Archive | November, 2009

Guest Author: Vivi Anna!

30 Nov

Let the Words Flow is proud to present our first Guest Author, Erotic Romance author Vivi Anna, who is signed with me at the the Bradford Literary Agency.

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Thank you Savannah for inviting me over! This looks like an amazing group of writers and I hope I can give a little bit on insight into what my life has been like being a published author.

1. How did you get your agent?

My first agent I got from sending out query letters. I made a list of my top five agents, made that the A list, then my next top agents, made that the B list. I sent out queries to all my A listers and waited. And waited. Rejections trickled in. Then I talked to an author friend of mine and she told me about an established agent that was just starting to take on romance authors. So I queried him. An hour later, I had an offer from him.

The second time around, I also sent out queries, but this time I talked to the clients of the agents I was looking at. To get in depth information about how the agent worked and such. I ended up getting a couple of referrals from friends, I queried those agents with a new project, but ultimately those agents passed. Then I talked to another author friend and she encouraged me to query her agent. So I did. And I’m so glad I did. That’s how I signed with the lovely Laura Bradford.

So my point in this is, never pass up an opportunity. Always be on the look out for them.

2. What was your submission process like?

Like I said, I made a couple of lists. I made my top dream list of agents, calling it the A-list, then the B list. Send them all out to the A-list and wait. Most times you’ll be waiting around 2-3 months for an answer, either with a rejection or with a request for a full.

If you go through you’re A-list start on your B-list. If you make it trhough your B list without an offer, then I’d be looking at you query letter, is it any good? And I’d be looking at my story. Is that any good?

3. How often do you communicate with your agent?

I like to talk to my agent once a week, but only if I have stuff going on like submissions, or working on a new project. If I’m fully submersed in a deadline, and I don’t have new stuff on the go, then there’s only need to talk to her when I need to.

4. Have you ever been on book tour, and if so, what was it like? How did you pick what to wear? What was the budget like?

I’ve never been on a book tour. But I have done a lot of books signings.

The key is to dress comfortably and be yourself. Don’t over dress but don’t under dress either. You can do jeans if you wear a nice top. Don’t go to a book signing dressed like a slob.

Not only are you selling your books but you are selling yourself. Be personable.

5. If you could give one bit of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Be determined, be ambitious, but learn to cultivate patience. You will need it above everything else.

6. Have you ever had a crazy/obsessive fan?

Thankfully no.

7. Which book that you’ve written is your favorite, and why?

My favorite books are two that haven’t been published yet. An adult UF and a YA UF.

Both are ME. Both are my true voices with subject matter that I really like. I think sometimes an author can lose their voice, or have to dampen it for whatever reason, to fit into a line, or a publisher, but these two books I wrote without deadlines, without pressures from anyone but myself and I think that has made a difference for me.

8. What was your shortest, and longest books written, and why?

I’ve written a bunch of short stories and novellas for various anthologies. Word counts from 6K to 20K.

But my shortest book would be the Nocturnes I’m writing for Silhouette. At 70K they are a shorter book. The longest would be a book I wrote years ago, a fantasy novel, that hasn’t been published. It sits at about 98K.

9. Do you have a ‘day’ job?

Nope. I used to work part time at a bookstore but quit after landing my second major publishing deal. But with the economy right now…who knows that might change.

I’m a single mom and homeschool my kid during the day, so that’s like two day jobs.

10. What are peoples’ reactions when they find out about your writing life?

First reaction. Cool! Second reaction: Can I find your books in the bookstore? Third reaction: So, you must be like rich, hey?

Ah no.

11. When did you write your first novel?

I wrote my first novel in 2004. I’d been writing short stories and novellas before that since 2000.

12. What made you want to start writing?

Honest answer: money.

I thought I could make some money quick writing short erotic stories for men’s magazines. I did that for a while, made a little money, then realized that maybe I could actually make this a real career choice, if I learned my craft and really dug deep and made a go of it. That was in 2000.

13. Do you write anything besides novels?

I write screenplays. I wrote like 12 back in 2002. I queried producers, got a lot of scripts read, came close twice, but quit. It is REALLY HARD to get produced. Getting a book published is HARD, but getting a movie made from you script…it’s a long shot.

But it’s always been a dream of mine, so I’m actually making a go of it again. I’ve rewritten a couple, wrote a new one, and I’ve gotten some interest. So who knows this time around what will happen. I’m a better writer now and have more experience and have a tenacious drive to succeed.

14. Do you have a pen name, or multiple pen names?

Vivi Anna is a pen name.

Eventually I hope to be writing under a couple of pen names. One for my romances, one for YA and maybe another one for something else.

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Thanks so much for stopping by, Vivi!

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Question Of The Week: Writer’s Block

27 Nov

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving, everyone! We hope your holiday was happy and full of delicious food! This QotW comes from N. L. Mars, who asked us:

“How do you combat writers block? What would you recommend for those who feel a bit stuck in their story, or unsure of what to do next?”

Thanks so much, N. L.! Keep the questions coming, guys!

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Regarding the question, just see my article from this past Monday: https://letthewordsflow.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/sudden-novel-death-syndrome-why-it-didnt-work-out/

The Writer Who Is Also on Submissions

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I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I think people get frustrated and tired and lazy, and use this so-called “writer’s block” as an excuse not to write. If you’re stuck, listen to some awesome music, and keep writing. Even if what you write totally sucks. Even if you have no ideas. Have your characters sit down for a cup of tea, and see what comes out of them. Or throw them off a bridge into a freezing river and see how they react. But just WRITE. No excuses.

