TCK Publishing Non-Traditional Book Publishing for Independent Authors Fri, 23 Feb 2018 04:26:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 TCK Publishing 32 32 We believe authors change the world by sharing important stories and ideas. Let us help you get your story out to more people and make the world a better place. We interview authors who are self-published, indie published, and traditionally published to find out what’s working right now to help you grow your career and sell more books.<br /> <br /> On The Publishing Profits Podcast show, international bestselling author and publisher Tom Corson-Knowles interviews the publishing industry's best authors, publishers, editors, literary agents, marketers, and attorneys to share inspiration, education and best practices. Our mission is to help authors and publishers succeed in the new era of publishing.<br /> <br /> Ebooks didn't even exist 15 years ago. Today, readers spend more than $6 billion each year on ebooks in the United States alone. Are you taking advantage of this huge shift in reader purchasing habits? Tune in and learn how to build a full-time career and income as an author by proactively responding to the huge changes in the industry.<br /> <br /> Whether you're just thinking about writing your first book or you're a multi-published author, you'll find new ideas to help you take your career to the next level.<br /> <br /> The show's audience includes writers, new and experienced authors, publishers, literary agents, editors, graphic designers, bloggers, content creators, marketing professionals, public relations and PR experts, and publishing attorneys.<br /> <br /> Learn more at TCK Publishing clean TCK Publishing (TCK Publishing) Copyright 2017 by The Publishing Profits Podcast The #1 Show for Writers, Authors and Publishers TCK Publishing We believe authors change the world with by sharing important stories and ideas. Let us help you get your story out to more people and make the world a better place. We interview authors who are self published, indie published, and traditionally published to find out what’s working right now to help you build your career and sell more book.s On The Publishing Profits Podcast show, international best selling author and publisher Tom Corson-Knowles interviews the publishing industry's best authors, publishers, editors, literary agents, marketers and attorneys to share inspiration, education and best practices. Our mission is to help authors and publishers succeed in the new era of publishing. Ebooks didn't even exist 15 years ago. Today, readers spend more than $6 billion each year on ebooks in the United States alone. Are you taking advantage of this huge shift in readers’ purchasing habits? Tune in and learn how to build a full-time career and income as an author by proactively responding to the huge changes in the industry. Whether you're just thinking about writing your first book or you're a multi-published author, you'll find new ideas to help you take your career to the next level. The show's audience includes writers, new and experienced authors, publishers, literary agents, editors, graphic designers, bloggers, content creators, marketing professionals, public relations and PR experts, and publishing attorneys. Learn more at Weekly 177: Streamline and Clarify Your Writing to Make It More Powerful with Josh Bernoff Fri, 23 Feb 2018 04:26:07 +0000 how to write more clearly with josh bernoff

Josh is the author of four books, including Writing Without Bullshit. He is frequently quoted in major publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He’s also given keynote speeches at major conferences on television, music, marketing, and technology all over the world.

Josh spent his whole life focusing on his two talents, math and writing. He wanted to make good money, so he put most of his emphasis on his math talents. But he was always interested in writing.

When he became an analyst at Forrester Research about 20 years ago, he was able to combine his two talents. Then, 10 years ago, he convinced the CEO of Forrester Research to allow him to write a book on social media, Groundswell.

Following the success of that book, Josh has defined himself as an author. For the last two and a half years, he has worked with indie authors and corporations on how to communicate clearly and powerfully.

Clear Writing Principles

After Josh washed out of the PhD program at MIT, he learned some critical skills that helped him become a successful and powerful communicator and writer.

  1. Write in the active voice. Avoid the passive voice whenever possible.
  2. Write as directly as possible.
  3. Use bulleted lists to break up the flow of your copy so that it’s easier to digest.
  4. State your arguments clearly.
  5. Break up your text with headings and subheadings.
  6. Be brief.

how to add value for readers

Josh’s Top Communication Principles

“You must treat the reader’s time as more important than your own. That sounds like something everyone would agree with, but every time we write an email, a memo, or a book chapter, people tend to do what’s easiest for them instead of thinking about what’s easiest for the reader.”
– Josh Bernoff

The #1 thing you can do to improve your writing is to be brief. Don’t spend a lot of time warming up. Just say what you need to say as clearly as possible. Eliminate any duplication.

Next, you want to frontload your writing with the things your readers need to know.

Often, people will warm up before they get to their point. They write emails with the idea that people will keep reading past the first two paragraphs.

That’s not how it works. When you write an email, your subject line and the first two paragraphs you write need to be about what the reader needs to know. People will often give up on reading a longer email.

3 Elements of Toxic Prose

1. The Passive Voice

When you write in the passive voice it hides what’s going on from the reader.

2. Weasel Words

These are intensifiers and qualifiers that don’t mean anything. Some popular examples that Josh sees appearing everywhere right now include: huge, incredible, and insane.

3. Jargon

Using jargon creates writing that only you can understand and no one else can make sense of.

If you avoid these toxic prose elements, write as briefly as you can, and frontload your information so people are getting what they need to know at the beginning of your writing, you will communicate far more clearly and powerfully in a world where everyone reads on a screen all the time.

How Josh Edits for Clients

When Josh works with a client, he helps them organize their thoughts so that they can present them more clearly and usefully. Here’s how:

Do an Idea Audit

The first thing Josh does is an idea audit. He’ll ask the client to tell him their idea. He’ll usually say something like, “That’s boring,” or “that’s complicated,” or “I don’t understand.”

By pushing on the idea like this, you have to explain it more and think more deeply about it. It’s difficult to defend your idea and go deeper, but when you do, you finally get to something that’s big, new and powerful. Something that people will read and take notice of.

Once you have the idea right, you can structure the material that comes after that.

Make Sure Your Ideas Flow Logically

When Josh edits a particular passage for a client, the first thing he’ll do is look at the structure of the chapter that the passage is in.

He wants to make sure that he has a clear idea of the beginning, middle, and end of the thought he’s currently reading. Do the ideas flow logically and make sense to readers?

Cut Weasel Words and Repeated Ideas

After the flow of ideas make sense, the next step is to delete things that don’t matter. People will often take one or two paragraphs to get warmed up to their subject. You’ll often find that the first paragraph of actual content is a perfect way to start your writing.

Delete weasel words. Those words don’t matter and they don’t add to the knowledge of the reader.

Delete repeated sentences or ideas, too. Make your point clearly the first time and you don’t need to repeat it again and again.

The Benefits of Editing

The benefits of this type of editing is that it goes beyond the qualitative. You’re not just deleting words—you are making your written communication clear and easy to understand.

3 Qualities of a Good Idea

1. The idea has to be new.

You can’t write what other people have written. You’ll come off as a copycat.

2. The idea has to be big.

Josh would rather read something huge and sweeping about the future of politics in America than some small piece about the healthcare world.

3. The idea has to be right.

Of the three elements, this is the hardest to achieve, because you can’t be absolutely sure an idea is right if you’re tackling a new idea. It’s important to have evidence that supports your new idea so that people can follow your chain of logic.

It turns out that the intersection of ideas that are big, new, and right is very hard to come by.

These are the questions Josh asks himself as he’s critiquing other people’s ideas:

  • Is it a big idea or small idea? If it’s a small idea, can I make it bigger?
  • Is it a new idea, or is it an idea I’ve heard from countless others?
  • Is the idea right? Is there evidence to support the idea?

These elements of a good idea pull in opposite directions. The easiest way to have an idea that is right and has evidence behind it, is to write about something that’s already been discussed.

It’s in the intersection of an idea that is big, new, and right where you’re creating an idea that’s interesting enough that people want to read about it.

How to Come Up with an Idea

“Great research or creativity consists of noticing the obvious before anyone else.”
– Unknown

The secret to coming up with a good idea is looking at what everyone else has looked at, and seeing what no one else has seen.

The interesting thing about that is you can’t do that sitting in your room, looking at the internet.

Let’s say you read something and it sparks an idea. You need to put that idea out into the world and see if anyone else has had that idea before. You need to seek out people who will disagree with you, so you can test your idea, and find evidence to deal with their objections.

In the internet age, you have many channels where you can put your ideas out into the world for other people to scrutinize.

“One of the great misconceptions people have is if you have a great idea, you should hide it so no one will steal it. No. The best thing you can do is get it out there, so you can test and modify it so it resonates with the largest number of people possible.”
– Josh Bernoff

Why Share Your Ideas?

There are two major pitfalls to hiding your ideas for too long.

  1. When you finally publish your idea in the marketplace, you’ll find that many people disagree with you and that your idea is fundamentally flawed.
  2. Often, people think they need to hide their idea way too long, and someone else publishes the idea before them.

For every idea, there comes a moment where people are ready to hear it. If you’re coming to a conclusion, chances are someone else is coming to the same conclusion at around the same time. You need to get your idea out there in a timely fashion, so people know it’s your idea.

How to Deal with Fear

Back in 1995, Josh was given an assignment by his manager at Forrester Research to write a report about how content creators were going to make money on the internet.

After interviewing a number of thought leaders about the internet, Josh came to the conclusion that content was going to be supported by advertising or subscriptions.

His editor challenged him to pick one of those two revenue models and write a report on it.

Josh wasn’t quite sure which model was going to win out, but he chose one and wrote the report.

“If you say something you’re worried about timidly and with a lot of qualifications, or if you state it boldly and clearly, the penalty for being wrong is exactly the same. So you might as well state it boldly and clearly, because if you’re wrong, you’re going to be wrong.”
– Josh Bernoff

The way to put fear aside is to ask yourself, “What do I believe?” Write what you believe to be true clearly and powerfully, and don’t let the fear of being wrong prevent you from using your voice.

One of the interesting things that happened when Josh wrote his article in 1995 was that a lot of people disagreed with him. His first instinct was to apologize to them. Their response wasn’t what he expected.

They told him they appreciated his argument and how he challenged their thinking. They told him they’d be watching to see if he ended up being right or not.

“In the society we have now, people don’t do enough of actually looking at the arguments of people who disagree with them and saying, ‘Ah well, I’m going to have to keep an eye on that, even if I don’t actually agree with what the person said.’”
 – Josh Bernoff

State Your Conclusion First

This is the easiest way to improve the power and clarity of your writing, and it flies in the face of what we have been taught in school.

In grade school, middle school, and high school, we are taught to develop arguments first, and state conclusions at the end of our essays. When you’re writing a blog post, or an article for the internet, the best thing to do is state your conclusions, and then follow it up with evidence.

Josh writes a blog post every day. He always puts the point of his blog post in the first three sentences.

Go Beyond Your Conclusion

People almost always think they’re done with an argument when they’ve reached their conclusion. When deciding how to present your ideas, take your conclusion a step further. If your conclusion is true, what else does that imply? If your conclusion is true, and the next implication is true, what else does that imply?

Keep going until the last link in your logic chain is absurd. Once you’ve reached the absurd idea in your logic chain, go one step back. That’s where you should end your blog post, article, or chapter.

By going beyond your conclusion, you’ll cause people to sit up and take notice of your writing and ideas.

How to Organize a Written Argument

  1. Start with your conclusion.
  2. Define the assumptions that led you to come to your conclusion.
  3. Give evidence that your conclusion is correct.

When you write an argument this way, everything follows sequentially. Every paragraph has evidence that supports the conclusion you stated at the top. When your audience is done with your piece, they’ll know where you stand and some of them will be persuaded of your argument.

Learning Math Can Help You Become a Better Writer

There are two types of math problems.

First, there’s the standard math problem where the object is to find an answer and use problem-solving skills.

The second type of problem in mathematics is called a proof. A proof is a type of math problem where you prove something about how math interprets the world.

When you do a proof in mathematics, you have to lay out your assumptions in a logical sequence, and the conclusions that you draw from your assumptions have to follow in a logical sequence as well.

