Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Alex J. Cavanaugh on the Insecure Writers Support Group

Have you ever felt insecure as a writer? You’re not the only one. Today we’re sitting down with Alex J. Cavanaugh to discuss the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, an online community of writers that provides encouragement and advice to one another.

1). How would you describe Insecure Writer’s Support Group to those who are not familiar with it?

It’s a safe haven for writers at all stages in the process. We began as a monthly blog posting before founding the website, which is the database of databases of all things writing related, plus there are weekly articles from experts. We also have a Facebook group where members can share and help one another, plus an Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads book group. We also hold an anthology contest and host #IWSGPit on Twitter.

2). How long has IWSG been operating?

The blogging began on September 7, 2011 (ten years ago!) and the website was founded the following year. The site has been named a top writing site by Writer’s Digest, The Write Life, and UK Writers Club.

3). How many members do you have?

Bloggers – 150, Twitter – 10,900, Facebook – 4,800, Instagram – 1,180, Goodreads Book Club – 440, and following the website – tons!

4). What kinds of writers can we find in IWSG? (Traditionally or indie published, unpublished, specializing in certain genres over others, debut or seasoned authors, etc.)

It’s a total mix, which is perfect as there is always someone one step ahead who can offer advice. But otherwise, we are all equal here.

5). In your opinion, what can writers who participate in IWSG expect to get out of the community? What purpose / benefit does IWSG serve for writers?

They will get support, encouragement, advice, find critique partners and editors, help with marketing, maybe land a book deal, and all while learning along the way.

6). Does your IWSG exist only online, or are there physical branches as well?

No physical groups, although you can own a piece of the IWSG from our swag store – https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-merchandise.html

Bonus question: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

One who is still moving forward, still growing, and still finds joy in writing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design and graphics and is experienced in technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Find more at http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com and https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

How does a book publicity firm decide which authors to represent?

Many writers dream of publishing a book, but few realize that publishing is just the first step in a dynamic journey of getting your book in front of–and loved by–readers. Our book publicity firm Books Forward has represented more than 700 amazing authors during our 20 plus years in business, and a question I hear frequently is “How do you decide which authors you represent?”.

We are so lucky to hear from incredible authors every day interested in using our services. While we wish we could help everyone (seriously, I’d love to help every writer fulfill their biggest book dreams!), we have to be selective about the authors we represent for a number of reasons. And with thousands of books launching daily in the U.S. alone, I want to share our selection process with writers so they can make the smartest, best choices before querying publicists for representation.

Our team at Books Forward choose the authors we represent by asking ourselves the following questions:

First and foremost, are we excited about the book? As avid readers ourselves, we love great books, and we read a lot of them! Our team has diverse reading tastes, so we embrace a variety of genres and content, but across the board we are looking for books that pull us in and keep us hooked.

Do we see specific ways to promote this book to its target audience, and help it stand out among the competition? We want to help our authors reach as wide an audience as possible, but we also want to help them reach their specific target audiences–aka the readers who gravitate towards (and are engaged enough to buy) this specific type of literature. The better we understand a book’s target audience, the better we are able to help get that book into the hands of fans.

Does our team have experience in this genre? Can we bring our A-level expertise to this project? We always want to bring our best to every project. We’ve worked with all kinds of authors in almost every genre, and our publicists and digital strategists each specialize in different areas. We always consider if we are a strong match for a campaign, and if we’re not, we may refer authors to another firm. We’re always transparent about the best options for them and their books!

Will the author be a partner in publicity? We bring a vast amount of work and expertise to every campaign; however, publicity is a partnership. We are looking for authors who will be available for interviews, open to writing guest articles, active on social media and willing to promote the book to their own networks. We want our books to succeed, and author participation is essential for establishing a brand and a loyal readership.

Will the author have awesome goals, but also realistic expectations? After more than two decades in the publishing industry, we have seen (and continue to see!) publishing evolve constantly. The industry is more competitive than ever, and we seek to partner with authors who understand that the promotional tactics that worked even just 1-3 years ago may no longer be as effective. Our best clients are those who are open to trying promotional strategies that are innovative and out-of-the-box, as well as tried-and-tested publicity tactics.

Is there a budget in place for publicity and marketing? If they are indie publishing, are they willing to work with a book-specific editor and designer to get the book into the best shape possible? While we always seek to find promotional solutions that work within an author’s specific budget, quality publishing and promotion requires both time and money. A book is, in many ways, a product–and cutting corners reduces the quality of the product, as well as its ability to reach its target market. We look for authors willing to invest time and resources to publish and promote their book, so that together we can give each title its best chance of success.

