you mentioned. I later launched a company called The Grief Coach Academy, which is being run by an amazing woman now, Audrey White. So it continues on, although I’ve gone on to focus on other things.

I created a systemized process for releasing and transforming grief into gratitude.

Anyway, one of the key things that everybody can do, you can do this starting now, and I did it last night, I do it every night, is just list three things that you’re grateful for.

You can write it down, or what I do is just as I’m falling asleep, I think about the day, and I acknowledge three things that happened during the day that I can be grateful for.

You can deepen this practice by acknowledging how your character trait or your choices helped lead to that happy thing. For example, last night, I was grateful that I’ve just bought a car for my son. He got a nice 2019 BMW i3, and he’s like all happy and skippy about it.

So I was grateful for the prosperity to be able to help him buy a car. I was grateful that he was so happy. Also, I noticed that it shifted his identity, which is the highest leverage thing you can do for another person, as Tony Robbins would say. So that is one of the simple things everybody can do. It’s a happiness hack. It takes like three minutes, and I recommend you do it daily.

Joanna: Actually, on that, I can go even faster. I use Notes on my iPhone, and I just dictate. I have found that dictating just means it’s almost less repetitive.

Some days you’re grateful for the same things, and you think, is it worth being grateful for this again? But yes it is, and those are the things we don’t want to change. So yes, I found dictation actually makes a real difference.

So coming back to the film and TV because I find this really interesting. You had an interview recently on the Self-Publishing Advice site where —

You mentioned the importance of writing a book, not a screenplay, if you want to pitch for film and TV, which is something I also learned recently.

So can you talk a bit about this, why writing a book is better, because you have written screenplays as well. Give us any other tips for pitching IP to producers that don’t involve licensing boats!

Aurora: Yes, that’s probably not too repeatable, so here’s how I can help the listeners. I have a background in film and television, I worked for Canada’s largest film and television production company. I worked as a vice president of another production company in the States in Los Angeles.

Then I launched my own film and television production company. We raised $5 million to that and made eight films. So I have about, I don’t know, 300 hours of production that I was connected with in some ways.

My development budget when I was working in Toronto was one and a half million dollars just to develop projects, and I have never optioned the screenplay from a first-time screenwriter. It did not happen. It doesn’t happen. But so many times I would option books.

So there is a very common thing in film and television to option a book. So most of the listeners are authors, take advantage of that.

The second thing is I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I know, you cannot copyright an idea, you can only copyright a specific expression of an idea.

A book asserts your copyright.

I actually had the personal experience of pitching a TV series to a very large US broadcaster that you would know the name of, but I won’t say it. My business partner at the time signed the release that they make you sign when you pitch something, which basically says we might be pitched something similar.

Anyway, they basically stole the idea for the TV series, and they made it, but I didn’t see a dime. So there’s a risk when you’re just pitching a treatment or a screenplay that having a book helps mitigate.

Also with the book, you’ve got something. An unsold screenplay just gathers dust.

With a book that can be optioned as a screenplay, you can get awards, sales, proof of concept. You can make some momentum.

Joanna: There’s a great book called Hollywood Vs. the Author, which I always recommend. It tells people how to protect themselves.

I feel like sometimes we focus so much on protecting our work, we don’t actually get it in front of people. I think that’s kind of the opposite issue. So any tips on pitching, to get our books in front of people?

Aurora: Well, absolutely. I’m actually going to the Banff Media Festival in the beginning of June with two of my clients because I help people out with their books and help them pitch. So what you want to do is —

You want to get your pitch down to be really clear.

So for example, my fantasy series Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, that pitch is it’s basically “Harry Potter meets Doctor Who.” So you want it to be that tight, and then you can go on from there. Then if somebody’s interested, you can tell them a little bit more.

So about Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, in addition to saying it’s like Harry Potter meets Doctor Who, I can say it won the American Fiction Award for best preteen book, and it won the Reader’s Choice Award and several other awards. So, already that’s enough for somebody to go, “You know what, I only do thrillers. I’m not interested in YA fantasy,” or they can say, “Tell me more.”

So for example, I’m meeting with BBC again in a couple of weeks. They expressed interest in a 12-part half hour series. We’ll see if that goes anywhere. Interest is not a deal, interest is not a greenlight.

Now that I have interest from BBC, I can meet with Paramount or Warner Brothers or Universal or Netflix and say, hey, they’re interested, are you interested? Then we can perhaps get it get a deal.

Joanna: Yes, and it takes so long, doesn’t it? This is the other thing I feel people don’t realize is that it’s also about relationships. It’s interesting that you got into it because you met that person on the boat all those years ago. Then you got into it, and then things develop.

So I think that’s the other thing, if you really want your book and you want to see something on the screen—

Patience and connections make all the difference.

Aurora: There was an interesting story about the Banff Film Festival. So after my husband died, just shortly thereafter, maybe six months after, a friend of mine was trying to drag me to a party for people in film in Vancouver. I’m like, I don’t want to go, I don’t feel like it.

He’s like, “You are moping, and I don’t blame you for grieving, but you’re getting out of the house now. Get dressed.” So anyway, I went to the party and ended up sitting beside somebody I didn’t know.

He said, “Oh, what do you do?” So I told him I was a screenwriter. He said, “Oh, well, what are you writing?” Then I told him what I was writing because I got all excited about it. He’s like, “I think you should represent the province of British Columbia and pitch that at the Banff Film and Television Festival.”

I’m like, what? Who are you? Turned out I happened to be sitting by the head of film for British Columbia BC Film Commission. Anyway, so then I had a moment of do I say no or do I say yes. This is a tip everybody can do.

When you are invited to do something outside of your comfort zone, take a deep breath and say yes.

I said yes. Then I got a phone call the next day from a producer. She’s like, “Well, would you mind if I followed you around and did a documentary film of you and a couple of the people who are pitching?”

I’m like, okay, yes. So then my shoulder went into spasm just before the pitch. So I’m like, oh, no, I’m going to pitch as a first-time screenwriter who has nothing produced, who has no momentum—who can sell boats, though—to 600 film and television executives. If they miss it because they’re not in the room, they can watch it later on national television.

Joanna: Wow.

Aurora: But anyway, that pitch for that screenplay created a bidding war, and my agent fielded offers from Spelling and Universal and other places. That basically ended up changing my life. So the right words, at the right time, to the right people can change your life.

That launched, initially, a six-figure deal, and then went on to create, basically, multiple-million dollar business creating film and television. So it was all because I was willing to say yes and step into something I was not comfortable about. Later, they used the documentary to teach the art of pitching in the Banff Film school, so that was kind of cool.

Joanna: That is cool. I also want to note that you are clearly someone who reads a lot of self-help books and is very into self-development. I think this is a very important thing, too. I feel like you’ve obviously invested in yourself. I used to listen to Tony Robbins audios back in the day as well.

By changing your mindset, you changed your actions, and that led to these opportunities.

I feel that so often people almost expect these things to happen. Even though you’re saying that it happened quite quickly, I feel like you put in a lot of work on yourself in order to be in that position.

Aurora: Thank you for acknowledging that. Yes, a lot of work on myself. It’s a never-ending process. I remember that at one point you said something like you wanted to be like the female version of Tony Robbins, and I think you’re doing a brilliant job.

Joanna: The quiet one!

Aurora: Yes, an introverted one. It never ends, you know, working on yourself is the most valuable thing you can do.

Joanna: Yes, and I noticed that we both have Learner and Strategic in our top five Clifton Strengths.

Aurora: Yes, we have a lot in common there.

Joanna: Which I thought was interesting, because I mean, we do love learning. I think this makes all the difference. Just going back to your business, so you have a book called Turn Words Into Wealth: Blueprint for Your Business, Brand, and Book. It has a lot of ideas about how to make more money with books. I’m interested because you’ve done so many different types of writing—

What do you see as the difference between the business models of fiction and nonfiction? How do these play out in your business now?

Aurora: I think fiction has so many opportunities for movies and merchandising. As I mentioned, BBC is interested in my fantasy series Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse. If that deal goes, that will be extremely lucrative.

Also, merchandising. That’s a YA fantasy, a young adult fantasy, so there’s so many things in that novel that could be t-shirts, cups, but also there’s like some cool magical cuffs, kind of like Wonder Woman cuffs that the protagonist Anna has. So those are merchandising opportunities.

Sometimes nonfiction can be turned into movies, like The Secret is an example of that. Or Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which shockingly became a Netflix special—I’m sorry, Netflix series—even though English is not her first language because people like to watch other people who are hoarders tidy up.

Joanna: I was just thinking, I watched that series.

Aurora: I definitely learned how to fold from her.

Joanna: Yes, how to fold. Exactly.

Aurora: So nonfiction is stronger at helping you get speaking engagements, or getting on podcasts, or consulting or training. In fact, nonfiction books can be used to build any business that has some kind of expertise.

Both fiction and nonfiction can help you put your hat in the ring for the highest paid profession, which is speaking. So in the book Turn Words Into Wealth, I go in depth into seven different models to create seven figures with your business.

Not all the models will work for you or for your particular book, but take a look and choose one, and then implement it strategically.

Joanna: Easier said than done, obviously. I’ve embraced who I am at this point, that I’m a multi-passionate creator. We’ll come back to the entrepreneurial side. I also like to do everything myself, which is a strength and a weakness.

So I feel like I have a lot of these streams, but I have to split my attention between the different streams. Thus, they each become, I guess, less effective.

Have you got any tips for people like me, perhaps who can do lots of different things and want to create lots of different things, but for whom focus is a weakness?

Aurora: People like you? You mean people like us. I feel like I’m pretty much the same. I have the same strengths and flaws.

I want to acknowledge that the fact that you write both fiction and nonfiction really helped me give myself permission to start writing fiction again in 2020 because I had taken a pause from that. I wrote fiction when I was writing screenplays, and then I wrote only nonfiction as an author.

Okay, so here’s some tips for outsourcing. Firstly, bad mistake that I’ve made, don’t do this, don’t first delegate to your VA, “handle my email.” That is a difficult task and not easy to systematize.

Assign a repeatable task that can be systematized, tracked, and measured. Then allow some time to train the person and track and measure results.

Here’s an example. So like two months ago, I hired a new virtual assistant, but all I gave her to do is just one task. She only books me on podcasts. Then now that she’s got the system down, I could give her more tasks, but how do I measure her results?

Like most people have virtual assistants who are working remotely. It’s hard to know if they’re working ten hours, or one hour, forty hours. So I told her just track how many podcasts you book.

So I know how many she books per month, I know how many hours she’s charging, and we both know that is the criteria by which you will be judged. So that is useful, and now that she’s got that down, I could give her some other tasks to do.

Or another example, I thought this was a rather good use of the strategic. I’ve got strategic, activator, learner, relator, maximizer, and strategic in Clifton Strengths. So I use some of those skills.

When I wanted to hire a cover designer for Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, I wanted to have a great cover. But what does it really matter what I think is a great cover? What matters is what kind of covers are actually selling in fantasy.

So I reverse engineered it, and you can do this too. I looked at independently published fantasy books that were best sellers, using K-lytics as the research to give me that data.

Then I looked at those books, and I looked at their covers, and I looked inside the ones that I liked the covers for the cover designer, and then I contacted that cover designer.

So that was more effortful than maybe going through Reedsy, or 99designs or DesignCrowd or Upwork, but the result is an award-winning cover that hit the market’s bullseye. So those are two little tips that I think listeners can find useful.

Joanna: How do you find people to help you? How did you find that VA?

Aurora: I asked my friends, who have you worked with as VA that that you’d recommend?

Joanna: Okay, so personal recommendations.

Aurora: I have had actually really good success. I have a great assistant that I found on Upwork who does a lot of behind the scenes. There’s so many formatting, reformatting, and re-uploading books and covers, and tweak this, and oh no, we won another award, put that on the thing.

So I have somebody that has done that for me. I’ve done many covers on Upwork. I have another cover designer I work with on Reedsy for a series of legal thrillers that I’m working with the client Michael Stockham on. You know, he’s a New York Times bestselling cover designer.

I think the best thing is not to try to find one person to do everything, but zero in on what is a repeatable task that you need done, and who is the best person to do it.

Joanna: This is definitely one of my weaknesses. I do have some people, and I have had other people over the years, but when it’s like, well, who’s the best person to do this? It’s often, well I am, clearly I’m the best person.

Aurora: I want to comment on that. Yes, we have to get over that. Like I noticed with myself, I am a recovering perfectionist, and still only partly recovered. So it does trip me up. Like I know I would be the best person.

I wouldn’t be the best person to do a cover design, but I would be the best person to book myself on podcasts. I wanted to be on Joanna Penn’s podcast, so I reached out to her personally because it mattered to me.

We have to get over that because there’s only so many hours in the day. If your time is worth $500 an hour or $1,500 an hour, as Joanna Penn’s is probably, then if you’re doing $20 an hour tasks, this is not a wise sacrifice.

We are sacrificing doing a great job at something, say Joanna Penn is the only one who can write her thrillers, nobody else can do that. So if she’s also, I don’t know, uploading audios to have her podcast broadcast widely, and she could delegate that, that would be better.

Joanna: That would be better. Actually, it’s really funny, as we record this, I have just finally outsourced my podcast production process, only after 15 years.

Aurora: Okay, okay.

Joanna: So I get a point for outsourcing. My cleaner was here today, so I mean, this is another point.

It doesn’t have to be that you outsource stuff around your author business. For me, paying for a cleaner means that I can spend that time working on my book.

So I feel like there are different things we can do in our lives to value the things that we can do. I mean, sometimes you do have to bootstrap things. People might not have the money.

One of the first things I did when I started out as an author is I did hire a bookkeeper. I was like, I am not reconciling all of these things, like that is not something I want to do.

So my first virtual assistant was a bookkeeper. So I feel like we do this one thing at a time, but as you get more into practice, you can do it more.

Aurora: Another quick little tip, like I find myself sometimes feeling annoyed and resentful when I’m uploading a book, again, to KDP because the cover art designer, I don’t know, had a typo or something.

Then I catch myself, I’m like, “Aurora, you’re choosing to do this yourself because you love this fantasy project. It really matters to you, and you want to baby it along until it gets a little bit more life.” So like I coach myself to be grateful in that moment.

If I notice a pattern of ongoing, “Ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing this,” it’s time for me to look for somebody else to do that.

For example, my son totally made my day because he did a whole bunch of art for the fantasy series on NightCafe, and the images blew me away.

It gave me this surge of creativity about the project. He’s got a bachelor in Game Art and Design, so Bachelor of Science, so he knows how to do cover art and to do much more quickly than I do. It gave me such a surge. So there can be a lot of value in in delegating as well.

Joanna: Yes, I definitely outsource my cover design. Although I am having fun with AI art as well. I think NightCafe has a lot of AI tools. Super fun.

Just coming back on that, the kind of outsourcing, returning to the screenwriting and pitching things.

Now, I think most authors, like 99% of authors, would like an agent to pitch their projects, even if they’re an independent author. That can be a difficult sell because with most literary agents, you’re pitching them for the whole book, for all the publishing and things like that. How are you managing that as an independent author?

Aurora: Like you, I have freedom as one of my top values. Actually, it’s my top value. I think it is for both of us. So in the book, Turn Words Into Wealth, I go in depth about why I believe that independent publishing and independent pitching, and getting over this whole thought that you need a big publisher or you need an agent, is the best strategy.

So in my experience, it’s harder for you, or for anyone, to pitch an agent than to pitch the project. So I think, in my experience, the most valuable skill is to learn how to use your words, so that the right words, at the right time, can change your life when you say them to the right people.

Rather than get caught up in the like 1990 mindset that you need an agent or you need a big publisher, why not learn how to pitch.

Then maybe you’ll join me next year at the Banff Film and Television Festival, or join me at Napier, or join me in Cannes, and pitch it.

Nobody is going to be better at pitching your project than you are, but you do need to practice and decide that it’s worth your time. Just really quick on that, it is worth your time.

There’s a really great book called Significant Objects. They put one hundred different objects on eBay, with or without story that added significance. It wasn’t a pitch, it was a significance. For example, “These are my grandmother’s pot mitts. I remember coming home from school and she would bake us chocolate chip cookies, and it was amazing.”

There’s no value to me in buying those pot mitts because you had cookies from your grandma, but it added significance, and the value increase was 27-fold. So adding a story adds value to the listener. I mean, I’ve shared a few stories today with Joanna Penn. Probably one of them is going to stick with you, I don’t know which one.

If it’s worth the time for somebody like Steve Jobs to practice his Apple launch pitch and presentation for three weeks when he is running a huge company, then I think it’s worth all of our time as authors to get good at pitching what we’re up to.

Joanna: Do you have any resources that you recommend, in terms of books or courses around pitching particularly?

Aurora: I really like the book Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. I also like what you just said about gratitude and you recording it on audio. Record yourself on video or audio, and you’ll kind of notice if you pay attention that, oh, I talked too long about that. Then get it tighter and tighter.

It’s one of the things I do with my clients. Like one of my clients yesterday, he’s got a 10-minute meeting with Universal or something, I think it was a big company anyway. So he’s practiced what is he going to say in that 10 minutes.

So when you learn about neuroscience, I studied neuroscience, you want to understand the process of how to pitch something. So there’s basically three steps because you need to address the three different brain portions that we have.

So he rehearsed this with me yesterday. You can rehearse with yourself or with a friend. Basically, the first thing to do is address the croc brain. Then second thing to do is address the midbrain. Then the third thing to do is you can then address the cerebral cortex.

Most people, especially educated people, try to just address the cerebral cortex. It’s the verbal equivalent of sending a complete stranger an Excel spreadsheet by email. They’re not going to open it.

So the simple analogy is the croc brain is the ancient reptilian brain. It’s looking for, is this sexy? Is this exciting? Is this glittery? Is it something to mate with or snack on? Is it attractive? So that would be the equivalent of your subject line in an email.

So for Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, that equivalent to that is, you know, it’s like Harry Potter meets Doctor Who. Those are two of the very best fantasy bestsellers of all time. Doctor Who was the longest running TV series, just as an aside.

Or with the book, Turn Words into Wealth, the title is addressing the croc brain. It’s kind of like, what is this about? So people who are interested in turning their words into wealth were like, okay, tell me more. So your first step addressing the croc brain should be very quick, a couple of seconds.

The second step is to address the midbrain. Human beings survived for so long because we were not alone. We survived as tribes, as communities, as families. We are hyper vigilant for social status.

So for example, even being on this podcast with Joanna Penn, it creates social status because Joanna thinks I’m worth talking to. Conversely, if you happen to know me, I think Joanna is worth talking to. So that enhances both of our social status.

