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, Editing, writing

Can outlining make your writing even better? Here are 3 methods to use and find out.

I have to admit I was not a fan of outlining and have heard multiple debates among writers about whether an outline is needed. Some see it as essential before they start the writing process. Others see it as too restrictive and something that limits creativity. I probably would have fallen more in the latter category, but over the last few years, I have come to really see the value of establishing an outline before writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing.

No matter what method you use, an outline could improve your writing. 

Having a good outline is like having a good map. GPS on our phones has made maps old school, but not that long ago, having a map was critical before embarking on a journey. For me an outline simply serves as a map. It establishes where you are starting and what your final destination will be and some of the key milestones you will pass on your journey. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different route once you begin your journey or add a stop or two. It just simply gives you a path to follow as you write. Too often, first time authors, write to get down on paper the essence of what they want to say, but don’t make it easy for others to follow along. An outline can help avoid that problem.

Three options for you to create an outline.  Over the years, three different methods for outlining have become the predominant options for authors. There is no ranking of one, two and three. Rather, they present choices for you to find which method works best for you. The following list will touch on the basics of popular methods.

Classic Outline

This classic outline includes Roman numerals, letters, and numbers for headings and subheadings. It is the most highly organized form of outlining and relies heavily on sequential thinking. It is often uses most for nonfiction works. The goal of the classical outline is to create a blueprint that effectively divides main ideas and subordinating ones, while at the same time coordinating ideas into a cohesive whole. Most of us learned this method in school at some point

Summary Outline

In a summary outline, you start by sequentially listing plot events. Then write a short summary of each chapter. Clearly define goals for each chapter and discuss the characters, settings, and chapter timelines. This kind of outline is linear in nature. It can be used in conjunction with a classic outline to create an even more detailed blueprint for your book. It is also most often used for a fiction book.

Storyboarding

This form of outlining is popular because it allows for constant reorganization of ideas. It is a great technique for when you

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

Using Post-It notes can be an effective way to storyboard.

want to get all your ideas down and then begin to play with options for how the book or story could flow.  You can use index cards or sticky notes and write down all the key events or points you want to make. Then on a wall or table, begin to layout the order you want the ideas or events to appear. This method is really helpful if you are a visual person and need to see the flow. It also helps you see where you may have holes in the story or a weak transition.

Have you used a outline when you write? If so, what method? Have you found it helpful. Use the comment section to let me know what you think.

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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, Editing, self publishing, writing

4 great tips for first time writers

Once again, I am going to draw from the experience of Kathy Ide to encourage and educate. In this video clip, which is featured on The Author Learning Center, Kathy shares some important tips for those who have not published before. The interview is less than three minutes long and definitely worth watching if you are working on your first book.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

Lots of great information to help you with writing, publishing and marketing.

The tips are best said by Kathy, but here are the key points she makes.

Passion for your idea needs to be your motivation. Once you start the work of writing, it can be easy to forget the passion you had for your idea at the start, but don’t. Remember what compelled you to want to write.

It is a long road from the idea to finished book. This is not a new idea, but it is good to be reminded of it.

Tenacity is needed to write and re-write. Like the tip before, this is a reminder that you need to stick with it to get to your goal and impact readers with your writing.

Don’t give up. Remember there are people out there who will want to read what you have to say.

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