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Ask Questions for Tomorrow’s Live Writing Chat: Writing for a living, and Thinking Sideways — 71 Comments

  1. Hi Holly,
    few more questions:
    1) Is there any rules for using well-known character in the story? For example, can the character, who favors a superhero toy (e.g. Batman or Superman, etc.) be turned physically into that toy, but he won’t have any powers and won’t be recognized as such superhero, or it’s better to create your own “popular” toy?
    2) Regarding POV: Any suggestions on how to handle two protagonists, who start the journey in magic land together, then get separated and take the portion of the story later in their own direction in series format?
    3) Any advise on the length of the first novel in the series for an unpublished writer?
    4) How do you find a credible reviewer for the back cover?
    5) Any thoughts on crowdfunding of the series for self-publishing?
    Thank you in advance.
    Best,
    Natalie

  2. Your story about your daughter prompts a few follow-ups: How does she publish her stories? How does she price them? How has she found readers? How does she come up with 3-4 new stories every week?
    Another question is: what is the single most important thing students who graduate from HTTS will be able to do?
    Looking forward to your answers.

  3. Holly, I love how invested you are in helping us struggling writers succeed when it comes to publishing. I have two questions for you:

    1. What would be the best way to start a novel? Is it inciting incident or after the incident happened?

    2. How many scenes should a novel have? Does it matter?

    Thank you for taking the time to reply if you can.

  4. I will be at work, so unfortunately I’ll miss the webinar. Will a recording be made available? Thank you for doing this!

  5. What is the average age of people who start publishing, and what should young (17 and under) writers expect for feedback? (harsh, easy-going, brash etc.)
    As a young writer myself, I’d love to know when, I should jump into the pool, and what to expect from that.

  6. I’m so excited for this! I have a bunch of technical questions about indie publishing for short stories.

    Promotion–How does one scale promotion for short stories? What type and length of bonuses would you recommend offering for buyers/subscribers when the story itself is very small? What kind of promotion/launch would you do for the collections of previously published stories?

    Costs–On a short story (as compared to a novel), how well can one get away with using friends/family as beta/proof readers? What services should a short story writer plan to start paying for when they have the needed funds? Proofing? Formatting? Cover art? Because of the potentially much smaller returns on a single story, what services, if any, are just too costly to spring for?

    Print editions–What role, if any, do print editions play in your daughter’s career structure? What kind of situation, for a writer of short stories, would make it worthwhile to create a collection large enough for a print edition?

    Blogging–For someone putting out stories very frequently, such as weekly, what is a good approach to something equally fast-paced like blogging? How can I keep blogging from feeling like a full-time second job I never wanted to have?

  7. Holly,
    Is it even possible to sell fiction through the traditional avenue to a publishing house? It seems all I hear about is self-publishing online. Is this the most viable way of being published and being paid for my writing? If so, how do you suggest tackling this market? Finally, I also enjoy short story writing but can’t find many avenues that pay for these. Any suggestions on where to submit my short stories?

  8. Holly, thanks so much for this!

    My question: How do you know when it’s time to take the plunge and go full-time? Any advice or suggestions on making the leap?

  9. Hello! I am student in high school. I’m interested in writing as hobby. Do you think it is possible to have a job (that isn’t writng) and write to earn money as well?

    Also, what is the best to get started writing creatively? I am following your 3 day HTTS launch lesson right now, and have done research on writing before, but I wanted to hear your input on this subject.

    Thanks for reading,
    LeRoyce Pearson

  10. Hey Holly,

    Not sure what to ask, though the time might be impossible as I am in Ausralia Sydeny timezone.

    Still, the ideas of stories are easy for me, but when you work at it for a living, your course all speak of working to a dead-line. Is that from the very start, or comes more into play after you have established a market/published your project?

    Thanks I hope I can hear you live, but look forward to it all anyway.

  11. Good Evening Holly,

    I hope this message finds you and your family well and in good spirits.

    I am recently divorced and though my ex and I have shared parenting, it falls on me to be the primary parent due to her job being 2.5 hours away.

    I will be unable to watch your you Wednesday due to work, picking up my two boys, (Ethan, 11 years old, and Jeshua, 14 years old), from school, errands, checking on homework, taking them to Tai Kwon Do Class, etc. Will your chat be posted so I can watch it later in the evening over the next few nights or so.

    Take Care,
    Dave

  12. My question is about beta readers and crit groups.

    I’ve belong to dozens of writing sites and crit groups. Put my time into each and everyone of them and I never get feedback on my own writing. Sure I’ve gotten the few “it’s good” crits but nothing more.

    Yes, I’ve gotten better at seeing things as I write and edit, by belonging to these groups. But nothing to tell me if I’m moving in the right direction in the story or as a writer.

    So my question is when is it the time to call it quits on beta readers/crit groups and move forward?

  13. Hello and thanks, Holly.

    1) Any marketing advice for writers who don’t have an interest in social media? Is that a fatal blow to success?

    2)When writing about the setting in a story, is it important for the place to be an identifiable one, or based on an identifiable one, such as a fictional town in a particular state? How important is it to readers to read about a locale reflective of a place they can find on a map?

    3)Would you suggest the use of ISBNs in indie publishing? I’m from the Caribbean and would have to give one copy of my books to the local library as a condition of obtaining the ISBNs. The thing is, I’m creating e-books, and don’t have physical copies, so am tempted to skip the ISBN step.

    Thank you, once again.

  14. Holly, you said that your daughter is writing 3 to 4 stories per week. What word count are these stories, on average? Is she selling them as individual stories, or as collections?

    P.S. I’m really looking forward to this chat — some of the questions already asked are excellent: took the words right out of my mouth!!

  15. Holly

    And another question re where to look for publishers. Do you have an available list of recommended publishers for different genres?
    Are short story competitions a sensible way to try and get published? Googling short story competitions for instance brings up a long list, a lot of which sound pretty dubious.

    Thanks

  16. Hi Holly

    My question: Am I correct in suspecting that the majority of short stories published are romance stories? I am interested in short story writing …but…not romance.

    Thank you

    Alistair

  17. Hi Holly! Hope this finds you well! I used to live in Palm Harbor FL, just a smidge north of you.

    Ok here’s the questions: =) I see you are moving well on your web sites. Congrats!

    1. Is there a rhythm to writing a novel? What do you want to accomplish in the first third of the book? The middle? The end?

    2.Is it different for a short story?

    3. Is there something important that needs to be at the beginning of the book? In other words, what are the two or three things you can’t leave out?

    4. Are there specific publishers a person wants to take note of in the Sci-fi Fantasy world? If only going the traditional Publisher route?

    5. What are the best 5 questions to ask a prospective beta reader? To make sure they will be of value? This is an especially hard question, because I’ve learned that some times, the people you least expect turn out the best. =) What should a beta reading group be made up of?

    6. When you get a publishing deal, a traditional publisher. How do you know when you can push back? In other words when do you know you should stick to something? Or should go along?

    7. What is the most important thing to bring to a character? What are the things all characters should have?

    8. How do you pick out an editor? Meaning, who is right for you? Is there a process? Questions? How do you know if an editor is right for you? This leads to, should you self edit?

    9. If you are offered a traditional publishing offer should you take it or self pub?

    And number 10…

    10. How long typically does an edit take? On average? How many revisions for a story? On average? For a traditional publisher, how long before you should expect your book to come out? On average?

    Thanks! -C …Much Props!

  18. You seem to stay busy. You are always putting out new work in some form or another. Out of curiosity, how much time per day or week do you devote to writing, your planning, etc? How do you balance the rest of your life with your writing/career? (Ex. I have a one-year-old and he is my responsibility. It is difficult at this stage of his life to to get things accomplished while he’s awake and his nap-times are precious and not as long as I’d like. I’m interested in advice on how to make that time work for me. Is it just a matter of training my muse?)
    Where does your drive come from? You are like the Energizer Bunny — you just keep plugging away no matter what happens. How do you do that?

  19. 1) How do I know which audience I should target my stories towards? How should this affect my writing while I’m creating the story?
    2) How do I start self-publishing and how do I protect my stories while doing so? (To make sure I get all the credit for writing them)
    3) What are the pros and cons of commercial writing vs. self-publishing?
    4) Is the process of publishing and getting paid the same for stories, poems, and short stories?
    5) How long can a short story be before being considered a novella?

  20. Since I don’t have any backlist to publish now, my plan is to write two novels and two novellas over the next several years without publishing them. Once I have those works completed, I’ll publish them over a period of several weeks or months to build momentum. Then my goal would be to write a novel, followed by a novella or several short stories and so forth, so I can get some work out on a regular basis each year.

    Does this sound like a good strategy to overcome not having a backlist?

  21. 1. In today’s market, realistically how many novels would I need to publish to start seeing traction and being able to “pay bills”.

    2. How on earth does a new author get her book noticed when even the “traditional” authors are lowering their ebook prices making the marketplace even that more competitive.

    3. How can i stop changing the plot of my book. How do I start to “trust” that the direction I’m going on is a good one. I’m pretty sure reading other books is part of the problem, but I’m an avid reader at night and would be lost without it.

  22. Holly, How do you know when a piece is overworked? After 3 drafts, when I read my work aloud, it sounds great to the ear. When I revises 1 or 2 more times, the work gets ‘blocky’ as the pace jams up. Do I keep revising to clean up the ‘blockiness’, or should I have left well-enough alone, sooner?

  23. Holly is it possible to record the chat tomorrow. I’ll be at work but would still like to listen and hear whats said.

    Thanks
    Butch

  24. Hi Holly!

    I’m a long-time student (HTTS, HTRYN, the old beta version of HTWAS) but recently dropped out of the loop, ironically because I was redoing my revision.
    That revision is now FINISHED so I’m hoping to get onto…the next step…whatever that is. I should know by now, but the answer to that question seems to keep changing with the times. So I will hopefully be getting up obscenely early (east-coast Australian timezone) to join the webinar.

    Pre-Questions:

    1) At what phase of writing a novel should I start building a website, blogging, marketing, creating a presence? I have a feeling I’ve left it awfully late…
    2) Based on that, what’s an off-the-top-of-the-head list of resources and/or professional human contacts a starting writer should have? e.g a website person, social media person, etc in addition to an editor and cover artist?
    3) Regarding editors, mine has finished a university editing course and edited her husband’s novel trilogy, but hasn’t edited for money before. She’s someone highly intelligent whose opinions and feedback I respect and she definitely seems to know what she’s talking about, but should I be instead seeking out a big name editor? I’ve been looking around in my area but so far have found none who work in my genre or are willing to work in my genre.

    Thanks again for doing this, and excited to be moving on with the next steps 🙂

  25. Hi,
    My inner editor keeps interfering while I write (he’s asking me to check the spelling of interfering right now!). How do I stop myself from constantly checking grammar, punctuation, etc, and just let myself write. I get that I’ll have to correct all that later, but it’s really stopping the flow of my writing as half of me checks what I just wrote instead of helping write the next line 🙂

  26. I have only one question off the top of my head, Holly. How helpful is using an editorial calendar to the average writer?

    I know that it helps me keep on track with small things, but it isn’t very reliable with bigger WIPs, and doesn’t help me with life’s interruptions. Those simply become frustrations for me.

  27. Hi Holly!

    Here are my questions for the chat:
    1) In regards to copyright: I know that if you trad publish, the publisher will register it under your name, but what about indie publishing? Do you need to register your work to protect it before indie publishing it?

    2) What is a good way for one to go about building a website with limited funds? I know if I want to be a professional writer I need a website, but I have NO idea where to start.

    3) Do you have any advice for a non-morning person to become one? I’ve heard plenty of authors suggest writing first thing in the morning, but currently every time I try I curl right back under the covers.

    4) I second Paula’s question, especially as a young writer (I get scared when I hear people say “good thing I didn’t publish until I was older”): If I decide to self-pub, how do I know I don’t suck?

    Thanks, and I look forward to the webinar!

    • “If I decide to self-pub, how do I know I don’t suck?” This question made me laugh out loud, but it’s an awesome question. For authors going Traditional, the sign that we don’t suck is when an agent agrees to represent us and an editor agrees to publish us, and a reviewer gives us a great review. I’ll be interested to hear Holly’s answer to this! 🙂

  28. Once you’ve written a handful or two of short stories, where do you sell them? Do you go exclusive with Amazon and Kindle Universe to get the borrows and exposure, or do you distribute to any place that you can? Do you write under pen name(s)? Why or why not? Do you start a publishing imprint or register as a DBA for a pen-name/publisher? Is a new DBA required for every pen name if you have more than one? How do you decide on prices for short stories; by wordcount, theme, something else? Can you refer us to some of your daughters stories? If she’s like you I’m sure I’d love to read it…

  29. If you’re not comfortable with answering I understand, but I’m curious about your daughter’s stories now. Could you share the name she’s writing under, and a good title to start with?

  30. Hi Holly,
    Congrats to your daughter for transitioning to full time writer. I have several questions about how to do just that.
    1. You said your daughter writes 3 to 4 short stories a week for readers who are “fanatical about her writing.” How do you build a fanatical following of readers? How do you reach them in the first place?
    2. How do you get over the fear of perfection? My inner editor is a vicious little beast constantly reminding me how far I need to go in my writing. I want her to shut up so my muse can help. Any advice?
    3. How important is a “writer’s space” to writing? Does a writer need to have some place they can go to be away from everyone else in their family to write? Are there tricks to writing and working with the muse when other people are around, even if the other people aren’t directly interacting with you?
    4. Is there a secret to letting go of your writing and letting other people see it? I’m so afraid of getting laughed at (see previous comment about perfection). Any advice for dealing with criticisms, especially when they’re right?

