Writing Help + Life Tips: How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

By: Lauren Capps

As writers, we all have struggles to overcome when we start out and are knee-deep in an 80,000-word book. The constant questions and doubts running through your mind can start to overwhelm you, and if it does, maybe you think it just isn’t worth it to keep going. Or that you need to delete the whole project and forget about it.

Well, I am here to tell you, do not do anything of that sort. You are a writer. You live, sleep, and dream about characters, plots, and even movie adaptations that you hope will become a reality someday. Don’t give that up just because it’s hard or you don’t think you are good enough.

Some of the main struggles that I and other writers have gone through or even worried about are:

“Am I a good writer?”

“Does this sound right?”

“Good Lord, this is awful. I’m deleting that and starting over.”

“What is my writing voice?”

“How would this compare to (insert author here)?”

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And many more.  But the main topic of this post is to help you stop comparing yourself to other writers. If you clear that doubt from your judgment, you will be one step closer to success. Here are some ways to show how comparing impacts your life, and some tips to help you overcome it.

“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” -Iyanla Vanzant

1. Comparing Stops the Learning Process

By focusing on others’ work and always envying what they do, it can stop the process of learning how that person is successful or how they write so well. If you focus on finding their secrets to success, then you will be able to apply it to your own work.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to the Likes of, Say, Stephen King

If you are comparing your unpublished, never-before-seen-by-the-public work to the likes of the best books by the best authors, you are only putting yourself down, and it will negatively impact your work. As a first time author or a newly published one trying to get your work noticed, you can’t expect to be as good as them. I know it’s hard to hear, and sometimes the truth hurts. Focus on yourself only. Think of ways you can be successful in your own right. Sit down and write the best way you know you can, so you don’t even need to think about those high-end authors.

3. Comparing Takes Away Control

By constantly comparing yourself to others, you are letting it not only impede your judgment but also take control of your life. It will negatively impact your emotions and values. It’s a destructive habit that only you can get out of. By taking back the control over your life, you can choose to be positive and focus on what really matters — your own work.

“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.” -Shannon L. Alder

4. If You Need to Compare, Compare Yourself

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Sometimes comparing and competing can be beneficial instead of negatively impacting. Don’t compare yourself to James Patterson; instead, compare yourself to yourself. Think about what you have achieved in life and see how successful you have become already.

Look at the progress you have made in your book — have you written 50,000 words? That’s awesome! Use this shift of thought to help you overcome negative habits, and it will only show in your work to come.

5.  Break the Habit

If none of those tips helped you, and you are still having a hard time with comparing yourself to others, try to break the habit. The first step is to be aware of when you are judging yourself or your work to others. When you do, stop yourself and think: “I am better than this. I am a good person and a good writer.” Think about positive things like how you won that writing contest, or any positive aspect of your life. Don’t focus on your weaknesses but rely on your strengths to help you overcome negative thoughts. And finally, be yourself.

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If you are OK with who you are and how you do you, you won’t need to compare yourself to others. Stay focused, stay positive, and kick that nasty habit to the curb. By doing this one simple thing, the only direction your life is going is up!

“Whatever your passion is, keep doing it. Don’t waste time chasing after success or comparing yourself to others. Every flower blooms at a different pace. Excel at doing what your passion is and only focus on perfecting it. Eventually, people will see what you are great at doing, and if you are truly great, success will come chasing after you.”-Suzy Kassem

 

 

 

Writing Hacks: 5 Tips to Help You Start Your First Nonfiction Book

By: Rebekah Sack, Editor

Starting a book can be a pretty daunting task — especially if your goal is to write a fiction book that carefully reflects the life you’ve lived in some profound, poetic, literary way. However, if you really need to get your name in print, starting with a nonfiction book can be the perfect way to jumpstart your career.

Nonfiction is much easier to write and edit than fiction. There is less “creative justice” that must be served — though being creative certainly shouldn’t be dismissed — but that means that the editor won’t get caught up in ambiguous territory. Most nonfiction prose is pretty straightforward: that sentence isn’t parallel? Fix it. This chapter seems out of order? Move it around. This date is wrong? Change it.

The writing process also closely imitates that of a research paper. You do the research on the topic at hand, take close notes while doing so, and then you begin.

But, for many people, that’s where the “ummm, what?” faces start to form. How exactly do you begin? Here are 5 easy tips to get your first nonfiction book in print.

1. Figure out who you’re writing for

So, you want to write a book. You’re a natural-born writer, but the writing world seems like a catch-22, right? If you don’t have something published with your name on it, the big publishers won’t take you seriously.

That’s where considering a work-for-hire job can be useful. These kinds of jobs mean that you take the topic that the publisher assigns you, and you churn out the book for a set amount of pay. You don’t earn royalties on the book, but you do earn the invaluable experience of working for a professional publisher as well as an editor. Many fiction writers spend years working on their drafts, and they never see their work come to fruition (meaning they never earn a dime).

To find work-for-hire writing jobs or freelance writing gigs in general, check out Upwork and LinkedIn. I get messages on LinkedIn often about freelance opportunities, and you’d be surprised how successful this kind of networking can be. There are others, but as an editor for a publishing company that frequently hires work-for-hire freelancers, these are the ones I would recommend.