When you’re pitching your book, you want to address the second thing next, the social status.

So for Turn Words Into Wealth, I say that it’s won Outstanding Nonfiction Book of the Year in its category, which is publishing.

For Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, I say that it won the American Fiction Award Best Preteen Book in 2023, and it also won the Reader’s Choice Award in 2023. Then in 2024, it was a finalist in the UK Wishing Shelf, which is really cool because they have 150 kids actually read the books.

Okay, so for whatever your project or book is, what is the second step for you? How could you indicate that other people who are awesome think it’s good?

For example, my first published book, From Heartbreak to Happiness, Dr. Wayne Dyer endorsed it. He said, “I read every page of this beautiful diary. It touched my heart, and I’m sure it will impact yours.” Okay, so each of those is an example of doing the second step around the midbrain.

Then the third step, now that you’ve got people listening, then you can go into more depth. Either give them the synopsis or the plot summary, or whatever you’d like to do with that.

So for Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, it would be: Anna is a 13-year-old girl who wants to be an actress. She grew up in Los Angeles. Her father is a very busy and distracted film producer who’s off to shoot a movie in Africa.

So he sends his daughter Anna and his son Zachary to London to be with his brother and to go to boarding school while he’s busy shooting a movie. So they arrived in London, they’re all excited. They want to see the Tower of London, but there’s something even more interesting in their uncle’s garage.

It’s this experimental car. He says, “Just stay away from the experimental car, I’ve got to go out for a bit.” Of course, that’s like a magnet. The kids jump in the experimental car, and Anna, who is an optimist and a little bit reckless, fiddles with it and pushes the button to go on a random joy ride.

This takes the kids off the planet Earth to another planet entirely in the multiverse. When they land, they get into trouble immediately because their vehicle is out of fuel. And oh, no, they happen to land on somebody and apparently kill her.

This gives them instant friends because the person they killed is notoriously evil, and instant enemies because other people are out to get vengeance. So then the rest of the story is about will Anna be able to get back to planet Earth?

Her brother gets kidnapped, will she be able to save him? Will the forces of evil on Telesora be overcome by Anna and her brother? Or will the reverse happen, and we will never see the kids again? So that’s what Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse is about.

So the third step is the longest step, where you give a bit more detail about whatever you’re up to. So between each one of these three steps, you want to pause so that the other person has a chance to say something so that it’s more of a conversation.

So I go into more detail in Turn Words Into Wealth about how to use the neuroscience of communication, but hopefully that made sense.

Joanna: Yes, I think it’s so important. As you say, this is a preteen book, and then someone says, well, actually, I’m looking for horror books. Then that’s probably not a good match.

Often I feel people are pitching and pitching, but they’re not thinking about the person on the other side.

So as you say, even you can say one line. Then are they actually interested or do they completely blank?

I want to come back on social status.

Have you found at all that being an independent author has meant that you have a lower social status?

Or has it just not even been an issue with this?

Aurora: I used to really worry about that and fretted that that was the case. I’m over it now. It’s whatever it is, right? I feel like I have status for other things, but I’m not a Colleen Hoover, I’m not a New York Times bestselling author. There’s things I don’t have.

For all of the listeners, there’s things that you’re strong at. I have launched multiple seven-figure businesses from scratch. That’s pretty kick ass. I’ve got a background in film and television, and that’s pretty kick ass. I have success knowing how to start something from scratch and make it work, that’s awesome. Plus, I have written ten books. That’s quite a few.

So I am not willing to care more about what other people think of me than what I think of me. For me, I’m a very independent, very entrepreneurial, freedom focused person. Why would I want to have a publisher to dilute or mute or change my message? I don’t.

In fact, in the book Turn Words Into Wealth, I give a number of examples, but the one that I liked the most is David Goggins, who wrote the book Can’t Hurt Me. He’s a Navy Seal and a long-distance runner, a pretty amazing athlete.

He met with an agent in New York who told him that if he self-published his book, he’d be lucky to sell 5000 copies. He decided to self-publish, and he’s dyslexic, so he had to hire a ghostwriter to write it.

Then he went on over a thousand podcasts to market it, and the result is he probably made $20 million from his book and his audiobook. He sold over a million copies of the book in the first year and 600,000 copies of the audiobook.

If he had gone with traditional wisdom, he would have seen a fraction of that, and maybe he wouldn’t have been able to afford to spend so much time doing the podcast.

Why give up 90% of the revenue when you still have to do 90% of the work?

Joanna: Yes. I mean, there are pros and cons for everyone. I didn’t know David Goggins had gone indie. That’s really interesting.

We’re almost out of time, so I do want to just come to a final thing. So in Turn Words Into Wealth you say, “There is more opportunity and more danger than ever before due to exponential technological, social, and economic change.”

Now, obviously, I talk a lot about surfing this wave of change. AI, in particular, direct sales, and all of this. So given you’re always learning, always changing direction—

What are your recommendations for making the most of this extraordinary, but also difficult, time?

Aurora: Well, I have a couple of tips. First tip, keep listening to The Creative Penn podcast.

Joanna: I didn’t even pay you for this!

Aurora: It’s true. It’s a godsend for leaning into this with excitement instead of terror.

Secondly, have fun. For example, those NightCafe images that my son did yesterday for Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse, like they made my day. They were so much fun, and now they’ve sparked a bunch of things that I’m going to write, just by seeing the images. I also put them on TikToks.

Allocate time for learning.

This is something I needed to coax myself into because I would get impatient. When I shifted my mindset and leaned into my learner Clifton Strengths and allocate time for learning, then that helped me reframe it.

Instead of a frustrating thing that I had to learn, like a good thing that I had to learn. So a couple of things that I am playing with, pick one of these maybe, and do them. There’s Authors.ai, PickFu.com, Descript. Joanna has talked about ChatGPT, and SudoWrite, and ProWritingAid, or NightCafe. Like pick one, and maybe spend a little time playing with it.

Joanna: I feel like leaning into that curiosity, there are so many things to look at. I mean, for example, music. I’m not into music at all, but a lot of authors are, and there’s so many music discovery tools and creation tools that I know people are playing with. That’s not my bag. I don’t do that.

I play with the image stuff as well, and of course, the various writing tools. It’s really listening to your curiosity. If you hate something, don’t force yourself.

Do the things that are interesting to you. It might be a challenge at first, but you might discover things you really enjoy.

Aurora: Exactly right. The same thing with marketing. Don’t try to do all kinds of possible marketing. Double down on the ones that make sense for you.

Like I love talking on podcasts, so I do podcasts. I do TikTok, and I do Kickstarter. That’s it. Those are my three things. I can’t do everything, so I picked the three things that are the most fun or interesting for me.

Joanna: Absolutely.

Where can people find you, and your books, and everything you do online?

Aurora: Oh, thanks for asking, Joanna. Well, I am launching the second book in my Magic, Mystery and the Multiverse series. I would love, love, love if people would follow me on Kickstarter.

You can go to MagicMysteryAndTheMultiverse.com, and it will redirect you to Kickstarter when Kickstarter is live. Otherwise it will give you other goodies when Kickstarter is not live. Just a little tip. If you do a Kickstarter, do a redirect so that you can take advantage of sending people to somewhere else after the Kickstarter is not live.

My book Turn Words Into Wealth, which we talked about today, is available on Amazon. If you’d like some gift videos and the gift Thought Leader Launch starter library, you can get that on my website AuroraWinter.com. Thanks so much, Joanna. It was really fun to do this podcast with you.

Joanna: Thanks so much for coming on, Aurora. That was great.

The post Turn Words Into Wealth With Aurora Winter first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Writing Hard Truths And Tips For Writing Non-Fiction With Efren Delgado

How do we write authentic humanity into our books, whether that’s our own experience or a fictional character’s? How can we embrace the challenges of life and the author journey and make the most of the opportunities along the way? Efren Delgado gives his tips in this interview.

In the intro, How to plan and release a second edition of your book [SelfPublishingAdvice]; plus, Kickstarter update; Stone carving a green man; De-Extinction of the Nephilim [JFPennBooks; other stores];

ProWritingAid

Today’s show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing and integration with writing software, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher. Check it out for free or get 15% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

Efren Delgado is a former FBI special agent with 25 years of national security, law enforcement, and private protection experience. He’s also a consultant, professional speaker, and the author of The Opposite is True: Discover Your Unexpected Enemies, Allies, and Purpose Through the Eyes of Counterintuitive Psychology.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Balancing being authentic while maintaining your boundaries
  • How to take our failures and move on to success
  • Creating a mind map to help during the brainstorming process
  • Fact checking and managing citations when writing nonfiction
  • Writing to deal with trauma while avoiding using it as therapy
  • Uncomfortable truths indie authors need to face about the industry
  • Common misconceptions authors get wrong when writing FBI thrillers

You can find Efren at EfrenDelgado.com.

Transcript of Interview with Efren Delgado

Joanna: Efren Delgado is a former FBI special agent with 25 years of national security, law enforcement, and private protection experience.

He’s also a consultant, professional speaker, and the author of The Opposite is True: Discover Your Unexpected Enemies, Allies, and Purpose Through the Eyes of Counterintuitive Psychology. So welcome to the show, Efren.

Efren: Thank you, Joanna. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Joanna: Yes, it’s very exciting. First off—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you went from FBI agent to author.

Efren: I’m going to backtrack a little bit. It all started from a little bit of minor bullying, relatively minor bullying, when I was a child. That planted a basic seed in me just asking, why would people choose to be mean when they could simply be nice? If you think about that question, it’s the fundamental question of psychology.

Why do people do what they do? More specifically, why do bad people do what they do?

As a child, I had no idea and a legitimate interest. So that seed was there. It did also inspire me to want to protect others if I ever could.

As I grew up throughout school and university, I developed my interest in psychology and, accidentally, my interest in criminology. I decided to pursue a career in protecting people, and I simply thought the best vehicle for that was the FBI.

So I joined the FBI, I implemented my purpose, you could say, in protecting people in the National Security Division of the FBI, and later the Criminal Division, what most people think of when they think of the FBI. Then later in the private sector, protecting people as a bodyguard and a threat assessment consultant.

Now, currently as a writer, author, speaker, I’m just trying to express the observations I’ve made to help encourage the “good guys,” your audience and my reader, that they are actually stronger than the bad guys.

They are not chihuahuas barking at the doorbell presenting this large presentation of how scary they are. Good guys actually have the courage to be vulnerable, to be humble, to be kind. That’s the main message I want to come across, and that’s what brought me to the FBI, and brought me to you today.

Joanna: Yes, and I love the book. We’re going to get into it in a minute. I’m fascinated. So you were bullied, and you became a protector. Obviously, a lot of people listening are fiction writers, and so often when we think about writing antagonists, sometimes they may have been bullied and turn into bullies.

Sometimes people who are abused become abusers, whereas some people who are abused become protectors. So just with all your knowledge of psychology and criminal behavior—

How do you think people become the protector instead of the bully in a situation where you came from?

When does it go one way, not the other?

Efren: So I love this question, not only as a protector, but also as an author. The best antagonists, the best protagonists, have elements of both. It’s just not one or the other.

So in the writing world, you’ll have an antagonist who is this evil villain, but you have these pet the dog moments, and that’s showing their humanity, their motive. Their belief might not be that they’re actually evil, they actually might think they’re doing good, they’re just misguided.

Then the opposite is true with the good guys. They’re the most interesting protagonists, or characters in general. They have some dichotomy there too. They’re not saints, but they show some human vulnerability. So I’ve seen that in the real world too.

The answer is not as complicated as it seems. The trend, the pattern I’ve noticed all of my life, and particularly in the criminal world, is —

Good guys are more selfless, and the bad guys are more selfish.

There’s a reason for both of those. They always bark at the doorbell, like the analogy I was giving you before, not because they’re brave and courageous, but they’re so scared that whatever’s on the other side will actually see their weaknesses. So they selfishly attack, project, and they’re very loud so that nobody dare see what’s on their inside.

On the other side, the good people expose themselves to their weaknesses or imperfections, their mortality. That takes courage. That takes risk of being judged, risk of being ridiculed, risk of exposing your humanity, and that’s all bravery.

The antagonists are jealous of that bravery. They have that envy. What do people do when they’re envious and jealous? They hate. What do you do with things you hate? You attack. That creates your villain.

Joanna: Yes, there’s loads in your book that people can mine for their fiction. Absolutely, and of course, I did psychology as well at various levels in my career. So I loved reading all the psychology stuff.

You did mention there that good people expose themselves. That brought me to a quote in your book. This is from the book,

“Most people should not know everything about you. That is privileged information that should be held by the special ones who have earned your trust.”

I found this really interesting dichotomy in the book between these boundaries and keeping things close to you, don’t give too much away, but also, like you just said, good people expose themselves, they are authentic. You’re having to put yourself out there, and you’re talking about things you’ve done. So how can we balance these things? How are you balancing these things?

Efren: I just think it’s really important to acknowledge that if you’re human, you’re mortal. You have flaws, you have weaknesses, you have insecurities, you have failures. That’s what makes us human.

Instead of shrinking away from all of those imperfections, we should embrace our humanity. Even though it’s difficult to do, anything worthwhile is difficult. So part of that is acknowledging the concept I talk about, that oil and water, emotion and logic, don’t mix. So these insecurities are coming from an emotional place.

So simply acknowledging our imperfections and other people’s imperfections, you have to be careful about who you trust with those insecurities, and your secrets, and your goals, your ambitions, because it’s very easy for the naysayers, the negative nancies of the world, to tear you down and pull you off your path, or at least distract you from your path.

So I suggest to your audience, to my readers, to be truly dispassionate when you’re assessing your associates, your family members, your friends, your colleagues, and be objective.

Recognize the patterns of people who have always been supportive and encouraging, and reward those people with trust in them, with more of your business, your life, your insecurities, your interests, your goals.

Don’t be in denial about people who should be your allies, but are not.

Simply because they’re blood, or you’ve known them for 30 years, or you’ve done business deals with them, if your gut is telling you they’re not truly your allies, listen to that.

It’s hard enough to seek your purpose and climb your mountain to reach your summit, you don’t need to invite other people to pull you down. So I just ask everybody to be truly objective and discerning about who their true wolf pack is, and sometimes you just have to fly alone like an eagle.

Joanna: Just some practicalities, though. Again, with your background and a lot of the details you’ve included in the book, which as you put in the beginning, you have had to run past the FBI. You haven’t shared anything you couldn’t share, but you do really put stuff out there that gives away a lot about you.

I imagine there are people out there who might have some issues with you. So how do you balance putting yourself out there in the world to share what you want to with your own safety and this kind of difficult balance? Now, most of us won’t be in the situation you are, but—

We all feel vulnerable about sharing things about our life with the public in marketing.

So just practically, how are you doing that? How do you balance it? Or is this something you don’t even worry about?

Efren: I do have to worry about it, but it’s just lethal force, when you have to potentially kill a bad person to save other people. In that extreme scenario, you can’t decide when you’re in the moment, you have to decide it early on.

In sharing my private information, or some personal information, or some personal vulnerabilities in a book to the public or on social media, I’ve made a choice already in advance to face any potential backlash before it arrives.

So I contend that true living is worth dying for. That’s hard, but also a good life is difficult. So I just think it’s so important.

We live once in this world so you really have to commit some risk in order to truly live.

One of my biggest regrets would be being on my deathbed and not truly living my life. I’ll sometimes re-engineer what I wish I would have done when I was 30, 40, 50, I’m approaching 50, and just go out and do that. I just mentally time travel and try to do those things.

This book is a classic example of it, or doing an interview with you is a classic example. I’m putting it all out there, anything that is truly beneficial to other people, and facing the backlash.

There’s different motives for being a critic, so if somebody is criticizing your book, your writings, your podcast, you have to know what their motive is. If they haven’t accomplished much, then their motive is probably just a Negative Nancy kind of mode of trying to tear people down who are risking entrepreneurship and living life.

If their motive is constructive, then I would heed those criticisms because they’re not coming from a negative place, and there’s probably some merit to it. Or as an author, when you have a developmental edit, that’s very humbling. That humility is where wisdom is, so you can learn a lot during these developmental edits.

Joanna: Yes, that’s true. It’s actually funny that you mentioned backlash there.

We all worry about what people are going to say or what people are going to think, but the reality is, most people in the world are not going to read our book.

Efren: That’s true.

Joanna: So even if we worry about it, like my mum, when I put out a book called One Day In Budapest years ago now, my mum was really worried that some right-wing fanatics were going to come and attack me. She was like, “You can’t publish this!” and obviously, it was crickets. Like there was literally no response.

Efren: Right. That’s funny.

Joanna: So we always overthink the fear of what will happen when we put ourselves out there.

I do want to come to another quote from the book, which kind of relates to how many of us have fear of failure. You have this quote which says,

“Failures, counter to their common perception, are integral to achieving any success. As the title of the book announces, the opposite is true.”

I wondered about this, how you’re thinking about failure. Like whether that’s failure that’s happened in your career so far, or for authors in particular, it is lower than expected sales.

How can we take our failures and move on to success?

Efren: I think we’ve been taught in working-class, middle-class cultures, in particular, we’ve been taught to be spokes on a wheel, and not to be the wheel, not to be the leader. So we fear getting a bad mark in school or having any kind of imperfect running in a football match.

So people start to fear risking anything at all. So you’re trained, or we’re trained, to be spokes on a wheel. The reality is that failure is a prerequisite to success. You cannot succeed without failure.

The bigger overarching idea is humility is the only path to wisdom. So when you fail, you’re humbled. Just like when we’re little kids and we go from crawling to walk in, and we stumble and scrape our knees, those are difficult moments of getting our knees scrape, and yet they build resilience.

The same is true of becoming an author, or a speaker, or an FBI agent. Whatever that difficult goal happens to be, I guarantee one thing, you will fail and stumble all throughout your journey.

I contend that the only time you actually truly fail, in the conventional sense, is when you give up. Otherwise, it’s just a journey, and you’re growing from that journey. So I suggest for people to embrace failure because you’re always growing. Embrace the humility because that’s where the wisdom is.

Joanna: What specific failure have you faced that led to the success of you finishing this book?

Efren: I failed in everything I’ve done before I’ve succeeded. So that’s my point. So even if your failure is reaching a timeline of when you want to get that vomit draft done, then you just have to reassess and set a new timeline.

Or it means that the bones you’ve been writing, the foundational bones of the book, need more work, and it’s becoming a better book for it.

