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Guest Columns

How to get published — read hundreds of helpful Writer’s Digest guest columns from published writers teaching the craft and business of writing.

How to Give People Nightmares: 6 Tips For Young Adult Horror


1. Stay scared. If you want to really scare people with your writing, you need to keep your fear close. You need to experience that fear. Often. Memory is a poor substitute for the real thing—that cold sweat heart-thumping spine-shaking hair-raising feeling of total, mind-numbing terror. That abandoned house you walk by on the way to work? Go explore it. The old insane asylum at the edge of town that was recently converted into apartments? Move in. See what happens. The neglected cemetery with all the ghost sightings? Be there, at midnight. That creepy pitch-black basement in your grandparents’ hundred-year-old farmhouse? Go down there, alone, after everyone else has gone to sleep. Leave the flashlight upstairs. Read more

Everything You Would’ve Asked About Steampunk, Had You Known It Existed


Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that, as the name suggests, comes from the idea that technology never developed beyond steampunk. The science can deviate a bit from there, but that’s generally where it all starts. It’s a look into what could have happened had science and industry taken a different turn, but didn’t.

Guest column by Matt Betts, author of the 2013 steampunk debut ODD MEN OUT. Read more

5 Reasons Novelists Should Write & Publish Short Stories


1. Because it’s fun. If you don’t enjoy writing short stories, then never mind: you probably shouldn’t be doing it. But if you’re avoiding writing them because you believe that you have to write a novel in order to have a career as a writer, I beg you to reconsider.

GIVEAWAY: Suzanne is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners can live anywhere in the world to win. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Kris won.) Read more

Should You Simply “Write What You Know”?


I am now going to give you the super-secret key to being a good writer. You will probably read it and say, “Phoo, Chapman, I’ve known that for years.” That may be, but if you are honest with yourself, you struggle with it, as I do, every time you sit down to write. Good writing is the successful communication of a truth. In retrospect, it seems self-evident, but I’ve read plenty of stories where the writer was trying to convince me that there was significance in his or her gossamer. Literary trickery can’t substitute for honesty. Read more

6 Reasons Why You Need To Have More “Babies”


Not human babies, silly. More “word babies” — a.k.a. books. I cannot believe how many people write only one book and lay all their hopes and dreams on it. I never went that far, but I was guilty of putting my one book on through the submission process and endlessly obsessing over it for a long time before starting a new one.

1.) Most published authors can tell you that their first few novels were rejected before they made their big break. Stephen King had several novels and countless short stories rejected before he wrote CARRIE and became my hero. The fact is the majority of first novels fail. Most published authors didn’t land a book deal until their second, third, or even fifth manuscript. In my case it was my third. Don’t be disheartened. Your first manuscript provides priceless value in learning your craft. There may even be a few spare parts you can recycle. Read more

6 Simple Keys To Revising Your Fiction


1. Once you have finished a good first draft don’t look at it for a while. Go back to it after having some space and you will see it afresh. This is even more important for novels. When you have spent such a long time on a piece of prose you really need to get some distance from it to be able to see it clearly.

GIVEAWAY: Jenni is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Inkstrokes won.) Read more

How to Plan a Great Book Reading: 5 Tips


1. Be professional. I’ve gone to readings where the writer is late. I’ve gone to readings where the writer insults the audience’s intelligence. I’ve gone to readings where the writer pulls papers out of his jacket, smoothes them on the stand, and then starts reading aloud with his head down for thirty five minutes straight. All of this is, of course, awful. While no one needs to give a reading in a tuxedo, showing up in neat clothes, fully caffeinated and attentive, pleased to be there, is really crucial. The audience is there as much for the author as they are there for the book. Shy or not, readings a bit of a show. You’re the host, and you want people to have a good time. Act accordingly. Read more

Finding Your “Write Reasons” — An Inspirational Post For Writers

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How do you truly know what’s right and wrong when it comes to storytelling?

How do you know if your twist is right?

How do you know if the ending makes sense and if the plot is strong enough?

In my opinion, you can’t know these things with any level of certainty; but, if you let them, the story and characters will lead you to logical places that feel right. You have to trust your instincts. And, it helps to have a good editor—one to whom you entrust your baby. Read more

Close Encounters with David Sedaris: My Experience of Meeting a Famous Author


I first met David Sedaris at a midtown Sacramento book store, around 1998. He had just finished reading from his essay collection Naked and I stood in line to get the book signed. He didn’t make eye contact. He just stared at my black and green plaid skirt with its oversized safety pin, and asked, “Is that a kilt?”

“Uh, no,” I said. “It’s a skirt. I bought it at Express.”

He signed my book and I walked away. What a weirdo. Are all authors freaks? I will never attend another book signing again! Yet, fifteen years later, on May 9, 2013, I’m standing in line to get my books signed right after “An Evening with David Sedaris,” here in Colorado. He was hilarious, as usual. And humble. And gracious. He rocked the Q and A. Read more

7 Ways a Writing Career is Like a Theme Park


1. You will spend most of your time in line. Go to any amusement park across this great nation. You will see loads of people willingly lined up in very long queues to board rides which only last around five minutes. Writing is kind of like that. The period leading up to my debut’s release was a very long wait, with not very much happening. My actual release month was like the time on the ride—I could barely catch my breath. Also, when I was first starting out, I thought that at some point things would move faster. I know for a few folks, sometimes things do move very quickly (if you manage to snag a VIP pass, you can skip the line). But for the vast majority of writers, there are long periods of waiting in between thrill rides. Write something else in the meantime. You’ve got time.

GIVEAWAY: JJ is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: KarenLange won.) Read more

The Elements of a Successful Book Trailer


Before I decided to purse a career in writing, most of my ideas of the profession came from television and movies. Once I’d penned my masterpiece, I expected entire PR departments at big publishing houses to handle all facets of advertising. In my world, the writer wrote, then awkwardly cute girls in glasses took care of the rest: they set up the tours, booked the flights and hotel rooms, placed full-page ads in all the dailies. The press contacted you for reviews. And that does still happen. For the Stephen Kings and Stephanie Meyerses of the world. For the rest of us fledgling writers down here in the trenches, getting the word out is squarely on our shoulders.

But there is some good news. This new digital age presents myriad, affordable avenues to help promote one’s work. While live readings and tours are still essential and help put a name with the face, the Internet provides options that simply weren’t available twenty years ago. And the latest indie craze seems to be the book trailer. Read more

How to Deal With Writing Rejections


The rejection that writers must face during the submission process to agents is brutal. Even though you know it will happen to you – as it does to all writers – it feels personal and daunting. It’s hard not to take it to heart when 20 or 30 literary agents say “no,” – with cold, automated “it’s not right for me” e-mails. It’s hard to remember that many of them receive 50-100 submissions a day; they can’t possibly respond to each one in any validating sort of way. And it only takes one “yes” to set you on the path to publication. How do you find a way to keep believing in yourself, to keep marching onward when doors continue to close? For me, the antidote to carrying around all that angst was to break a plate every time I was rejected. (This guest column by author Beck McDowell.) Read more

Writing a Novel in Three Months: 5 Simple Steps to a First Draft


1) Routine. Back when my dad was trying to get me to be a more productive member of society (when I was 10 years old), he stressed the importance of doing a new action for 21 successive days. I’m sure he got this idea from some well-meaning book about how to become successful and happy and live to be 125. But there’s truth to it. Repetition breeds habit, and habit breeds routine.

GIVEAWAY: Peter is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: WagnerLisa34 won.) Read more

Travel on the Page – How to Write About a Country You’ve Never Visited


1. Virtual Tour. Google Maps is your friend. Plot believable routes for your characters to take, find out how long their walk to school or work is, and observe local monuments and landmarks. Don’t forget to take a tour down the smaller streets to see what typical neighborhoods look like. YouTube is another great place to start. You’d be surprised how many videos you can find of people walking around local shrines, temples, or markets. While writing SHADOW, I referred to an hour-long video of the train ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station to remind myself what it’s like. I even found myself swaying in time to the train as I watched. Talk about muscle memory.

GIVEAWAY: Amanda is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Milkfish won.). Read more

5 Keys on Writing a Great Thriller


2. Suspects are the main characters. Not everyone will agree with this idea, but for me it’s quite important. Usually crime novels have a hero– a main character in charge of the investigation (like a policeman, a journalist, a lawyer or an anonymous person interested in solving the mystery). That hero will probably have their own problems, weaknesses and strengths. But what we call secondary characters—the ones who have a relationship with the victim, the ones who may have committed the murder—must be portrayed as complex human beings. In other words, in real life they would not be secondary characters so give them your attention. Additionally, we lie both in real life and in fiction, so keep that in mind when writing dialogue. Lies can be meaningful for suspense-building, After all, nobody tells the complete truth. Never. Read more

What Selling Lemonade Can Teach Us About Writing

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My friend’s example spurred me to reconsider my responses when fellow writers asked for my critiques. Recently reading a colleague’s memoir, at the opening pages I reacted like Jon initially—instant dismay. How could my friend write this crap? Then I recalled Jon’s next response: he recognized his daughter’s honest desire and took it seriously.

With trepidation, I approached my friend’s work, not wanting to “offend.” But I realized I had to honor both myself and him by being honest—as Jon was in listing the needed and maybe less-than-pleasant requirements of the lemonade project. Read more

Stories From an Agency Intern: Michael Mohr Explains

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When literary agent Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates) asked me to be her assistant, I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I have been exclusively perusing E’s slush pile; helping with client manuscripts; aiding with editorial pitch letters; and answering a general melee of unique and sometimes challenging questions.

Learning about The Industry from the inside has really helped me see what I need to do in my own writing, in order to boost myself up to that place we all desire: Getting our novel or collection or memoir, etc, out there. The information, the discussions (some involving me, some overheard), the questions and challenges, are invaluable to a young writer. I am learning the ropes, cutting my literary teeth, washing the green off, slowly. Read more

How Do You Find the Time to Write? 6 Tips For Moms (and Everyone Else, Too)


People ask me – you’ve got a child, a job, a commute, a house to run. How do you fit it all in? Well, to start with, all that stuff about scheduling my day, setting aside proper writing time, settling myself into a solid routine? Forget it.

That’s all shiny and fine if you’ve the time and the space. If you’ve got the job, and the family and the multipack of other fun responsibilities, you know it doesn’t work like that. However good your intentions, it’ll get messed up within three days of that nice chart thing that you’ve pinned to your fridge. That’s just how life works. So:

1. Master the art of snap-writing… Read more

Revise Like You Mean It


There is a fairly common misconception about what >b>revision means. That is, if you are a talented writer, you will write an inspired first draft, which you can perfect by making sentences better, fleshing out characters, checking facts, catching continuity problems, and the like. But real revision – in fiction at least – is a rigorous imposition of the imagination on a piece of writing that is certain to be incomplete, or that is fatally unsure of itself, or has a surety that will be revealed as false if you look closely.

True, there are some brilliant works that have come to the writer as a whole. This is a mystery to writers (and scientists, when it happens to them), and we’re all lucky if it happens once in a lifetime. Best not to count on it. Best to come to an understanding of what revision really entails. Read more

“How I Write a Picture Book” — Author Steve Light Explains His Process


The sketchbook is filled with pictures and possibilities of what the story can be. I leave it up to my Editor and Art Director to pick out the things that they think our audience will respond to. Then I start figuring out what is going to happen inside this wonderful 32-page picture book I get to create. Some writing will take place at this point but only of plot points or beats I want to hit in the story. Sometimes a line or a phrasing will appear. Read more

Author Interview: Steve Duno, Author of LAST DOG ON THE HILL

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This dog author interview is with veteran pet behaviorist and author Steve Duno, who has to date authored 19 books and scores of magazine and web articles. He has covered a wide variety of subject matter on both dogs and cats, including basic training, aggression, environmental enrichment, behavior modification, breed profiling, trick training, and pet health care. His list of recent books include The Amazing Dog Trick Kit Book (Chronicle, 2007), Last Dog On The Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou (St. Martin’s, 2010), and Be the Dog: Secrets of the Natural Dog Owner. Read more

5 Easy Ways to Publicize and Promote Your Book


1. Email: Long Live the 20th Century! Nothing did more for my book than an email sent on the day of my book launch, which was October 2nd. On my publication day, I emailed every contact I had in my personal account, names and email addresses I’ve held onto over the last decade. In six hours, my book, for all of one hour, cracked Amazon’s Top 100 in Fiction, clocking in at #81. No, it isn’t a bestseller, but that was pretty exciting for a debut short story collection on a small press. I’m positive that the overwhelming support from all the people whose paths I’ve crossed in the last decade lead to this initial sales success. Even if many of us bemoan being overburdened with email, it’s still the most efficient and direct way to let people know about your book. I only sent one email (I don’t spam people) but it was more than enough to give my book a boost. Read more

Writing Routines that Work


2. Write when you’re hot. Practice pays off, but if the daily grind really isn’t your thing, then follow your instincts. Write when you’re ready to pour whole chapters/stories/volumes out onto the page. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent his career considering the behaviors and thought processes of creative folks: writers, scientists, comedians, mountain climbers, visual artists, musicians, chess players. The common link? An emphasis on entering an “ecstatic state” while engaged in their chosen art form. With that in mind, while you’re on a hot streak, and can feel yourself engrossed in a project, go with it, and keep on going.

GIVEAWAY: Ariel is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: j4london won.) Read more

How to Write a Novel: 7 Tips Everyone Can Use


2. Begin with character. Make her flawed and believable. Let her live and breathe and give her the freedom to surprise you and take the story in unexpected directions. If she’s not surprising you, you can bet she’ll seem flat to your readers. One exercise I always do when I’m getting to know a character is ask her to tell me her secrets. Sit down with a pen and paper and start with, “I never told anybody…” and go from there, writing in the voice of your character.

GIVEAWAY: Jennifer is excited to give away a free copy of her latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Karen Gough won.) Read more

5 Ways to Build Solid Relationships in Your Story


2. “The Stalking Test” — Staring at a boy or girl from a distance is fine, every once in a while. Especially if the staring shows something he/she is doing that helps the reader get to know him vs. telling how attractive he/she is. A few mentions of observation/appearance are plenty. If your main character or main love interest spends an unhealthy amount of time observing another person without that person knowing, it’s probably gone a bit overboard.

GIVEAWAY: Kasie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Rosi won.) Read more

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