how to write a childrens book

How to Write a Children’s Book (10 Stress-Free Steps)

If you’re wondering how to write a children’s book that readers will love, you’re not alone. One of the questions I get most from children’s writers is: “How do I know if my book is good?” 

You can be given all of the logistical steps, from A to Z, on how to publish a children’s book, but it doesn’t mean your final product is high quality. 

Maybe you follow the steps: write a story that’s 700 words or less, get it to fit on 28 pages, have a child-hero, decent illustrations, and you finally hit publish.

Then crickets

how to write a children's book

Crickets, in this case, can represent two major problems:

  1. You didn’t have a strong launch or market your book well.
  2. It’s just not that great of a book. 

So how can you be sure that your book is the kind that readers will love?  

In this article, we’ll take a look at the steps to get started writing a high-quality children’s book that readers will love, no matter if you self-publish or traditionally publish.

Here are the steps on how to write a children’s book successfully:

  1. Step 1: Read children’s books
  2. Step 2: Be around children (your ideal reader)
  3. Step 3: Brainstorm a unique story to write
  4. Step 4: Write with children in mind
  5. Step 5: Develop your writing craft
  6. Step 6: Develop your children’s book characters 
  7. Step 7: Hire a children’s book editor
  8. Step 8: Invest in good children’s artwork 
  9. Step 9: Get an attractive children’s book cover & title
  10. Step 10: Infuse aread it again!” quality into your book
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What makes a children’s book good?

If you’re learning how to write a children’s book, you need to start by defining the qualities of a good children’s book.

According to the Caldecott Medal, the much esteemed award for the most “distinguished American picture book for children,” a quality picture book is:

“…one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised… The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” 

I would add that “quality” children’s books also have the following elements: 

  1. They provide an emotional or thought-provoking experience for the reader
  2. They include multiple layers of meaning 
  3. They don’t patronize children or “dumb-down” the content
  4. They provide new insights, allow for a variety of responses, and challenge the reader’s thinking and feelings 
  5. They appeal to children and the “child” within their adults
  6. They have a great “Read it Again!” quality
  7. They display a perfect symbiosis of storytelling with the art and text

How do I start to write a children’s book?

Now that we have an idea of what makes a children’s book “good,” it’s time to learn how to write a children’s book that incorporates the essential elements we identified above. 

By starting with these basics, you’ll start creating a solid foundation that builds up to a quality book for kids that will be enjoyed for years to come.

Are you ready to get started? 

Step 1: Read children’s books

Learning how to write a children’s book begins with reading many children’s books, through the eyes of an aspiring author.

Related: How to become an author

One of my favorite quotes on the craft of writing for children is from Stephen King. I know, right? Actually, Stephen King has also written a book for children! 

if you don't have time to read you don't have the time to write quote by stephen king

He says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

You have to read every children’s book you can get your hands on in order to know what’s selling, identify the qualities of great storytelling, and engaging with content you want to master. 

You can develop the art of storytelling for children for free just by spending time at your local library reading.

Here’s why you should read children’s books if you want to be a children’s book author:

  1. Familiarize yourself with what’s selling
  2. Understand how great stories handle storytelling, pacing, use of illustration in storytelling, character development, and all the rest
  3. Learn hands-on by personally engaging the content you hope to master. 
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Step 2: Be around children (your ideal reader)

Kids are the best. If you don’t think so, you probably shouldn’t be writing for them. 

I love sitting in a room with my son and his friends while they play Apples to Apples. I secretly text their hilarious conversation to their moms and I quietly laugh-cry and try not to pee my pants. 

Kids say the best things, which is great for your research as an aspiring children’s book author. They’re often brutally honest, in good ways and challenging ways. And when they’re obviously not being honest, we have to stifle our laughter to discipline them. 

understand what kids want from a children's book quote

Hang out with a group of kids long enough and you’ll not only have a long list of new book ideas, but a really great sense of what tickles their humor, what gets them excited, and even how they respond to everyday obstacles. 

This will inform and strengthen any book you write.

Step 3: Come up with a good idea to write about

What makes a children’s book idea good? Children’s books can be silly, deep, inspiring, hilarious, zany, serious, and straight up weird. They can make you laugh, cry, gasp, squeal, giggle and guffaw. 

But just being silly, zany, deep, or inspiring is not enough to make a book great, let alone good. 

Drive your story with an unforgettable, relatable character or an emotionally-charged plot that keeps kids on the edge of their seat, and you’ll have an above-par book that kids love to read over and over. 

Where do these good ideas come from? 

Be an observer and you’ll find ideas everywhere! Record them so you don’t forget them. I have a list of hundreds of book ideas. Most of them are rubbish. At least four of them have become best-selling books that kids and their adults read regularly. You never know what gems will pop up when idea-spiration hits. 

Here are some places to find ideas for a children’s book:

  1. Fractured fairy tales: Take a commonly known myth or legend and retell it in a new and creative way. Think “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” (as told by the wolf), Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, or my very own book, Tercules. I took the legend of Hercules, combined him with a wild turkey chick, and voila. 
  2. Unlikely characters and settings: Speaking of Tercules, another great place to get ideas is by throwing together two very unlikely characters and dropping them in an unlikely setting. Shark versus Train is a great example of this. 
  3. Putting characters in child-like settings and circumstances: Some book ideas are life skills we want to teach our kids in creative ways. The Princess and the Potty worked magic with my daughter. Or Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, illustrated by my acquaintance, Daniel. Taking a unique character and putting them in the position of a child will help kids catch all sorts of great life skills. Or on a more serious note, my own Speranza’s Sweater: A Child’s Journey Through Foster Care and Adoption, gives children permission to experience the many conflicting feelings of adoption through the lens of Speranza. Jed Jurchenko also does this with his recent release, The Stormy Secret, helping kids navigate the safe places to share secrets imposed on them. 

Step 4: Write with children in mind

Everything about your book: your story idea, book layout, page count, number of illustrations, and depth of the plot depend on who you are writing for.

who am i writing a children's book for

If you’re learning how to write a children’s book, then your target audience is…well, children, right?

While this is true, if you target your book at every child, you’re actually writing for no child. 

Kids won’t see themselves represented in a book that’s for everyone. A book that focuses on a particular group of kids will not only strike a chord with that group, but you’ll find other kids love it as well. 

Having a focus actually expands your book’s influence! This is true for any literature you write. Additionally, a picture book is most often read aloud by an adult, so they as the adult-reader and purchaser are part of your target audience as well. 

So how do you determine your target audience? Go back to the reason you’re writing for children. Is it to communicate a particular value? Is it to make your grandchildren proud of you? Is it to teach kids their colors or letters? Is it to make money as an author? Know your deep, heart-reason for why you want to write for kids. 

When you understand why you’re writing, think about who you are most likely to impact with your passion.

For example, much of my writing (for adults or for children) is about removing shame, restoring dignity, helping people to feel seen and valued. My target audience, then, are children who are internally questioning if they’re as “good” or “worthy” as the other kids around them. They feel insecure and inadequate. They feel different and small. They feel “too much” or “not enough.” They’re the precious under-dog. They are me when I was a kid.

Use these questions to help you write for your target audience: 

  1. Who are you writing for? Write your book for them, and don’t try to write for everyone. 
  2. Who is this book for? Spend time with those kids. Spend time with those adults. Get to know them. 
  3. Who are they on a deeper level? What are their hopes? Their fears? Their longings? Their questions? Their dreams? 

Write your book for your target readers. While other kids will read it and love it too, don’t miss this opportunity to know why you’re writing and to whom your writing. This is what writers of quality books do.

Step 5: Develop your writing craft

Writing for children is a form of art. It’s not something we should be flippant or careless about. 

We want to be good stewards of the influence we have with children through literature. They are our future! It’s our responsibility to be the best we can be as we encourage them to be people who work toward a better world. This means we need to learn how to write well. 

Quality picture book authors spend time learning. They attend conferences, workshops, participate in critique groups, read a ton, and take writing classes. They are sponges for strategies, tools, and personal feedback. They want to grow and improve. 

Here are specific examples of developing your craft to write a children’s book:

  • If you choose to write a book in rhyme, take the time to master meter, rhythm, and actual rhyming words or spare children of poorly written poetry and write in prose. 
  • If you’re working with a suspenseful plot, commit to a book outline to make it well-structured, logical, with important values, and a timeless quality. Dedicate yourself to the best use of language and storytelling. 
  • If you’re driving the story with an unforgettable character, be devoted to consistency, believability, voice, and the transformation of their character. 

All quality children’s book writers work to improve their craft. You should, too! Opportunities to grow as a children’s writer exist on Udemy, Self Publishing School, Master Class, local colleges / universities, and organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

If you’re interested in taking some online courses to learn how to write a children’s book or learn about kid-lit topics, check out these resources: 

Related: Self-Publishing Courses

Step 6: Develop your children’s book characters 

Speaking of characters who hold a story together, quality writers often employ a memorable main character. 

When you’re learning how to write a children’s book, it’s important to focus on developing unforgettable characters. 

Related: Character Bio Template

Think Fancy Nancy or Olivia or Ferdinand or the Gruffalo or Peter Rabbit. If you’ve been around kid-lit long enough, these names immediately bring a personality, a distinction, and a story to mind. 

how to write a childrens book

Develop unforgettable characters…

Well-developed characters bring the quality of a book to the next level. The central character should be unforgettable, like the hungry, hungry caterpillar. 

Tips for developing children’s book characters:

  • Your readers should care about your central character by the end of the book, like we care for Piggy and Gerald by the end of any Elephant and Piggy book by Mo Willems. 
  • Characters should become your reader’s special friends, like Winnie the Pooh, Wilbur, or Ramona probably were for you. 
  • Characters should have distinct personalities that set them apart from other characters. They should be believable as they encounter obstacles in your story. They are flawed (aren’t we all?) and yet overcome a great many challenges (just like we do!). Think of each distinct character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the Chronicles of Narnia, or Charlotte’s Web
  • Characters should be relatable to your reader, however they’re depicted. Your central character can be an animal, a child, an object, even an old man… so long as they depict a child-like quality. We call this Anthropomorphism: assigning human traits to a non-human. Here are some examples of books that use each of these types of characters with child-like relatability. 
    • Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten by Audrey Vernick, Marathon Mouse by Amy Dixon, the Berenstain Bears books, and the “How Do Dinosaurs” series by Jane Yolen all utilize the personification of animals as central characters. The use of animals can help children generalize behavior and values without getting hung up on whether or not the main character shares their ethnicity or abilities. 
    • Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina Lazo Gilmore and my own Weirdo and Willy are good examples of books that use a child as a central character. 
    • Thomas the Tank Engine by Reverend W. Awdry, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, and The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald all exemplify the use of objects with relatable qualities.
    • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. and Erin E. Stead and The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda D. Williams are wonderful examples of a book using older people to represent a child-like trait or ability. This approach is shied away from in the traditional industry, so you won’t find many of them. But when they’re done well, they’re incredible.

