Category Archives: Writing Tips

Interview with Christopher Zoukis, Author of Federal Prison Handbook

Interview with Christopher Zoukis, prison rights advocate and author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

When it comes to those new to professional writing, I would say that you need to read what you want to write and also read a lot about how to refine your craft and market yourself. It’s hard to get going in this industry. But with a lot of time and effort, it is certainly possible to make a name for yourself. The key is in understanding the type of writing that you want to write and how to market your brand within that arena.

As for those who have been in the industry for a while, the game is changing. It used to be that if a book wasn’t published by one of the Big Six that it didn’t stand much of a chance. Now, even if a book is published by a large publishing house, it still might not stand much of a chance. New technologies and avenues of connecting with readers are the wave of the future. Harness these tools, think outside the box, and figure out how to get your expertise (or flavor of fiction) to the end user in a manner that they want. The current era is that of the hybrid author — an author both traditionally published and self-published. There is a strong argument for pursuing the hybrid path in today’s market.

When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

As a writer I feel that I’m an odd sort. I’m all on or all off. So, when I’m all on, I write like my life depends on it. I outline, create a self-imposed quota system, and muscle to the finish line. I’ve found that when working this way it is important to take time off. This is why I try to vary my tasks, and to cycle whenever I can. I go from books to articles to book reviews to interviews and so forth. I also try to build in projects that aren’t writing-related. I work out, play Ultimate Frisbee, and try to schedule a little time each evening to hang out with a friend to decompress.

One word of wisdom that I would offer aspiring book writers (and those who have already published their works) is to really think about what type of book the world really needs. I always have five books in the back of my head. They are all worthy, at least in my not-so-humble opinion. But when it comes to devoting a year of my life to something, I need to select a project that is going to succeed. So, when deciding what to do next, a writer should really think about the reader and the industry. What is missing? What do readers crave? And is there a book that readers don’t even know that they want, but won’t be able to live without once they have it? This is the book that you need to write next.

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

Making money as a writer is a challenge. Most of us will never be New York Times bestselling authors. That’s the truth of it. So, we need to find a way to make our writing work for us and pay the bills. As a nonfiction author, one way to do this is to use your book as a business calling card, which draws attention to your primary product — which may not be your book. Writers who want to live a comfortable life need to plan on not making a whole ton of money on their books, but to structure their books and businesses in such a way that a revenue channel can be capitalized upon.

What books are you currently reading?

I tend to read a lot of school books these days due to being a graduate student at Adams State University. So, typically I’m reading a lot of business textbooks. I just finished a book on organizational behavior last week and am about to start a book on managerial finance shortly.

I also engage in a healthy amount of non-school reading. Right now I’m reading the Magisterium series of novels by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. These are phenomenal books. They remind me a lot of Harry Potter. I’m also reading Journalistic Writing by Robert M. Knight to help hone my craft a bit and Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews to upgrade my fitness knowledge.

Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I try very hard to cycle my projects, because I find that I get burned out very easily. So, the best “get writing” technique that I have is to vary my projects. A close second is to outline and implement a self-imposed quota system. If I’ve outlined a 20 chapter book, then I might push myself to complete a chapter every week or two. Then, after the rough draft is down on paper, I might set a quota of polishing one chapter every week. This quota-based system helps me push myself to project completion. In this respect, I’m very business-like with my writing projects. I like to think of myself as a project manager who needs to ensure that the writing project is done on time, at an appropriate level of quality, and that it fulfills my readers’ needs.

Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

Sure. If you swing by PrisonerResource.com you can check out my Federal Prison Handbook. In this book I’ve tried to answer all of the questions that a new or seasoned federal prisoner, as well as their loved ones, may have. You can also use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.com. This provides readers with a sample of the book prior to purchase.

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Author Interview: Cory Groshek

This author interview arrives in time to help with the new year and all those new projects you want to tackle. Cory Groshek has written the first book in a series that teaches readers young and old how to create abundance.

Breaking Away is a ton of fun with warmth that you’ll feel every time you read and reread this book. Here’s what Cory has to say.

What was your motivation to write this series?

It was the fact that our public schools are not teaching our children what they really need to know to be successful later in life—how to dream big, why risk-taking is necessary, the importance of trusting their gut, and why they should always make decisions based on faith (or on what they do want) and not out of fear (or on what they don’t want).

Growing up, I wasn’t taught any of this, and I really wish I had been, because had I been, I believe I wouldn’t have taken 33 years to release my first book, or to achieve the success I’ve achieved in the last couple years in general. My hope with the Rabylon Series is that it will inspire children (and their parents) to not only dream bigger, but to act on their dreams and thereby see them become reality, as mine have.

When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

I am constantly engaged in deep thought, so while I may take a break from writing to focus on, say, marketing or promoting my work, I never take a break from creativity. I couldn’t shut my mind off or stop its gears from turning even if I wanted to (which I don’t), and I am always brainstorming new ideas for stories, books, blog posts, etc. As such, I keep my smart phone or a notebook handy at all times, just in case I need to write down or text some of my ideas to myself.

Being bombarded with so many ideas all day, every day can leave me feeling overwhelmed at times, but overall I find it exhilarating. I love the warm, fuzzy “rush” I feel when a strange, new thought pops into my head, and I feel very blessed that so many such thoughts dawn upon me, because I know a lot of people who struggle very hard with writer’s block and/or who try (in my opinion) too hard to force ideas, instead of just letting them come to them (as I do).

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone out there struggling with coming up with new ideas (or “fodder”, if you will) for books, stories, etc., it would be this: Be not only open-minded, but openhearted as well, when it comes to the thoughts and ideas that come to you. Don’t worry about whether they are “good” or “bad”—just let them come to you. And when they do, your job is not to judge them, but to simply absorb them (like a sponge), so that you can use them later as the raw material from which you may craft your next story, book, etc. That’s what I do, and it’s worked out great for me, not only in terms of book- and blog-writing, but in terms of general, all-purpose brainstorming as well.

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

The biggest challenge is getting noticed—in “separating ourselves from the pack” or “rising above the noise”, so to say, that surrounds us in this busy world we live in. In Robert Greene’s brilliant book (and one of my personal favorites) ‘The 48 Laws of Power’, one of the laws is ‘Court attention at all costs’—which basically means “do whatever you have to do to get everybody to look at you instead of someone else”—but judging from what I’ve seen, that is far easier said than done.

Today, we are drowning in any ocean of Tweets and ten-second sound bites, and it is much more difficult to “cut through the clutter” and get peoples’ attention than it used to be, especially if you are an introverted author, and especially whereas Amazon.com is filled with millions of self-published books that are really nothing more than glorified blog posts written not for the sake of enriching the lives of others, but for the sake of making a “quick buck.”

The way to solve this challenge—in my opinion—is to stop thinking like an author and start thinking like a shameless self-promoter (as “bad” as that may sound); to start thinking like, dare I say it, a Kardashian. As much as we as authors don’t want to make “it” (this whole “selling books” thing) about us, we have to if we want to be successful. You see, people don’t just buy books these days—they buy the author, just like how people go to see movies because, say, Matt Damon (or whichever actor or actress they love the most) is in them, regardless of what the movie is about.

We as authors need to stop thinking of ourselves as authors and to start thinking of ourselves as brands, like the Kardashians do. While this doesn’t necessarily mean putting out sex tapes to generate publicity for ourselves (although it worked for Kim Kardashian), it does mean thinking outside the box, doing things that other authors wouldn’t even consider doing, and being just as creative with our marketing and promotion of ourselves as we are with the stories we tell in our books.

If you think you’re simply going to throw your new book into the Amazonian Sea of Mediocrity that surrounds us, like it’s some sort of message in a bottle, and have this lead to millions of dollars in book sales, a movie deal, and a billion-dollar net worth like J.K. Rowling’s, then I’m sorry, my friend, but you are sorely mistaken. If you want to be like J.K., you can’t just be a “writer” or an “author” , and you can’t just leave your success up to luck or random chance (which don’t exist, by the way)—you must become a brand (like McDonald’s, Starbucks, or Apple) that people know and love, like they love their cheeseburgers, lattes, and laptops. As for how you can go about becoming such a brand, well, I guess you’ll have to visit my blog, ManifestationMachine.com, for help with that!

WR Note: Anyone who signs up for the blog is going to get freebies!

Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you? 

For me, finding the motivation to write is not about discipline—it’s about knowing, first of all, what I want to write and, second, why I want to write it. If I don’t know the what or the why, then I don’t even bother trying to write, because without the what and the why, then the how (the actual process by which the writing physically happens, or by which the story or book we have in mind comes to fruition) cannot manifest itself. I find that once I’ve got the what and the why down, then the how (the sitting down and actually writing) takes care of itself.