Then when you start to get into the meat of it, the stories, the anecdotes, the parables, or the research, which I also consider the spice of the book. Then it’s just going to be a better product as you grow from, look, this isn’t working, let me pivot and do that.

Becoming an FBI agent requires a lot of physical training or testing and that sort of thing, and sometimes people don’t pass those on the first round. Getting in the fetal position and giving up is not the path to success.

We’ve got a pastor out here in Southern California that I often quote that says, “Fruit grows in valleys, not on mountaintops.” So when you’re climbing your mountain to reach your summit, you’ll eventually fall in the valley, but that’s where all the fruit is, all the fruit of wisdom.

So you have a choice. You can sulk and give up, or you can embrace that wisdom and stuff your pockets and renourish yourself and resume your climb.

So I’ve faced failure in every aspect of life, but I’ve got a stubborn bone in me that I just want to persist. I’m grateful for that bone, even though it makes other people mad. You only live once, go for it.

Joanna: This is a very ambitious book, and I think it’s excellent. I really enjoyed it. It surprised me. I don’t know why it surprised me. It’s got a lot of great stuff in.

How long did it take you to get this book into the world, from when you thought about it, to finally publishing?

Efren: So I had the bones, the ideas of the book, probably building throughout my career, but I didn’t have the confidence or maybe even the experience yet to back it up. Near the end of my public career in the bureau and in joining the private sector as bodyguard and threat assessment person, I was pretty confident in my idea.

So that’s essentially the bones of the book, the ideas that most truths are counterintuitive and paradoxical, ideas like emotion and logic don’t mix, the only thing to fear is the unknown. Little ideas like this that I knew could benefit my reader, your audience, anybody who wants to live beyond mediocrity.

So that probably took about a year to nail down in an organized format. Then when you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you get these ideas at three in the morning, or these stories that pop in your head.

Whether they’re experiences from your memories, or from conversations you have from people, or things you observe in the real world that suddenly go, wow, that would be a great illustration of these principles, the bones of my book. So I’ll jot those down, and I start to build the book that way.

At the very end, the spice of the book is the little additional anecdotes, the refinement, the clarifications, the editing, and then the formatting to present this big picture with all those elements together. So overall, it probably took about three years to complete.

Joanna: How did you keep everything organized? There are a lot of different, as you say, a lot of anecdotes, there are different quotes, there are things about your life, there’s bits of memoir.

What tools did you use for researching and the writing process?

So for example, I use Scrivener.

Efren: So what’s funny is I’ve got all these softwares, and what I ended up using was simply Pages on my iPad. I’m just very, I guess, linear that way. I’ll have those bones, which essentially become an outline, but I started out with the mind map.

That was the idea portion of the book, what I wanted the book to be about. What are like five essential points I need the reader to understand? Then I easily converted that mind map into an outline.

As these anecdotes, or stories, or things that need a little bit more due diligence materialized, I would research that, plop it in whatever area of the outline that belongs, or the ongoing manuscript. Then I’ll skip to the next spot that I’m currently motivated to research or explore.

So writing the book was not from page one to the last page, which I think is page 550, it was a lot of skipping around. What really guided me were those bones, the outline.

I think that’s a lot more important in the nonfiction so you have a rough outline to know where you’re going, so I’m not all over the place. I, on purpose, divided the first half of the book to be named Volume One: Foundations and the second half Implementations.

The first half covers a lot of those foundational issues that you just have to get out of the way, but I back those up with stories and biographies.

The second half really gets into the weeds once I’ve got the reader with me and understanding these concepts. Now it’s more about implementation and how things affect the reader, their own communities, and then society overall.

Joanna: Coming back to that mind map, I like mind maps too. I just would tend to do that on a piece of paper, like with my hand. Is that how you did that?

Did you use software for mind mapping?

Efren: No, the mind map was a pen-to-paper, one-page kind of thing. I knew the book I wanted to write. I thought the theme of the book would be empathy because that’s such a vital part of understanding behavior. I just contend that empathy is the active synonym for psychology.

It takes some work to understand other people. It’s not just something you read in a textbook. Then as I wrote the book, I almost started discovering the patterns of these counterintuitive truths.

That kind of took over the role of pointing out these truths to encourage the reader that these truths are on their side. That the good guys actually have a lot of benefits over the bad guys, even though on the surface, it appears that the bad guys are always winning these little battles.

Joanna: Yes. I’m sorry to ask you all the technical questions, but I know how hard it is to write nonfiction. For people listening who are writing nonfiction, these are really important questions.

So as I said, you have a lot of quotes, you have citations. The book is really rich for all of those, but I know how hard it is to wrangle it. If you were just doing it in Pages, like it sounds crazy. So how did you make sure to not plagiarize and make sure all of your quotes had proper quote marks? Did you get fact checking?

How did you manage the citations and quotes?

Efren: Yes, that’s a great question. As I was illustrating the book with parable stories, I’d focus on a certain section that needed further illustration or research. I would dive deep to look for things that are, first of all, interesting.

I had two principles for writing the book, in general. One was reader first, and two, not boring. So part of that mindset of whether I’m writing a fiction or nonfiction, it’s everything has to benefit the reader, and number two, it can’t be boring.

So as I’m researching the points I’m trying to convey, I want them to be corroborated, that’s the education part, but also to be interesting. So these emotional stories about reality, or parables, or whatever it may be, that’s what I honed in on to really illustrate my points and entertain the reader.

So when I finally got to that, I implemented stories, quotes, anything that could serve that purpose.

I could only do so much to make sure those are truthful, so then I hired a company of fact checkers.

I can’t believe they love doing this because it’s such a tedious work, but they fact checked my quotes, my stories, that sort of thing. Then they created roughly a 30-page bibliography for the back of the book.

I did not do most of that work. I did what I could in the beginning, and then I passed on everything I could for them to corroborate it.

Joanna: That’s great. Would you recommend that company? Give their name?Because I know people are like, oh, what’s that?

Efren: Absolutely, I would. Book Launchers is an independent publishing company that allows you to keep 100% of your IP, your intellectual property. In their company, Julie Broad is the owner, and I’ve become friends with her.

She has people who are professional developmental editors, copy editors, formatters, everything you could think of under the sun that could really get the book to a professional level that a traditional publisher would provide.

Joanna: Yes, so that is partnership publishing. That’s what we call partnership publishing. It’s great that you’ve been happy with that because some people have difficult experiences, but it sounds like you had a very good one.

Efren: I did. Frankly, most of the companies I researched, I wasn’t very impressed with them. I got a very salesy vibe from them, and that’s a turn off for me and probably most people. My favorite trait from Book Launchers was, frankly, their authenticity, particularly from the founder, Julie Broad.

Joanna: Oh, that’s great. Coming back to the book because you do cover some difficult situations in it. Again, a quote from the book, you say,

“Trauma does not note its presence lightly. It engraves itself into the stone of our minds.”

Of course, I read that and I was like, okay, I wonder how much trauma is engraved in your mind because of the things you’ve been through.

How can we use our writing to help deal with trauma, but also make sure we’re not using it as therapy?

Efren: Yes, that’s great. I think writing is very therapeutic because it allows you to pause with your issues, and think about them, and digest them.

So in nonfiction book writing, you could truly learn, but as you’re exploring your characters in a fiction book, you could really start to dive in and empathize with your different characters.

So, for nonfiction, writing journals for yourself or memoirs as an actual book, it still has to be reader first, but it really will help the individuals process their own life experiences.

On the fiction side, hashing out your protagonists, and the villains, or the support characters, I just think that helps the individual reflect on their own issues and empathize with their characters. Even if they’re bad, knowing what truly motivates this bad person.

For example, if you’ve got somebody with extreme bullying in their background, and maybe they get in their villainous heart for vengeance. That’s kind of a classic trope that would work, but it would help the individual actually digest their own thoughts. You’re forcing yourself to think and reflect, as opposed to just emote.

Joanna: I can’t remember—

Do you have a trigger warning in the book?

Efren: What do you mean by a trigger warning?

Joanna: Oh, I love that you even asked that question. Okay, so I guess in the last few years, we’ve seen authors told to include this at the beginning of a book. It might be a novel, it might be a nonfiction book. This might include things that will upset you or offend you or will.

If you’re claustrophobic, it might make you feel claustrophobic. If you have been through trauma, it might trigger that. Now, I’m not saying your book does that, it didn’t trigger me. It’s something that’s become trendy in case you upset people. So what do you think about that?

Efren: I think that’s fine, but those people are not my reader who need a trigger warning. So I dedicated my book—like, I love my family, and my wife, and all of that, but I don’t do the traditional dedication to my wife, or my parents, or to a best friend. I dedicated my book to those who want to live beyond mediocrity.

Anybody who really wants to live a great, fantastic life has to face a lot of uncomfortable truths about reality.

The benefit to that is just like exercise, the more you do it, the better you get at it. So when you stop relying on denial for comfort or seeking comfort in everything, you start embracing the difficulty of accomplishing things, and you get good at it. You literally get in shape for it.

Just like tearing muscle for increased strength, you’re getting better with resilience of facing a lot of uncomfortable truths. As somebody from a criminology background, a lot of those uncomfortable truths are that bad guys exist, criminals exists, bad people exist.

There are some not so nice people in your own family, your own bloodline, or your own “friendship circles” that are not good for you. So the proactive, deliberate acceptance of that suggests you should create boundaries for that, but not at the extent of denying it.

A trigger warning for me is almost the antithesis of what my book is all about.

It’s almost like somebody who doesn’t want to face reality, or I guess maybe they just want to know if they’re not my reader.

As I put literally twice in my book, if you are not appreciating some of the truths I’m laying out my book, you would have thrown it across the room by now. I’m talking to the reader, in case they are not my reader.

So that also encourages the person who progresses in my book to know they are my reader, and that they’re willing to face some of these uncomfortable truths that I promise at the end will give you a lot of benefits.

Joanna: I agree, I don’t like trigger warnings. I think you should be able to communicate what’s in the book by the cover, by the description, and people should know whether or not this is something they want to read. For example, if you don’t like horror, don’t pick up a horror book. If you don’t want to know what humans are like, don’t pick up a book like yours.

Efren: Right, exactly. Pretty quickly, I think not just from the covers, but from the early-on parts of the book, that first chapter, you know if something’s for you or not. There’s nothing wrong with closing a book and putting it down or turning off the television or the radio. It’s just a choice.

I’m a big proponent of freedom and free will. So people could not like something and just turn it off, or they should be allowed to have the opportunity to engage in something.

Joanna: On that freedom then, and that you worked with a partnership publisher—

Why did you choose to go the independent author route?

With your background and experience, I imagine you could have pitched a traditional publishing deal.

Efren: Frankly, I just think that in the modern time, it’s a lot easier to independently publish professionally than it used to be.

Also, the whole spirit of my purpose in protecting people from tyrants and encouraging people who have more difficulty protecting themselves from others, it’s almost like the big traditional publishing industry takes advantage of a lot of potentially great authors.

If they do give them a deal, they keep a lot of the IP or a lot of the profits, and I just resent that. So in this day and age, I would encourage people to publish independently.

I’m not criticizing the traditional publishers because they have to make money, but in this day and age we have the internet, we have so many great podcasts like yours, and YouTube trainings. People can really grow independently.

I’m a big fan of independence for an individual and for society because a strong independent person could help other people on their own.

They don’t have to be forced to do it. So I’m just very much of a freedom kind of person and independence kind of person. So in my mind, I had no choice but to publish independently.

Joanna: Yes, it’s interesting. Then coming back to facing uncomfortable truths, which I think you talked about in a different context, but as indie authors we do have to face those things. You’ve now been doing this a while—

What are some of the uncomfortable truths that indie authors really need to face in the industry?

What are things that we might need to tackle?

Efren: I think one of the most fundamental ones, especially for a newer author, is to realize your book is not for everybody. In fact, it’s not for most people. You shouldn’t be disappointed about that, that should not be your goal.

You want to reach your particular audience. Somebody is interested in history of battles or wars is not interested in basket weaving techniques, and vice versa.

If somebody this is not interested in human behavior, or a lot of these uncomfortable realities about the bad guys make them squirm, and they’d rather just enjoy cookbooks or whatever, there’s nothing wrong with that either. They should not read my book because they will be triggered.

So I just think that’s one of the most important things is facing the reality that your book is not for everybody. The other thing is that you’re going to face a difficulty for anything worthwhile, and just stay the course and persist because you’ll grow a lot as you write the book.

The idea you have for your book when you start it definitely evolves into what your book is meant to be.

I just think a good guideline for that, or guidelines, is what I wrote on a little sticky and stuck to my iPad, and it’s still there.

It’s just to remember, number one, reader first, and number two, don’t let it be boring. The way to implement the not be boring part is educational value in an entertaining or emotional way. Emotion is what engages people, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. It is hard to remember that. Of course, what’s boring for one person is interesting for another, and vice versa. For example, some people absolutely love romances, sweet romances. My mum has written some of those as Penny Appleton, and they’re not my cup of tea as such.

So I guess that is another point, that what might not be boring for some people, might well be for other people. That comes to your point that your books are not for everyone.

Efren: Right, and if you’re writing a technical book, I guess it’s not designed for that. You just have to know what your book is for, what the purpose of your book is.

If you’re writing a book about computer software, it’s going to be very difficult to engage the emotions, but that reader is not interested in the emotions. They want to know the technical things. If you’re writing a romance novel, you better engage that heart, or you will not have any readers.

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. In fact, those authors who engage the emotions the most do the best in terms of book sales. We’ve definitely seen that. I wondered what your plans are next.

Have you got the taste for writing books? Have you already started another one?

Efren: I have, and I’ve expressed it a little bit. I’m excited about the project I’m working on now, and I think your British audience would truly appreciate it.

Remember George Orwell’s 1984, back in 1949? So if you remember the details of the book, it is totally depressing. It’s a great book, but it’s totally depressing. It ends where the protagonist, Winston, and his love or affair interest, Julia, get “reindoctrinated.” They pretty much get tortured to become compliant. The book ends where they’re compliant followers of big brother, and it’s very sad.

So what I’ve done as an optimistic American, is I’ve written a big draft of a sequel to that titled 2084 because Julia got pregnant from their love affair, and their great grandchild is my protagonist in 2084, 100 years later.

This protagonist, just like a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, this protagonist is in a world where big brother is dominating, there is no resistance, there’s zero memory of how it used to be, but his humanity starts to leak out. To vent out these criminal thoughts, these crime thoughts, he starts taking these walks. The walks don’t suffice, so he has to find another outlet, and so on and so forth.

So you can imagine the character arc where he discovers humanity and has a lot of difficulty and resistance to discovering that humanity, but the character arc is very clear. There’s plenty of conflicting characters and supportive characters along the path that will surprise the reader. I’m really excited about all three acts of my 2084, and it’ll complement Orwell’s 1984.

Joanna: That sounds good. Did you know about—and this is not at all like the story you’ve mentioned—but a book called Julia came out last year by an author called Sandra Newman, and it tells Julia’s story in 1984. If you haven’t read that, it might be interesting. It’s set back in 1984 time, so it doesn’t overlap with yours.

Efren: I did not know about that.

Joanna: It’s about Julia. It came up when you said that. I was like, oh, you should put that on your reading list.

Efren: I’m definitely going to read that. Thank you for telling me. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. I’m super excited about it now.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. Now, we’re almost out of time, but I do have to ask you the FBI question because there are so many authors writing FBI thrillers. It’s a very popular genre. There are so many TV shows and films.

Is there anything that really annoys you that people get wrong about the FBI regularly?

Efren: Yes, it’s funny you mentioned that because probably less so in books and more and movies, the thing that gets to me is some of the tactics. Watching actors running around with their fingers on the triggers makes me absolutely crazy because that’s so incredibly dangerous, but they do it all the time.

So we’re trying to keep our finger on the side of the weapon, whether it’s a long gun or a pistol, because just life happens. You trip over a log, or somebody sneaks up behind you, the human reaction is to jerk or defend, and so your finger goes right alongside that.

So if people are running around with their finger on the trigger, they’ll be shooting people all the time. So that makes me crazy.

On the similar lines, when actors are carrying the long guns, they have what we call a chicken wing, that elbow is sticking out in the air. Now you’re never going to unsee this when you watch movies, but we always want to put that elbow down and stay center balanced, as opposed to sticking that elbow up.

I don’t know why people do that, but it’s a tendency with long guns to stick your elbow in the air like a chicken wing. So it’s not so serious, but those things drive me nuts.

More on the serious side, movies and books both always make it seem like the FBI and local police are enemies and in competition, when frankly, the opposite is true. The most professional detectives and police officers have worked alongside the most professional FBI agents like partners.

So the FBI can’t get much done without their local partners. So we actually partner up very well. There’s a lot of resources and overarching reach that the FBI has that the local police don’t have, so it develops a great partnership.

So I’m a huge proponent of task forces. It’s different agencies, local or federal, working together for one common mission. That kind of complements my idea on life in general, not just in combating crime or terrorism.

Just people working together, complementing their own resources, their own ideas, and being mission-oriented like a North Star, as opposed to ego-oriented where not a lot gets done, and there’s a lot of bickering and squabbling.

Joanna: Do you have any recommended resources that authors can go to?

Efren: I’m not too familiar with a lot of quality FBI books because, frankly, I don’t read a lot of FBI books because I’ve done it. It doesn’t interest me so much.

The Michael Connelly books really do a good job of showing the police officers’ life. He does a lot of research with how cops in LA are. I think there’s a lot of accuracy there.

Then once he has those founding cultural principles down, then he branches off into creative storytelling that maybe aren’t so true, but they’re entertaining, which is the whole point of fiction. So Michael Connelly’s books are great for police work in general.

Frankly, not to hoot my own horn, but my book would be excellent not just for understanding some FBI thought processes, but understanding criminals in general.

I think anybody writing fiction, you’re always going to have an antagonist and protagonist to some degree, whether it’s grand or focused on an individual. Truly understanding what motivates good and bad people to do what they do, and how they interact with each other, and the psychological reasoning behind it, my book is a blueprint for understanding all those things.

Where then your audience will have epiphanies for their own characters and for their own lives, and probably the antagonists in their own life, understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing. That knowledge will empower your reader to realize, look, I’m just fine. This person’s a chihuahua barking at the doorbell.

Joanna: Fantastic.

So where can people find you and your book online?

Efren: So I’ve got all my links in one spot. My website EfrenDelgado.com, E-F-R-E-N-delgado.com.

Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Efren. That was great.

Efren: Thank you so much. It was fun.