All of these books and characters immediately elicit a memory and a smile. Books that readers love have good, strong, memorable lead characters.

children's book characters

Step 7: Hire a children’s book editor

Your children’s book only has 1-1000 (max) words, so why do you need an editor? 

Believe it or not, a children’s book professional will give you feedback on the marketability of your book, the content of your book, and address any grammatical issues.

No matter how well you think you can manage perfection with so few words and pages, or understand a child’s brain, your set of eyes alone will never be sufficient for a perfect manuscript. I’m a seasoned writer and editor and I still don’t trust myself to catch every grammatical issue or plot hole. 

You definitely don’t want just any editor. Avoid editors who have no connection to the children’s industry. While they’re probably really great editors for adult books, the nuances of editing children’s books are significant. 

As a children’s editor, there are specific elements I pay attention to, that differ from editing books for adults. 

Here are some examples of what professional children’s book editors look for when editing:

  • Finds ways to condense the story to make each of the 1000 or fewer words as powerful and necessary as possible. Any word or scene that doesn’t move the immediate story forward is out of there. 
  • Dig for the use of story elements, such as hooks, tension and setting. These should be used in a much shorter space with fewer words and must  be perfect.
  • Considers the artwork in the children’s book. At least half of the storytelling belongs to the artwork. Is the author stepping on the artwork’s toes by being too descriptive? Too lengthy? Too… controlling?
  • Incorporates industry standards.  Is the central character (the child-figure) the hero of the story? Is the language active? Are the words showing versus telling

Invite a professional with strong experience in the children’s writing industry and credibility to back up their work to partner with you and your goal of making this book its best possible self. 

Consider the editor’s feedback and make any necessary changes. Stay true to your voice and your story while honoring the tradition of literature and writing quality books.

Step 8: Don’t skimp on the artwork 

I’m going to be really honest here. And while honesty isn’t a challenge for me, being brave to say what’s true when it might hurt someone’s feelings, is. But I’m going to say it anyway.

Just because you can draw or paint does not mean you should do the artwork for your book. It’s very likely not good enough

Don’t ask your friends who are too nice to tell you the truth. Ask a librarian or a children’s book store or the internet… show them your artwork and ask if it’s professional, publishing-quality illustration. If it’s not, and your goal is to sell the book, then…

Hire an illustrator. You can spend this time growing in your own illustration abilities for a future book. Being an artist is not the same as being an illustrator. 

Whew, I said it. Here’s the reality… learning how to write a children’s book means understanding that the book requires a perfect symbiosis of text and illustration in the storytelling

An effective children’s book illustrator knows: 

  • To be not only a good artist, but also a good marketer and book designer
  • What images attract children
  • Where the gutter of the book is and how to avoid it
  • The importance of white space for the text
  • How to tell a story with images, both to compliment your words and to develop the story even further
  • How to be your book’s life partner 

Just as you wouldn’t (hopefully) marry someone without careful thought and purpose, you shouldn’t marry your book off to any ‘ol artist, even if it’s you. Your book deserves the very best and this is what makes it a quality book. 

People will pick up a book because they love the artwork. They will also not pick up a book if they don’t. 

Parting words: About 1% of the authors I’ve seen illustrate their own books have done an incredible job. An author-illustrator I coached, Pam Fries, is one of them. Her book, Something’s Eating the Garden, is gorgeous. Most of her 80+ five-star average reviews talk about the quality of her hand-painted illustrations. I probably tried to talk her out of it. Or felt skeptical when she told me she was going to do it anyway (I hadn’t seen her artwork). And I’m so glad she did. If this is you, then by all means, illustrate your own book. I only ask that you make that decision with professional feedback.

Step 9: Get a catchy title and children’s book cover

make an amazing children's book cover

Sometimes coming up with the title of your book is harder than writing the book. And that’s partly because the importance of a good title for your book’s success. 

After your potential buyer stops because the cover is so amazing it caught their eye, they’re going to read the title. If the title is lame, they’re going to keep walking. You have about three seconds to keep them engaged. (If they read the title and like it, they’re going to flip to the back to read the book description. Make sure it’s good!) 

Tips for crafting a children’s book title: 

  1. Make your title catchy and short. Definitely don’t give away the whole story with your title. Playful but slightly elusive. Clear but with a curiosity. 
  2. Make it memorable
  3. Make it specific to your book. It shouldn’t be so general that any number of other books could carry it without distinction. 
  4. Make it a title that only works with your book. 
  5. Read lots of children’s book titles and note the ones that stand out to you as clever or memorable. Use those as a model for your own title creation. 

Once you have a quality title, it’s time for a quality cover. Refer to my previous comments about illustration. Do not do your own unless you’ve been trained in marketing, design, and children’s books.

Hire someone to create a beautiful cover. They’re going to be thinking about what catches the eye of children and the interest of their adult with the wallet. Many illustrators are able to create quality covers but don’t assume.

That old saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover?” Well, people do anyway, so let them judge yours as high-quality, professional, and exactly what they’re looking to put on their bookshelf. 

Step 10: Infuse a “Read it again!” quality

Finally, what makes readers love your book? It has that “Read it again!” feature. You know the one. It’s bedtime, you’re tired, they’re tired, and still they beg you to read it again. And honestly, you love it so much, you read it again. 

Not only does it feel good to be their read-again book of choice, but when you write a book at this level, you’re actually supporting their brain development! 

Studies have shown that repetition promotes healthy cognitive skill development. Writing a book they want to read over and over not only infuses them with the values you’ve encoded into the story, but supports their language development, memory, critical thinking, ability to analyze information, and social skill development. What we do is powerful. So let’s do it well.

Writing for children isn’t just about entertainment. We influence lives today for a healthier, more peaceful, more compassionate tomorrow. Think of the books that influenced you growing up. How they might still influence you. The books that carried you through hard times. The stories you just couldn’t put down or let go. 

When you write for children, you are changing the world today and tomorrow. Thank you for not taking that responsibility lightly by doing your research on how to write a children’s book that kids (and their adults) will love. 

If you want to follow a proven self-publishing framework with one-on-one coaching by a bestselling author, consider a self-publishing course!

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What questions do you still have about learning how to write a children’s book? 


Kindle Vella: Amazon’s New Platform for Authors, Explained

If you’re an indie author, I know you’ve heard of Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Love it or hate it, Amazon is the largest book retailer in the world, which means we as authors have to understand how it works.

Amazon recently launched a brand new service for authors and readers–Kindle Vella. Let’s learn what it is and how to use it.

free copy of published for authors and writers

What is Kindle Vella?

Kindle Vella is an Amazon service that allows users to read serialized stories specifically created for the platform. Think of it as a more structured, professional, pay-to-read version of Wattpad.

A serialization is when a story is broken into smaller, episodic chunks. Think of a TV show or a fanfiction. The idea is that readers will pay small amounts to read each episode. The developers are encouraging authors to make the episodes more than just “chapters,” but real mini-stories within a larger story. The Kindle Vella episodes themselves range from 500 to 6,000 words to make up a longer work of fiction.

Authors familiar with fanfiction should be excited about this new opportunity, but non-fanfic authors could also majorly benefit from exploring Kindle Vella as a publishing option. This might be another venue for building a wider audience, but I could also see this being an author’s sole writing gig. It’s still in early rollout, but there’s a relatively untapped market for monetizing online serial fiction. If anyone can make it a roaring success and pull online serials into mainstream content consumption, it would be Amazon.

Kindle Vella allows authors to publish mini-stories at a regular schedule to grow an audience, make money, and build hype for their future projects.

Readers can find stories they think are interesting through the story’s description in the Kindle Vella store, read the first few episodes for free to test it out, then interact and engage with the story through thumbs up and fav features. They can also follow authors and stories to keep up with new episode releases.

Readers access further stories (after the first few free episodes) by purchasing them with Kindle Vella Tokens. Tokens are obtained through monetary purchase. According to Amazon, these are the prices readers can expect to pay for Tokens:

kindle vella tokens

The number of tokens required to unlock another episode depends on the length of each episode, and these prices are likely to change as the platform grows. Authors do NOT earn all of the money that readers spend on their stories.

Currently, authors allegedly earn 50% of their book sales through Kindle Vella.

How do I access Kindle Vella?

As of August 2021, Kindle Vella is only available for iOS users in the United States, but it’s presumed to spread relatively quickly. This limited availability applies to both authors and readers.

If you’re an iOS user in the United States, here’s how you can access Kindle Vella.

Accessing Kindle Vella as a reader:

  1. Hop over to
  2. Sign into your amazon account
  3. Browse the Kindle Vella library, sort by genre, search for certain terms
  4. Read the first few installments of any story that catches your interest
  5. When you find a story that you’d like to finish reading, it’s time to load up on Tokens!
  6. Use Kindle Vella Tokens to purchase stories
  7. Follow authors and stories you want publish updates on
  8. Thumbs up and fav stories you love to curate your own suggested reads and to push your favorite authors in front of new readers!

Accessing Kindle Vella as an author:

The process for getting set up as an author on Kindle Vella is obviously going to be a little more complex, as you’ll be, y’know, writing and publishing the stories.

  1. Create a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. If you’re already an Amazon author, you’re ahead of the game! If not, no worries–getting started on KDP is pretty straightforward.
  2. Hop over to You should see the following screen:
kindle vella author login

From there, click “Start a story”

  1. Then KDP will guide you through filling out your story’s information, like the story completion status, title, author name, description, a story image, categories, and tags.
kindle vella uploading an episode
  1. Post episode one.

That’s it for the technical side of getting your story posted, but the real work comes in for writing your story and strategizing publishing, which we’ll get into details on in a minute, so keep reading!

What is different about Kindle Vella than regular Kindle books?

The biggest difference between Kindle Vella and regular Kindle ebooks is the format. Not every story is at its best–or even understandable at all–in a serialized format. That means this service is really only suitable for certain kinds of writing styles and stories.

Consider your genre, format, and style–does it make sense to be consumed in episodes? Again, authors who are familiar with reading or writing fanfiction are probably going to be the ones who really thrive with the one-shot story format.

Here are a few things to consider when you’re determining if the serialized episodic format in Kindle Vella is for you and your story:

  1. Is your story a suitable genre to be episodic? Typically, high genre stories work better–like scifi, fantasy, dystopian–these genres provide a rich world in which to follow multiple characters and bite-sized storylines. Genres like literary fiction that are more character-driven are typically harder to make episodic. Imagine turning The Notebook into a series, for example.
  2. Are you interested in publishing short pieces regularly? Is the format exciting to you, or does it sound like a major chore? To find success in this genre, consistency is a must.
  3. Have you consumed enough episodic fiction? Whether it’s fanfic or TV mini-series, knowing how longer stories can be broken into smaller ones is incredibly helpful. Random recommendation for my horror fans: I loved Netflix’s Fear Street, and it’s a great example of an episodic story. It’s a three-part film series that follows one character, but takes place in three different timelines, each with its own story. If you’re interested in publishing with Kindle Vella, I definitely recommend upping your intake of serialized episodic fiction and taking note of what they’ve done well and what you can apply to your own stories.