The Writer (Im)Patiently Waiting While Her First Novel is On Submissions

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The advice I often receive to this question is to force yourself to write. I find, however, that this does not help me combat writers block. I need inspiration in order to write. And so, rather than wait for inspiration to strike me, I go looking for it during this period. I listen to soundtracks and classical music, trying to envision the scene I’m trying to write. Or I, instead of writing, record my thoughts

The Writer Who Just Started Querying

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I think the number one thing I do is to outline before I start a story.  I know that sounds kind of anal.  I definitely do not do the whole Roman Numeral, capital letter, numeral, small-case letter outlining system they showed me back in school.  Basically, I just jot down bullet points as they come to me of what happens when in the story.  That way, when I come to a spot that’s dull and drags, I can still see what’s coming after it, and that motivates me to plod through and keep going.  It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me.

The Writer Who’s Writing Queries

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I combat writer’s block by stepping away from my work. In fact, I do this normally because I tend to write and forget about my REAL life–you know, college. And friends. I usually take two days in between writing and if I am stressed out or feeling the writer’s block creeping up, I tend to take four days. I know this seems like a long time, but it works for me. It also allows me to do things I am sometimes neglectful of (homework and my friends), and get my mind to refocus itself and look at the project as a whole.

I recommend stepping away. It really allows your mind to focus on other things, whether it be homework, friends, family or even reality television, so that you are not a terrible, nervous wreck who instant messages her friends or writing buddies, crying “THIS SOUND SO STUPID! I AM DELETING THIS ENTIRE STORY! IT IS POINTLESS!” …Not like I have ever done that or anything. Best of luck conquering your writer’s block!

The Writer Writing Her First Novel

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Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Sudden Novel Death Syndrome: Why It Didn’t Work Out

23 Nov

Sudden Novel Death Syndrome: Why It Didn’t Work Out
or:

“Why That Novel You Were Really Excited About Dead-Ended Into A Black Hole of Guilt and Lack of Plot Development and What To Do About It”

By Savannah J. Foley

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I have them and you have them: failed projects. No matter how exciting the initial burst of inspiration, no matter how striking and significant the initial chapters, something causes the story to descend into a frustrating nothing, subsequent chapters diluting themselves into a boring parody of that first, promising beginning. As a writer, your excitement turns to hesitation, then panic, then disgust, and your project gets shelved and locked into the back files of your computer, never to be developed further (except for those occasional, guilty tweakings).

Why does this happen? What, if anything, can be done to prevent it? I’ve compiled a list of reasons—and solutions—to this stagnation, and I hope it’s a help to you:

1. The first rule of writing is: Don’t talk about your novel.

2. The second rule of writing is: Do NOT. TALK. ABOUT. YOUR. NOVEL.

Discussing ideas with your friend or audience seems to be a sure-fire way to kill a project from the very beginning. There’s just something about debating possible plot options that effectively stops production in its tracks. My theory is that it turns your project into an attempt to please everyone at once. Others suggest it distracts you from the delicate process of actually working on the project; you become the type of writer who is always talking about his/her book without ever actually writing it.

This phenomenon has been noticed by other writers as well. Consider the following quotes:

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially. ~A. Bronson Alcott

I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. ~Norman Mailer

Solution: Don’t talk about your project! Don’t you dare let anyone encroach upon the amazing process that belongs only to you and your writing. Your friends can’t write it for you, and they can’t be there in your head when you’re working out all the details, so why would you involve them at all? Let them read the finished product, not influence a work in progress. Rule of thumb: Consider it bad luck to discuss the details of a project until it is finished. Bring out your novel or story like it is Athena emerging from your head: fully-formed and beautiful.

One last quote to pound the point home:

Writing is a product of silence. ~Carrie Latet

3. Beginning Too Soon

This is my biggest problem: trying to start work on the project when you don’t really have any idea what you’re doing yet. I have three pet novels in a suspended state of animation because I tried to work on them too soon and killed them: a YA about orphaned sisters, a scifi about global warming, and a steampunk about… well, I’m not really sure, but it involves poisonous, addictive perfume, and gangs.

The way my writing works is that I get a flash of an idea, typically just one scene or concept, and then work the plot around this idea. All I ever want to do is immediately begin writing so I can record this idea in explicit detail and start working on giving it the same vibe I envision in my head, but in the long run it’s better to wait. Remember what they taught you in school, and practice abstinence.

Working on a project too soon causes overstimulation, like touching a budding flower or playing rough with a newborn kitten. It’s just a baby idea; give it a little time to grow and develop before you start to mess with it. If you recall my earlier post, writing is a sort of mental disorder; you have to learn to trust your subconscious and let it develop plots and characters on its time. The conscious brain is a marvelous thing, but it’s not a very good writer in general. The best writing comes from the heart, the subconscious, and it can be terribly flighty.

Another metaphor: Think about your idea as a feral animal you have just caught sight of out in the wild. You have to be very still, very quiet, and very non-threatening before it will start to approach you. No sudden movements, lots of praise and encouragement, and before you know it you’ll be gamboling with that wild creature like you’re the best of friends.

A relevant quote:

As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall. ~Virginia Woolf

Solution: Develop a list of things you MUST have before you begin writing. For example, the names and personalities of all your main characters and their families/significant others, a strong sense of setting, where/when the main characters/love interests meet, etc.

4. Panicking (Writer’s Block Happens)

You’ve given yourself enough time to fully flesh out your characters and plot. You’ve kept the existence of your next work-in-progress as secretive as possible. “Yes,” you say to your friend, “the reason I’ve been so busy lately is because I’m working on a new project. No, I don’t want to talk about it until I’m finished.” Then, without warning, you hit the Wall.

You’re not alone. “Every writer I know has trouble writing,” said Joseph Heller. We all experience that jarring moment when you realize that you’re facing a great chasm in your writing, with no way to get to the other side. Sure, you know where you want the plot to end up. Your characters are well-developed and strong-willed, but how in the heck are they going to leap across this plot gap and make it safely to the next planned-out plot development?