Learning the skill of doing mathematical proofs can help you write clearer arguments that are easy to follow and understand.

how to write a better business book

Remember that Books Are about People and Their Stories

“Books, even business books, are made up of people and stories.”
– Josh Bernoff

Books are about people and their stories. You can have all the evidence and statistics you need to back up your point, but if you don’t put a human face on the topic, it won’t engage your reader.

Books are best when they focus on people and how they solved specific problems. This structure allows your reader to identify with the person you’re writing about who has the same problem. The reader thinks, “If they solved this problem, so can I.

The Most Important Thing Writers Need to Learn

I think frontloading and getting to the point quickly are really the things that people need to learn. And it’s new because I think the level of impatience now of readers is much higher, because they’re trained with reading things on the computer screen.
– Josh Bernoff


Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview

Josh Bernoff’s Amazon author page – Josh’s blog. He publishes a 1,000-word blog post every day.

All of Josh’s articles on how to write books

Words on Screen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World by Naomi Baron

Writing without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean by Josh Bernoff

Groundswell, Expanded and Revised Edition: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li


Josh is the author of four books, including Writing Without Bullshit. He is frequently quoted in major publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He’s also given keynote speeches at major conferences on television, music, Josh is the author of four books, including Writing Without Bullshit. He is frequently quoted in major publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He’s also given keynote speeches at major conferences on television, music, marketing, and technology all over the world. Josh spent his whole life focusing on his two […] TCK Publishing clean 29:11
How to Write Fiction from Multiple Viewpoints and How a Head-Hopping Point of View Hurts Your Book Thu, 22 Feb 2018 05:28:56 +0000 How to Write From Multiple Viewpoints


Who’s telling your story?

That’s the first question readers ask when they begin reading your book—and it should be the first question you ask yourself when you begin writing it.

Whether your story has a first-person narrator or takes a third-person “over-the-shoulder” perspective, point of view is a huge determining factor in how your book comes across to your audience.

Perspective is the lens through which your story is told. It’s the keyhole into which your readers peer. It determines how much we see and hear, what we know about your fictional universe, how intimately we understand your narrator and the other characters in the book, and how large or grand the story itself can feel.

Consistent and well-executed point of view is the key (excuse the pun) to the success of your book. A strong sense of perspective grants your narrative focus and structure and direction. Without it, your narrative isn’t a narrative at all—just a sequence of semi-random events.

But what if your narrative is too big for just one measly point of view? Too grand… too global… too cinematic in scope?

What if your story doesn’t belong to just one character? What if you don’t have just one protagonist, but three—or five, or a dozen?

Why You Should Write in Multiple Perspectives

The answer seems simple at first: if just one perspective won’t cut the mustard, use more than one!

Multiple-viewpoint narratives have a long and proud tradition in literature. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying switches narrators every chapter to show different perspectives on a complex, emotional story. Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love uses varying viewpoints as part of the novel’s structure: a series of distinct-yet-intertwined vignettes that all discuss the nature of love. And George R.R. Martin famously utilizes a whole ensemble of point-of-view characters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series to expand the epic scope of both his story and his fictional world.

So what do all these examples have in common?

Here’s the skinny: In each instance, the author’s decision to tell his story in this fashion was not a random choice. Multiple perspectives are narrative tools and should be used to serve your plot, characters, or fictional world—not as an aesthetic or a crutch.

Still unclear? We’re here to help: this may not be a complete list, but here are just a few ways using multiple points of view can enhance your storytelling:

1. Dramatic Irony

By their very nature, differing perspectives bring with them different levels of “informed-ness.”

Simply put: some characters know things other characters don’t, and you can use this to the advantage of your narrative.

Picture this: Two characters are set to have a pistol duel at dawn. In one scene, we see one of the two duelists loading her pistol with blank rounds. But when the morning of the duel arrives, the scene is told from the perspective of the other duelist. As readers, we know that his opponent doesn’t have a deadly weapon, but he’s completely in the dark, ratcheting the tension of the ensuing scene up to DEFCON 1.

While this isn’t the only way to accomplish dramatic irony in your fiction, using multiple viewpoints can be a powerhouse technique to exploit differences in what your characters know—and to mine these differences for nail-biting drama.

2. Epic Scope

Say you’re writing a story in which a huge meteor hits Earth: the impact has global ramifications, with characters in many parts of the world all reacting to the devastation in different ways.

Writing from multiple viewpoints would allow you to capture the full scale of a crisis of this magnitude, from street-level civilians trying to protect their loved ones to world leaders bickering over red tape and disaster-relief funding.

Maybe you’re writing an epic fantasy set in a fictional kingdom of your own creation, one with dozens of interesting places to visit and people to meet. Instead of having your Child Hero Protagonist set out across this magical landscape and “discover” these elements one by one, you could write from the perspectives of multiple characters all living in different parts of the kingdom, establishing your setting as a living, breathing world instead of the background of a guided tour.

Or maybe your story is so grand in scope that it tells the story of multiple generations of characters, each with their own viewpoints and perspectives on past events—and the actions of past generations.

Whether you’re trying to make your world seem vaster, your plot beats seem more impactful, or you’re just trying to wrangle a huge ensemble of characters, “bigger” stories require “bigger” writing choices—and telling your story from multiple points of view is a grand way to accomplish your, ahem, “biggest” goals.

3. Multiple Storylines

Not all books have a single narrative running through them, after all. Many popular novels take a “two lines, no waiting” approach to their storytelling, alternating between two or more storylines that occur simultaneously but don’t truly overlap until much later in the book.

Consider the always-popular example of the police detective and the PI each investigating seemingly unrelated crimes, only to discover that they’re working the same case in the third act. Or look to classic “pursuit narratives,” like Inspector Javert tracking down Jean Valjean in Les Miserables or Chigurh pursuing Moss in No Country for Old Men.

These separate storylines are clearly linked to each other, yet it is their separation that creates the tension and intrigue in their respective books. Adding additional perspectives lets you weave storylines together in intricate patterns and to later join them together for maximum dramatic impact.

However… writing from multiple viewpoints, while a powerful and effective tool, isn’t something you can just use willy-nilly in your fiction. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about using more than one point of view—and the wrong way is a little something called “head-hopping.”

How a Head-Hopping POV Can Ruin Your Story

Head-hopping is when your story’s point of view changes without warning in the middle of a scene.

If the book is narrated in the first person, the “I” narrator inexplicably changes from paragraph to paragraph—or even sentence to sentence.

Or if the book is written in a “close” third-person perspective, readers go from listening to one character’s thoughts and opinions to eavesdropping on another with such speed and suddenness that they’re left with narrative whiplash.

In either case, the story’s point of view “hops” from character to character with little rhyme or reason, sowing chaos and confusion wherever it lands.

Head-hopping is most often the result of an author’s attempt at a “cinematic” perspective—trying to show all “angles” of a scene the way a movie’s moving camera can. But in nearly all cases, this structural choice just makes the story feel unfocused and poorly written, turning off both readers and publishers alike.

Still not convinced? Then let’s take a look at our top 3 reasons why head-hopping can seriously hurt your storytelling:

1. Head-Hopping Confuses Your Readers

Of course, the best way to truly understand the horrors of head-hopping fiction is to experience it for yourself… so here’s a little taste:

Helen watched him slouch into the room. Jim sat down, unsure of how he should feel. She looked good—the years hadn’t touched her like he’d feared they would.

“I hope you have some excuse for yourself,” she heard herself say. Jeez—was that her voice? Did she sound like this to everyone?

Jim frowned. This wasn’t going how he’d planned it at all. She thought he could at least straighten his posture a bit, and take off that ridiculous hat.

Notice how the POV changes every time a new paragraph begins—and once more in the middle of paragraph three. Not only are these changes confusing, but they muddle the purpose of the scene as well.

Who are we meant to root for in this conflict?

Who’s in the right?

Who does the author think is in the right?

Because both these characters share the POV spotlight, neither gets enough “screen time” to fully develop their argument against the other, and the scene is left feeling half-baked as a result.

2. Head-Hopping Ruins Immersive Storytelling

The goal of any narrative is to completely immerse your readers in your fictional world.

The longer they listen to your narrator, the more they’ll become attuned to her particular speaking style—and eventually, if you do your job well enough, they’ll even hear her voice in their heads.

Head-hopping makes this kind of immersion impossible.

Constantly having to reorient yourself to an entirely new point of view can be incredibly jarring. After all, how would you possibly get used to one narrator’s voice if the narrator changes every 10 seconds?

In the end, no matter how good your world-building is, no matter how smooth and immersive your narrative is, a head-hopping viewpoint will leave your readers too frustrated and exhausted to properly enjoy your story.

3. Editors Hate Head-Hopping

If you’re looking to publish a book or short story anytime soon, listen up. Not only can a head-hopping perspective damage the quality of your story, it can also torpedo your story’s chances of getting published.

Here’s the thing. When you submit a story to a publishing house, your manuscript doesn’t go straight to the top brass for consideration. First, staff called acquisitions editors briefly glance over each manuscript in their “slush piles” to see if they meet the publishing house’s standards for publication.

These fine folks appraise dozens, sometimes hundreds of submissions a day, so of course they don’t read every manuscript that crosses their desk cover-to-cover.

Rather, most acquisitions editors have a set of requirements or qualities they look for on the very first page of a manuscript—and if a certain story doesn’t meet those requirements, it gets discarded on the spot.

Bad punctuation? Toss.

Poorly formatted dialogue? Toss.

Head-hopping point of view? Toss.

It’s brutal, yes—but that’s just the way the business works.

Here’s why acquisitions editors dislike head-hopping so much: it’s extremely difficult to correct.

While punctuation, spelling, and formatting issues can be fixed fairly easily in the proofreading stage, a head-hopping point of view is more pervasive, affecting a manuscript’s quality at a structural level.

Rewiring the book to use a more consistent POV is possible, of course—but it would take huge rewrites and weeks of developmental editing, which is a lot more work than your average hard-working editor is willing to commit to one project.

At best, they’ll send you a revise-and-resubmit letter asking you to completely rework your POV on your own before they’ll take another look.

So, no matter how good a writer you are, no matter how wicked your story’s hook is, a head-hopping perspective can still ruin your chances with even the most patient of publishers.

How to Use Multiple Points of View Correctly

Now that you’ve heard all about the wrong way to handle multiple points of view, let’s take a look at the right way to go about it.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you: handling multiple perspectives is one of the most difficult undertakings an author can commit to. Not only do you have to tell an engaging story with compelling characters in a believable world, you’ve got to do all that while juggling a half-a-dozen distinct character voices, motivations, and viewpoints.

It can get mind-bogglingly complicated—but it’s not impossible.

And if you do it effectively, you can create something truly special.

So without further rigmarole, here are 3 rockstar-quality techniques you can use to write in multiple points of view correctly:

1. Stay Consistent

We’ve talked multiple times in the past about the importance of consistency in your fiction, and many of those same points apply here.

Consistency in this case means three things:

  1. Consistent Degree of POV: Even if your narrator changes every chapter, they should still all be narrated in the same way. For instance, if your first chapter is narrated in first-person perspective, all subsequent chapters should do the same.
  2. Consistent Switching: Say your narrative alternates between three different perspectives. Generally, if each character is of equal importance in the story, their individual perspectives should get equal time in the limelight. Not only that, but their “screen time” should also be allocated evenly across your novel’s length. Establish a pattern for using your different “perspective characters.” Ask yourself: How often should I switch between them? And which parts of my story should they each get to tell?
  3. Consistent Characters: This should come as no surprise, but we’re big proponents of consistent characterization here at TCK Publishing. In order to create a smooth and engaging reading experience for your audience, your characters should always act “like themselves”—even as they grow and develop over the course of the story. This means that if a certain character appears both in and out of chapters that she narrates, readers should be able to tell that she’s the same character by her words and actions alone.

Editor’s Note: With multiple perspectives, character constancy is important—but not always necessary. Another awesome source of dramatic irony could be if other character’s descriptions of one POV character differ wildly from how he describes himself.