    Thanks for this oppurtunit.

  31. So I have a few questions – though I’m not sure I’ll make the webinar.

    1) How do you figure out what story to focus on? I have anywhere from 8 to 15 different stories running around vying for attention at a time. Some of them are about the same characters even.

    2) Is there any reason to use a pen name when you are just starting out? I know that it might make sense when you branch out into multiple genres but beyond that, is there a good reason to separate your real identity from your writing (if it’s even truly possibly to separate them)?

    3) I have multiple story ideas that twist an universal concept, like magic, and rename it but it’s basically magic with a new name on top. Is that ok to do or would it just over complicate things for the reader? Should I keep those over arching concepts of the world to the universal ideas people will understand understand?

    • Anna I love your questions! It`s like we are one and the same person! PLEASE, I would love to hear an answer(s) to question number 1! I have exactly that same problem!

      1, 2 and 3, actually!!

  32. Hi, Holly.

    What a great idea to host this live chat! My question is:
    How do you go about finding quality beta readers? I work with writers every day, but I feel I need readers of YA to get solid feedback. Am I way off base here? And for serious writers nearing the end of the revision stage (thanks to HTRYN :)), is it better to just go ahead and hire a professional editor? I’ve come so far, but now I’m just spinning my wheels. Thanks!

  33. I’m a slow writer. I’m not talking about being blocked, though that happens too. I just mean that the words often come slowly to me, and it’s rare that I hit “the zone” and churn out a high word count in a single sitting. I fear I might never be what anyone would call prolific. Does that mean I can’t make a living off my writing? It seems like producing new material quickly is really important if you want to pay the bills.

  34. How is the best way to get feedback on my WIP so I don’t end up with a published work containing mistakes I’ve overlooked in the revision process?
    One author suggested finding an author is residence but I live in a small town. There are very few writers in this area. My favorite author is too busy (which I certainly understand).
    Question 2: How do I balance the tasks of writing, replying to email (both personal and professional), keep up with my Twitter account and author website, and still take care of my personal life (helping my mother-in-law), and exercise?

  35. Holly, I want to be a working writer. I have done The Artist’s Way. I have tried Bird by Bird. I have Written Down the Bones. I have a degree in writing. I have been a voracious reader and frequent starter of writing projects since primary school. I want to believe HTTS will be the key to getting my right brain to cooperate with my left brain, but I’ve been disappointed so many times before.

    I took the recommended right brain/left brain quiz and your description of my Empress Right Brain’s insistence at throwing shiny new characters and premises at me and her refusal to revise or edit washed over me like a wave of peace and recognition. However, I’m terrified of failing again and feeling worse about my “lazy” self. I don’t even know if you can answer this question, “But is it possible to find left/brain peace through HTTS when I feel so lousy about myself or should I just invest in additional sessions with my therapist?”

    Thank you.

  36. My first question is actually about the live chat itself: Will you be posting it to YouTube or anywhere that it can be reviewed later? Because I’ll be at work while the chat’s taking place, and while I can try to schedule my lunch break to overlap with it, I usually don’t get a break until 3 or 4.

    Anyway, here are my questions for the chat (I haven’t gone further than lesson 4 or so in HTTS, and only just started HTRYN, so I’m hoping that I’m not asking questions you’ve already answered elsewhere):
    1. How should time be split between writing and marketing? Is it a 50-50 thing? Does it change over time? (That is, do writers need to spend more or less time marketing as time goes on?)
    2. How does one know how to price a self-pubbed work? Is it based on the market, or the length of the work, or the time put into it, or what?
    3. Indie pubbing is wonderful in so many ways, but at the same time I feel like readers are much more reluctant to spend money on a new, self-pubbed author’s work than a new, traditionally-pubbed author’s (the logic being, anyone can self-pub even if their work is bad–at least with a publisher there’s some added credibility). What’s the best way(s) to combat this?
    4. In the same vein, how do you know you’re ready to self-pub in the first place? My biggest fear is that I start putting stuff out there before my writing actually reaches a professional level, and I turn off hoards of would-be readers with a slew of amateur stories that should never have reached the light of day.
    5. I’m extremely partial to the smell and feel of physical books, and while I’ll gladly read ebooks as well, I feel like I’ll be missing out on something if I go the indie route, as opposed to the traditional one. Is there a way to indie pub that doesn’t completely eradicate use of the printed word? I’d love to be able to sell my work in both electronic and print formats, but I don’t know if that’s even possible as an indie publisher.

    • Hi, Paula,

      It’ll go up on YouTube, and the folks who register will get an email about an hour after it closes to watch the replay.

      After How To Think Sideways stops take new students on Thursday, the link on the YouTube video will forward to the pre-registration sheet for the Class of 2016 How To Think Sideways.

      I’ll save the other questions for tomorrow.

      • Thanks for the prompt response, Holly! I’ve registered, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to break from work and join the chat. Either way, I can’t wait for more of your seemingly endless wisdom on writing. Cheers!

    • I’m not Holly, but I love printed books too and I plan to go the indie route. I know it’s possible to make printed books through print-on-demand services like CreateSpace (an Amazon company), IngramSpark, and BookBaby. Lots of indie pub authors use them to provide readers with the option of the printed word. 😉

  37. I have become blocked for the last month and it seems the muse has withdrawn for a bit. I am stuck on the question I am asking myself which is . . . What AM I writing? What do I want this to look like in the end? I just don’t know. I don’t seem to be able to define exactly WHO are the primary characters in my work (there are too many in my head) Also WHAT is my story line or purpose in this? HELP!

  38. I’m so excited for your daughter! 😀

    Q1: Where can we see your daughter’s writing?

    Q2: I understand that to be a successful writer one must be devoted and disciplined, but I wonder… Are there writing workflows that leave time for, you know, life away from the computer once in a while?

    Q3: You’ve had success writing across genres. Is that something that’s achievable for all writers, or is it best for newbies to stick to one genre?

  39. Hi,

    I’d like to know if your course is for inspiring bloggers who do not have any writing skills, I mean zero skills. Also, if I could not make it to the call because it is during working hours, is it possible to get a playback?

    Thank you.

  40. Many times, I find myself at a crossroads within a story. My brain usually generates more than two possible outcomes, sometimes as many of 10! How do I sort through all the mess in my mind and really tighten my lens so I can tell the best version of my story that I want?

  41. Are there budget editors out there? Or is there a way to barter to get them to read a whole manuscript? At the moment a complete edit is out of my price range, but a grammar edit will only get me so far. I need a complete look at my work.

  42. I need a word processing program designed for novel writing, and instruction in how to use it. Is there such a thing?

  43. I’m having a problem with focus. I’ve made a pretty decent run off my fantasy novels, but I’ve discovered I’m much better with novella sized stories. That said, I’ve wavered in my brand, going from straight fantasy, to novella length romantic fantasy, to children’s chapter books, a middle grade fantasy and… well, I’m all over the place. I’ve produced works that I haven’t even published since they don’t match my current works and I’m already juggling 2 pens. I know this is hurting my fan base and ability to produce what readers want, not to mention producing enough to sustain sales, but I just can’t get my head around what I should be writing and how that matches my skill set, my time limits, and my creativity — seems that my ideas aren’t perfectly matched up to my original “brand” and I’m worried about alienating readers who want fantasy if I write romance, or writing something with sexual content and having readers who read a YA fantasy read it. Any ideas on how to proceed without all the crazy making (of my own doing) and still produce enough under one pen to sustain sales which are already waning due to not only KDP unlimited releasing, but also my own lack in releases? Lack of focus also slows me down to a miserable pace due to the confusion.

  44. How can I get authors to give my books a blurb? Some, like Barry Eisler and you, don’t give blurbs. I understand that an author’s time is valuable, but the blurb benefits both parties, and can often lead to a reader buying the books of both. BTW, two of the books in DS Kane’s Spies Lie series (Bloodridge and DeathByte) have been Amazon Bestsellers. But, I still want author blurbs for my books.

    How????

  45. I’ll be listening tomorrow. Maybe I’ll hear something that will generate some movement in the old brain. See you then.

  46. Hi Holly,
    My question is regarding the series of novels. You’ve mentioned in your How To Write Sideways Course, which is great BTW, that the publisher cut short your series at the third book instead of seven as you’ve planned it. Can you continue to publish your series at your own expense, indy style, from here on or it will be violating legal bonds you had with the publisher? Thanks

  47. How do you write a short story? I’ve been trying for years to master this one and I wondered if you had any tips on how to actually write shorter fiction

    • Hi, Kate.

      This one I’ll answer here. I have a free (as in free beer, NOT free with strings) 3-week writing course called How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t SUCK.

      It covers the basics of doing good short fiction in a very short form.

      This allows for experimentation, room for mistakes without the anguish of having to throw away thousands of words if you screw up, and it teaches the fundamentals of getting GOOD beginnings, middles, and endings in every story you write.

      No obligation ever.

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