With the episodic format, it’s important to keep your readers interested. If you have a flop episode, you might lose a lot of potential sales. Because of this, a good strategy is to fully write your story before you post your first episode. Let’s jump into some other strategies you might employ to up your chances of success.

The Best Strategies for Publishing with Kindle Vella

Like I mentioned, publishing serials on Kindle Vella is similar to publishing fanfiction. Kindle Vella utilizes categories and tags in a similar way to most fanfiction sites–you can even include author’s notes.

These are just a few of the tools available for us to utilize in building a publishing strategy. Let’s look at some ideas for getting the most out of Kindle Vella.

1. Recycle stories

According to their current terms of use, you can publish stories on Kindle Vella that are already published elsewhere in the same format, provided they have not been posted for free. That means that authors who use their stories on places like Radish can double dip by reposting those stories on Kindle Vella.

This would be a quick and easy way to make some extra cash, grow your audience, and get content you’ve already tested on this platform to start building your reputation there.

2. Thumbs up and fav system

The rating system can give you insight to exactly which parts of a story your readers are responding well to. Since Kindle Vella also allows you to publish your story elsewhere after you’ve removed the episodes from their platform, this could be a built-in way to beta your stories. After you gauge the reaction to different bits, it could be helpful to take that response into account, then pull the story from Kindle Vella to edit and publish as a book.

Encouraging your readers to interact with the story with thumbs up and faves can push your story to other people, so consider utilizing the author’s notes to remind them to do it!

As a reader and writer of fanfiction, I keep pulling comparisons between fanfiction platforms and Kindle Vella. I think a future weakness with the platform will be the lack of comments. Serialized fiction, including non-fanfic platforms, thrive on online communities, largely due to community interaction.

While Kindle Vella allows interaction via likes and favs, as well as the one-sided communication of author notes, I think the lack of a comment section could be one the likeliest reasons Kindle Vella could flop.

3. Grow your author platform

Through publishing on a new platform, you’re attracting readers different to ones you may have already had. Any new platform you utilize as an author will put your writing in front of new users, potentially turning them into dedicated readers.

Kindle Vella is a potentially easy platform to grow your author platform of engaged and interested readers, especially if you utilize stories you were already writing. Especially since it’s a new feature, getting in early can boost your chances of being noticed in a smaller pool of content.

Test the waters as a new author, grow your readership as a veteran, and maybe make some money while you’re at it.

4. Use cliffhangers

With the episodic structure, you’re obviously going to want to do all you can to encourage readers to buy the next chapter. A great way to do this is to utilize cliffhangers. End your chapters with something exciting, dramatic, or mysterious that makes your reader need to see what happens next!

5. Utilize the author notes

Like I mentioned, Kindle Vella lets you include author notes in your episodes. This is an amazing opportunity to directly address your audience. The basic functions of this element is to thank your readers, give updates on future episodes, and encourage users to thumbs up and fav your story. But a clever author might see more use for this function.

You could plug your social media, let readers know that they can sign up to your email list for exclusive content related to your story, update them about your publications elsewhere, and tons of other smart ways to further monetize the venue and grow your platform.

So consider what crucial information and calls to action you can include in those author notes to make the most use of that space.

6. Write ahead

It is such a smart move to fully write a story before you publish the first installment. The biggest frustration with readers of episodic fiction is when they fall in love with a story, then get to episode 12 and see that the author abandoned it months ago.

Having a fully written story to publish in chunks while you work on the next one will get you into a productivity groove, keep your fans from being disappointed, and ensure that you’re a friend of the algorithm with regular posts.

7. Publish on a schedule

If you’ve written your story before you post the first chapter, you’re free to commit to a publishing schedule! If that’s daily, once a week, or every other month, your readers will grow to trust the regularity, and they’ll show up for the new episodes. With a reliable schedule, you can also plan events around publish days with your author platform.

8. Make it a BIG DEAL

With your finished story, a solid publishing schedule, and regular readers, make a day of it! Announce new episodes on your socials, host reading parties, assign a hashtag for fan reactions, do a release-day livestream–there are endless ideas for how to draw attention to your new episodes and make it really special for your regular readers.

This will create that sense of community that is so important for this format of writing, draw in new readers who see your fans talking about it, and get lots of eyes on those new pieces ASAP to push your story up in suggested lists on Kindle Vella.

What do you think? Will Kindle Vella be a try-and-fail, or is this an exciting opportunity for authors to expand their reach and income?

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How to Publish Poetry: A Published Poet’s Methods

What kind of poet are you? A brooding type who writes about storms and moors and darkness? Or a romantic who writes about pining and fairytales and heartbreak? Maybe you’re a nature-lover poet with stacks and stacks of poems about a single flower you walked past a few months ago (don’t @ me. It was a great flower.).

No matter the type of poetry you write, you probably fall within two camps: the poet who scribbles their stanzas in the dark under the covers and hides or burns the pages afterward, or the poet who wants EVERYONE to read their poetry.

If you write poetry in any of these groups, you’re probably super interested in getting your poetry published. But what does that mean? How do we get poetry published? How do we know when our poems are ready?

There are so many options for publishing and sharing your poetry, so let’s dig in.

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Is it hard to get poetry published?

To be totally honest, it can be hard to get poetry published, considering how competitive the traditional publishing industry is. Even if your writing is compelling and original and your poems are strong and well-executed, you could go months or years before landing a publication. Publishers–whether they’re publishing houses, journals, online lit mags–typically have two things:

  1. A very specific idea of what they’re looking to publish
  2. Way too many submissions.

This puts writers at a disadvantage. When publishers can be as picky as they’d like, we’re left to fight with each other to get those coveted spots. It ultimately doesn’t matter how good your poem is if it doesn’t fit into what they were looking to publish.

But don’t let that discourage you!

There are ways to up your chances, and with enough perseverance, most writers can get published. We’ll cover some tips to help your poem find a home later on, so keep reading.

Is my poetry worth publishing?

When do you know your poem is ready to be published? This is the question nearly every poet asks themselves, even when they’re far into their writing career. And it’s tough to be sure!

Some good signs your poetry is ready to be published might be:

  1. If it gets a positive response from readers. (Are you showing your poems to people, even beta readers? You should be!) What kind of feedback are you getting?
  2. Are you confident in it? I do believe there’s a gut feeling that writers eventually develop that helps them realize when a piece is finished. Learn to hear and listen to that voice.
  3. Is it important to you? Some people write poems just to have written a poem–when the poem has meaning for you is when it might have meaning for someone else.

Essentially, your poetry is worth publishing if you believe it to be!

Where to Publish Poetry: The Different Options for Sharing Your Poems

So where do we publish poetry? Tons of places, actually!

If you’re going traditional, there are anthologies, literary journals, and online magazines. Some publishers also do social media publication–for example, MicroFlashFic posts micro stories on their Twitter feed.

You have even more options if self-publishing is on your radar. You can publish your own collection, post poems on a personal website, send them out in a weekly newsletter, etc.

Let’s go into detail on these options and look at tips for how to accomplish them.

1. Traditionally publishing in journals and magazines

When writers think of having a short piece published, the thing they’re typically imaging is a traditional publication in a journal, magazine, or anthology.

Here are a few tips to achieve publishing poetry this way:

  1. Try using a service like to find, filter, and track your submissions. This can help you submit more pieces and stay on top of their progress.
  2. Submit to lots of places! Some publications specifically ask that you not do simultaneous submissions, but you’re free to do it with most. When I’m trying to publish a poem, I’ll usually have it sent out to 20 or 30 different publications at the same time, because a lot of them can take forever to respond, and most will respond with a rejection. Since it’s so competitive, it’s in your best interest to send out your pieces in mass batches.
  3. Have a strong writer’s bio. An interesting or impressive bio or cover letter can help you grab the notice of publishers. When they’re sifting through hundreds or thousands of poems, an easy heuristic is to toss submissions that have missing bios or messy ones. On the flip side, having an impressive bio with listed publications and accomplishments or just having one that you’ve clearly put effort into can give you an edge.
  4. Look for niche publications. Publishers or specific submission calls sometimes ask for members of certain minorities, certain ages, or other groups that will create a smaller pool of people sending in pieces. That means you’ll have a higher chance of being published! Search for niche topics and groups that you’re a part of and see if you can find submissions for it.

2. Self-publishing on a website or newsletter

If you can’t be bothered with the traditional publishing route (neither can we), then you might explore some self-publishing options.

If you’re opting to publish poems individually yourself, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep in mind that once you self-publish (websites and social media typically count as self-publishing), most traditional publishers won’t be willing to publish that piece again. So if you’re interested in traditionally publishing, make sure you do that first. After publishing, most contracts (be sure to read the contracts) will allow you to do whatever you want with the piece.
  2. Make sure it’s worth it for you. Like I said, you might be wrecking your chances of publishing that piece traditionally, so make sure you’re doing it in a way that you’re satisfied with (although keep in mind that successful self-publishign and growing an author platform can make traditionally publishing your work easier since you’ve proven you can sell your writing).
  3. Consider using it as a lede. If you’re self-publishing on your website or your author newsletter, utilize it for your own benefit. For example, if you’re dropping a poem once a month through your newsletters, make sure you’re announcing that as an incentive for readers to subscribe.

3. Self-publishing a collection

If you’re thinking a little bigger, and you have lots of poems, what about self-publishing an entire collection? That might sound like a massive undertaking, but it’s actually pretty straightforward (and lucrative).

How to Self-Publish a Poetry Collection

If self-publishing a collection sounds saucy to you, here is a brief step-by-step of how to do it. I also recommend my Skillshare class on publishing collections, because I go into the real details of each of these steps there.

1. Writing/drafting

When drafting your poetry collection, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind that you wouldn’t necessarily worry about when you’re publishing individual pieces.

Unintentional repetition. Watch for pieces that are too similar–I’ve cut several pieces from collections for this reason. Whether it’s similar lines and imagery, repeated topics, or any other way that they’re intentionally similar. This is something you don’t have to worry about when you’re publishing pieces individually, but when you group them all together, repetition becomes very obvious and might make your collection seem redundant.

Theme. Ideally, you want your collection to have some kind of theme. It can be a super specific theme or more on the vague side, but themes help to make your collection work as a cohesive piece. Your theme might be perspective (poems from a mother, an ill person, a member of a certain marginalized group, etc.), location (growing up in the south, travel journal vibes, etc.), or poems that deal with a certain feeling or sentiment. You might even categorize by genre (love poems, optimistic vs pessimistic nihilism, fantasy, etc.). Having a theme makes writing and marketing much easier to do. It also makes it easier for potential interested readers to find your collection and know it’s for them.

