The Writer’s Guide to Self-Publishing Costs and Royalties

Thinking about self-publishing your book? Learn the costs involved and what sort of royalties you can except!Last week, I broke down what authors can expect from advances and royalty rates of traditional publishers. Today, as promised, we’re going to take a look at the self-publishing side of things.

I’ve been exploring the world of self-publishing for the first time as I intend to self-publish my upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES. I’m learning as I go, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you to help make your publishing journey a little smoother. So today, let’s delve into the costs of self-publishing and what sort of profits you can expect.

Self-Publishing Costs

When you publish your book with a traditional publishing house, you’re not expected to pay any of the costs involved in creating the book. But when you self-publish you become the publisher, so all of these costs are left up to you. What kind of costs are we talking here?

Now, how much you spend on all of these can vary widely. Indie authors have published books on budgets of a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand.

While you don’t have to spend thousands, you do want to make sure you’re putting out a high-quality product. You want your book to look professional inside and out to build trust and credibility with your readers.

So how about much should you expect to spend? Keeping in mind these numbers vary widely, here’s a very rough average: Cover Design ($100) + Editing ($1,200 for a 80k word story) + Formatting ($60)= at least $1,360, plus marketing.

How much should you spend on marketing? Again, that’s another number that varies widely. Maybe you don’t want to spend any money on marketing. Maybe you just want to spend $20 on Facebook ads. Or maybe you want to buy a Kindle for a giveaway. You can do whatever fits your budget.

I know it can be scary spending money on something that isn’t making you money yet. A lot of indie publishers say to view these costs as an investment rather than an expense since once your book is published it will continue to earn you money from royalties without any additional work on your part (except maybe some marketing).

While this is a good mindset, I’m going to be honest with you–just like with a traditional publishing house, when you publish your book you run the risk of it flopping. It might not earn back the money you put into it, or you might just break even. There’s really no way to know until you try.

With any sort of business there is some amount of risk, and as a self-publisher you are now a small business owner. And as any business owner knows, you must spend money to make money. I don’t want you to be afraid to take the risk to pursue your publishing dreams, but I do recommend you be smart about it. Spend what you can afford, and stay within your budget.

Self-Publishing Royalties

As we get into royalties in the self-publishing world, I’m going to specifically be looking at Amazon since it’s the most popular and has some of the highest royalty rates. However, there are are other platforms where you can sell your book such as Kobo, Google Play, Nook, and iBooks.

You might decide to just stick with Amazon, or you could sell your book on multiple platforms to create multiple streams of income. I’d recommend testing out different platforms to see what works for you and where your book might sell well–you never know!

When you self-publish through Amazon your have two options:

1) Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)–This allows you to publish your e-book on Amazon for Kindle.

2) Create SpaceOwned by Amazon, this allows you to publish print books. Amazon prints the books as they’re purchased and delivers them for you, and you don’t have to pay anything up front. The cost of printing the book is taken out of the profit. Your book will only be sold on Amazon, though you can pay a fee to sell it through other retailers such as Barnes and Noble.

So what are some of the main differences between traditional publishers and Amazon in terms of royalties? Unlike traditional publishers who only send out royalty checks twice a year, Amazon pays out royalty checks monthly as long as you hit the $100 minimum. Amazon authors also receive larger royalty rates, and as a self-publisher you don’t have to pay an agent their 15% of your profits for their services.

The other major difference is that in self-publishing, you don’t receive an advance. That means your book doesn’t have to pay back its advance before you start receiving royalties–you begin receiving royalties right away. (For a more in-depth explanation of advances, click here).

E-book Royalties

So what do Amazon’s royalty rates look like? First, let’s take a look at the e-books:

  • E-books priced between $0.99-$1.99= 35% royalty rate
  • E-books priced between $2.99-$9.99= 70% royalty rate
  • E-books priced above $9.99= 35% royalty rate

Compared to the traditional publishing average of a 25% royalty rate for authors, these numbers look pretty good. Also, remember that as a self-publisher you also won’t have to give an agent her 15% cut of your earnings. Even better.

If you’re wondering about how much to charge for your e-book, let me take a moment to beseech you to please price it at least at $2.99. Your book is worth at least as much as a cup of coffee, and after all the work you put into it you deserve that 70% royalty. You might do a temporary sale or promotion for less, but please don’t undervalue your work. Mmk?

Print Book Royalties

So what about print books? First of all, Create Space only prints paperbacks, not hardcovers (thought I should point that out). Royalties also get a little trickier here, as Amazon calculates your royalties based off the cost it will take them to print the book, which seems fair enough to me. You can use their royalty calculator here to get a rough estimate. Let’s do a little math, shall we?

Let’s say you’re printing a 300 page novel with a standard 5.5″ x 8.5″ trim. Let’s say you set your list price at $12.99. After you add up Amazon’s costs & cut (the numbers listed in the right-hand column if you’re using their calculator), which total $10.02, you’re left with a profit of $2.97. That comes out roughly to a 23% royalty rate.

Now, that might not seem like much, but do you remember the royalty rate of a traditionally published paperback? It was: 8% for the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% after. (Plus, remember, you have to pay your agent 15% of your profits.)

That means for that same paperback book you’d receive an 8% royalty of $1.04 per sale, minus your agent’s 15%.

Looks a lot better now, doesn’t it?

The Down Side…

But how many books can you expect to sell? Remember that in the U.S. on average, a (traditionally published) book sells around 250 copies per year and 3,000 in its lifetime. But for self-published books, the average is 250 copies sold in its lifetime. Ouch.

That means your $12.99 paperback with its profit of $2.97 per copy would make you a grand total of $742.50. And do you remember that $1,360 cost of creating the book we averaged out earlier? Yep, you didn’t actually make a profit. Double ouch.

The advantage to a traditional publisher is that you don’t have to fear losing money because the publisher is investing in the book, not you. And, a traditional publisher will pay you an advance (anywhere between $5k-$15k), which you won’t have to pay back even if the book loses the publisher money. So in traditional publishing, there’s no financial risk for the author.

Don’t Give Up

I know these numbers can seem disheartening, but you have to remember that they’re just that–numbers. Averages. Statistics. You have no idea how your book might do until you put it out there, so don’t let the numbers stop you from trying. You might sell 500, 1,000, or 10,000 copies–who knows.

Building a loyal readership, putting efforts into marketing, and publishing a back list books to create multiple income streams are all things you can do to increase your odds of success. And, of course, writing a kick-ass story.

Whether you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing, neither road is going to be easy. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. And with either one, it’s going to be really hard to make a living as an author. This is why most authors write for the love of it, not for the money.

But if seeing your books published is your dream and passion, as it is mine, never give up. Keep publishing, keep trying, keep failing, keep learning. And most importantly, keep writing because it’s what you love.

These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin HillerichMy upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, is a YA murder mystery set in 19th century Mexico against the backdrop of the traditional festival Dia de los Muertos–the Day of the Dead.

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on Oct. 25th, and you can read more about the story and sign up for a publication reminder by clicking here.