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2. Research similar books on Amazon

Whether you land the work-for-hire job or you plan to start your book on your own, it’s important to be clear about what’s already on the market. For example, let’s say you want to write a book for young adults about bullying. The logical first step would be to type “bullying book for teens” or something of that nature into the Amazon search engine and to look closely at the first page of results. Take note of the titles (unless your publisher has already finalized the title in a work-for-hire circumstance) and use the “Look Inside” feature to browse the table of contents. What appeals to you? What kinds of topics are being covered? What appears to be missing? You may find areas that you wouldn’t have thought to include in your book, but your key is finding the missing stuff — what are people in need of that isn’t being given to them?

That’s the sweet spot, and that’s exactly what you need to capitalize on to make a name for yourself in the industry.

It can also be useful to test out questions on social media or to your target audience. You might come up with a list of questions like these:

  1. How prevalent is bullying in your life?
  2. What do you want to know about bullying?
  3. Do you have any personal stories regarding bullying?
  4. What do you think other people should know about bullying?

3. Draft up an outline

Once you’re comfortably familiar with what is already on the market, it’s time to draft up your outline. Again, some publishers might actually already have an outline for you to work from, but many won’t — they’ll expect you to come up with one yourself that the editor will approve.

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I have seen many outline submissions myself, and I have a few do’s and don’ts:

DO

  • Format your document carefully.
  • Include brief statements explaining what your headings mean.
  • Be thorough — a half-page or even a one-page outline is lazy.
  • Try to group things in threes — If Chapter 1 has 2 subheadings, do your best to come up with a third. In general, when things are grouped in threes, it feels more right.
  • Make note of sources you have that might help with a certain section — this will help you in the long run.
  • Do NOT send in an unpolished outline for an editor to review. You will drive me her crazy.

DON’T

  • Be sloppy.
  • Include too many details — while a 6-page outline with paragraphs under each chapter heading might seem like a good idea, at the end of the day, the editor expects an outline review to take a short amount of time. If she has to sift through a 6-page paper, you’re making her life a bit more difficult than it needs to be. Keep your detailed notes in a separate document and only include short descriptors.
  • Have underwhelming titles. Your goal is to impress and to have an outline that is as close to the finished product as possible. You will have leeway as you write, but do your best to brainstorm the best titles and headings.
  • Leave out key information. This is why researching what is already out there is so important. Take careful notes of what everyone else is doing so that you know you aren’t missing something. If you’re writing a book about managing a restaurant and you forget to mention scheduling issues, you’ve missed the mark.

4. Stick to a schedule

I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not pretty. The deadline is at the end of the month, and you’re only one-third of the way there. While setting a writing schedule can be intimidating, do your best to plan a certain amount of time to work every single day. I would advise against a specific word count (I’m going to write 1,500 words every day), messy deskand I would steer you more towards a time-related goal (I’m going to sit down for 1.5 hours every day). The reason for this is that not all of the work you’re going to be doing is writing.

With nonfiction work, there’s a lot of research and documentation that needs to be done. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself sitting down and spending 30-45 minutes just reading the latest research. That doesn’t directly translate into a word count goal, but it does count toward the progress of your project.

The important thing is that you’re sitting down every day, and you’re progressively working toward the finish line. If you don’t keep up with it, you might find yourself being kicked off of the project, or worse, never finishing the book you set out to complete.

5. When you’re done editing, edit some more

This is particularly important if you’re not doing a work-for-hire job, but no matter how you slice it and dice it, it’s still key to producing quality writing. When you submit a manuscript to anyone, whether it be an agent, a publisher, or your editor, it should be, for all intents and purposes, an edited draft. There should not be any grammar or punctuation mistakes, the sentences should be coherent and well-formed, and there should be little to no thoughtless mistakes, such as the word “or” being “of” on accident.

An editor expects to fix things, but not careless mistakes. She expects to fine-tune — move this sentence here, add a paragraph here, create a hook there — not to be doing spell-check for you on what was supposed to be your final draft. Take pride in your work. Sure, you might be working for a miniscule paycheck, but your reputation is on the line. This is your stepping stone, and you’re making a name for yourself. Only submit work that you’re proud of, and you’re on your way to becoming a successful author.

Happy writing!

Staying Sharp: Seven Ways to Start Writing When The Blank Page is Staring You Down

By: Taylor Gaines

You sit down to write. You don’t have any particular goal. You know the importance of writing, and you’re trying to get in the habit of doing it to get better every day. You just want to write.

But there it is. The blank page — taunting you. The blinking cursor staring back at you angrily, mocking you with its consistent appearing and disappearing pattern as you inconsistently pound away at the keyboard every few minutes. Facebook is just a click away, ready to take you on a journey that you know you will enjoy. And maybe you won’t like writing anyway. Why not…

Stop right there. You don’t know where to start. I get that. I struggle with the blank page (even the thought of the blank page!) as much as the next person.

So, here, let me give you some ideas. Let’s get the blood flowing, the gears turning, and the fingers moving. I’ve compiled a few different ideas, some bigger and some smaller, to try to help get things going. And remember, you should just write what comes to you. Don’t hesitate, double-back, or delete stuff over and over. Just keep pumping out sentences. You can always fix it later.

Let’s start with the serious, personal stuff and finish with some more fun, specific stuff.

DEEP THOUGHTS

What’s Going On? Journal

What’s happening in your life? In the world? Why do you care? This is basically the old-fashioned journal approach. Write about the things you see going on around you. Tell stories about things that happened to you. Think through things that you’re going through by writing them down and verbalizing your thoughts. This will help you develop a stronger writing voice and put things into perspective.

Ponder Life’s Big Questions

Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Is there life on Mars? Am I living in the Matrix? Everybody thinks about questions like these at some point. Why not help process and organize your thoughts by writing them down? You can even come up with entertaining and fantastical answers as well. Go wherever your mind takes you.

Analyze Whatever You’re Reading or Watching

Maybe it’s a book, a movie, a TV show, a YouTube video, or a story you read in the paper — er, online. Whatever it may be, just sit down and write your thoughts on that thing. Analyze the latest episode of your favorite TV show. Consider the decisions that went into writing the mystery novel you’re reading. Rave about your favorite actor’s performance from the movie you saw last night. Write a counterpoint to the column you read.

Like the first two points, doing things like this will not only help you have things to write about, it will help you figure out the way your brain works and the way you like to think about things. It will also help you to develop a stronger, more authoritative voice when you’re defending your opinions.

FUN TIMES

Write Stories from the Police Blotter

This is a fun one that my writing teacher used to make our class do. All you do is look up a police blotter (like this one), find an item that interests you, and write about it.

A couple examples:

“6/1/16   Wed   1328   Abandoned Vehicle – Officer investigated an abandoned vehicle that miraculously became un-abandoned when police made inquiry. “

“5/29/16   Sun   0435   Welfare Check – Caller was concerned for her little brother who had been fired from a local processing plant. The officer was able to alleviate her fears.”

“5/31/16   Tue   1446   Animal – Local homeowner requested a cat trap to capture a nuisance feline that was distressing her cats.”

Think of the possibilities. You can make up crazy sci-fi stories about the events that led to a vehicle becoming “miraculously un-abandoned.” You can write a melodramatic tale of a young man fired from his local processing plant and the effects it has on his life. You could tell a story from the perspective of a cat about a “nuisance feline” that’s ruining its life. The bones are there for some fun, creative stories; you just need to fill in the meat.

Write Stories That Don’t Make Sense 

Imagine things that can only exist in your writing, and tell those stories. Write about the Easter Bunny terrorizing an entire city. Talk about a great white shark that does community service and helps the elderly. Picture a world where dishwashers are humans and humans are dishwashers. Find something that might only make sense in your head, and let your creative juices flow. This will infuse your stories with distinctive, fantastical characters.

Tell the Story of a Song

Go on [insert music streaming service here], and pick a song at random. Listen to it. Take in its tone and its lyrics. Think about how it makes you feel. Then, try to tell the story behind it. What happened to the writer that made them write this song? What’s the point? There is a lot of creative freedom to this, and you can really go wherever your mind takes you.

A Day in the Life

Think about someone you really like or are interested in. It could be a real person, like an athlete or movie star, or it could be a favorite character of yours from a book or movie. Imagine what fills that person’s day. Write about what that person does from the moment he or she wakes up to the moment he or she goes to sleep. You can make up any details you want. Answer crazy questions you’ve always wondered about. Does the president ever actually sleep? Where does Leonardo DiCaprio go out to eat? What’s on Winnie the Pooh’s daily to-do list?


Remember to enjoy yourself while you’re writing. Your best, most interesting writing will certainly be from the stuff that you enjoyed working on the most. Think of it this way: If you enjoyed writing it, your audience will probably enjoy reading it.

Write away!

What are some fun things you like to do when writing? Let us know in the comments below! 

Buried In a Book: 5 Ways to Correct Your Reading Posture

By: Audie Lauf

Did you ever think the expression “having your nose buried in a book” was negative? Turns out poor posture while reading can result in some serious damage to your body over time. Just like there is a proper technique for sitting at the computer, there is a proper way to read a book. One time or another, we have all been so engulfed in a plot line that we find ourselves hunched over with our eyes just an inch from the paper. Moments like these can seem harmless, but they can cause excessive damage to the body in the long run.

Here are five important things to remember while you’re reading:

1. Keep Your Eye on the Prize

It is crucial to keep the book at the same elevation as your eyes. This will keep your head upright and will stop you from bending over. Having your head tilted for hours can be strenuous on your neck and shoulders.

2. Proper Distance

Keeping the book at a little less than arm’s length will also keep your head upright. Having your head properly adjusted will also open up your air passages and keep oxygen flowing efficiently to your brain. (The same can be said about your phone.) The distance is also perfect for making sure your eyes aren’t being strained.

3. Align Your Spine

Keeping your back pressed parallel to the back of the chair will keep your spine in a position that can be set for a long period of time. Make sure to have your tailbone positioned at the back of the chair.

4. Adjust Your Chair

It is important to remember to keep your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. This will support blood flow, keeping the circulation going. Nothing is more annoying than standing up and feeling like your legs are made of a million pins and needles.

5. Take a Break

While we all love to read and are dying to find out what happens next, taking a break is important for your overall health. Standing up and taking a quick walk will refresh your eyes and increase blood flow and circulation to your body.

You are already taking the time to better your mind, so take a minute and make sure you’re doing the same for your body.

 

From the Editor: Taking You Behind the Scenes of the Publishing Industry

By: Rebekah Sack, Editor

85 tasks and 92 subtasks.

That’s how many steps it takes to publish a book.

Now, some of those tasks are really quick and simple, like documenting the date of an author’s writing contract or creating a location number for the back cover of the book.

But, not all of those tasks are easy to just check off the to-do list. For instance, editing “Stage 2” of the book, which means spending detailed time with about 10,000 words of text, or planning and executing an e-mail campaign to start getting pre-orders for a book — these are time consuming. There’s a lot that goes into publishing a book, and you don’t realize how complicated it is until you join the industry.

Now, not every publishing company out there has exactly 85 tasks with 92 subtasks sprinkled in. There are going to be companies with hundreds of tasks and companies with no tasks at all, because they just fly by the seat of their pants. None of that matters, though — the important thing to realize is how intricate the process is.

I might quickly add that some people may be put-off by the fact that there’s a list — how dare you put such organizational limits on what is supposed to be a creative process! I will gently remind you that, yes, the writing and editing portions of publishing can be highly creative, but like anything else, the publishing industry is still a business, so keeping things on track is super important.

That being said, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the things that we do when it comes to publishing a book. Whether you’re a prospective intern that wants to know what really goes on behind-the-scenes or a freelance writer that wants to know what exactly that nit-picky editor does all day, this will give you an idea of the grunt work that goes into that book sitting on your nightstand.

The First Few Steps

The first few steps are the easiest. I know this isn’t the case for everything in life, particularly blind dates and job interviews, but the first few steps of organizing a book are mildly to moderately simple.

You have to come up with a book title, assign that book title an ISBN (in our case, three ISBNS — paperback, e-book, and library edition), come up with a retail price, find three BISAC codes, and write two book copies (one that is 50 words or less and one that is 350 words or less).

I’m anticipating three possible questions from you at this point: what is an ISBN, what the heck are BISAC codes, and what’s this business about book copies? I am going to spare you the boring task of reading a standard definition here and offer you the low-down for dummies.

An ISBN is that number-thingy by the barcode on the back of your books. It’s a string of numbers tied to your book. Publishers have to buy them.

BISAC codes help to categorize your books by subject. Here’s an example of a BISAC code: YAN051020  YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION / Social Topics / Bullying.

Book copies are those catchy paragraphs on the back of your favorite books. They describe the book and get you so interested that you’re forced to take the book off the bookshelf and purchase it. Here’s an example of a book copy from a book we’re currently working on.

Title: The Young Adult’s Guide to Surviving Dorm Life: Skills & Strategies for Handling Roommates

Book Copy: Television shows like “New Girl,” “Friends,” and “The Big Bang Theory” make having a roommate seem like a blast. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a roommate like Jessica Day or Rachel Green.

“Surviving Dorm Life” provides college students with an idea of what to expect before ever stepping foot into their new living space. This book is full of tips and tricks ranging from sleeping patterns to unwelcome guests.

Personality traits can also cause a lot of conflict. This book unravels how to deal with different types of roommates, such as neat freaks and slobs.

Fighting over who does the dishes may seem like biggest problem there will ever be — and this book does cover that — but if things get seriously bad, that’s covered, too. We take a look at how to deal with roommates that are depressed, have an eating disorder, or have a substance abuse problem.

This book is full of case studies garnered from hours of interviews with college students, both new and graduated. Your roommate is using your personal stuff, they’re staying up too late, they’re making too much noise, they’re being rude, and they’re neglecting to pay their share of the bills. If you are worried about any of these potential problems, by book’s end, you’ll know everything you need to know to put the issues to rest and survive dorm life.

Now that those questions are out the way, you might be wondering something else — how can these be the first steps? Wouldn’t writing the actual book be the first step to… publishing a book? I know, I know, I kind of wondered the same thing at first, but that’s where companies kind of start to veer in different directions.

When you think about books and summer reading, your first thought is probably fiction books, and most fiction books go through a very different publishing process. The publisher usually looks at already completed manuscripts and picks and chooses based on what they think people will buy.

When it comes to nonfiction publishing, it’s totally different (not always, but in our case, it’s a different ballgame). We come up with a popular topic and narrow it down to a title — we decide what books we are going to produce, and then we hire professionals to come in and write the book. That’s why we come up with all the book information first. Well, that, and because in order to start getting pre-orders for a book, you have to have all the book information out there.

Now that things are starting to come together, I imagine furrowed brows and a curious expression on your face — you’re telling me that you put a book out there for pre-orders before it’s even written yet? Well… yes. Yes, we do.

Another important part of organizing a new book is getting the cover done. We work with our Art Director to finalize a book cover, and once that’s done, you can put your infant book on different distribution sites for pre-orders. That way, we can publish books way faster than you’re probably expecting.

There’s all this talk about books going through years and years of steps and processes before it’s ever even on the market — well, when we structure the process this way, there’s no waiting time. Sometimes, companies will put the finalized book information out there to start getting pre-orders and to build the hype up, but that means that a finished book is just sitting on a desk somewhere — waiting. For us, there’s no wait time. While the book is being written, pre-orders are coming in, and once the book is done, it goes straight to press.

Blah, blah, blah, we get it. On to the next phase.

The Steps After the First Few Steps

Great title, I know. The next few steps overlap a bit with the first few, but they involve finding and hiring an author. This can be done several ways — there might be an author we’ve already worked with that has a background in the subject area, there might be a specific person we have in mind that’s an expert in the field, or we might just turn to the freelance writing market through avenues like Elance.com or JournalismJobs.com.

We also have a reserve list of writers who have applied for previous jobs — if they had a strong resume and writing sample and totally killed the editing and writing quiz I sent to them, I ask them if they’d like to be on a reserve list for future projects. Sometimes, they don’t. But, sometimes, they do, and we turn to them first when new projects open up.

The main goal is to find a writer that’s really good at writing (duh) and that also has a background in the subject at hand. For example, the book about surviving dorm life would be best written by someone who spent their entire college career living in a dorm with four roommates. A book about the Russian Revolution might be best written by a history professor. A book about joining the music industry would be best written by someone that has a music degree — the list goes on.

So, when you finally find the perfect fit, you create a contract, have them sign it, document it all, and order research materials for the author. We send them various books on the subject to give them an idea of what’s already out there — we don’t want to be producing stuff that’s already been said 100 times over. It’s also useful to be up-to-date on the latest stats and research — we’ll send that stuff, too.

In the background, we’re updating distribution sites through Bowker & Onix; we’re drafting up email campaigns for libraries, bookstores, and foreign rights agents; we’re creating a book folder on the server; we’re updating the book information on the website; and we’re working on finding associations or experts in the field to partner with us and/or contribute to the book.

Don’t tell me I lost you — let me catch you up here. Bowker is the exclusive go-to guy to get ISBNs from. You purchase them and then update the information tied to that ISBN. Let’s say I buy an ISBN for my new book about bugs. I would go onto Bowker to update my ISBN information. I’d put in the title: “Bug Life,” the author: “Yours Truly,” the book description: “This book is all about bugs,” and so on. From there, tons of people can get information about that book. It’s like the watering hole, but for libraries and bookstores and such.

Oh, and Onix? It pretty much does the same thing — you put all your book information into their program, and it lets people who buy books see it.

The whole thing is a lengthy, intricate process.

The Next Few Steps After the Steps That Were After The First Few Steps

As you can see, I’m the go-to person when it comes to coming up with titles.

So, now the book is out there, and the author is drafting away at the manuscript. They’re sending the work-in-process in four basic stages. For our young adult books, here’s what the stages look like:

Stage 1: The Outline

Stage 2: The First 10,000 Words

Stage 3: The Second 10,000 Words

Stage 4: The Final 10,000 Words

The author will send in this stuff as they go along. I, the editor, will review it, give some feedback in the margins, and I’ll edit the heck out of the manuscript. You’ll see structure changes, style comments, and basic copyedits (grammar and punctuation stuff).

If I have a few projects going on at once (at this very moment, I have seven), you can see where things start to get a little hectic. You’re getting 10,000 words over there, another 10,000 over here, an outline coming in from left field — you can see why many people comment on how busy editors are.

But, that’s not all. In the background, while the pros are hacking away at their Word docs, we’re securing foreword authors, case studies, we’re running plagiarism scans, we’re sending email blasts, we’re counting pre-orders, we’re checking permissions, we’re submitting CIP data, we’re making updates on Bowker, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, the website, Amazon…

I can feel you starting to back up. Do not be intimated or confused. To answer the looming question I can feel in the air — what the heck is CIP data — it’s that library information on the copyright page of books. CIP stands for “Cataloging-in-Publication” and it’s basically a neat little paragraph that has the author’s name, the title, the ISBN, some details about the book, and some more numbers. It helps libraries electronically catalog your book in their database.

Once the book is fully written and has been thoroughly edited, it goes off to the design team. They transfer the Word document into InDesign (an Adobe program that helps get a book ready for print), and in technical terms, they make it all pretty and stuff. It’s a lengthy process of designing and proofing and prepping, but once that’s done, the book goes to press.

The Final Steps

The final steps are all about making sure the book is a success. We’re sending out emails letting people know it’s available, we’re doing special ad campaigns, we’re preparing review copies, we’re writing press releases, we’re drafting up thank-you cards for book participants, we’re uploading the PDF to Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature and Google Books, we’re getting the e-book out there…

I hate to keep going, but there really is more. We’re registering the copyright and putting that in the safe, we’re updating inventory, we’re updating the website and all those other distribution sites, we’re pursuing reviews and adding them to all of our online sites… we’re really doing the most.

And that’s kind of what publishing is all about. It’s about producing great, necessary content, and making sure that it falls into the right hands. It’s a lengthy and sometimes complicated process, but it’s worth it. When you put a book out there that you know is helping someone, from a fairly straight-forward topic — like passing the real estate sales exam or nailing an interview — to more touchy, emotional subjects — like dealing with bullying or building up your confidence — you know you’re making a difference.

And that’s what the industry is all about, regardless of the amount of steps or the way you make those steps function for your company.

But there really are a lot of steps. For real.

How to Start a Book Club: 10 Easy Steps to Get You Going

By: Audie Lauf

Summer is the season of outdoor activities. Summer is also the time to schedule leisure activities to better yourself. Take the time off from school to keep your mind sharp. Organizing a book club will allow you to stay close to friends and engage in intellectual stimulation.

Here are ten easy steps to help you start your own book club.

1) Invite Your Book-Loving Friends

Invite friends that you have common interests in whether that is hobbies, classes, sporting events etc. Inviting friends that have a common interest can also spark new relationships. Make sure to have your friends spread the word to anyone else they feel would enjoy themselves. Having common interests could influence the book choices the club suggests.

2) Set a Meeting Time

Once you have established an interested group, figure out a time to meet. A good suggestion would be twice a month. This will give the group enough time to read half of the book, and then discuss the first half in depth. This can also give the group time to discuss if there were any intense situations throughout the book.

3) Create an Atmosphere

Remember to create a welcoming atmosphere. A good idea is to host the first meeting at your place. Provide snacks and beverages. People are always happy when there is food present (make sure to acknowledge any food allergies). Set up the area with seating in a circle. This will create an open discussion on its own. Make sure everyone feels welcome. Start the meeting by having everyone introduce themselves.

4) Choose Your Books As a Group

Deciding on a book to pick is the hardest yet best part when planning a book club. Make sure the first book is interesting to all in the organization. On the first night, have everyone bring their first suggestion. This will also give everyone else in the group a chance to get to know others better.

5) Use Your Local Library

After deciding on the first book, instead of purchasing it, have everyone check the local library. Ordering the book online is still possible, but could get costly.

6) Branch Out

Make sure to choose books that give a variety of experiences. One month you can dive into historical-fiction, but next month choose a mystery novel. Expanding your horizons is what a book club is all about.

7) Come With Questions

Make sure to have everyone provide stimulating questions that make you think about the author’s intent. Critical thinking will drive elaborate discussion and develop your own opinions naturally. Suggest that everyone bring in a set list of questions — that way, everyone is prepared and can fall back on a question if the discussion comes to a halt.

8) Show Respect

Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. Be respectful of other’s opinion and try to see from their point of view. If you do not fully understand their ideas, make sure to ask them to go into further detail in a polite manner.

9) Give Spoiler Alerts

Set a rule to have discussion only focus on the dedicated section of the book. There is nothing worse than spoilers when you are so engulfed in the story.

10) Have Fun!

Make sure everyone is having a good time, and keep everyone’s feelings in mind when making decisions. The most important part of having a book club is enjoying yourself — so have fun!

Creating a summer book club will allow not just you but everyone in the group to develop their critical thinking and expand their horizons. Keeping your mind sharp when school is out is always important for setting up for an efficient academic year.

Happy reading!

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Adapting to New Forms of Storytelling: What Are Your Options?

By: Grace Hudgins

Technology and social media platforms have changed the game when it comes to storytelling. Now, stories are instant, digital, and visual. We no longer have to wait for the latest news to be printed or broadcasted, because with social media websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, we’re always up-to-date with current events.

Print is still living and breathing just fine in my opinion, but sometimes, my preference for physical books and newspapers causes me to lag behind in current events. However, as I became more reliant on my iPhone for information, I slowly started to adapt to the “digital takeover” as I like to call it. And you know what? I didn’t mind.

I realized this digital era is unavoidable, but it’s a force that can be reckoned with once it’s given a chance.

book with letters.JPGWhat I’m trying to say is there are more advantages to reading stories online, or on your tablet or smartphone because of how much storytelling tools have advanced. Instead of only words flooding our screens, technology allows us to actually be in the story, see the story, and feel the story. Pictures, GIFs, videos (short and long), and other graphics make the story more appealing and entertaining to be a part of.

If you still haven’t made the transition to digital storytelling, start off slow. Get your news online and stick to reading books in print — it’s what I do. I tried to read my favorite books on apps like iBooks and on a Kindle, but I found out that I preferred to have the actual book in my hand, not my iPad. Whatever you choose to do, converting to digital isn’t so bad.

Here are three storytelling mediums that are now popular forms of telling stories, and what I consider their benefits to be:

Social Media

Social Media websites are user-friendly and quick to skim through. In general, all of the mediums I list below can be published online and on a social media site. Twitter is my favorite source for breaking news if I’m not near a TV. For accuracy, I follow local and national news organizations so I know the articles/photos/videos I see are factual. A downside of social media is that now everybody is a reporter. So, make sure that the information you get online is from a credible source.

Videos

Videos are more visual and user-oriented. You can choose how much of the story you want to see and can witness the character’s real emotion. I like to watch my news through video, because I can connect with the source more this way and can actually visualize the background, setting, and importance of the story. Snapchat is also a form of storytelling. The app features breaking news from organizations like CNN and ESPN, but it also allows you to post and view pictures and/or videos from your friends. It’s a fun way to communicate, because of the interactive features the app has like filters, drawing options, and geo-tags.

Photos

Photos are still worth a thousand words, but now, because of the advances in phone cameras and DSLR cameras, photos are better than they have ever been. The clean cut images we see now tell stories in more detail. Also, there can be more. Websites often feature photo galleries on their pages, so we never miss a detail of the story the collage is telling.

book on grass

These are just a few forms of storytelling, but there are numerous ways to tell, read, and share stories thanks to the digital advancements our world now has. I don’t suggest giving up on print all together, but we should start experiencing storytelling in ways other than on a piece of paper.

Become inspired, connect with the characters on TV and in news stories, and maybe even make a story of your own. Our technology allows us all to be an author, videographer, and photographer. Figure out what types of storytelling you like, and stick with them, because the evolution of storytelling has only just begun.

 

We’re All Frauds: How to Get Past Your Impostor Syndrome

By: Taylor Gaines

You’re a fraud. You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough.

These are things I tell myself all the time. Whenever I get something published or someone tells me that something I wrote is good, I basically feel like I’m just pulling one over on everyone. I don’t have any talent. I’m just trying to write about things I enjoy and tell good stories.

I wrote a short story once for a class that I was in. We were each required to read each other’s stories before coming to class so we could comment on them and give feedback. The third story I wrote for the class got an overwhelmingly positive reaction from my classmates. No one said it was perfect or anything, but everyone seemed to really enjoy reading it, and many people told me it was one of their favorites of the entire semester.

Fraud

As someone who has often convinced himself he is no good, this surprised me. What I found was that allowing yourself to truly have fun writing something enabled the audience to have fun reading it. I’m not over my impostor syndrome, but it’s progress.

It’s easy to feel like you don’t deserve to be in a certain position or situation. Maybe you don’t think you’re smart enough to join the debate team or talented enough to write a movie or cool enough to deserve the friends you have. You might feel like an impostor in many different situations.

The experts call this “impostor syndrome.” Basically, it’s a mental hurdle that people frequently experience when they are doing okay but don’t feel they deserve to be in that position. Even famous and objectively successful people often feel like frauds.

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”

–Maya Angelou, author, poet, Pulitzer Prize nominee

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!'”

–Tina Fey, comedian, writer, Emmy award winner

“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?'”

–Tom Hanks, actor, Academy Award winner

In our own way, we all tend to credit something or someone else with our success. We might contribute any good things that come our way to luck or another person’s doing. We know that we are far from perfect, so we find ourselves crediting others for the things that we do well.

The reality is you should have a good mix of “lucky to be here” and “I did this” in your approach. But if you are particularly struggling to understand why you deserve any success or accolades, you need to get past impostor syndrome first. Let’s look at a couple pieces of advice that have helped me deal with it. Hopefully they will help you out a little bit, too.

Don’t Let Your Failures Get to You

You may have heard this before, but I think in the uber-competitive world we currently live in where every thought and action is supposed to be devoted to achieving a goal that’s, like, 30 years down the road, it’s worth repeating: It’s okay to fail.

Failed

Great baseball players fail 70 percent of the time. Most start-ups go out of business. Important political and business leaders make costly mistakes. Insert whatever cliché you want to, but they’re all true. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Even incredibly successful people don’t do everything right all the time. The key is using your failures to get better. If screwing something up really bothers you, you will work to keep it from happening again.

Take account of your failures and your successes. They are both meaningful. Study what you did right as much as you do the things you did wrong. Keep working, and you’ll get better and better.

Nobody Knows What They’re Doing

As I said, even successful people fail. If you’re a fraud for screwing up, then so are they. In other words, if everyone is a fraud, is anyone really? Take this quote from baseball writer and podcaster Jonah Keri (who, by the way, is a very good baseball writer):

“I feel like there are five talented writers in the world, and everybody else just hacks away at it every day and gets a little better.”

Many unquantifiable skills or talents like writing can feel this way. Like you’re just hacking away at an invisible block of ice, wondering if it’s going to take another week to break it apart or another ten years.  Like there is no way you can ever make music as well as your favorite artist. Like there is no way you can ever make a movie as well as your favorite director.

Whatever your creative pursuit might be, it’s easy to feel like you will never be good enough at it. But you can’t really know until you let yourself try. As I’ve said before, the key to learning to do something you love is to study the way that other people do it and to practice it yourself. A lot.

No One Else Is You

All of this is no guarantee that you’ll become rich and famous or that you’ll fulfill all of your wildest dreams. That’s not what impostor syndrome is really about. It’s about feeling like you are worthy of being in a room with a “successful” person, that you have experiences worth hearing about, that you have something valuable to contribute to the world.

HappyNo one else has lived your life. If you can shake free of impostor syndrome and allow yourself to try doing the things that you love, you will have  meaningful experiences that make you different from everyone else, that make you you. And knowing that will help you find your way in the world, one way or another.

I’m not saying I’ve defeated impostor syndrome, because I still think about it all the time. I don’t know that I’m any good at this writing thing. I don’t know that I have a particularly strong voice. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand out from the crowd.

But by allowing myself to enjoy success, realizing that nobody really knows what they’re doing, and understanding that I have a life that no one else has lived, I just might be able to convince myself that I can be as confident in what I do as anyone else.

For now, I’m just hacking away, trying to get a little bit better, one word at a time.

For more tips, check out our “Young Adult’s Guide to Confidence,” which you can purchase here. Enter the code “FREESHIP” for free shipping on any order.

Let us know in the comments below if you have struggled with impostor syndrome and how you are fighting through it.

Jumping Over the Hurdle: 5 Ways to get Past Writer’s Block

By: Zachary Arcivar

Have you ever found yourself writing something with complete ease, where you are deep within your own personal flow that just allows your fingers to fly over the keys of your laptop or your pen strokes to take over an entire page with ink in minutes, and then out of nowhere, you hit a wall? This wall is what is known as “writer’s block,” and it is the bane of every writer’s existence. For some of us, it means a five-minute gap between hitting a block and then continuing, and for others, it means putting the pen down for the day.

Writer’s block is inevitable, and it happens to all of us; it is simply a part of writing. However, there are many ways to combat writer’s block, and today I’m going to share five strategies that I personally use to regain my focus and flow of ideas when I hit the dreaded wall.

1. Walk away and take a break

This may seem a bit obvious, but it is one of the most popular ways to go about defeating writer’s block, and it works for a lot of people — myself included. If I find myself staring at my computer screen for more than ten minutes without being able to produce a sentence I’m happy enough to keep, I’ll usually use this method first, and put my focus on something else. You could do anything from drawing or painting to cooking or playing an instrument (personally, I play bass). You could even take a quick nap to recharge your batteries!

take a break.JPG

I just try to do whatever I think is going to clear my mind, and give myself a good break from thinking about whatever I was working on. I’ll close my laptop, set a timer for myself to go off anywhere from 10-30 minutes, and after it goes off, I’ll sit back down at my computer and see if I get any new sparks to keep my writing going.

2. Try Freewriting

Freewriting is one of my favorite ways to get my brain warmed up for a long writing project or to give my brain a break from the subject I was writing on and journey into other ideas and subjects. Freewriting is exactly what it sounds like; it’s just allowing yourself to write about whatever you want, in whatever form you choose. So, if you’re working on an essay for English class and can’t seem to get around writer’s block, try to just shift to whatever your mind wants to write about for a few minutes, such as a poem, prose, or a list — it really doesn’t matter.

A good tip to go along with freewriting is to actually write with a pen or pencil. While the quickness that computers give us along with the plethora of tools like spellcheck that let us put out writing in no time are wonderful, sometimes it’s good to go old school and take the time to write out a few full pages by hand. This allows you to have more freedom on the page in a physical sense in case you decide to go from writing a pantoum poem to illustrating a picture. You can transition outlets much faster than you would be able to on a computer.

Making use of writing prompts could also prove very helpful and could still have an element of freewriting to them with just a touch of guidance. They, of course, could get you thinking about subjects that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, and can prove to be a refreshing way to escape a bad block.

3. Adjust your writing process

In my last post, I talked about evolving your individual writing process and how figuring out the proper environment for you to write in is crucial to ensure quality writing. If you aren’t writing in the right space for you personally, you’re probably going to experience more writer’s block than others.

Adjusting your process could be as easy as getting rid of distractions like cell phones, TV, or anything else that pulls you away from your writing. It could also mean more drastic changes, like writing in a completely different place, like maybe switching from writing at your home to writing at a public library, or coffee shop.

writing coffee shop.JPG

Another option is to switch the time of day that you write. For me, writing early in the day is pretty much a must if I want to get a good chunk of writing done. For some reason, waking up early and just starting to write comes naturally to me, and I’m usually surprised at how pleased I’ll be with what I write on my first draft. For others, writing really late at night might be preferable — just try as many options as you can, and see what works for you!

4. Read over old work, or pick up a book

Sometimes, even if my environment is perfect (early in the morning with a coffee nearby), it can still be a drag to put the pen to paper or fingers to keys. I may try freewriting, but even with that, I can’t seem to find any sort of rhythm. Well, why not step away from the writing and go to a little reading?

You can pick out the novel you’re currently reading or maybe one you’ve been meaning to start. Hearing another author’s words and phrasing that differs from your own can get your mind moving in different directions and could inspire something. You could also pull out some of your old work and skim over it. Nine times out of 10, when I re-read something that I wrote weeks before, I’ll notice something that I don’t remember writing but really like. This is what can start waking up your brain to get your juices flowing.

5. Get up and move around

Exercising is great for waking up the entire body and putting you in a new state of focus, and it can be used as an amazing tool against writer’s block. Working out is probably my favorite method to use to get my creative process back on track, because I find that it allows me to clear my mind of everything that I was thinking about entirely, essentially clearing out the block that was stopping my writing.

exercise.png

When I go back to work after working out, I feel refreshed, my stream of consciousness seems clearer and more seamless, and because exercising releases endorphins, I’m usually in a great mood going back into writing. And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or start running ten miles a day; for you, it could just mean a walk around the block, or maybe to a friend’s house to talk for a while to further yourself from what you were working on. As long as you get your blood flowing and get your body warmed up and stretched out, the results will be there.

So, there you have it! Try these out if you find yourself stuck writing any time soon, and don’t be afraid to try your own methods if you think of any. Once you find what works for you, you’ll be able to kick writer’s block to the curb without any trouble at all!

We also have a complete guide on flawless writing — purchase here and use code “FREESHIP” for free shipping on any order.