2. Editing

Editing your poetry collection can include self-edits, beta reader rounds, writing partner critique, professional editors, etc., but there should be an editing process that takes place before publishing.

3. Interior formatting

A poetry collection is probably one of the most important genres of book to pay attention to the interior formatting. Since poems are so short, you can get very stylistic with the way it’s presented on the page.

How do you use white space, images, and alignment? The design of a poem on a page can add to or detract from the value of the piece, so take some time on this step! You might even hire a professional formatter to design it for you.

4. Cover design

If you hire someone for any step in the self-publishing process, I recommend hiring a cover designer with current industry knowledge and experience. Your cover is the biggest marketing element of any book, so make sure you’re investing your time and money into a quality, contemporary cover for your poetry collection.

5. Publishing your poetry

Then on to the actual publishing of your collection. Where, how, and for how much you sell your book is completely up to you, but I recommend doing research into other books in your genre and around your wordcount to see how they handle titles, covers, interior design, pricing, and format availability.

For example, if you research your genre and learn that 70% of sales in that genre are through ebook, you’re obviously going to want to make sure that you publish an ebook as an option.

Every book, genre, and author is different, so see which formats and venues are best for you.

6. Marketing

Marketing is another crucial bit of being a career author that is unique to each writer. It’s best to plan as much of your pre-order period, book launch, and marketing ahead of time as you can. There are many elements you can utilize to sell more copies, and it will depend on your audience and goals.

A few things to consider:

  • Launch team
  • Presale giveaways
  • Social media posts
  • Events and readings
  • Newsletter swaps and other collaborations

Is self-publishing a collection the best option for your poems? Don’t forget to grab this two-week free trial to Skillshare if you don’t have an account so you can take a look at How To Publish A Collection: Shorts, Poems, and Essays. That course will walk you through it, from draft to marketing your collection.

So what do you think? Do you want to publish poems individually in magazines and journals, or do you want full control of the process by publishing it on your own website?

If you have a stack of poems, are you considering publishing your own collection? Use these tips to choose the best option for you, and let us know in a comment when you get your first publication!

Interested in Publishing a Book Of Poems?

This training for fiction authors works for poetry, too! Check it out! You can publish your own collection of poems, short stories, and more!

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Memoir VS Autobiography: How to Get it Right

There is often a lot of confusion when it comes to memoirs and autobiographies. 

While both are stories about an individual, one focuses on specific life stories that support a theme, while the other follows an individual from birth to present day. You’ll be able to tell the difference between memoir vs autobiography and if you do chose to write a memoir you can do so with confidence.

Regardless, you have a story burning inside you. You want to share pieces of your life, or perhaps the majority of your life, with the world. You’ve learned lessons you want to share. You feel your story is just waiting to be told.

Maybe your life story is unique. You want to share it and leave a lasting legacy behind. 

Well,  it’s time to start the process. It’s time to write your story. 

Before sitting down to write, it’s important to articulate for yourself what you specifically want to share and why. 

Just as writing a fiction book demands planning and deciding exactly where to start and what theme to write about, so will writing your life story. 

Whatever your story is, it will likely fall under the category of memoir or autobiography. 

The most important choice to make prior to writing your first sentence is deciding which genre you are going to share your story through.

It’s crucial to choose the correct genre in which to tell your story. Memoirs and biographies each have different purposes. 

Using a biography when you want to communicate your memoir is similar to filming a documentary when you want to film a drama. 

Documentaries usually cover many details of a specific time period and are told through a linear fashion. They start at a single point in time and work their way to the end of a time period or to the present day.

Dramas focus on a theme and use specific aspects of a person’s life to articulate and highlight this theme. 

Memoirs and autobiographies are much the same. 

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Memoir vs Autobiography: Difference Between Two Personal Stories

According to Merriam-Webster, a memoir is, “A narrative composed from personal experience” and an autobiography is, “The biography of a person narrated by that person, a usually written account of a person’s life in their own words.” 

In the publishing world, a memoir is a book about you that is focused on the reader. In other words, it’s pieces of your life story written with the intention of communicating a specific message to a specific audience. 

An autobiography is your life story from birth to present day, including all major events, without too much thought for theme. 

The purpose of an autobiography is to communicate your life story

The purpose of a memoir is to communicate a theme, and use stories from your life to do so.

Both memoirs and autobiographies should be written with the focus on the reader, however. Writing succeeds because of readers. Whether you’re covering your life from birth to now, or sharing specific stories, keep the reader at the forefront of your mind at all times. 

The more you think “reader first” the better your memoir or autobiography will be. 

Memoir vs. Autobiography

Should I Write A Memoir Or Autobiography?

Celebrities and well-known figures often communicate their life stories through autobiographies, while lesser known individuals communicate a theme through specific stories from their lives. 

The public wants to know the details of celebrities’ lives and is willing and eager to read through all the details of their growing up years, young adult successes and failures, and all the way to the present day.

Individuals with less of a public presence who still have valuable stories, information, or an important theme to share, but may want to do so through memoirs. This way they can still communicate their message, but use life stories that directly apply to this message to do so.

Writing your memoir allows you to use anecdotes from your life to communicate your theme. Remember, if you aren’t a household name, readers are unlikely to be interested in your stories if they don’t provide some type of value.

Always think reader-first with these questions:

  • Is your theme focused on helping the reader?
  • What stories contribute to the power of your theme?
  • What stories distract from your theme and shift the focus to you? 
  • Will your reader walk away feeling empowered or inspired? 

When writing your autobiography, it’s still important to think reader first, but readers are more likely to expect stories that focus on your life and the interesting things you’ve done. 

If you are a celebrity or household name, writing your autobiography is likely the way to go. 

Examples Of Memoirs

If you plan to write your memoir, reading other successful memoirs is a great place to start.

Here are some examples to get you started:

As you read, focus on what the theme is, what stories the author uses to illustrate this theme, and how the story isn’t focused just on the author, but on you, the reader.

Again, think reader first.

It may be helpful to take notes so that when it’s time to write your own memoir, you have examples to refer back to as needed. This will help you when you feel stuck or unsure of which stories to use. 

Examples Of Autobiographies 

If, on the other hand, you decide to write your autobiography, you’ll want to brush up on autobiographies and biographies instead. 

Autobiographies are written by the subject being written about. Biographies are written by someone else. Often, famous individuals employ a writer to write their story rather than attempting to write it themselves. Unless they’ve garnered fame because of their incredible writing, it’s usually best to have a writer write their story. You can practice this on a small scale, have you written you author bio? It’s a succinct version of the full biography.

Whether you pick up an autobiography or a biography, the same lessons can be learned: 

As you write your autobiography, remember that although it is about you, you should still think reader first. Write in a way that readers will be able to easily understand and follow. Starting at birth and moving forward chronologically will likely work well.

Moving Forward… 

Now that you know the difference between memoir and autobiography, you’ve decided which will best communicate your purposes, and you have examples of each, it’s time to start the process. 

Regardless of which you decide to write, take some time to think back over your life, years or weeks that affected you in a particularly positive or negative way, people who influenced you, the themes you see tracing through your story, and dreams or goals you worked for. 

Once you have the big moments at the forefront of your mind you can start planning your story in a memoir or autobiographical style. 

Two Notes on Memoirs vs Autobiographies

#1 – While memoirs and autobiographies are about your life and your interactions, achievements, goals, failures, etc., it’s impossible to remember every word of dialogue you have spoken or others have spoken. Readers understand that exact wording has been written to the best of your memory, but is not exact. Be careful to write in a way that reflects the attitudes and intentions of the dialogue in that moment, however many years ago it took place, but rest assured the dialogue in memoirs and autobiographies cannot be completely accurate. 

Sharing your story with the world is a bold step. It’s brave to think through your life and write it all down for hundreds if not millions to read.

As you plunge into your story, writing it, editing it, and eventually publishing it, take your time. Don’t get discouraged if you need to rearrange parts, chop large portions, or add stories when you think you are finished. 

Writing your story takes time. It’s your life, after all!  

#2 – Whatever way you choose to share your story, protect yourself by changing names, locations, and any other detail as you see fit. You can make a simple note at the front of your book explaining that some details have been changed to protect individuals. The last thing you want is to be accused of libel or slander the week your book comes out. 

As you release your book, enjoy the moment. Writing your story is something many dream of, few start, and even less complete. You didn’t just have the dream, you saw it through to its completion. 

You took a big step. You wrote your story and put it out into the world. Your legacy is published and has the possibility of impacting countless individuals around the world for years to come. 

Well done! 

Want to learn more about how to choose right idea for your book?

Check out our free video training below – where we walk you through how to choose the idea that easiest, fastest, and best to write right now!

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Online Writing Classes: Valuable Ideas to Implement

What should you look for from online writing classes?

Great stories sell, but what makes a great story? Is it plot? Characterization? Writing? Often, it’s a combination of all three. But writing is an art and art is subjective. 

Sometimes it can get discouraging. There may be a particular protagonist, subplot, or orbital character one reader really connects with and loves, while another reader may feel disconnected and put the book down. 

This is true even with bestsellers. 

You’ve likely picked a bestseller up and been so hooked that you read from the first to the last page all in one sitting. Other bestsellers you may have barely slogged through. That’s because stories are subjective. 

But regardless of your personal taste when it comes to story, great writing sells. 

So, what makes writing great? 

Sometimes a great writer comes along simply because it’s innate. Some people just know how to string words together in a way that grabs your attention and keeps you turning pages. Some prose is written so well it could pass for poetry. 

Great writing captures the hearts and minds of readers and keeps them wanting more, which in turn keeps the writer in business.

If you don’t feel like you’re one of the greats yet, don’t be discouraged. Great writing can be taught and if it can be taught, it can also be learned. But beware, some will give you bad advice so the journey does have pitfalls.

This guide to online writing classes covers:

  1. Are online writing classes worth it?
  2. Free online writing classes
  3. Paid online writing classes
  4. How to choose which class is right for you
  5. Next steps

You may lead a busy life, as most of us do, and don’t feel like you have time to invest in returning to school to learn great writing. 

Here’s some good news!

In an age of online, fast-paced living, online classes are a very effective way to continue your writing education in the form of websites and classes at your own pace.

Before we dive in please note: You could invest copious amounts of money in online classes, but if you don’t apply what you’re learning, if you don’t actually write, it won’t matter how much you know. You won’t improve unless you apply what you’re learning. 

Writers write, after all. You can even get a grant to write. There’s really nothing more you need than skill, time, and patience to become the writer you want to be.