The post Writing Hard Truths And Tips For Writing Non-Fiction With Efren Delgado first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Collaborative Writing With AI With Rachelle Ayala

How can we use AI tools to enhance and improve our creative process? How can we double down on being human by writing what we are passionate about, while still using generative AI to help fulfil our creative vision? Rachelle Ayala gives her thoughts in this episode.

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Today’s show is sponsored by my patrons! Join my community and get access to extra videos on writing craft, author business, AI and behind the scenes info, plus an extra Q&A show a month where I answer Patron questions. It’s about the same as a black coffee a month! Join the community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn

Rachelle Ayala is the multi-award-winning USA Today bestselling author of playful and passionate romances with a twist. She also has a series of books for authors, including Write with AI, An AI Author’s Journal, and AI Fiction Mastery.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Understanding generative AI tools as a non-technical person
  • How the creative process can work with AI tools and why it’s always changing
  • Using AI tools as a collaborative discovery process, and why it’s all about your creative vision and author voice. For more on this, check out my AI-Assisted Artisan Author episode
  • Aspects of copyright
  • Staying focused on writing as new AI technology emerges, and why you need to double down on being human

You can find Rachelle at RachelleAyala.net.

Transcript of Interview with Rachelle Ayala

Joanna: Rachelle Ayala is the multi-award-winning USA Today bestselling author of playful and passionate romances with a twist. She also has a series of books for authors, including Write with AI, An AI Author’s Journal, and AI Fiction Mastery. So welcome to the show, Rachelle.

Rachelle: Thank you, Joanna. Thank you for having me.

Joanna: I’m super excited to talk to you. As I was telling you, I have the ebook and the print edition of AI Fiction Mastery because I think you put things so well in your writing. Before we get into it—

Tell us a bit more about you and your background in technology and writing.

Rachelle: Okay, sure. I was a math major, and I actually have a PhD in applied math. So you would think that’s kind of the farthest thing from writing.

I got into parallel computing back in the 80s. Then in the early 90s, neural networks, where we were basically trying to recognize handwritten characters between zero to nine. So that was quite interesting and fascinating.

So I basically worked in software development and network management until 2011. Then I got into writing. So romance writing was my gig, and I liked dealing with feelings and happy endings.

Joanna: Well, I love that, going from maths and neural networks into romance. You do explain a lot of the stuff behind AI in your books, which I think is really good. You’re used to writing for normal people, so I don’t find your writing technical at all.

Do you think people who are not very technical are struggling with this AI world at the moment?

Rachelle: I don’t even think you need to be technical to understand AI because—well, there’s different types of AI, but we’re talking about large language models for writing.

So there’s other AI systems like expert systems, machine learning, and people have been using that. They don’t even know it, but they’ve been using it under the hood.

The AI we’re talking about, large language models, ChatGPT was one of the first ones that most people became aware of. So GPT is a Generative Pretrained Transformer.

You could think of it as a word slot machine, where you could think of all these slots. So when you write a prompt, then the AI will look at the words that are in there, and then try to predict the best word that comes after.

Let’s say, we say Monday, Wednesday, and most people will say Friday because that’s the next word that you think of. Or if you say Monday, Tuesday, most people will say Wednesday.

So what the AI does is it was trained on reading, I think somebody said between half a trillion or trillion pieces of text. When an AI is trained, it’s not reading a book like we do, where we read it from beginning to end.

So think of if you cut a piece of newspaper into a strip or a square, and then it’s got all these words that are in there, and it’s looking for words, associations, and patterns. So it’ll say, oh, this word goes with that word, and those words go together.

So it could take a word like, say, “bark.” If it sees dog in the other slots, it’s going to most likely come out with “woof,” but if it sees trees in the other slot, then it might say, “the bark is wrinkly or hard,” and it’s thinking of a tree bark.

So that’s how it is able to create words, and that’s why you think it’s intelligent, because it understands the context. It does so with these huge, huge context windows. So I don’t want to get too technical, but a context window is how many words can it keep in its memory.

So it can look at all these associations and how those words go together, so it can best predict the next word that comes out of this word slot machine, so to say. It doesn’t remember anything.

Joanna: It’s interesting. You mentioned words there, like associations and patterns. I feel like the big misunderstanding with large language models is that some authors think that it’s more like a database, where all these “stolen” books are sitting in a big database.

Then if you query it, it will pull out exact chunks from other people’s books and use them. So you’re always going to plagiarize or you’re always going to be “stealing.” Like you and I hear these words a lot from authors who are really just starting out.

Can you explain why it’s not a database?

Rachelle: Well, databases are storage. So if you query at a database, it pulls out exactly what’s in there. I mean, this is like your social security number. It’s not going to get it wrong, it’s going to pull it right out. Your birthdate, if it’s entered in correctly, it will pull it out.

Everybody knows that AI doesn’t get things correct, or it doesn’t get things exact. If you prompt it twice with the same prompt, like, say, “Write me a story about a road runner who is sick,” or something, it’s going to write you something different.

Even that, if you think about how they trained AI, they trained it by inputting all these words that are associated together. Then they adjusted the weights of how these words are more likely to be with those words.

They’re not retaining the words, the words are thrown away. The only thing it keeps is the weight.

So sort of like when you read a book, unless you have a photographic memory, you cannot recall that book, but you can recall the concepts because you have made associations between what you read and it communicated to you these ideas.

In fact, people say our memories are not like videos, our memories are actually assembled whenever we’re recalling something. So we are making things up on the fly, based on all the associations that we’ve had in our lives. Similarly, that’s how AI LLM really is making up things.

So when people say it lies to you, it’s like, no. It’s actually just making things up. You gave it a prompt that said, like, “Say happy birthday to me,” and it just keeps going with that.

There’s also something called a temperature knob where you could basically increase the randomness, because you know, it’s boring if that always gives you the same answer.

So they built in this randomness thing where it’s going to look for either the most probable, or the next most probable, or it has a whole list of probable words that come next. If you turn on that temperature, you dial it all the way up, you’re going to get gibberish.

The other thing with LLMs, they’ve literally read the kitchen sink. It’s not just literature, they read code. So a lot of times, if I turn up the temperature and I’m prompting it, all of a sudden it’s just all this gibberish code that comes out of it. So that just shows you that it has no memory.

Joanna: I think that’s definitely one of the reasons why the legal cases are so complicated and why people actually need to have some technical idea. It’s not just a case of like copying and pasting.

Let’s talk more about your creative process. So you’re a discovery writer, which I love, although you have given tips for outlining in your books. Can you tell us—

How does your creative process work with AI? Are you just writing a prompt and then hitting publish?

Rachelle: Oh, definitely not.

I think the first time I got on ChatGPT, and I’m sure every one of you guys have done it, you said, “Write me a novel.” Then ChatGPT wrote a 200-word story about some rabbit jumping across a meadow, and it might have seen a turtle, and it’s like a kid story. So it’s interesting, and it’s fun.

I think today, they probably won’t do any of that because they put some processing in where it will probably say, “Please give me enough detail.” At the very beginning, it would happily go off and write this little fanciful story.

So getting back to, yes, I’m a discovery writer, but I think I have also learned about story structure. So very early in writing, I realized that if I just sat there and meandered around with my character, we could do all these interesting things, but it would not be telling a story.

A story has to have some kind of meaning behind it. So it’s characters, they’re going through actions, they’re experiencing things, but there needs to be an emotional meaning behind it or something where readers want to find out what happens next.

So I did study story structure. I think I read Larry Brooks’s book on story engineering, so I know about the inciting incident, and the progressive complications, and there’s like this midpoint review. So you kind of have to have those things in the back of your mind.

AI actually does not know all this. The other thing most of you’ve probably tried is if you type in what you want the AI to do for the story, it takes the most direct point.

So like for romance, this really doesn’t work because the romance thrives off conflict. It means there’s attraction, and then there’s this push and pull of, okay, I’m really attracted to this guy, but he’s got some things that just doesn’t work.

So it’s the push and pull between the attraction and the conflict and two people are working things out. Both of them are flawed, but we believe in redemption, and we believe that everybody deserves to be loved. So the reader is really looking for how this is going to work out.

Well, the AI would just say, okay, so we talked about it, and then happily together we can face these things. It’s really so innocent. It’s like, “Oh, well, why don’t we just talk it out? Then they can walk hand in hand and face the future with determination.”

Joanna: You know that’s a ChatGPT story!

Rachelle: Of course.

Joanna: What are some of the ways you do use [ChatGPT] in your creative process?

Rachelle: Well, actually, every book I’ve written with the assistance of AI, I have done something different. That’s because the tools change so fast. So I think at the beginning with ChatGPT, I was just asking it questions about, “Oh, let’s make up some mythological figures that can do this or that, or some magic.”

I was sort of using it like a search engine, which it’s not because it’s making stuff up. I was just heightening descriptions and things like that.

So I think I talked about that in my first book, Love by the Prompt, which was basically just brainstorming and asking it, “Give me premises for a romance,” or, “Give me an enemies to lovers story.” So it was doing that.

At that point, it couldn’t write more than 300 words or so. So we weren’t really using it to write prose, we were using it maybe to enhance your descriptions or bring in things that you didn’t think about.

The speed of AI went so fast, so by the time we were into summer when I wrote the AI Author’s Journal, we were actually writing scenes. The way we were writing the scenes is we would list out the scene beats.

So these are just very basic actions of, “they walked down the street,” “there was a gunfight going on,” “there was a sheriff that came in.” So basic beats. We were doing that, and then laying that out and feeding it to the AI so that the AI would kind of fill it in.

So you’re really leading it like a horse, like a horse to waters. Like, “Come on this way. Okay, now you’re going to do that.” It was really funny to see what it would do in between.

I happen to like hallucinations. I think a lot of authors don’t like it.

I really get a crack when it goes, what they call, off the rails. I’m like, oh, really? Okay, this is funny.

So that’s how I was using it. It wasn’t like this prescriptive thing where I already knew like beginning to end, and I’m going to lay it all out, and then push a button, and this is going to go through.

It doesn’t listen to you anyway, so you’re not going to be able to. Even if you’re an outliner, and you have an 80-page outline and you’ve got everything listed.

I should say, you can make it listen to you by dialing the temperature down and using one of the more boring models. I don’t think you’re going to like what comes out because it will be very concise and succinct. They would just literally stick to your beats like glue.

It’s not expanding from it, so then why bother have AI write it. At the same time, if you turn the temperature up, it might deviate, and it might deviate in really fun ways. Or it might be like, no, this is not what I want you to do, and it’s already solved the problem by chapter two.

Joanna: Yes, and I think the temperature dial, as you mentioned, that’s really only available if you go through more like the Playground options.

If people are just using ChatGPT, for example, there is no particular temperature dial in that.

Rachelle: There isn’t. It’s really interesting now because they give you access to the latest 4.0, as well as 4 and 3.5. If you really want some of the more quirky stuff, you need to go back to 3.5.

It’s, in a sense, much more innocent. It will just happily go off and do something. Whereas 4.0, I’ve noticed they’ve made it more, what they call, safe.

It tends to feel more like business writing a lot more because what 4.0 will tend to do is whatever you give it, it’s going to make a bold heading, and then it will give you some bullets, and then it’s another bold heading. It’s like okay, so you just summarized my scene brief, and you didn’t put anything creative in between.

That’s what brings me to Claude. I really love Claude. Claude is the other chat. So if you’re beginning, I think most people say, well, we’ve got to get ChatGPT.

With ChatGPT, I think because it’s more structured for business, it’s much better at writing the scene briefs and the outlines.

It will stick to the topic, so if you wanted to outline so for nonfiction, especially—and I think Gemini works good for that, too—is that it will stick to the outline. Then you can work with it and say, “Okay, I’m going to write a nonfiction book about decluttering,” and it will help you stick to it.

Whereas Claude, I think is a little bit more freeform. With old Claude 2, it might balk and say just, “I do not feel comfortable being judgey about somebody’s hoarding problems. I think with the new Claude 3, they’ve loosened that a bit, and so it will be more creative, but it may be less structured.

So I think ChatGPT, you can use it for structuring and writing your outlines, and even your scene briefs or chapter briefs. What we talk about when we talk about scene briefs is you need to give the AI a lot more information.

Just telling it, “Write me a scene of a cute meet between a cowboy and a waitress,” it gives it too much leeway. So a scene brief basically is a piece of information, and we call this mega prompting, but we’re giving it information of the characters in the scene, the settings of the scene, and then the beats.

What’s going to happen first, second, third? What’s the inciting incident? What are the progressive complications? I’m using the story grids way of developing scene, so you have the progressive complications.

Then you have some kind of crisis because there has to be something to motivate your protagonist or to challenge your protagonist, and then some kind of decision where that’s made to move this thing forward.

So if you only have a scene that only has beats and there’s no sort of story element in it, then it’s not going to work. So that’s why you have to do a lot of leading.

Joanna: It’s interesting. You mentioned leading there, and also the different personalities of the models, and also, the fun. I mean—

I feel like it’s a fun back-and-forth process.

It’s like I might ask Chat for a list of things that might go wrong in this particular situation or places where I could set a scene.

I think I use ChatGPT for a lot of lists of options, and also marketing. I think it’s very good on marketing copy. Then, as you say, with Claude, I use what I think you call completion prompting. I might upload what I’ve written so far, and then say, “Okay, what are 10 ways this scene could continue?” and it will help in in that way.

So I think it’s being more fluid almost, isn’t it? Going backwards and forwards, and you have ideas, it has ideas, that kind of thing.

Rachelle: I’ve discovered I like Claude Sonnet the best because Sonnet will actually write. Like if you go through a Workbench or Playground type of thing, and I go through Future Fiction Academy’s Rexy, where I get to specify every parameter, including the length of the output.

So with Sonnet, we always say, “Write a 3000-word scene.” Some people used to say 10,000, hoping ChatGPT would do it. Well, it doesn’t work that way.

They have a parameter called max-length that they’ve already programmed into chat. You don’t know what it is, but it’s probably not going to be that long because you’re sharing the chat with so many other people. You’re doing a flat fee, and they’re paying by the token.

When you go into Playgrounds, or through Rexy, you can special specify a max length. Like I said in the book, all of them, even the million context windows, they may have 100,000-200,000 tokens that you can feed in, the maximum output is 4096 tokens, which is roughly around 3000 words.

So some of them are just like the C students. You tell them do 3000 words, they do 500-700. With Sonnet, I found, and Haiku, will gladly go up to your limit.

If you didn’t give it enough information to prompt, it’ll just kind of get repetitive and have your character doing the same thing over and over in different ways, but that’s your fault.

Joanna: I think, again, this is really important. You’re still not just copying and pasting that scene, right? You’re not taking that scene out of Haiku or Sonnet and then pasting that and then publishing it.

So just explain—

How are you leading the AI? How are you editing?

I still think people are afraid that we’re just going to lose our creativity and the AI will do all the writing, whereas that’s not really what’s happening.

Rachelle: First, I just want to say there is no wrong way to use AI. I know everybody’s process is different.

So there are authors who spend a lot of time with their outline, and whether they’re using ChatGPT or they’re just working on it by themselves, everything is going through this person’s filter, this person’s creativity.

So even if someone works a long outline, and then tells the AI, “Write these scene beats, write what I just gave you,” that author has put in all those scene beats. That author has said, “This is the emotion I want in the scene.” That author has said, “This is what’s going to happen.”

So even the most prescriptive author that architects it from the beginning to the end, that person has put themselves into that story.

It’s not like AI is just going to write you a story.

The other thing I think people forget is that it’s humans that tell stories because we’re the ones with the emotions. When we see a list of things happening, a lot of it depends on the context.

So if, for example, you see a man punch out another man, if it’s on the theater on the stage, you laugh, but if it’s on the street right in front of you, you’re like horrified. So these contexts are all happening emotionally in the human being.

AI will just describe, “Okay, this man punched the other one, and he hit his jaw, and the blood went flying.” It will describe the stuff, but the storyteller is putting the emotional context into that scene, and what the reader is going to feel is coming from the human.

Whether the AI writes the words or not, or even draws the cartoon or not, it’s the medium of how you’re communicating that story that’s eliciting the emotion. So I think I don’t worry whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it’s more just believing that the story is coming from you.

Whether you dictated it, transcribed it, I just look at AI as it increases the accessibility of storytelling for people.

Maybe English is your second language or you’re a visual person.

Joanna: Yes, it’s interesting. I feel like because we describe ourselves as writers, and for a long time we’ve used this number of words written. You know, people will say, “Oh, I wrote 2000 words a day,” or, “I wrote 10,000 words today.” We’ve really viewed value of being a writer on how many words we write.

Therefore, I think people are struggling because if you can generate 3000 words with one prompt from an AI—and that’s where we are now, I mean, goodness knows where it will be in a year or two. I think I did, and maybe other people, are struggling with this question of—

What is our value if it’s not generating words? So how do you see that question?

Rachelle: I think your value is making sure those words are words that people want to read. That’s the same with whether you’re doing your messy draft or not too. I mean, before AI, I wrote 90 books. I can write 50,000 words in two weeks. I’ve done all the NaNoWriMos and all that.

So the thing is, you as the creative person, you can generate the words, but it may not be words anyone wants to read, maybe you don’t even want to read it. So you’re also the curator of those words.

Basically, it still comes down to you’re the storyteller. You have to have a story worth telling.

I mean, you don’t want to just report what you see without putting meaning into it. The meaning into it is what gives you the story, because ultimately, the story is a human to human communication.

Whether I’m talking to you face to face and telling you what happened to me last Friday, or I’m communicating through a novel, it really is still, like I would say, heart to heart. It will come from my heart, but when you read it, it’s going through your heart.

Like I said, the AI can throw out a lot of words, and some of the time I have to admit, I don’t even read what it gives me. Sometimes I ask it for ideas, and then I do exactly what it doesn’t say to do. Or it can spark something totally opposite or just unrelated.

You’re a discovery writer, right? So you know that ideas don’t come until you start moving. It’s like getting on a bicycle. So before I even sit down to write a scene, I could say, “Oh, this is what’s going to happen. I think I know what’s going to happen,” but when I start writing it, it’s like something else just pops into my mind and it deviates.

Joanna: I totally agree. So this is the point.

We are the ones with the creative drive. We have the ideas, we have the prompts, we have the story; we have the emotion. The AI tools, they’re just tools.

Someone has asked me that—

They worry that they might not be able to find their voice if they start writing with AI. Or that they might somehow lose creativity in some way. What do you think about that?

Rachelle: I actually think it’s valid. I’ve been writing, oh, I don’t know, 12/13 years, and you develop the voice by just writing, free writing. So I think it is valid because if I read too much AI, I find myself kind of writing like them, like using some of the same phrases.

