What’s In A Name?: Famous Authors Who Wrote/Write Under Pen Names

It’s safe to assume that we’re all familiar with the concept of the pen name. The pen name is a fake name – whether something that sounds like an actual name, or something that sounds more like a cool code name – used by authors to disguise the fact that they are who they are. Why authors would want to hide under a made-up persona is personal, of course. It may be that a person does not want other people to know that they’re writing genre fiction, and so would use a pen name when publishing their works. It may be that an author who usually publishes in one genre wants to write in a totally different genre, and so to avoid possible negative reactions, or just outright shock readers might experience, would write instead under another name. Reasons vary, and they can all be equally valid. They may eventually reveal who they really are, anyway, when they see that what they’re writing under a pen name is well-received and considerably successful.

Which authors, really, wrote under pen names? Let’s look at a few authors and their reasons why.

  • Famous horror writer Stephen King wrote several novels under the name Richard Bachman. It was his attempt to go around being restricted from writing more than one book a year, and also a test to see if he really was successful because he was talented, or if he just got lucky.
  • Another horror/speculative fiction writer, I Am Legend writer Richard Matheson, wanted to be known under the name “Logan Swanson” when I Am Legend was adapted into film in the early 1960s. It was done because he wasn’t happy with changes made on his screenplay. He did the trick again when his work on Twilight Zone and Combat! were edited to the point that he didn’t like them.
  • An example of an author wanting to write in a different genre this time. Famous mystery author Agatha Christie wanted to write romance stories, but understandably, her readers would have been shocked if she’d suddenly start writing them. So she chose to write under the name “Mary Westmacott,” and managed to write around six romance novels before being found out.
  • The Bronte Sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, all published their first works under pen names, taking on the male aliases Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The choice of male pseudonyms made sense as, Charlotte herself reasons, ‘we did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’
  • Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote under the name Paul French when he started writing a YA sci-fi book – that was also picked up for a TV show. He felt embarrassed about the YA sci-fi series he wrote, but eventually admitted to writing them.

So those are just some examples of authors who chose to write under pen names. And there are a lot of different reasons – from trying to avoid prejudice because they were women writers, to trying to avoid being associated to works that they’re not particularly attached to, to trying to find out if people really thought they were talented writers. What is important to point out is that each of the writers in the list – and the many others who are not in the list – wrote under pen names for reasons that may or may not be good, but reasons that meant a lot to them personally.

What do we pick up from this, though? Are we encouraging you to write under a pen name? Not necessarily. It’s fun to know which authors wrote under which names, and why, but taking on the decision of writing under a pen name yourself is an entirely different thing. There are many reasons why you should – and shouldn’t – but that will be a discussion for another day.

Other Interesting Links

Do you know other reasons why writers choose to write under pen names? Would you write under a pen name? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @creativwriters!

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Fear Factor: Understanding the Fear of Writing

We all know the feeling of fear. It can be spurred by so many things, whether abstract or concrete, whether facing us now or just being a thought in our minds. And different people, of course, are afraid of different things. There are so many kinds of horror that the different media today basically has everything for everyone who wants to feel fear – and excitement and adrenaline rush from watching horror movies. But of course, the fear we get from movies – whether they’re in-your-face gore-fests or the subtle and creepy kind – is different from the fear we get when we deal with things in real life. The real-life things we’re afraid of aren’t ghosts, or monsters, but smaller, more pressing concerns that we have to deal with every single day. A missed deadline. Quota we failed to meet. Running late for exams. They sound simpler, but you can’t just turn off the screen on them and forget about them.

Now, I said different people are afraid of different things, but I think it gets more weight in real life when I say that different people with different preoccupations are afraid of different things that may or may not happen. That sounds like a mouthful, right? In any case, by saying that, the point is this – that writers deal with the fear of things that possibly only they can feel. And writers may be in the unique position of being afraid of the precise same thing that they need to do. Writing.

The fear of writing may stem from many things. The likeliest reason may be writer’s block – one moment you’re writing something great and you’re feeling good about yourself, the next moment you have nothing and you start panicking and you’re not really sure if you should pick up the pen and write again. It’s a real fear that just about any writer has encountered. And that’s just the beginning. In her article The Four Fears That Stop You From Writing” for terribleminds, Andrea Phillips outlines the four fears that: fear of the lack of talent, fear about feedback, fear about publication, and fear about being judged. These are very real fears, and Phillips articulates them well. Take this one about the very basic fear of the lack of talent:

Writing is an uncomfortable act. You’re making yourself vulnerable — exposing the softest, squishiest bits of your psyche and putting them out there in public where people will know what is in your deepest heart of hearts, and just might stomp on it with extreme prejudice.

Your good ol’ reptile brain perceives this as a threat to your personal safety. No sense hating the reptilian bits of your brain, though. Its job is to minimize risk, and it does it to keep you as fat and happy as it can. So it comes up with tons of fantastic reasons for you to not actually take any risks at all.