And lastly, does this book help move the world forward? Here at Books Forward, we want to represent books that elevate voices from a diverse group of authors, break barriers in the publishing industry and convey a story that will resonate with readers. We’ve been fortunate to work with so many authors who are doing just that–and we are thrilled and grateful to continue representing incredible, innovative authors for years to come.

I hope this helps you on your journey to publishing and planning promotion for your book!

This post originally appeared on https://www.teenink.com/ in July 2021.

Marissa DeCuir is the president and partner of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing. As a former journalist, she’s always looking for the best hooks to utilize in author publicity and book marketing and believes in taking a personal and strategic can-do approach to help authors reach their goals.

Making the most of a festival appearance as an author

Attending a festival or book event as an author can seem intimidating, especially if it’s your first time. But it can be so much fun, and hugely helpful to your writing career! As things (maybe) start to be in-person again, here are some tips to help you make the most of your time.

Before the event

  • Connect with previous attendees: ask them what they enjoyed last year and if they will be there again this year.
  • See if the event has a list of people who will be there this year, and reach out to anyone you’re excited to meet and tell them just that. Try to set up a time to meet for coffee or something similar.
  • After registering, see if there is a panel or discussion you can take part in. If you don’t see one, email the organizer to let them know what you can speak on — it can’t hurt to try!
  • Look at the schedule of events ahead of time to plan your days. You will likely not be able to do everything, so you want to maximize your time.
  • Check the social media hashtag for the event and engage with fellow attendees.

During the event

  • Have an elevator pitch for your book. You are likely to meet a lot of people and not spend a ton of time with each of them, so you need to be able to sell yourself quickly.
  • Bring lots of business cards, bookmarks, postcards or other swag that people will hang on to! Networking is likely to be one of the most valuable things you can do at a book event.
  • Get contact info from people you meet or speak with, when appropriate, so you can follow up with them later!
  • Support your fellow authors — buy their books, join their mailing lists and talk with them! They’ll likely want to support you as well.
  • Share photos and videos from the event on your social media – allowing your readers to follow along with you!

After the event

  • Follow up with anyone you met with, thanking them for their time and referencing something specific you spoke about if possible. Make sure to have a link to your website in your signature, and encourage them to reach out if they have any questions about your book.
  • Post recap photos to social media – and tag the appropriate people, publishers, etc. in them.

Eight bookish podcasts to check out on International Podcast Day!

Happy International Podcast Day! As readers, we don’t just read books — we also participate in tons of extracurricular activities involving books. We talk about books, join book clubs, look for great reviews, and writte as well.

One of the biggest ways we discuss books is through podcasts, and not only are there shows about specific books, but there are podcasts on books for your radar, book club podcasts, and even writing podcasts for authors. There’s a little bit for every reader and author on this list, so I hope you give one a listen.

All the Books at Book Riot

If you want to keep up with what’s new and cool in the bookish world, then All the Books from Book Riot is your go-to. With new episodes every week, the hosts share what’s new and trendy that’s being published. With expert recommendations, you’ll definitely keep abreast of what’s publishing at all times.

The Stacks Podcast

If you’re looking to join a book club without the stress of going to meetings, hearing expert author interviews, or discovering books you may not have heard before, then The Stacks Podcast may be the one for you. Offering everything you’d need to be as prolific a reader as you can be, the Stacks Podcast hosted by Traci Thomas has it all.

The Maris Review

If you’re a fan of listening to author interviews, then this is the podcast for you. Hosted by Maris Kreizman, the podcast features some incredible authors of today, includes exciting topics to discuss, and learning a little bit about the authors we all so love and adore.

Minorities in Publishing

Unlike the other podcasts on this list, Minorities in Publishing discusses the deeper and wider expanse of publishing. Specifically, it discusses the diversity (or lack thereof) in publishing, sharing interviews with publishing experts and authors and their experiences within the publishing industry.

Deadline City

Hosted by YA authors Zoraida Cordova and Dhonielle Clayton, get a look into the process of creating a book, expert author interviews, and learning what it’s like to be a popular writer! If you’re an author trying to get your book going, this podcast may give you the encouragement you need.

Beyond the Trope

If you’re a fan of SFF books, then this is the podcast for you. With interviews from today’s greatest SFF authors, you’ll not only find new books to read but completely unraptured by why these authors wrote these books. It’s a great way to dive deeper into the writing process, especially for those massive SFF worlds.