So we’re sponges, we absorb what we read. I mean, that’s how we developed our voice. We read lots of books, right? You probably have your favorite authors, or if you’re like me, I read across multiple genres. I love everything I read.

We’re like humans, sponges. The LLM is just like us. I mean, if you noticed ChatGPT, it read a lot of fanfiction. So it has a lot of the same names that it gives and the same things that are always happening, and it’s only because it’s read all these fanfiction sites. So it tends to write like fanfiction.

So I worry about that too. I look at it, and I say, “Oh, I don’t want to sound like ChatGPT,” and if I keep reading what it writes, sometimes I catch myself.

Joanna: That’s interesting. It’s funny, I haven’t felt that at all. I feel like this comes down to being confident in your voice.

I think when we’ve been writing as long as we have, we kind of know when it sounds like us.

So if I read something, I’ll be like, that doesn’t sound like me, so maybe I didn’t write that, or I don’t know where that’s come from. So certainly in my editing process, I edit pretty hard in order to bring my voice.

I really think that maybe people will just learn to write in a different way. In that we wrote with the Internet, so we’ve had the internet, and we have learned and written in that particular way.

People growing up now, this is now free, kids at school are going to use these tools. So they will probably just learn in a different way.

I still think it comes down to what you, as a creator, have as your creative drive.

I think that is really particular to you.

Rachelle: Right, and actually, I think we don’t have to worry as much going forward. As we’ve seen, Claude Haiku, Sonnet, and Opus, they write differently. I think a lot of what we think is AI is from ChatGPT 3.5, because that was the first one that came out.

You’re right, the kids that are growing up today, they’re going to be reading as much AI-generated content, if not more, than the classics. Though you could always go back and read the classics, too.

Joanna: So there’s definitely the responsibility of the creator. I guess we’re saying, and that I’d say, I’m an AI-assisted artisan author. So it’s still my work, it’s what I want to do.

I am interested in what you think about copyright in the USA. In the UK, our copyright law is that anything created by a machine belongs to the creator.

“In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which is computer-generated, the author shall be taken to be the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.”

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 9, 3

In the US, you have quite a lot of copyright rulings that still haven’t happened around that. So how do you think about that in the US?

Rachelle: Well, first of all, I’m not a lawyer. So I don’t know what the legal things are. I think the US, and this is what I think, they think there has to be some kind of human touch in it. So they’re trying to measure how much of the human touch.

[Read the US Copyright Office guidance here.]

An analogy is like taking a picture. I think immediately people probably thought, “Oh, well, all you did was click the button, and you took a picture,” but the copyright office ruled that, “Oh, but you had to set up the shot. You had to adjust the lighting. You had to catch it at the right moment.”

So the camera didn’t take the picture by itself—well, actually, you can set the camera to take pictures, and nowadays, you might have a video camera that’s just been watching something and AI can pick out the best shots.

At the time they did grant a copyright to photographs, the thinking was a human was behind it that pushed the button and it composed a shot. I actually think AI prompting is actually more work.

Everyone just thinks that you just push the button and out pops an article, and that’s not the case.

I went to a seminar where one of the lawyers said, “Oh, well, it’s all in the prompts. The originality is in the prompts,”

which does go back to that plagiarizing. If you copy and paste somebody’s work into the prompt, you can get AI to spit that back out. That’s on you because that was in the prompt, it wasn’t AI’s fault. So the lawyer said that, and believe me, all your prompts are stored somewhere.

I mean, they have not discarded any of the prompts. So he’s saying that in the future, he thinks cases will be decided by looking at how creative the prompts were.

Joanna: That is really interesting. I totally agree, and it’s one of my sort of red lines. I say to people:

Don’t use other people’s names or brands in your prompt, whether that’s images or music or authors.

I can use my name in a prompt, but I’m not going to use your name, I’m not going to use Stephen King, I’m not going to use Dan Brown. I’m not even going to use dead authors because I want my own voice. So I think that’s really important.

It is also interesting because in the early days—I say the early days early, like last year—I was still taking screenshots of prompts in case.

Rachelle: Like I’ve got to save these?

Joanna: Well, no. So that in case I had to prove that this was my own work. So I was keeping that, I took pictures of my edits, like I was quite paranoid last year. Now we’re in mid-2024, I’m starting to relax a lot more.

Let’s just think about what’s happened. I mean, as we’re speaking now, last week they released 4.0 Omni. We’ve had Google releasing Gemini 1.5, Microsoft has announced new PCs that will have AI in them. I mean, the pace is so fast now, and Apple’s going to announce something soon.

How do you adjust to the pace of change?

Are you, as you said earlier, are you changing your process all the time? How do you stay focused, rather than getting sidetracked?

Rachelle: Well, it is harder to stay focused because there’s always some new toy that comes out. Just yesterday, I got into the Hunch beta, which is basically a drag and drop prompt sequencing.

So you can put in context blocks, and then you can drag that context and feed it into these AI blocks and it does something to transform it. Then you can feed multiple context blocks into AI blocks, and multiple AI blocks into another one to aggregate the content, or you can split it out in different ways and use different LLMs for each output.

So yes, it’s hard to stay focused. I think once I get into a story, I do focus on that story. Then I keep kind of an ear to the ground on what’s going on.

So I joined the Future Fiction Academy because it’s a group of people, Elizabeth Ann West, Steph Pajonas, and Leeland Artra, who they are all over the place looking at all this AI. They are also real writers because I knew them from indie publishing 10 years ago.

So they look at these tools and they’re always thinking of new methods. It’s not just them, it’s the whole group in Future Fiction Academy. Somebody will say, “Oh, did you see this Hunch thing?”

So Hunch was brought in by somebody else who said, “I use this to sequence these prompts, and I wrote my scene briefs, and then I had five different LLMs write the scene, and then I’m going to look at them all and pick out the best ones.”

So by joining a group of active authors who are focused on their writing, because each one of these authors are still focused on their author career and not the AI.

AI is a means to an end

— not like the YouTubers where—and they have their uses too, but they are focused on the AI. So they’re always looking at the new AI and how it came out. That’s great to also subscribe to a few of their channels so you kind of know something’s coming.

Also, you have to know, well, okay, I’m not going to distract myself with the new music stuff because I don’t really use music in my work, but I know it’s there type of thing.

Joanna: Well, what do you think’s going happen next? I mean, how do you think things are going to change in the next year or two? I guess we’re looking at maybe GPT 5, which might be another step up.

I guess some people think that that will just mean we can write books even faster. As you said, you were writing books pretty fast before, and romance authors are fast. So I don’t really see it as a speed thing.

How do you think things will change, both creatively and in the business of being an author?

Rachelle: Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, look at ChatGPT 3.5, now we’re looking at it like training wheels. What we have today is Omni, and like you said, GPT-5 will come out. I don’t really know, I just know that as long as these companies are fighting it out, we get access to the latest and greatest.

So I think I’m more worried about when the industry consolidates, and all the best writing tools, the AI that’s able to not just spit out words, but the one that can analyze novels. Believe me, I’m sure these publishing companies already have it.

I have heard somebody say that Netflix actually has analyzed streaming behavior of their customers. So they know when the customers quit watching the video, they know when they rewound, and they know when they watched it all the way through without stopping.

So they’ve analyzed those story structures to come up with better stories. I’m pretty sure that anybody who owns a reading app knows this.

We buy a lot of books we never read, I mean, especially free books. You downloaded them, maybe opened into the first page, read the first page, and dropped it.

Those owners of those reading apps know full well which books have caught on, which books are the ones that it’s 3am and you haven’t stopped and you just keep going and going and going. So they have all that data.

So once they train their AI to recognize that kind of pattern—what kind of patterns of story, not just words, because right now, today’s LLMs are just looking at word patterns.

We’re looking at AI agents that can analyze the patterns of the story, like the rising action, the conflict and tension points, all of that. Then they can actually generate story, critique the story, and then match it to what readers’ preferences are.

Then maybe we may just become providers of experiences, I suppose.

Joanna: I mean, let’s fast forward. There’s going to be perfect algorithmic fiction, you know. It’ll be perfect, people will love it. They’ll go and they’ll get that, and that will be a lot of what people read. That’s why I say to people —

You need to double down on being human, because you are not an algorithm, and I’m not an algorithm.

So I think that there’s still a place for the human writer, which is flawed. We have flawed writing. So I think there’s room for both.

Rachelle: That’s the whole thing about romance, the characters are flawed, but they’re still lovable.

Joanna: Yes, so let’s hope we are!

Rachelle: It’s going to be interesting. It’s almost like the way with social media. They’ve done studies on dopamine hits, and so they made their things addictive so that you’re always scrolling and scrolling and looking at the videos and hitting the likes. That’s all these little shots of dopamine.

So they’ve done all that research on how human minds work to get you addicted to a platform. I wonder if the AI can also create books and stories that you just can’t put down because it just kind of knows. It can individualize this for every reader. If your Kindle Library’s as big as mine, it knows what I’m really interested in, and not what I say I’m interested in. It knows if I buy a book because I liked the author, but then I never read the books. It knows what you’re really doing, and it can personalize that for you.

Joanna: Yes, well, we certainly live in interesting times. It’s been so great to talk to you.

Tell people where they can find you and all your books online.

Rachelle: Well, I have a website, RachelleAyala.net, but you can just find me on Amazon. Just type in Rachelle Ayala and AI Author’s Journal or Romance In A Month, and then you’ll find my nonfiction books. Then for the fiction books, I think type in Bad Boys For Hire, or something like that, and you’ll find my fiction books.

Then I did recently start a new pen name using my real name, Clare Chu, C-L-A-R-E-C-H-U. This is much more AI. I decided to do these humorous guidebooks that are called Misguided Guides.

So my first book was Why Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You. I made the cover with Midjourney, so I’m showing this to you on the screen.

Joanna: That’s very cute. I think experimentation is fantastic, and you certainly do that. So thanks so much for your time, Rachelle. That was great.

Rachelle: Okay, sure. It was great being on. Thank you, Joanna.

The post Collaborative Writing With AI With Rachelle Ayala first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Overcome Your Challenges And Write Your Book. A Disabled Writer Shares His Journey.

It’s hard for anyone to write a book and get it out into the world, but it’s even harder if you have health challenges.

Daniel D. Bate is severely dyslexic, completely blind, and physically disabled due to severe joint damage and extreme brittle bones. He is a partially recovered, partial paraplegic. Despite his challenges, Daniel continues to pursue his dream of being a successful author.

You can find his books on Amazon and find out more or sign up for his email list at DanielDBate.com.

What got you into writing and publishing?

I have loved books as far back as I can remember. My parents encouraged my love of audiobooks and I think got rather fed up of reading stories to me so they bought me audiobooks.

I am very much a contrarian. I’m severely dyslexic and even now still spell phonetically. Back then, I couldn’t really read or write. The weird thing was I used to go around with a notepad and pen writing and drawing anything I could. Despite hating reading and writing, I loved books and stories. I love the feel of books. I love the smell of books and just holding them in my hands. It was the audio books my parents put me on that allowed me to really enjoy stories.

When I was in year nine at primary school, we were told to write a poem. I’m not sure what it was about that project, but that really opened the door for me. It made me feel like the written word could mean and do so much more. From that point I wanted to be an author. This was well before any of my physical disabilities.

Since then I’ve tried several times to write, but it wasn’t until the year before last that I was able to achieve this dream. I published my first short story in October 2022. Then last year I published my first full novel, Stepping Stones to Space. It’s the first of many books to come in my Humanities Expansion series.

My book is about an individual that wants to take humanity back to the moon and colonise it. Humanity’s history is full of examples where individuals have made a difference and in this case one woman will be the driving force to get us back into space.

Due to how severe my disabilities have become a normal 9 to 5 Job is not a possibility for me. I am on benefits. I would be dead now if it wasn’t for the N.H.S.

I want to work together to help society and contribute to it. I decided that combining my passion for books was the best way to achieve this. It is not a 9 to 5 job, but hopefully I can build this into a career. Hopefully, I can build something that will help me to get out of the benefit trap and help others to achieve their own goals and dreams.

My hope is that if other people can see someone who is severely dyslexic, partially deaf, completely blind, is a partially recovered paraplegic and who spends 80% of his day bedbound, despite all that, I can still publish a book and work towards goals and dreams.

Hopefully, this will inspire other people as well to reach beyond their perceived limitations and achieve their own dreams. I’m not saying if I can do it anyone can. Everyone has their own unique circumstances, but if I can do it, then you also might be able to try.

What challenges have you had to overcome for your author career?

As I mentioned before, I’m something of a contrarian in many ways. Becoming an author is a very difficult path to take for anyone, even without disabilities. My disabilities though, have in some ways both made things harder and easier.

It was my dyslexia that made things difficult at first. I tried to write my first book before I became seriously disabled and it was a slog. It was extremely difficult just to write a few sentences. Unfortunately, that book got put by the wayside. One day I may come back to it. 

Only once I went blind, things actually got easier. I had access now to screen reader technology, as well as dictation based software like that built into the iPhones. This made my dream of becoming an author more realistic. There was also another piece of software called Dragon, that made becoming an author an easier pursuit. 

My health has had some quite dramatic ups and downs. During one of the high points after I had come to terms with going blind, I took up sailing again and even achieved first place in the Blind Nationals. It was in the B1 fleet racing category in 2012. I was also fortunate enough to be accepted into an amazing university.

After that, my health took another dip and two of my dreams have been postponed. I was not able to go to university in the end, but if my health ever gets back to a sufficient level again, I will pursue those dreams again. 

It seems when my health goes downhill; I get back into my writing.

Using a Mac computer and Dragon Dictation software, I attempted to write another novel. Unfortunately, someone hacked my computer, and that file was deleted. I still remember the broad strokes of the story and may rewrite it again in time, but that was another attempt to become an author that crashed and burned. 

Unfortunately, my health continued to deteriorate and after several other serious incidences it culminated in me becoming a partial paraplegic. I was completely paralysed from mid chest down. My injury was classed as a T7, which means it was roughly between my shoulder blades. I spent five months in the hospital during the COVID lockdowns. I then did another seven months in a respite centre during some of the other lockdowns. I was eventually allowed home. 

While I was in the respite centre, I got back into my writing in a very big way. I have continued writing ever since then.

While I was admitted to hospital for those five months, I was not able to write at all. This imposed sabbatical on my writing made me realise and reinforced how much I wanted to be a writer.

Despite trying multiple times, it just wasn’t possible while I was in the hospital. When I left, it was a different matter and thanks to certain pieces of technology. It allowed me to embark on pursuing my dream of becoming a author. This is mainly thanks to the accessibility of the Apple iPhone. I also use an iPad and occasionally a MacBook Pro.

I’ve tried Windows operating systems with screen readers like jaws and supernova. They are alright. I find Apple accessibility software to be superior.

Unfortunately, Apple do not like to play nicely with others and the Dragon Dictate software does not work very well with Apple’s screen reader on the MacBook Pro. My way round this was to use the Apple iPhone.

I use the built-in dictation software and an app called Dragon Anywhere. This wasn’t available years ago when I first started to get back into writing, but is now and I would highly recommend the equipment. This equipment is not just useful for blind people, but people that severely have dyslexia or even physically disabled would also find this extremely useful.

It has become even more important for me in the last several years as I’ve had severe damage done to my hands and I can no longer touch type. Many years ago, after I went blind, I was very fortunate to be taught in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, how to touch type. Since then, I’ve also lost that ability as well.

The right technology and software is what really allows me to pursue my dreams of becoming an author.

This article itself has been written using the built-in dictation software in my iPhone.

It does have errors and going back through to edit them can be rather frustrating, but there is a brand-new piece of software that has made things even better for me.

I’m a big advocate for AI software. It has dramatically improved my editing speed. I write my stories predominantly with the dictation software and some of my books are human edited.

Other books in the future will be both human and AI edited. I use Claude.ai predominantly, but I have also used one called Mag AI which is accessible with my screen reader.

I have also tried GPT. Unfortunately, the app on the iPhone is not accessible using a screen reader. I’ve also tried using the Claude app on the iPhone and that is not accessible either, despite it saying that in the app information, but the web browser version for Claude is extremely good for screen readers.

I have had to fight and work extremely hard to achieve my goals and dreams. The medical side of my life takes up a significant amount of my time.

My day starts at 3 o’clock in the morning and ends about 8:30 in the evening. Unfortunately, I am however, bedbound for 80% of the time and only have very small opportunities during that day to do the things I want to achieve.

My goals and dreams of becoming a successful author are slowly, hopefully, becoming true. Initially, much of the process I did on my own. If you want to see an example of the disaster I had with a website, check my first website out at rbookarchives.com

Since then, I have paid people to help get round some of my own limitations. I hope one day to build a team that can help support me. However, for now, money is a very limited resource given my current situation.

 I owe an extremely big thank you too Stuart Grant at the Digital Authors Toolkit in particular for building me an incredible new website, and being a very good decent human being. Him and his team have gone above and beyond for me. They have worked around my disabilities and done an incredible job. 

I have also paid a human editor to edit my first book, Stepping Stones to Space and my second full novel, Beyond Earth. He is also an amazing human being that has taken account of my disabilities and we’ve created a system that now works. 

I am also in the process of getting my first book, Stepping Stones to Space professionally formatted, but many of my books have been written, edited, and formatted entirely by myself. If you want to see an example of that disaster, then check out my short story The Terminus. 

I am still on the path and have a very long way to go.

I first need to build my newsletter. Once I have a large number of readers who enjoy my books, then hopefully I will have enough money coming in to support myself. Once I’ve achieved that, hopefully I can pay for the team that I need to improve my books and make them even better. 

There is still a long way to go, but I will keep on keeping on. I can and will continue to work, but it’s with the help of people like you that will make the difference. You are the amazing ones. You are the ones that will help make my dreams come true and I cannot say thank you enough.

At the end of the day, I just hope that you enjoy my books like I have enjoyed so many other authors’ books.

 (3) What mindset tips do you have for authors when they face the inevitable challenges that come?

Some people dismiss mindset as not being important. I disagree with this heavily.

Mindset is the foundation. Mindset is the cornerstone of how you are going to achieve your dreams.

Your dreams are a guiding light. Dreams are almost like a north star, something to aim towards. Mindset is the vehicle. The ship that is going to take you there.

I believe the phrase. “all I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by.” I believe that this phrase means far more than most people realise. I personally have developed eight mantras that I say to myself almost every day.

My first one is the one I use the most, which is keep on keeping on. Sometimes this one just helps me to work through the hard times and get through whatever is causing me trouble at that moment.