Phillips nails it. Scared of being called talentless, scared of experiencing prejudice, you, the writer, just decide not to write at all. Which effectively stops everything else, from feedback to publication, in its tracks. It’s understandable, but also ultimately something that you have to overcome if you really want to write. As Phillips says at the end of her article:

…The absolute best work you have in you is always going to be the stuff that’s closest to your heart, the stuff that’s absolutely the hardest to let another human being read. It’s risky to show people those deep and true parts of yourself, but life is risk. Look that fear in the eye, spit it in the face, and then write more effing words.

Those are four basic, general fears, of course. But Dan Blank’s article for Writer Unboxed, Writers: What Are You Afraid Of?” looks at fears specifically pointed out by authors. It’s worth reading, but the part that really struck me was this:

Too often, I believe “new” writers assume that if they just get over some mythical hump in their writing career, that things become easier, at least on an emotional level. I haven’t found that to be the case when talking with writers. Everything is relative, and no “success” can stop us from being human beings who oftentimes run on survival instincts, and who have a difficult time processing a complex social world.

All this to say: I don’t think fear is a shameful thing that we must rid ourselves of. It is a natural part of taking the risks that writers do. And that the logical reaction to fear should indeed be bravery.

Here, Dan Blank is referring to being afraid of continuing to publish your work even after you’ve already published something and it’s gone on to be successful. Success is not a deterrent, and authors – whether or not they’ve already been published and have been successful – still need to deal with the fear of being criticized or being ignored when they’re next work is on the line. So fear isn’t just something that sits with writers who haven’t proven themselves yet. Fear assails everyone – whether you’re successful or not. Is that a comforting thought? It depends on you of course, but it may be a consolation if you think about how you and your favorite writer are possibly constantly in the same boat.

So what now? We acknowledge that we get scared of writing, of getting published, of getting feedback, of getting rejected. How do we overcome these? I’m sure we have a lot of personal strategies to overcome the fear of writing, and if they’ve been effective, then we should keep going with them until we feel at ease enough to start writing again. You can always look for suggestions, like The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Your Writing Fears,or you can always wing it and look for something else to do – walk around, listen to music, absolutely try to ignore the fear for a little while.

Fear of writing – and just about anything that’s closely associated with it – is normal, and there’s no shame at all in acknowledging that you’re afraid. What counts is understanding that fear, and taking steps in willingly overcoming them. There’s no end to it, of course. You’ll experience fear over and over again. But what’s important is that you always get the job done, even if “the job” is just writing a few paragraphs a day – just to beat that fear into shape.

Do you know other things that writers are afraid of? Do you have strategies when overcoming the fear of writing? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @creativwriters!


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Book Marketing Spotlight: BookFrenzy Studios

In our post “Watching and Waiting: Book Trailers and How They Help You,” we briefly talked about what book trailers are and whether or not they can help you sell your book. The general idea is that book trailers can help if they are well-made and effectively communicate what your book is about so that the viewers of your trailer (and potential readers) become excited over the book.

This time I’ve had the chance to interview Jerome McLainlead strategist of BookFrenzy Studiosthe company we featured in the article on book trailers. Jerome touches on topics from book marketing to what BookFrenzy Studios does for authors. If you’re looking for companies that could give you excellent service in this regard, BookFrenzy is definitely worth checking out. Why? Jerome McLain explains it himself, of course, in my brief – but informative – interview with him.

Let’s introduce the company first. BookFrenzy Studios is the first video and e-mail marketing agency specifically for authors, and are dedicated to helping authors themselves – both traditionally-published and self-published – work on marketing and technical matters for building author platforms. They also provide free and helpful tools and tips for authors on their website. Sound good? Alright, without further ado, here’s the interview with Mr. Jerome McLain.

CreativInfluence: What do you think is the best and the most difficult aspects are of book marketing in our modern times, when just about everyone is connected to the Internet and we have free access to a vast number of websites and resources?

Mr. Jerome McLain: Marketing your book in these modern times is much easier now than just 5 years ago. Not only can authors use traditional publishing distribution channels such as brick & mortar book stores, they also use the internet as a distribution channel through popular bookseller sites as well as their own websites. What makes book marketing difficult is you have to really understand your market (i.e readers that are purchasing in your genre) and you have to know how to connect with them and earn their trust. When you approach marketing your book from this perspective, its easier to identify what works and what doesn’t in your marketing efforts.

C: What is/are the book marketing service/s that your company offers to writers, and what led you into doing this kind of service?

J: At BookFrenzy Studios, we focus on creating cinematic book trailers that can be used to effectively promote a book and generate interest. What makes us different is that we are able to do this at great price points without sacrificing quality. We also help authors build their email lists, brand their social pages and create video promos for social media.

C:  How have your services helped authors before?

J: One of the most popular uses for our trailers is using them as pitch tools when reaching out to the media and booking appearances. I think every author gets asked what their book is about. Now its easier than ever to pull it up on their phone and show them!

C: What is the best book marketing advice that you can give to authors?

