Create a Writing Calendar Using Trello

Whether you’re writing short stories, a blog, a novel, articles, or anything in between, the key to writing regularly is to be organised. It can be difficult to keep track of all the opportunities you want to apply for, the magazines you want to pitch to, and any other writing assignments you have for yourself. Building a clear idea of what you want to write can really make the difference between dreaming about writing and your writing carrying you to your dreams.

This guide will show you how to find opportunities, put them on a calendar, and then write towards your goals. First, of course, it’s important to do some introspection, set your writing goals and build a habit of writing every day. I use a combination of Trello and Google Calendar for this, but you’re welcome to use any tools you’d like.

Set Your Own Writing Goals

Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, and jot down everything you want to write. Whether you want to work through the exercises in a creative writing book, you have assignments or blog posts to work on, short story or flash fiction styles you want to try, novel ideas you want to try out, or anything else you can think of. Have fun with this; the only person who is going to see any of your writing is you!

Take the time to assess how much you can write every day. How much time will you devote to writing? What time of day will you do it? How much do you usually write in that time? If you’re not sure, that’s totally fine—you’ll figure it out as you move along, but don’t be harsh with yourself if you’re a bit slower than you’d hoped.

Finding Opportunities

Regardless of your niche, there are so many writing support tools and competitions and journals and opportunities out there, just waiting for you to apply for them. I had no idea how much stuff was out there until I started looking for it.

Websites like Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, Australian Writers’ Resource, the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, Writer’s Edit and each state writers centre’s email newsletters are great sources of upcoming competitions and opportunities. Subscribe to as many free email newsletters as you can, and make a habit of going through all the opportunities once a week.

Most magazines and journals love getting submissions, and once you know your niche, it’s really easy to find magazines to submit to. Writing for publications is a great way to build your writing career, make connections, and even make a little bit of money on the side.

Use Twitter strategically! Follow (or create a list) all of the state writers centres, magazines and journals, and other major Australian writing organisations, as well as the movers and shakers in your niche. It’s very likely you’ll find a whole abundance of writing opportunities through these feeds.

The Writing Calendar

Once you’ve got a whole selection of writing goals and ideas in one place, and you know how much time you can devote to writing, it’s time to put your calendar together! I like using Trello for this, because I can have one masterlist with all of my ideas, and then another list for each week, and drag and drop the card for each individual writing task to where it fits best. Then, once I’ve got my calendar sorted, I move over to Google Calendar and pop each one.

Be careful to make sure you have variety in your week. It’s too easy to spend every day writing pitches to magazines, or to constantly get distracted by short stories and never work on the bigger projects you’re hoping to conquer. Also, make sure to give yourself a wild card day every once in awhile, where you can choose to write whatever you want to at the time.

If you’re using Trello, it’s also good to have a list at the very left with your other miscellaneous, writing-related to dos. Things like ‘follow up on magazine submission’, or ‘reformat old blog posts’ are really easy to forget about, and having them right there with all of your other plans will help you to make sure that all of those little things get done.

How to Spot Vanity Presses and Publishing Scams

Almost every writer wants to see their work in print. You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer that doesn’t want the kind of recognition (or gloating) that comes with the phrase ‘I’ve had a book published’. But there are many so-called publishers that prey on that dream, and unfortunately, they make a lot of money.

But that doesn’t mean we should lock our work up and never submit it, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t self-publish it. It’s about looking at each opportunity individually, and carefully following a few simple steps to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Be Careful If There’s Money Involved

In a traditional publishing relationship, money should always flow to the author. If you pay someone to publish your book, they have no incentive to sell it.

There are many horror stories online of people paying thousands of dollars to a publisher, only to receive 20 copies of their book with additional typos and misprinted illustrations. If you are giving money to a publisher, make sure you get in writing exactly what you will be receiving for your money, and how they will be providing it. For example, if they are including an edit, does the editor have a high profile in the industry? What other projects have they worked on? What makes this edit worth your money?

If you are self-publishing a book, or you’re knowingly going into a partner-publishing relationship, then yes, you will likely be handing some money over. (Though, it should be noted that it is totally possible to self-publish a print book without breaking the bank.) But if the publisher claims to be a traditional publisher, they should not be taking any money from you. If a publisher asks for a ‘reading fee’ or an ‘assessment fee’, this is a warning sign.

Quality Control

Can you find a copy of another book the publisher has produced? Is it available in physical and/or online bookstores, and can you find an ebook version? If you can’t find any books by that publisher, think about whether that publisher is really going to sell your book well. Take a look at the publisher’s social media presence. Do they have an active, loyal following?