Rule of thumb: Relax. Take a break. You’re probably working too hard:

Writer’s block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite. ~Laurie Wordholt

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out. ~Ray Bradbury

Listen to Bradbury on this one; sometimes you just run out of creative juices. It’s okay; don’t panic, just take a break. Read a book; it’s how you get filled up with inspiration again. Watch television, take a walk, draw something, phone a friend (you haven’t talked to them in a while, have you?). Avoid thinking about your project, and when you do, think of it only as a dear friend. Only when you can’t wait to get back to your story and start working again should you approach your work-in-progress.

Need a different solution, or on a deadline? Try sleeping.

If I’m trying to sleep, the ideas won’t stop. If I’m trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Carrie Latet

The only cure for writer’s block is insomnia. ~Merit Antares

5. Not Getting Your Daily Dose of Inspiration

When writing a novel, it’s easy to lose track of the other recreational things in your life. You go to work or school, you come home, grab a bite to eat, maybe do some housework/chores/homework, but then you’re writing! This ties back into what I said above; sometimes you don’t allow yourself enough time to get properly relaxed and inspired again. Imaginations have to be fed and watered like anything else, or else they will stagnate and shrivel.

My favorite solution to counteract this stagnation is reading. When I was reading two books a day, in school and later when I worked at a bookstore, I read a wide variety of books, from fiction to self-help to comedy, poetry, scifi, fantasy, cultural, travel, biographical, etc. Reading other people’s styles and descriptions fires your own imagination.

One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. ~Hart Crane

Solution: My favorite books to read for inspiration are either poetry (Billy Collins ftw), or the biographies or autobiographies of other writers. Shell Silverstein’s biography A Boy Named Shell, and Hunter S. Thompson’s biography The Joke’s Over by his best friend Ralph Steadman are two of my favorites. Others would include Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series, the most famous of which is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Stephen King’s On Writing, and anything by James Thurber (if you haven’t heard of him, immediately get on Amazon and order Lanterns and Lances. Seriously. Do it.).

Well, that’s my list. What problems do you encounter when writing, and what solutions have you developed to counteract this? Or, share your favorite writing quote about the process.

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Woman’s World (now known as Antebellum) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency trying to sell Antebellum. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com.

Question of the Week: If You Weren’t A Writer, What Would You Be?

20 Nov

Wow! We’ve received SO many wonderful Question of the Week suggestions lately! Keep them coming, guys!

Caitlin asked us: “I’d like to know what each of you would be if not an author (like if writing wasn’t your day job, what would your day job be?)

Thanks for the QotW, Caitlin!

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Well, actually, writing isn’t my day job.  At least not yet.  My career track has been pretty varied, but I’ve always tried to get involved in work that has been somewhat related to writing and/or publishing.  I was a reporter for a while (one of my college professors told me: “It worked for Hemingway”).  Now my day job is at a public library—which, unfortunately, does not mean I get to sit around reading all the time.  But I do get to handle dozens, if not hundreds, of books a day (which never gets old), and the job provides a rich education on the human condition—to put it mildly.  I’m sure anyone who works in public service comes home every night with plenty of fodder for a novel.

The Writer Who’s Writing Queries

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I’ve actually considered this question several times before: What kind of career do I want after I graduate university? The answers have often left me with a horrible headache. I came up with: bookshop keeper, librarian, an employee at a publishing company, a member of an NGO. But they were all half-hearted considerations. I’ve pretty much gambled my whole future for writing. I’ve planned my life around writing because that is what I do and love best.

The Writer Who Just Started Querying

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If I weren’t a writer I’d probably be where I am now: employed at a medical billing company, working as an Executive Administrative Assistant (I love my job; I get to write policy and fetch coffee!). Recently, I was promoted to HR Manager for the company, so I’ll probably pursue a career in HR until the writing (one day hopefully!) becomes a full-time obligation.

The Writer Who is Also on Submissions

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If I weren’t a writer….Oh, boy. What would I DO with my life? If I had math skills, I would have pursued a career in science. No, seriously. From the age of eight (and until I was fifteen), I wanted to be a marine biologist and study great white sharks. To this day, I still have a fascination with sharks (and great whites in particular), and know way too much about them. If not a marine biologist, I might have followed my passion for antiquities and perhaps wound up as an Egyptologist or something.

Or, to imagine my life taking a completely different route, if my parents had forced me to keep up with ballet lessons, I might have become a ballerina. I sort of wish they had, because ballet is a passion of mine, and I wish could dance.

The Writer Who Is (Im)Patiently Waiting While Her First Novel is On Submissions

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For me, I am an author *AND* I have a day job: I work in real estate acquisitions for a local government agency. The truth is, if you wander through a bookstore, 90% of the authors you see have day jobs, and will always have day jobs. The vast majority of authors can not earn enough income to quit. An average first advance can range from just a few thousand dollars to around $10,000. Deduct from that your agent’s cut (15%), taxes, and book related expenses, and you can’t even pay rent! (Sorry to be the Debbie Downer! Publishing should be your passion, not your idea of easy money.) There are always exceptions, of course, but they ARE exceptions and not the norm.

My biggest goal is actually to become an agent. I know, whole-heartedly, that publishing is the industry that I belong in. If I can become a successful agent and continue to write, I can ditch the day job and focus 100% on my passion.

The Writer With a Book Deal

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Well, right now I’m not a writer 😉 I’m a college student. However, I’m not actually planning to be a writer as my profession. I know that while I love books, reading,  creating plots and characters, I cannot support myself on my writing full time. I hope to go into the publishing field, particularly for children’s literature, middle grade literature or young adult literature. I want to edit or be a part of sales & marketing or design or maybe even just run around and get the head editors/etc. coffee! I just want to be immersed in helping children and teenagers find their way if they are lost, just like books helped me during that time.

The Writer Writing Her First Novel

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Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!!!

Fairy-Tale Retellings: Original, or Just Plain Lazy?

18 Nov

By Sarah J. Maas

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Odds are, when you see the words “Fairy-tale retellings,” you’ll have one of two reactions: 1) Roll your eyes and groan or 2) Clap your hands and jump for joy. Okay, maybe No. 2 is a bit extreme, but as someone whose “To Be Read” list is overflowing with fairy-tale retellings, I get pretty excited about them.

In fact, I love fairy-tale retellings so much that most of my novels and short stories are retellings. QUEEN OF GLASS is a Cinderella re-imagining on an epic fantasy level. A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, another YA fantasy trilogy, is a retelling mash-up of “Beauty and the Beast,” “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and “Tam-Lin.” A FARAWAY LAND, my adult fantasy novel, has an original plotline, but half a dozen fairy-tales make a cameo appearance. My short stories include “Chaperon” (a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling), “Humbert” (a “Frog Prince” retelling), and “Why Not Me?” (a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” from the witch’s POV).

So, obviously, I have a thing for fairy-tales. But a writer-friend of mine once remarked that people who do fairy-tale retellings are just being lazy. To phrase it lightly, I got really pissed off. I got pissed off for the same reason I get pissed off when people say fantasy novels aren’t “real” books. Writing both fantasy and fairy-tale retellings requires a huge amount of imagination and creativity. Huge.

Because, even though you’re retelling a story that wasn’t your idea to begin with, you have to make it original. You’ve got to make people believe in it, give people something they haven’t seen before. I’m initially drawn to stories with unanswered questions—stories with gaps in them, stories where the characters are pretty 2-D, so I can easily insert my own characters into their place.

Imagining the fairy-tale from a different angle is another way I’m called to write. Neil Gaiman’s short story, “Snow, Glass, Apples,” is a perfect example. A retelling of “Snow White,” the story follows the POV of the wicked queen, who is trying to rid the world of Snow White, who happens to be a vampire. This might seem TOTALLY out of left field, but think about it: haven’t you ever wondered why the wicked queen wanted to kill Snow White so badly? Fine—she was vain and jealous, but seriously: she destroys herself attempting to bring down this young woman! Casting Snow White as a vampire suddenly clarifies the story—it’s a creative answer to a question lingering between the lines. I bought it—and frankly, it made me unable to look at “Snow White” the same way again.

That’s what a good fairy-tale retelling should do: it should make you reconsider your preconceived notions of the story. But it can also go the other way: retellings can be a viewpoint for how we perceive our world. In Jane Yolen’s BRIAR ROSE, Yolen uses the story of “The Sleeping Beauty” as a lens for viewing a young woman’s Holocaust experience in a concentration camp.

Regardless of whether your retelling takes place in this world, or an imagined one, it’s your characters that ultimately make or break the retelling. Give us an awesome plot, yes, but give us human characters—give us the people we don’t get to see in the legends, give us a Fairy Godmother who is little more than a slave, give us a gay Cinderella (see Malinda Lo’s ASH). It’s the characters that will carry your retelling, the characters that will answer the unasked questions—the characters that can even make us believe that your version is the true one, and the original tale is just a watered-down version of your narrative.

But before you begin writing your retelling, do your research. For a good chunk of popular fairy-tales, Wikipedia offers a list of retellings/references/uses, and will often list novels that feature your fairy-tale. Read up on them; see what the author has done. There are certain retellings that are untouchable. “Swan Lake” is one of my favorite fairy-tales, but I know I can never trump the mind-blowing awesomeness that Mercedes Lackey did with her novel, THE BLACK SWAN. Nor will I ever be able to touch Arthurian myth, having read THE MISTS OF AVALON. But that’s just me: I don’t want to write anything unless I know it will be original and fresh, unless I have complete confidence that I’m bringing something killer to the table.

That being said, don’t be afraid when you see that other authors have done a retelling of your chosen story. If the story calls to you, write it. I’d wager it’ll be pretty different from that other author’s vision. That’s part of the reason why fairy-tales have survived: they’re eternal; they offer us a wealth of potential stories and unanswered questions. Fairy-tales speak to us; they touch upon our primal fears and hopes, our nightmares and joys. Don’t be afraid when a fairy-tale speaks to you.

And do me a favor: if someone tells you that you’re being lazy by writing a fairy-tale retelling, please hit them.

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a high fantasy retelling of Cinderella. Her agent currently has her novel on submissions to editors. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Building a Readership on FictionPress

16 Nov

By Lynn Heitkamp

 

One thing my blog collaborators and I have discussed amongst ourselves is how unfair the favoriting and reviewing system on FictionPress can be.  It sometimes seems like the stories with lots of reviews are the only ones that anyone pays attention to.

Now, I’ve never read a story with hundreds or thousands of reviews that didn’t deserve the recognition it was getting, but I am sure there are also lots of stories out there that are absolutely wonderful and never generate any buzz.

In some ways, this isn’t so different than the publishing industry as a whole.  Bestsellers beget bestsellers, and it’s a lot easier for an author with name recognition to move books.  People who never set foot in bookstores buy titles from the New York Times Top Ten while they do their grocery shopping, then recommend them to their friends.

That’s great if your book’s on the Top Ten, but doesn’t do much for mid-list authors, who often get little to no help with publicity.  However, just as there are little things any author can do to promote their books, there are also a few tricks to increase your FictionPress readership.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of the lucky ones who has benefited from the FictionPress system.  I’d like to think that some of the reason my stories collected a lot of reviews and came to the attention of readers is that they’re interesting and written well, but I have to admit some of it may have been sheer luck or good timing.  I can’t make any magic promises about these tips and tricks, but I think they did help people find my stuff, and they might just help you too:

1)  The Summary Box is Your Friend — It’s not enough just to write a great story and come up with an intriguing title, you also get 255 characters, and 255 characters only, to tell potential readers why they should choose to look at your fiction.  Make the most of it.  Try to get the flavor of your story across as succinctly and professionally as you can; make it sound like a book cover.  Whatever you do, don’t beg for reviews or preface your summary with something like “This isn’t very good, LOL”.  You want your summary to entice readers, not turn them away.