J: The best advice for book marketing I can give is to build your email list. This is the greatest asset that every author should be growing on an ongoing basis. If Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all went away tomorrow, so would your audience if you solely depended on those platforms for engagement. But if you have an email list, you own it and those relationships. An email list is an attentive audience where you can build relationships and ultimately trust. We all know when people trust you, they buy books.

That’s it! Thanks Mr. Jerome for the answers. If you guys want to check out what BookFrenzy Studios can do for you, or if you want to, just head on over to their website or send them a question

Do you guys know book marketing companies, or are you a book marketing agency and would want to reach out and communicate to our readers? Let us know in the comments, or message us on Twitter @creativwriters!

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Channeling Creative Forces: The Reasons Why We Should Make Art

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman, delivering a commencement speech to graduating university students, implored everyone to do one thing: make good art. Make good art regardless of the circumstances. Make good art in the face of adversity, or happiness, and all the emotions in between. It’s an inspiring statement that can fuel our drive to do something creative, regardless of what kind of art it is, whether written, visual, or aural.

Still, what we don’t really talk about is the vast number of reasons why we should make art – whether it’s good or bad (it really depends on who’s evaluating the piece of art, anyway). In this post, I’ll talk about a few things I saw on the Internet about making art – primarily through the visual and the written media – and why we should make art. And the reasons go beyond just wanting to pen a single story that encompasses a certain experience, or to make some thoughts known through verse.

One of the more immediate ways that art is made is through the written word. Writing is a highly accessible activity that doesn’t have to take up much of one’s time – unless one is inclined to, of course. It could be quick, like a line or two that you think is particularly brilliant that you want to write down just in case you might need it later. It might be a longer, more arduous process, such as the writing, trimming, and perfecting of a poem, or the writing of a novel. It is also pretty much everywhere, and not necessarily confined to creative or literary pursuits, although we are here to talk about art.

Another is, of course, the visual medium. And as far as hobbies can go, it may also be as inexpensive as writing. Just a pen, some paper, and imagination, and you’re good to go. Of course, visual art is such a broad term, and encompasses a lot of things from paintings to sketches to sculpture, maybe even advertisements and photographs.

We’re familiar with so many forms of art, but again, I’ll lead you back to the question of why we should make art in the first place. Artists in their respective fields have weighed in on the issue already, as the post “Why We Make Art” by Jeremy Adam Smith, published on the Greater Good Science Center website, proves. Smith asked some artists to answer the question why, and the responses are diverse. Gina Gibney, the artistic director for the Gina Gibney Dance Company, for instance, shares this:

I make art for a few reasons. In life, we experience so much fragmentation of thought and feeling. For me, creating art brings things back together.

Harrell Fletcher, who started the website Learning To Love You More with Miranda July, responded thus:

In my case, the projects that I do allow me to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet, travel to places I wouldn’t normally go to, learn about subjects that I didn’t know I would be interested in, and sometimes even help people out in small ways that make me feel good. I like to say that what I’m after is to have an interesting life, and doing the work that I do as an artist helps me achieve that.

For Fletcher, making art appears to open the world to him – a wonderful reason, certainly, to make art. Then there is James Sturm, who responds to the question thus:

Perhaps the only insight I’ve gained is the knowledge that I have no idea and, secondly, the reasons are unimportant.

The view that the reasons for making art are unimportant is interesting, certainly, and not the kind of perspective you’d come across everyday. Or at least, perhaps something that people won’t admit to. In a way, however, Sturm’s response can be related to the idea that art serves so many purposes and cannot be boxed into a single. Make art – the reasons, whether you have them or not, are not that important. What is important is that you make them. In any case, art can have various meanings, besides, to anyone who’s beholding it, or reading it, or listening to it.

“Why make art” is not a question that can only be answered by supplying personal reasons, however. In Sean Kane’s article for Tech Insider, 7 science-backed reasons you should make art, even if you’re bad at it,” tells readers exactly that: scientific reasons that answer the question of why you should make art. In the article, Kane says:

Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you’re bad at it.

The science-backed reasons may surprise you. Mindless sketching (under certain circumstances), for instance, actually helps you focus. Writing about your problems can help you cope with them. Making art can basically act as one huge stress reliever. And in this day and age, we need all the stress relief we can get. But the benefits of making art are there, and should be reason enough for you to make art, if in case you’re someone who has no gigantic literary or artistic ambition that you’re itching to fulfill.

I’m sure there are a million and one more reasons why we should make art, and I doubt I’ve been able to cover them all in one post. However, it’s safe to say that the general, big vision, the big picture, that we want to put into view is this: we should make art because making art heals, fulfills, and communicates. Making art allows us to talk about certain subjects and deal with certain things. It helps us to share or articulate our experiences and thoughts with others. It allows us to touch others’ lives. With these ideas in mind, we can safely say that whoever you are, you should make art. Even if it’s just one doodle, or one line, or one note at a time.

Interesting Links:

I’ve rounded up a few links related to the topic. Check them out!

Do you know any articles or reasons – personal, scientific, or otherwise – why we should make art? Do you have art to share? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!