Invest in a copy of the book in each format; is the quality of the product at a level that excites you? Are the words well edited, is the book well-produced, is the paper of a nice quality? Think about all of the things that are important to you in the design of your book, and check your sample book for those.

Get in touch with another writer or organisation who has worked with the publisher before. How was their experience with them? Would they recommend them? This is also a good time to do some quick googling to see if you can find any online reviews or stories about working with the publisher, and stalk their employees on Twitter and LinkedIn. A little sleuthing now could save you a lot of stress in the future.

The Legal Stuff

Before signing anything, make sure you read through your contract carefully, and that you understand it. If something is not in the contract, don’t assume it will happen; the contract is the only thing binding the publisher to do what they have told you they will. What you’re signing is what you’re going to get, and you could end up being legally bound to dangerous or shifty clauses.

This is by no means legal advice, and for different writers there will be different priorities. Some writers might want a big advance, but other writers might prefer the publisher pick up several books at once. Other writers might focus on the royalty rate or the reversion clause or the adaptation rights. It’s important to consider your plans for the book and what your needs are.

If you’re unsure about doing it yourself, and you don’t have a literary agent, there are contract review services offered by Australian Society of Authors, Arts Law and Alex Adsett Publishing Services, and if they’re going to advise you not to sign a contract, both the Australian Society of Authors and Alex Adsett Publishing Services will not charge you unless you want to move forward. Alex Adsett Publishing Services also negotiates contracts on an hourly rate.

Some Important Clauses To Check

Again, this is not legal advice. These are just a few areas that you should make sure you understand before signing a book with any publisher.

  • Royalty clauses: How much will you be paid, and when? Are there different rates for different forms of the book (e.g. ebook vs print book)? If the book is remaindered, will the rates go down again?
  • Advance: Will you be paid an advance? How much will you be paid? Note that smaller publishers may not offer an advance, and if you do receive one, it is the norm that you won’t receive royalties until you have ‘earned it back’.
  • Reversion: Will the rights to the book be reverted back to you if the book is not selling? Note that some publishing contracts may say that the rights revert if the book is no longer available, but with digital publishing, it is very easy to make a book always available.
  • Indemnity: Many publishers (including reputable ones) state if the book breaks any laws (e.g. copyright, defamation, etc.), that the liability stays with the author.
  • Multimedia and Language Rights: Who retains the rights to adaptations and translations? Who is in a better position to use or sell these? If you have a well-connected literary agent, they may prefer to hold onto these rights.

Pre-Publishing Checklist

  1. Are you handing the publisher any money? If yes, do you have written terms on exactly what you will receive for that money? Have you received quotes from other publishers, or opinions from industry professionals on whether that is a reasonable rate?
  2. Have you found any other works the publisher has produced in bookstores (if they are promising this)? Are they well-marketed online (and if so, is it from the author or the publisher), and does the publisher have much of an online following?
  3. Get your hands on another book the publisher has produced. If you want illustrations or pictures in your work, try to select a book with similar content. Is it well designed? Are there typos? Do you feel the work is well edited? Is the paper of a decent quality?
  4. Contact another author who has been published through them. Google the publisher’s name alongside words such as ‘experience’, ‘warning’ and ‘review’, search on Twitter for their authors and reach out to people to ask for honest feedback. Feel free to contact your state writers centre or the Australian Society of Authors if you’re unsure.
  5. Consider getting a contract assessment. The Australian Society of Authors, Arts Law and Alex Adsett Publishing Services all offer contract assessments, in which they will go over the contract and advise you on whether it is fair and if there are any warning signs. The Australian Society of Authors and Alex Adsett Publishing Services both offer your money back if they feel the contract is a scam.

5 Books To Make You a Better Writer: Character Voice

When it comes to narration and point of view, character voice can really set a book apart. Much of getting into a character’s head (or getting the character into the reader’s head) is getting across how they think, how they speak, how they are. Characters with distinctive voices are characters that get remembered.

Reading is the most important thing writers can do; it is truly the closest thing to an apprenticeship we have. By deconstructing books that work, we can figure out at least some of the magic that the brilliant authors have used when concocting their stories. This is the second in a series of posts which will include recommendations for books that excel at different aspects of the craft. To view all the posts in this series, click here.

1. The Catcher in the Rye

catcher in the rye

This is a controversial one: people either love or hate this book, and some of that probably has to do with the fact that it’s often assigned in high schools. But most of the feelings on this book, surround the character Holden Caulfield, whose voice is so real and so honest, that he sparks a genuine reaction in almost every reader. Even if you think you don’t like this book, take a page in it and examine the narration to see if you find anything worth noting.

2. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

TROUJLH_GLOW

If Patrick Ness has one talent, it’s character voice. He is a master at creating teenage characters, and giving them dialogue and thoughts that feel real and authentic. This particular book makes fun of the ‘chosen one’ trope, focusing on the kids in the background; bits of it are ridiculously fun, bits of it are a tad cheesy, but all of it is wrapped up in the narration of a character that you can’t help but believe in.

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

thebelljar

In this book, Sylvia Plath interweaves fiction and memoir to create an incredibly honest portrayal of mental illness and the descent into insanity. It is as dark and shocking as you would expect, but the writing is exquisite; Plath’s poetry has wonderful rhythm and voice, and the way she applies to fiction is wonderful. Pick this one up for both a distinctive narrative voice, and a really well written character arc.

4. Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

foreign-soil

Foreign Soil is a short story collection of non-white people and their experiences on foreign soil, and it is honest and disconcerting. Some of the stories are written in accent or dialect, and the voices are so distinctive and raw. This is an affecting read, but it is wonderfully crafted.

5. American Pycho by Bret Easton Ellis

americanpsycho

When I picked up American Psycho, I was not expecting it to be so literary, or to have such a strong narrative voice. This book is very, very dark. It is not a pleasant book to read, and I hesitate to recommend it, but it’s worth the experience. The narration here is almost similar to The Rosie Project, despite the contrasting subject matter. Patrick Bateman is a character who walks the line between intriguing and horrifying, and the mystery of who he is and why he is really drives the novel.

Honourable Mentions

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, for giving a narrator such a distinctive voice, that many people with autism spectrum disorders thanked the writer for his honest and accurate portrayal, despite the writer never having mentioned any disorders in the novel. If American Psycho is a little dark for you, read this one instead.
  2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusack, for mixing voice and poetry to deliver wonderfully lyrical narration, and for giving Death a voice on human tragedy.
  3. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, for a wonderful portrayal of grief and love and loss. Here, the narration is characteristic without ever sacrificing the quality of the writing.
  4. The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader, for finding a story within the mind of a woman who chose to be locked up in a room for the rest of her life.
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for capturing the culture of Alabama (and much of America) inthe 1930s within a combination of narration and dialogue. While I have issues with some aspects of this novel (including the way race is portrayed), there is no denying that the character voice is brilliantly crafted.

How to Write a Query Letter

If you’re hoping to get your writing published, sooner or later you’re going to need to write a query letter. This is basically a super professional letter written to a publisher or agent which gives your elevator pitch, what your manuscript is and why it would be perfect for this purpose, your writing credentials, and anything else the letter-reader needs to know.

Above all, treat whomever you’re submitting your novel to with the utmost respect. They are professionals doing their jobs, and if they choose to take on your work, that is a real risk for them. Read the submission guidelines, address it to them by name, and don’t tell them that your book is the next ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Hunger Games’.

Submitting Fiction vs. Submitting Nonfiction

Submitting novel-length fiction and nonfiction are totally different processes. When you submit fiction, generally the book has already been written. This doesn’t mean that the book won’t go through further edits during the publishing process, but you should have already written the thing. Generally, a publisher or agent’s submission guidelines for fiction will ask for a certain amount of pages or chapters, a synopsis and a query letter, though sometimes these requirements can vary. If they like what they see, they may ask for the full manuscript, and you want to be able to provide it as quickly as possible.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, is a totally different beast. Generally, while you will need to have a few chapters of sample writing, a synopsis and chapter outline, publishers like to pick up nonfiction books before they are written. This is a double-bonus for you; firstly, the publisher will tell you exactly what they want, lessening the amount of edits you’ll have to go through, and secondly (the holy grail), you’ll get paid while you write!

submitting to an agent vs. a publisher

When approaching an agent or publisher, keep in mind the approach you want to take. Generally speaking (though you don’t necessarily need an agent in Australia), it’s better to approach agents first, as a huge part of an agent’s role is to sell the book to a publisher. Remember that you’re not selling your book to your agent—you’re asking them to become your career partner. Agents usually represent authors for much of their career, so it’s important to make sure that you approach them with this in mind.

It is more like you’re selling your book to a publisher, but also keep in mind that the publisher or editor is someone you will have a relationship with. They aren’t a robot that sends out form rejection letters; they are a human with little time and lots of choice. Remember that if you haven’t found an agent and you receive an offer from a publisher, you can still contact an agent to help negotiate the deal. Just be careful not to accept any terms before the agent gets to the contract.