Black Chick Lit

If you’re looking for more diversity in your reading life, check out Black Chick Lit. This bi-monthly podcast covers not only books written by Black women, but also about Black women. Discussing some of the latest novels from BIPOC authors, these two intrepid hosts dive deep into the themes and stories that shape Black women’s narrative in modern literature.

Books and Boba

If you’re looking for a book club that focuses on the Asian American community and experience, look no further than to Books and Boba. With monthly book picks, author chats, and more, the hosts of Books and Boba covers all things coming out from Asian and Asian American authors. Find some great new reads, listen to some interesting author conversations and immerse yourself in the world of Asian American writing.

Here’s Why Guest Articles are Important for Authors

How to Use Guest Articles to Build Your Author Brand

Developing your author brand can feel like a long and confusing process. It’s difficult to know where to begin or what to focus on. After all, there are so many options—countless avenues to explore! It may help to start with something you, as an author, are already familiar with: writing.

What are guest articles, anyway?

You may have experience blogging regularly on your website or sending out email newsletters to your subscribers. While these are important and worthwhile strategies, this isn’t quite what we’re referring to when talking about guest articles. A guest article (or guest post) is usually any piece of writing an author produces that is published on a third-party hosting site—a medium (website, newsletter, magazine, etc.) that does not belong to the author.

Most hosting sites will want first-publication rights for an article, meaning they want content that was written exclusively for them. So, unless they specifically approve a reprint or an excerpt, any article you submit should not have appeared anywhere else before, in print or online.

In addition to first-publication rights, most sites are looking for the following in an article:

  • Originality. What are you saying that hasn’t already been said?
  • Expertise. Why should you be the person who says it?
  • Timeliness. Why does this matter now?

You may feel limited by this at first—especially if you’re used to blogging on your own terms—but there’s actually a lot of flexibility here! The term guest article is really an umbrella category that encompasses a wide array of content, from casual blog posts to formal op-eds.

How do I find the right media outlet to share my article?

Researching the right outlet to approach will take a bit of time. While there’s no one-size-fits-all method for finding a perfect match, you can narrow your focus by considering a few key elements, each of which relates to your author brand:

  • Style. Do you prefer a more casual or formal style? What adjectives would you use to describe your writing?Newspapers usually feature academic, journalistic, opinionated, and of-the-moment pieces. Blogs, digital magazines, and niche newsletters often share more laid-back, relatable, humorous, or specialized articles from guest authors.
  • Audience. Who do you want to reach? Who could benefit from hearing your message?If your article offers writing advice, it would be wise to contact magazines and websites that cater to fellow writers. If your topic is highly specialized, try pitching specific publications that reach readers in your field of expertise.
  • Message. What topics do you feel passionate about? What conversations are you always having with friends, colleagues, and fans?You don’t need me to tell you that your message is a huge part of your brand. You likely have a few main themes that come up in your writing, or several talking points you lean on during interviews. That being said, while it’s important to have cohesive messaging, it’s also OK to branch out into new territory every now and then. Follow your passion and your interests!

How do I pitch a guest article?

First, double check to make sure the media outlets you want to approach publish articles from guest authors. Read a few pieces and take time to explore the outlet. Confirm it’s a good fit for you in terms of style, audience, and message.

Second—and I cannot emphasize this enough—check for submission instructions! Newspapers, magazines, and blogs often have their instructions clearly listed on their website. Submission requirements vary from outlet to outlet. Some may want to see a full article already written, whereas others may prefer to see a list of potential topics you can write on. It’s important that you adhere to these guidelines in order to have the best chance at success.

Third, follow up. Unless their guidelines say otherwise, it should be OK for you to check in if you don’t hear back within a week or two.

How do guest articles benefit me as an author?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Guest articles do require some heavy lifting from you as a writer, but you’ll certainly reap the benefits! These articles are designed to help you:

  • Reflect your expertise. You’re an author, and that means you’re an expert, both in terms of writing craft and the topic you write on. Publishing articles can help you secure your place as an authority in your field.
  • Reach a new audience. Getting your writing published with a new media outlet exposes your work to a new audience, connecting your message directly with readers who may not have heard of you or your book yet!
  • Get your name in front of readers. This is obvious, right? Publishing guest articles is especially helpful for authors who are between book releases and want to keep their name on readers’ radars in the interim.
  • Improve your SEO. If you’re able to link to your website or social media accounts at the end of your article, that can help improve your search engine optimization! Once your article is published, you can also link back to it on your website. This way, you’ll be driving traffic in both directions.
  • Help others. One of the many goals of writing is to help others. So, share your expertise and wisdom—make the world a better place!
  • Become better acquainted with your message, passions, and talking points. While you’re helping others, you’re also helping yourself. As you dive deeper into your favorite topics and begin to crystallize your message, you may find it easier to do various other authorial tasks, such as answering interview questions or writing social media posts.

At the end of the day, guest articles shouldn’t feel like a dark cloud looming over you. They are a fun opportunity to play to your strengths, explore your interests, connect with new readers, and solidify your branding. And, since they don’t necessarily need to be published around your publication date, you can start writing articles and pitching them anytime. Why not now?

Video games spark author’s creative passion and inspire debut novel

To celebrate National Video Game Day, Books Forward author Mark A. Alvarez II is dishing on how one popular game became the catalyst for his creative pursuits and ultimately led to the 10-year endeavor of crafting his first novel.

“Why defy your fate?”
“Is the will to live that powerful..?”

These are words from the ending of “Final Fantasy IX,” the first Final Fantasy game I ever played and the first ending to any story to make me cry. I still remember it so clearly, watching every scene, listening to the score, feeling so moved by the words that came across the screen. It mesmerized me in such a way, it’s hard to forget.

To this day, I’ve yet to come across a game that has affected me as much as “Final Fantasy IX” (which is soon to have its own animated series). Granted, I was 8 when I first played and beat this game, but the ending to this game and the story overall would impact me long after that as I became more and more obsessed with the themes it exposed to me.

I know this might seem unlikely or rather unheard of, but the day I watched that ending would shape me as a writer more than anyone could ever know. But come on … a video game? How does that even happen? What can a writer learn from a video game, especially a budding one at the tender age of 8?

Even if I didn’t know it at the time, that game would sow the seeds of inspiration I needed to explore the darkest parts of myself, the parts of my life I struggled to face alone. This story spoke to me for reasons I was oblivious but obviously drawn to. And it did so with brilliant writing, a colorfully immersive world and an amazing score — among the best of any game I’ve ever heard.

Which brings me to “Dutybound: Light Wings Epic Vol. 1,” my debut novel. In reality, I started writing this story in 2009. But the story’s conception started long before that, while I was a kid fantasizing about building my own world, my own fantasy, my own game with a story as compelling as that of my favorite role-playing game.

Originally, I imagined Light Wings as a video game, inspired by “Final Fantasy IX.” I drew storyboards. I wrote character profiles. I even fleshed out roles, abilities and weapons for each of my characters.

Little did I know this would be the foundation I would build “Dutybound” upon. Pieces of this imaginary game would become the backstory as I introduced a new generation of characters by my freshman year of high school, the year I started writing my first draft of what was then called “Light Wings: Sinful Wishes,” desiring a fresh take on the philosophies I so eagerly sought to understand.

The connections between “Final Fantasy IX” and “Dutybound” lie in the themes they present and how each applied to my distinct outlooks and philosophies of life. 

“Final Fantasy IX,” as light-hearted as it is, dealt with some of the darkest topics to be explored in a Final Fantasy game. It posed questions of life and its purpose as many of the game’s characters had to come to terms with their creation and, ultimately, the finality of a death that was inevitable.

Its ending theme, “Melodies of Life,” presents something similar: a song about grief and loss that illustrates it as something bittersweet rather than tragic and all-consuming.

As an 8-year-old, I had already faced two near-death experiences. First, as a newborn and then as an infant when I was shot in the face by my younger brother. It’s no surprise why I would be drawn to these themes. Even if I didn’t quite understand them, they resonated because in those tight moments within my childhood, when things felt the most dark and hopeless, I often wondered why I survived those experiences. I pondered whether my life held a purpose because I was born into a life that felt nothing more than a series of mistakes. My birth, potentially, being one of them.

In truth, I was born of infidelity. My mother was unfaithful to her husband and had a son, a fatherless child, who was given a name that should have not been his. My younger brother was Mark Aaron Alvarez’s true-born son. Mark Aaron Alvarez II, however; I was a bastard. Nothing more, nothing less. At least that’s what I believed at the time. Despite this, it was in not knowing that second half of myself that I found myself exploring new possibilities and seeking to define my place, my destiny, and my purpose.

“We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever… To remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason — that our life has meaning.”