The Writer’s Guide to Advances and Royalties

Considering traditional publishing for your book but confused about how you'll get paid? Here's what you need to know about advances, royalties, and how to really make a living as an author.While I’ve been writing my upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, I’ve been doing a lot of research on traditional vs. self publishing lately. Specifically, I’ve been looking into the monetary aspect of both. And let me tell you, it has definitely been eye-opening.

Today, we’re going to look at the traditional publishing side of things and explore advances, royalty rates, and just how you can make a living as a writer. But I’m going to warn you, friend, it isn’t going to be pretty. There are some cold, hard truths about publishing that you might not want to hear, but you definitely need to know.

Next week, I also plan to share a breakdown of royalties and costs from the self-publishing perspective so you can compare and contrast both options, so stay tuned for that! Now, let’s get down to it, shall we?

Spoiler alert: this post will involve math. You have been warned.


Before we get into the average royalty rates for authors from traditional publishing houses, we first need to talk about advances.

An advance is an “advanced payment” of your book’s royalties. The amount you receive depends on factors like the type of book you’re writing, how well the publisher thinks it will sell, and whether or not you’re a newbie author or a NYT best-seller.

So how much are we talking here? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner says, “A typical first-timer advance might be anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per book. Most publishers offer the advance they project your book will earn back in the first six to twelve months after publication.”

That might sound like a good chunk of change, but here’s the catch: you won’t receive your advance all at once. Typically, your advance is split into two payments–one when you sign your contract, and another once you turn in the final, edited manuscript–though now some publishers are beginning to split it into three installments, with the final payment being received when the book is released.

Now, if you’ve hired a literary agent (which you will most likely need to do to even get your foot in the door of traditional publishing), they will receive 15% of your advance as commission for their services. So if you receive a $10,000 advance they will receive $1,500. That being said, your agent will also help negotiate the best contract for you since it benefits them as well. Never begrudge an agent her 15%–she definitely earns it!

The other thing you need to understand about advances is that your book must earn them back before you begin receiving royalties. Yep, you read that right. That means if you received a $10,000 advance and your agent negotiated a royalty rate of $1 per book, you would need to sell 10,000 copies to earn back your advance.

And here’s the hard truth: sometimes, books don’t earn back their advance. If this happens you don’t have to repay your advance, but you’ll never receive royalties from your book and publishers will be hesitant to publish any more stories from you in the future since you just lost them money. Ouch.


Are you still with me so far? Good! Now that we’ve covered the advance, let’s dig into the actual royalties.

First, let’s look at the timeline here. It can be up to a year or more from the time you sign your contract to the time your book hits bookstore shelves. In addition to that, remember that your book must first earn back its advance, which, on average, takes around 6-12 months. That means from the time you sign your contract, it can take two years before you receive a royalty check.

I wish I could say the news gets better, but it really doesn’t. You will only receive royalty checks every 6 months. Yep, twice a year. Talk about a sporadic paycheck.

Now, remember your literary agent? She also receives 15% of your book’s earnings for each royalty check you receive. That’s right, that 15% doesn’t just apply to your advance–it applies to all of your earnings.

So what about the royalty rates themselves? Here are the average industry royalty rates:

Hardcover: 10% before the first 10,000 copies are sold, then 15% after

Paperback: 8% for the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% after

E-book: 25%

So how many copies can you expect to sell? That answer will vary widely and there’s no definite number, but keep in mind that in the U.S. on average, a book sells around 250 copies per year and 3,000 in its lifetime.

Let’s crunch some numbers, shall we?

Let’s say the retail price of your hardcover book is $15 and your royalty rate is 10%. That means you’ll earn $1.50 per book sold (after you earn back your advance, of course). Let’s say you’ve done well and sold 500 copies in 6 months, and you receive a royalty check of $750. After your agent’s 15% cut ($112.50), you’re left with $637.50.

Or, let’s say your paperback book is selling for $10 and your royalty rate is 8%. That means you’ll earn $0.80 cents per book. Again, let’s say you’ve done well and have sold 500 copies in 6 moths, and when your royalty check rolls around you’ve earned $400. After your agent’s 15% cut ($60), you’re left with $340.

Yep, after all the blood, sweat, tears, and countless hours you poured into your book, the publisher will get the biggest chunk of the profit. Granted, they also have to pay everyone who helped in the publishing process–the cover designer, editor, interior designer, etc.–but those percentages can still feel tiny to an author who’s put so much effort into their story.

Making a Living With Fiction

I know these numbers can be disheartening, and they make it easy to see why agents and publishers tell you not to quit your day job. The hard truth is, it’s really, really hard to make a living as an author. Successful authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin are rare exceptions, not the average author.

So how does one earn a living wage from writing fiction? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner shares the key to success:

Making money in this business, for the vast majority of writers, isn’t about having one huge hit. Or even two huge hits. Instead, it’s about building a career, book by book, and building an audience that wants more of your books.

Writers begin to see a “living wage” when they have a stack of books out there in the marketplace. Each book needs to be bringing in royalties regularly. Even if each book is not selling a huge number of copies individually—if you have a whole bunch of books out there, each selling some copies, it starts to add up.

Basically, making a living as an author isn’t a get rich quick scheme. It will take you years to build up a collection of published books that earn you enough royalties to live of off. The truth is, most writers don’t write to make millions–we write because we’re passionate about our stories and we want to share them with the world. And while passion may not pay the bills, there’s nothing quite like the reward of connecting with readers through story.

At the end of the day I don’t write for a paycheck (although it would be nice). I write because it’s what I love, and because I would continue to do so even if I never made a single sent from my work.

What about you?

P.S. Ready to explore to self-publishing side of things? Click here for Part 2 of this post!

These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin HillerichMy upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, is a YA murder mystery set in 19th century Mexico against the backdrop of the traditional festival Dia de los Muertos–the Day of the Dead.

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on Oct. 25th, and you can read more about the story and sign up for a publication reminder by clicking here.


How to Find and Hire a Cover Designer for Your Book (+ Cover Reveal for These Savage Bones!)

One of the most important parts of self-publishing is making sure your book has a gorgeous cover. Here's what you need to know about finding and working with a cover designer!If you’ve been following the blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve been working on my first novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES. This will also be the first story I’ve self-published, so there’s a lot of exciting things going on!

And it’s about to get even more exciting, because today I’m unveiling the cover for THESE SAVAGE BONES!

Are you ready to see the cover, friend?  *begins drum roll*


These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin Hillerich

Now, how gorgeous is that?? *SQUEE*

I’m so, so excited with how this cover turned out, and I have to give a huge thanks to my cover designer Victoria Cooper for her amazing work!

So far, being able to have a say in the design of my cover has been my favorite part of the self-publishing process. Seeing my name on that cover for the first time was also strangely thrilling/surreal, and it’s slowly beginning to sink in that I’m actually going to have a published book out there. I’m definitely starting to feel like a real author!

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on October 25th, and you can read a description of the story and sign up to receive an email reminder when its published by clicking here!

Now without further ado, let’s get on with today’s topic!

Why You Need an Amazing Cover

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but unfortunately that’s exactly what readers tend to do. Humans are visual creatures, and a beautiful cover make us want to read a book even more. It creates the perception that what’s on the inside must be just as good as what’s on the outside.