What if a slow-talking behemoth of a linebacker reveals himself as incredibly well-spoken and cultured in his personal narration? Or if a beloved inner-city social worker confesses an overwhelming urge to kill?

Play with perspective to subvert your audience’s expectations… the results can be soul-shattering.

2. Create Clear Divisions

Part of what makes a “head-hopping” perspective so infuriating to read is that the transitions between perspectives or narrators come completely without warning.

To make a multiple-perspective narrative work, you’ve got to make sure your readers know whose point of view they’re following at all times—and that they know the exact moment when the story’s POV switches from character to character.

How is this accomplished? Create dividers on the page between each point-of-view passage.

Since head-hopping is defined as changing perspective mid-scene, these passages should always be at least a scene or longer. Consider using section breaks or curlicue symbols (called typographer’s flourishes) to create a clear visual “break” between scenes: that way, when a scene ends and a new narrator takes over, readers will be ready for a change and won’t be thrown off-balance by the transition.

In my writing, I often use three of a certain symbol to mark my section breaks, especially if I’m about to switch to a new character’s perspective. It looks like this:

&&& *** ###

Many authors choose to divide their multiple-viewpoint narratives up by chapter, which is an effective and efficient way of doing things. Both George R.R. Martin and Rick Riordan name their chapters after the POV character in that specific chapter; that way, even if the story is told in first person, there’s never any doubt over who’s telling the story.

Editor’s Note: Authors who write short-story cycles or “composite novels” often do the same thing with individual short stories instead of chapters.

Other authors, especially those who write longer books, assign entire Parts—yes, with a capital P—to certain POV characters. These usually get descriptive, name-centric titles like “PART I: Susan Stronnbaw” and the like, and these sections of the book are typically more centered around the named character than whatever other POV characters might appear later in the novel.

3. Make a Plan

Writing a multiple-perspective novel is a serious undertaking, but it gets a lot easier if you take the time to write out a plan of attack first. Even if you usually prefer to write by the seat of your pants, creating a written plan, diagram, or even multiple timelines for your narrative is a must if you’re going to keep all the moving parts in your story straight in your head.

Here’s what you’ll need to do before you begin:

  1. Create a General Outline of Your Story: Don’t worry about perspectives or narrators yet. Just write down everything you want to happen in your story, including when and where each scene will take place and what characters will be involved.
  2. Assign Character POVs to Each Scene: Decide which character’s viewpoint is best suited to handle each scene, chapter, or Part of your novel. In the planning phase, I like to assign a highlighter color to each major character, then highlight their scenes in my outline in “their” specific color.
  3. Decide When and Where Your POVs Will Overlap: In other words, when will your POV characters cross paths with one another? If you’re writing separate timelines that eventually become one, when will this transition take place, and which character’s perspective will we view that scene from? Will you ever describe the same scene or interaction from multiple points of view? How will that affect the narrative, and what new information will your readers learn from this?

All this planning is a lot of work, but having this kind of structure in place will be invaluable to you when you finally start writing your bestseller.

Writing a novel from multiple perspectives is a complex and difficult process—but if you believe your story is better served by using many viewpoints instead of one, you owe it to yourself to try. And with this handy guide in your hands, you’ve got all the tools you need to make your first effort the strongest it can possibly be.


Folks at home—do you have any handy tips for wrangling multiple perspectives in fiction? Join the conversation by telling us about your experiences in the comments section below!

And for more how-to guides for planning your next book project, you need look no further:


Plan Your Next Book Giveaway with Rafflecopter Wed, 21 Feb 2018 05:17:57 +0000 how to use rafflecopter to host a giveaway

As an author, you’re always on the lookout for new and awesome ways to promote your writing.

After all, your books deserve it. You’re the best hype man you’ve got, and it’s in your best interest to explore every avenue available to you. Take to Twitter. Assemble a street team. Make a book trailer or podcast or ad campaign.

Do everything in your considerable power to ensure that everybody knows your name—and is salivating to read your next big novel.

And here’s a slick tip: thanks to sites like Rafflecopter and Goodreads, one of the hottest ways to sell more books is actually to give them away.

The Benefits of Book Giveaways

“But that doesn’t make sense,” you say. “I’m trying to make money off my books. Why should I give them away for free?”

We know it sounds kooky, but book giveaways are a mighty tool any enterprising author can use to promote their books, expand their fanbase, and get major brownie points with their existing readership.

And not only can giveaways promote your books, they generate reviews as well—and they’re often accompanied by a noticeable spike in book sales!

So to that end, we’re going to teach you how to host a giveaway of your own using Rafflecopter—and after today’s lesson, you’ll be armed with the tools and knowledge you need to leverage the power of giveaways to get some groundswell behind your next big release…

…and make some cash in the process.

rafflecopter logo giveaway app plugin

Use a Rafflecopter Giveaway to Hype Your Next Book

Rafflecopter is a popular online solution for hosting giveaways and contests of all kinds. You don’t have to be an author to use the program, but Rafflecopter’s tools and systems do seem uniquely suited to helping indie writers promote their books.

Rafflecopter allows you to customize and embed a widget linked to your giveaway on any HTML-compatible site, including your blog, author site, or Facebook page. This widget acts as an entry form which asks participants to complete a task of your choosing in order to enter the sweepstakes.

And while paid plans start at $13 a month, the free version of Rafflecopter includes most of the solution’s essential promotional tools, and can be a great first step for first-time users.

So what’s the holdup? Start following our easy-as-pie 6-step guide to getting your Rafflecopter book giveaway off the ground!

1. Create Your Account

Rafflecopter couldn’t have made it any simpler to get started. Just enter your full name, professional email address, and password (and prove you’re not a robot) to instantly get access to the service’s giveaway dashboard. It’s optional, but you can even link your blog or author website to your account right off the bat in this step.

2. Choose Your Prize

Now that you’re ready to create your giveaway, it’s time to decide what you’re actually going to give your lucky winner.

Now, the obvious answer might be to give away a free copy of one of your books, but there are ways to sweeten the deal even further.

A popular prize is a single signed copy of your book, but consider the possibility of a package deal: Is your book part of a series? Include the first book in the giveaway as well to promote the series as a whole.

Consider creating a gift basket of sortsa grab bag of swag all themed around one of your books. Or include books by other authors in the mix, especially if they’re similar in tone or content to your own. You can even cooperate with another author you know to co-host a giveaway, raffling off signed copies of both of your books to a few lucky winners.

3. Choose How You Want Your Readers to Enter

One of the unique aspects of Rafflecopter’s giveaways is how participants enter to win. Namely: you get to decide! You can ask your fans to follow your Twitter account, tweet a certain message, comment on a certain blog post, or even answer a question or poll of your choosing.

These options come standard with Rafflecopter membership, but you can invent your own entry options as well.

You can even choose multiple methods of entry, making one or more mandatory in order to enter the contest, and even decide how often each entrant can use each option per day.

4. Choose Your Start and End Dates

Use Rafflecopter’s calendar functions to decide when your book giveaway should begin and end.

Now, exactly how long your giveaway lasts is more important than you probably realize. You want the sweepstakes to last long enough that you’ll get a large number of people invested, but not so long that your original entrants lose interest or forget they entered.

Our recommendation is a month, but feel free to monkey with this as you see fit. Do what works for you!

5. Install Your Widgets

Once you’ve designed your book giveaway, it’s time to start spreading the word.

On Rafflecopter’s “Installation” tab, you can copy a snippet of HTML code to paste into the code of your blog or website to install your custom giveaway widget. This same tab gives you the option to instantly add the widget to a Facebook Fan page you have access to, or copy a link you can share via social media if you can’t embed HTML.

Once your readers click these widgets, they’ll be directed to your custom entry form and can enter your giveaway.

All your entrants will be asked to provide an email address when they enter your sweepstakes, which will come in handy in just a minute for the next step…

6. Choose Your Winner

Rafflecopter’s third tab is simply called “Entries.”

From this dashboard, you can watch your entrants slowly roll in, and moderate their numbers as you see fit. And once your giveaway has reached its conclusion, you simply pick a winner at random with a single click.

Use the email your winner provided to contact them with a congratulatory message, and get their shipping information to send them their prize.

It’s vital that you pick a winner within 24 hours of your giveaway closing, so your participants don’t feel cheated—or forget about you entirely. Ship your prize off ASAP as well, and post the winner’s name on all your social media channels.

This is a bit of last-minute promotion for you—and shows the other participants that a real human being won the sweepstakes.

And that’s really all there is to it! If you follow these 6 steps, you’ll be well on your way to hosting a crackerjack book giveaway, and building some serious grassroots upswell behind your next novel’s release.


For more information on promoting your writing, you’ve come to the right place:

7 Life Lessons from Ender’s Game Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:19:45 +0000 life lessons from enders game

Last time in this ongoing series, we introduced you to 10 big life lessons we learned from Divergent. This week, we’re counting down 7 awesome life lessons we learned from Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game.

The publication of Ender’s Game in 1985 is widely regarded as a watershed moment for the genre of science fiction. The novel won the Nebula Award in 1985 and the Hugo Award in 1986, and is considered required reading for many military organizations across the globe—and for genre fans of all ages.

I first read Ender’s Game in 2015, just as my writing career was getting off the ground. And even though I didn’t know it at the time, the novel would have a deep and lasting impact on both my writing and my life—just as it’s affected so many others before me.

 So whether you’re a super-fan of the novel or you’ve never even heard the name, these are 7 great lessons you can take from this sci-fi classic.

Editor’s note: Be warned—spoilers for Ender’s Game follow!

enders game orson scott card book cover

1. Reorient Your Thinking

Problem-solving plays a huge role in Ender’s Game. All throughout his time in Battle School, protagonist Ender Wiggin is confronted by dozens of puzzles and tests designed to mold him into a ruthless and efficient military leader. Often these tests have grossly unfair odds or seem to have no win condition, and it is only by defying the internal logic of these “games” that Ender manages to prevail.

For instance: in a zero-gravity combat simulator, Ender quickly realizes that the lack of gravity renders traditional directional thinking useless. This leads him to conclude that “the enemy’s gate is down,” rather than forward, as it had been presented; merely by reorienting his thinking, Ender is able to master the game and dominate his opponents over and over again.

Think outside the box. Defy conventional thinking. Look at a problem from all angles. Remember that rules are meant to be broken, especially when they’re arbitrary—and particularly when somebody else made them up.

2. Take the Third Option

Early in the novel, Ender is introduced to a training simulator meant to challenge his critical thinking when he’s not in combat training. One game in this simulation, called The Giant’s Drink, is particularly vexing to our hero.

In the game, a giant cyclops presents the player with two strange drinks, and demands that he or she choose one to consume. One is poisoned, the giant claims, while the other will take the player to Fairyland. However, there is no correct answer to the puzzle—the player’s avatar is killed no matter which cup they drink from, and the “game” is meant to test for suicidal impulses among the students at Battle School.

But Ender refuses to give up. After being defeated again and again by the Giant’s Drink, he finally bypasses the game’s rules and attacks and kills the giant instead of choosing a drink. And even though the game originally had no “win condition,” the simulator’s advanced programming acknowledges Ender’s victory and generates a Fairyland for him on the spot.

Life is full of false decisions. Never take parameters for granted, and never be satisfied with the choices you’re given. Question everything, and use all your abilities to achieve your goals. Sometimes the best approach is the simplest one—and sometimes the best option isn’t even on the menu.

3. Violence Sticks with You

Ender’s Game drew a fair share of controversy when it was first published, due in part to its violent content and youth audience. The Hunger Games would stoke similar debate years later with its graphic depictions of youth-on-youth violence, but Ender’s Game’s fights involved actual children, while those in Suzanne Collins’s novel mostly featured teenagers and young adults.