The second one is if it’s going to be, it’s up to me. Your dreams are your own and while people will help, and there are some very kind people in the world, but there is unfortunately evil as well. It will be up to you to achieve those dreams. The third one is:

Do what I can, when I can, how I can.

Time is extremely valuable and you need to use it as efficiently as possible. Every moment we have on this planet is precious and we cannot get it back, buy more of it, or extend it beyond what we have. 

The fourth one is slow and steady wins the race. This one is more about just doing a small bit often. Over time, it will accumulate into a very large thing. If you’re too ill or too tired to do a lot, then don’t. Instead, do a little bit often and it will build into so much more.

The fifth one is efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Like everyone, we have a finite amount of time to use each day. Being in my wheelchair only for a few hours each day limits the time I have available. Sorting out my medical care reduces that time even more. I need to use my time as efficiently as possible, and I will do if possible several things at the same time.

The sixth one is: How to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. This is a saying that refers to taking a very large task and breaking it down as much as you need to so you can make it more manageable.

If I thought that I’d have to write a 147,000 word novel, I would never have written my first book, Stepping Stones to Space. Instead, I took it a few hundred words at a time. I took it one day at a time, and eventually I had my novel.

The seventh mantra is: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. This mantra just means don’t wait for tomorrow to do or start a task. Do it as soon as you can, within reason, of course.

The eighth mantra and possibly the most important one is: Everything in balance and moderation. 

The seven previous mantras have been all about working towards your goals and dreams. Sometimes, however, this can push you too far. You might be the sort of person that needs pushing, but there’s also just as many of us out there that may need reigning in from time to time. I have made myself physically ill and even ended up in hospital by pushing myself too far.

I have dreams and goals and I want to achieve them, but we also must remember everything in balance and moderation. This also means getting the proper amount of rest and sleep.

I must work towards my goals and dreams. I must also look after myself, and maintain my health as much as possible. I believe the order should be “health, happiness, then wealth.”

I believe these phrases round themselves out very well and do a good job of pushing you to achieve your goals. No one is going to achieve your dreams for you, so you must work towards them. Even just a little bit of work each day is something towards a larger goal. A little bit each day builds on itself and eventually can become your dreams. 

It’s also very important not to wait till tomorrow. Don’t put it off for another day if you can do it today.

Seven of my mantras are useful for getting the job done and working towards those goals and dreams. One thing you need to remember, though, especially if you suffer from chronic illness is not to make yourself ill.

Some people need pushing towards their goals and those phrases will help but some people need holding back on occasion. I know because I can be one of these people.

I’m like a light switch I’m on or off. If I’m on, I have to do as much as I can and it’s never enough. I have on several occasions worked myself into illness because I want to achieve those goals so badly.

That is why my eighth phrase is so important to workaholics like myself. Everything in balance and moderation that includes rest and relaxation. You feel like there is not enough time for relaxation and too much still to do, but it’s just as vital especially to your health. 

Physical needs are extremely important, but your mindset is the foundation of everything. Dreams are the guiding star that you are navigating towards. Mindset and technology is the vehicle, the ship that will get you there.

Everyone has their own unique drive. This is the thing that pushes you on. Mine is, to me at least books and the hope to have a better life. This is the fuel, the burning desire inside me that pushes me on. It pushes me like a wind in the sales of my ship. One day it will get me there, but in the meantime, the journey is also just as important.  

(4) You use a lot of adaptive technology. What tools related to writing, publishing, and book marketing do you find the most helpful?

I use a vast amount of equipment to both be a writer and get round my disabilities.

As far as word processing software goes, I predominantly use Apple’s Pages app and the Notes app on my iPhone and iPad. This is what I use to do my actual writing.

I also use the built-in dictation software of Apple, as well as the downloadable app Dragon Anywhere software. Apple has the best accessibility software. I am limited to Apple’s own software and software endorsed by Apple. As I mentioned before, they don’t particularly like to play well with others.

I find the Dragon Anywhere software is extremely useful for doing flow writing where I can stay dictating for minutes or even over an hour sometimes.

I find the built-in Apple dictation software to be better for short sentences and correcting errors. Anyone who is familiar with dictation software will know it is not the most accurate. It certainly has come on in leaps and bounds over the years, but it still isn’t perfect.

Reedsy is also a site I would highly recommend to anyone. I used it to get an amazing editor and through word-of-mouth have got a professional to format my first book for me.

To distribute my books I use Amazon, but I’m also a big advocate of BookFunnel and I also use Draft2Digital. I’ll be trying to get my books out onto as many platforms as I possibly can, especially my free ones. The last one I put my book on was Wattpad. I’m still in the process though of trying to do the Google Play store.

For my book marketing, I predominantly use Written Word Media and my author newsletter. I post it on social media as well, but don’t do very well with that side of things.

I’m hoping to add another person to the team that can help me with my newsletter and social media. Basically, once I start earning enough, they’ll be requests for a PA at some point. One thing that I struggle heavily with is tracking my sales. All the primary options are not accessible through a screen reader on a mobile device.

One app I do use is called KDP Champ on the Apple App Store. This works only with sales from Amazon, but at least I have an idea of some of my sales.

My current primary goal other than actually writing my books is to build my author newsletter and try and get it sorted with as many people on it as possible while also giving them useful and entertaining content. For this, I use the website ConvertKit. Unfortunately, it isn’t fully accessible to screen reader technology.

I have tried that and I’ve tried Mailchimp and for me at least ConvertKit is the better option. Warning: You will probably be emailing the Help Service quite a bit. If you have to do automations, then I highly recommend hiring someone to do it for you. This has been a source of great frustration for me, mainly because I know that if I wasn’t blind, I would be able to do it for myself.

There are issues, but at least it can be partly used with screen readers and there are other silver linings as well.

I also have an incredible book cover designer who takes great care with describing the book covers he does for me.

He does an incredible job and I very much appreciate him working around my disabilities so well.

I was also very concerned about my first book. I wanted to make sure I got the first three things right. I even paid someone to do the blurb for me.

The first one is your book cover, the second one is your book blurb the third one is your category and keywords. I did everything I could to get the first two of these sorted, but unfortunately I’ve not done very well on the third.

I have tried Publisher Rocket, but unfortunately it’s not accessible on an iPhone. One other very useful piece of software I’m currently using is AI. It was taking me several days, possibly even more than a week, to edit 1000 words.

Thanks to AI, I can now edit 2000 words in one day. This has been an incredible boost to my productivity.

I write the books. I am the one who comes up with the stories, but AI is a fantastic tool and can really help people with disabilities even more.

While I’m not at the same level of some of the prolific writers, this software has made a significant difference for me. Hopefully, my readers will be able to enjoy several new books this year instead of just maybe one next year. 

(5) Tell us about your books and where we can find you online

If you want to hear more about me, my books, and who I am, then you can find me at my brand-new website, danieldbate.com.

If you go on there, you’ll find out so much more about everything. If there is also something else you would like to know personally, then you can join my author newsletter and email me yourself. You can get a free copy of my first published full novel, Stepping Stones to Space.

My book is about Dr Elizabeth Reacher and her team as they strive to send humanity back to the moon. She witnesses another devastating blow against space exploration and takes it upon herself to push humanity back into space and take the first steps back to exploring the stars.

I also have published eight short stories. Four of them are available on Amazon for 99p each, but the other four are exclusive to my author newsletter. Some of them you get for joining, but a few others are to say thank you to those that help me grow my newsletter and recommend even more people.

Other than writing my books, growing my newsletter is the most important thing for me at the moment. If you can help me to grow, then I can’t say thank you enough and I very much appreciate anything and everything that you wonderful people can do to help me on this journey.

Above everything else, I sincerely hope you enjoy the books I’ve written, and that you succeed in achieving your own dreams, and your own author journey.

Want more on accessibility?

I’ve done a couple of interviews related to this:

The post Overcome Your Challenges And Write Your Book. A Disabled Writer Shares His Journey. first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

Juggling Life and Writing: 9 Tips for Maintaining Creative Focus

Balancing the pursuit of creative writing with the demands of daily life is a nuanced challenge. Juggling life and writing isn’t easy without strategies that can help us maintain creative focus amid life’s myriad distractions. Whether you’re dealing with the pressures of work, familial responsibilities, or the never-ending lure of digital devices, writers everywhere face challenges in safeguarding creative time. Writers need tools that help them nurture their creativity while also gracefully handling life’s interruptions. Discovering strategies for maintaining creative focus can help you craft a fulfilling writing experience even in the face of life’s surprises.

One of the most common frustrations of any writer’s life is how difficult it can often be to find time to actually write. For those with other jobs that pay the bills or family responsibilities, writing time can slip away all too easily. Even those who write full-time discover their time can get eaten up just as quickly with the same time-management problems as before, not to mention the demands of the business side.

What’s a writer to do? Reader Colleen F. Janik asked for tips, saying:

How in the world do you manage to stay on track with your books and not allow life to get in the way? There are so many unexpected events involving family members, friends, moving from one location to another. I have books that have been left far behind me in a trail of dust and rubble.

9 Tips for Juggling Life and Writing

Colleen is not alone. Personally, I have lamented throughout my life that there wasn’t just one more hour in the day. And yet every time I juggle my schedule around to find an extra hour, I end up with the same lament sooner than later. Even when you think writing is one of your top priorities, it is shockingly easy to see it slip so far down on the to-do list that days or even weeks pass before you find yourself back at your desk. Cue the frustration and the guilt.

There is no quick fix. But there are many perspectives and habits we can cultivate on a daily basis so their effects multiply over time, even when life is at its most demanding and chaotic. Here are nine tips to get you started.

1. Don’t View Life and Writing as Separate

This one is important. So often we mentally divide everything that happens to us into different categories. There is Writing, and then there is Job, Family, Health. Whatever is left, we then tend to leave in the big lump that is simply Life. Ironically, the Life pile is the one we often tend to feel we are missing out on. But Life is all there is, my darlings. All the other categories are arbitrary distinctions we use to help us get organized. Although bringing a sense of order to our minds is always a good thing, our vision can become so narrow we miss the forest for the trees.

When we despair of juggling life and writing, we’re operating in a dualistic mindset that wants to separate the writing (or whatever else) from the life. When something other than writing happens, we suddenly feel we’re off-track. When we get the opportunity to move to a new state or we set aside time to celebrate a family member’s marriage or we confront a health crisis—it can feel like we’ve failed in maintaining our writing goals. Operating from such a sum-zero mindset suggests that to succeed at one thing (even if it is just facing what is necessary) means to fail at something else. This creates totally unnecessary pressure.

This is not to say schedules can’t be refined and better habits can’t be cultivated. But we might do better to release the idea that we have to control life if we’re ever going to be successful at prioritizing our writing. If we give ourselves the opportunity to open ourselves to the true flow of creativity, we realize it is operating not just when we’re at our desks, but in every surprising moment of every day.

2. Identify Your Pain Points

Really the entire challenge of juggling life and writing is about coming into flow with ourselves. One of the first steps is to consciously map whatever is creating resistance that blocks our ability to keep writing effortlessly within the the flow our daily schedules.

Start by identifying your pain points. What do you feel is obviously blocking your ability to be consistent with your writing time? The answers may be big events that are currently demanding huge chunks of your time and attention. But the answers may also focus on little things, like giving in to the temptation of social media or being too tired in the evenings to write even though you do have time then.

Make a list. It can help to imagine what your ideal day would like—one where making time for writing would feel effortless. What exists in your real life that is notably missing from this ideal day? Those are probably your most potent pain points.

3. Figure Out Where Writing Fits in Your Priorities

After examining your pain points, consider your priorities. Start generally. What’s most important in your life? You may list things like Family, Pets, Travel, and Writing. Then get more granular and make a list of your daily priorities. What tasks are non-negotiable? Write down everything you can think of, including eating lunch, picking your kids up from school, and your favorite way to relax.

Now get real with yourself and consider where writing ranks in this list. You may find it is at the top, but you may also find it’s way down at the bottom. There is no answer that’s better than another. The only thing that’s important here is that you are radically honest with yourself. Make a list that reflects how you truly feel, not how you think you should feel.

Once you’ve got the list, you can identify the “big” pieces in your life and start planning accordingly. If writing is one of those big pieces, then it deserves to be prioritized. If it is not, then you can give yourself permission to wait until some of those top-ranking big pieces (such as moving or helping with a wedding) are no longer on the to-do list. Or you can start creating a more non-traditional writing schedule that plans your writing around the things on your list that are, in fact, more important to you.

4. Take Care of Your Nervous System

Time management is really stress management. This is particularly important to a discussion of writing, because stress is a total mood-killer when it comes to creativity. Not only can an over-burdened schedule squeeze writing out of your day altogether, it can also mean that even when you do sit down to write, you arrive at your desk with an empty tank and nothing much to say.

As per Tip #1, one of the dangers of trying to view writing as something separate from the rest of life is that we can forget that all the rest of life supports our writing. Above all, if we are to nurture our writing time and creative spark, we must take care of our nervous systems. Fostering healthy time management and creating daily schedules that mitigate stress are crucial in successfully integrating writing into our daily lives.

More than that, any task on our list that focuses on taking care of ourselves (and, really, don’t they all?) is a task that, instead of being in competition with our writing time, is in support of it. Eating healthy (which includes grocery shopping and meal prepping), staying fit, and nurturing our relationships are all crucial factors in creating our most creative life possible.

5. Assign the Right Amount of Time for Writing

One of the reasons we might sometimes fail to meet daily or weekly writing goals is because we’ve set the bar unrealistically high. Although it sounds great to be able to write for two hours or more a day, this simply isn’t practical for the demands of every schedule. Look at your lists of priorities and pain points and realistically assess how much time you actually have to comfortably spend on writing on a regular basis. Everyone’s different, and there is no “right” amount of time.

One of the single most self-nurturing flexes I’ve introduced to my own life is to stop being idealistic about my scheduling. Not only is it important to assess, with reasonable accuracy, how much time each task in your day will take—and therefore how much time will be left for writing—it is also important to tally all the little time-suckers that probably aren’t on your list. It’s so easy to think, Oh, I can do such-and-such in two minutes or less—and then to do thirty or more of those “little” things throughout the day—and then wonder where you lost that extra hour.

6. Always Keep Your Toe in the Water

For some people, the right amount of time for writing might indeed be several hours every day—or it might be several hours once a week—or it might be fifteen minutes every day—or even just half an hour once a week. If writing is indeed a priority for you, then what is most important is creating a schedule that is, first and foremost, achievable. No matter how good it looks on paper, if you can’t make it happen long-term, then it’s really not all that productive or effective, is it?

Second, you want to create a schedule that balances your most realistic amount of productivity with the amount of regularity you need to maintain creative continuity from writing session to writing session. I call this “keeping your toe in the creative waters.” For those who are able to write every single day, this will take care of itself. But for those whose best writing schedule spreads out their writing sessions, just  make sure you’re not losing your creative thread. If a more time-intensive writing schedule is hard for you, then just know it is totally enough to write less frequently. It doesn’t make you less of a writer.

7. Daily Scheduling and Habit Stacking

As we all know, the daily schedule is really where the magic happens. This is such a personal plan, because everyone is different. We all have different relationships to time itself, as well as different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to routines and habits. Understanding yourself and what makes you feel most creative is the key to creating a successful daily schedule.

Take your list of priorities and pain points and use it to map your day. The goal is not to create a concrete schedule that can never be altered, but to create a structure that can help you line up necessary tasks with their most productive timing within the day. I live by my schedule, but I am constantly tweaking it.

Habit stacking is a great way to optimize how much you can accomplish, freeing up extra time so you can fit in good stuff like writing. Habit stacking involves integrating a new habit into an existing routine by associating it with an established behavior. Instead of creating entirely separate habits, identify tasks you already do regularly and leverage those routines to seamlessly introduce new habits. For example, if you need to take supplements or medications, you can link that to mealtimes. If you want to get in more reading and/or exercise, you can listen to audiobooks while you walk.

8. Minimizing Distractions

The goal is to build a life that is spent primarily on high-quality activities—such as writing. To make time for these high-quality activities, we have to constantly clear the junk activities that suck our time. Everyone’s distractions are different, but what we all share is that distractions are everywhere. Digital distractions, in particular, are insidious and must be dealt with consciously and rigorously on a regular basis. I’ve previously talked about Creativity vs. Distraction: 13 Tips for Writers in the Age of the Internet.

To minimize distractions, we must first become aware of our distractions. Once we’ve brought consciousness to whatever is wasting our time, we can work to either eliminate it (e.g., unsubscribe from emails, turn your phone to airplane mode, put the dog outside) or address whatever underlying motivation is driving our desire to continue it (i.e., scrolling Instagram helps numb feelings we’d have to face if we did yoga or wrote that chapter instead).

9. Have Grace: Your Life Is Your Story

Cultivating the discipline to optimize daily schedules and create more space for our writing is perhaps the hallmark of a serious writer. But the idea that these schedules should never be interrupted or upended is deeply unkind to ourselves. Life will happen. Life should happen. And it should be embraced, in all its messy joy and tragedy. After all, isn’t that messy drama what and why we write?

The key to all of this is really about creating a lifestyle that mitigates stress so we have the wherewithal to do what we want to do. The foundation of a low-stress life is the ability to have grace not only with ourselves but with every circumstance we encounter. The balancing point between discipline and flexibility is where the magic happens. Finding this magical point is sometimes less about forcing ourselves to create better schedules and more about allowing ourselves to accept, feel, and process the interruptions as they come. We will all go through seasons of more writing and less writing. That is inevitable and, in acceptance, that is beautiful.

In Henry David Thoreau’s words:

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

***

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are your best tips for juggling life and writing? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

Scene Structure and Transitions in Big Scenes

Hello and welcome! Today’s question is from Grace Clay who asks:

I would like more advice about transitions, please. In particular, transitioning out of big set pieces. The best books—well, my favorite books—tend to follow up their massive orchestral scenes with something a little more contemplative to let the audience catch their breaths, but how you make that transition is still beyond me.

As I was thinking about what to call this video (watch here if you prefer), one of my working title ideas was “Something Big Just Happened in My Story—Now What?” :p

This is a really good question. We all come up with  big scene ideas. They’re very often the ones that inspire the story. They’re the ones we are looking forward to writing, and therefore we build our stories around them. Yet it can be tricky to get into them and get out of them.

