authors, creativity, helpful hints, self publishing

4 words that will help you unleash your creativity.

Creativity is a very interesting and often debated topic. Is it something you are born with or something you can develop? Is it something that only happens when limitations are removed or is there a process you can follow to foster creative ideas?  From my experience some people may have a greater propensity to come up with new ideas, but we all have the capability to be creative. I say that because I believe creativity is essentially seeing or ordering the relationship between existing elements differently and perhaps in way that you had not seen previously. Therefore I believe you can use a process to help ideas flow more freely. It is a process I have used to fuel my own creativity and train others to use.

It is really quite simple and only requires you to remember four words:

  • Subtract
  • Add
  • Combine
  • Substitute

With these words in mind, you ask the question, “what if?” You can utilize this process in just about every area where creativity applies, but for this post, I want to focus on how an author might use it.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

By subtracting the ability for characters to chose their future, the Divergent series provides an interesting plot twist and sets up the conflict for the main character.

Subtract

One of the first things you can do with your story is “subtract” something. In other words, ask the question what if the main characters did not have sight? Or in the case of Divergent, what if they could not chose their future, but it was pre-determined. By taking away that simple choice, a major plot line unfolds. So what can you subtract from your characters or world and what ideas would that spawn.

Add

The opposite of subtract is add. So in the same way you subtracted things from your characters or plot, do an exercise where you add something. They could have a special power or previously unknown child. The environment in which they live could have some additional feature as well. The key here is that addition is the goal.  The goal is to make your story or characters more interesting by adding something that is a bit unexpected or launches the plot into a completely different direction.

Combine

This exercise involves taking two elements that you would not normally associate with each other and combining them. One of my favorite examples is the series, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. Here the author took a well known character from history and combined him with the idea of vampires. It is a bit campy, but quite memorable and certainly a twist you did not expect.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Combining ideas in relationships that might not normally be seen can create some interesting ideas like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Substitute

This last technique involves taking a common element and substituting something else in its place. So for example instead of communicating by sentences and speech, perhaps the characters in your book only communicate by song. Or instead of living on land, they live on water. Again the key here is to use this method to create a twist that makes your story or characters more unique and somewhat unexpected for the reader.

What do you do to stir your creative juices?

I trust you will find these simple exercises helpful as you strive to make your book as interesting as can be. Is there something else you do to help your creative process? If you are willing to share that, use the comment section on this post to let us know.

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Author Solutions, book marketing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

How to make your book cover attract readers: A conversation with book designer Adam Hall

Over the past year, I have gotten to know, Adam Hall, who is a book designer for indie authors. His website, www.aroundthepages.com  is a showcase for his work, but Adam also does design for a variety of diverse projects and audiences. He has worked with both first-time and experienced authors on one book or a series. I asked him to share some of his insights recently about designing for books. His answers to my questions follow below.

Type is as important as the image on a cover.

Type is as important as the image on a cover.

How did you start designing book covers? 

I got my start by doing a favor for a friend, Ernie Lindsey. He is an indie writer who has made the USA Today Bestseller list with his series, Sara’s Game. A few years ago he needed some help tweaking a cover. Ernie and I have now collaborated on about 10+ projects. Through his, and other’s encouragement, I decided to make it my focus in my design career.

“……a good cover won’t always make you want to buy a book, but a bad cover will most definitely make you not buy one”

 From your experience what are the keys to making a book cover design work really well?

The cover needs to convey the genre, and give a clue into the story. It doesn’t need to tell the whole story, but create enough intrigue to catch the readers’ eye. Focus on typography as much as the images. If the art is brilliant, but the title text is all wrong, the whole piece falls flat. The art and typography have to work together.

How does book cover design differ from other design projects you do?

In addition to book covers, I work with musicians and bands on artwork and websites. With music design you are basically marketing the individual or group. With book covers you are telling a story. It is fun to find that nugget in the story that you can use in artwork to capture that the idea in the book in one image. That makes book cover design more challenging than doing design for music, but that’s part of what makes it fun.

The thumbnail is what they will likely see first if they search online, so it is critical the thumbnail makes a good first impression.

What design mistakes do you see most often on book covers?

One common mistake is not considering all formats when doing the cover design. You have to make sure the cover looks great in thumbnail size AND full size. You only have a split second to catch a potential reader’s eye as they’re searching out that next book. The thumbnail is what they will likely see first if they search online, so it is critical the thumbnail makes a good first impression.

Finding the one image that captures the story is a key to good book design.

Finding the one image that captures the story is a key to good book design.

What tips would you give to first time authors?

I think two of the most important people an author can find are a good editor and designer. You have to trust both to make your work the best it can be.

When it comes to working with a designer, do your due diligence and look at a designer’s previous work. A friend of mine has said “a good cover won’t always make you want to buy a book, but a bad cover will most definitely make you not buy one”. I thought that was a brilliant point. Find a designer who can help make your cover one that motivate readers to buy your book.

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Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, self publishing, writing

3 brainstorming techniques that can help you capture the best ideas for your book

One of the keys to writing a good book is making sure your manuscript contains the best of ideas or story you want to brainstorm ideaconvey. That means you need to make sure you include all the main ideas and supporting concepts for a nonfiction book and all the key plot points and characters in a fiction book.

Brainstorming before you begin writing can help you capture scattered thoughts and explore new ones you might not have considered. You can brainstorm about your book in general to get started, or you can brainstorm something more specific, such as a particular character, the setting of your story, or a chapter. There are several brainstorming techniques that are useful for writers. Here are a few to try that could help make your book even better.

Ask Questions

Instead of focusing on the answers and what you know, think about questions you could ask about your topic or plot or a character. “What if” is a great place to start. What if the character was from another planet? What if no one spoke the same language? What if you wrote a workbook to accompany your non-fiction book? “What if” can lead to a number of new ideas.

Another way to approach this technique is create a sheet that has six categories: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then start writing down questions that need to be answered. Who are the antagonist’s allies? What is the one thing the main character cannot live without? Where will the story unfold? Give yourself a time frame, and write down as many questions as you can. At the end of the brainstorming session, dig deeper into some of the interesting questions that arose.

Create a Mind Map

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

Mind mapping can help you explore new directions and new ideas for your book.

To expand your basic idea, try the technique known as mind mapping. Mind mapping is a technique used to organize your brainstorming ideas. Start with a circle in the center of a blank page (use a large sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or even a sidewalk and chalk). In the middle of that circle, write your main idea or initial thought, and then branch off from there. Draw other circles branching from the first one, filling them in with related ideas or subplots. Continue expanding on each subsidiary idea and then on ideas subsidiary to the first sub-idea. Continue quickly, creating more branches and associations. At the end, your page will be filled with a mind map of ideas that will help you develop your story.

Make a List

The first two brainstorming ideas are intended to create a breadth of ideas around a topic, but making a list will help you explore the depth of a topic. To start set a number as your goal for your list. It could be ten, or 20 or 50. The number doesn’t matter as much as the commitment to create the list. Then write a statement or idea at the top of the page. For example, at the end of the book, the main character will ______________. Then start making a list of all the possible things that could happen to the main character. Most of the ideas on the list won’t be viable, but the goal is to just open up your thinking to find that one really killer idea on the list. Don’t worry about the quality or order of the items you are listing, just get them out onto the page. Then go back and review your list when you are done. You will probably be surprised at some of what you listed, but look for that one idea that can make your book really special.

Have you used brainstorming techniques?

I trust these three simple ideas are helpful to you, but perhaps there are other techniques you have used in your writing process. If so, please share those in the comment section and I will post for the other readers to see.

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Author Solutions, AuthorHouse, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing

Essential info on how to work with an illustrator: An interview with Jamie Cosley

Recently I had a conversation with Jamie Cosley, who makes his living as an illustrator. While Jamie’s web site show cases a wide range of illustrations, his portfolio features work for a number of children’s books. Given the number of aspiring authors I speak with who are writing a children’s book, I thought it would be helpful to hear from an experienced illustrator like Jamie to know what to expect when working with an illustrator to make your book as good as it can be. What follows are Jamie’s answers to some questions I posed to him.

Illustrator Jamie Cosley shares tips on what to expect from working with an illustrator.

Illustrator Jamie Cosley shares tips on what to expect from working with an illustrator.

How did you start doing illustrations for books?  My first picture book was Poppy’s Planet by author Russ Brown.  He was looking for an illustrator on Twitter. I found his initial post and sent him a link to my website.  We’ve also worked on two other books since then. I like being able to work with first time authors and self publishers.  Most of my connections at first were made through Twitter, but now a lot of projects come from referrals.

“It’s real easy to crowd a page. You need to make sure that everything the reader will see on the page is necessary to the story.”

What advice would you give on the best way to work with an illustrator?    I would just like everyone to know that it is a lot of hard work!   Illustrating a picture book (depending on the amount of detail the story requires) can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to complete.

Make sure you don't crowd the page. Everything on the page should be essential to the story.

Make sure you don’t crowd the page. Everything on the page should be essential to the story.

How do illustrations for a book differ from other illustration projects?  The main difference is consistency.  You have to learn to draw certain characters over and over again without changing their size or appearance.  If you have a little girl with a bow in her hair and it’s on the left side of her face, you need to remember that throughout those 32 pages.  That can be very tricky so I think it’s important to develop a model//character sheet that shows your characters from all different angles before you even begin.  If you do a lot of prep work up front it will be easier on you in the long run.  When you do a spot illustration for a magazine or newspaper article you will probably only have to draw it once :)  It’s a lot different.

“There is nothing like holding that finished product in your hand….”

What design mistakes do you see most often in books that have illustrations?  Composition is really tough.  It’s real easy to crowd a page. You need to make sure that everything the reader will see on the page is necessary to the story

What tips would you give to first time authors?  Be patient.   This is never easy.  When you start to see your dream take shape it’s easy to become impatient and want to speed things along.  Maybe even cut corners.  There is nothing like holding that finished product in your hand but take a deep breath and make certain that there aren’t any mistakes first.  Let more than a few eyes see it so you only have to print once!

Consistency in characters, tone of voice and reading level are key to a good children's book.

Consistency in characters, tone of voice and reading level are key to a good children’s book.

 Anything else you think would be helpful for readers to know.  It’s an exciting time to be a creative person.  You have sites like Kickstarter and Patreon where you can go out on your own and make things happen!  So do it!  Make things happen!  Don’t be afraid.  Dream big!

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Author Solutions, authors, book marketing, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

5 free webinars every aspiring author should watch

As part of my role with Author Solutions, I have the opportunity to give and participate in numerous webinars for writers and authors for The Author Learning Center, Hay House and iUniverse to name a few. I always enjoy the experience, but I have to tell you I think some of the best webinars available to authors are on the Archway Publishing website.

Some of the best free webinars for authors are available on the Archway Publishing web site.

Some of the best free webinars for authors are available on the Archway Publishing web site

Full disclosure: I am always involved with approving the topics.and sometimes talk with the presenter to help shape the content, but each time I am always thoroughly impressed with the content and the topics that Simon and Schuster makes available to authors through Archway.

Here are the webinars that you can access for free to learn more about what it takes to publish a better book and market it more effectively.

  1. Secrets of an Acquisitions Editor – How To Get The Attention of a Traditional Publisher-Presenter: Michael Szezeran, Editor at Simon & Schuster
  2. Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make–Presenter: Abby Zidle, Senior Editor at Gallery Books and Pocket Books
    from Simon & Schuster
  3. Four Keys To A Killer Cover–Presenter:Jason Heuer, Associate Art Director at Simon & Schuster
  4. Best Practices For Authors on Facebook–Presenter: Susan B. Katz, Author & Strategic Manager at Facebook
  5. How To Capture Attention On Twitter–Presenter: Andrew Fitzgerald, Twitter Media Team
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Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Indie book publishing, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 helpful tips on how to work with a ghostwriter

Not too long ago I featured two guest posts from Kathy Ide. Kathy is a ghostwriter, editor/mentor, writers’ conference speaker and author of a must-have book, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors  She also founded and is the coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network(www.TheChristianPEN.com) and the Christian Editor Connection(www.ChristianEditor.com).

Her previous posts LET’S EAT GRANDMA: The Importance of Proofreading and 5 ways that mistakes in your manuscript can hurt your reputation as an author were very well-received so I thought I would offer some additional insights from her.

I had the privilege of interviewing Kathy at the West Coast Writer’s Conference on the topic of ghostwriting. She had some helpful tips if that is something you are considering.

Don’t just rely on interviews

When people think of ghostwriting, they often think they will just dictate the whole story. That may be because they don’t have the time, confidence or skills to write a manuscript.  Kathy suggests even though a ghostwriter will do interviews, it is very helpful for you to write down your thoughts. It could be key stories or people, but it will help the interviews be more productive.

Create a chronological outline

Along with writing down significant moments in preparation for the interviews, it is also very helpful to create a chronological outline of the story. Again it will help create order and make the interviews even more productive. In fact, you should probably provide it to the ghostwriter prior to the interview.

Be clear on your audience

This is a key no matter what book you are writing or publishing. I have written about this extensively, but it is perhaps the most important thing for any writer to keep in mind when they are publishing.

If you would like to hear Kathy elaborate on these topics, here interview is available below.

 

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Author Solutions, authors, helpful hints, Publishing, self publishing, writing

Blog to book: How to make it happen.

Build Your BlogThis past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Build Your Blog conference on behalf of LifeRich Publishing to help bloggers better understand how they can take their blog content and turn it into a book. Not surprisingly many of the attendees were tremendously interested to learn what it takes to become an author, but also confused by the options available to writers today.

I had never spoken at a conference like this so I did not know what to expect, but I was quite impressed with the enthusiasm and passion of this group. Writers as a whole are a passionate bunch, but for some reason, committed bloggers seemed even more so.

ASI_FourPaths_HomeGraphic_240x130As I have seen at other conferences, identifying the 4 Paths to Publishing was very helpful, judging by the nods I saw in the audience as I unpacked the idea. Explaining the advantages and differences of the DIY, General Contractor , Supported Self Publishing and Traditional publishing paths seemed to really help them understand their options and which may be best for them.

WHY PUBLISH A BOOK?

The place I started our discussion was establishing why publish a book if you have a blog. There are certainly a number of reasons– ranging from a purely personal motivation to a business decision, but these were some of the more important ones.

Credibility and cache—Like or not, there is still something about the word author that carries more weight than just the word blogger. That’s why taking the rich content of a blog and publishing can change the perception people have about a writer.

Build your brand—Blogging isn’t just about writing. Bloggers begin to develop their own brands. A book is one more way to do that.

Expand your audience—With a book, you have new ways for people to find you and your content even if they have never seen your blog.

Create new income opportunities—In a future blog post, I am going to talk about the 8 ways an author can earn money besides book sales, but suffice it to say, a book gives you ways to sell you and your services in a way a blog alone does not.

SO WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET PUBLISHED?

At this point, there were no arguments that publishing a book was a great idea personally and professionally, but the question at hand was how. So based on my conversations with bloggers who did publish, I suggested these three key steps.

  1. Organize your material—by this I mean, look at your blog content and see what themes you see. Then organize chapters or sections around those ideas.
  2. Choose your title—Title is a key and so you want to do the research and make sure your title makes sense for your audience and genre. I have written about this topic on this blog here
  3. Pick a publishing path—this is where the 4 paths discussion proves very helpful.

 HOW TO DECIDE WHICH PATH IS BEST FOR YOU

To make a decision among the four publishing paths, you need to be clear about four specific points: your goals and expectations, skills and experience, time commitment, and budget.

Goals and expectationsThink about what your goals and expectations for your blog’s success and how that translates to publishing. What are your goals for publishing?  Write those down.

Skills and experience–How do your skills and experience in writing and your blog’s subject matter come into play when choosing a publishing path? Do you know how to format page layouts or ebook formats? Do you want to even bother with it? Being clear on what skills you have will help you decide what you need to hire out.

Time commitment–How much time are you willing to invest to make your book as good as it can be? That is also a key question to answer as you think about which publishing path

Budget—publishing is not free and really is just a trade-off between what you want to do yourself and what you want to hire someone to do, but know what you want to invest before you begin and you will make a good decision.

THE BLOGGER DAVINCI IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF HOW THIS CAN WORK

Davinci the bloggerAs part of my presentation, I shared the platform with Da Vinci who writes YourLifeAfter25.com, a lifestyle and women’s blog, and is the author of The Pocket Sous Chef: Da Vinci’s Guide to Cooking for 1 + 1, which was published by LifeRich. From her experience, she shared three key ideas to help bloggers get to published book as she did. She summarized by saying you need to build your book, brand your book and broadcast your book.  All three are critical.

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