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Rising From the Ashes: Accepting Rejection

Pretty much everyone knows that most people who have become successful originally started from the bottom then made their way up. It’s a fact of life – one should work hard to achieve their dreams. These dreams become the individual’s drive to do something, motivating and making them soldier on regardless of how many failures and rejections get in the way.

Soldiering on is, of course, easier said than done. Just as it’s a fact of life that we’ll get rejected a lot over the years, whether it’s for a job or for a manuscript that we’re trying to get published, it’s also a fact of life that it’s not easy to deal with. Far from it, really. Rejection the first or second or nth time may be enough to get you to think that maybe what you’re doing isn’t really for you, and there’s no point in going on and walking the same path. Of course, some may have an easier time accepting rejection more than others. Still, whoever you are, it helps to understand the possible reasons why your work is getting rejected – and then rising up from the ashes and moving on from there.

So let’s get started. Rejection needs no introduction – it simply means that your work is not deemed fit for publishing, for reasons that probably won’t be disclosed to you. It doesn’t mean that what you’ve written isn’t good. It just means, perhaps, that what you’ve written doesn’t fit the vision that the agents you’ve sent your work to are envisioning. It certainly helps to have that mindset. So first, you do have to try and understand what goes on in the selection process, and then understand why you get rejected – and really, it’s not personal. In the article “25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection,” author Chuck Wendig gives some twenty-five excellent things writers should be aware of when faced with rejection. It’s a list worth reading – especially if you need someone to help you shape up after the initial rejections you’ve received – but the last item is particularly valuable and worth taking into heart:

A writer without rejections under his belt is the same as a farmer with soft hands; you shake that dude’s hand and you know, he’s not a worker, not a fighter, and wouldn’t know the value of his efforts if they came up and stuck a Garden Weasel up his ass. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.

It’s great advice, something to keep in mind, and something that can help you get back up and start writing again. Or at least begin reading whatever you’ve sent, now with an objective eye and a heart open to the flaws that your work has. Rejections are, as Wendig says, a sign that you’re doing something – and the more you do something, the more you improve on it, right? In a way, yes – but also learn from the rejections and try to understand what you’ve done wrong.

With that said, what could be the actual reasons why agents reject author submissions, in the first place? Like I said earlier, it’s not really personal – and novelist and photjournalist Heather Hummel talks about this in her blog post for The Huffington Post, Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions.” Reasons can range from something simple as spelling and grammar (which should be reason enough for you to stop procrastinating and proofread your work!) to concerns like genre confusion and weak query letters. These more, say, technical concerns may easily be forgotten in the process of actually writing your work – and may be something  you fail to remember when you decide to get out and submit it to different publishers. Remember that there’s more to writing than actually writing your work – and that the more you familiarize yourself with important concerns as submission guidelines and query letters, the better your chances may be of getting accepted.

Now let’s recap what we’ve said so far. Rejection is not personal, and there are many reasons why you can get rejected. Now it’s easier for you to look back and see what you’ve done wrong, and start working again! But hold up – maybe there’s something else stopping you, and it’s probably that nagging sense of doubt that you won’t be able to get your work published, anyway. Well don’t worry – I’ve already said earlier that a lot of people who are successful had to work hard for it. You probably know it already but wouldn’t believe it still, but many big-name authors whose work have gone on to become classics or bestsellers have experienced rejection, the same way you’re experiencing it now.

Okay, so who are these authors, exactly? A quick Google search will lead you to a lot of lists detailing how authors got rejected by publishers. Alice Vincent’s article on The Telegraph, The rejection letters: how publishers snubbed 11 great authors,” is one such informative list. You’ll find that all manner of writers – from T.S. Eliot to J.K. Rowling – have been rejected, one way or another. Stephen King’s Carrie, for example, was rejected by a publisher, because they were not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Of course we all know by now how big Stephen King is, or how successful Carrie has become – even spawning movie adaptations. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was also rejected by Peter J. Bentley, who wrote: “While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

There are more lists on successful people getting rejected – whether they’re writers or not. 20 Brilliant Authors Whose Work Was Initially Rejected,” on Buzzfeed, and the article Best-Sellers Initially Rejected” on LitRejections, are two such pages showing you that, yes, people who are big now had to struggle with rejection before. Lists like these should help put things into perspective – if or when you get rejected, just remember that you’re part of a long line of authors who had been rejected initially, but had found their way up afterwards.

So there. Hopefully this pretty long article has helped you to ultimately understand, cope with, and move forward from rejection. Again, all this is much, much easier said than done. But just keep your eyes on the prize, and eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.

Did you like this article on rejection? Or maybe you know more articles about successful writers who got rejected? Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, share it with us in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters! 


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Watching and Waiting: Book Trailers and How They Help You

If you’ve been following book promotion and marketing trends on the Internet, then you know that one popular way that authors resort to is releasing book trailers. Book trailers are essentially what it says on the tin: short clips that capture the gist of a book, the visual version of the wordy blurb you’d see on the back of books. Or, yes, like trailers for movies.