How to Use Story and Particularly Scene Structure to Create Transitions

One of the main things to think about in creating transitions for big scenes is story structure. Are these scenes properly being built into and properly being built out of within the entire structure? You don’t want them to feel like they’re stuck in there just because the author really, really liked the idea. I’ve written a couple scenes like this myself, so if you’re doing this, I can totally commiserate!

More to the point of the actual transition, the thing to think about here is scene structure. Scene structure is literally about this ebb and this flow between the bigger, more dramatic moments and the softer, more contemplative ones that follow. This mirrors what happens in life when something big happens and then we have to rest and integrate and think about what’s happened before we can move on to the next thing. That is what scene structure allows us to recreate in our stories.

Classically, scene structure is broken down into two halves which are called scene and sequel. Really, these are just about action and reaction. The scene half aligns with action and the sequel half with reaction. We can also think of these as cause and consequence. First, we have the scene in which something happens, then we have the scene in which the fallout happens and there has to be readjustment. People have to think about what went wrong and what went right? They have to think about what they’re going to do next as they continue to pursue their plot goals.

The beauty of this is that when you set these up properly, each one naturally leads into the next. You end up with this beautiful line of dominoes. I often talk about how you want each scene to be a domino in a row of dominoes. When you hit that first domino, the whole thing just runs smoothly and the transitions almost happen of their own accord.

Structuring Your Story’s Scenes: Action

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

I’ve talked in depth about scene structure often on my website and also in my book Structuring Your Novel. You can look there for more information on this, but just briefly so you understand what I’m talking about: When I talk about scene structure, you can break scene down into two halves, scene and sequel.

The scene half, which is focused on action, is then further broken down into a focus on the character’s goal.

Conflict or opposition then arises to that goal.

And then the outcome of whatever happens when that goal meets that opposition.

Usually, throughout most of the story until you get to the end, scene outcomes will have some sort of a disastrous flavor, in the sense that either the character doesn’t get what they wanted in that scene or they get what they wanted but there are unforeseen complications or consequences. If there aren’t consequences—if they just can immediately get everything they want—then they get to the plot goal very quickly and the story is over. Conflict and its complications create the plot and allow us to extend the character’s problem over the course of an entire story.

The Overall Scene Structure by Better Novel Project

Structuring Your Story’s Sequels: Reaction

After your characters reach the outcome–or disaster—of a scene, they move into the reaction half, which is called sequel.

This is where the characters react to whatever just happened, whether it was big or small.

They face the dilemma that has emerged because they didn’t completely get what they wanted. Or even if they did now, they have to think about what they’re going to do with it and what comes next. A

Out of that dilemma will arise a decision about what they’re going to do, which lead directly into the next scene’s goal.

You can see how it’s a cycle where each piece beautifully bumps into the next. You don’t have to fully express or dramatize every single part of the scene’s structure. It will depend on how much emphasis you want to put on each part.

If you’re focusing more on fast pacing, drama, and conflict, you’re going to put more emphasis and more time into the action half of the scene. Whereas if you’re wanting to slow it down and make it more character-driven, more introspective and about the inner conflict and the inner consequences of what’s happened previously, then you’re going to want to extend that sequel half and focus more on the character’s reactions. It depends on the pacing.

Planning Your Big Scene Transitions

You can think in terms of trying to balance these things. So when it comes to the big set-piece scenes like Grace, these scenes are necessarily designed to create consequences. They’re designed not just to create little scene-level consequences of, Oh I didn’t quite get what I wanted. Rather, these scenes feature big, story-level consequences of, Whoa this completely changed my life! or This just completely changed my perspective of the nature of the conflict or my relationship to the plot goal! That creates massive consequences and requires a lot of integration and some introspection from characters.

The action in your story could be literal action as we think of in action movies with car chases and shootouts. But “action” is whatever is the primary drama within your story. So it could be relational. In certain types of story, it could be your character talking to the moon or something like that.

Identify the primary action within your story. Where is the plot is moving? Where the character is making progress toward the plot goal? Then balance that with reaction to the consequences that have been created in their relationship to how they’re moving forward in the world. Now, they have to think about and integrate what’s happened and how it’s going to change them and their perspectives.

Think About Where You Will Develop Character Relationships

The sequel section, after a big scene, is often a time where there is a lot of development within relationships between characters as they integrate together. Maybe there’s apologizing, maybe there’s recalibrating, maybe there’s explaining about motivations and things—converstations there weren’t necessarily time for in previous scenes.

These quieter and more contemplative scenes are so important for maintaining the realism within a story. They prove how your characters have changed and why they’ve changed. They create realism for how this change evolves and plays out within a story, so that it mirrors what we experience in real life.

Pay Attention to Pacing in Big Scene Transitions

The balance of scene and sequel is important in affecting pacing. Without the contemplative sequel parts of the scene, you end up with a madcap story that never quits. Some stories are designed to emphasize the action part of the scene. They don’t slow up too much. But they still require some ebb and flow. Very few stories can survive and be successful without some balance of action and reaction, cause and consequence.

Truly, the most interesting thing about what happens in a story is the consequences. It’s less about the action and what the character does and more about the outcome that results from their actions. Characters have to grapple with the complexity that often comes from those consequences.

Sequel scenes are almost always my favorite to read or watch or write. That’s not to say I don’t love the action scenes, because I do. But there’s just something really juicy about a good reaction scene, a good sequel scene.

You definitely want to figure out how to execute these reaction moments within your story. The single best way to do that is to pay attention to that ebb and flow, that balance in scene structure of action and reaction. It literally allows the transitions to build themselves. You’re just following the characters as they move through the story. They move through the action part where they have a goal, where there’s consequences. From there, they immediately move into addressing those consequences and dealing with them. The consequences then roll over into the next part of the action where the characters try to do something again.

From there, the cycle repeats itself but in an upward spiral, in which the characters are perpetually learning how to be more effective in their actions and how to refine their perspectives in the character arc. That’s what allows the story to evolve and repeat this pattern without feeling repetitive. It feels like it’s evolving and deepening the story.

Use Scene Breaks to Hook Readers

You want to end your scenes on some kind of a hook, something that makes readers curious about what’s going to happen. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. It doesn’t have to be a  jump scare or something where readers are like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t see that coming!” You don’t need a plot twist every single scene break. But try to make readers curious how the characters are going to respond. When something big has happened, that’s a good place to end because there’s about to be reactions and consequences for the characters to sort through. Readers forward to find out how characters will react.

The best way to think of a hook, in my opinion, is just as a question. It doesn’t have to be an explicit, literal question, but just something that gets readers wondering. It’s a loose end. It’s makes readers think, “We don’t know what’s going to happen here. We don’t know how the character is going to react.” That is often enough to pull readers into the next chapter or scene. It promises a really good scene and readers can imagine, “Oh, this, this confrontation is going to be juicy!” That, too, can be enough to pull them into the next scene.

Use a Bridging Technique for Your Scene Breaks

On a more technical level, one way to create an elegant transition is a bridging technique. This is kind of where choose something at the end of the previous scene break that can be mirrored in the beginning of the next. In film, we often see this in scene transitions where the camera focuses on something that’s a circle in one scene, then the scene fades out and back in to show a circle in the next scene. It’s a visual cue that helps viewers switch over to the new scene.

Obviously, you can’t do that in written fiction, but you can focus on imagery and symbolism, on things that are similar from one scene to the next. You don’t want to be too on the nose about this or draw too much attention to it. When it’s done right, it can allow you to ease readers through that transition.

Something kind of fun I did with in my last work in progress was to challenge myself when I wrote the beginning of a new scene to incorporate a word in the first line of that scene that was also in the last line of the previous scene. For instance, maybe “cathedral” was a word in the last sentence of the previous scene. I would then try to find a way to pull that, or any other word in the sentence, forward into the next scene.

The idea was that it wouldn’t necessarily be something readers would be conscious of, but that it would segue between scenes. Mostly, it was just for fun, but that gives you an idea about bridging and how you can try to create resonance between the closing of one scene and the beginning of the next, just with your language and with your words.

Never Lie to Readers in Your Scene Transitions

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to scene breaks and chapter breaks is you don’t want to lie to readers. You want to pique their curiosity and pull them into the next scene or chapter, but you want to do so honestly. For example, you might create a situation in which it seems like something terrible or something really intriguing or exciting has happened. It pulls readers on and they think, “Oh, that’s interesting!” But when they move on to the next scene, they find out it was all a joke. For instance, they think the bad guys are attacking the base, but it turns out it was just a practical joke from the hero’s buddy. Generally speaking, that’s not effective. Not only is it annoying to readers, but it literally doesn’t advance the plot. If it does advance the plot, that’s different. But don’t construct this fake drama and tension to pull readers in, only to tell them, “Oops, just kidding! It really wasn’t like that!”

***

There’s a lot to transitions in general, which I didn’t talk about today because I wanted to focus specifically on how to work with the big scenes in comparison to the small scenes. I have linked to resources throughout the post, if you want more information.

Happy writing!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How did you handle the scene structure and transitions in the last big scene you wrote? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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Author: K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

Writing Through Fear With Caroline Donahue

What are some of the common fears that writers face? How can we work through them in order to create more freely? Caroline Donahue gives her tips in this interview.

In the intro, How to avoid indie author scams [ALLi; Writer Beware]; Financial strategies and mindset [Self Publishing Advice]; Apple Intelligence at WWDC [The Verge; Marketing against the Grain]; “Not a chef, but an emotion creator.” Massimo Bottura on the Possible Podcast.

Plus, Spear of Destiny is on its last day; Thoughts on photography permissions for commercial use — and permission in general; Voodoo Vintners; Winchester pictures; Limeburn Hill vineyard pictures.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

Caroline Donahue is an author, podcaster, and book coach. Her latest book is Writing Through Fear: A Story Arcana Guide.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • The most common fears writers face
  • How the fear of not being considered a “real writer” holds you back
  • Overcoming the fear of judgement and being cancelled
  • Fearing things before you are anywhere near them in the process
  • Breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Embracing the unpredictable nature of creativity
  • The challenges and reasons for rebranding a book
  • Substack as a podcasting platform and community tool

You can find Caroline at CarolineDonahue.com, her Substack at book-alchemy.com, and her podcast at SecretLibraryPodcast.com.

Transcript of Interview with Caroline Donahue

Joanna: Caroline Donahue is an author, podcaster, and book coach. Her latest book is Writing Through Fear: A Story Arcana Guide. So welcome back to the show, Caroline.

Caroline: Thank you so much for having me. This is such a treat.

Joanna: You were on the show back in 2019 when we talked about your background and writing with the tarot. So we’re just going to jump straight into the topic today.

Why did you want to write about fear? What sparked the book, and why structure it around Tarot?

Caroline: Well, I think that the topic of fear evolved because there were a couple of projects I considered doing before I landed on this one.

There was a desire to take a course I created during the pandemic, called Dream to Draft, and I thought, oh, I’ll make a book version of that course. I tried to do that for most of a year, actually, and realized that I couldn’t really recreate the experience of taking that course.

So I was trying to distill down elements of what made the difference for people of being able to finish a book or not finish a book. I noticed that they were able to overcome fears that they had while being in the course.

The main difference between people who were finishing books and delighted with their progress, and those who were getting kind of stuck in the swamps of sadness—if you’ll forgive the 1980s film reference of The NeverEnding Story—were those who just got completely mired in fear about their writing. So I thought, okay,

If I can help people to engage with their fear differently, then they’ll be able to write

— and I can do that from a distance. So that was what I ultimately got excited about. As for why I paired it with the tarot, for one thing, it made it a much easier book to write because I had a built-in structure. I had wanted to return to the tarot ever since writing the previous book, which focused on the first 22 cards, the Major Arcana.

I thought, oh, this is a great way to address the Minors because those are everyday life situations that people face. So I matched one fear to each card. Also, I could imagine people pulling a card.

I’ve already had one person who’s read the book respond that when they’re about to start a difficult scene or difficult project, they’ll pull a card and then read the corresponding fear entry in the book. This helps them get into the writing. So that was delightful to hear.

Joanna: That is one of the very useful things about tarot or any of these kinds of things that spark ideas by looking at images or thinking about symbolism. So I think that’s actually quite a good way into these fears. It feels like if you try and tackle it head on, it’s often much harder. Did the people in your course recognize their fears?

Caroline: I think in some cases, yes. In some cases, it looked like other things. When I studied psychology ages ago, you have this kind of fight or flight, or we now have freeze that we know about, and fawn.

There are different ways that people engage with things that scare them.

Sometimes they look like the cartoon Scream face, if you think of the horror movie, but not always. So I thought that I wanted them to increase their vocabulary of how they could think about fear, so that it wouldn’t feel like they had gone wrong and that this was a sign that they shouldn’t continue writing.

I mean, fear comes up inevitably when we write. As you know, looking at the shadow and writing dark fantasy and suspense, that’s part of the process of going into the fictional world, but that doesn’t have to be the end point.

Just because fear comes up, doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. So I wanted them to be able to move through that and get to the other side.

Joanna: Let’s identify some of the most common fears that writers face.

What are some ones that you’ve encountered again and again in your students, and also in yourself?

Caroline: Oh, yes, completely. I think if we had to boil it down, like if we could boil down almost every fear, underneath there is a fear of doing it wrong, that I am doing this wrong. There’s a lot that we can pick apart out of that because we have this weird language and belief structure around books.

We’ll read a book that we love in a bookstore, say, or we read one of the “classics”, and we perceive it like, oh, that book is perfect. It couldn’t have been written any other way. It had this exact shape and form that it was supposed to take, and that nothing about it could change, or else it wouldn’t exist as it does today. I don’t think that that’s true, but —

A lot of people have this fear that they’re going to make a mistake, or they’re going to do something wrong, and the whole thing is going to fall apart.

There are many flavors of this particular fear, but it’s like if you go back to the Robert Frost poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by.”

Most writers fear that two roads diverged in a wood, and they’re going to take the wrong one for their writing project, and then everything is going to fall apart as a result.

Joanna: That could be at different stages, right? That could be I’m writing the wrong genre, or I’m writing the wrong story, and then I made the wrong publishing choice, I’ve chosen the wrong marketing platform. I mean, it’s not just one choice, it’s over and over again.

Caroline: There’s so many. It can come up again and again. It’s like a whack a mole fear. It’s like, oh, I ended the chapter at the wrong point, this character should have this motivation, or the character has the wrong personality trait, or I’ve formatted the dialogue incorrectly, my grammar is wrong.

Like all of this sense is that “real writers”—I could write a whole book on that, this concept of the “real writer”—but that “real writers” do it the “right way”. I am scared that I am not doing it the right way, therefore, I’m not a real writer, therefore, I shouldn’t be allowed to write at all.

Joanna: So it’s interesting you picked that one.

How has this [fear of not being a “real writer”] come up for you?

Caroline: I think this used to really paralyze me. I mean, in my 20s, I wrote and abandoned about five or six novels, thinking that I had picked the wrong project. I thought that I had picked an idea that was unsalvageable, and I don’t feel that there’s any idea that’s unsalvageable anymore.

Part of that is because I read a book, it was a very short novel by an independent press, called Love Notes from a German Building Site. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the author in this exact moment. It was essentially a character’s musings and vocabulary lists. It’s an Irish author writing about working on an abandoned mall in Germany.

So it’s one of those ideas where if you presented it to me and said, “Would you like to read a novel about some guy hanging out on a mall construction site, and he’s just randomly thinking about his relationship and is not quite sure where that’s going?” that really wouldn’t get me going. However, I read this book, and I could not put it down. I loved it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it for years. It’s always been my example that there is no idea that cannot be executed on. You may not want to execute on it, or you may not be interested in it, but —

If you’re engaged with the material, then you can keep going, and you can find a way through.

I think that I didn’t believe that was possible early on. So I gave ideas up when I got scared, or when I felt like, oh, this isn’t interesting enough, or I don’t know if it was going to work. I felt like this means I’ve done it wrong, I’ve gotten lost. I’m lost in the woods, and I’m never going be able to find my way back.

That was rather than seeing it as a challenge and thinking there is a way for this story to be interesting. How can I find the parts that I’m most excited about? How can I make the story about those? I didn’t have the ability to trust at that point.

I think the antidote for this fear is trusting that there is a way through.

Joanna: Yes, and this is so interesting as well being an independent author. So my first novel, Stone of Fire, I originally released it in 2011 as Pentecost by Joanna Penn. I’ve rewritten it like three times, and now it’s Stone of Fire by J.F. Penn.

The bones are still the same, but as my craft grew, I rewrote it, I learned about publishing, I learned about marketing. I mean, pictures of me with that book back then, I did do a lot of things wrong, but equally, I had to take some steps in a direction in order to fix things later.

I wonder if the traditional publishing model is why people get so scared about this. I mean, either you feel you failed because you didn’t get a deal, or you do get a deal, and then your craft improves, and you look back. You speak to a lot of traditionally published authors on your podcast, The Secret Library Podcast, which we’ll come back to.

Where do you see this being perhaps worse for traditionally published authors?

Because you just don’t get the chance to change things.

Caroline: I think this fear starts much, much earlier in life. I think it starts with the way our education system is organized. I mean, we have an education system that was built for an industrial age, which is not entirely relevant anymore.

I mean, I think back to Sir Ken Robinson’s incredible talk on YouTube about how creativity is as important as literacy, and we need to be able to get something wrong and be willing to change it.

Essentially, from a very young age, we have to take tests, and we get a mark, and then it’s determined what we should be doing, what we think we’re good at, what paths we’re allowed to follow. I think that that sense of being sorted into being an artsy kid, or being a science kid, or not being good at school, if that’s the case, can have a really strong impact.

It’s like, I have one chance to take this test, and I won’t have a chance to take it again. Or if I write a paper, and I misunderstood the assignment, then I just get a bad grade, there’s no chance to take that back. I think we internalize that message really, really early.

Since so much of our education when this happens is about writing essays, and writing papers that we then get graded on, I think it all comes back up when we write later in a way that’s going to be published. Yes, we don’t get grades, but we do get reviews, however we publish. I think that this is really deeply embedded.

I hope that we are more willing to write things, learn from them, and be willing to change, grow, and write more things.

Joanna: I think you’re right. Actually, this brings me to a fear—and I talked about it in Writing the Shadow—which is this fear of judgment. I was told as a kid, when I wrote in school a dark essay about a nightmare I had, I was told that really wasn’t appropriate to write and that I shouldn’t write these things.

So I still struggle with this fear of judgment. Like, what will people think of me if I write this? I feel like this fear, in particular, is amplified in our cultural situation where people worry about getting canceled.

So the fear of judgment is not just a bad review, or someone saying, “what type of person are you?” but it’s also, your career is over. I mean, people should probably fear not selling any books more.