When I hear other writers complain that they don’t have “enough time” to write, it’s not that they don’t have the time; it’s that they haven’t created the time. And if I hear them complain that they find it very difficult to force themselves to just sit down and write, the problem isn’t a lack of discipline—the problem is that they either don’t know what they want to write, or they simply don’t care enough about what they claim they want to write to actually write it (or both). Simply put, if you have clarity on what you want to write and conviction to get the writing done, it will get done—if not, then it won’t. End of story (no pun intended).

Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

My next project is a book I’ve had in mind for the last year or so, which is a self-help book for adults named after my personal growth and development and brand, Manifestation Machine. It will focus upon a metaphysical process (involving what I’ve labeled “The Four C’s”) for achieving our dreams and creating what I call “a life worth dying for” that I’ve personally used to go from a working part-time in a dead-end job, living at home with my father, and being in debt up to my eyeballs to self-employed (doing what I love), living in a fully paid-off house of my own, and having a net worth of over $300,000.

What Children’s Books Can Teach Adult Fiction Authors

The AWP held their annual conference earlier this month. Among their other great offerings was a panel focused on children’s publishing.
One author stated that characters are paramount in children’s and YA stories. The plot comes from the characters. Who each person is in the story creates the story. Each is presented with challenges or obstacles they must overcome. From that comes the different plot points and thus the entire story.
Another point was that there are no pointless characters. If one shows up but never plays an important role, that character should be struck.
A different author noted that “rumination” is part of the story. That is, the characters have to have backstories, histories that detail where they come from and why they’re motivated to act certain ways.
Finally, in response to a question about how to write for the market, one author said to write what inspires you. From there, you can determine how best to pitch and place the work in the existing market.
All of these points apply equally to adult fiction. Characters do create the plot and impact the story. They should have backstories. No character should ever be pointless, and the author should always write what interests them rather than what they think will sell.
The only difference is that in children’s and YA publishing, the author utilizes different language, changes sentence layouts, uses less complex storytelling structures, and of course mostly will write shorter manuscripts.
Everything else is just quality fiction.

Eink on Phones

Midia Inkphone is not the first on the market to offer eink on a phone. It is, however, an indicator that people are reading more on their phones than ever before.

I have been waiting for a device like a phone or an iPad to allow for both internet browsing and eink displays for American readers (both devices now available are for foreign markets). I don’t particularly enjoy reading on a full digital display. It just isn’t the same. And studies comparing the impact between digital reading and reading on the page prove that the brain retains more with print.

So eink is a good midway point. It will help readers engage more with the story or content. It also is much easier on the eyes!

Harlequin’s Cross-Media Project

Harlequin is launching a romance fiction project that reaches beyond print and ebooks. The effort integrates video, mobile and social media. The project is based on a fictional location, the Chatsfield hotel in London, as the backdrop for the stories. Each story will be released on multiple platforms to better involve readers.

After years of self-published authors doing the same on their own, the big publishers are finally taking on the same creative ideas. They are expanding their models to move beyond the traditional print forms and even beyond the digital format. This is about engagement, loyalty, branding and the stories themselves. The stories and characters have to be strong…and all that pushes the focus away from celebrity books or pure fluff and back to the quality that has been overlooked for so long.

Better Action Scenes

Authors know that pacing is impacted by how long a particular passage runs. Often the longer the passage, the more time readers experience passing. There is one important exception: when the scene involves high action or suspense.

In this case, one of the best ways to enhance the writing is to slow down. Focus on the details that a character pressed mentally into a high state of alert will notice, and feed those to the reader. Fear, panic and the awareness of danger tends to make people hyper-sensitive to those kinds of details, so providing them in the narrative will connect readers directly with the emotional tone of the scene.

Put Your Writing First

On a typical day, I work on my own novels and novellas, ghostwrite or revise a business book or novel for a client, edit a memoir or collection of essays for a client, write back cover copy and query letters, research publishing trends, and perform administrative tasks like answering email and filing.

Often fellow authors ask me how I get everything done…but most often they ask how I keep my own novels on track considering that I’m basically working three jobs (writing novels, writing/editing clients’ books, and marketing my own work and the works of clients).

My answer is simple: Do the most important work first. That means I write my own books for the first hour of every day.

The rest of the morning is dedicated to high-level client projects (ghostwriting, rewriting, and editing, all of which require a fresh mind and a sharp focus).

After lunch, I research and market.

By the end of the day, I can clean up all the administrative items like filing that don’t require a lot of mental acuity.

What is your most important task? Put it first!