Book trailers, as Marisol Dahl says in her article for The Write Life, may depict different things. You, as the author, might be talking about your book, for instance. Or a scene from a book is depicted visually – whether through animation, or a series of illustrations. What is important is that the book trailer accomplishes what it’s meant to accomplish: communicate what your book is about, and communicate it in such a way that your viewer would want to read it. It’s a good way to publicize your work, and if done well, could very well be one of the causes of your book getting spikes in sales.

Of course, making book trailers are attractive — but they’re also not quite easy. There are a lot of book trailers, especially given how social media and video streaming sites like YouTube are very accessible to the public. It can be difficult to get your trailer to stand out. So a professionally-designed, well-crafted book trailer would certainly gain the advantage – but it may also cost a significant amount of cash, depending on who you are and who you hire for your video.

So what am I really saying here? Should you or should you not have a book trailer produced? As with many other questions an up-and-coming author should be concerned with, the answer is not exactly black-and-white. Instead of asking that question, what we can ask is, “what exactly are the benefits of making book trailers?” Once we gather answers for that, then you can decide.

There are certainly a lot of benefits that can come from making book trailers. In this article for The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn asks Book Frenzy Studios’ Jerome McLain why video plays an important part in marketing your book. And the reasons that McLain gives are great ones: video is shareable and can be shared on different social media accounts; video is cost-effective, and; video’s popularity ensures that a lot of people will be able to see your book trailer, which may, in the process, garner you new fans. One excellent reason that McLain points out, however, is what the book trailer can do for the relationship between author and (potential) reader:

Video can foster deeper connections between authors and their readers by increasing the KLT (Know, Like, Trust) Factor which is critical to book sales.

Book trailers can give the readers an idea of who the author is, making the author not just someone who wrote the book, but someone with whom the readers can connect to. Needless to say, the article itself is worth reading in its entirety (it has data showing you how book trailers can boost sales), and highly informative.

The possible benefits of putting out book trailers has been outlined, and can be summed up with one idea: trailers lead to exposure, which leads to more readers.

Of course, the benefits are there. But actually making a good book trailer is another issue. One doesn’t even have to stray too far from common, everyday examples. Take movie trailers – they’re everywhere, aired on television, sitting down your social media newsfeed, popping up on the “Recommended” section of video streaming sites. People become the judge of whether a trailer is good or bad – and often this manifests itself in whether or not individuals actually go out and watch a movie because they thought the trailer was good. Whether or not the movie itself is actually good is something else. What matters is that the trailer essentially sold the movie.

It’s not so different, with book trailers. Good book trailers can convince readers to buy your book. But, as Marisol Dahl again points out, there are reasons why book trailers may not be the best option. Beyond potentially costing a lot in terms of how it is produced – especially if you want a good book trailer – there’s the risk of producing a not-so-good one. And, as Dahl says:

A poorly made book trailer sticks out. It can damage the image of both you and the book, and it can hurt sales.

Because they’re so memorable, book trailers that miss the mark can turn into painfully public marketing failures.

So the formula sounds simple enough: make a good book trailer and leave a positive, lasting impression on your readers. Make a not-so-good one, and risk hurting your book’s sales.

This is, after it all, much easier said than done. Marketing books can always present risks, and the book trailer is just another dimension. Done well and done right, it can help.

So, back to the first question: should you, or should you not, make a book trailer? As you can see, we still haven’t arrived at a definite answer — only you can arrive at that. It will be helpful to ask other authors who have already marketed their books with the use of book trailers, or ask those who specialize in book marketing for advice. You can also do some research as well – find book trailers that you think are good, and take down notes, see what you can glean from them, and have a set of pointers for when you believe you’re finally ready to get your trailer made.

So, with all that’s said and done — happy book trailer making!

A Few Relevant (and Possibly Helpful) Links:

  • The link’s already way up there, but just in case you missed it, you can check out BookFrenzy Studioswhich specializes in e-mail and video marketing for authors.
  • Arielle Ford’s article “Why Make A Book Trailer” on The Huffington Post offers tips and notes on what makes a good book trailer – definitely something worth checking out.
  • Finally, if you’re getting started on looking at examples of good book trailers, this article by Shirin Najafi for The Rumpus rounds up a couple of great book trailer examples. You might want to take notes.

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Practically Speaking: Practical Writing Advice from Writers, for Writers

We’ve talked – and written – about a lot of stuff related to writing, and some of them are quotes and writing advice from authors both big and not-so-big. And while a lot of pieces of advice, and a lot of quotes, are helpful and inspirational, sometimes those big pushes won’t always be enough. You’ve listened to stuff like “write what you love,” “write what you know,” and the not-always-reliable “show don’t tell.” You’ve seen people give you advice, and you’ve seen people tell you they can’t give you advice, because writing’s an individual experience and everyone else’s advice can only get you so far. You’ve tried to process material and learn from what others have done, and tried to do or to deviate from what’s been done before. And all of this is well and good when you tell yourself that you just need to get some more motivation – even just a tiny morsel of it – for writing.

But writers don’t need only advice to keep them motivated. Writing is, after all, more than just the act of writing. Throughout the writing process and beyond, there are practical tips that any writer can find useful – whoever you are, whatever genre you’re writing in, and regardless of what how motivated or un-motivated you are.

Here are some amazing and very much useful practical tips that you don’t always get when you ask people for writing advice!

“Read craft guides.” This one’s from author Marissa Meyer, who writes in her blog:

I have read dozens and dozens over the years, and I learn something new with every guide I read. Some are full of general advice, while others focus on one specific craft element like setting or characterization. There are also books on living a writer’s life while maintaining your sanity, or setting goals for yourself, or how to market your work once it’s published.

“Find three trusted readers, not just one.” A valuable tip from Brian A. Klems, published on Writer’s Digest. It’s a tip that makes a whole lot of sense, as – Klems notes – “reading is subjective,” and different readers will react differently to your draft. One may find strong points, for instance, in the parts which another reader thinks is weak. Three readers will provide three perspectives, and gives you the chance to decide which parts could and should be revised. Klems writes thus:

So when you’re ready, find three trusted readers who will review your draft at the same time. Don’t read their critiques until you have all three. That way, you won’t be crushed if one person doesn’t respond the way you’d hoped, and you’ll be able to pick and choose the suggestions that most resonate with you. It’s your novel, after all. Input is absolutely critical, but in the end, you have to sift through it and be faithful to your own voice.

The post “Practical Tips on Writing A Book from 23 Brilliant Authors.” We’re not gonna cut corners here. This entire post has a lot of great practical writing advice and should be read in its entirety. Here are some of my favorites.

Advice from Bill Wasik–

The first tip is that readers expect books to be exhaustive on their subjects. That doesn’t mean they want the books to be long — it means that they expect that you will cover all the basic ground that needs to be covered to understand the subject, even if they know some of it already.

This is a basic piece of advice, but it can’t be overstated when you’re trying to go from magazine-length to book-length writing: hone your outline and then cling to it as a lifeline. You can adjust it in mid-stream, but don’t try to just write your way into a better structure: think about the right structure and then write to it. Your outline will get you through those periods when you can’t possibly imagining ever finishing the damn thing — at those times, your outline will let you see it as a sequence of manageable 1,000 word sections.

From August Kleinzahler–

I find it helpful sometimes — and still to my surprise — trying to explain to someone what it is I’m trying to write about, usually someone bright but in a different intellectual zone, and not a writer. Or, likewise, in a letter or email to such a person.

And from Jonah Lehrer–

My one piece of advice is to insist that your editor be brutal — there should be red pen on every page. At least in my experience, the book only gets decent during this phase, as all the darlings and digressions get killed. It’s such an important process, and yet too many editors are too meek (or overworked) and too many writers resist their edits. A good editor is a great thing.

As you can see, these pieces of advice run the gamut from being useful during the writing and pre-writing process, and being useful after writing. And there’s certainly a whole lot more out there, and will often involve stuff when you get down to business: should I self-publish or shouldn’t I? Where do I take my work now? How should my work be marketed? You probably won’t rest easy until you actual get the finished work in your hands — and even then there will still be a lot of hoof-work to be done.

But always remember that there’s a place to start, and often it starts at the beginning of your writing process. Be rigorous in every aspect of your work, and eventually, you might be the one dishing out some great practical writing tips!

Do you know any other great, practical writing advice? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @creativwriters!

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Unreal Realities: Writers’ Tips on Writing Science Fiction

Science fiction is one of the biggest genres in literature, and with good reason. By nature, science fiction (alternatively SF or sci-fi), is concerned with speculation, exploring the “what-ifs” of our universe with regards to what is scientifically plausible in our current time. That means understanding, or at the very least acknowledging, what we currently know about science in general: the laws of physics, current trends in engineering, biotechnology, psychology, and all other branches of science both soft and hard. In the end, what counts is that SF accepts our currently reality, but at the same time makes it strange. Darko Suvin, an academic whose main interest is SF, said that SF as a genre is characterized by two devices, one of them being the novumThe novum essentially entails a “strange newness” – something familiar made new and unfamiliar, yet plausible. That is what SF strives for.

Understandably, SF, with its general preoccupation with fictional inventions that could exist, may be a daunting genre for those who want to write in it. It could especially be a concern for those who do not have an extensive background in the sciences. Even with SF clearly being fictional, the whole idea that SF stories are generally rooted in existing scientific principles entails an understanding and capability to write about technical material. One will notice that there are a lot of SF writers who do have scientific backgrounds. New Wave Science Fiction writer J.G. Ballard had a background in anatomy. The Three-Body Problem writer Cixin Liu worked as a computer engineer. There are doubtless many more SF writers who have an intimate understanding of whatever scientific material they are writing about, and a quick Google search would yield that.

But should the “science” part of science fiction deter all others from working on SF? Turns out, it probably shouldn’t. As Susan Stepney notes in the article “The real science of science fiction,” published on The Guardian, a lot of SF writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, and make up for a possible lack of formal technical training by doing research:

SF authors do their research. They tend to read widely, to generate ideas, and then think deeply, to focus in on the details. In the age of the author blog, readers can observe (some of) the authorial process. A lot of research can go into a book, much of it hidden, or even discarded. Inferior authors will info-dump every little last detail they’ve discovered; better authors weave their research seamlessly into the story, discarding what doesn’t fit.

Research is not the work of only one person, meanwhile. Writers are often told to “write what you know,” and in the event that you don’t know much about what you’re writing, you should try to “know what you write.” Stepney says that a lot of SF writers work with or consult actual scientists, which may generate some new and unique ideas:

Pair an SF author and a scientist, and see what results. One great example of this approach is the quartet of Science of Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen. In each book, Pratchett writes a short Discworld novel that exhibits some scientific properties of interest; in alternating chapters, Stewart and Cohen then explain the underlying science.

Stepney’s example suggests that science and the art of writing fiction have to work closely together in order to weave great SF story.

Writing SF may still seem daunting, certainly. I had the opportunity to contact SF author Teresa McLaughlin, who gave the following tips for writing SF:

  1. “I would advice sci-fi writers to think about what they want to piece of technology to do. It might seem like magic now, but eventually, the technology will be invented.”
  2. “Think of some conditions, elements, or technology that might aid in its invention, and talk about that. My experience tells me that the technology does not have to be described in detail, just mentioned matter-of-factly. They can even do some free research on Google, to find out whether someone is working on developing it. That way, they can find more details to bring into the story, if that works for them.”

Teresa’s advice echoes what Stepney has insinuated – that SF is fiction supplemented with research. However, as Teresa McLaughlin notes, technology or SF elements don’t have to be detailed. In other words, SF shouldn’t appear like a complicated scientific research paper. It could be backed by details and technicalities, but the “fictionality” of the scientific inventions and concepts in the story should still be there, and should allow the reader to have room to imagine for themselves how things work.

Given all this, it is, of course, important to know in the first place whether or not you do want to write SF. Dedication and the sheer desire to write SF might be enough to propel you to read about what you want to write about – whether it’s a general, sort of scattered research, or more in-depth – and everything else will hopefully fall into place.

Finally, a general piece of advice from Michael Moorcock:

Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.

Relevant Links:

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Happy Endings?: Quitting Writing

Behind every finished book, short story, poem, or play, is a timeline of seemingly endless revisions and edits, and countless nights of frustration trying to finish a draft. It’s no secret that writing is more taxing than it looks. It’s not just about writing, but articulating, and articulating effectively.  And there are a lot of times when you believe that what you’re writing is not good, and what you’ve articulated isn’t engaging. And these are the times when we think that it’s better to quit writing. Do something else, perhaps, and put writing aside.

The question is, though: should you really quit? There’s no single correct answer to that question, definitely. The first thing you might do is weigh the pros and the cons of quitting writing. But then you’ll also have to ask yourself what it means for you to quit. Do you quit trying to be a “serious” writing, writing to get published? Or do you quit writing as a hobby, and focus on other things instead? You may ask people for advice, but it’ll vary, of course. And it won’t be easy when you try to decide.

In his article “How De We Know When It’s Time to Quit Being A Writer?“, Chuck Sambuchino shares his own story. It’s worth reading, certainly. However, what stuck to me was his parting words. He places us in a position where we’re compelled to think about whether or not we should just quit writing. And then he says:

The answer, of course, is simple: Can you quit? Chances are, you probably cannot. So keep writing, Dear Writer – because that is what you are. Whether or not you have a novel in bookstores. Whether or not the whole world has read your writing. Whether or not anything of yours is ever published, as long as you live, you are still a writer. It is part of who you are. Keep writing. It is never time to quit.

It is definitely nice advice, and one that we’ll want to follow. You’ll probably not want to quit if you’ve always loved writing, anyway. But while you may soldier on, there are some who do not want to continue. Lisa Kerr shares her own experience in the article “Why Quitting Writing Was the Best Thing That Happened to Me:

Quitting gave me what I needed to feel healthy again; it gave me the distance from what (and who) was unhealthy for me. I needed to enjoy writing again without the self-imposed pressure to publish with a leading agent. I needed the freedom to drink a beer and sew some crooked triangles on a quilt. I needed to get dirty with watercolors in my studio—splashing paint around, digging in the colors with my fingers. I needed to stop being worried about the cutthroat people I’d worked under.

For Lisa Kerr, trying to force herself to write was already becoming unhealthy for her. It wasn’t a question of being passionate about writing. It was a question of whether or not writing was still something she enjoyed. And distancing herself from writing gave her the energy she needed to get back on track.

In the end, it is you who can decide whether or not you want to quit. You should weigh in pros and cons, and decide if you want to quit for good, just plain quit, or distance yourself from your writing for a while. In the end, choose what’s healthy for you, and things may fall into place.