Ender himself is just six years old when the novel begins, and often must resort to violence to resolve his problems, against both a mysterious alien enemy and his fellow humans. And while his actions are almost always justified—when Ender fights, he’s always either provoked, defending himself, or ordered to attack—the novel never glamorizes the violent acts its young protagonist commits.

In fact, over time, Ender begins to view himself as a monster for all the people he’s hurt over the course of the story, even if the violence was completely necessary.

Remember that violence isn’t just physical. Emotional and psychological violence leave deep scars as well; speaking thoughtlessly or behaving ruthlessly and without remorse changes you on a base level. Even if your use of violence—physical, emotional or otherwise—is entirely necessary and justified, you cannot allow yourself to become numb to it. You must acknowledge the consequences of your actions and live with the results.

And, most importantly of all, always find a way to exercise some measure of compassion in all that you do—no matter what life throws at you.

4. Intelligence Can Isolate You

Ender Wiggin is a genius—and it brings him nothing but trouble.

The same intellectual firepower that makes him a near-unbeatable military leader and strategist at only ten years old also makes him the loneliest recruit in Battle School. His enemies, of course, are envious of his success and intimidated by his abilities—but even his friends begin distancing themselves from Ender once they begin to realize what he’s capable of. Ender’s mind makes him foreign to them, something alien and unknowable—almost unhuman in its power.

Of course, this seclusion is by design: Battle School’s organizers want to isolate Ender to improve his focus and suppress his empathy, but even this raises its own questions. Do intelligent people need to be lonely? Do they choose seclusion themselves, or do we as a society force it upon them? Why do we choose to revere the best and brightest among us instead of trying to relate to them?

Like the old adage says: it’s lonely at the top. The smarter you are—or the more capable or talented you become—the harder it is for some people to relate to you, to see themselves in you. Likewise, a highly intelligent or capable person can find it more difficult to relate to people who trend more towards average.

But the world needs exceptional people—even if greatness is a miserable curse. Celebrate your unique abilities and use them as fully as you can, even if it’s painful sometimes. Your talents are worth sharing.

5. Intelligence Is Not Wisdom

While Ender might be the smartest character in the novel, he still gets outsmarted from time to time—usually by his teachers at Battle School.

How does this happen?

They prey on his youth. Ender may be intelligent, but he’s still only ten years old by the end of the book. There’s a lot he doesn’t know about the world, and he’s spent almost half his life in the controlled environment of Battle School.

Plus, even if he has the raw brainpower of a much older person, Ender still has the emotional maturity of a child. Even an unusually mature kid is still a kid at heart, and won’t have the grit and experience to compete with an adult.

So, despite the youth’s superior intelligence, Ender’s teachers use his childish trust and affection to manipulate him into doing what they want—and, ultimately, into committing genocide.

Intelligence is no substitute for experience. Wisdom is earned by living, and by learning from your mistakes, from giving yourself permission to fail and try again. Your intelligence is a powerful weapon, but it won’t insulate you from failure—nor should it.

6. Compassion Is Not Weakness

Throughout Ender’s Game, many characters are introduced to be foils to the titular hero, but none are as compelling a reflection as his older siblings, Peter and Valentine Wiggin. Both were tested as potential Battle School recruits along with Ender, but were ultimately rejected—Peter for being too bloodthirsty, and Valentine for being too sweet-tempered.

Even Ender himself isn’t considered a perfect blend of the two, as he skews too close to Valentine’s soft-heartedness for Battle School’s tastes.

But despite his teachers’ attempts to train Ender’s sympathetic inclinations out of him, it’s his innate compassion for other living things that allows him to retain his humanity after the final battle with the aliens.

To make a long story short, Ender’s teachers have to trick him into committing genocide against the Buggers—who, by the end of the book, are revealed to be peaceful and curious. Peter Wiggin would have become a bloodthirsty monster after such a conquest, and Valentine would probably have buckled under the weight of her guilt. But Ender is pragmatic enough to recognize not only that what he did was wrong, but that there are probably ways he can make up for his actions.

Ender’s compassion allows him to locate the last remaining Bugger larva, and leads him on what could be a lifelong journey to help his former enemy rebuild their entire species. While the book never reveals whether Ender succeeds, it’s implied that his quest does help him ease his conscience to a degree.

As human beings, our ability to empathize with others is our greatest strength. We instinctively care for one another—and that’s how we’ve survived as a species.

7. Hatred Can Be Misunderstanding in Disguise

The first gut-punch twist in Ender’s Game is that the final combat simulation isn’t a simulation at all: Ender has been “playing” with real ships and real human lives—and killing real alien enemies.

The second twist, however, hits even harder: the Buggers—the vile, bloodthirsty race Ender has been conditioned to hate all his life—were never hostile toward humanity in the first place.

The Buggers (or “Formics,” as they call themselves) have a collective consciousness, a hive mind controlled by a single Hive Queen, and had never encountered a race of individuals before. When they encountered humans for the first time, they killed them, not understanding that each individual being had a mind of its own and was afraid of death. When they learned of their mistake, they were horrified at the senseless slaughter they had inadvertently carried out and retreated to their homeworld.

Likewise, humanity completely misread the Buggers’ intentions. Mistaking the aliens’ earlier incursions for a full-scale invasion, they launched a counter-attack (led by Ender), destroying the Bugger homeworld to prevent another assault on Earth. And just like the Buggers before him, Ender only learned that his foe was not a threat after he’d killed nearly all of them.

Evolution has conditioned us to fear The Other. We are afraid of what we don’t understand, and we hate what we fear—but we are not slaves to evolution. Our humanity allows us to see beyond our superficial differences and empathize with our fellow man, even if that fellow man is an insectoid alien!

It takes a conscious effort to love a stranger, but it’s an effort well worth making.

Have you read Ender’s Game? What did you take away from the book? Or, alternatively, what’s a book that’s had a lasting impact on your life?


And if you liked this article, here’s three more articles on personal growth and development you’re sure to love:


How to Get Interviewed to Build Your Brand Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:59:22 +0000 how to get interviewed

We’ve already talked at some length about the importance of getting interviewed as a writer, and some of the details about how to look your best during the conversation.

But for most writers, understanding the importance and speaking (reasonably) well aren’t the first challenges they encounter. The first challenge is…

…drum roll please…

Getting the interview in the first place.

Booking an interview is a lot like querying your manuscript or article when you start writing. It’s a three-step operation:

Step One: Identify Likely Interviewers

Step Two: Submit an Interview Query

Step Three: Follow Up Until You Get Interviewed

In this article, we’ll look at each step in detail and talk about what to do, what not to do, and how to make the best of your particular set of skills.

1. Identify Likely Interviewers

You know how, when you have a manuscript to sell or an article to pitch, you go to your list of publishers, agents, and editors and figure out which ones are the best targets?

You do the exact same with interviews, only it’s a different list.

To start making that list, run through these potential sources of interview opportunities:

  • Blogs you read:  bloggers love interviews and guest posts, because that’s less work for them.  
  • Podcasts you listen to: most live and breathe on their interviews, meaning they need to talk with you.
  • Online clearinghouses: sites like HARO, which make their bones by introducing journalists who need interviews and experts who want interviewing
  • Local radio: stations in your area are surprisingly open to interviewing local professionals, celebrities, and authors.
  • Friends, family, and colleagues: these folks either know somebody who conducts interviews on the regular, or know somebody who does. Sometimes they are that somebody.
  • Associations: trade association chapters, hobby groups, and service organizations like Rotary all have journals or websites where they sometimes interview people who work in the fields they represent.
  • Local events: if you’re up for a live interview, or want to speak with somebody as part of the event’s promotion, looking at what’s going on in your area can land you an interview with an opportunity for a signing or other live engagement later.
  • Social media: if you’re doing your social media right, this will be the easiest area to find potential interviews in.

If you dig deep enough, you’ll find three to five opportunities in each line item. That’s a total of 21-40 opportunities. You’ll easily land a handful of interviews if you complete the next step correctly.

2. Submit an Interview Query

There are two ways to ask for an interview, depending on what you’re aiming for.

  • If you want an interview now about a specific thing, you’ll send an interview query.
  • If you just want to make yourself available for general interviewing, you’ll send a letter of introduction.

In both cases, you’ll write an email with the same basic format. The difference lies in the second full paragraph.

I recommend using the following template.


“Dear ___________.”  

Make absolutely certain you know what goes in _________. Screwing that up is the easiest way to never get invited onto anything.

Paragraph One

“You are awesome.”

Spend two to three sentences talking about why you’re a fan of that particular program, blog, or whatever you want to appear on. Do some research so you’re saying something meaningful. It’s only polite.

Paragraph Two

“I have this awesome idea.”

Here you spend two sentences on what you want to talk about. Sometimes I use a bullet list, but that’s optional. Make certain you touch on what makes your interview interesting and special as compared to the other emails the interviewer got that day.

End with an invitation sentence. For specific interviews, say you would be available to talk about subject X any time in Y timeframe. To make yourself generally available, use a sentence that says “I wanted to let you know I’m available for interviews about this and related topics any time you have a need.”

Paragraph Three

“I’m awesome.”

Here’s where you list the reasons you are uniquely qualified to be a great interview on this topic. Three to four sentences that set you apart. If you have previous media experience, name-drop the biggest appearances in the final sentence.


“Thank you, (Your name).”  

Don’t get fancy here. Nobody pays attention unless you screw it up.

3. Follow Up Until You Get Interviewed

The space between steps two and three is another place where this process is a lot like querying a publisher, because the wait can be long and you don’t usually know whether that means they weren’t interested or they just got busy.

I recommend creating a schedule of follow-up emails to keep your name on the interviewer’s mind. Even if they weren’t initially interested, your topic might become vogue or otherwise urgent. When that happens, guess who the interviewer’s going to call?

  • One Week Later: Find the decision maker on social media, and send a request to friend, follow, connect, or whatever verb their social media platform uses for networking with one another.
  • Two Weeks Later: Send a brief ping: a one-sentence email asking for confirmation they received your letter.
  • Three Months Later: Send a short email reminder. Make it polite, themed around “I’m still available if you have a need.”
  • Six Months Later: Revise your letter and send it again, making any revisions you need to stay up to date.

Also, and more important than the items on this schedule, pay attention to the news. Any time something breaks that’s remotely related to your topic, send a little note reminding the interviewer that you’re available to speak on it.

Conclusion: The Bonus Step

Once you finish step three, you’re not really done. After your interview drops, you will get a lot more traction from your efforts if you tell as many people as possible about it. Share a link (or the time for a traditional broadcast) on every social media channel you can. Mention it on your blog, and in your newsletter. Tell your friends. Have them tell their friends.

You do this for two reasons. First, interviews aren’t just for finding new readers and fans. They’re also a way to service existing followers by letting them celebrate your success. Second, sharing an interviewer’s work improves that relationship, making her more likely to invite you back or to refer you to other interview opportunities.

Do not skimp on this last step. It can make the difference between a good interview experience and a great one.

For more on doing great PR and building your brand, read on:

176: How to Harness the Difference between Plot and Story with Steve Alcorn Fri, 16 Feb 2018 04:18:50 +0000 how to harness the difference between plot and story to write a better novel

If you’ve ever been to a theme park like Disney World, chances are you’ve seen Steve Alcorn’s work. Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride, a company that designs products used in nearly all the world’s theme parks.

He’s also the author of many books. He’s written historical fiction, romance, and young adult novels. He’s also written several nonfiction books, including, Build a Better Mouse, Theme Park Design, and How to Fix Your Novel.

Steve fell into the field of theme park engineering because his wife always wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. Steve and his wife were in engineering school together, and when she graduated, she applied for exactly one job and got it. She became a Disney Imagineer and began working on the preliminary designs for Epcot Center.

When it became clear that she was going to be in Florida for quite some time working on the installation of Epcot Center, Steve followed her into that industry and worked on the American Adventure at Epcot.