You cover is going to be the reader’s first impression of your book–they’ll probably notice it before they even read the title. In a matter seconds, they will decide whether or not they want to click on your book on Amazon. If you have a gorgeous cover, they will be compelled to click and find out more about the story. But if your cover is a poorly designed eyesore, the chances are greater that they will pass over it and move on to the next book.

As unfair as all of this might sound, there’s no denying that a beautiful cover is more likely to draw in readers. You NEED to convince readers to click on your book. If they don’t, they’ll never get to your blurb or sample your first chapter or read reviews about how awesome your story is.

Your cover is your first step in convincing a reader that they need to read your book, so spending the money on a gorgeous cover is a must!

Where to Find a Cover Designer

Google is literally your best friend when it comes to finding a cover designer. I stumbled across my cover designer through a Google search, which led me to a website called The Book Cover Designer.

The website offers pre-made covers from different designers, and while I was browsing I kept noticing that all of the covers I loved were made by the same designer–Victoria Cooper. When I clicked on her profile I was excited to see she also offered custom designs in addition to her pre-made covers, which was exactly what I needed.

Which brings me to my next tip–if you see a cover you like on Amazon, check the book’s copyright page which usually credits the cover artist. Then, do a quick Google search (I told you Google was your friend!) to find out more about the designer.

Finally, a fantastic resource for finding a cover designer is this list from indie author Joanna Penn. There are a ton of cover designers listed, so it’s a great place to start your search!

What to Look For

When you’re considering a cover designer, there’s a few things you want to look for. First, browse their portfolio and make sure their work looks professional. You’ll also want to consider their style and whether or not it fits the vision you have in mind for your cover.

Additionally, look for reviews and testimonials from the designer’s customers. Was the designer easy to work with? Did they have good communication with the author? Did they finish the work on time? Look into the designer’s reputation and find out what they’re like to work with and if their customers were pleased with their work.

Consider Your Budget (But Also Consider Quality)

You can pay anywhere from fifty bucks to several thousand for a book cover. While you don’t have to spend thousands, you definitely want to invest in a good cover! I would say on average expect to pay at least around $100 for a good ebook cover (front design only), and $200-$300 for a print cover (front, back, and spine).

Of course, you will find designers who charge more or less than those figures. For example, my cover designer charges $85 for a custom ebook cover, which is a little below that estimation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she raises her prices in the future as her work is gorgeous and I felt I was getting a high quality cover! So a lower price doesn’t always necessarily mean lower quality.

Another option to consider if you’re on a tight budget is a pre-made cover. These covers cost a little less than their custom counterparts and are made specifically for one-time sale to ensure your book is the only one with that design. Since I needed something very specific for THESE SAVAGE BONES this wasn’t a good option for me, but there are tons of gorgeous pre-made covers out there!

Book in Advance

Make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to book a cover designer if you’re getting a custom design! How far in advance will probably depend on the popularity of the designer and how many projects they currently have booked. I think I contacted my designer about a month and a half before my planned release for THESE SAVAGE BONES, but for some designers you might need to book as fear ahead as several months in advance.

You’ll also want to consider how long it will take the designer to complete the cover. I was lucky and received my finished cover in just a few days, but from what I understand the average turnaround is 2-3 weeks. The length of time will also depend on how many revisions you ask the artist to do until you’re happy with the design. Victoria communicated quickly and we only went through two drafts of the design, so that probably helped to speed up the process.

Communicating Your Vision

Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate to your designer how you’re envisioning the cover in your head. Some of the design elements you’ll want to consider are color tones, font style, layout, and imagery. You’ll also want to consider the genre of your story and the overall mood you’re trying to convey. What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover? The mood of a romance cover is going to be far different from that of a horror cover!

Try browsing the covers of other books in your genre for inspiration, and if you find examples of elements you really like and are looking for in your cover, show them to your designer. You can also help provide the designer with inspiration by telling them what your book is about, where it’s set, and what your main character looks like.

I would also recommend keeping an open mind as your designer might surprise you with something better than what you had originally envisioned. For example, I originally suggested a desert background for my cover, but when I saw the city background Victoria had used I ended up like it much better! That being said, don’t be afraid to also (politely!) ask the designer to make changes if there’s something you don’t like.

What do you think about the cover for THESE SAVAGE BONES? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!


A Simple Outline for Writing a Killer Book Blurb

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve been working on a novella (and shared some reasons why you should write one of your own!). This week, I’ve been drafting a blurb to go along with said novella, and I’m finally ready to officially introduce you to the story! (Eep!)

Are you ready, friend? The title of my novella is THESE SAVAGE BONES, and here’s your first peek at the story:

Mexico, 1875. Twenty-three-year old Esperanza de la Rosa knows more about steam engines and electromagnetics than a proper lady should. Fiercely independent, she’s more interested in science and superstition than finding a suitor.

When Esperanza’s uncle is murdered during a festival celebrating the Day of the Dead, her world is shaken. To catch the killer, she must accept the help of the last person she wants to see—her ex-fiancé Alejandro Valladares, a gentleman turned bounty hunter with a troubled past.

Thrust into a tangled web of secrets and lies that threaten to destroy everything she thought she knew, Esperanza must uncover the truth and bring her uncle’s murderer to justice or the guilt of her failure will haunt her forever.

I’m pretty pumped about this story, and I’m excited to finally be sharing the details with you! So when will THESE SAVAGE BONES be available? I’m currently planning on an October 25th release. I’ll also be revealing the cover on October 1st, so stay tuned! (Spoiler alert: it’s amazingly gorgeous).

I’m not gonna lie though, writing that blurb was hard. Which is why today I want to share with you what I learned about writing a blurb so that hopefully you’ll have an easier time of it than I did!

What is a Book Blurb?

A blurb is the description of the story found on the back cover of a book. It’s brief–no more than 100-150 words–and creates interest in the story without giving away major spoilers or the ending.

Basically, the name of the game with a blurb is to entice readers to buy your book. Now, that’s a lot of pressure to condense a 50,000+ word novel into 150 words or less in a way that will convince readers to buy. Where do you even begin?

There are many different ways to write & organize a book blurb, but today I’m going to try to simplify the process for you by breaking it down into two main sections: 1) The hero before the story’s issue, and 2) The hero after the issue is introduced. In both sections, I’ll share the must-haves you’ll need to include to make your blurb work.

Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!

Part 1: Set the Stage

This part of the blurb is a quick snapshot that shows “the calm before the storm” before the hero’s life is turned upside down. It introduces a) the hero, b) the setting, and c) the hero’s life before the story begins.

A. The Hero

When you introduce your hero in your blurb, you want to accomplish two things: 1) give the reader a feel for what the hero is like, and 2) create interest in the hero.

To quickly acquaint the reader with your hero, mention his profession and/or the role he identifies with. Is he a police officer? Retired soldier? Stay-at-home father? Starving artist? College student?  Also, try to use adjectives to sum up what your character is like such as adventurous, street-smart, reckless, outcast, etc.

Next, you want to highlight the most interesting aspects of your hero. Is he a starving artist by day and a master art forger by night? Is he hiding magical powers? Is he on the high school football team but secretly practices ballet? Let readers know what makes him stand out!

Here are some examples of character description in book blurbs:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

“Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought.” (Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)

“Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

B. The Setting

You don’t have to mention the setting, but it can help set the mood for your book and also attract readers with an interest in that setting.

The only exception to this is if you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy—then including the setting in your blurb is a must. For historical fiction, you’ll want to mention the time-period and place, and with fantasy you’ll need to introduce the reader to the world you’ve created. Here are a few examples.

Fantasy Settings

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.” (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

Historical Fiction Settings

“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.” (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

“World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide.” (Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys)

C. Current Situation in Life, Dreams, Desires, etc.

This is optional, but you could provide the reader with a quick snapshot of what the hero’s life is like before the story begins. Do they have a perfect life with everything they’ve ever wanted before it’s suddenly torn away? Do they have plans to attend an Ivy League school before those hopes are suddenly dashed?

Revealing these sorts of details can provide a nice contrast to the disaster that’s about to befall the hero, help characterize the hero, and create sympathy in the reader. Consider whether your hero’s “before” might be worth mentioning.

For example, in the blurb from Cinder, look at the second sentence that goes on to further describe our heroine:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness.”

This snippet gives us a little peek into what Cinder’s life is currently like, and it’s pretty dismal. This helps create sympathy in the reader and already puts us on Cinder’s side.

Part 2: Introduce the Problem

This part of the blurb is the big “But when…” that a) reveals the problem that’s about to turn the hero’s life upside down and thus begin our story. It also lets the reader know b) what the hero is setting out to accomplish, c) what opposition or obstacles are standing in his way, and d) what’s at stake. Let’s look at a few examples.

Example 1: “But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

A. What’s the problem? Cinder is mixed up in an “intergalactic struggle” and a “forbidden attraction.”

B. What’s her goal? “She must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

C. What’s standing in her way? She’s “caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal.”

D. What’s at stake? “Her world’s future.”

Example 2: “Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.  (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

A. What’s the problem? Katniss is “forced to represent her district in the Games.”

B. What’s her goal? Surviving and winning the games.

C. What’s standing in her way? She must “kill or be killed,” and the blurb hints that the changing terrain and rules as well as the audience might also pose obstacles.

D. What’s at stake? Katniss’ life.

Example 3: “Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.” (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)

A. What’s the problem? Kaz needs to assemble a crew to pull off a “deadly heist.”

B. What’s his goal? Pulling off the heist and becoming rich.

C. What’s standing in his way? The heist is described as “deadly” and “impossible” which suggests this won’t be easy. It’s also implied there will be internal conflict within the band of criminals with the line “if they don’t kill each other first.”

D. What’s at stake? If he succeeds, the heist will make Kaz “rich beyond his wildest dreams.”  On the other hand, “Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction.”

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!Whatever information you choose to include in your blurb, just make sure you keep it short and sweet and arouse the reader’s curiosity.

Remember, the blurb is about teasing readers with your story and enticing them to (hopefully) buy. You don’t have to include every detail, but make sure you include just enough to get readers itching to pick up your book.

Also, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on my blurb for THESE SAVAGE BONES! Does it make you interested to read the story? Let me know in the comments below!


5 Reasons Why You Should Write a Novella

The popularity of novellas is growing. Discover 5 reasons why you should write a novella of your own!Over the past several weeks or so, I’ve been experimenting with a form of fiction I’ve never tried before: the novella. If you don’t already know, a novella runs between 20,000 and 40,000 words, and can be read in a couple of sittings. It’s like a longish short story for writers who suck at keeping short stories short (aka me).

Writers usually avoid novellas because publishers typically don’t want them. Not because there isn’t a market for them, but because they’re not as cost-effective for the publisher as a full-length novel. And as we all know, at the end of the day publishing is a business.

But with the advent of self-publishing and the digital age, the publishing world is changing. Writers can now bypass traditional publishing houses and publish novellas themselves inexpensively in the form of e-books. This means we can now target that market of readers who enjoy novellas that we couldn’t reach before.

And that’s pretty cool, especially since novellas are growing in popularity. Still not convinced? Read on to learn the benefits of writing a novella, and maybe you’ll even decide to write one yourself!

1. Explore New Ideas

If you’re like me, you probably have quite a few ideas for stories. I currently have a running list of around 20-something ideas I’m itching to explore. But alas, as much as it pains me to admit, I know I will only be able to write so many novels in my lifetime.

So what’s a writer to do? One option would be to turn some of those ideas into short stories. But again, if you’re like me you probably suck at writing them. There’s just so much to explore, and not enough time or page space in a short story. Novellas, on the other hand, allow you to go more in-depth with plot and characters without committing to a full-length novel.

This is great if you need to get an idea out of your system, or need take a break from a series and write something different between installments. You could also write a novella between drafts of a novel. Have an idea that’s too long to be a short story but too short to be a novel? Instead of throwing it away, turn it into a novella.

Not only do novellas take less time to write and allow you to get some plot bunnies out of your head, but they also give your readers something to snack on while waiting for your next novel. Sounds like a win to me!

2. Expand on Your Novel

One great use for novellas is to expand on your novel or series. Maybe there’s a character whose story you want to explore further, or maybe you want to write a prequel about what takes place before the novel. Or, maybe you want to write a story set in the fantasy world you created but follow a different set of characters than your novel.

There are a lot of fun options you could explore! Plus, your readers will love it. Fans of your novel or series will enjoy being able to delve deeper into their favorite characters or explore other parts of your fantasy world. A novella will allow those who don’t wish to leave your story to linger a little longer even after they’ve finished your novel.

3. Build a Readership

Novellas can be a great way to build your readership. You could self-publish a novella (or several) before publishing your novel. Putting your work out there will help you find readers who will love your stuff–and you! If they enjoy your novella they’ll likely become interested in what you write next.

Besides building interest in your work in general, you can also use novellas to build interest around a specific novel. For example, consider writing a novella that’s a prequel to your novel or is set in the same world if you’re writing a fantasy. This will help you find readers who will be interested in your novel before it’s even published!

Additionally, after your novel is published you could continue to use that novella as a way to gain new readers by offering it for free. If readers get hooked on your free novella, they’ll likely buy your novel!

4. Create an Additional Stream of Income

One of the sad truths about being an author is that it’s hard to make a living writing fiction, though it certainly isn’t impossible. More and more now, authors are choosing to self-publish novellas (or even novels) after being traditionally published.


Well, not only is an author’s advance split into two or three installments that could be spread out over a period of time as long as a year, but after publication an author only receives a royalty check twice a year. Not to mention, after your book is published it must earn back its advance before you start receiving royalties. Which means it’ll be a while before you see that first royalty check.

Talk about a sporadic paycheck.

Self-publishing means you have control over when and how often you decide to publish. And with a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you receive a monthly royalty check  which means a steadier income. You’ll also get a bigger cut of the profits versus what you’ll receive from a traditional publisher.

Of course, to build a decent income stream off of novellas you’ll need to write a handful. But considering they take less time to write than a novel, it’s not such a bad strategy. You’ll be able to put work out faster, and the more stories you get out there the more opportunities you have to attract readers. Novellas offer an additional income stream while growing your audience, which means more buyers for your future books.

5. Appeal to Busy Readers

If you haven’t already noticed, people nowadays lead busy lives and have short attention spans. Most people would rather invest a couple hours into watching a movie than days or weeks reading a book.

Also, since it seems every book is now part of a series, this means an even bigger investment of time. A reader might be reluctant to make that kind of commitment. If they don’t have time to read one book, how are they going to read three, or five, or eight? And no one likes to be left hanging on a story.

Novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan said in an article in The New Yorker that, “To sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie.” There are plenty of people out there (including myself) who love to read but struggle to find the time, yet most of us can squeeze in a movie here or there.

Novellas are a perfect option for busy readers because they can be finished in one or two sittings and have a little more meat to them than a short story. This allows reader to enjoy a great story without having to make a huge time commitment–just like watching a movie.

So, have I convinced you to try writing a novella of your own? I’ll confess, I’m having quite a bit of fun writing mine. It’s a murder mystery which is something I’ve never written before, and it’s nice to be able to explore a new genre and idea without committing a year or longer to writing a full-length novel.

I do plan to self-publish this novella, and I hope I’ll be able to share it with you soon! Until then, have you read or written any novellas yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations–pop them into the comments below!


How to Write a Novel in 20 Steps

Want to write your first novel but don't know where to begin? Learn the step-by-step creative process behind writing a novel in this video tutorial! (Plus, there is most definitely a free checklist involved).So you’ve decided to write your first novel (high fives for you, friend!) and you’re eager to get started. But where exactly do you begin? Should you outline your plot first? Or should you start by developing your characters? But wait–what about research?

What’s a writer to do?

For a new writer, the road to a finished novel can be a little hazy at first, especially when you’ve never been through the writing process before. In this 15-minute video tutorial, I’m going to walk you through the step-by-step process I follow to write a novel. This is a process I’ve refined over the past 11 years of practice and experimenting.

After watching this tutorial you’ll get a better feel for the creative process behind writing a novel, and have a clear idea of where to begin and the steps you’ll need to take to reach a finished product.

Plus, I’ve created a free checklist for this process which you can download below the video! Ready to go more in-depth? Then be sure to check out my free 100+ page e-book “Writing 101” (which also includes the checklist), which you can also download below!


Click below to grab the free downloads mentioned in the video!



I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, friend! Thoughts or questions? Share them in the comments below!







Why You Need a Writing Community

Feeling all alone as a writer? It doesn't have to be that way! Learn how to find a writing community to support and encourage you during your novel journey!Writing a novel is a solitary task, and we writers tend to be introverted creatures who enjoy the seclusion and silence of our favorite activity. But sometimes, even introverts get lonely. It’s part of human nature; it’s our instinct to seek out the company of other human beings. It’s not good for us to be alone.

When I first started writing I didn’t know any other writers. My friends and family, though they supported me, didn’t understand my fascination with building plots or my enthusiasm for my characters. They didn’t understand the frustrations of plot holes and the misery of feeling as though my writing wasn’t any good. They didn’t understand why I would rather spend my evenings writing than going out to social events.

They just weren’t like me; I was a penguin among flamingos, waddling around awkwardly and feeling very out of place.

Though I loved writing, my flock of one was very lonely. I felt as though I was the only one who had experienced the excitement of writing a first novel, along with all of its fears and struggles. For years, I shuffled along this way on my own.

That is, until last year, when I entered the world of blogging and started Ink and Quills. It wasn’t until then that I discovered a community of fellow bloggers and writers—people who understood writing, understood me, were like me. An entire flock of beautiful, awkward, introverted penguins.

For the first time since I had started writing at the age of fourteen, I felt as though I had found a community where I belonged. And let me tell you, friends, it has changed my writing life! Just because the act of writing itself requires solitude doesn’t mean you should navigate your novel journey solo. No sir! This introvert will be the first to tell you—writing is so much better with community!

Benefits of a Writing Community

So why do you need a writing community? Meeting and befriending other writers online has been one of the best things to happen to me as a writer, and I wouldn’t trade these newfound friendships for anything. I’ve also been able to connect with writers from all over the world, which is pretty darn cool. But allow me to share some the benefits of building a writing tribe of your own.

1. Support and Encouragement

Writing is hard. Not just hard work, but hard emotionally and mentally. We’re plagued with all kinds of doubts, fears, and insecurities. Having writing friends I can express these concerns to—friends who have also experienced what I’m feeling and understand what I’m going through—makes a world of difference. Their kind words and encouragement help me pick myself back up again when I’m feeling down and keep writing.

2. Friendship

Having writing friends is just so. Much. Fun!

I finally have people I can nerd out with over how to construct perfect plots and characters and share my passion for story. It’s so nice to talk to people I have things in common with, and who can laugh at writing jokes and understand writer pet peeves (Such as being asked “What are you going to do with that Creative Writing degree?” Or “What’s your story about?” Or my person favorite, “How long is your story?”).

There’s nothing like being able to confide in, complain to, and converse with a fellow writer who just gets you.

3. Feedback

One of the best parts about having writing friends is having people who can give you constructive criticism about your novel (Because let’s face it, as much as your mom loved it, she doesn’t understand how to construct a story like a writer).

I was nervous when I asked my writing friends to beta read my current novel, as I had never let anyone outside of close friends and family read my work before. But it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a writer, and the feedback I received was invaluable!

4. Advice

Whether you’re uncertain if you should pursue traditional or self-publishing, or debating which direction you should take your plot, it’s great to have other writers to turn to for advice. Having writing friends who are more experienced, or who have experience in areas you don’t, is especially helpful since you can ask them for their expertise. Being able to turn to a friend for help is a great comfort to a writer!

How to Build a Writing Community

So where can you find fellow writers? Personally, I met all of my friends on Twitter. I had no idea what I was doing when I first joined Twitter or how to make friends, so I just started talking to people who seemed friendly, and who I was interested in getting to know. Some people chatted for a while only to vanish back into the Twitterverse, and that was that. Others I really hit it off with, and we continued to talk and haven’t stopped since!

It might feel awkward at first, but I’ve found that most people are friendly and enjoy talking about writing and meeting new people. You just have to be brave and take that leap to put yourself out there, which I know can be so hard for us introverts. But I promise you, the friendships you will gain are so worth stepping outside of your comfort zone!

Here are some ideas for places to meet other writers.

1. Local Writing Events

Is there anything writing-related going on near you like workshops, festivals, or conferences? What about any local meet-ups or critique groups? A quick Google search should help you uncover opportunities to meet writers in person in your area.

2. Twitter Chats

If you’re a little shy about chatting up random writers on Twitter, you could try participating in writing-related Twitter chats. That way, you can “meet” writers during the chat and then connect with them afterward if you like. A couple of chats I recommended (which are hosted by some of my own friends) are #StorySocial and #StoryCrafter, though there are many others out there!

3. NaNoWriMo

If you’ve never heard of it before NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month), is an annual “contest” held every November where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo, which is held in April and July, and allows participants to work on a project of any length.

You can connect with participants on Twitter with the hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #CampNaNoWriMo, and the websites for both contests offer forums and groups where writers can connect as well.

4. Writing Community Sites

Finally, there are lots of websites out there especially for writers where you can chat in forums, join groups, share your writing, and receive feedback. Sometimes these websites even run writing contests (One of which I’ve entered in the past, and won a signed copy of Sarah J. Mass’ Heir of Fire. Mass also got her start writing fiction on similar community sites. So they can be very worthwhile!).

Here are a few to check out: Wattpad, Penana, Figment, Story Bird, Booksie, and Story Wars.

I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I’ve made online. My writing life feels so much more full because of them, and when I look back to the lonely beginnings of my novel journey I wonder how I survived so long without them. If you only ever follow one piece of writing advice, I ask you to make it this: Find a community, and journey with them as you write your novel.

Do you have a writing community? Have you ever felt like a penguin among flamingos? Let me know in the comments below!


Writing 101: Choosing the Best Point of View for Your Story

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!Years ago, I remember watching a film called Vantage Point. The plot revolved around an assassination attempt on the U.S. President, and in order to catch the would-be assassin government agents had to piece together clues from witnesses.

Each witness had a different point of view of the assassination attempt from their place in the crowd. Each one saw and experienced the moment differently. From a police officer to a news reporter to an ordinary bystander, each had a different story to tell of the same event.

And that, my friend, is point of view–the “lens” or perspective through which a story is told, and in whose voice. But just who is telling the story? In fiction, different points of view use varying techniques to give the reader a different experience. Let’s look at the options available to you as a writer.

First Person Point of View

You’ve probably come across this one before, as it’s one of the most popular points of view (POV) used in fiction, especially in Young Adult novels. In this point of view, the main character is the one telling the story. The story is written in the character’s voice using the pronouns I/me/my.

The advantage of this POV is that the reader is drawn right into the character’s head. We see the world through their eyes and hear their thoughts. It’s a very intimate perspective. As such, however, the reader is limited to what the main character knows or sees, which can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on the story you’re trying to tell.

Examples: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Second Person Point of View

Second person point of view is when the author speaks directly to the reader using you/your. This places the reader directly into the story as though they are the main character and has a very engaging effect. Let’s look at an example from Leo Tolstoy’s short story trio, The Sevastopol Sketches:

Yes ! disenchantment certainly awaits you, if you are entering Sevastopol for the first time. In vain will you seek, on even a single countenance, for traces of anxiety, discomposure, or even of enthusiasm, readiness for death, decision, — there is nothing of the sort. You will see the tradespeople quietly engaged in the duties of their callings, so that, possibly, you may reproach yourself for superfluous raptures, you may entertain some doubt as to the justice of the ideas regarding the heroism of the defenders of Sevastopol which you have formed from stories, descriptions, and the sights and sounds on the northern side.

As you can see, second person almost turns the reader into a participant in the story.  It also makes the events more personal; it makes us feel as though we have a stake in the story and forces more internal reflection on our thoughts and feelings about what is happening.

This point of view is rarely used, and when it is, it’s usually found in short stories or parts of a novel. It’s extremely difficult to maintain second person throughout an entire novel and do it well. I would only recommend using second person in short stories or literary fiction, which experiments with the art of writing. For commercial fiction written for entertainment, it’s best to skip it.

Though it isn’t popular, authors can and have used second person successfully. For example, Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller uses second person in alternating chapters, and William Faulkner uses it in sections of his novel Absalom, Absalom!. A few brave and talented authors have even written their entire novel in second person, such as Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

Find the Right Point of View for Your Story

Third Person Point of View

Another popular point of view which you’re probably familiar with is third person. This is the point of view used most frequently in fiction. In this point of view, the reader becomes an outsider looking in on the story as it’s told from the main character’s perspective using he/she/they.

Although the story is told from the character’s perspective, it’s told in the author’s voice (though there is one exception to this which we’ll get to in a moment!). There are three types of third person: Third Person Omniscient, Third Person Limited, and Deep Point of View.

Third Person Omniscient

“Omciscient” means “all knowing” and that’s exactly what this point of view is.

The story is narrated to the reader in the disembodied voice of an all-knowing, all-seeing god who knows what all of the characters are thinking and feeling at all times. The narrator might even slip into second person occasionally and address the reader (a huge no-no in modern fiction!) or state his own opinions. Omniscient point of view is completely unlimited, and pretty much anything goes.

Here’s a quick example:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her angry face, his own frustration mounting. She thinks I’m an idiot, he thought. Why can’t I remember where they are? Desperation began to creep over him.

Do you see how in omniscient point of view we are in both character’s heads at once? This style of writing was most popular in 19th century literature, but since then reader’s tastes have changes and it’s now less favored in modern-day fiction.

Today, we call this switching back and forth between multiple character’s thoughts within the same scene “head hopping,” and it’s often frowned upon. All of the jumping around can  be disorienting to the reader and leave them confused about whose story this is supposed to be.

But what if you need the perspectives of multiple characters to tell your story? There is another technique for this which is more popular and common modern fiction, which we’ll get to in the last section.

Examples of third person omniscient novels: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Third Person Limited

This is the style of third person that is more popular with modern readers. We remain in one character’s head throughout the story, only seeing things from their perspective. This means we only hear their thoughts, feel what they feel, and know what they know.

Let’s revisit our previous example of Mary and John, for a moment. This time, I’ll limit the point of view to Mary’s perspective only:

“Did you find your keys?” Mary asked, irritated at John’s carelessness. He was always losing everything. Why can’t he be more organized? she thought. He’s always wasting my time. Her jaw clenched in anger.

John ran a hand through his hair. “No. I could have sworn I left them on the kitchen table.” He turned away from her, his lips pressed in a flat line.

Mary sighed. He couldn’t even look her in the eye, he looked like a scolded, cowering dog. Maybe she shouldn’t look so angry. She drew in a deep breath and tried to soften her features. Lord, give me patience.

Do you see the difference? We don’t know what John is thinking or feeling. We experience everything from Mary’s POV and only know what’s going on inside her head. Unlike omniscient POV which is limitless, in this POV we are “limited” to Mary’s perspective.

Examples of limited third person: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin.

Deep Point of View

Deep point of view is a style of writing that is beginning to grow in popularity. It uses third person pronouns he/she/they, but instead of using the author’s voice the story is told in hero’s voice. This brings the reader deep into the hero’s head and allows them to experience the story through the hero, feeling what they feel.

Essentially, it’s like first person except with he/she instead of I. All “evidence” of the author’s hand (phrases like he said, she felt, he wondered, etc.) are also removed to erase the distance between the reader and hero.

Let’s look at this technique in action.

Example 1 (Third Person Limited):

Kali hurried though the village. She wondered if he was already waiting for her. She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She knew she should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on talking about the chickens.

Example 2 (Deep POV):

Kali hurried through the village. Was he already waiting for her? She lifted her skirts and leapt over a puddle. She should have left earlier, but her mother had kept on and on about the chickens. Chickens this, and eggs that. Be sure to this, don’t do it like that. Kali’s fidgety impatience had driven the details from her memory. Hopefully they weren’t too important.

Notice the difference between the two examples. The second brings you into Kali’s head by removing “interruptions” by the author like “she wondered” or “she knew.” The second example also uses more of Kali’s voice to reveal her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions–it’s almost as though she is the narrator, yet we stay in third person point of view.

This point of view can be challenging to write and is still emerging in fiction, but it’s quickly gaining popularity in the writing world because of the intimacy it creates between the reader and character.

Multiple Point of View

When you have a story that needs to be told from multiple perspectives, you have two options: you can either use third person omniscient and head hop, or you can use multiple point of view.

Multiple point of view can use third person limited, deep point of view, or first person. It stays in one character’s head at a time per scene or chapter. When the writer needs to switch to a different character’s perspective, they skip a line between scenes or begin a new chapter to signal to the reader that they are changing to a new character. In modern fiction, this technique is the preferred way of telling a story with multiple characters.

Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.

Which POV is Right for Your Story?

Are you confused about which point of view would be the best fit for your story? Learn about the techniques involved in each one and which is the best fit for you!So now that we’ve explored your options, which one should you choose?

If you’re uncertain, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How many perspectives do I need to tell this story?
  2. Do I want to create distance or intimacy between the reader and the character?
  3. Do I want to tell the story in my own voice, or the character’s?

If you need multiple perspectives to tell your story you might use multiple POV or experiment with third person omniscient.

If you want to create intimacy between your reader and character, first person or deep point of view are the way to go. Or, you could create intimacy between the author and reader with second person.

Need a little more distance? Try third person limited or omniscient point of view.

If you want your character’s voice to really come through in your story, you’ll want to employ first person or deep point of view. Or, if you prefer to use your own voice, third person limited & omniscient and second person will all allow you to do so.

As you can see, it all depends upon the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. I don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” point of view, but for a new writer I would recommend  maybe starting with third person limited or first person as those as the most common and easiest of the bunch to write.

Many times, the point of view a writer chooses depends on personal preference. Some writers find first person too challenging or invasive, while others love it. Personally, I’ve always preferred third person limited (I’m now moving toward deep POV), but I do occasionally use first person. Sometimes the characters “speak” to me in first person, and sometimes I hear their story in third person.

The beauty of point of view is that each method gives the reader a different experience. As the author, it’s up to you to decide how you want your readers to experience your story. Do you want to draw them into the hero’s head? Make them a participant? Show them different perspectives through multiple characters? The power rests in your hands.

What’s your favorite point of view to read and write? Let me know in the comments below!

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Writing 101: Discover the Perfect Audience for Your Novel

Do you know who you're writing for? Discover your target audience to find the types of readers who will want to read your story!I’m going to ask you a question that writers loath even more than the dreaded “What is your story about?” Are you ready for this, writer? Brace yourself: Who is your novel for?

If your answer is somewhere between “Everyone” and “I don’t know,” it’s high time you identified your story’s target audience. You know, the readers who will find your story irresistibly appealing and snatch it right off bookstore shelves.

And spoiler alert: Your story will not appeal to every reader. It’s just not possible. As scary as it might sound, there will be readers who will hate your book and that’s okay! Your goal as an author is to delight your target readers and no one else.

So, just who did you write this story for anyways? Who would want to read your novel (besides your mom, that is)? To discover your target audience, there are two things you’ll want to consider: Reader Preferences and Reader Demographics.

Reader Preferences: the types of stories a reader most enjoys. What he/she likes to see in the stories they read.

Reader Demographics: specific readers who would enjoy, relate to, and connect with your story more so than others.

By layering elements of these two categories together, you will create your target audience. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Reader Preferences

Genre and Sub-genre—Most readers have a preferred genre and sub-genre they enjoy. For example, my favorite genre is fantasy. Within that genre my favorite sub-genre is medieval/high fantasy, and I tend to avoid sub-genres such as paranormal or urban fantasy.

Plot vs. Character—Some readers enjoy stories that are fast-paced, full of action, and are driven by the events of the plot. Other readers enjoy stories that are driven by the characters and delve deep into character development.

Setting—Some readers might be drawn to stories set in a specific country and/or time period. For example, one reader might devour anything set in ancient Egypt while another might find stories set in modern-day Scotland irresistible.

Writing Style—Some readers like clean, straight-forward writing often found in commercial fiction, while others may enjoy the lush, poetic prose usually found in literary fiction. Additionally, some readers prefer the story to be told in third person in the author’s “voice” while others enjoy first-person stories that allow them to slip right into the character’s head.

So, for example, a target audience for The Lord of the Rings would be readers who enjoy epic high fantasy, complex fantasy worlds, and a plot-driven story with a lush literary writing style.

Or, the target audience for The Help would be readers who enjoy historical fiction that explores racial issues, settings in the Deep South, character-driven stories, and a writing style that uses the characters’ voices to tell the story.

Reader Demographics

Age—Fiction is divided into different categories according to age: Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult. It’s important to know what age you’re writing for so you can make your story relatable to the experiences and struggles of that age group. For example, a novel about high school cyber bullying is going to be more relatable to a teen than a novel about woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Gender—Gender usually doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying a story, but occasionally a book might appeal more to males or females. For example, romance writers tend to target a female audience. On the other hand, an author might write a novel that is more appealing to a predominantly male audience, such as a gritty war story about the bond between brothers in arms.

Of course, either of these stories could appeal to either gender. I’ve known guys who enjoyed a good chick flick, and I myself tend to enjoy war stories. Just ask yourself if your story might appeal significantly more to one gender than the other and target that gender, but keep in mind any story can be enjoyed by both genders.

Ethnicity—Readers of all cultures and races should be able to see themselves in the heroes and heroines populating fiction. We also often better relate to characters who share our race and culture. If you have a diverse cast of characters in your novel it will appeal more strongly to readers of the same race.

So, for example, if you wrote a story about a Hispanic woman who immigrated to the U.S., your story would appeal to the Hispanic demographic as well as other immigrants who could relate to the character’s experience.

Religion—Sometimes, an author might want to write a faith-based story targeted to readers of a specific religion such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. Even if the plot or overall tone of your book is not overtly religious, having a character who is Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, etc. could attract readers of that faith.

Profession & Life Experiences—Readers are drawn to characters they can relate to. If you have characters with a disease or disability, a character who is a cop, musician, nurse, etc., or characters who are struggling with family issues, racism, divorce, parenting a difficult child, readjusting to civilian life after a war, etc. it will appeal to readers who have had/are having similar experiences.

Why Identify Your Target Audience?

All of this being said, this doesn’t mean that people outside of your target audience can’t enjoy your book. Harry Potter is a terrific example of this—it originally was targeted to a Middle Grade audience, but readers of all ages have fallen in love with the story. So if that’s the case, then why should you bother identifying your target audience to begin with?

For one thing, knowing who you’re writing for and what they are looking for in a story makes it easier for you as a writer to please those readers. You can tailor your story to feel as though it was written just for them. You will be able to write a story they can relate to, and even impact them so deeply it could have a positive effect on their life. And that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Secondly, your publisher will expect you to know your book’s audience. The last thing a publisher wants is to be handed a novel you claim teen readers will love but is filled with gratuitous swearing, explicit sex scenes, and a seventeen-year-old who is having an affair with a married man. How on earth is a publisher supposed to market and sell that? You’re going to get a rejection letter.