So if you’re ready to spend the time learning and apply your learning to your writing, let’s jump in! 

a woman taking online writing classes on a laptop

Are online writing classes worth it?

Online classes ensure you learn more about your craft from wherever you are in the world, at whatever hour you have time to invest. 

One of the pluses of online learning is it takes a lot less time than learning in person or through a book. You cut out your commute (no more traffic jams), and if you live in a state or country with all four seasons, you also cut out driving in bad weather. 

Additionally, online classes usually allow you to go at your own pace. Many times classes release at a specific day and time and are available 24/7. Often, courses have pre-recorded classes that you can access from the moment you enroll in the course. 

Of course, it’s advisable to take the classes chronologically because many classes build on each other, but that’s up to your discretion and where you’re at as a writer.

Enrolling in an online course allows you to live your life and also advance in your writing. If you have a busy week but have time on the weekend to invest in your writing, you can watch classes back to back. This will help you stay on track, but also allows you to fit your learning in at the times when you will get the most out of it. You can even listen to the audio on your commute to work. 

If you want to continue your writing education but don’t want to miss out on learning with peers, you don’t need to worry. Online classes often include a bonus, online community where you can connect with other students. Online forums and private Facebook groups are great ways to connect with other writers at the same stage you are in. 

Many times, writers from all different stages take a particular class: You may have one new writer wanting to learn the rules of writing, another writer who’s about to publish and wants to brush up on the rules before their final edit, and a successful author who realizes they can learn something from every writing class. 

Interacting with other writers will help you grow in your own writing and these online communities are a great place to find beta readers who are essential to the book editing process

Free online writing classes

There are countless writing courses out there. A simple online search will provide you with multiple options. Choosing the best writing course for you and your specific goals is a big first step in the right direction.

Some courses focus on discovering why you want to write and how to stick it out from first page to last, while others focus on the mechanics of writing and how to use writing rules well. Some courses go deep into characterization, worldbuilding, and plot. 

It’s crucial to take the time to pinpoint where you’re at as a writer and what you want to focus on. Once you have a general idea, it’s helpful to browse multiple courses so you can see what’s out there, what will help you the most, and where to begin. Here is a list to help you get started: 

1. Writing With Impact 

“Writer and journalist Tom Geller helps you find your own reasons for writing, demonstrating how to use those reasons to drive the words you choose and the tone you take. Plus, he shares how to leverage your understanding of grammar and sentence structure to write nearly anything with maximum impact.”

2. Secret Sauce of Great Writing

“Shani Raja, a former Wall Street Journal editor, will teach you the four ingredients of good writing: simplicity, clarity, elegance and evocativeness. After discovering how to add those ingredients skillfully, your writing will almost certainly begin to stand out from that of others in your field, profession or industry.”

3. Creative Writing Specialization 

“This Specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. You will master the techniques that good writers use to compose a bracing story, populated with memorable characters in an interesting setting, written in a fresh descriptive style.”

4. Start Writing Fiction

Get started with your own fiction writing, focusing on the central skill of creating characters. You’ll consider the rituals of writing and keeping a journal; learn how to develop your ideas; reflect on your own writing and editing; hear writers talk about their approach to research; and start turning events into plot.

Free courses are a great launching pad, and many offer helpful content to help get you started. If you’re looking to invest in learning more in-depth about writing, writing rules, world-building, and the writing process itself, a paid online writing course will likely be a helpful next step. 

Here is a list of paid online writing classes from reputable sources: 

1. Fundamentals of Fiction, Self-Publishing School

“Our flagship fiction program was developed by a bestselling author with years of experience in both self-publishing and the traditional industry he’s stepped away from, in order to help educate and guide you on the craft of writing while also giving you the tools and skills necessary to build a launch team, publish your book successfully, and connect with other writers with our exclusive Mastermind Community.”

2. Your Novel Blueprint, Jerry B. Jenkins

Your Novel Blueprint provides a proven guide to writing the best novel you can imagine—all the way from the idea stage to the printed page. Jerry teaches you everything he’s learned from writing 130+ novels (with sales over 60 million copies).”

3. Serious Writer Academy 

“Workshops are categorized by genre. Get started building your library today!”

4. MasterClass

“MasterClass offers online classes created for students of all skill levels. Our instructors are the best in the world.”

How to choose which online writing class is for you

As you browse through these classes and the different categories, take notes of what you think will be most helpful, and try not to get overwhelmed. Just as college students often feel syllabus shock when enrolling in a new class, you may feel overwhelmed at the amount of learning you have to do. 

The good news is, the more you know, the more you realize there is to know. 

After you feel comfortable with your course, have a feel for the teaching style, and are able to complete assignments, you may want to add another course. 

Different courses teach different aspects of writing and focus on some parts more than others. Just as it’s important to research a myriad of articles when writing on a particular topic, rather than just one or two, it’s helpful to immerse yourself in training under as many credible teachers as possible. 

One author may teach in-depth characterization (point-of-view, tense, person, etc.), while another may focus on how to write your first novel, start to finish. Each is equally important. If you know how to maintain one point-of-view per scene and effectively communicate your story through this point-of-view, but you can’t finish your manuscript, you won’t get far.

In the same way, if you can write from start to finish but head-hop from one character’s point-of-view to another paragraph by paragraph, you’re unlikely to build a solid readership. 

Choose your course carefully, and once you feel like you’re well on the road to mastering its material, consider selecting a second option. 

The next step on your writing journey

Deciding to enroll in an online writing class and apply what you learn to your writing is a huge first step. You’re on your way! 

But it’s important to realize writing is a journey. Even the best writers will tell you they are still learning and growing and each book is a new project with new obstacles to overcome. 

Writing is an art. Writing is subjective. But following writing rules (and knowing enough to know when and how to break them) will help take your writing from good to great. 

You can’t write a book every single reader will love. But you can write a book that has such great writing, strong characterization, fascinating plot points and authentic voice, that if a reader puts it down it’s not because of you. They just didn’t personally connect with it at the level other readers will. 

As you educate yourself on writing, take notes, practice what you learn, and don’t get too hung up on applying everything at once. 

Write. Be free. And as you edit, try to implement what you’ve learned. Consider using book writing software and editing tools. It will be worth it in the long run.

Your writing will improve. Your readers will likely notice. And you’ll know you put in the time and effort to make your writing the best it can be. 

Writer Grants: Funding for Your Next Novel

Research is essential to great writing. Writer grants can help you add to your budget of doing thorough research.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, fantasy or memoir, dystopian or self-help, a well-researched book carries credibility. 

Your research will look different depending on the type of book that you write, but research should be done just the same.

If you write historical fiction, traveling to the places you plan to write about will help you get a feel for exactly what you’re writing. 

If you write nonfiction books on the lives of famous sports players, attending games and watching training will quickly help you understand the process these players go through.

This is intentional research: You have a goal to write a specific book and understand what you need to research to do so.

On the other hand, you may have done this research unaware: Simply tasting the type of food you’d one day put in front of your characters, swimming in the lakes or ocean your character will be lost in, and trying on heels as a child and feeling that I’m-walking-on-stilts feeling only heels can give. Or maybe you got a flat tire on the highway and now you know what you need to know to get your character out of a life or death situation. 

To help you research better books, this guide to writer grants covers:

  1. Living your story
  2. Are there grants for writers?
  3. How do you get grants to write a book?
  4. Organize your outreach
  5. List of writer grants
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Living your story

Whatever research you’ve done, the best writing includes the appropriate amount of detail. 

If you say your character hiked a volcano that’s one thing.

But traveling to a volcano, hiking up the path onto the dark, almost glistening black dirt, not a spot of green around, feeling the grit of ash in your shoes…this adds realism only experience can bring. 

So what if you want to write a story but don’t have the experience you need to write it? 

What if you want to write about Pompeii, but live in Georgia and have never seen a volcano in person?  

This is where writing grants come into play. 

If you are passionate about your writing idea but aren’t sure how to pay yourself through all the research you need to do, applying for and landing a writing grant may be your next step. 

A writing grant can help you gain access to the places you need to go so you can conduct your research and write your book. Used alongside crowdfunding, this can be a great way to stretch your reach and achieve more with your budget.

Are there grants for writers?

The easy answer is yes! There are grants for writers and you don’t need to be a bestseller to obtain a writing grant. 

Patrick Hicks said his trips to Poland greatly shaped his first novel, The Commandant of Lubizec. In this article he says, “Granting agencies saw my work with the Holocaust was unique and they understood I had to walk the soil of various concentration camps in order to write about this moment in history properly.”

If you feel you need to go to a certain location to do justice to your story and therefore the research for it, it’s time to start working on securing a writer’s grant. 

a woman noting down information about writer grants

How do you get grants to write a book?

Just as it takes research and applications to get into the right college or graduate program, to be accepted for a writer’s grant, you must do your research. 

Browse the internet, talk with colleagues, and find out what type of grant you need. Then start those applications. Remember to be specific about what you need and why. For instance, asking for a large grant because you love traveling in Europe and want to write about your experiences is unlikely to go over well. 

However, writing for a particular cause or with a very specific, reader-focused reason is much more likely to make your application stand out. 

Patrick Hicks acquired a grant not because he wanted free travel, but because he wanted to conduct credible research on a devastating part of history. His work on the Holocaust was specific and he needed to be on location to conduct his research well. 

Clearly articulate to yourself your goal, why it is your goal, and what you need to research to get to this goal, then research different writing grants and start sending those applications in. Remember, the writing in your application should reflect the level of writing the grant will support. 

To save time and heighten your chances of success, apply for multiple grants at once. That way you won’t have to wait to hear a rejection from one before moving on. 

Organize your outreach

You may want to create a list of grants you want to apply for before beginning. This will help you keep track of which grants you’ve submitted to, and which ones you still need to apply for. You could create a simple Excel spreadsheet with a list of grants, then create three columns, one for grants you need to apply for, one for grants you have applied for, and the third for grants that accepted or rejected your application. 

As you check off the cells, don’t get discouraged if you don’t land a grant right away. Just as a reader must believe in your book idea in order to read your book, those who review grant applications must believe in your reasoning: Why are you the one person they should offer this grant to? What makes you unique? What makes your situation or story idea unique? 

When applying, ensure you present yourself in an honest way that reflects both your individuality and writing ability. 

List of writer grants

While there are a myriad of options when it comes to writing grants that support your research, sometimes it helps to see what other types of grants are out there.

Having a list of grants to refer back to can help you get started on this part of your writing journey and also broaden your view on what type of grants would be helpful for your particular situation. 

As you look through this list and search on your own, take particular care to note the application deadlines. Before starting your application, make sure you can complete it and turn it in before the deadline.  

1. Various Fellowships – The Writers’ Colony 

“The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides uninterrupted residency time for writers of all genres, including culinary, composers, and artists without discrimination. We foster an environment that allows writers to work, interact with the wider community, stimulate new thinking, and energize creative expression.”