What do you think about fear of judgment and fear of being canceled?

Caroline: I think it is very present, and it’s very loud, I think, in the world right now. I think the fear of being judged, I mean, to an extent, I have to go into putting any book out knowing that somebody is not going to like it. So somebody is not going to like my book, and I have to be okay with that.

If everybody likes my book, then I feel like I haven’t taken a real stand on anything. So there is that side of it. However, I feel like the fear of getting cancelled is a whole other can of worms. I am seeing that more, that kind of real, large-scale rejection of authors or writers in certain situations, in the arena of traditional publishing, for sure. That’s where you’re seeing sort of dramatic—not often, anymore—but whenever someone gets a big advance, then there’s a lot of pressure and everything gets amplified in that situation.

I think the other thing that happens is that a lot of people fear judgment and fear getting cancelled when they haven’t finished the book yet.

The internal critic yammering these fears in your ear tends to leap ahead to the next unknown step in the process.

I’ve watched this over and over and over again with students. So in the beginning, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can finish a whole novel. I don’t know if I have enough to say. I don’t know if this idea will carry a long enough story.”

So then we move forward, and they’ve written an entire draft. Then it’s like, “I don’t know how to revise. I don’t know how to do this.” Then they immediately forget how difficult writing the first draft was, and they just want to write a new book. They’re like, “Oh, it was so much easier. Writing first drafts was so much easier.”

I think, “Remember that part when you thought it wasn’t going to be possible, and it was totally impossible to do this?” It’s as soon as they get comfortable with revision, then there starts to be fears about publication, fears about rejection, fears about bad reviews. Sometimes this is quite far away from when the book is coming out.

I always encourage people to try any aspect of the story that they think should be included and that you can always decide later if you feel good about it being in there, if it feels right.

If you have a sense, “Oh, I think this character needs to go in this direction,” try it, because you’re always going to regret holding back and not exploring a deep line of story.

So I think that the cancelled thing is almost like a blown-up fear of people misunderstanding what you’re trying to say, fear of being misread, fear of being just wrong. I think, again, it’s a fear of doing it wrong.

Joanna: Yes, I agree. It’s funny you said that. I often get people who will email me, and they’ll be like, “I’m really worried that I’m writing this memoir and someone’s going to sue me, like one of my family is going to sue me. What if I say something bad?” I’ll often reply, “So where are you?” and they may not have even started the book.

Caroline: Yes, absolutely.

Joanna: It’s very, very common, and I think you’re right. So this comes to a fear—so we’re recording this the day before my next Kickstarter launches. Now, this is my third Kickstarter. By the time this episode goes out, it will probably have finished.

There is this fear, I have a great fear, this is my third one, I’ve been doing writing and publishing for 15 years, I am scared of failure, and like you said, doing something wrong. There’s almost a problem—it’s a good problem to have—but some people know who I am at this point. I do have people who will watch this.

That is kind of scary, because what if I don’t fund? What if I am a public failure? It is terrifying. What’s interesting is I know lots of people who will not even do a Kickstarter, and I was one of them a couple of years ago, because of fear of this public failure because everyone can see how much money you make.

So I wondered about you on this because I think I had said to you, why don’t you do a Kickstarter for this one or one of your other books?

What do you think about [a Kickstarter for] this book?

Caroline: I think some of it is about what kind of experience do you want to have putting this book out. I think that part of being a creative, part of the reason that we’re not accountants, which is always the profession I seem to gravitate to and use examples, is that things are unpredictable. We never know what’s going to happen.

We have to accept that we’re unsure how this Kickstarter is going to go. The question that I always ask, and this is one of the ones that I put in the book is, what am I making this mean?

There are two things that are happening here. You’ve got a book that’s coming out, and there’s a Kickstarter that people can support, and people may or may not support that.

There are lots of reasons why that might happen that has nothing to do with the value of your writing or your book.

I think that we are very quick to assign all the blame that something might not work on ourselves and to make it mean something global and permanent about us as writers.

When in reality, you know, let’s think about it, if we had a Kickstarter start the day various global disasters that we’ve had over the past few years happened, would that impact the Kickstarter? Probably. So that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very well written exciting project.

So I think we take a lot of responsibility on ourselves, and we give a lot of authority to the outside world to determine the value of what we’re doing. I think that, in many ways, is what makes it so debilitating.

Joanna: Yes. So acknowledging these fears are an important part of it, and realizing that that might be a form of a block. Being scared of doing something is a block to our growth, even if it’s not a block to our writing. It might be the fear of publishing, as we said, or the fear of marketing.

What are some other practical ways to get past these fears, other than recognizing them?

Caroline: I find that breaking them down into much smaller pieces is very helpful. So if you have an item on your list—whether it’s a bucket list or your project list because you’re working on a project—that is so large you could not complete it in a day, let alone a week, let alone months.

So if there’s an item on there like “finish novel”, then that tends to create blocks because your mind doesn’t know how to engage with it at all. Rather than, okay, “make notes on chapter three about how this character is going to get stuck in a cave.” I just made that up. You know, that’s something that you can actually do in a sitting.

So I find that making sure to break things down into smaller bits helps to deal with blocks. Often blocks are not even about fear, they’re just about the brain is not able to process an item that large and has no way to engage with it productively. So that’s one thing that can happen.

Another thing that can happen is that there’s something going on underneath. I think that this Kickstarter example you gave is one of those examples. So it’s like okay, “plan the Kickstarter,” “execute the Kickstarter.” You’ve broken it down into little tiny steps, and it’s still not happening. I think that’s because there’s some sort of belief lurking underneath.

So if you find you’re trying to do something with your writing project, and that might be making notes about chapter three and how we’re going to get her stuck in the cave, and you just cannot sit down and make any notes about this cave, then I think it’s important to look at, okay, what am I making this mean in this moment?

What am I feeling underneath here? Where am I afraid I’m headed? Where am I afraid this is going to happen? With the Kickstarter, it could be, I’m going to be humiliated. No one is ever going to buy another one of my books again if they see this flop.

If you have this issue about making notes about going into the cave, it could be about that I’m afraid I’m going to make the wrong choice for the story. So whenever we get to the heart of what the fear is, I try looking at, okay, well what if that happens?

Don’t try to avoid it. We’re all like la-la-la with our fingers in our ears, and we don’t want to think about what if the Kickstarter flops. We can’t think about that. Or what if I make the “wrong choice” about the story?

What if we think about it like, okay, if the Kickstarter doesn’t work out for this book, then what will I do next? If we have a plan in place, I find that immediately it doesn’t feel quite as loaded because things that are unknown, and amorphous, and undefined are very difficult to engage with, in the same way that a giant to-do list item is very difficult to engage with.

If I say, okay, the Kickstarter fails, then I would probably go ahead and release the book and just not do the hardback edition or whatever I had planned to do with the Kickstarter. That’s probably what I would do.

Then we have to ask the question—I mean, I’m getting in the weeds with the Kickstarter—but it’s like, okay, what was I kickstarting? Is this more about people being strapped for cash at the moment than it is about book sales or interest?

Joanna: Yes, I think you’re right. Coming to that question —

What’s the worst that can happen?

With a Kickstarter, the worst that can happen is you don’t fund, and as you said, you have to figure out a different way of publishing. Sure, it’s pretty embarrassing, but hey, you can mitigate that by putting a really low number on your funding. You know, even now, I do.

I think what’s interesting, you said this earlier, that part of being creative is this unpredictable nature, and that is why we do it. As you say, if we wanted a repeatable monthly career, like in accounting or bookkeeping, that kind of monthly, it’s the same every month, and that’s not what we do.

If there wasn’t a level of on predictability, then I guess we would be bored, and we wouldn’t do this. I mean, one of the reasons people stop writing books in a series and they move to another series, or they change genre, is because they get bored.

I think embracing the unpredictable nature of creativity is part of the fun.

Caroline: I think we just have to remind ourselves that sometimes. One thing, this is a really weird neurological trick, is that the physiological symptoms of anxiety and fear and the physiological symptoms of excitement are quite similar. Sometimes you can reroute it because the nerves are actually quite close together that fire when this happens.

So I had a psychologist once say, “You know, you can get it to jump the track if when you’re feeling all of that pent up anxiety and excitement, to just say over and over, ‘I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m excited.’” Like, what if this is really about you being super excited about the Kickstarter, rather than scared?

Joanna: Yes, that actually used to come up in professional speaking, and most people are more scared of speaking in public than they are of dying.

Caroline: They’re more scared speaking in public than anything, like literally anything. They’d rather get their leg torn off than speak in public.

Joanna: When I did my training more than a decade ago, I remember — 

One of my professional speaking teachers used to say, “It’s not about getting rid of the butterflies, it’s about getting them to fly in formation,” so harnessing the butterflies.

When I’m about to speak, I still get a bad stomach, and I need the toilet every five minutes, and all of this kind of stuff. I still feel very, very nervous, but I try and reframe it, as you say, as excitement.

It’s interesting because with speaking, you’ve got that moment when you’re going to step onto a stage. So I guess for authors, it could be pressing like the launch button on Kickstarter, which actually is a launch button, which is different to setting up a pre-order, which isn’t quite so scary. I guess sending off a pitch letter, for example. Again, when you do that with publishing, there’s more of a time delay, right?

Caroline: Yes, yes.

Joanna: When we’re speaking, it’s like, there’s the stage.

You’re either on stage or you’re not.

Caroline: Exactly, and it’s so clearly defined, so I think it’s easier to deal with. The thing with writing is that there is a lot of lurchy process. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait.

I spent months writing this draft, then I went through the process of edits, then I went through the process of a cover designer, giving notes, all of this, and then formatting all the files and getting them uploaded everywhere. That’s all a lot of busy work. Then it goes out, and you just have to wait and see.

I mean, you keep talking about the book, you share it, but there’s really a point when you have to let go of control. I think that in many cases, at least for me, is the scariest part. Having to just sit and wait and be patient, and not know exactly how it’s going to go and not be able to do something constantly to influence that.

Joanna: Yes, well, coming to changing things later and the business side of things. This is interesting because you rebranded that first book, and you re-covered it to match this new release.

Tell us about why you rebranded the first book and the challenges of changing a book title and a book cover.

Caroline: Yes, I decided to rebrand the book, which came out as Story Arcana in 2019 because—this is one of those, why was this not completely obvious to you, Caroline—I subsequently launched a course also called Story Arcana, and then wondered why people were getting confused as to what content was included in the course and what content was included in the book.

They are quite different, so I was having to explain this constantly. So when this book was going to come out, I thought it would be really nice to have a cohesive look for a series of books. I’ve always admired your cohesive look on your series of guides for writers.

So I thought, okay, this is my chance to do that, and this is also my chance to really make it clear that this book is different than the course, and yet related. They’re all related to tarot, but there are different content in each piece. So that was the original thought process.

Then I wanted to dive into a look that felt more reflective of the Tarot aspect. So it was fun to get a cover designer to share the look and feel that I wanted. I wanted it to feel a little bit like a tarot card, and yet be linked in some ways to the brand that I have.

She used the same font for my name that I have on my website so that it was all sort of connected. I just wanted something that stood out more and that stood out as a unit. It ended up being a really satisfying process.

Joanna: So what are the challenges of doing it, though? I mean, like practicalities? I’ve done this multiple times, but people always are like, “Oh, my goodness, how do you do that? Don’t you lose all your reviews on the first book?” What were some of the more technical challenges?

Caroline: Oh, yes. What my big fear was, if we’re going into the fears, was that somebody would buy the book titled The Author’s Journey, get it, and then say, “This is just like the book I have already. What is this?”

One of the technical challenges was figuring out how to be very clear. So I put it on the copyright page, “This is a second edition.”

I have it listed as the second edition on all of the sites. So I had to find places to mention that it was a second edition, that it had been formerly published under this title. I wanted to be really transparent about that. So that was one of the challenges.

I think I was okay with losing the reviews because I just wanted to start fresh, and I just wanted it to feel different. So yes, you do go back to zero with those, but I was confident that those who had read the new book would then possibly want to read the old book or would just be able to jump over to that, and that it would just take care of itself over time.

Joanna: Okay, well, that is interesting because you don’t have to lose your reviews if you upload the files into the same Kindle. You do have to publish a new print book. With Stone of Fire, there’s reviews on there from when it was called Pentecost, originally.

So all I’ve done with the Kindle, and we’re just talking about Amazon, but all the sites are the same, with the Kindle book you can just change the title, you can change the author name, you can change pretty much everything. You can upload a new cover, upload a new file.

Print books, as you said, you have to upload a new print book. What I found is, because most of my reviews were on the Kindle book anyway, when you link a new print edition, it just links up like that. You have to use a new print book when you do all of that new. So you don’t have to lose it, but as you said, you were happy starting again. I think there’s a difference between deciding it’s a completely new edition, which is different to a new cover, basically.

Caroline: I didn’t want to mislead anyone, but I also changed the cover to increase discoverability. I now had people who were willing to blurb the book, so I wanted people to see a cover with those on it. I was hoping that this wasn’t about a pretty new addition for the existing reader, but that this would increase discoverability for additional readers.

Then the other bit was that previously I did all my distribution through Ingram, and this time I distributed through Amazon separately, in addition to doing distribution through Ingram.

Joanna: Okay, for your print. So you did eBooks through Ingram before?

Caroline: I did. Now, I have done again, just because I do not have this sort of enthusiasm that you have to separately go to Kobo, and Nook, and all of these places to upload files. I was like, it’s okay with me, it’s going go to all of them under that umbrella. I haven’t gone quite as wide, but I sort of shift that as I go. That was part of the reason as well, was that I had not gone through KDP the first time, and now I have.

Joanna: That makes sense. This is also interesting, it kind of circles back to the beginning.

You didn’t do it wrong. You did it the way you wanted to do it at the time.

Caroline: Yes.

Joanna: Then you changed your mind later on, and you wrote another book, and it emerged, and thus it became something different, and so you changed it. This is the magic, right? This is the magic of being in control. You can do whatever the hell you want. Yay!

Caroline: Yes, and that has been really great. I could dip my toe in and do what I was comfortable with in 2019. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I was excited to apply it, and so that’s what I did.

Joanna: Well, then on that—

Are you narrating the audiobook?

Caroline: That has been a fun question to consider because given that, and I’m sure you face this conundrum as well, given that I have a voice that people know from the podcast, I feel like I want to narrate it myself.

I have had someone offer to narrate it who has a lovely voice, and I have been going back and forth about that. I think in the end, I will probably do it myself, just because I feel like podcast listeners would expect my voice as part of it.

I think that with fiction, I do not plan to narrate my own fiction because I have a limited range of voices I can do, but most of them are impersonating my cats. I don’t think anyone wants to hear a murder mystery with cat voices.

Joanna: I don’t know. Cozy cat mystery is a thing.

Caroline: It is, but that’s not what I write. So, sadly, there’s a mismatch on that one. I think part of it is mostly just having the personal bandwidth to go back in and do this. So I think the audiobook is probably going to have to wait until the fall because I’ve got a novel up on deck to finish this summer.

I’m so excited to get back into that, that I don’t want any distractions from it. So I think the audiobook is maybe going to come out later this year.

Joanna: Yes, I think it’s a good choice to narrate it when it’s nonfiction, when it’s like a personal book, when you have a podcast and you’re used to doing audio. All of those are very good reasons.

So coming to the podcast, you are currently on season 10 of The Secret Library Podcast, which is great. People should go listen to that. You have recently moved to Substack as a platform.

Could you comment on podcasting and Substack as a platform?

As marketing platforms for new authors or for existing creators who are thinking about different options?

Caroline: Yes, absolutely. Well, there were many reasons why I wanted to bring the podcast over to Substack. I had spoken to a number of creatives who had done so and had had a positive experience.

I think that one of the first reasons was the sort of justification, or the original logic of creating the podcast, was to build a community around the topic, and also to build a community resource for writers.

I had done a lot of bizarre things which I don’t recommend, like I don’t recommend having multiple Substacks that are separate publications. I think that the sections feature is a better way to go. So at the end of 2023, I just decided I wanted one Substack to rule them all, which is now called Book Alchemy.

So podcast episodes go live, but I also write longer form, or not always longer form, but different reflections on writing life that feels like a blog. I very much enjoy that. So I wanted those two to live together, and I wanted there to be an opportunity for people to comment and to just have more conversation around the process.

As a podcaster, it can feel quite weird and lonely to just record a bunch of stuff and put it out there. Then people would write back to newsletters and such and say how much it meant to them, but there isn’t really a dialogue around the content. So part of moving to Substack was around wanting that conversation to happen.

That hasn’t entirely developed yet because I think after nine years of doing this podcast, people are really used to being subscribed in their podcast app, and they listen when a show shows up, but they are not really trained. I never really encouraged or trained them to click through to the show notes and interact. So I think that has been a slower process.

I think it’s more about encouraging people already on Substack to listen and then be in the conversation there. The people who read my articles are very eager to have comments and chat, and we go back and forth all the time. I love it. So that has been really nice. It’s just about getting the podcast into that headspace as well.

Joanna: Do you think your book sales are primarily from your existing audience? Or—

Have you found that Substack has been useful for the book launches as well?

Caroline: I think it has, in that I have done some things, like currently as we as we record this, I have a book giveaway open. So I’m going to give away three books in a couple of days, and they’re open to anyone who is an annual subscriber to my Substack. So I’ll be drawing.

So it’s sort of like, if you’re a member, you’re entered into this drawing. I plan to continue that practice because it’s really fun. With people who are on the podcast who have books coming out, we can do book giveaways for their books and such. So that’s been really fun.

People are really eager to reshare this kind of thing. If you have an event like that going, people are happy to share. It’s just a really nice supportive community that I’ve found in my corner of Substack, specifically.

Joanna: That’s great.

Where can people find Writing Through Fear, and your Substack, and the podcast, and everything you do online?

Caroline: Absolutely. I think the easiest place to go is CarolineDonahue.com. You can find the book page, there is a handy-dandy banner at the top that you can click on to get to the book order page.

The book is available on Amazon pretty much everywhere. It’s on Kobo all over the world. It’s at Barnes and Noble. Many, many outlets. There is a page for the book when you click through, and it has all of the places that are currently available in pretty much every English language market. So that is there.

Then the Substack is at book-alchemy.com. You can get to the podcast at SecretLibraryPodcast.com. It’ll forward you right to the podcast page, but you can search for the podcast on pretty much any podcast player and it’s there.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Caroline. That was great.

Caroline: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a joy to talk to you.

The post Writing Through Fear With Caroline Donahue first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn