Paulette Stout ~
As creatives, our heads are awhirl with people, places, and universes of our own making. That’s on top of all the activities and commitments we organize in our day-to-day lives. While each writer is on her own author journey, we all share an insatiable desire to learn our craft and make our author careers as successful as possible. So, from craft to mindset to marketing, here’s a list of 10 tips to improve your writing life:
1. Write when you don’t want to.
To be a successful writer, you’ll have to get past those moments when you’d rather poke your eyes out with hot lances than sit and write. We’ve all been there. Instead of doom-scrolling on social media, open a new document and complain to your keyboard. Write how you don’t feel like writing. Complain to your characters that they’re falling short. Let your frustration and emotion flow. You’ll be surprised how quickly your stream of consciousness clears your mind and sparks creativity.
2. Don’t setting dump.
When your characters enter a room, there’s no need to inform the reader of every ceiling crack, shadow, floor crumb, and wingback chair. Instead, follow your character’s eyes as they absorb their surroundings. What do they see? What stands out to them? What will further your plot or give insight into your character’s psyche? Include those items. Lose the rest.
3. Be mindful of your intellectual property.
Whether pursuing a traditional publisher, a hybrid publisher, or publish indie, authors have more choices than ever to reach readers. If you traditionally publish in one country/language, you may want to retain the rights to self-publish elsewhere or pursue other formats in different regions. At contract time, read the fine print carefully, and don’t give away what is rightfully yours. Above all else, don’t sign away rights to “all formats now and yet to be created.” We don’t know what’s yet to come, and you’ll leave untapped royalties on the table with such broad and non-specific language.
4. Don’t fear the machines.
Technology is accelerating at an amazing pace, opening up new options for authors. AI narration can greatly bring down the costs of audio books. NFTs (Non-fungible Tokens) empower authors to create limited-edition digital exclusives, like first drafts and deleted scenes, interactive world maps, or audio interviews with characters. Think of how an exclusive NFT could make your super-fans go crazy. And beyond NFTs are all sorts of innovations to help make our writing lives easier and more productive. Not buying it? Too sci-fi for you? Think again. You’ve been using an early generation of AI for years: spelling and grammar check. Before long, new technologies will be equally ho-hum.
5. Be a tease on your opening pages.
It’s beyond tempting to drive the backstory dump truck to your opening page and unload on your readers. Afterall, how can they get up to speed when they don’t know that Aunt Martha was murdered in that exact room? That Jake and Betsy used to be married? That the orphan is a twin? But let’s face it, does the reader REALLY need to know Susan has green eyes and pouty lips on the first page? Or, could we find out in chapter two when her love interest sees her across the bar? If you reveal details slowly, they’ll be more meaningful because the readers will experience them for themselves—in the proper context.
6. Don’t avoid telling.
The “show, don’t tell” adage can be taken to extremes. Depending on your genre, this approach does you a disservice. Done well, telling can be a key element readers both need and enjoy. And that’s doubly true for literary fiction. Of course, you don’t want to abandon the immersive power of showing. Simply balance the approaches to best advance your art.
7. Cage the grammarian when writing dialogue.
We. Don’t. Speak. In. Full. Sentences. If your dialogue is stilted and robotic, chances are you’re deploying full sentences, perfect punctuation and need a private detective to find contractions. Sentence fragments are your friend when writing dialogue. Don’t be afraid to bust out of your grammar chains. And while you’re at it, remember humans interrupt a lot. Tap em-dashes and ellipses to keep conversation pacing fresh and natural.
8. Don’t forget to develop character voice.
Speaking of dialogue, pay as much attention to character voice as you do backstory and story arcs. It makes for richer, three-dimensional characters, and is super useful when trying to minimize dialogue tags. If one person speaks formally using million-dollar words and the other uses youthful slang, it’ll be pretty easy to tell who’s speaking. This is an extreme example, but shades of grey can be equally effective.
Remember to be consistent, unless a change of voice mid-book is part of your character’s arc.
9. Embrace marketing.
As an author, you’re running a business. It’s not dirty or wrong or “selling out to the man” to let readers know you have a product they may enjoy. Regardless of how you publish, much of the marketing falls to authors. The more you learn about the process, channels and skills needed to be a successful marketer, the better your book sales will be over the short and long term.
10. Don’t forget your cover is a label.
Like breakfast cereal, your cover is a label, not a synopsis. This is essential for you to internalize. The cover’s role is to arrest readers and evoke emotion. That emotion will get them to pause long enough to read your book description. That’s it. Good covers use visual cues, color, and typography to communicate genre and let readers know your book is just like that other book they just finished and loved. Be unique, yes. But do so while meeting genre expectations. You have a fraction of a second to stop the browse. Confuse readers, and they’ll simply scroll to the next book.
There you have it! Only you will know what’s right for you. Try these tips on, see which fit, and toss the rest. Or, put them aside. You never know what the future will hold.
— Paulette Stout
Paulette Stout is the fearless author of Love, Only Better, a contemporary romance and bedroom rallying cry for women everywhere. Born in Manhattan, Paulette is the gold-star wordsmith and owner of her content marketing agency, Media Goddess Inc., where she crafts content for her list of global clients. Prior to MGI, Paulette led content and design teams at several tech companies, and one educational publisher where her elimination of the Oxford comma caused a near riot. Paulette’s prior career as a media buyer/planner in New York earned her three industry awards, including a MediaWeek All-Star. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Cornell University and her MBA in Marketing from the Lubin School of Business, Pace University.
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