2. Canada Council For The Arts

“The Research and Creation component of Explore and Create supports the initial stages of the creative process. Canadian artists, artistic groups and arts organizations can apply to develop and make creative works. Grants provide support for creative research, creation and project development.”

3. Authors’ Contingency Fund

“Our grants are there for a wide range of purposes. That could mean emergency relief to support you through the health crisis. Or it could mean help with an unexpected expense, so the inconvenience of a broken boiler, laptop or washing machine doesn’t become a crisis.”

4. Bard College Fiction Prize

“The Bard Fiction Prize is awarded to a promising emerging writer who is an American citizen aged 39 years or younger at the time of application. In addition to a $30,000 cash award, the winner receives an appointment as writer in residence at Bard College for one semester, without the expectation that he or she teach traditional courses. The recipient gives at least one public lecture and meets informally with students.”

5. Sustainable Arts Foundation Award

“The Sustainable Arts Foundation supports artists and writers with children. We make annual unrestricted cash awards to individuals; at least half of these awards are made to applicants of color. We also support artist residencies in their efforts to make their programs more family-friendly.”

6. Awesome Foundation Grant

“The Awesome Foundation is a global community advancing the interest of awesome in the universe, $1000 at a time.”

7. Karen And Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award 

“The Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award is for authors over the age of fifty who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field.” 

8. The George A. And Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship

“The George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation is an independent foundation administered at Brown University. It awards a limited number of fellowships each year for independent projects in selected fields.”

9. Writers In Paradise Fellowships

“For an entire week, we strive to provide an open, inclusive, and nurturing environment where creativity, critical awareness and writing techniques can be exercised, fostered and encouraged.”

10. Creative Capital

“Creative Capital provides each funded project with up to $50,000 in direct funding plus additional career development services.”

Best wishes to you as you apply and further your writing dream

Planning your nonfiction book?

Check out our nonfiction book writing guide here get Our Pre-Formatted Nonfiction Outline by clicking on the banner below!

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Planning your fiction book?

Check out our post here on how to write a novel plus grab a fiction book outline!

Speak Your Book: Dictation Software to Write Faster

The use of dictation software might not sound controversial. However…

For those of you who stay blessedly out of toxic internet circles: there used to be, and in some places still is, a debate as to whether audiobooks count as ‘real books,’ and whether listening to an audiobook counts as ‘real reading.’ Obviously, listening to an audiobook is still consuming the book–there’s more than one way to read, it turns out, and audiobooks make reading more accessible. 

As it happens, there’s also more than one way to write. Every author has their preference, whether it be keyboard, longhand, or even typewriter, but we often forget that for most of human history, stories were told orally, and weren’t written down at all. 

And in the twenty-first century, there’s a way to keep telling stories out loud while also writing them down–have you heard of dictation software? 

This guide to dictation software covers:

  1. What is dictation software?
  2. Should I use dictation software?
  3. Dictation software for writing books
  4. Free – Apple Dictation
  5. Free – Google Docs
  6. Free – Speechnotes
  7. Free – Speechtexter
  8. Paid – Dragon Professional
  9. Paid – Dragon Anywhere
  10. Paid – Braina Pro
  11. Paid – Microsoft Word

What is dictation software? 

Dictation software is software that listens to what you’re saying and writes it down. Sometimes, it also uses voice commands to perform tasks on a computer–something like Siri or Alexa uses dictation software to translate what you’re saying into a command that can turn on your lights or order groceries. 

Essentially, it lets you transcribe your work. You say it out loud, just as you would write it, and the software types it up for you. This might sound newfangled, but it’s actually pretty standard. 

There’s a long history of authors dictating their work. John Milton, for example, dictated all of his work after going completely blind (since he was writing in the 1650’s, though, he had other people transcribe for him in lieu of Google Voice to Text). Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, claims to have used dictation software to write his rough drafts. 

There are plenty of reasons why an author might choose to use dictation software. We’ll go through a few of those reasons, and then we’ll talk about some free software options to try, as well as some paid options. 

Should I use dictation software?

Well, it can’t hurt to try, regardless of your background. Some writers like to use a mix of longhand and typing to write their work, while others swear by one or the other–I personally like to use longhand for outlining or brainstorming, since longhand forces me to slow down and think through my work. For a rough draft, on the other hand, I like to type, since I want to get the words down as soon as possible. 

That being said, there are a few reasons why you might want to transcribe over longhand or typing. 

dictation software using a laptop

1. You’re a great orator 

If you’re great at giving speeches or talks, or if your friends have often told you that you’re a fantastic storyteller in-person, you might be a candidate for dictation software. This way, you can work in the medium you’re most comfortable in, get all your best ideas down, and go back and edit them when you’ve finished. 

This can be especially helpful for people writing memoirs, self-help books, or other personal pieces. Saying your story out loud might make it flow more easily than if you wrote it down–it might feel more like telling a friend, and that can come through in your finished product. 

2. You struggle with typing speed or clear handwriting 

If you’re not the best typist, voice-to-text can be a lifesaver. Struggling to write legibly or type at a pace consistent with the flow of your ideas can get super frustrating, and there’s no need to struggle through that! 

Dictation software can help you work through your ideas and tell your story at your own pace, and since it’s typing everything out for you, you’ll have a perfectly clear body of work to look back on, which can make revisions way easier.

Since these software options all boast pretty good accuracy rates and allow you to go back and edit, you’ll be able to spend much less time at the keyboard and much more time writing

3. You like talking through your ideas 

If you love methods like the rubber ducky method or phoning a friend for your stories, look no further. Sometimes, thoughts and concepts can get trapped in our head and stuck. The brainstorming stage is supposed to help with this, but honestly, there are times that we find ourselves just staring at that blank Word doc and wondering why it won’t come through. 

Speech-to-text lets you talk it out and keep a copy of what you’ve said. This will save you from having your ideas slip through the cracks–everything you worked through will be right there for you to refer to, edit, or plop into your draft. 

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, keep reading for a list of free and paid dictation software options to try today! 

Dictation software for writing books 

Looking to try dictation software, but not sure if it’s for you? There’s no need to break the bank!

There’s a ton of free software options available for writers looking to try out this new format–and honestly, a few of these options will even suffice in lieu of a more expensive alternative. 

Free dictation software

Authors-to-be fresh on their way to full authordom often don’t have much to spare with expenses. For that reason, we’ve highlighted both free and paid options for you to choose from.

Apple Dictation

If you’ve got an iPhone or a Mac computer, then you’ve already got access to some pretty good voice-to-text software. The standard version allows you to dictate in thirty-second chunks, but if you have OS X v10.9 or newer, you can use Enhanced Dictation to dictate for longer periods of time. iPhone users looking for a convenient way to use speech-to-text software on the go, look no further! This is also fantastic if you’re an iPhone user who doesn’t have access to a computer. 

Google Docs voice typing 

This is another free feature for Google Docs users. You have to use Chrome to access this feature, but the accuracy is solid, and being built into Google Docs, it’s pretty convenient to use. Additionally, this software supports a huge variety of languages, and it’s constantly working to add more! 


Compatible with Google Chrome, Speechnotes is a very streamlined speech to text app. It’s a little bare-bones, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to–hit record, start talking, and it transcribes for you. If you prefer to transcribe in longer sessions, this might be ideal. One notable downside is that this app doesn’t have a very efficient storage function, so sorting through lots of files might get difficult. 


This is another Chrome-compatible speech-to-text software. It allows you to save documents as Word docs or .txt docs, and it has an autosave feature to keep you from losing your work as you go. 

Paid dictation software

If you’ve tried free software and found it lacking, or if you’re looking for a little bit of an upgrade, there are a few professional options to try. These often boast more extensive features and higher accuracy rates, and they’ll generally let you work with more file types. 

Again, if you’re looking to use dictation software, it’s not necessary to spring a few hundred bucks right out the gate. The features on Google Docs or Microsoft Word will be just fine. But if you crave something more, or if you need those additional features, here are a few other options: 

Dragon Professional Individual 

PRICE: $500 (comes with a compatible headset) 

PROS: This software is considered by some to be ‘industry standard.’ It allows you to transcribe existing audio files, its vocabulary grows the more you use it, and it allows you to surf the web, all of which can go a long way in keeping your hands-free experience truly hands-free. 

Dragon Anywhere

PRICE: $150/year (also comes with a week-long free trial) 

PROS: If you need a professional-grade voice-to-text software on your phone, this might be a good option for you. Dragon Anywhere lets you export using a variety of different file types, as well. The free trial is perfect for users who need to complete a short project. 

Braina Pro 

PRICE: $79/year, available on Windows

PROS: This is a great speech to text for someone who wants to get a lot of words down without the software pausing to auto-correct. That said, the software has about 99% accuracy, so you’re not sacrificing much. There’s also a command feature to answer user questions, like a Siri or Google Help might. You can pay either monthly or yearly, so the price is flexible. 

Microsoft Word Speech to Text 

PRICE: If you’re a writer who already uses Microsoft Word, great news! This is a feature you can check out for no additional cost–it’s been waiting for you all along. If not, then you will need to purchase Microsoft 365 for your computer. 

PROS: No setup or installation required–this software is accessible directly through your MS Word document. This software recognizes multiple languages and enables the user to add punctuation and formatting changes using voice commands. Since you access it using a single click from your document, it’s an obvious choice for existing MS Word fans. 

How to Turn Your Book Into a Speech: A Rolling Stone’s Guide

You did it. You had an idea and you turned it into a book. But now that idea is still sitting in your head and you want to turn your book into a speech.

How do you take 50-100k words and convert them into a speech without lulling listeners to sleep?

It starts with what you choose to share.

You decided to convert your idea into the form of a book for a reason. Hopefully one of the big reasons was because book form was one of the best ways to communicate your idea.

That said, the stage is an extremely helpful platform for communicating. Communicating in person can reach audiences in ways books simply can’t. So, whether you plan to present your speech live on a literal stage or online, knowing what to present from your book and how to present it is crucial.

Let’s start with why.

how to turn a book into a speech example speaker

This guide on how to turn your book into a speech covers:

  1. Why you should turn your book into a speech
  2. Gaining a platform for marketing
  3. Getting invited to podcasts
  4. How to turn your book into a speech
  5. Present extemporaneously
  6. Final remarks
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Why you should turn your book into a speech

If you want to be a successful author today, some form of public speaking is usually crucial. Gone are the days when authors sat alone at their desks, writing by candlelight, mailing their finished book to the publisher, only to go back and do it again.

Readers want to know the author whose work they love so much. And while it’s pretty much impossible to personally connect with every reader, public speaking allows you to connect with many readers at once.

The good news is, if you’ve come to this article, you likely enjoy speaking to readers and sharing your story with them in real time.