After he was done working on American Adventure, Steve started a company that makes the types of things he wished he had when designing American Adventure. When he was working on that attraction, Steve and his team had to design everything from scratch.

Alcorn and McBride makes products that theme parks can buy off the shelf to help them design and build their rides. If you’ve been to any of the Disney parks or Universal Studios, you’ve likely experienced some of Steve’s work. His products work behind the scenes to make sure the synchronized audio and video are running smoothly.

Theme park design is a really fun field to be in because you get the inside scoop on attractions way before they open, and you get to help solve really sticky technical problems.

Steve has always been interested in writing, and he’s always been interested in creative enterprises. That’s one of the reasons he became an engineer in a creative field. Steve is also a sculptor.

In this interview, we talk about the importance of having a plan for your novel. We also talk about how to plan your novel, the three-act structure, and the scene/sequel method of building a novel. This is a great interview packed with information about how to think about planning your novel.

How the Writing Academy Came to Be

Steve decided to write his first novel when his daughter was little. They enjoyed reading together and he wanted to write something special for her.

His first novel was based on his experiences growing up in a summer camp near Sequoia National Park. That turned into the novel A Matter of Justice. The novel ended up having a protagonist a lot like his daughter at the time.

Through that process, and when researching a subsequent novel about the St. Francis dam, Steve met the screenwriter Doran William Cannon. Doran wrote for a lot of popular hits in the 1980s, including Dynasty and parts of The Godfather films.

Steve and Doran really hit it off. Doran had an online class called Write Like a Pro and he suggested that Steve do a course on writing mysteries, because he wasn’t writing mysteries and didn’t have a class on it.

So Steve developed a class on writing mysteries. In 2000, he teamed up with Doran to launch the online writing school Writing Academy. They have classes in novel writing, nonfiction writing, and writing your own memoir, among others. Steve has taught more than 30,000 aspiring writers how to structure their novels. In his house, he has an entire library filled with the signed novels of his students.

Why Steve Decided to Teach Writing

Steve has always wanted to help people. When he started his company, Alcorn and McCabe, he helped a lot of his clients use the products he created to build their theme park attractions. As the business grew, Steve assembled a large, competent engineering team around him, and they all encouraged him to go find something else to do with his time.

He always loved writing, and he’s read just about every book there is on the craft.

When he came across Doran’s work, it really connected with him. He became an evangelist for Doran’s teachings. They did several seminars together. At one point, Doran even said that Steve understood his techniques better than he did.

The Difference between Plot and Story

The first thing that writers need to understand is the distinction between plot and story. If you read a book that doesn’t feel quite right, it’s probably because the writer didn’t understand the distinction between story and plot.

The plot consists of the events of the story. It’s everything that happens external to the viewpoint character.

When we talk about story, we’re talking about everything that happens inside the protagonist’s head. We’re talking about the protagonist’s emotional journey.

Those two things are very distinct.

Even if you’re working on a screenplay or television production, you need both elements. Even though the camera is an inherently visual medium and is showing what is happening—the plot—the actor is portraying the emotional journey of the character, the story.

If you’re a screenwriter, you can often use the dialogue to help you tell story. If you’re a novelist, you have it easy because you can dive right into the mind of the protagonist. You can really delve into that character’s thoughts and express their emotions.

Every novel has to pay equal attention to the plot (the external events of the novel) and the story (the emotional journey of the protagonist through the novel).

You should set up your novel so that it is composed of a plot event (action) followed by an internal emotional reaction that leads to another plot event.

Good novels are made up of an action/reaction pattern.

How to Structure a Character’s Reaction

A proper reaction has three parts:

  1. The point-of-view character feels something about what just happened.
  2. Then they think about what just happened and their feelings about it.
  3. Then they make a decision about what to do next and trigger the next plot event.

“A lot of novelists—and action novelists are a prime example of this—sort of leave out that story part, and so when you read these really exciting bang-up stories [with] cops and robbers, chases, dinosaurs, and so on. But you get into this sort of fatigue after a while if you never get to know the characters.”
– Steve Alcorn

You also want to avoid having too much story and not enough plot. This happens most often in romance novels where the reader is stuck inside the protagonist’s head with no plot events to move the story forward.

how to write a balanced novel

“You want to have the balance between the physical and the emotional. That’s the core of successful novel writing.”
– Steve Alcorn

Your Protagonist Must Change

“Novels are about a character changing. They’re not just arbitrary collections of random things happening.”
– Steve Alcorn

A story is about a protagonist who has a flaw. They have to work against their flaw and overcome it to solve a problem. If you figure out what your character’s flaw is before you start writing your novel, actually writing it becomes a much easier exercise.

There are only a handful of commonly used flaws that protagonists have in novels.

The most commonly used flaw for a protagonist is lack of self-confidence.

If you think about most movies, they are almost invariably about the protagonist overcoming a lack of self-confidence to solve a problem that has arisen.

That makes it sound like every story in the world would be the same. The truth is, it’s the plot details that make every story unique and different.

The Three-Act Structure

You can use the classic three-act structure to help keep your plot moving and allow you room to explore your story and your character’s flaws.

The First Act

In the first act, the protagonist is flawed and they don’t know it. The first turning point is when something happens that shows them what their flaw is. At the first act turning point, the audience sees the protagonist being overcome by their flaw.

The Second Act

The second act is the longest act of any story. It’s a big, long struggle because the protagonist hasn’t yet changed. They’re fighting against their flaw.

At the end of this act, the protagonist realizes their flaw, and they realize they need to change. Now that the character realizes they need to do something differently, they can make a plan to change and solve their problem.

Act Three

Act Three is usually the shortest. It’s also the most action-packed because this is when the character puts into motion their plan to change and solve their problem.

The three-act structure is universal to all types of stories. It’s what needs to be there for a story to be exciting and satisfying.

Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope: A Case Study

Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker. The theme of that movie is about the Force and believing in yourself.

Act One

Luke Skywalker lives on Tatooine, a desert planet on the outskirts of the galaxy. Because we’re in a movie, there are things that happen that are outside Luke’s viewpoint, but the story really begins when Luke finds his home destroyed, and that propels him to the first act of the story.

Luke is really in a crisis, overwhelmed by a lack of self-confidence because he doesn’t know what is happening around him.

Act Two

He becomes involved with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, and all these setbacks occur as the plot evolves. This is the struggle of Act Two, and all these exciting things are happening.

But Luke isn’t effective yet because he hasn’t overcome his basic flaw, lack of self-confidence. Even though he’s gone through training, he still doesn’t yet understand that he has to believe in himself and the Force.

Act Three

Star Wars has a very short act three. The Act Two turning point is very easy to identify. It’s when Luke is in his X-wing and he hears the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi, and realizes that he has to trust himself and the Force to make this impossible shot, and not the technology of his ship. Every event leading up to that is still part of Act Two.

Once Luke realizes the truth, he decides to trust the Force, and the climax happens. Darth Vader is defeated, and the movie is wrapped up in a neat ending.

Very little of the movie is the exciting Act Three. In this case, it was really that long struggle during Act Two that was the vast bulk of the movie, when Luke hadn’t yet changed.

Once the protagonist changes, the dramatic tension of the story tends to evaporate, and things need to be wrapped up quickly.

Sometimes Act Three is longer, like when a succession of plans doesn’t work at first. But Steve has also seen novels where the third act is just one page.

The length of the acts doesn’t matter. Making sure events happen in the right order is what matters.

  1. Begin with a flawed character who has a problem.
  2. Your flawed character struggles against their flaw to solve their problem.
  3. Your flawed character changes.
  4. Your previously flawed character is able to solve their problem after they’ve made the necessary change in their character.

At The Writing Academy, they break the three acts into nine checkpoints, which is actually more manageable than three acts. If you follow the nine checkpoints, you will come up with a novel that works structurally, guaranteed.

The Scene/Sequel Method

The scene/sequel method was developed by Jack Bickham of Oklahoma University.

A novel can be broken down into scene/sequel pairs.


A scene can be one sentence long, or it can take pages.

Every scene has three parts:

  1. Goal – this is what the viewpoint character is trying to do.
  2. Conflict – this is how the viewpoint character is being physically opposed from doing it.
  3. Disaster – the viewpoint character doesn’t accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.

It seems crazy to say there can be hundreds of scenes in a novel, but let’s look at a simple conversation:

The goal of the conversation: the viewpoint character wants to get some information.

The conflict in the conversation: another character doesn’t want to give up the information the viewpoint character wants.

The disaster in the conversation: the viewpoint character doesn’t get the information they wanted, or the information isn’t what they want to hear.

So you see, not every scene has to have the Death Star blowing up. Every scene before the climax just needs to have a setback for the protagonist.

Those three elements are the plot. They are external to the viewpoint character. Every scene is followed by a…


Every sequel has up to four elements:

  1. Emotion – your viewpoint character didn’t get what they want. How do they feel about that?
  2. Thought – so your character didn’t get what they want. What should they do about it now? Your viewpoint character has alternatives, and they consider them in their head.
  3. Decision – this is where your viewpoint character decides what to do next.
  4. Action – this is where your viewpoint character takes action based on the decision they’ve made.

The emotion, thought, and decision elements are story elements, because they take place inside the character’s head. The action element returns us to the plot, because it happens in the external world. The action that comes after a decision will often reveal the goal of the next scene.

how to pace a novel

How to Control the Pace of Your Novel

If you want to speed up the pace of your novel, build up your scenes. That way, more stuff is happening, and it feels like a faster story to your audience.

If you want to slow down the pace of your novel, build up your sequels. Give your character time to reflect and emote. Give your character more time to plan out what to do next.

By adjusting the ratio between your scenes and sequels, you adjust the pace of your novel.

If you want your story to be fast and exciting, you should have a lot of scenes happening. If you want your story to be slower and more thoughtful, you have lots of sequels happening.

That controls the balance between plot and story. The balance can change throughout your novel. Some chapters will have more scenes, other chapters will have more sequels.

“If you feel things are dragging, it’s time to cross out some of those lines of thoughts, reflections, and emotions and get back to the action. If you feel like the reader is getting tired from nothing but nonstop car chases, it’s time to slow down and put in some reflection.”
– Steve Alcorn

Even in the middle of a car chase or something else exciting happening in your story, don’t forget to give the readers some emotion every page, even if it’s just a sentence.

Give us some emotion. Give us some thought. Give us a decision. Don’t let it be just blind action—give us some time to get in the character’s head, and let them reflect on the latest thing that happened, even as they move on to the next exciting thing.

How to Approach Your First Draft

Writing a novel can be tough, but there’s a few things you can do to get started smoothly.

Don’t Worry about Chapter Breaks

A lot of new writers worry too much about where their chapter breaks are, and about the overall word count of their novel. Neither are very important in the beginning.

You want to put a chapter break where people can’t stop reading. That is, you want to end a chapter when something so interesting is happening that the reader has to keep going to see what happens next.

The natural point for a chapter break to occur is after the disaster in the scene. Something horrible has just happened. What’s going to happen next?

The next chapter could open with the sequel to the previous scene, or you could time-jump to some point in the future and have us wonder what did happen. It’s best to decide where those dramatic breaks are later, after you’re done writing your manuscript.

Word Count Doesn’t Matter

Another misconception is the importance of word count. Word count does matter if you’re going to be traditionally published, at least a bit. Word count may also matter depending on the genre of story you’re telling.

But if you’re just starting out, and especially when writing your first draft, don’t worry about the word count.

New authors tend to think that every word they write down in the first draft is going to end up in the book. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A first draft is just that, a first draft. Professional authors will write 3–5 drafts of a manuscript before the book is published.

The second draft of the manuscript doesn’t just involve cutting a few words. The second draft of the manuscript is often a complete rewrite of the story. You shouldn’t worry about making your first draft perfect.

“Many authors will work from a printed copy of their first draft, and actually retype their second draft, saving the parts that they want, but finding new ways to word things as they go, because they know their characters much better now as a result of having completed that first draft.”
– Steve Alcorn

It’s very common for the word count of your manuscript to get shorter with each successive edit. You find ways to say things more clearly and tighten up your language, so that it really sings.

At the same time, if your word count is running short, you don’t really need to worry about it because you can always add in some subplots, or write deeper, richer settings in subsequent drafts. You can also add in other things to pad your word count if you need to.

When you’re writing your first draft, let your creativity flow. You have a plan because you’ve sketched out the nine checkpoints in the three-act structure of your story. You know your protagonist because you’ve done a character sketch and defined their flaw.

Worry about chapter breaks and your final word count when it comes time to edit your manuscript.

Every author can learn to be a good self-editor. No matter how bad your first draft is, those writing skills can be learned.

The Biggest Mistake First-Time Authors Make

The biggest mistake Steve sees first time authors make is that they try to write a novel without a plan.

Steve has taught thousands of students and about 25% of them will introduce themselves by saying, “I had this really good idea/vivid dream that I wanted to write as a novel. After writing the first chapter, I got writers block.”

The truth is, these people didn’t get writer’s block. Their idea ran out of steam. They didn’t know where they were going.

That’s why Steve’s process is for you to take a step back and define these nine checkpoints which give you a roadmap to tell your story.

Creating these nine checkpoints can be as simple as writing nine sentences to give you benchmarks about where you’re going.

A lot of Steve’s students do NaNoWriMo. National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, takes place every November. It’s a writing challenge you can sign up for online. Participants commit to try and write 50,000 words in one month.

That 50,000 words may not be enough for a novel in some genres, but it’s a heck of a good start, and it’s a very reasonable goal to try and write that in one month.

A lot of new authors try NaNoWriMo and fail because they don’t have a plan. Steve’s students always have a plan before they start trying to write a novel, in November or any time. A large percentage of them succeed, and at the end of November, they are either ready to edit, or they have a few more chapters to go before they’ve finished their novel.

Having a plan before you start is the key to success.

“Spending a few hours in the planning stage can save you hundreds of hours in rewrites, and can also save you from getting stuck, both of which are disasters.”
– Steve Alcorn

How to Make a Plan for Your Novel

The nine checkpoints Steve recommends are story checkpoints. There are some plot points involved in the planning process. But story checkpoints relate very much to what’s happening inside the character as they move through the plot elements.

The next step after you define those plot checkpoints is to fill in what Steve calls scene markers.

You might have as many as 200 scene/sequel pairs in a novel. You’re not going to jot down all of those. You want to jot down the major plot points that you can think of. The plot points that get your character from point A to point B.

Understanding Your Characters

When Steve is planning a new novel, he’ll spend several days gaining a deep understanding of his characters and what makes them tick. He has a comprehensive character attributes form that he fills out for all his important characters. The form consists of about 100 questions.

This may seem like a waste of time to new writers, but understanding your characters is the most important work you can do. Readers read for character. Readers fall in love with characters. Really understanding your characters makes writing stories and novels much easier.

“The planning process can be the most fun part of writing your novel because it allows you to invent things without doing the work of writing them down. You can think of an idea, jot down three or four words to remind you what it is later, and move on.”
– Steve Alcorn

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview

Steve Alcorn’s Amazon author page

How to Fix Your Novel by Steve Alcorn. Steve goes in depth about how to plan your novel and the nine character checkpoints you need in every story. – the online writing school Steve started with Doran William Cannon. They have classes on many different types of writing.

Get all of Writing Academy’s courses for one low monthly subscription – get all of the courses (valued at over $2,300) for $49 a month.

Get the nonfiction bundle at Writing Academy – get all of their nonfiction writing courses the Nonfiction Writing Workshop, the Write Your Life Story Workshop, and the Publish Your Book Now Workshop for $19 a month

Get the fiction writing bundle at Writing Academy – this bundle includes Beginning Writer’s Workshop, Novel Writing Workshop, Young Adult Fiction Writing Workshop, Writing for Children Writing, and Science Fiction and Fantasy for $29 a month.


If you’ve ever been to a theme park like Disney World, chances are you’ve seen Steve Alcorn’s work. Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride, a company that designs products used in nearly all the world’s theme parks. He’s also the author of many books. If you’ve ever been to a theme park like Disney World, chances are you’ve seen Steve Alcorn’s work. Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride, a company that designs products used in nearly all the world’s theme parks. He’s also the author of many books. He’s written historical fiction, romance, and young adult novels. He’s […] TCK Publishing clean 32:20
27 Handy Keyboard Shortcuts Every Writer Should Know Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:01:50 +0000 how to make and use keyboard shortcuts

You might have noticed that here at TCK Publishing, we’re big into productivity.

We’re just nuts about it. We’re always looking for new ways to write more, write faster, and eliminate distractions and interruptions from our work—and we like to share what we find with you folks at home.

Keyboard shortcuts are a fantastic way to speed up writing at a computer—or any kind of computer work. And since there are hundreds of individual keyboard shortcut commands programmed into your PC or Mac, we’ve compiled a list of our top 27 keyboard shortcuts you can use to write your next project quicker and more efficiently.

Now, put finger to QWERTY… and begin!

How to Use This List

  1. Choose the shortcuts you’re actually going to use. Unless you’re some kind of savant (or a robot from the future!) memorizing the commands for all 27 of these keyboard shortcuts will take you quite a bit of time. In the meantime, choose four or five that will be the most useful in your day-to-day writing, and memorize them.
  2. Use the shortcuts often! These commands are meant to save you time and effort—and they can’t do that if you have to consult this list every time you want to use a shortcut. Using these shortcuts often in your work will build muscle memory, and allow you to use multiple commands automatically, saving you time and headache.

27 Great Keyboard Shortcuts for Writing and Editing

Editor’s Note: The commands on this list are for PCs, but almost all of them have equivalent keystrokes on Macs; simply substitute the ⌘ key for CTRL and the command should work as advertised.

1. CTRL + A: Select all

A favorite of mine for editing huge blocks of text. If you want to copy the entirety of a document, or change its typeface or font size, this is infinitely quicker than click-dragging your cursor across a 7-page document.

2. CTRL + C: Copy

Copies the selected item to your clipboard.

3. CTRL + X: Cut

Deletes the selected item from the text while copying it to your clipboard. Useful for moving things around on a document, instead of click-dragging.

4. CTRL + V: Paste

Inserts the copied item from your clipboard. Text will be inserted in its original format.

5. CTRL + F: Find

Opens a tab that allows you to search for any instance of a word or phrase in your document. You can also use this tab to replace any instance of this word or phrase with something else. I use this for finding and replacing “crutch words”—words and phrases I rely on too much in my writing.

6. CTRL + P: Print

Quick-prints whatever document you’re working on using your default settings.

7. CTRL + F2: Print preview

Opens a preview of your printed document and allows you to change your print settings before you pull the trigger.

8. CTRL + S: Save

Do. This. Often. No sense losing hours of work to a power surge or unexpected crash just because you forgot to save—and with a keyboard shortcut, it’s never been simpler!

9. F12: Save As

Save a new version of your document under a new name.

10. CTRL + Z: Undo

Erases the last change made to your document. Entering the command multiple times will erase multiple changes in the reverse order of which they were made.

11. CTRL + Y: Redo

Reinstates a change erased by the Undo command. Entering the command multiple times will reinsert multiple changes in the order in which they were made, until there are no more changes left “undid.”

12. CTRL + B: Bold

Bolds selected text, or un-bolds text that is already bold.

13. CTRL + I: Italics

Italicizes selected text, or removes italics from italicized text.

14. CTRL + U: Underline

Underline, or removes underline from, selected text.

15. CTRL + L: Left-justify

Left-aligns selected text or images, or whatever paragraph your cursor is currently on.

16. CTRL + E: Center-justify

Centers selected text or images, or whatever paragraph your cursor is currently on.

17. CTRL + R: Right-justify

Right-aligns selected text or images, or whatever paragraph your cursor is currently on.

18. CTRL + J: Justify

Distributes selected text and images evenly between the margins, giving your document crisp, clean edges.

19. CTRL + N: New

Opens a new document. Also opens a new web page.

20. CTRL + SHIFT + MINUS: En-dash

Inserts an en-dash (the shorter dash used in ranges of numbers or dates, like this: 200­0­–2018). Note: this only works when you’re using the minus sign on a numeric keypad, not the minus on a laptop’s number bar.

21. CTRL + ALT + MINUS: Em-dash

Inserts an em-dash (the longer dash used to separate phrases—like this). Note: this only works when you’re using the minus sign on a numeric keypad, not the minus on a laptop’s number bar.

22. CTRL + ALT + C: ©

Inserts a copyright symbol.

23. CTRL + ALT + T: ™

Inserts a trademark symbol.

24. CTRL + ALT + R: ®

Inserts a registered trademark symbol.

25. CTRL + ALT + E: €

Inserts a euro symbol.

26. CTRL + ALT + F: Footnote

Inserts a footnote at the bottom of the page, linked to the word your cursor was currently nearest to.

27. CTRL + ALT + H: Highlight

Highlights selected item.

Make Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts

These 27 shortcuts are all great additions to any writer’s repertoire, but this list represents only the most commonly used key commands in your word processor’s toolbox. There are thousands of possible shortcut combinations available to you, including hundreds of insert-symbols.

Fortunately, Microsoft Word allows writers to make their own keyboard shortcuts for functions they use all the time, and even lets them substitute their own key commands for Word’s default combinations.

For instance: Say you’re writing a story where a bilingual character sprinkles Spanish words into their dialogue occasionally. You want to be able to easily insert tildes over your Ns, but the default command for this requires you to use an ALT key command—in this case, ALT + 165.

That’s a bit ungainly, especially if you’ll be using it often. But by customizing your keyboard shortcuts under the Options menu, you can find the Ñ symbol and choose a new combination of keystrokes to insert it.

And better yet, you can even choose to save this new keyboard command for just one document, making the setting “local” instead of “global.”

And so, to save you time and effort, here’s our step-by-step guide to making your own customized keyboard shortcuts on Microsoft Word.


  1. Click File, or enter the command ALT+F.
  2. Click Options, or press T, to open the Word Options Dialogue Box.

customize keyboard shortcut

3. Click Customize Ribbon to open the Customize the Ribbon and Keyboard Shortcuts Menu.

customize microsoft word shortcuts ribbon

4. Click Customize at the bottom of the dialogue box to open the Customize Keyboard dialogue box.

microsoft word custom settings

5. In the Categories box, select the appropriate category that contains the item or command you want to change. For instance, if you want to create a shortcut to insert a Ñ, scroll to the bottom and select Common Symbols.

6. In the Commands box (directly beside the Categories box), select the name of the command or item you want to change. If you’ve selected Common Symbols in the Categories box, a list of symbols to insert should appear in the Commands box. Scroll down until you find Ñ, and click it.

how to assign a custom keyboard shortcut

Assign a Keyboard Shortcut

To assign a new keyboard shortcut to a particular command, do the following:

  1. Position your cursor in the Press New Shortcut Key
  2. Enter the combination of keys you want to assign to your new shortcut by pressing them in order. Begin your shortcut with either CTRL, ⌘ (if you’re on a Mac), or a Function key.

Note: If the item or command you are customizing already has a keyboard shortcut assigned to it, that specific key combination will appear in the Current Keys box. If the keyboard shortcut you are attempting to enter is already assigned, choose something else.

  1. Click the pulldown tab marked Save Changes In, and choose whether you want to save your new keyboard shortcut for all your documents (click Normal) or just for your current document (click the name of your document).
  2. Click Assign in the lower left-hand corner of the dialogue box to complete assigning your keyboard shortcut.

Remove a Keyboard Shortcut

To remove a keyboard shortcut from a particular item or command, do the following:

  1. Click the pulldown tab marked Save Changes In, and select whether you want to remove the shortcut from all your documents (click Normal) or from the document you are currently working in (click the name of the document).
  2. Select the Current Keys The current keyboard shortcut or shortcuts for your item or command should appear there.
  3. Click the keyboard shortcut you would like to remove.
  4. Click Remove at the bottom left of the dialogue box to complete removing your keyboard shortcut.

Writing takes up enough time as it is—don’t make your work harder than it has to be by going the long way around. Use these keyboard shortcuts—along with the new ones you’ve customized—and you’ll be writing faster and more easily in no time!


And for more quick and easy tips for boosting your productivity, these articles are just what you need:

Assemble Your Street Team: How to Mobilize Your Fan Army to Promote Your Books Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:40:07 +0000 what is a street team

Whether you’re publishing your first novel or your fifteenth, a great launch is critical to the success of any book.

But sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.

So what went wrong? Maybe groundswell wasn’t there. Maybe your marketing didn’t go far enough. Maybe your launch party wasn’t as well-attended as you’d hoped. But for whatever reason, your novel seemed to fizzle when it hit bookstore shelves instead of explode.

If you want to avoid this fate in the future, you need a street teama group of dedicated and enthusiastic fans who band together in support of your writing.

Why Your Next Book Needs a Street Team

The concept of a street team originated with smaller music labels’ efforts to promote punk and gangsta rap in the days before digital music sales, They got groups of organized fans to “hit the streets” to promote their favorite artists, handing out demo tapes and promotional materials at their local music stores, concert venues, and in their neighborhoods.

You can apply this same structure to promote yourself and your books. When organized correctly, a literary street team can be a truly mighty promotional tool, bringing to bear the strength of word-of-mouth marketing to boost your visibility in markets you never could have tapped into on your own.

Still not convinced? Check out our top 3 reasons why building a street team can raise your profile in the literary world, and make your next book’s launch an explosive success:

1. Groundswell

Say your debut novel hits bookstores one month from now. Your main goal for the next 30 days should be to get the word out.

In order for your book’s launch to be the success it deserves, you need as many people as possible to know about you and your book. You need groupies. You need butts in seats at your launch party. You need advance review copies (ARCs) of your book in friendly hands.

You need a grassroots revolution centered on you and your novel—and assembling a street team is the perfect way to get started.

Much like the punk rock groupies of yore, literary street teams can build groundswell by handing out promotional materials—in this case bookmarks and fliers—as well as by posting reviews and book recommendations online, requesting your book from their local libraries and bookstores, and simply talking up your novel via word of mouth.

2. Cost-Effective Marketing

If you didn’t have a street team the last time you released a book, you probably spent way too much on marketing.

Street teams are extremely economical marketing tools simply because you don’t pay them. By putting avid fans to work spreading the word about your book, you save money and reap the benefits of commanding an army of loyal and enthusiastic spokespeople.

Consider the concept’s origins: the small music labels and music acts of the ’90s started using street teams to promote their albums because they couldn’t compete in a market dominated by the bigger labels. Since they couldn’t afford to pay their “street soldiers,” they rewarded their helpers’ efforts in other ways—with concert tickets, backstage access, and facetime with their favorite new musicians.

You’ve probably got swag you can give your loyal helpers, too—bookmarks, event tickets, merch, and signed copies of your books—but what your fans really want from you doesn’t cost you a cent…

3. Access—or, the Benefits of a Few Stalkers

There’s a good reason street teams are also commonly referred to as “reader groups” or “fan clubs.” No matter if you’re using a mailing list, Facebook page, or author web site, you can leverage the same platform you use to organize your street team to hobnob with your fans.

After all, a good book can forge a strong bond between readers and the authors they love. Your readers want to know you, and know more about you—and you, benevolent superstar that you are, can reward the hardworking members of your street team with access to you and to your writing process.

Be social with your fans. Talk to them online. Answer their questions. Comment on their fan-fiction. Ask them for ideas for names of characters, poll them on what your hero should do in a sticky situation, post small selections of works-in-progress where only your superfans can read them.

Do what you can to cultivate a cult of personality, and engage your public on as many fronts as possible.

The end result of all this?

Not only will you expand and engage your fan base… not only will you raise your profile in the literary community…

..but your fans may recommend your book over another simply because they feel like they know you.

how to create a street team

Some Assembly Required

Ready to put a street team to work promoting your next book, but aren’t sure how to get the ball rolling?

Never fear! Our proven 4-step system will talk you through every phase of the process, and you’ll have a legion of loyal fans talking up your next big novel in no time.

1. Create Your Hub

Every street team needs a homepage. This can be an invite-only Facebook group, a special add-on to your author page accessible only by login, or something unique that you come up with. The point is that it shouldn’t be visible to just anybody—after all, exclusivity is part of the reason people want to join your team in the first place!

Think up a catchy name for your team—ideally something that doesn’t have to do with just one of your books, so you can use the page for multiple “campaigns.” Some examples include bestselling author Jennifer Probst’s Probst’s Posse, or you could take the name of a group from your fictional world, like The Council or The Fellowship.

No matter how you organize your team, make sure you add a clear description to your page! Tell your team members what the page is for, what they’ll be asked to do—and, most importantly, what goodies they can expect to get in return.

2. Start Close to Home

When you begin building your street team, choose your founding members carefully. These chosen few will be largely responsible for setting the tone and culture of the team, so you’ll want them to be as closely aligned with your goals as possible. Family members and close friends make good ground-floor volunteers, and you can build your base from there.

3. Craft Your Welcome Package

Never send your street team out in the field unarmed!

Once you’ve assembled your founding members, send each one a welcome packet. This should include:

  • A “Badge”: Some physical indicator of exclusive membership. This can be a signed bookmark, a wristband, or even a literal badge.
  • Instructions: A list of tasks your footsoldiers can do to help promote your book, like writing reviews, tweeting about your latest project, or requesting that libraries near them purchase your book.
  • Promotional Materials: Any physical objects your street team members can hand out to help spread the word. Think fliers, bookmarks, postcards, or even single-sheet samples of your writing.

4. Stay On Top of Things

Organization is the key to maintaining an effective street team. While your fans are out on the street, you need to keep tabs on their progress. If you have a website, tracking your site metrics can be an excellent measure of your team’s accomplishments.

Consider using weekly challenges or random drawings to encourage your fans and keep them accountable at the same time. And always keep a spreadsheet with each street team member’s up-to-date contact information.

BONUS ROUND: Create Your Own Affiliate Program to Sell Your Books

Before you run off to start rounding up your street team, consider this:

If you assemble a strong street team, you’ll already have an army of helpers promoting your book. Why not put them to work selling it, too?

You can accomplish this using an affiliate program: a system that pays a commission whenever somebody recommends your book—and that recommendation results in a sale.

Affiliate programs are a wonderful system for boosting your sales, and participation encourages your street team by rewarding hard work with hard cash.

And the best part? After you set up the system, very little work is required on your part… or theirs. All your affiliates need do is host a link to your book catalogue on their own webpages, and if another user clicks that link and buys your book, the system pays a commission (determined by you—either a percentage of the sale or a flat rate) to the affiliate.

While dozens of affiliate networks and platforms exist, we recommend ShareASale for authors thanks to their low startup and transaction fees.

In addition, ShareASale provides merchants on their platform with a variety of integrated services that can help establish and build your affiliate program, including instructions for recruiting campaigns, promotional ad banners, and affiliate tools like videos and widgets.


Still hungry for more information on promoting your books? Take a gander at these articles:


Sustainable Reading and Publishing: How You Can Do Your Part to Help the Environment Tue, 13 Feb 2018 16:11:33 +0000 what is eco-friendly publishing

Is your love of books hurting the environment?

Don’t get me wrong—we at TCK Publishing love books. We wouldn’t be doing what we do if we didn’t!

But part of our responsibility as citizens of the planet is to be aware of when things we love might have unintended consequences.

If you love to read, I’m guessing you also value knowledge, truth, and a commitment to doing the right thing—even when it’s not easy.

Books are amazing things—they allow us to peer into others’ thought processes or imaginations; share our dreams, visions, goals, and insights; and transform the world around us through education and stories.

Whether in print or digital form, books are magical.

They have some downsides, though, especially in printed form.

how books affect the environment

The Environmental Impact of Print Books

Did you know that more than 2 billion books are printed in the United States alone each year?

Creating all those books requires more than 30 million trees. That’s enough trees to fill 37,000 football fields—that’s almost 60 square miles, or nearly the size of Washington, DC.

how many trees are used to make books every year

And paper manufacturing is the third-largest user of fossil fuels worldwide, requiring significant amounts of oil and gas at many phases of the process of turning trees into books.

Now, this would all be fine if every book that was printed was read, enjoyed, loved, and passed on to someone else.

But that’s not at all how the book industry works.

The sad truth is that around 10 million of the trees that are killed to create books die in vain each year, because the books end up getting destroyed instead of read.

What Is Pulping?

When a traditional large book publisher decides to release a book, they estimate about how many copies they’ll sell, and then add a margin of error.

This is because they want to take advantage of economies of scale by printing lots and lots of books at once, bringing the cost per copy down to a dollar or less.

Most of the time, though, those tens of thousands of copies don’t all get sold.

Sometimes books are left in the publisher’s warehouse, never even ordered or shipped to customers. These completely unused books may be remaindered, meaning that they’re sold to a specialty business that discounts them and sells them to consumers.

If you’ve ever shopped the discount area at Barnes & Noble, found a former bestseller on the rack at a dollar store, or gone to a clearance bookshop that sells some new, marked-down books, you’ve run into remaindered books.

These books aren’t contributing to landfills or waste problems—they’re still being read and enjoyed, just at a steep discount.

But what about the books that left the publisher’s warehouse and went to bookstores?

That’s where we run into problems.

If a bookstore can’t sell its copies of a book, it’s entitled to request a full refund from the publisher.

However, shipping books is expensive—so instead of sending the books back, bookstores often rip the covers off and send only those back to the publisher as proof that the book has been taken out of circulation. In other cases, they rip off the cover and send the now-unsellable book back.

Either way, that book can now never be sold, because it’s so severely damaged.

Those damaged books are then pulped: ground up, mixed with certain chemicals, and recycled into paper for other uses.

This is better than just tossing them in a landfill, of course (especially since more than 25% of the landfill waste in the U.S. is made up of paper products!)—but it’s still not exactly “environmentally friendly.”

The paper recycling process involves a lot of power (typically generated from coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuel sources) and also a lot of chemicals like bleaches and solvents meant to break the paper down so that it can be cleaned, processed, and made into new products.

That’s right: every year we’re destroying more than 16,000 truckloads of books—enough to fill both the British Library and the Library of Congress twice—that were never even read once.

how many books are destroyed every year

And that means about 10 million trees are killed each year for no good reason other than “that’s the way we do things in the publishing business.”

Is that really how we want to do things?

green, sustainable, eco-friendly publishing company

What Can Be Done to Make Books More Environmentally Friendly?

Take a deep breath, fellow book lover. All is not lost!

It’s still possible to enjoy books and reading, no matter what format you prefer, without contributing to this problem.

1. Try Digital Reading

The easiest way to stop the destructive cycle of overprinting and pulping is to choose to read in digital format.

iPads, Kindles, and other e-reader devices do have a carbon footprint and an environmental cost (including the electricity necessary to charge them up)—and it can be a big one. However, studies have shown that the more you read on an e-reader, the lower the environmental impact.

So basically, if you’re an avid reader and want to help the environment, you’re best off switching to reading ebooks. Reading 60 or more books over the lifetime of your Kindle or iPad makes it more environmentally friendly than reading the same number of print books.

2. Choose Sustainable Book Options

Some of us, though, just have to have our print books. There’s something about the feeling of holding a book, turning the pages, and smelling that new-book smell that can’t be matched, no matter how convenient or environmentally friendly ebooks are.

Thankfully, there are sustainable options for print book lovers!

