Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 2

iStock © AlbanyPictures
Last month we talked about four things that your story needs to have to be an effective story or a story that "works." This month we're going to go further in story telling and talk about Main Characters that are not effective and how to make them work. But first...

Special Note:

Before we get to this month's topic, however, I want to tell you I've found a fantastic product for writers that has helped me so much it's incredible. I'll tell you more about it at the end of this post, or if you don't want to wait, visit the new page on this blog: click the tab above or click here: Amazing Product for Writers.

Now, let's talk about Main Characters that are not effective. (Tweet that!) Last month I mentioned "passive characters" -- characters that are victims. They have sad stories and a lot has happened to them, but they are not active in wanting something. Passive characters have no movement so they don't carry the story forward.

Another problem character is the main character who is too good. For example, what if your main character has already "arrived," meaning he or she seems to already "know it all."  (Tweet that!)

One example of a character who has already "arrived" is the character many Christian writers want to put in their stories. That is, the Christian character who is already "saved." This character wants to share what they have and show the rest of the world that they need to be saved too. This is a formula for a preachy, overbearing story. (Tweet that!)

What do you need to do with these problem character to save your story?

Back Up Your Main Character

For know-it-all characters who have already "arrived," and for passive characters, you need to back that character up to a place or point in time before s/he knew that information, before s/he learned it, before s/he "arrived." (Tweet that!)

Then, let your character coming to that knowledge be part of the story. (Tweet that!) Showing your character acquiring this knowledge also allows you to show that growth in the character. When your audience sees that character learn it, they will also learn it and you will achieve the "theme" or "message" of your story (see previous post) without coming off as preachy.

Including this part of your character's story will also help you flesh out the middle part or Act 2 of your story, which is often a problem area. Some call it a middle that "sags."

How to Back Your Main Character Up

Just how do you back a character up like this? How can you use this to help improve your story and your character? What do you do with them?

Here are four ideas. This is not necessarily a "pick one" list. It may be best to do all of these!

As an example, I'm using one of my recent stories. It's a story about forgiveness. My main character could not move forward and do what she needed to do until she forgave a certain person in her life. But how does she come to that knowledge?

First, I gave her some common (but wrong) ideas about forgiveness, including these thoughts:

  •  "That can never be forgiven." 
  • And "Somethings are unforgiveable."

Then, I used these four ways to help her discover more about forgiveness:

1.) The Character Has a Need for It or Needs to Know It

I gave my character something huge in her past that she needs to be forgiven for, although she doesn't know that is even possible.

2.)  Another Character Models It

Then, my main character witnesses another character in the story forgiving someone else (not the main character). In seeing this modeled, the main character becomes aware that some people are willing to forgive, even though a big part of her distrusts that it's for real.

3.) The Character Experiences It for Her/Himself

Then, my main character experiences being forgiven. She is forgiven by someone other than the character in #2 above.

Had she not seen that other character (in #2 above) forgive someone else, she would not have known or believed it were possible. But because she witnessed it, the closed door in her heart opened just a crack and so when she herself is forgiven, though it is "unbelievable" (according to her former self), she believes it (this is her new, changed self).

4.) S/He Wants To Do That Herself

Because she has experienced forgiveness for that huge secret in her past, she now not only believes forgiveness -- and forgiving -- is possible, but has also experienced the unbelievable feeling of freedom from that burden. This has opened in her a freedom to love and so much more. She now knows it as only someone with first-hand experience possibly can.

With this new-found knowledge and experience, she now knows what she must do -- and she is determined to do it.

In 3-Act structure, this point is the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3. This is the point where she moves forward to the climax of the story, where she puts everything on the line and everything is at stake. She will either gain everything or lose everything. But either way, she moves forward to the climax of the story and there's no looking back, no going back.

All of these different learning experiences become subplots utilizing your secondary characters to carry them out. This, then, fleshes out your story and gives strong support to the middle of your story.

If you're having trouble with your story, I suggest you take a look at your main character. Make sure that their learning and changing is ahead of them, not behind them. Back them up if you need to. Then use the four ideas above to find a way for them to learn what they need to know. You audience will learn with them. Then you can move ahead with your story!

An Amazing Product for Writers:

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  • It's a software that you can put your notes into and then move them around and add to them like index cards on a cork board. (Yes, a lot like Scrivener, but...)
  • It also has a series of questions that you can apply to your story that are amazing. This part, for me, has been pure gold. This is what has helped me develop my stories to a point where I can easily write them. I love this!

I've never gone out of my way to ask to be a sales affiliate of a product before, but I so love Plot Control that I actually did ask them if I could be an affiliate market for them. Disclosure: Please know that if you buy through my link I will receive a commission on your purchase.  But I believe in this product so much I really wanted to bring it to you.

I offer all my best advice on this blog for free. Any commissions I receive will help pay for my time I spend bringing helpful articles to you, so if you choose to purchase Plot Control or their other products I hope you will honor me with a click through my affiliate link.

To learn more you can click the tab at the top of this blog or click here: "Amazing Product for Writers"

To go straight to the product page to learn more about it, click here:


My Christmas book on sale this month:

I have a limited quantity of my popular Christmas book still available. This book makes a great Christmas study and a great gift. If you'd like one, please order through Amazon's "See All Buying Options" and choose "Connect Books":

Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus
Dianne E. Butts
Please order from Connect Books.

Also available, e-books for Writers:

Cutting the Passive Voice
How to Get Published
Book Signings

Related Article:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 1

iStock (c) Albany Pictures
Recently I participated in the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" contest as a Development Executive (DE). This is a volunteer position which is a sort of "mentor" for those participating in the contest. This is the third year I've mentored writers in this contest as a DE. Serving as a mentor has put me in an excellent position to see what stories need in order to "work." (Tweet that!)

The 168 Film Project is an organization that runs two contests: one for film producers, the other for writers. Both contests run one week (which is 168 hours, hence the name). Both contests require contestants to base their stories on an assigned Bible verse. Once the verse is assigned, that marks the beginning of the 168 hours of the contest. In the 168 Film Project contest, participants produce a short film (limit 10 minutes) in 168 hours. Teams write the script as well as accomplish all pre- and post- production. In the "Write of Passage" (WOP) contest, each writer (or team) writes a short film (limit 12 pages) in 168 hours.

In the WOP, a Development Executive is assigned to guide a group of six writers, who work individually, through the week. The DE reads and critiques their scripts multiple times throughout the week. It's a great learning experience for writers if you have any interest in screenwriting. It's also valuable for learning how to tell an effective story because story structure is crucial in a short story or short film.

I hope no one tuned out at the words "story structure." Even if you're a writer -- whether for print for for screen -- who, as they say, writes "by the seat of your pants" (meaning, no outline, no synopsis, you just follow the characters and see what they do), you still must have structure to your story for it to work. Okay, I can hear the arguments swarming, but I believe that wholeheartedly. No story structure = no effective, working story. You can argue among yourselves while I move on.

Being the mentoring guide, the Development Executive, for six writers in each of the past three years has taught me a lot about what a story needs in order to be effective, or to "work."

Now, one interesting thing is, these are things we all probably already know. We've heard them in writing classes and workshops. We've read them in books. But when you see it in practice, you learn it better. That's what has happened for me. I keep telling my writers whom I mentor through the contest that I learn at least as much from them as they do from me. It's true, whether they believe me or not.

Even so, let me share some of the things I have learned about what a story needs to have. Even if these sound familiar, I'm sure I'll say them in a different way and hopefully they will help you grow in your story telling, whether you're writing fiction for print, writing for the screen, or even writing nonfiction that uses story-telling techniques.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, or a complete formula, of what a story needs. These are just four items I've seen that a story need to have in order to "succeed."

1.) A Story Needs to Have Conflict

No conflict = no story. If there is no conflict, then it's just a list of facts:

"Johnny went to the story. Johnny saw Suzy. They went for coffee. They spent the day together..."

B o r i n g. This leaves the reader asking, "So what? Why am I reading this?" A story always has to answer the "so what?" question. Otherwise you're wasting the reader's time. (Tweet that!) The only way to have a "so what" in your story is to have conflict ... something that needs to be dealt with, a problem that needs to be overcome. That's conflict. The bigger the conflict, the better the story.

When you're designing your story (yes, seat-of-the-pants-writers, I mean you too), avoid "internal conflicts," especially when writing for the screen. Yes, there can be stories with internal conflicts but external conflicts -- meaning involving other people -- are easier to portray and to write. You can have internal dialog to convey internal conflict in a written story but, as you know, it's far better story-telling to "show rather than tell." For internal conflicts you must tell the reader what is happening by telling the character's internal thoughts. It's just better to show the story through action.

But if you are writing for the screen, you really need external conflict. Suppose I'm your producer and/or director. If all you have is internal conflict going on, how am I supposed to put that on the screen?

If you've studied story structure, you may have heard these terms:

  • Ordinary World
  • Inciting Incident

A story starts by showing the main character's ordinary world -- things as they are before any conflict happens.

Then something happens that changes the ordinary world and sets the story in motion. That incident incites the story.

That's conflict. Don't leave this out of your story or else you don't have a story.

2.) A Story Needs a Theme or Message

I know what you're thinking. You've always heard or been taught, "Don't start with the message." You've heard when we start with the message, the story comes off "preachy" or at least cheesy.

You know me. I tend to go rogue. So I disagree with this. If I don't have a message or a theme, what's the point of writing the story? (Tweet that!)

I'm not completely sure about this, but I think perhaps if you're writing ONLY for entertainment, then it's okay to not have a theme or a message. And it is okay to write solely for entertainment if that's what you want to do. But still, the really good stories, the ones that we love and that stick with us and that we want to see over and over, have a theme or a message.

And if you are like me, a Christian who writes to make Christ known, then why write something "only" for entertainment? It's a waste of my time here on earth. (Tweet that!)

Your theme or message answers the questions: What are you really trying to say through your story? What important points are you communicating? What is the message of your story?

You may not start with the message. Your theme/message may come out and become clear to you as you develop your story.

If you start with a message and develop a story around it, you may have to work double-hard to develop and authentic story so it's not simply preaching a sermon. But that's okay. You can do it.

I'm just saying, in my opinion, it's best to have a message. Tell it well. Through story.

And here's a hint: When you've nailed down your theme/message, have a secondary character state it early on in your screenplay. I think that might work well for novels, short stories, and novellas, too. (Watch for that in your favorite movies and see if you don't discover it.)

3.) A Story Needs a Main Character Who WANTS Something

Here's one I struggle with every time I design a story. This is something I've been learning and when I realize this is what I'm missing in my story, it helps me tremendously.

The main character in the story needs to want something. This want gives forward motion to the story. There also needs to be something that prevents your main character from getting what they want. This creates conflict. (You remember #1, right?)
Thanks Morguefile.com 

If your character does not want something, you may have a character that is too passive. A passive character is one who is not doing anything but has everything done to them. For example, the abused character, the crime victim, or the widowed character. A passive character is a problem because there is no forward motion to carry the story forward. (Tweet that!) Give your character a "want," then let them go after it.

A character's "want" could be revenge, justice, or new love. Or his or her want could be wanting to move up in his company or own her own business.

Now, this "want" is different from what they are going to actually get through the story. But what they get in the story is infinitely better for them, they just don't know it at the outset of the story.

When, through your story, the character gets this better thing instead of what they originally wanted, they are a changed character. They have changed. Which leads to #4...

4.) A Story Needs a Character to CHANGE

If you do not have a change in a character, then you do not have a story. (Tweet that!)

Most often the changed character is the main character, however in some stories the main character does not change but instead changes others around them. As I was trying to think of an example of that, I thought of the story of Jesus.

When Jesus came to earth, He wanted people to know the one true God (which He was -- God come in the flesh) and He wanted to bring salvation to the world through His sacrificial death for sin on the cross. Jesus had a lot of opposition -- both from enemies and even from His friends and family. These things could have changed Him, but they did not. Instead, Him coming in flesh changed all the people around Him -- some for good as they followed Him, others for bad as their evil hearts were revealed. In the end, And the world has been changed ever since.

This change is your story or character arc. This arc makes the story. It means it is all going somewhere. This somewhere the story is taking us gives the story meaning and purpose and answers the question, "So what?"

Next month we'll talk more about what stories need to be successful. Specifically, we'll talk about what to do when your main character is already too good or has already "arrived." What do you need to do with that character to save your story? I have some ideas and I'll share them in my next post.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Which Rights are Right to Buy for Your Compilation? - How to Write a Compilation - Part 4

These are some of the compilation
books Dianne has contributed to.
I received a follow up question from Pierre (who started this whole series with his question on how to write a compilation). He asked me about the "rights" to the stories that we, the one who is putting together the compilation, purchase from the writers who contribute. (Tweet that!) So this month let's talk about "rights" to your written work.

This will apply not only to authors heading up a compilation project but also to  writers who write for magazines, compilations, or other short works. (Tweet that!)

First we will talk about each type of rights. Then I will talk about how this right might apply to you in the context of gaining permission to use other authors' written stories in your compilation books. (Tweet that!)


I'm not an attorney. What follows are my own understandings and unofficial definitions of the rights to our written pieces as we sell them to publishers (or purchase / obtain them as a publisher) based on my own research and work experience. You may want to consult an attorney. Other people may have different opinions. If you're writing a compilation, make sure you clearly communicate what you intend to purchase or obtain in your contract with writers.

For rights to your entire book manuscript when you are ready to sell it to a publisher, it would be best to ask someone with more experience in that area.

First Rights:  

The right to publish a piece first. Offered to one publication exclusively because only one place can publish it first. You can only sell First Rights once. Often publishers pay more for first rights. Sometimes seen as: FNASR which stands for "First North American Serial Rights." This includes the United States and Canada. If you sell FNASR it's possible to sell first rights again to a publisher outside of North America (Europe, South America, Australia, etc.).

If you are obtaining stories for a compilation book, you need to decide if you want only material that has never before been published. Is it necessary that you be the first one to publish this piece? Or are you willing take already-published material? Make a decision and go with it.

Consideration the overlap of your audience with the audience of wherever they piece has been published before. What are the odds someone has already read this? If that chance is small, why not take previously published material? You'll have more writers able to send you material if you will accept "Second" or "Reprint" rights.

Second Rights: 

The same as Reprint Rights. The right to publish a manuscript that has already been published, after it has appeared in another publication. Usually understood to be a simultaneous submission, although some markets accept reprints but not simultaneously. Savvy writers should specify on their manuscripts if they are submitting simultaneously.

If you are obtaining stories for a compilation book and are willing to take previously-published material, state in your guidelines that you will accept "Second" or "Reprint" rights.

Note: Even if a written piece has sold two, three, four times or more, these are still called "Second Rights."

Reprint Rights: 

The same as Second Rights. See above.

One Time Rights:  

The right to publish the work one time. This may (or may not) also be the first the time the piece has been published, so if it has not been published before the first rights will also be gone.

If you are obtaining stories for a compilation book, think about if you will want to use the same material in another project? If you might, you don't want to obtain One Time Rights. If you do think this is the only time you'll publish the material, this might be the way to go.

You don't need to pay more if it is the first time it is published. You're buying or obtaining the right to use the material once, in your compilation book. It doesn't matter to you if it's the first time the piece has been published or not. If you want to use the material again somewhere down the road, you'll have to go back to the author and ask them for more rights.

Simultaneous Rights: 

This means the writer is offering the same piece to more than one publisher at the same time. It is not exclusive rights to anyone. Usually these are reprinted materials.

Savvy writers should inform all parties involved that the piece is being offered elsewhere at the same time, however they are not required to give you a list of the other publications.

If you are obtaining stories for a compilation book and you feel you need that information to know if your audience might overlap with another publication's audience that might publish it at the same time, ask the writer where else it has been submitted. Writers should not refuse to give that information if asked.

Writers often offer simultaneous rights for timely manuscripts that will be out of date soon, such as breaking news stories. However at times it is simply a way of speeding up the submission process to offer the piece to more publishers and get more pay checks, which is certainly understandable from the writer's perspective.

All Rights:  

Just what it says: you would be purchasing or obtaining all rights to the piece.

This means you will basically own it as if you had written it. The writer will no longer have any right to it at all.

You would be able to reprint it as often as you like, use it in other books, and do pretty much anything you want to with it, all without paying the writer anything more and never getting any more rights.

Sound good? Think again. I advise writers to NEVER sell All Rights.

Most writers make precious little from their written pieces they sell. So writers need to sell their work again and again. This means that if you are going to insist on obtaining All Rights to any written piece, savvy writers are going to be reluctant to work with you. You're going to have a hard time filling your compilation. And you're not going to have happy writers.

Think it through. Do you really need all the rights? Why? It may be good for your book and your sales if your authors do sell their stories elsewhere. You can ask them, as a courtesy if they sell their piece elsewhere please tag it with the words, "This story first appeared in [Name of Your Compilation]." Voila. You just increased your exposure of your book exponentially. See what a smart compilation author you are?

Work for Hire: 

This is when you, as the publisher, come up with an idea and hire a writer to write it. It's your idea – and you own it. The writer is usually paid a flat fee, not royalties. All Rights then belong to the publisher (you).

If you have stories you need written for your compilation, you can hire a writer to write it for you. Make sure they understand you will own all the rights to it when they are finished. Put that in writing and get their signature. A lot of writers make their living doing work like this, so it's a win / win for you and them.

Electronic Rights: 

If you plan to make your compilation book an electronic book (e-book), make sure you put that in your contract.

The important thing is know what rights you are buying or obtaining and that you make sure you clearly communicate that to the writers, put it in writing, and get their signature on it. (Tweet that!) It may be very wise to consult an attorney. Then you can move ahead with your compilation book with confidence.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Write a Compilation - Part 3

Dianne has contributed to all
these compilations
(and more).
In this part 3 of my "How to Write a Compilation" we'll talk about the legal issues including the contract you'll need to create for your contributors to sign, then a little about publishing your compilation book, marketing your book, and keeping the whole project organized.

I've also received a follow up question from Pierre (who started this whole series with his question on how to write a compilation). He asked me about the "rights" to the stories that we, the one who is putting together the compilation, purchase from the writers who contribute. I know I said last month this would be the third and final post on how to write a compilation, but now I'm thinking next month we should talk about "rights." This is apply not only to authors heading up a compilation project, but also to  writers who write for magazines, compilations, or other short works,

At the very end of this post you'll find descriptions of what's in Part 1 and Part 2 of "How to Write a Compilation" plus links to those blog posts.


You are going to need some kind of written agreement between you and your contributors to your compilation book. You need to have this agreement in writing. You're going to have to create your own agreement because nobody else is going to do it.

When I did my compilation, Deliver Me, these stories were very personal and private. I had to make sure nobody was sharing someone else's story who would sue me! Hiring a lawyer was not the answer in the beginning because a lawyer doesn't know what I needed for a publishing contract. 

Luckily for me I had contributed to many compilations and had signed a contract for nearly every one of them and so I had those samples to work from. I "copied" the parts out of several and tweaked them for my needs. Once I had my agreement the best I knew how to make it, THEN I hired a lawyer to go over it for me. I explained to her what I was doing, explained the added privacy issues involved, and asked her to make sure my contract covered me well so I wouldn't get sued. It cost me a little (a couple hundred $ if I recall accurately), but I felt it was well worth it for that project. And I have not had any problems. Of course before the contract I communicated clearly with every author individually making sure they understood this was going to be published so anyone could read it. Did they have permission to share the store from anybody referenced in their story? Are they sure it was going to be okay? They were all eager and adamant about wanting to share their stories. So when the contract came there were no surprises.

These are Dianne's six books.
The one on the top (Deliver Me) and the one on the
bottom (Grandparenting Through Obstacles)
are compilations.
By the way, for those who wrote "as told to" stories for other people, I not only had the writer sign the contract, I also required that they, the writer, get their interview subject to sign it as well. In some instances I needed several signed agreements for one story. Don't be shy about doing this. I had to make sure I had permission to use the story and I had to have that permission in writing. A "verbal" agreement just won't do for something so vitally important. Taking such care has served me well and you should take such care with your compilation.

     About privacy: 

Every time I write about private issues, and every time I work with someone else who is writing about deeply personal stories or issues, the question comes up, "Should I share that part or not?" 

Here's my personal rule: Ask yourself (or the writer or person): "Do I/you feel ANY hesitation or reservation at all about sharing this? For any reason? "

If the answer is yes, DON'T SHARE IT. The reason for this is because once it is published, you can't get it back. It's out there. Even more so in our age of the internet. So if you have ANY thought that maybe you shouldn't say that, don't. 
If later you change your mind and become certain you want to share this story (or this part of a story), there will be future opportunities to share it. 
However if you, or they, share it and then change your/their mind and wish you hadn't, it's too late. You can't undo that any more than you can un-ring a bell.

Always remember PEOPLE are more important than the PROJECT. Remember people are your priority, not the project, and you'll do fine. (Tweet that!) I would rather give up the whole project than irreparably hurt one person. Honor the people involved and most often they will honor you. (Tweet that!)

     Get Permission in Writing

Some of my original stories I had for Deliver Me were amazing. However it took so many years to see the book to completion that I lost contact with the persons involved with those first stories. The phone numbers and email addresses they'd given me were no longer good. I could not get the signed permissions I needed, so I had to scrap the stories. This made me very sad, but I simply could not use the stories without permission, and without that permission in writing. Don't fudge on this. You'll be in trouble if you do.

The rule here is: 

No signed agreement? No published story in the book! (Tweet that!)

     What to Include in Your Written Agreement

Please understand I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I'm only offering a little help from my own experiences. You need to seek out whatever professional you need to help you with your project. 

In general, here are some of the topics to address in your written agreement with your writers:

  1. Rights. Which rights are you buying and which rights is the writer selling? Do you want to use the story exclusively? Or is it okay with you if the writer sells it elsewhere also? Do you want to use the story FIRST? What if the writer sells it elsewhere and it is published there before your book comes out? 
  2. Payment.
  3. That their story is not infringing on anyone else's rights, etc.

Just a note: On the cover of my Deliver Me book it says "edited by" and then my name. My cover designer did that and I didn't object. You can call yourself the "author" if you want, even if you didn't write everything in the book. Technically, that's what you are, I believe. (Others may have another opinion possibly.) You can call yourself the editor as I did, because you're surely going to go over every story and edit it for your own tone and theme and corrections. (Minor edits like this are okay, but you should never change the meaning of what the writer wrote without them knowing an approving the changes. Don't "enhance" the story, etc.) Or you can call yourself the compiler: "Compiled by...".

Staying Organized

By now you have your writer's guidelines going out and hopefully submissions coming in. You're picking the stories you want to use and you need to make sure you communicate with each writer about all the contract details. You have to answer different questions from each one. You may have asked for edits or changes to make some stories better. And you won't want to miss getting a signed agreement. In other words, you have a lot going on and you need a way to keep track of everything.

I made a checklist for everything I needed per story: 
  • contract/permissions, 
  • bio for the back of the book, 
  • name that goes on the byline, 
  • mailing address where I was to send the contributor's copy and check, etc. 
Then I made a notebook with a divider for every story. I put a checklist behind every divider. Then I checked things off as they were done. When the signed contract came back I 3-hole punched it and put it in the notebook. (Tweet that!I have those notebooks to this day in case there is ever a question about permissions or contracts or anything else. 

As a sample I'm sharing sharing my actual Contributor Checklist that I used for Deliver Me here as a sample:


You may want to publish your compilation book independently or you may want to try to interest a traditional publisher in it. That's a whole discussion in itself which I talked about in my January 1, 2014, post here:


As with any book don't forget to plan how you're going to market your book.

Try to get your contributors to help you market the book, but don't expect a lot. (Tweet that!) It's your baby, not theirs, so you're the one that will best champion your baby to the world. But here are some ideas:

  • Brainstorm ways Contributors can market the book. Make a list and provide it to them. Be careful not to be overwhelming. It might be better to give a short list regularly than a long list all at once.
  • Maybe start with small circles and work outward, meaning start with the contributors' families, then their towns, then their circles of influence (organizations, ministries), then nearby cities, then their states, etc.
  • Maybe create opportunities that they can jump on board with as their schedules allow, such as a Facebook Event or a Goodreads Event
  • If your contributors are in your area, or are where you'll be on vacation, maybe you can organize a get-together or an in-store author event book signing. (For help with your in-store author book signing event, see my newest e-book for writers called Book Signings).

Final Thoughts:

Look at other compilations for examples of all these various items discussed here, including Writers Guidelines, how the book is organized, etc. One very successful series of compilation books is, of course, the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Learn more about them at www.ChickenSoup.com.

That's all I can think of about writing and organizing compilation books. If you have a question that I didn't address, leave it as a comment below and maybe together we can discuss an answer for you. 

Have you put a compilation together? Or have you contributed to one? Tell us about it in a comment. I hope this has inspired you to create your own compilation. 

Good luck and let us know how it goes! 

Related Articles:

  • How to Write a Compilation - Part 1: Includes what a compilation book is, how to write a compilation and options for who writes the stories, asking writers to contribute, and creating writer's guidelines for your compilation and getting them out there where other writers will find them.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

How to Write a Compilation - Part 2

Dianne's books on the right,
and a stack of most the compilation
books she's contributed to.
Last month we talked about what a compilation book is, how to write a compilation and options for who writes the stories, asking writers to contribute, and creating writer's guidelines for your compilation and getting them out there where other writers will find them.

This month we'll talk about how to organize your compilation and paying your writers. (Tweet that!)

How to Organize Your Compilation

If you don't already have an idea of how you're compilation is going to be organized, I'm thinking it will tell you as it develops. For both my Deliver Me book and Grandparenting Through Obstacles, which I did with my co-author, the stories kind of grouped themselves around common themes which became chapters. In our grandparenting book, we also had "Parts" in our book instead of chapters. We had 20 stories in 4 Parts on a theme with five stories in each Part. 

For my Deliver Me book, I knew I wanted stories about women choosing to keep her child, give for adoption, those who opted for abortion, and stories from men, so I knew I would have chapters for each of those topics and I went looking for stories to fill them. Other chapters emerged as stories came in that surprised and intrigued me.

I'm not sure about this, but I think creative projects have a character of their own and so they will tell you how they need to be organized. That might mean you look at what stories you have and see a common thread and so you group those into chapters. 

Paying your Writers

Some compilations "pay" the writers by offering a free copy of the book. I believe writers ought to be paid for their work. (Tweet that!) We seem to be about the only profession where we are expected to work for free, which I think is wrong. Workers deserve their wages. 

For Scripture says, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." 1 Timothy 5:18

But at the same time I'm suggesting that you should pay your writers, you also need to know that anything you do pay them is going to come out of your pocket. (Tweet that!) This means even if you find a traditional, advance and royalty-paying company to publish your book, they are not going to also pay your writers. You will. Or you can use your advance to pay them, but it's still coming out of your advance. So you need to count the cost carefully as you make decisions about whether or not to pay your writers, how much, and in what way.

Most of the compilations I've written for pay a one-time fee. I've been paid anywhere from $20 to $200 for one of my stories. (Tweet that!) 

A Ruby Christmas
(Since this blog post appeared, the
publisher has removed this e-book
from Amazon.com.)
A fiction compilation -- each chapter
written by a different author
Another way to pay your writers is to share royalties. I'm involved with one project like this. This particular book is not pictured in my stack of books because it's in ebook form only so I couldn't put it on my stack of printed books. 

The publisher gathered a group of known writers/friends. We each wrote a chapter and each receive a percentage of the royalties. This is a fiction project. Again, count the cost of the paperwork needed to track and share royalties so you don't create a bookkeeping nightmare for yourself.

How much should you pay? Just to give you an idea, I paid $20 per story for one book and $25 per story for the other. But even a token amount, like $5, is better than nothing. 

I paid on publication (meaning no money went out until the book actually existed). Then I mailed their check in the same package as their contributor's copy of the book. 

A few of my authors wanted to "donate" their story and never cashed the check. That was generous of them and it helped me out with the expense of my book, but I still honored my writers by offering them their pay.

     Author Discounts

I also offered my authors discounts when they purchased copies of the book. (Tweet that!) With the book another publisher published, I negotiated so that contributing authors were able to buy copies at a discount. Our contract with the publisher was a percentage share of the profits, so we were to get a share of the difference between the cost plus publisher's percentage and what the contributors paid, which was less than when a buyer bought a book at full price but still a little for me and my coauthor. 

Is this fair to the contributors to have to buy at more than cost? Yes, of course. You're the one who did all the work of putting it together, took all the risks, put in all the time, found the publisher (or published it yourself), etc. That deserves being paid a small portion per book purchased by the contributors. If your contributors can purchase at 50% off the cover price, they make their money when they sell copies, and that's standard. Almost all the compilations I've written for sell to contributors for 50% off the cover price. 

One book I was in didn't give the authors a 50% discount but only one dollar off the cover price. Why should I buy a quantity and pay shipping for $1.00 per book?! It wasn't worth it.

     Contributors Copies

Give all contributors one free copy of the published book as a "contributor's copy." They deserve to get one. 

I contributed to one compilation that did not do this. To this day I have not seen this book with my own work in it. I would have had to purchase my own copy. This is a bad way to treat your contributors. How can I champion your book when I haven't seen it, can't hold it in my hands, look at it, read the rest of it?  How can I help you market it when I can't take a photo of me with it for Facebook and Instagram, or put it in my stack to photograph for my blog? 

For goodness sakes, plan to give every contributor at least one copy. Be generous. (Tweet that!) This will cost you: both in purchasing the printed copies as well as in mailing/shipping them to your contributing authors. Count the cost of that as well. (Of course we all think we'll sell enough books to cover all our costs and make a profit. Authors typically over estimate how many books we will sell.)

Next month in the third and final part we'll talk about the legal issues including the contract you'll need to create for your contributors to sign, then a little about publishing, marketing, and keeping the whole project organized.

Related Articles:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to Write a Compilation - Part 1

Dianne E. Butts
has contributed to all these
compilation books.
(and more!).
Please excuse me for being a little late posting this month. I was enjoying a fun and wonderful family vacation and just couldn't get it done earlier!

Last month I received a message from a reader, Pierre, asking, "Do you have any articles on how to write or organize a compilation?" (Tweet that!) That's a topic I haven't approached here on the blog so thanks, Pierre, for the topic suggestion. 

I've contributed to twenty compilations, all of those in the photo and a few more not pictured. I've also put together a compilation myself and another one with a co-author. (See photo below.) So I’m sharing what I've learned from those experiences.

When I brainstormed the answer to Pierre’s question and what I’ve learned about writing compilations and/or writing for them, I was surprised by how much information I came up with. So much, in fact, that I’m going to divide it into more than one post here (or else this post would be dreadfully long!).

Here’s how my plan is currently shaping up:

In this first post, Part 1, I’ll answer the first part of Pierre’s question of how to write a compilation which will include creating writer’s guidelines and getting them out where other writers might see them.

In Part 2 I’ll answer Pierre’s question of how to organize your compilation plus we’ll talk about paying your writers, a topic that is of great importance to me.

In Part 3 we’ll look at legal considerations, keeping the whole project organized, and marketing the finished product.

So let’s get started with:

A Ruby Christmas
a fictional story compilation.

What is a Compilation?

A compilation is a collection of stories--whether true or fiction--or essays or poems or other written material all bound together in one book.

Most of the compilations I've seen are nonfiction. They are often centered around a particular topic.

But a compilation can also be fiction, whether it's a collection of individual complete stories or perhaps different writers contribute a chapter to the same story, such as the one I contributed to titled A Ruby Christmas

How to Write a Compilation

You can do some of the writing yourself. You can ask other writers to contribute to your compilation. Or more likely you'll end up doing a combination of both. That's what I did.

          Write Part or All of the Compilation Yourself.

If your compilation is all about a collection of material from established writers, then they obviously will want to write their own material. But when I did my compilation, I wanted stories about unplanned pregnancies and all the different decisions people make and how that played out in their lives. For the compilation I did with a co-author, we wanted stories of grandparents finding ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their grandkids. With a compilation topic like this, not everyone you're working with is going to be a writer. Some have no desire, skill, or time to write their stories down on paper. But they have great stories! So the solution is to do the writing for them. You interview them and collect their story details, and then write it as an "as told to." You'll see several of these in my Deliver Me book.
These are Dianne's six books.
The one on the top (Deliver Me) and the one on the 
bottom (Grandparenting Through Obstacles)
are compilations.

Doing this will assure you of many great stories. It will also assure the quality of writing you want for your book. If you can't do the interview and writing, you can find (or hire) a willing writer and assign them that story.

I consider writing others' stories one of the great privileges of being a writer. (Tweet that!) So many people have amazing stories that would help and inspire others but they do not have the skills to write them or the platform to share them if they did. (Tweet that!) So helping them share their stories is an incredible honor and blessing to me, not to mention my readers. (Tweet that!)

When you write an "as told to" story for your compilation, simply treat the person with the story as any other author: get the same permission to use the story, have them sign the same agreements. Put their name on the byline followed by "as told to" and then your name. Consider them a contributing author because they are the"author" of their story even though they didn't do the work of actually putting it on paper (or in the computer).

          Ask Writers to Contribute

If you plan to ask other writers to contribute to your book, first you need to be able to articulate very clearly the idea of your compilation and what you are looking for in submissions. I always found this interesting because I thought I was being clear but writers would have completely different ideas of what I meant. So I would have to continually clarify. The problem is they are not in your head, so all they know about what you're thinking of for your compilation is what you tell them. Therefore:

  • Be as clear as you can be. 
  • Be willing to clarify your vision when needed. 
  • And be patient when working with other writers.
You may have to answer the same question(s) over and over. Count this as a great learning experience because you'll get a clearer picture of how you're coming across as a writer and how your reader understands you. (Tweet that!)

Create Writer's Guidelines

You'll need to create some writer's guidelines, just like the professionals do. Because you are a professional.

As an example which may be helpful to you I’ll share the writer’s guidelines I created years ago for my book Deliver Me, but please know this opportunity is now closed and this is intended only as  an example or a starting place for you.

Better yet, gather some writers guidelines off the internet from magazines or other compilations and use them as a starting point. 

Besides sharing your vision you'll want to give:

  • An idea of what you’re looking for in stories you’ll accept. 
  • Tone. 
  • How long you want each story (in word count).
  • Which rights you want to purchase.
  • Compensation (what you'll pay in $ and/or contributor's copies).
  • If you want a bio for the back of the book (a great perk for writers) and the word limit on that.
  • How and where to submit.
  • Your deadline.

Get the Word Out

Once you have the writer’s guidelines for your  project written, edited, and polished, make them a printable PDF document.

Then post your guidelines on your web site, blog, and/or Facebook page.

Once you have your writer’s guidelines available somewhere online, you can link to them in Twitter messages, on Facebook, at LinkedIn, in your emails, in your newsletters, etc.

Ask your friends and writing acquaintances to share them with their circles of writer friends.

You can also seek out web sites that writers frequent that want to post opportunities for writers and politely ask them to post or link to your project’s information and your guidelines.

So this month why don’t you consider gathering some of your writer friends, reaching out to other writers you know, or possibly extending the invitation to friends of friends and talk about doing a compilation together? Brainstorm your idea, then brainstorm your writers guidelines.

Then come back next month and we’ll talk about how to organize your compilation and about paying your writers.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Get Unstuck When You're Stalled In Your Writing (Beating "Writer's Block")

iStock © alvarez
This month I'm wondering who needs this article. (Maybe it's you. Maybe it's me!) Have you ever been stuck or stalled in your writing? Have you ever experienced "writer's block"? Here are some thoughts to help.

This is a rerun from my former newsletter from August 2010. It's a timeless topic and I know there's help here for someone who needs it. Maybe that will be you, if not now...then perhaps another time soon.

Getting Unstuck When You're Stalled

I had conversations with two different writers recently. Both talked about being stalled or blocked on big projects. We talked a little about why this might happen and what we can do about it when it does. (Tweet that!)

One fellow, when he learned I was a writer, asked me, "How do you get past writer's block?" (Tweet that!) He has a large project in mind and he's looking for help in getting it done.

As I tried to talk with this writer, he did a lot of talking and very little listening. He lamented that he couldn't get anything done. He was frustrated that he couldn’t get anyone interested in his project.

I asked him what he had written so far. He didn't answer, but went on about how the people in charge who should want his project wouldn't get on board with him. Hmmm. I began to wonder if this fellow has ever actually written anything.

What is Writer's Block?

Sometimes I think would-be writers try to write, find it extremely difficult, and conclude they have writer's block.

I’ll make a confession here that I've never made out loud before because I have the impression it could possibly be quite controversial. Here it is: I don’t know what writer's block is. (Tweet that!)

There. I said it.

Years ago I remember reading an article in a popular writer’s magazine where the author stated he didn't think writer's block existed. Oh what an uproar ensued! I was stunned such a statement would elicit such a strong, negative response! I'm still not sure I understand why. I just know a lot of writers were offended.

I've heard writers say when they are blocked they "can't" write. Okay, maybe so. I've never experienced that so I won't claim to understand it.

What I have experienced is that writing, for me, is really, really hard. (Tweet that!) It's work. It never comes easy.

I've heard some writers say their words flow so easily onto paper. Well, lucky them, I guess. For me, it's hard, physical labor to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. I can say that I've had enough practice now that it's easier. I now understand my own process I must go through to get it done. But it's never easy.

Writing is clear thinking.

If you can't think a thought or idea clearly, then you can't nail it down on paper. (Tweet that!) Getting to the point of being able to clearly state what you're thinking is hard work. (Tweet that!)

I have to wonder if that writer who told me he was blocked really was blocked. Or did he discover how difficult it is to write and conclude something else was wrong?

What to do about it.

Recognize writing is hard.

If you're blocked or feeling stuck, the first thing to do, I think, is to recognize writing is very difficult. If it wasn't, everybody would be doing this. (Tweet that!)

Clarify what you want to say.

The next thing I would suggest is to clarify what it is you want to say. Remember that exercise we're told to do? Say it in one sentence.

Whether it's a book, an article, or a short story, say it in one sentence. If you can't, it's not clear enough yet in your own mind to nail it down on paper. (Tweet that!)

It will take time and effort and a hundred (or a thousand) failed tries before you're able to say it in one sentence. (Tweet that!) That's just the way it is. But once you start getting close, you'll sense it. And once you nail it, you'll know it. So don't quit prematurely.

Say it in one sentence. Just do it. Now.

[For help writing this one sentence, visit the December 2014 post, "Keep Your Eye on the Ball: One Sentence that Can Elevate Your Writing to New Heights."]

Some suggestions...

The second writer I talked with I know to be an accomplished writer. She said she was burned out. Boy do I understand that. She works a lot on other people's projects and really wants to work more on her own, but she's not getting going on those.

I asked her, "What's your passion?" She thought for a moment before she told me about a project she has wanted to write for years. But it's too big, she said. She doesn't know where to start.

We talked about some things she could do. Here are some of my suggestions:
  • Break it down.
Figure out what you need to do. Make a list. List the items that would need to be done to accomplish (or even start) this project.
  • Make a plan.
  • Work the plan.
  • Do what you can.
By the time you get to some of the things that can’t be done, you will have found the help you need or a way to do it. Start with doing what you can. The rest will work out.

Remember your passion.

And whenever you’re feeling burned out, stalled, or stuck. I suggest this:
  • Return to your passion.
I think as writers we're asked to do more and more to please publishers, all with lower and lower pay. Or no pay. We're expected to start a blog, be a public speaker, market online, attend conferences, write on spec, take assignments… No wonder we’re feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and stalled.
But I fear that's a topic for another article. For now, ponder these questions:
  • Why did you start writing? Or why do you want to write?
  • What is your passion? What topics, projects, or type of writing are you passionate about?
  • Are you working on what you're passionate about, or have other projects taken over and crowded out what you really want to be writing?
  • How can you take steps to return to what you wanted to write when you started, to those projects you're passionate about?

There you have it. Get reconnected to your writing passion and takes steps to get back to that. I really believe when you do, you'll get unstuck.

* * *

I hope this rerun article has helped you get unstuck if you're stalled in your writing. If you're experiencing writers' block, I hope you've found some help here to beat writer's block.

If you would like more help with your writing, check out my ebooks for writers here:

By the time we meet here again next month, I'll hope you're well on your way in writing your passion and your dream project! God bless you and your writing.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Writer's Conferences: What Should I Prepare to Take? What Should I Expect? What Should I Do There?

Colorado Christian Writers Conference
Estes Park, Colorado
A few weeks ago on my Facebook Author Page, we were talking about preparing for a writer's conference. If you've never been to one before, I bet you have a ton of questions. I know I did when I first started going to these, which was more than 25 years ago. I've been to at least one each year since then, so I've accumulated a lot of experience I can share from.

As "conference season" begins (if there is such a thing), I thought it might be helpful to give you some ideas of what to expect, how to prepare, what to take with you, and what to do while there. (Tweet that!)

What to Expect

You can expect to find a lot of like-minded people, writers who think they are the only ones with a passion to write. Writers who think they are not "really" writers, but everyone else in the room is. (Is that you too?) (Tweet that!)

You can expect to meet published authors and unpublished authors. There will be freelance writers (freelancers aren't on staff at any publication but write for a variety of them).

There will often be representatives of book publishing companies, editors from periodical publications such as magazines and web sites that take material from freelancers, and often literary agents will be there. Some or all of these may be on faculty teaching workshops or speaking at sessions for all the conferees.

You may be able to schedule meetings with these publishers, editors, and/or agents. (Tweet that!) If that's the case, you may want to pitch them a writing project you're working on or wish to write. We'll talk about how you might do that below when we talk about One-Pages. I'll also give some tips for these meetings below.

You should expect to have fun! So try to relax about it! Go expecting to make friends and to meet other writers with whom you can network and stay in touch after the conference.

How to prepare

Review all the material you find on the conference. The conferences I attend have a ton of information online and in their brochure and it's fun to go through it all.

Find out who is going to be on faculty. Read their bios and/or visit their web sites or the sites of their companies. Find out what they are looking for that they want to publish. Here's a HINT: Find web sites to other writers conferences where they were also on faculty and see what additional information you can find out about what they publish and what they are looking to publish.

You're looking for publishers who publish or are looking for (acquiring) the same sorts of material you are writing or want to write. Are you writing fiction? Romance? Sci-Fi or fantasy? Do you want to write nonfiction? What kind? Memoir? Self-help? Christian living? Who is acquiring that type of material?

Also check out the workshops. Circle on the brochure or make a note of all the workshops you'd like to attend. Chances are there will be more than one in a time slot and because even super-hero writers can't be in two places at the same time, you'll have to choose. (Tweet that!) But find out if workshops are recorded because at many conferences they are and you can purchase a DVD of the workshops you can't attend. This is a great way to take the conference home with you and keep the excitement and encouragement flowing long after the conference ends. Don't know which to attend and which to buy the recording of? Which workshop do you think will have the most value for you if you could listen to it more than once? Get the DVD of that one and attend the other in person. Or, is one of them taught by someone you want to meet? Or someone you want to see your face in their workshop so they'll know you're a serious writer? Attend that one and take the DVD of the other workshop home.

What to take with you

After you have an idea of who is going to be there, and you've matched that up with the projects you have written or want to write, you might want to prepare to talk to a publisher, editor, and/or agent about your project(s). So what do you prepare to take with you?

Project One-Pages

In the last decade or so, "One-Pages" have become popular and I believe they are awesome. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, books or short works like articles or short stories, it's a great idea to create a one-page to present that idea.

At most conferences you will have a limited time to meet with a publisher, editor, or agent. Most of these meetings are only 10 to 15 minutes. That's not a lot of time for chit-chat. So you want to have your idea organized so you can express it succinctly. That's where a one-page comes in. You have to be succinct to get all the important information about your project down on one page. It's a terrific exercise, even if you don't get to present it to anyone in person.

A One-Page is similar to a Query Letter and has the same information, just in a different format such with headings or bulleted items.

On your one-page, include the following:
  • Your contact information. You can create your own letterhead for your one-page.
  • Your project's proposed title.
  • A brief summary of your book, article, or story. Make it snappy and attention grabbing. This needs to be your best writing.
  • The audience for your project. Who will it appeal to? Who will buy it? How big is that group of potential readers? Use statistics or something to back up your numbers.
  • The length of your proposed project in word-count. For example, a feature article may be 1,500 words, a nonfiction book may be 50-60,000, and a novel may be 80,000. Make sure this is withing the numbers the publisher accepts.
  • Give an idea of when you could deliver the completed manuscript, if it's requested. An article which will require interviews and research may take you two weeks or a month. A book might take you six months. Or you may have a manuscript completed which you can submit "upon request."
  • Finally, give a short bio of who you are and what you have accomplished as a writer. Include what qualifies you to write this project. Do you have life experience? Education? Research?

Once you have your one-page put together, here are some more tips:
  • Keep your one-page brief and to one page. 
  • Make sure it's well edited and free of typos.
  • You may get to show it to a representative of a publishing house. They may not take it with them because taking materials from all the authors they meet with is just too much, especially if they are traveling by plane, so don't be disappointed. They may ask you to email your one-page to them, or to send a book proposal or your manuscript after the conference.

I suggest you make a template for your one-pages if you have more than one project in you. Set up all your headings on your letterhead. Then for your next project all you'll need to do is fill in the information for your next project.

First Pages

You may want to take the first pages of your manuscript. If it's an article, you can print the entire article and take it with you, but an editor may only read the first paragraphs or skim it. If they want to see more, they'll ask you to email the manuscript to them.

If it's a book, you probably won't want to take more than the first ten pages. There's no need to take your entire book manuscript. No one will have the time to look at that much while there at the conference. And don't expect an editor or agent to carry your manuscript home with them on the plane. If they want it, they'll request it be sent via email.

One-Page Resume

Similar to your one-page for your writing projects, you might create a one-page resume. This would showcase your writing accomplishments (if you have any). For example on my writing resume I have sections for a brief telling of my:

  • article writing, 
  • books, 
  • online writing, and 
  • screenwriting. 
Then I also share my "platform" which showcases my "reach" as an author. I include my:

  • social media platform, which means how many people I can reach through social media, such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook author page Likes. 
  • How many subscribers do you have on your email newsletter list? 
  • I also describe each of my blogs and how many page views I get per month.
All this information gives potential publishers an idea of the size of your platform, which means how many people you can reach if they publish your book.

Bookmarks or Flyers

If you have projects for sale, especially for writers, you might want to make up a flyer to put on the table where conference offer free giveaways such as writers guidelines from publishers. You might make a flyer if you have books or pamphlets for writers, or offer professional services such as editing or web site building.

I've written several #Kindle e-books for writers and am writing several more, so this year I’m hoping to get a flyer done to let others know about those.

Goods for Sale

If you have published books, you may be allowed to put them on the sales consignment table. These don't have to be for writers, they can be you anything you have written. People who are at the conference will be interested in your books and will be excited to buy from an author they meet, so be sure to bring some. But don't expect a lot of sales (at least from my experience). Money can be tight. There are a ton of other books competing for conferee's dollars there also. Plus many are traveling by plane and books can be heavy to transport in luggage.

A Sign Up List

Do you have an e-mail newsletter for your writing business? Do you have a blog people can sign up to receive via email? Why not take a sign up form?

When you meet and talk with new writer-friends on the way to workshops or at meals, the topic of your newsletter or blog may come up. Or you may simply ask them, would you like to receive my newsletter / blog in your inbox? You, or they, can record their email address. Tell them when you get home you'll sign them up, but they will receive a confirmation email that will require their response to complete their subscription.

When you get home, you can enter their email address in your email sign up form (like the one in the upper right corner of this blog) and they will receive the confirmation email.

Be careful you're not overbearing when asking for subscribers. Your conversation will let you know if they will benefit from being on your email list. This is not the place to ask everyone at the conference to sign up for your list. Workshop leaders might ask participants to sign up for their lists, but as a conferee you might be seen as irritating if you try to snare everyone in attendance.  And never sign someone up for your list without getting their permission in advance. (Don't use the business cards you take home for this purpose.)

Business Cards

If I could give only one piece of advice it would be this: BRING BUSINESS CARDS! (Tweet that!)

I'm amazed at how many people show up every year at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and don't bring business cards. Most are simply new writers and say they didn't even think of it.

I don't care if you're just getting started as a writer and don't feel like you're in "business" as a write yet. You're there. Make some business cards. You still have time but you need to act soon. You'll want to trade business cards with people you meet.

If you'd like something unusual, I love the specialty cards made by: Shop MOO Mini Cards. I have my book covers on my Moo cards!

Now days most cards I get don't have street/mailing addresses on them, which might be smart for your safety. Still, put on them how people can contact you. Definitely an email address. Some put their cell phone. Put your web site.

Business cards are also a great way to share your blog, Facebook page, Twitter handle, Instagram, Amazon Author page, YouTube channel, etc. Use a URL-shortener like Bitly.com to create easy-to-remember and type links.

If you want to pay more and print the back, you can list your books titles or speaking topics.

A lot of people find it helpful if you'll put your (nice, professional) photo on your card so later we can match your face with your name.

When you get home, search out your new friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever social media you are on and send them a friend request, follow them, or invite them to Like your author page.

Snack, water, self-care.

Some conferences offer snacks and coffee and/or water but others don't. If you need these to get you through the day, you may want to pack some.

Casual or dress.

Find out whether your conference is casual or dress up. Even when the conference is casual, I try to look "business casual." You are, after all, making a first impression on publishers, agents, and editors. So dress for success. This is your business, not your vacation.

What to do while there

Here are some tips to help you with those scary meetings with publishers, editors, and agents:

  • Be on time.
  • Introduce yourself. 
  • Prepare a spiel – your introduction of yourself and another one about your project. 
  • Talk little, listen more. 
  • React nicely – even if they're not interested in your project and that's a huge disappointment to you. Remember this is business, not personal.
  • Don't take a book manuscript to leave with them. Take a one-page and the first ten pages at most. 
  • Ask, "Would you like my business card?" before leaving one.

Here are some more general tips for things to do while there:
  • Relax and have fun!
  • Sit by someone you don't know.
  • Respect faculty.
  • Sit at an editor's table at a meal, but respect if they're sitting with someone else. They may have planned a breakfast/lunch/dinner meeting with that person.
  • Befriend another lonely writer.
  • First thing in the morning, say a prayer. Ask God to direct who you meet that day, who you walk beside on the trail or in the hallway, and who you sit beside in workshops and at meals. (Tweet that!) This makes the whole conference an exciting adventure of supernaturally orchestrated divine appointments.

More than anything go to have fun. I know it's hard for some people, but you really don't need to be nervous. You're here to learn. You're here to enjoy. You don't have to speak up in class if you don't want to. You're not in the spotlight. Take advantage of every opportunity you possibly can. And know that this experience is going to be great for your writing career.


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