1. A platform for marketing

Public speaking isn’t just a way to connect with readers. It’s also an amazing marketing tool

Books can only communicate via the words on the page. When you present your story via speaking, you get the added benefit of inflection, vocal pauses, rapid speaking, or slowing down for effect. All of these are vital parts of communication that it’s difficult, and often impossible, to get on the page.

Speaking not only markets your book, but it also markets you, the author. When you present your story on stage, you are the medium in which it is presented. 

The audience looks at your story idea through you, the speaker. And speaking is personal. The audience can see your excitement about a particular illustration and feel your passion for the topic. 

Public speaking is a way to connect with individuals in real time and in real space…and true connection is one of the most organic and time-tested methods for successful marketing.

Speaking is an easy way to create soundbites or graphics for social media marketing

Share fifteen seconds of your speech on your Instagram story, create an IGTV video, or throw a quote onto an image of you speaking and post it to your grid.

If you plan to have a Q&A session following your speech, consider going live on Instagram and inviting people to send in questions regarding the topic of your speech. This 1) engages your followers and 2) provides you with a frame of reference for the type of questions that may be asked.

You could also convert your speech into a blog. Cover the main points of your speech in text format. Bold the quotes you want readers to takeaway and create a “click to tweet” option within the post.

2. Your invitation to podcasts

While in-person gatherings are much more common now than during recent times in the past, podcasts are a great way to conduct virtual speaking engagements. Podcasts are also extremely convenient for your busy followers because it enables them to listen on the go.

While podcasts are known for being audio only, sometimes podcast hosts upload the visual recording to YouTube. Keep this in mind as you present your speech. 

When it comes to connecting with your audience, your nonverbal communication is as important as your verbal communication. 

Good nonverbals could land you that next speaking gig or that podcast. 

Small things like healthy posture and hand gestures that contribute, rather than distract, from your speech go a long way.

Avoid keeping your hands in your pockets, swinging your arms without intention, and shuffling across the stage. Make purposeful hand movements and when you walk away from the podium, be careful not to meander across the stage. 

Make eye contact with audience members on one side of the stage, then move back to the podium for a few sentences before moving to the other side and connecting with the audience there.

Purposeful movement can elevate your speech and go a long way in helping secure future bookings. 

Now that we’ve covered why you should turn your book into a speech, here’s the crucial next step: 

How to turn your book into a speech

If you wrote a nonfiction book and have a book proposal, you will have already created a chapter by chapter outline. This is a great starting point.

If you’re turning your fiction book into a speech (maybe on the theme of your novel) your synopsis is a helpful place to begin.

Once you have your chapter by chapter outline or your synopsis in front of you…

Decide what specific parts of your book either 1) have the biggest message or 2) will create the largest impact.

A helpful way to do this is to simply print out your outline/synopsis or paste it into a blank document where you can cross out or delete any aspects that don’t answer the above questions. 

Remember: It’s crucial to know who you will be speaking to, or if you’re presenting online, who you’re targeting your speech for.

One of your chapters may resonate with a particular audience, but not another. If you’ve been asked to speak at a particular event, do your research so you have a good grasp on who your audience will be. This will save you time in preparing and also help ensure your speech is geared toward the individuals who will fill the seats.

Now that you know your audience and have cut any parts of your book that don’t apply to them, take it a step further: 

Cut the good illustrations, present the great illustrations.

If you’re talking to teenagers, illustrating your speech with how you demonstrated persistence by getting into grad school will probably fly right over their heads. 

Illustrating persistence with completing homework, taking college placement tests, or passing a driver’s training test will resonate much more deeply.

Present extemporaneously

While there are a myriad of ways to present yourself onstage, speaking extemporaneously will help you connect with your audience on a much more personal level.

Written speeches are sometimes most appropriate for big events such as graduation ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and other such gatherings. However, reading from a transcript minimizes your ability to connect with the audience in the moment.

If a particular point makes the audience laugh, your main option for connecting with them is to smile, perhaps laugh with them, and then continue with your written speech.

If you’re speaking extemporaneously, you give yourself the option of adding a sentence or two of extra context and making yourself that much more relatable to your audience.

Memorizing your speech is a second option, but if you struggle at all with stage fright, you put yourself at risk of forgetting a sentence. If you forget a sentence, it will likely be difficult to find your place again and continue smoothly. Speeches that are memorized are also difficult to deliver in a way that feels genuine and not rehearsed. They are, after all, memorized. 

If at all possible, write a bullet-point outline of what you plan to discuss.

Please note: You may want to write out your first and last sentence. This is the one exception in extemporaneous speeches. Memorizing your opening and closing sentences allows you to deliver a stammer-free, standout fist and last line, maintain eye contact with the audience, and create an unforgettable closing.

The length of your speech will determine the amount of points and duration you spend on them, so outline in a way that best fits your particular situation.

Speaking extemporaneously allows you to react with the audience, spend more time on points they seem to really resonate with, and brush over points that may not land as well.

Final remarks for writers turned speaker

Before stepping on stage, remember, you wrote an entire book on this topic. You know it inside and out. Be yourself. All you’re doing is sharing your story with a room of people who want to hear it.

You’ve got this.

Take a deep breath…and simply start the conversation.

Your book is coming alive in real time. 

You get to see your readers’ reactions. 

You’re all together on this journey. 

Enjoy it!

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Author Newsletter: Building Your Fanbase Through Email

If you’re an indie author, you probably already know the importance of an author newsletter for building your platform, connecting with readers, and selling books. If you’re new, let me tell you!

This guide to creating an effective author newsletter covers:

  1. What is an author newsletter?
  2. What are author newsletters used for?
  3. How to write an author newsletter
  4. What to include in your author newsletter
  5. Tips for effective author newsletters

An author newsletter is a consistent email campaign sent to your readership. They’re often used for updates, keeping communication open with your platform, and monetization.

What is an author newsletter?

Newsletters are an important piece of any author platform, but especially for indie authors. Connecting with readers means more book sales, reviews, clickthroughs, and merch buys.

Newsletters go right to your readers’ inboxes–right along with important work emails, updates from friends, and “Chris put your order in the oven at 7:35 pm” alerts from Domino’s. When someone signs up for your mailing list, they’re inviting you into their life on purpose, and that’s a powerful thing.

free copy of published for authors and writers

What are author newsletters used for?

Newsletters and mailing lists are probably the most important marketing tools for authors, because they’re the only part of your author platform that you fully control. Social media isn’t yours!

You own the contact information you’ve collected for your mailing list. Social media follows don’t belong to you, and they can be taken away in a second. A mailing list subscriber means that someone gave you their name and email address, at the very least. They’re trusting you with that, which means they trust that method of communication and are ready to listen.

This makes newsletters your strongest marketing facet.

How to write an author newsletter

This is a great video overview by an author for how she writes author newsletters that actually get opened, sell copies of her books, with some tips for doing it yourself.

What to include in your author newsletter

So what should you actually include in your newsletters? Here’s a list of common categories of content you’ll find in an author newsletter. Can you think of a category not listed here? Let us know in a comment!

1. Author Updates and News

The main purpose of an author newsletter is to keep your readers up-to-date on your books and writing.

This might include upcoming book announcements, new format availability (like the launch of the audiobook), platform changes, event dates.

For example, here are two bits of news I included in one of my last author newsletters: an expansion from one-person to a team for various service offerings, and a livestream event on Twitch. These are two things that are relevant for my audience to know, and they both have call-to-actions, headers, and images, which we’ll touch on later.

example screenshot of an author newsletter
screenshot of a live rewrite invitation

2. Personal Updates

If someone subscribes to your newsletter, they’re probably interested in you as a person! If your personality is attached to your author platform, remember to personalize the newsletters. You could include general life updates, behind-the-scenes peeks at the writing process, photos of your pets–whatever makes sense for your platform.

Anywhere you can inject personality into your promotions, you should!

3. Promos and Sales

Let your audience know about special offerings and limited time deals to make sure they have an opportunity to act on it! For example, I often run week-long promotions where my ebooks are 99 cents, so I make sure to tell my newsletter about that. Or sometimes I’ll include exclusive newsletter-only deals, like 50% off of a certain service from my website.

examples of sales and discounts from a newsletter

4. Affiliate Links and Merch

An easy way to monetize your author newsletters is with affiliate links. You can also include your own merch, if you have it. A good rule is to only promote something to your audience that you really believe is a good product.

Here’s my “writing favorites” section from a recent newsletter. I mentioned a notebook, pen, and drafting software that I genuinely enjoy and recommend to my friends all the time, then used affiliate links to monetize.

affiliate products from an author newsletter

I also use newsletters to announce new merch in my shop

examples of author merchandise included in a newsletter

Monetization can turn your newsletters into a great stream of income on top of it already being an effective marketing and platform growth strategy.

5. Newsletter Swaps and Collaborations

A great use of newsletter space is dedicating it to another writer. A common practice authors use to grow their audiences is with a newsletter swap. A newsletter swap is when two people dedicate spots in their newsletters to the other person. Swapping spots to promote each other’s platforms is mutually beneficial to share each other’s audiences.

For example, my writer friend and I both have short story collections. We can do a newsletter swap by adding a section to our next newsletters with something like, “If you enjoyed my short story collection, here’s another from a great writer in the same genre!”

That swap would make sense for us, since we both have an audience interested in short story collections.

If you’re just getting started building your mailing list, you can start newsletter swaps with your writer friends and similarly-sized creators. As your list grows, you’ll be able to use your numbers, open rates, and other stats to pitch a newsletter swap to larger creators with bigger readerships.

6. Gifts and Fun Things

One way to keep people subscribed to your mailing list is to offer them value. While they might enjoy updates on you and your books (and maybe even the monetized recommendations we talked about), it’s still nice to include something just for them!

I’ve sent my mailing list writing prompts, goal-setting templates, exclusive short stories, and tons of other gifts. I try to include exclusive access or a downloadable in every newsletter I send, and my open rate is much higher than the industry average. When setting up your newsletter, try brainstorming gifts to offer your readers!

7. Branding

I’m including branding as a newsletter element because it’s important to see your newsletter as a part of your platform, which means using your branding consistently. Here’s a great example of a strongly branded newsletter from Gloria Russell:

example of a branded author newsletter
example of an author Patreon invitation

As you can see, Gloria’s brand is pretty cowboy-centric. From the short story collection cover, the yee-haw selfie, the greeting (Howdy!), and the verbiage throughout, Gloria provides a consistent vibe. That’s great for branding! If you removed all names and identifying features from this newsletter, I would see it in my inbox and still know it was from Gloria.

Those are the common elements you’ll see in a strong letter. Which ones you include depends on your platform and goals. You might need to experiment with a few different methods to see what your audience reacts best to.

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Tips for Effective Author Newsletters

The content of your newsletters can be whatever you’d like! But here are a few general tips for optimizing your letters for readability and open rate.

1. Segment your lists

If it makes sense for your platform, consider segmenting your mailing lists. For example, I have three–my main newsletter, my “reading” list, and my “writing” list.

My biggest list is my monthly newsletter–this goes to everyone who wants to know what I’m up to, so it’s a wrap-up of the entire month of my content creation and updates.

author newsletter example

The “reading” list is for people who might be interested in the things I write, so they get things like project updates and sneak peeks. The biggest funnel for my reader list is my Twilight Rewrite videos, because those viewers can opt in for a PDF of the edited version.

Since those videos have less to do with writing than my others, most of the viewers who opt in from those aren’t actually writers, so my writing content isn’t going to appeal to them as much.

opt in content example sent out to an author mailing list

And finally, my “writer” list is for other indie writers who want tips, resources, and writing opportunities.

I plug this newsletter on my educational writing content with an incentive aimed toward writers (like right now, I’m using a list of writing prompts) so that the emails I collect for it will be people interested in that content.

writing prompts newsletter incentive message

Splitting my audience into segments helps me to give people more relevant content. Some people don’t want my personal and platform updates, and some people are exclusively readers or exclusively writers. This makes crafting my newsletters more focused and much easier.

2. Make sure you have a Call To Action

Almost everything you include in your newsletter should have a CTA (call to action). Ask yourself why a piece of information is important to give to your readers. What do you want them to do with it?

Announcing a new service? Link to a sign-up form, maybe with a discount incentive.

Including a cover reveal? Make sure you ask your readers to preorder the book.

If you show them a picture of your dog, you can link the photo to your Instagram.

Putting together a recommendations list? Connect affiliate links for readers to buy!

4. Don’t be too wordy

For the same reasons we want clear headings–your readers are more likely to click the next newsletter if they know you aren’t going to waste their time. Make sure you read over and edit every newsletter for clarity and conciseness to keep your readers subscribed.

5. Write to an “ideal reader”

Just like we talk about for writing books–create an ideal reader for your newsletter, then write to them. It will make your letters more personable and human, and you might even have more fun writing them.

6. Send test emails and check your links

There’s nothing more embarrassing than a typo or a dead link in a newsletter, so make sure to send a test email to yourself and a couple of pals for one last readthrough before you blast it to your entire mailing list. And don’t forget to check the links!

7. Optimize for inbox opens

There are a few different ways to help your emails go to inboxes instead of spam, and there are things to do to encourage your readers to open emails.

Here’s what you can do to increase your author newsletter open rates:

  1. Select the option to send confirmation emails. Inboxes favor emails if the user has confirmed that they subscribed to the newsletter. Most mailing list services should give you the option to include a confirmation email.
  2. Personalize the emails with first names (this means collecting those first names in your newsletter signup forms)
  3. Use accurate, interesting subject lines. Never lie to your readers! You might be able to use a misleading subject to get more clicks, but it’s not going to work twice.

8. Make it readable

Readability is an important aspect of a good newsletter. Using clear headings with strong keywords will let your readers glance over the sections of your newsletter to see which bits appeal to them enough to read. It also gives your newsletter a more organized look.

You can also use an email service with templates to quickly design attractive and easy-to-read newsletters. If you haven’t chosen a newsletter service yet, I use Flodesk! When I switched from the old service I was using, my newsletters got way prettier and super quick to write. You can use this link to grab 50% off too.

Need a little more help? Coaching and guidance? Check out this free training to learn more about our School & Community for Authors!

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Now we know what author newsletters are for, what they’re used for, what content to include, and how to write great ones! What will you include in your first letter?

How to Write a Strong Opening Sentence & Hook Readers

How many times have you picked a random show on Netflix, tried it, and then given up because it just didn’t quite hit? Those first five minutes or so are vital, and showrunners know it. A strong opening scene is everything. If you’re not hooked, you’re not going to keep watching, and once you’ve clicked off, there’s a big chance you’ll never come back. 

It’s not so different when you’re writing a book! Readers make judgments super quickly. Your opening scene is no exception.

First they’ll judge your cover and whatever excerpt or blurb you’ve got on the back, and then you’ve got that first chapter or prologue to catch them. 

Think about the last time you went to a bookstore. Even after a cover caught your eye, even after the synopsis sounded pretty good, how many books did you put back on the shelf when the first few paragraphs just didn’t land? 

In this article, we’ll teach you how to write a stellar first sentence to hook your reader and ensure that they not only buy your book, but stay invested all the way through! 

This guide on how to write a strong opening sentence covers:

  1. Asking a question
  2. Hooking your reader’s emotions
  3. Starting in media res
  4. Making it matter
  5. Examples of strong opening sentences
  6. Why is the first sentence important?
  7. Establishing tone
  8. Engaging your reader
  9. Introducing key concepts
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How to Write a Strong Opening Sentence

In the same way that a compelling opening shot will hook a moviegoer or Netflix-scroller, a compelling opening sentence will hook your reader. 

That feels like a lot of pressure! But it’s not that hard. Here are a few ways to catch your reader’s interest right off the bat: 

1. Ask a question 

I don’t mean to literally ask your reader a question–this would probably come off as a little cheesy, and you almost never address the reader in a fictional narrative. I mean do so with a scenario in the opening scene to add mystery and intrigue to your story.

When I say ‘ask a question,’ what I mean is to present a question to your reader. Make them wonder what the heck is going on, and make them want to find out. 

This is especially effective in short or flash fiction, when it’s important to introduce the central conflict as soon as possible. But in all forms of fiction, long-form or short-form, getting into some conflict will get your reader on board. 

2. Hook your reader’s emotions 

Humans are empathetic–this is why we read in the first place! We want to hear about what people are going through and watch them overcome insurmountable obstacles to win wars, fall in love, whatever the case may be. 

Open with a strong emotion. Describe the sadness or delight a character feels, or the strong emotion of the current scene. This will help your reader relate to your character quickly, and once they’ve related to your character, they’ll want to follow them into the story

3. Start in medias res 

This one’s my personal favorite.

In medias res means, roughly, ‘in the middle of the action.’ Drop your reader right in the middle of the good stuff. Maybe your rogue is mid-heist, and things are looking sketchy. This is a strong opening scene, you see this often in Hollywood, they then reveal it as a flashback to start the story.

Maybe your protagonist is in the middle of being fired from their big-city job, which will send them back into the arms of their small-town crush. 

4. Make it matter 

Whatever you do, don’t make it boring. If the first sentence of your story is a piece of exposition, or a long-winded description of landscape, your reader’s gonna get bored and find something else. 

Remember: readers are attached to people and their emotions. If you can’t open with conflict, at least open with people facing some sort of dilemma, and preferably feeling some kind of way about it. 

Examples of Strong Opening Sentences to Learn From 

One of the best ways to learn how to do something well is to watch how it’s been done by professionals. There’s a ton you can learn from these opening lines, just don’t copy them exactly (obviously). Remember the opening scene creates space for dialogue, development, and questions from the reader.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George:

“My dearest Catherine: I am dying. Or rather, about to die–there is a slight (though unconsoling) difference.” 

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut:

“All this happened, more or less.” 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman:

“Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough, and looked don’t-f***-with-me-enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.” 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer:

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson:

“Congratulations. The fact you’re reading this means you’ve taken one giant step closer to surviving till your next birthday. Yes, you, standing there leafing through these pages. Do not put this book down. I’m dead serious–your life could depend on it.” 

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson:

“The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective. Take right now, for instance.” 

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan:

“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to live a normal life.” 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we began to realize the gravity of our situation.” 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” 

Bunny by Mona Awad:

“We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.” 

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbricht:

“For a long time, he didn’t have a name. What he had were white long fingers that hooked into purses and a mouth that told easy lies.” 

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff:

“People often sh*t themselves when they die.”

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone:

“When Red wins, she stands alone. Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.” 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” 

The H8 U Give by Angie Thomas:

“I shouldn’t have come to this party. I’m not even sure I belong at this party. That’s not on some bougie shit, either. There are just some places where it’s not enough to be me. Neither version of me.” 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I barely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.” 

Paradise by Toni Morrion:

“They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they take their time.”

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones:

“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” 

The Martian by Andy Weir:

“I’m pretty much f*cked.” 

Why is the first sentence important? 

So, okay, what’s the deal with all this ‘first sentence’ stuff anyway? Surely it can’t be that important to have a stellar first sentence in a book with about a billion sentences. You must pay close attention to this tendency to dismiss parts of the process. Your opening scene needs to be strong because without it, your audience may lose interest and never get to your great scenes later.

Well, it is…and it isn’t 

When it comes to novels, it’s fair to say that your first sentence doesn’t necessarily have to be an eye-catching, one-of-a-kind showstopper. And in fact, putting way too much effort on a standout first sentence can read as forced and mess with the flow. 

It’s really more about your first paragraph than your first sentence, and even then, it’s more about your first page than your first paragraph. 

However: thinking carefully about that very first sentence will set you up for a better first page. You want to start in the best possible spot, and focusing on your first sentence will help you do that! 

Establishing tone in your opening sentence

In almost all of the examples I listed, especially the ones which open Young Adult novels, the sentences had a very strong tone. Your first sentence is a great place to establish what sort of a tone you’ll take for the rest of the piece–it helps you start strong, and it gives your reader a great idea of what to expect in the coming pages. 

Is your book funny? Open with something snarky, like James Patterson does with Maximum Ride. Is it introspective? Open with something moody, like Stephanie Meyer does with Twilight. Let the reader get a taste of what you’ll be serving them! 

Engaging your reader 

Most obviously, your first sentence will help you hook your reader. If you can get them on board to read the first sentence, they’ll be on board to read the first paragraph, and once they’ve turned the first page for more? You’re in the clear. 

Look at openers like Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. He starts off with a clear voice, which the reader can expect through the rest of the series, and he starts with a warning for the reader to put the book down. Any childhood fan of Percy Jackson can tell you that it was reading that warning that got them hooked for good! 

It’s true that some books are slow burns, and readers get invested over time. But you’ve got the opportunity to grab their attention on the first page, so why not use it? 

Introducing key concepts in your book’s opening

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always possible to establish the core conflict of your novel on that first page. Sometimes that conflict simply hasn’t had the chance to come about yet! In The Goldfinch, for example, we can’t really get into the conflict until the bomb goes off in the museum, and it would be a little weird to start with that. 

That being said: you can still use your first sentence to introduce the key themes and concepts you’ll discuss in your novel. This is par for the course on writing a novel.

Twilight, for example, deals intensely with Bella’s mortality, so we open with her confronting it head-on. The H8 U Give introduces Starr’s internal conflict–the book goes on to deal with how she struggles with her identity as a Black teenager, and in that first paragraph, she’s talking about the different versions of herself and how she feels about them. 

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What’s the best opening line you’ve ever read? What’s the best one you’ve ever written? Let us know in the comments!