The Elevator Pitch

The Elevator Pitch is your one sentence, 30 second summary of your novel’s crux that will make your reader want to pick up your book immediately. Think of it as the first sentence of the blurb that will go on the back of your book. It’s good to get this one figured out early, partly because it’s useful for query letters, and partly because it will save you every time you’re at an event and someone asks what you write.

Try writing the blurb you would put on the back of your book if it were to sell. Then, cut as much stuff out as possible until you have one sentence. The trick here is to figure out what part of your plot is most intriguing (and the easiest to market), to give a hint of who your characters are, and to keep enough of the story mysterious that your readers will want to pick it up right away.

Examples (Taken From the Blurbs)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman:
After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Note: This one works because it is well-balanced. There are enough playful and light elements (toddler wandering, supernatural residents) are put next to the dark elements (grisly murder, ghosts).

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is offered her freedom on one condition: she must act as the Prince’s champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Note: Notice how this shows that the story takes place in a different world, the main character is an aggressive female, and there will be some kind of dynamic between Celaena and the Prince, without having to specifically tell you these things.

If you’re having trouble, try writing the blurb you would put on the back of your book if it were to sell. Then, cut as much stuff out as possible until you have one sentence. The trick here is to figure out what part of your plot is most intriguing (and the easiest to market), to give a hint of who your characters are, and to keep enough of the story mysterious that your readers will want to pick it up right away. Remember, the universal piece of writing advice, show, not tell.

 details about your manuscript

Think of this as selling your product to an educated buyer. Of course, you need to include the specifications, including the wordcount, genre and target audience, but you should also look at how your manuscript fits both into the marketplace, and into this particular agent or publisher’s list. It’s a good idea to include some comparison titles, to give the reader a sense of where your book sits (and how it differs), and also to show that you have been thinking about it. When picking comparison titles, however, be careful to make sure they are relevant, that the readers of their work would likely be interested in yours, and that you’re being realistic.

Generally, it’s best to avoid statements like ‘This is the next Harry Potter‘ or ‘This is like The Hunger Games but better’. It’s also best not to tell the editor that they are holding the next bestselling novel, or to ask if they are up to the challenge of publishing your book. No one (not even publishers) can tell whether a book is going to be a bestseller from the first draft, and you’re likely to just earn an eyeroll.

Take a look at the authors and titles that this publisher or agent has worked with. Is your work the genre that they normally publish? Why is your manuscript perfect for this person? Mention any similar titles, as well as what makes your manuscript different. A publisher or agent will notice if you look thoughtfully at their list, and can show why your work would complement it.

your writing credentials

This section is where you convince the letter reader that you are a fabulous writer, and you include any awards, opportunities, mentorships or publications you have received. It’s fine if you don’t have much to include here, but building a publication history before submitting can really set your manuscript apart.

If you’re writing nonfiction, this is the part where you need to outline exactly why you are the right person to write this book. What gives you authority on the topic? What makes your opinion or perspective different or fresh from what’s already been done? This is one of the most important parts of selling a nonfiction book, so take some time to put some thought in it.

It’s fine to think a little outside of the box. Even if you don’t have any experience in your current genre or form, have you received any relevant accolades, or spoken at an event, or do you have relationships with anyone in the industry? Do you have any life experience relevant to what your story is about?

query letters that work

The internet is full of examples of query letters that have worked.Websites like QueryShark and Slush Pile Hell, and the #tenqueries hashtag are full of great examples of why some pieces are rejected. In particular, QueryShark gives in-depth commentary on a lot of examples, and has lots of practical tips for writing an effective letter.

Take time to search for ones in your genre, to look at the publisher/agent’s list (and it’s not a bad idea to check out their personal social media accounts to make sure that what you’ve written will be up their alley). Take time to truly personalise each query letter, and fit it to the specific person you’re sending it to—they will notice and appreciate the effort.

Query letter Checklist

Finally, here is a checklist of all the things you need to include in your query letter. Of course, you may want to add other things, but you should at least think about including everything on this list.

  1. Address it personally to an agent or publisher. (Do some google-fu, or call if you’re not sure who to address it to. Calling may be of extra benefit, as you may get to chat to the publisher before submitting.)
  2. Your contact details, so they can get in touch (even if you’re digitally submitting the letter, as they may print it out).
  3. The title, wordcount, genre and target audience of the manuscript.
  4. An ‘elevator pitch’ for your manuscript.
  5. Where your manuscript fits in the marketplace, and in the publisher/agent’s list.
  6. Your writing history and credentials, including why you are the right person to write this book (especially if it is nonfiction).
  7. Make sure everything is formatted and submitted as according to their submission guidelines.