On the other hand, if you present a publisher with a New Adult novel about the emotional struggles of a heroine who watches all of her college friends become engaged and get married while she remains single, they’ll realize that you’ve put the time into thinking about your audience. The story fits the audience, which means the publisher can market it easily.

Even if you decide to self-publish, you will still need to know your target audience. Self-publishing means marketing your book yourself, and knowing your target audience will help you to figure out where your readers hang out in real life and online, what blogs or magazines/e-zines they read, and what social media outlets they use most.

If figuring out your target audience is still making you stress, relax! Sometimes your audience doesn’t become clear until your story begins to take shape. You might start writing a Middle Grade novel only to realize halfway through you have a Young Adult novel on your hands. While knowing your audience beforehand is helpful, you can always go back and tweak your story to fit your audience.

Just continue to ask yourself: Who would enjoy this story? Who am I writing for? I promise you, there are readers out there waiting for your story. Once you are able to define your target audience, you will be able to find, delight, and reach the perfect readers for your story. And that, friend, is a huge advantage well worth having.

What do you find challenging or confusing about identifying your target audience? Let me know in the comments below!

Previous Posts in the Writing 101 Series:

Part 1: The Fundamentals of Story, Part 2: Writing Term Glossary, Part 3: Creating a Successful Hero & Villain, Part 4: Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot, Part 5: Let’s Talk Dialogue, Part 6: Setting and World-building, Part 7: Creating Effective Description, and Part 8: Tips and Resources for the Grammatically Challenged Novelist.


Writing 101: Tips and Resources for the Grammatically Challenged Novelist

Don't let bad grammar stand between you and writing your novel! Check out these grammar resources and tips to improve your skills!Ah, grammar. The red-headed stepchild of the novel-writing process that we would much rather forget  about. Yet our dangling modifiers and askew apostrophes glare up at us from the page like brilliant eyesores, demanding we admit defeat.

Talk about sucking all the fun out of your creativity.

Writers want to be free to frolic through the fields of their imaginations, not chained down by the stuffy rules your English teacher droned on about. Who cares about past participles or semicolon placement? But our readers expect flawless grammar. And at times, it’s enough to make even the most seasoned of writers want to bash their head against their keyboard and hope for the best.

Please don’t bash your head against the keyboard.

Though a lot of anxieties and frustrations can arise over grammar, I don’t want you to let it stand between you and the novel you want to write. Fear not my grammatically challenged friend–you can learn how to wield grammar just as you can learn how to write a story.

Shall we begin?

Do You Need Good Grammar to Write a Novel?

First, I feel that there is a misconception I must clear up. I’ve had several new writers express their concerns to me about their lack of grammar savvy. They’ll say things along the lines of: “I suck at grammar, I’m worried I won’t be able to get my story published” or, “My grammar is awful, can I still write a book and become an author?”

Sound familiar? Well, I have some good news for you, friend! You don’t have to be a grammar whiz to write–and publish–a novel. I think new writers often tend to confuse good grammar with good writing, but one does not necessarily equal the other!

Good writing is knowing how to choose the most effective words, write descriptively, vividly, and concisely, and create realistic worlds, characters, and dialogue. Sure, correct grammar and spelling help, but they’re not what I use to judge the quality of a story.  Why? Because mistakes like that usually don’t survive to see the published draft.

You see, bad grammar can easily be fixed with editing; bad storytelling, however, can’t. Your skills as a storyteller are far more important than your grammar skills. An agent or publisher may overlook poor grammar if you have a fantastic story–after all, that’s why they have editors.

So my advice is this: Don’t stress yourself out over your grammar. Do the best you can, but put the majority of your efforts into building your storytelling skills.

Now, that being said, of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your grammar! Good grammar does help. Agents and publishers like to see well-polished writing because it means less work for them (or rather, their editors). Good grammar also helps make you look more professional, intelligent, and experienced.

So how can you improve your grammar skills? Keep reading for my favorite grammar resources and tips!

1. Have a Grammar Guide for Review and Reference

Buying a book (or two) on grammar to refresh your memory is a great starting point. It also helps to have one on hand for reference for those moments when you get hung up on tricky words or sentences! Here are some fantastic grammar handbooks to consider:

  1. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  2. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
  3. Merriam Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style
  4. The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar Usage

2. Use a Grammar/Spelling Checker

Most word processing programs have a built-in grammar and spelling checker that does all the work for you–underlining your mistakes and then providing suggestions for corrections which you can then fix in a couple simple clicks.

So make sure these options are turned on and you’re taking advantage of them! To turn on your grammar and spelling checker in Word go to File>Options>Proofreading and check the boxes according to your preferences.

Another grammar and spelling checker worth looking into is Grammarly. This program claims to catch even more errors than Word’s built-in proofreader!

A word of warning, however: these automatic proofreaders are a fantastic help, but they’re not perfect. I’ve noticed that occasionally they make incorrect suggestions, or miss a mistake. It doesn’t happen often but it does still happen, which is why it’s good to know your stuff and proofread your story on your own!

3. Put Your Dictionary to Use

A dictionary is a good resource to have if you find yourself frequently needing to check the spelling, definition, and proper usage of various words. My favorite dictionary resources are:

  2. The app
  3. The Merriam Webster Dictionary

3. Be Aware of Common Mistakes

Everyone has trouble with different words. Know which words you tend to mix up, misspell, and misuse, and be on the lookout for them. Better yet, make yourself a “cheat sheet” of your trouble words for easy reference so you can look up the correct usage quickly. Here are some resources to help you out:

  1. Common Errors in English Usage complied by English professor Paul Brians of Washington State University, and also available in e-book format for Kindle
  2. Commonly Misused Words and Phrases
  3. Commonly Misspelled Words

4. Grammar Girl is Your Friend

Stuck and need a quick answer? Search for your answer on Grammar Girl to get an easy-to-understand, simple yet thorough explanation with examples! This is my go-to resource when I get hung up on confusing things like whether to use who or whom, or where to place a tricky apostrophe or hyphen.

5. Hire an Editor

If you’ve done the best you can and you’re still worried about the grammar in your novel, you may want to consider hiring an editor before submitting it for publication. I would only recommend this if your novel is extremely rough as these services are pricey, and if your novel gets picked up by a publisher their editors will clean it up anyways.

The only exception to this is if you are self-publishing instead of going through a publisher who will provide the editors for you. Then hiring a professional editor is a must. The last thing you want is to publish a book riddled with grammar and spelling errors. Not only will it frustrate readers, but it will make you look sloppy and unprofessional.

6. Read, read, read! Write, write, write!

Finally, keep reading and writing as much as you can! The more you write and put your grammar into practice, the more you will learn. And the more you read, the more you will begin to develop a “feel” for how sentences should be constructed. Eventually, writing grammatically correct will become instinctive.

What do you find most challenging about grammar? Let me know in the comments!

Previous Posts in the Writing 101 Series:

Part 1: The Fundamentals of Story, Part 2: Writing Term Glossary, Part 3: Creating a Successful Hero & Villain, Part 4: Unraveling Tension, Conflict, and Your Plot, Part 5: Let’s Talk Dialogue, Part 6: Setting and World-building, and Part 7: Creating Effective Description.

Ready for Part 9? Click here to read about Discovering the Perfect Audience for Your Novel!