Support Your Local Library

The most sustainable option for the print lover is the library. Because the books are lent out and read time and time again, the resources that went into making a book are maximized when you use the library.

Used Books

Used books are another great option. If you want to build your collection at home instead of borrowing books from the library, considering buying gently used books from your local bookstore (especially if you can walk there!) or from an online used book seller.

Many local bookshops also have book buy-back programs, where they’ll give you store credit if you return your gently used, pre-read books to the store for their used book section. This is a fantastic way to keep books out of the landfill and to ensure that they’re passed on and loved…while getting to fill your shelves some more!

After you’ve finished reading a book, please consider using one of these buy-back programs or donating it to your local library, Goodwill, or another charity that will ensure the books are read and enjoyed again instead of being thrown in the trash.


If you simply must have new print books, consider choosing books from publishers that use print-on-demand (POD) technology like we do at TCK Publishing.

This is a more sustainable publishing option than what huge traditional publishers use for new releases.

Instead of printing tens of thousands of copies in the hopes that they’ll all sell, then destroying 30-40% of those books, publishers can use POD to print only the books that have actually sold to customers.

Basically, when a customer places an order, the publisher’s supply chain kicks into action. The order is passed on to the printer, which creates the book on special high-speed digital presses. The finished book is then packed and shipped, using a minimum of excess packaging, straight to the buyer.

The process uses relatively eco-friendly dry inks (instead of the sometimes toxic wet inks used in traditional mass-run printing) and it reduces waste to nearly nothing.

Better still, many POD suppliers are making significant efforts to “green” their processes and supply chains.

Many POD suppliers are committed to recycling as much of their facility’s waste as possible (and they produce significantly less waste per book than a traditional printer). Several, like Ingram, also have key sustainability certifications, like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the Forest Stewardship Council. These certifications help ensure that the printer is dedicated to responsible management of our tree and forest resources—the groups that provide the certifications help protect against illegal logging, promote tree-planting initiatives, and work for fair industry wages.

Other POD suppliers are working to incorporate more recycled materials into their supply chains. For instance, the books we publish are printed on heavy, aesthetically pleasing paper that is made of 30% post-consumer recycled content.

If you’re not sure if a book you’re considering is environmentally friendly, you can check the front and back of the book—on the first or last few pages, you may find the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Forest Stewardship Council statements or logos, or you may find a statement about the amount of recycled paper content in the book. Not all publishers who do practice sustainable printing do this—it’s not a necessary badge and some printers and publishers prefer not to use the extra pages or ink.

You can also contact the publisher directly to ask about their environmental practices. If it’s a small publisher, you’ll often get a prompt, personal response. Large publishers like the Big Five may not respond, but you can look for a corporate responsibility statement online that may give you some of this information. Just search for “publisher name + corporate responsibility”.

The TCK Commitment

We’ve made a commitment to reducing our environmental footprint and being good stewards of our planet. At TCK Publishing, we believe loving books means loving our planet, too!

We publish all of our books in digital format and encourage people to download and read on their favorite devices—you don’t have to buy a new iPad or e-reader to read an ebook; you can read it on your phone or laptop using the Kindle app or other free ebook reading software. That reduces the need to create new gadgets and ship them all over the globe.

We also offer our print books in a more sustainable format, using 30% post-consumer recycled content in most. And all of our books are printed using high-quality on-demand digital technology, reducing the ink, electricity, paper, and overall carbon footprint required to produce a book.

Our books are only printed when they’re ordered, so we’re not destroying millions of books every year because of a miscalculation in ordering or a disappointing book launch.

We want you to enjoy a great book that can change your life.

We also want to preserve and protect this wonderful world we live in.

We believe in giving you a choice of what to read and how to read it, and we want you to feel good about the books you buy.

Here’s to reading sustainably!

Eco-Friendly Publishing at a Glance

eco friendly publishing infographic all about environmentally friendly publishing

For more on how you can make a difference in your world, read on!

Kate Sullivan
Kate Sullivan
As TCK Publishing's managing editor, Kate handles everything to do with words: book acquisitions, developmental edits and author support, blog content, and more. She's got experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.

In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!



How To Write a Fight Scene: 6 Hard-Hitting Rules for Violence in Fiction Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:43:47 +0000 how to write a fight scene

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
— Mike Tyson

Every good story needs conflict—and nothing screams conflict quite like a fistfight.

Because, hey, fights are exciting! That’s why westerns end with shootouts and duels at high noon, and why superhero movies wind up with dudes in tights leveling CGI cityscapes as they punch each other into oblivion.

Negotiations can be boring. Moral debates can get confusing. But violence—oh, that’s the universal language. The minute somebody decides to throw a punch, the stakes and sides are clear. Adrenaline starts pumping, blood starts flowing—and your readers are happily along for the ride.

So why is something so simple to read so complex to write?

6 Essential Techniques for Writing Violent Scenes

Writing fight scenes has always been a bit of a sticky wicket for your garden-variety fiction author. Most (myself included) have never actually been in a fight, much less a bullet-riddled showdown with twenty well-armed insurgents, or a brawl with a war-crazed super soldier. And yet, that’s the exact kind of experience we’re tasked with simulating for our readers.

What’s the tender-hearted writer to do?

Lucky you—we’ve got your back. Catch an eyeful of our top 6 rules for crafting blockbuster fight scenes, and get a taste of why they call fighting “the sweet science.”

1. Keep It Simple

Life comes at you fast. So does a karate chop to the throat.

Despite what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon might have taught you, fighting is not anything like ballet. Real-life fights usually don’t last any more than 30 seconds or so. They’re ugly, dirty, unchoreographed—and above all, quick.

While the temptation to lovingly describe every bone-breaking blow is powerful, the way you write a fight scene should reflect the wild, frenetic pacing of a real fight.

This means simple language. Direct language. Active voice, strong verbs. Short sentences—or sentence fragments, if you feel like it. In a scene where characters are beating the tomato juice out of each other, each sentence should feel like a punch in the teeth—or a knife in the neck, or a bullet to the shoulder.

However, that’s not to say that you should use such choppy language exclusively. Fights can ebb and flow like any other scene.

Consider using your language to slow down a particular moment in the encounter—like if a character’s hand gets slammed down on a hot stove, and we hear the flesh sizzling. After so much fast-paced action, a “slow-motion moment” can put a “cap” on a great fight, and make it stand out in readers’ memories.

2. Serve Your Story

Something a lot of inexperienced writers forget is that fight scenes are just that: scenes. They get so wrapped up in the punching and kicking and biting that they forget to tell a story in the process.

But the fact is, unless your fictional scraps move your narrative forward, they’re just unnecessary violence.

Fights should be plot points. What are the stakes going into the fight? Why are the characters fighting? And what will happen if a particular character wins or loses? What new situations does the fight’s outcome create, and what new information can your readers learn?

And that’s not all. Not only should your fight scenes serve your story, but each fight can actually tell a story in its own right. A fight has a beginning, middle and end, and follows a character trying to overcome obstacles—in this case, a formidable opponent—to achieve a certain goal.

Of course, it can be tricky to actually convey a sense of narrative in an action scene. Most people don’t stop and chat during a fistfight. So how do you tell a story using only kicks and punches?

The key here is escalation.

What starts as a simple physical conflict can end almost in a battle of wills and wits, with both parties constantly trying to figure out how to gain the upper hand. Maybe one character grabs a weapon, or tries to cheat, or uses a dangerous technique she isn’t really comfortable with. Not only do these escalations inject narrative elements into your fight, but they can demonstrate what your characters are like when their backs are against the wall.

3. Fight in Your Genre

Not all fight scenes are created equal.

Some are quick and dirty. Some are flashy and choreographed. Some are gritty and brutal, while others are almost artful—more of a dance than a fight. Some are one-on-one duels, some are sprawling war-zone battles, and others pit a few key characters against a horde of grunts.

Fight scenes take many shapes, and what shape a fight takes depends a great deal on genre.

For instance: A climactic showdown in a sword-and-sorcery novel is going to read a heck of a lot differently than a gentlemen’s pistol duel in a 17th-century historical romance. One’s going to feature a healthy amount of spell-slinging, while the other might end anticlimactically with a backfiring flintlock blowing off somebody’s hand.

Certain conventions are pretty well established for most genre fights, and audiences will find it painfully distracting if your middle-grade schoolyard bully antagonist busts out some legit kung fu moves against the protagonist.

Of course, genre conventions are meant to be broken. Don’t let limitations get in the way of your creativity. Feel free to have a broadsword fight in your western, or a superpowered brawl in the middle of your spy thriller. Just be prepared to back up your decision to do so with some logical explanation—or some serious star power.

4. Treat Violence Like Dialogue

Writing a fight scene? Want to give each blow a little extra oomph?

Three words: react, react, react!

Writing a fight scene shouldn’t just be a play-by-play account of each punch and kick. Remember that most people won’t come to blows without significant emotional impetus—fights are hot-blooded, passionate affairs, and your writing should reflect that.

Treat every fight scene like a conversation—one that uses blows instead of words.

Don’t just have a character get kicked in the teeth, describe his reaction! How does he react to pain? To the sight of his own blood? If he breaks a finger punching somebody’s jaw, does the agony distract him, or give him focus? What if he starts losing the fight? Does he panic, or reconsider his strategy—or fly into a berserker rage?

Make every elbow-drop and head-butt more than an attack. Make them responses, rebuttals, retorts, manifestos of purpose. Remember: when your characters decide to quit yakking and talk with their fists, they never really stop communicating.

5. Consider Your Deeper Goals

As soon as one of your characters throws that first punch, ask yourself: Why is she fighting?

Or even better: What does she want?

In any physical conflict, winning the fight is only a surface-level goal. If every fight scene serves the narrative, then it stands to reason that every fight should serve your characters’ goals in some way.

Consider adding an alternate “win condition” to a fight. Maybe victory isn’t about your character defeating her opponent, but to buy time for her friends to escape… or to claim a valuable object her opponent is guarding… or to cause a distraction or disturbance.

And never forget the emotional reasons for a fight! In this case, the question isn’t so much Why is she fighting? but Why does she fight at all?

By this reasoning, a fight scene can be a character moment as well as an action beat.

What if your character fights not to win, but just for the thrill of combat? Does she enjoy the rush of adrenaline, or just inflicting pain—or receiving it? Maybe she fights to distract herself from a painful memory… or to prove her courage—to somebody else or herself… or simply to feel something other than an overwhelming numbness.

So by all means, use fight scenes to satiate your readers’ thirst for blood—but never forget to satisfy your characters’ needs as well.

6. Do Your Research

Like I said before: a lot of writers lack actual combat experience, and this is where a bulk of their problems with fight scenes come from. Their fights come across as too choreographed, too over-the-top, or too silly, and none of the punches have any real weight to them.

But this is understandable: How can you be expected to accurately render physical conflict on the page if you’ve never thrown a punch?

Thankfully, you don’t have to go out and actually fight somebody to learn what fighting is all about. Like any writing topic, this is a chance to do your research. Sit in on a martial arts or self-defense class. Watch a boxing match or an MMA cage fight. Find footage of real street fights on YouTube.

Or, perhaps best of all, look to the silver screen. Chances are, no matter what kind of fight you’re trying to write, there’s a movie out that features an action scene that’s at least a little similar, if not downright comparable.

There are plenty of Top 10 lists for fight scenes in all genres, including television and animation. Fight scenes in Japanese animation can be particularly useful for inspiration, as the pacing of the fights usually allows for more emotional storytelling—even if the action itself is pretty overblown.

A little research goes a long way. Even if you’re writing an epic fantasy showdown with magic and medieval weaponry, injecting even a touch of realism can give your fight some much-needed street cred.

What about you, authors at home? Have you ever written a fight scene? What are your “forbidden techniques”—and where do you go to look for inspiration? Let us know in the comments section!


And for more hard-hitting tips on finding inspiration for your writing, check these out: