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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.

Revise Like You Mean It

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

5 Tips for How to Write a Young Adult Crossover Novel

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1. While you should certainly feel free to include characters of whatever age you choose, make sure there’s at least one teenager. While young adults often read books without teenaged characters (I was partial to Somerset Maugham stories and Solzhenitsyn, to cite a needlessly bizarre example) those generally aren’t considered part of the YA genre.

2. Make things more complex, not less. You may feel an impulse to simplify things in an attempt to make your story more accessible, but I would resist that. Read more

How to Keep Writing in the Face of Rejection

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2. Give yourself permission to keep writing. I’ve heard writers say, “If I haven’t sold something within the next two years, I’ll know I should give up.” Or, “If I don’t make money from writing by January, I’ll know I should stop spending so much time trying, because it’s disruptive to other areas of my life.” But by giving the universe an ultimatum, you’re letting external circumstances decide the course of your creative pursuits. Instead, take charge of your own future. Give yourself permission to keep writing despite discouraging feedback or missed timeline targets. Believe you deserve to continue, no matter what happens.

GIVEAWAY: Holly is excited to give away a copy of King Solomon’s Wives: Hunted to a random commenter. (Comment within 2 weeks.) The book is digital — for Kindle, Nook, and Android, and through the Kindle app on iPhone, iPad, PC, and Mac. (Update: souldancer won.) Read more

7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

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If you’re struggling with writer’s block, don’t get discouraged. This happens to every great writer at some point, and it’s easy to overcome it. I get stuck many times in the middle of a novel. I lose my muse and don’t feel like writing. I stare at the computer screen and no words come to mind. My head feels stuck, stuck, stuck. It can be frustrating. After twenty years of writing historical thrillers and supernatural horror novels, I’ve learned how to get past writer’s block. Here are seven powerful ways you can get back into the flow of writing… Read more

How to Promote Your Book (Part 2): Book Tours, Publicity, Video Trailers and More

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Can’t afford a publicist?—Be your own: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and literally hundreds of book blogs have made it possible to get the word out to millions of potential readers. Would your book appeal to a special interest group (Civil War buffs, oenophiles, knitters)? Use the Internet to find those groups and let them know about your book.

GIVEAWAY: Steven 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: jackiegillam won.) Read more

Subverting Adverbs and Clichés

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Writers constantly have rules thrown at them left, right, and center. Show, don’t tell! Stop using so many dialogue tags! More sensory detail! More tension! Speed up the pace! Yada yada yada … it can become overwhelming, yes? I used to feel overwhelmed by it all too. In fact, I still do sometimes. It’s hard enough to get the words on the page, let alone consider how to put them there.

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

How to Write in the Face of Rejection

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I wrote “unparagraphs”, I aimed for imbalance, I stayed in the moment indefinitely, I realized my maximal self on the page. Most importantly, I wrote myself on to the page. And I learned, as all writers must, how to write in the face of rejection. I received a rejection from an editor I admired, and the next day I wrote.

Guest column by Jay Ponteri, author of the 2013 memoir WEDLOCKED. Read more

Agent Nephele Tempest Teaches You How to Write an Excellent Synopsis: April 25 Webinar With Critique

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Writing a synopsis is usually one of the most difficult things about pitching a novel. It’s incredibly difficult to summarize your entire book in just one page. How do you condense all that info? What gets cut? How much detail should you give? Is it worth mention elements like subplots and character arc?

These types of questions are why we have literary agent Nephele Tempest (The Knight Agency) to teach “Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool” — a brand new live webinar at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, April 25, 2013. It lasts 90 minutes, and all attendees will get their synopses personally critiqued by Nephele following the event. Get agent eyes on your work! Don’t forget that at least 3 agents from major agencies have signed writers after seeing their work as part of a WD webinar. Read more

Are Blogs The New Journals?

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My novel came out in June 2012 — it’s a portrait of two women, including one revealed through her journals after her death. Shortly after it was released, I got an interesting email from a reader. The reader said she hadn’t been sure she would like a book half written in the form of journals, but had been grabbed by the point of view: the private side of a woman, in her own words, that made her public self look like a facade.

“No one hears about journals anymore, now that everything is about blogs,” the reader wrote. “Were you afraid it would seem dated?”

GIVEAWAY: Nichole 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: vrundell won.) Read more

How to Get a Scene from Brain to Paper

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Different writers have difficulty with different parts of the writing process. Some hate fiddling with background information. Others despise revising. Others can’t stand outlining. Me? I have the most trouble with drafting.

By “drafting,” what I mean is this whole “get the story down on paper” part of writing. It’s not that I have trouble coming up with new material, or that I don’t know where the story is going, it’s just that I have trouble getting what’s in my head down onto paper.

GIVEAWAY: Kat 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: justsaymoo won.) Read more

Writer’s Block: 5 Ways to Get Rid of It

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2. Write something completely different. A teacher at school gave me this advice. When you’re stuck, don’t just try to think outside of the box. Try a whole other box. If you write YA, try writing a steamy scene. If you write thrillers, try writing a picture book. The change in format and tone will force you to break out of your comfort zone, to push your boundaries. You’ll discover new ways of expressing yourself, new limitations and new freedoms, and you can apply the new tricks to your existing work. If nothing else, trying to write something different might just remind you of how much you love writing your old stuff! Read more

The More You Will It, The Better Your Chances: An Inspirational Story For Writers

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… I did this one other thing on the third floor. I’d always make a detour to the spot where Close Is Fine would go if it ever found publication, which in this case was right between John Treherne’s The Walk to Acorn Bridge and Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s Leaving Sardinia. When I got there, I’d reach up and wedge my hand in and make an opening. I’d step back and let my eyes go a little crossed, and I’d force myself to see it: the title running down the spine, with the Cutter, the label on which the call letters were printed, at the bottom.

GIVEAWAY: Eliot is excited to give away a free copy of his collection 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: Jarika won.) Read more

5 Tips to Help You Make Your Deadline

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1. Do the math. Before you undertake the final throes of a deadline, you should map out how much time you have and how much writing you have to do. It’s a terrible SAT math question: if a novelist only has so much time to write x-amount of words, how long before it feels as though those two trains are coming straight at him/her? (show your work). Read more

4 Ways to Build Healthy Relationships with Your Readers

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I wrote Anne Rice an email. She wrote me back fifteen minutes later. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, a stranger, and she immediately wrote me a kind, friendly note. Having a positive relationship with your readers pays off. Readers are more likely to buy your book if they feel a personal connection to you. They’re more likely to mention your book to their friends, because they want to brag about how they interacted with the author. I’ve had readers introduce me to reporters, set up book signings and get me speaking engagements. Here are 4 simple points to help build healthy relationships with your readers… Read more

The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

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1. Communication style: How does your character talk? Does she favor certain words or phrases that make her distinct and interesting? What about the sound of her voice? Much of our personality comes through our speech, so think about the way your character is going to talk. Her style of communication should be distinctive and unique.

GIVEAWAY: Tom 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: KarenLange won.) Read more

Debut Author Interview: Wendy Welch, Author of the Memoir THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP

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I love featuring interviews with first-time book writers on my blog. It’s a rare treat that I get to sit down and talk with a debut memoir writer, but that’s just what’s happening today. Meet author Wendy Welch, who wrote the inspiring and fun book, THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP (Oct. 2012, St. Martins). The book has been featured by People. Redbook, NPR, and many other media outlets.

Wendy’s story is billed as “the little Virginia bookstore that could: how two people, two cats, two dogs, and thirty-eight thousand books helped a small town find its heart. It is a story about people and books, and how together they create community.” Publishers Weekly said “The whole narrative exudes enormous charm and the value of dreams and lives truly lived,” while Kirkus called it “An entertaining book with a full cast of eccentric characters.” Read more

Why You Need a Literary Agent: Novelist Bernadette Pajer Interviews Her Agent, Jill Grosjean

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Emerging writers often ask me if literary agents are necessary in today’s publishing world. I say, emphatically, yes! Why? Because after the current turbulent evolution of publishing stabilizes, traditional publishers will continue to exist and play a vital role in the production of books. And why do I believe that? Because most writers want to write. Just write. We know we must help market our books, and that is time-consuming enough, but most of us don’t truly want to do the job of a dozen industry professionals. Read more

On a Positive Note: 5 Ways To Get Good Revision Notes From Others

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2. Careful Who You Ask. Just because you want to seek other readers of all shapes and sizes, that does not mean that you should ask just anyone to give you feedback. It’s really important to rely on people whose opinions you trust (seems obvious, but it’s easy to make the error) and who don’t have baggage about you or writing in general. Complicated relationships can be just fine in life, but they’re not a good basis for exchanging notes. Make sure you rely on friends or fellow writers from whom you can comfortably take criticism and not “frenemies” or critical family members. Read more

Picture Books Are Not Just for Children: 10 Reasons Why

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2. Picture book language is often more sophisticated than the first chapter books that children read, and therefore an excellent way for children to learn language. It is here that children, and others, can learn vocabulary, imagery, rhythm, shape, structure, conciseness, emotional power.

3. The picture book is the most flexible of all literary formats. You can do almost anything in a picture book. This flexibility encourages creativity, in both writer and reader. It broadens the mind, and the imagination. And given today’s challenges, we desperately need more creativity, broadened minds and imagination. Read more

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