To end this post, here’s a link to an article: An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage. May it give you help and hope.

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Write Fantastic: SFF Authors on Self-Publishing

The books everyone sees on display in bookstores’ shelves more or less went through a traditional publishing process. It was a product pitched to a publishing house, edited by a professional editor, publicized, marketed, perhaps promoted tirelessly, both online and off. But a lot of authors know that the traditional publishing process is a lot of work, too. And for some, the end product might not feel like it was worth all the effort. There is, however, a different avenue to get books published: the self-publishing route.

Self-publishing is exactly that: you publish your own work instead of getting them through so many different channels. Many authors saw it as a golden opportunity, especially as authors like Amanda Hocking became successful through self-publishing. There is, however, a problem with that kind of platform, as Ben Galley points out in his article on The Guardian, “Is the self-publishing stigma fading?“:

The brutal truth is that when you can publish anything, people will do exactly that. The market was flooded with indie literature and, sadly, a large percentage of it was substandard. Bad editing, awful covers, and mediocre content were rife. Advice was scarce, the methods many and varied.

And this is true. But, as Galley points out in the same article, there are a lot of independently-published works that are also good and worth readers’ time and money. Self-published authors themselves acknowledge that it’s not easy to get your work noticed in places like Amazon, where a lot of other works are being sold. Self-published works are being consumed, however, regardless of whatever genre they’re in. More works means more books for readers to discover. Thinking about the sheer number of books that one can come across on the Internet is daunting, certainly, so it’s definitely helpful to look at lists (like this one by author Michael J. Sullivan, about his favorite self-published fantasy works).

For authors, meanwhile, who do want to explore self-publishing, some successful self-published authors have already shared their tips over the internet.

Author Hugh Howey, who wrote the post-apocalyptic novel Wool, says that he originally tried to go through the traditional publishing route. In an interview originally appearing on Wired.com, he shares:

…I kind of got peer-pressured into going that route and ended up with a small press and everything went well, but I guess what I saw was, the way that they were publishing it, all these tools were available to me, so I thought, “I can do this.”

Ultimately, he decided to self-publish:

Self-publishing, for me, was a way of getting published and the other way took years of querying, trying to land an agent, trying to get a publishing contract, a year from the publishing contract to actual publication, so it was never about making money or trying to get into bookstores; for me, it was all about writing stories and trying to distribute them.

It was helpful to Howey, certainly, and the exposure his book got only encouraged him to write more.

Another fantasy author, David Dalglish, had believed that self-publishing wasn’t good. He writes, in his guest post for Fictorians:

In college I’d taken plenty of Creative Writing classes, and my favorite teacher had a single day each semester devoted to discussing the pure business of publishing. I still remember what she said: self-publishing meant the end of your career as a writer. You’d never be taken seriously again, because self-publishing was the route of the desperate, and those unwilling to put in the time and effort to get published traditionally.

It did work for David Dalglish, who was, originally excited just to have five people he didn’t know pay for the book he published. As for advice or tips on self-publishing?

The terrible truth is, I’m not sure what worthwhile advice I have to give. Why?

Because if I tried self-publishing from scratch right now, I’d fall flat on my face. That’s how much the self-publishing world has changed. Let me explain. Self-publishers are like locusts (I’m serious, hear me out). For every one person that is respectful, and putting time into their craft, and willing to abide by the rules, there are five who won’t, and will simply swarm in, regardless of the damage it might cause. So one of the earliest ways I got sales was by chatting with people on the Fantasy forums on Amazon. But once people realized that could earn sales, those forums were bombarded with spam, sock puppets, people recommending their own books regardless of the topic. Once upon a time, a reader could make a post saying “I just finished this book by David Authorguy, and it was great!” and you’d nab ten to fifteen sales just like that. The same went for the 99 cent price point. It was an easy way to get noticed, and undercut competition. But now? Pricing 99 cents does nothing, absolutely nothing, to make you stand out.

Dalglish’s guest post was written back in 2012, and the self-publishing may have changed since then. Regardless, it’s still not an easy task getting your work noticed through different channels – self-published or otherwise. But Dalglish’s words on the subject of publishing and writing are worth taking into heart:

Keep writing.

And I don’t mean crank out crap. Imagine that you have a fan base out there, one you’re steadily growing. Every book you write, make sure it’s something that audience will love and devour. With each new book, you’ll gather in the new, and satisfy the old.

I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll cut it off here. In short, if you want to self-publish, go in wide-eyed, your pride swallowed, and your ears open. Treat your readers, who are also your paying customers, with respect and courtesy. Don’t make excuses, but instead have the best editing you can have, the best cover, the best formatting, and the best presentation. Most of all, the best story.

What counts, in the end, is that authors work hard to write great books, and then work as hard to get them exposed to the public. It’s definitely not going to be simple or easy, and it might take a few tries to get things going, but there’s certainly reward to get from writing good works and publishing them through the right channels.

What else?

Here are other helpful links that you might want to check out:

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