2) Update Regularly — What stories are at the top of the screen?  The newest ones.  And they’re the ones most likely to catch the eye of someone who is just trolling the site looking for something exciting to read.  I can’t say it enough —  the more potential readers you have, the more chances you get for people to review or favorite your story, and that kind of publicity can snowball quickly.

A lengthy piece of fiction is almost always going to wind up with more reviews than a short story or one-shot.  But, if you can train your readers that you’re going to update your novel on a certain day or days of the week, the faithful will be looking for it.  I followed a pretty regular schedule while I was writing Thorn of the Kingdom, and I definitely heard about it if I posted late — which really is a good thing.

3) Don’t Tease — This kind of ties in to Tip #2, but readers won’t sit around waiting for your muse to strike.  They may love the first two chapters of your latest work, but if you don’t give them more story within a reasonable amount of time, they may never come back to it if and when you do decide to post again.  Sometimes real life or writer’s block intervened, but I always tried to keep at least a chapter ahead of where I was posting so I could keep as close to my schedule of posting three times a week as I could.  There have been FP stories that I have really loved that were left hanging and I know how frustrating that can be to a reader.  I never wanted to do that to someone else.  (This is the part of my review where I ignore the sad, incomplete statuses of The Beaufort Legacy and The Crazy Grad Student Who Thinks She Has Time to Write a Novel.)

By the same token, if your story’s complete, make sure people know it!  Make it part of your summary, so potential readers know they won’t have to wait to read the next chapter.

4) Be a Good Neighbor — Part of the fun of FictionPress is the interaction and the community.  I may not have responded to every review I ever received.  But I did try to respond to everyone who took the time to e-mail.  To this day, when I get an e-mail from FP saying I have a new review, I will immediately check out the author page of the reviewer to see if they’ve written anything interesting, or have anything on their favorites list that I might want to read.  You might be surprised at how much reciprocal reviews can add up!  And, the added bonus is, you get to read stuff that people who like your stuff, like!  Now that’s what I call social networking!

5) Be a Good Reader — Back in the days when I was really active on FictionPress, I wasn’t just posting material, I was reading a lot of it too.  Some of the stories I read were friends’, or from people who had reviewed my story, but a lot of them I found simply by browsing the site.  I tried to read and review as much as I could, because I enjoyed it, but I did realize a benefit from it too.  A lot of people I found that way, would review my story after I’d commented on theirs.  As I said above, reciprocal reviewing really does work!

~~~

Currently Reading: Rumors (Luxe, #2) by Anna Godbersen

Question Of The Week: Dialogue 411

13 Nov

Happy Friday, everyone! So, we received a fantastic question from Lauren, who asked us:

“I need help with dialogue. I’d love to read any advice you have!”

Hope this helps, Lauren!

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I think making your dialogue realistic is possibly the most important part of dialogue. If it seems inauthentic, or stiff, people are going to pick up on that.

One of the biggest things is that people–especially teens– rarely come right out and say what they mean. People dance around their feelings, hoping the other person can figure it out. For instance, a girl isn’t going to ask her date if she looks good. But she might say her shoes are uncomfortable, hoping he says something about how great they make her legs look. Maybe a girl is annoyed because her boyfriend doesn’t spend enough time with her. She’s going to glare at him and say, “Are you really going to play with that stupid Xbox all day?” instead of saying, “Honey, I want you to spend time with me.”

Secondly, make sure the dialogue doesn’t sound too formal. Read your dialogue out loud. People naturally emphasize certain words, or pause between others, and you want to find that cadence in your writing and make sure it comes across. Adding a little slang, if apropriate, works nicely. Your choice of contractions and punctuation all affect the way the reader will read your dialogue.

The Writer With A Book Deal

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As a historical romance writer I struggled a lot when it came to writing dialogue that made the characters sound like they were living in Regency England. Before, the history buffs that read my writing would comment on how my phraseology tended to be too modern. I’ve improved over the years but still have a long way to go before I can write as if I lived in the Regency Era. What I found most helpful in making my writing style a bit more historically accurate was:

1) Read lots of books written or set in the era you’re writing in.

2) Watch many period dramas with the subtitles on.

3) Borrow audio books—for example, Dickens, Bronte, Gaskell for the writers of Victorian novels; Burney, Austen, Heyer, for the writers of Regency novels; as for writers of Medieval stories, ask Lynn, she’s the expert on that–and listen to them whenever you can.

The OTHER problem some historical fiction writers might come across is that their writing style is TOO historically accurate and thus alienates the reader. Two bits of advice I can give for this issue are to: 1) read lots of contemporary novels to give your writing a balance, and 2) ask a friend who is not widely read in this genre to look over your work. If he/she responds with a “wtf!?” expression, you know you have some rewriting to do.

The Writing Getting Ready to Query

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Worried about info-dumping? I’ve found that a great way to avoid it—or disguise it—is to use dialogue. Instead of spending paragraphs describing your protagonist’s past, try a conversation. Very few people want to read pages upon pages about a) the status quo, b) your hero’s twisted past, c) the history of that world or d) all of the above. Veiling facts in dialogue serves a double purpose: conveying vital information, while also building relationships between your characters. What they choose—or don’t choose—to reveal in their conversations is also a great way to hint at information. If a character is questioned and they choose NOT to answer, it still says a lot, doesn’t it?

But make sure you keep it real: think about your own conversations—how you reference current-day events/history/etc. when speaking with people. It’ll be pretty obvious that you’re info-dumping if your main character suddenly starts explaining stuff about the history of your world/past events when the person they’re speaking to should already (plausibly) know this. The last thing you want is for the reader to see YOUR hand in things. Sometimes, it’s OKAY not to explain every little detail, and just to randomly mention that king’s beheading three centuries ago and NOT go into a million details about it. But having a vague reference to that beheading in dialogue can be a great way to world-build—sometimes, a lot of those little details add up to a bigger picture, and can really flesh out your world!

The Writer Who is (Im)Patiently Waiting While Her First Novel Is On Submissions

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I really think working in journalism helped my dialogue. When you spend all day interviewing people and writing down what they say, you develop an innate sense for the way they talk.  (And they don’t always use full sentences, finish thoughts, or even make sense!)  Even more importantly, I learned to take raw information I’d collected during interviews and decide when a quote sparkled enough to use in full, when an indirect quote would do, and when my subject was so dull the only way to use them was to paraphrase large chunks of what they’d said.

If you’re not lucky enough to work for a newspaper, try going out someplace where there are lots of people and just listen to them for fifteen minutes to half an hour at a time.  If you write down every snippet of conversation you hear (surreptitiously, of course—you don’t want people to know you’re spying on them!), you begin to develop that ear for spoken language.  Once you’ve got that ear, the other half of the equation is learning what dialogue moves your story forward and how to cut the rest of it out.  Writing down dialogue while you’re watching movies and TV shows also helps because (hopefully) the screenwriter has already done this second part for you.

The Writer Who is Writing Queries

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Before I began writing the fantasy novel I’m working on now, I wrote lots of contemporary short stories. If you’re writing a contemporary novel, a smart idea is to study the setting. By doing this, you can understand the type of dialect and speech your characters would realistically use. If you can connect the speech with the setting, a reader from that area might recognize it. When reading, I’m always pleased to recognize something from my own daily life, whether it be a nod to the setting, or slang from the area. It adds credibility and depth.

The Writing Who Is Writing Her First Novel

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Occasionally, your characters might come from a time/place where they need to speak a little differently than we speak now. The most important thing to remember is to not overdo the accents in an effort to appear ‘legitimate’. Your character should be easy to read and understand. Their accent/use of slang should NOT interrupt the flow or make the reader have to work too hard in order to decipher what you’re saying.

The exception to this rule is if you WANT your characters to be indecipherable for a purpose. For example: Brad Pitt’s character in the movie Snatch. Or the whole book of A Clockwork Orange. Or Finnegan’s Wake. Otherwise, I recommend giving it just enough of an accent so that the reader adopts that accent in their head while reading, but it doesn’t interrupt ease of reading. Use accent/slang triggers. For example, if your character has a southern accent, slip a y’all or an ain’t in there (appropriately!) to clue in your reader.

Use the internet as a tool to help you learn the cadence of speech for certain demographics. Youtube is your friend! Not quite sure how a Nigerian immigrant would say something? Youtube it! A Hungarian with a lisp? Youtube! The Chicago ‘a’ sound? Need I say it again?

The Writer Who Is Also On Submissions

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Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy your weekend, and make sure to check back on Monday for Lynn Heitkamp’s article on building a FictionPress.com readership base!

On Inspiration and Trusting Your Instinct (or, Writing as a Mental Disorder)

11 Nov

By Savannah J. Foley

~

If you’re a writer, and I mean a Writer, then you are probably somewhat insane. Consider the following quotes for context:

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. ~Sharon O’Brien

 

First, find out what your character wants. Then, just follow him. ~Ray Bradbury.

Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Graycie Harmon

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

When I first began writing Antebellum (formerly known as Woman’s World), all I had was a premise: What would the world be like if women had been the dominant gender throughout the ages, not men? I wondered if there would be peace or war, slavery or freedom, what the government would look like, who would raise the children, would children even be important, and what would men’s roles be? I wanted to examine this world, our world, in a different light. Ultimately I decided men would be kept as slaves: menial workers and companions, both holding the nation and families together as caretakers and the working class, leaving women to pursue knowledge, science, and art.

I began with a female character about to take her first slave. I didn’t know her name, or his name, or anything about their society at all. But as the sentences began to pile on top of each other, it became clear that my characters knew everything I didn’t. I followed them as a tourist, stalking them through my keyboard, learning about their customs and responsibilities, their emotions and struggles. They wanted things, and would fight for what they wanted. I was enthralled.

I also thought I was a little crazy. In school I was taught that the writing process had definite steps; first there was a brainstorming session, then a rough draft, then three re-edits until you had a final copy. In elementary school, this was the way writing was done, and there was no room for negotiation. In fourth grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and loved the creativity of just going at it on paper, but hated this drafting/editing process and knew I would never be able to take being a writer if I had to do that nonsense all the time.

So, when I began writing Antebellum at the age of 14, I didn’t know anything about real writers or real writing, but I had found this magic world inside myself, this trance-like interaction between my imagination and my more logical self, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Other aspiring writers I met in school didn’t have this (they also lacked my natural instinct for grammar and plots not based on their favorite anime), and so I felt very alone, a little frustrated, and misunderstood. My teachers hadn’t any inkling what I was talking about, either.

Then, in 9th grade I picked up a book from my English teacher’s personal library: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. It was a quick, strange read, but at the end I found total gold: an interview with the author. That three-page or so interview completely changed my writing life. Bradbury revealed that he had the same, strange, magical process of writing. He likened his writing process to following his characters around with a notepad, writing down what they do.

I had found my people. There were others like me. I wasn’t strange or half-crazy, no, I was just a REAL writer! I was thrilled. I began calling myself a writer from that day on. It was who and what I was, and what I would always be, published or not.

Writing after that became far more enjoyable. I learned to listen to my subconscious pulling and give my creative side free range to make up anything it wanted to. Our brains are so smart once we stop analyzing what and how we’re actually thinking. My subconscious had whole plots worked out I wasn’t even aware of. These plans would emerge unexpectedly and surprise me.

For example (those who read the Antebellum series when it was available on Fictionpress will remember this), one day I was sitting at my desk, typing along on my second book, Apostasy, when suddenly one of my characters blurted out to another that she was pregnant.

I stopped, took my hands off the keyboard, and looked at the screen more closely. Had I really written that? That wasn’t in my conscious plan. I had no intention of making this character pregnant. Her pregnancy had nothing to do with the plot I was developing; in fact, it threatened to ruin what long-term plans I did have.

However, while my conscious self didn’t have a plan, my subconscious self certainly did. Later on in the third book this unexpected pregnancy twist surfaced again and revealed its surprising plan, throwing in a most-excellent plot-twist towards the end that intrigued and delighted readers.

It was a leap of faith to accept that unexpected turn of events, and I’m glad I did. That experience taught me a lot about the subconscious writing process and about the power of our minds. It was also useful for helping me trust myself in a similar situation years later, as I was working on my fifth book, Go Look There.

I had just graduated from high school, and my family unexpectedly moved to north Alabama. For a graduation present, my father bought me a laptop (which I type this article on now, two years later). We were stuck in corporate housing for what ended up being two months, and I had nothing to do except play on my laptop (without even the internet; too cruel!) and write. I had brought some of my current writing projects with me on CD, as my desktop was moved along with the rest of our stuff, and began toying with some short stories I had written. There was one in particular I was working on which featured a girl with a mental retardation that made her smell attractive to butterflies. At her 8th grade graduation outside, butterflies came and swarmed her, and the crowd’s reaction to both this girl and this miraculous event served as a pointed social critique.

This all sounded nice in theory, and the story had hints of what I ultimately wanted the reader to feel (magic, spookiness, etc.), but it was missing something. It didn’t have what I call ‘saturation,’ where every sentence is rich with meaning and/or description, and as soon as you read the first few lines of the story you feel as if you are living it.

I tried several variations of the story, but it still felt flat and unoriginal, so I decided (going with that subconscious instinct), to change the perspective from third person to first person. For the eyes and ears of the story I chose the school janitor, who had a special relationship with the children and the school that parents attending could not have. His name was Ephram Carson. A novel was born.

(You can read this chapter on my website here)

Ephram is the most strongly-defined character I’ve ever written (you can see his character analysis on my website, too), and he had stories to tell, only the first of which was this strange, haunting butterfly episode. In fact, it was this experience, along with another tragedy involving a child and butterflies, that created a stigma in the town that functioned as a sort of curse. Ephram wrote letters to the school psychiatrist, Angelica, recounting the strange, spooky, and often sad stories of the children of the town. I got to incorporate more of my short stories into the novel and add new ones, and the project turned itself into my favorite novel so far, Go Look There (never before shared on Fictionpress, unfortunately).

If I hadn’t have trusted my instincts and changed the perspective of the story, even though it meant a complete rewrite and working with an unfamiliar character (at first), I would never have arrived at the novel my subconscious had in store for me.

Now, whenever I can I try to enlighten other young writers to the subconscious effect, and reassure them they aren’t crazy; they’re just legitimate!

In writing, your mind is your most useful tool. Forget your computer, forget your keyboard, forget your typewriter or your notepad and pens. If you had nothing else in the world, not even your voice or hands, you could still make up stories. Your work doesn’t come from your tools, but your brain. Remember that.

Now get out there and make some magic.

PS: I’m guest-blogging tomorrow at the blog of Jess Granger, whose first book, Beyond the Rain, came out in August of this year (click the link for sexy/beautiful cover!)

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Woman’s World (now known as Antebellum) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency trying to sell Antebellum. Her website is http://www.savannahjfoley.com.

“Tweet, Tweet,” Said A Little Bird…

9 Nov

By Rachel Simon

~

Hey guys, Rachel here! I’m writing this entry to address Twitter.com, which is a fairly new social networking website where you only have 140-characters to type out your thoughts.

Now that that has been explained, I can get to the logistics. I use Twitter to network. You could use Twitter for your own personal fun, and I follow a lot of my college friends because they use it to update “@ psych, bored!” Actually, I think its hilarious that I am writing this article when I am on a Twitter vacation because of my Twitter addiction. 😉

At first, I joined Twitter because I didn’t understand it. I figured it was a social networking website like MySpace, where you friended a lot of your real life friends and then were friended by a lot of creepy old men. It turns out… That, no, it was not like that.

As I surfed Twiter, I found that a lot of authors, publishing houses, editors, publishers, literary agents, editorial assistants, and writers had Twitters. They tweeted about their daily lives, what they were reading, what they were interested in or not interested in, and what they thought was interesting. Soon I friended (or in Twitter terms, Followed) these people and soon I began to have a following myself.

I also learned there were chats with these people called kitdlitchat and YAlitchat*. I was able to interact with them without being physically socially awkward. I soon began to think of Twitter as a Godsend. I mean, it allowed me to interact with some of the biggest names in publishing. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity? And I didn’t even have to leave my bedroom or change from my pajamas!

Now Twitter may seem scary (and for me, it totally was at first!), so I am going to try to explain it to you. Here are some things I have learned:

One: You can use Twitter to network OR you can just use it for your friends. But make a choice. And remember unless you “lock” your Twitter, everyone can see what you write. Even when you delete it.

Two: Be yourself. Don’t try to impress others. People will gravitate to you more if you are being yourself versus the stiff/what-you-think-others-want-you-to-be you.

Three: The #kidlitchat and #YAlitchat can be really, really, really overwhelming when you first start. Sometimes, its best to just sit back and watch the chats happen before jumping in. If you miss anything, there are copies of the chats on certain people’s blogs. You can always catch up later! 😉

Four: Twitter lingo can get confusing, so let me explain. Twitter is the name of the website. Tweeting is the action you perform on Twitter. If someone “RT”s you, RT means “retweet” – its saying they really liked what you said and wanted to share with everyone on their followers’ list. A hashtag (something like #this) is a topic that you want to bring attention to. A DM (or direct message) is a private message that only you and the other person can see.

And one last thing… Don’t feel pressured to join Twitter. If you have no interest, don’t do it! I have a feeling it is like MySpace: hot for a few years and then, not.

Here is a great resource for writerly types about Twitter:

http://www.inkygirl.com/a-writers-guide-to-twitter/

Let The Words Flow also has a Twitter, which you can follow:

http://twitter.com/LTWFblog

And that’s it! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me! Have a wonderful week, everyone, and I hope you return on Wednesday for Savannah’s post about writing as a mental disorder. 🙂

*Note: #kidlitchat is hosted by Greg Pincus and Bonnie Adamson on Tuesdays at 9PM EST, and discusses children’s literature and the children’s publishing industry. #YAlitchat is hosted by Georgia McBride and Lia Keyes on Wednesdays at 9PM EST, and discusses young adult literature and the young adult publishing industry. Feel free to chime into either of those; newbies are always welcome!

Question of the Week!

6 Nov

Welcome to our very first Question of the Week! Each Friday, we’ll be responding to your most pressing questions about writing, our projects, and the journey to publication. To ask us a Question of the Week, simply visit the QotW tab above!

This week’s question?

What Was Your FictionPress Experience,

and How Has It Helped You?

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Before FanFiction.net spun off a sister site, I had been dabbling in sci-fi fics and parodies. I wasn’t doing any serious writing of my own, and hadn’t, really, in years.  I had the germ of an idea that would become Thorn of the Kingdom hidden away in my story-starter notebook, but I kept a lot of ideas there and most of them never went any farther than that. At best, I would get a chapter or two into a manuscript before quitting and working on another.

FictionPress came along at just the right time for me. Once I decided to post Thorn of the Kingdom, there was no stopping that rough draft. When I knew there were people out there expecting the next installment, there was no room for writer’s block or lame excuses. By writing and updating on a regular schedule, I discovered I could actually do this: I could start a novel and finish it. And, of course, some of those readers became good e-friends too. A couple of them are even contributors on this blog!

The Writer Who’s Writing Queries

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A year ago, when my pursuit of publication forced me to take Queen of Glass off FictionPress, it felt like I was ripping out a part of me. For six years, my life had been centered on sharing my novel with an audience of thousands. While it was wonderful to have so many reading my work, it was the people that mattered—that made the whole experience worthwhile and life-changing.

I once received a letter from a young woman living in South Africa, and she told me that she would walk the two miles to her library every day, just so she could read Queen of Glass and follow Celaena Sardothien on her adventures. She stayed at the library until it closed each night, and returned each day after school. I wept when I read her letter, and I’m getting teary-eyed just writing this now. Never in my most wild imaginings, did I ever think that I would write a story that could connect with someone living so far away, leading such a different life than my own.

The letters I received from around the world—from England to China, from France to the Philippines—made me realize I had something special. They made me realize I had a story worth sharing, a story that could resonate with others. It gave me confidence, and I return to that letter, and all the letters I’ve received over the years, when I need to remember that my dreams are achievable. The global audience of FictionPress gave me that—and I will be eternally grateful for it as long as I live.

The Writer (Im)Patiently Waiting While Her First Novel is On Submissions

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FictionPress was what built me as a writer. I first began posting up my work when I was a young girl unsure of herself as a writer. But through the encouraging reviews I received, I grew confidence. Now I no longer doubt my ability as a writer when I receive criticism. FP has taught me that writing is very subjective. There will always be those who love your work and those who hate it. The only thing that matters in the end, I’ve learnt, are the readers whose lives you are able to touch with your story.

The Writer Planning to Query

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Like so many others, I found FictionPress because of FanFiction.net (I used to write Animorph fan fiction, lol). I started posting chapters of my first draft of Antebellum (then called Woman’s World), and began getting more and more readers and reviewers. It became sort of addicting… an ego boost every week or so. Eventually that feeling departed and I was left with a community I wanted to please and entertain.

It was wonderful to have such supporters, because they wouldn’t hesitate to give me feedback about what felt off to them, which had an advantage over readers that are also your friends, because they don’t really have a vested interest in making sure your feelings didn’t get hurt. There were some bad seeds, of course. I remember one user in particular (I still remember their anonymous username but won’t reveal it here) told me I was committing religious atrocities because my story had a female god.

Flamers aside, my days on FictionPress were wonderful. Reviewers made me fan art and fan fiction about my story, sported icons and banners on LiveJournal that I had made, and in general gave me the courage to talk about my writing ability outside of the Internet, and the confidence to believe I was good enough to actually try and get that story published. I owe a lot to FictionPress, and it was very hard to have to take my stories down when I signed with my agent. I miss you all very much, and hope one day to be posting with you again.

The Other Writer Waiting on Submissions

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My FictionPress experience began when I was thirteen, and started posting short stories based on what I wanted to happen in my life. I’m not happy with or proud of them; they were my dark, angsty teenage poems and “one shots.” However, by posting them, I was allowing others to see my work, something I still struggle with today. It did lead me to some amazing and wonderfully inspiring people, whom I look up to, and I am constantly reminding myself that they were once in my position too. I am so grateful for finding FictionPress; it gave me an outlet when I felt like I had no one and led me to people who make me feel like I have the entire world at my fingertips.

The Writer Who Is Writing Her First Novel

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I can say, without a doubt, I wouldn’t be an author if it weren’t for FictionPress. I was always a reader, but by the time I was 20, I’d still never written fiction. I found FP and used it to read for several weeks, and then decided I wanted to share work on the site and read. So I started my first piece of fiction, in 2003, solely because of the site.

Years later, when I became published, also functioned as a way to get the word out about my books. Fictionpress people have been incredibly supportive of Prada & Prejudice. I absolutely love to hear from FPers who purchased P&P, because it helps me feel like I’m still part of the community, even though I can’t really post new work over there anymore.

The Writer With a Book Deal

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Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Stay tuned for next week’s super-juicy Question of the Week, and make sure to visit us on Monday, when Rachel will be posting her article about writers on Twitter!