As I began to construct my somber tale of light and dark, I faced these challenges within myself, seeded by the imaginative and epic game that filled me with so much inspiration. I had to come to terms with aspects of my life I could not change, while also finding meaning in these events, as unfortunate as they may seem. Not knowing my real father or lineage. Being born of infidelity. Feeling like a mistake. Surviving tragic events that in some ways made my life feel meaningless. These issues, along with everything else, is a lot for a child to process. And in hindsight, I can say “Final Fantasy IX” was my first escape. Its story was the first I ever felt truly connected to. 

The game was an accessible way for me to cope with issues I didn’t quite understand, while my writing became a medium for me to explore my own doubts and fears about living in a world where I felt I had no place. A world where I felt alone. Where I could not find answers within my favorite video game, I sought to answer on my own, within a story, world, and fantasy I created, my second escape.

“What to do when I felt lonely, that’s the only thing you couldn’t teach me. But we need to figure out the answers for ourselves.”

“Dutybound” is a unique story, but it is also a personal one. My ego played no part in writing it. I didn’t write this story because I wanted to write a best-seller or be seen as an incredible writer, or even pitch it as a video game. The Light Wings Epic was written as a personal journey of introspection, as a means to come to terms with an unpredictable and turbulent life. And it would not exist if I never played “Final Fantasy IX” or been exposed to those themes of life, death and finding a purpose.

And for that, I’m immensely grateful. Because it was in not knowing that I found myself stumbling into something incredible, discovering that life is more than the circumstances we are born into. Our lives and our light come from the inside, from our own convictions, from our own choices. We will always hold the ability to choose the way we’d like to live our lives. And our choices will always be intricately connected to the things we desire most out of life. 

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t have a choice. I had to live. I wanted to come back to you. So… I sang your song. Our song.”

Did your book’s publication date shift? Here’s why that’s OK

I, for one, hate change. I’m a planner and a list-maker, and switching gears makes me dizzy. Checklists, deadlines and color-coded markers are the backbone of our society, sure, but when plans change, it’s better to adapt than to fight it out.

Why do publication dates change?

Publication dates can shift for a variety of reasons. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in every case, your team may suggest a date change because they believe your release would be more successful on a different day. Your team knows that publishing a book is more often a marathon than a sprint. While detours may add a mile or two to the journey, they can also better prepare you for crossing the finish line.

Here are a few common reasons for moving a book’s release date:

Production Delays: From editing and designing to printing and shipping ARCs, a lot of work goes into production, and there are often several eyes and hands working on a book all at once. A thorough publishing process opens up the possibility for delays. Editors often factor time into their schedule for a few things to go wrong. Even so, if a snag is hit in one department, it may cause others to fall behind too.

Unforeseen Circumstances: The pandemic is one of the most monumental unforeseen circumstances we’ve encountered in a while. Due to its impact on travel, many books that had planned in-person book tours had to adjust their schedules. To see some of the hundreds of altered publication dates, check out this spreadsheet from Publishers Weekly.

Competition for Media Attention: Say the planned publication date for your book was set for Election Day, or a similarly newsworthy date. As the day approaches, and you realize the impending media frenzy, your team may decide to move your release date out in order to give it a better shot at securing publicity.

Catching the Trend Wave: Book releases can also shift to earlier dates on the calendar! Typically, this is because your team is looking to capitalize on a seasonal or topically relevant trend that would help your book reach a larger audience.

How to make your date change work for you

If you haven’t begun promoting the book yet, it will be relatively easy to make a radical change, should you choose to do so. You can switch from a summer release to a fall one, for example, which was the route many publishers chose in light of the pandemic.

Or, if you’re simply recovering from a small production delay, your date may only shift back one or two weeks. In any case, let your publicist know about your date change ASAP, if they aren’t already in the know. This will be important as they begin to create press materials and organize their outreach to the media.

What if promotion has already begun using the old date?

If you’ve already begun promoting the book, a date change may feel a bit more stressful. Rest assured, though, it’s still manageable!

First, you’ll need to let your publicity team know ASAP about the new date. Your publicist may need to update interested media contacts, and they’ll want to have the correct information for their pitching moving forward.

Plan to spread the word of your date change on social media–here is where a pinned tweet may come in handy! A pinned tweet allows you to showcase one tweet at the top of your profile page, so it won’t get buried at the bottom of your feed over time. Pinning a tweet about your date change will make sure that it stays on your readers’ radars. If you’ve never pinned a tweet before, here are some helpful tips from Business Insider.

Also, be sure to make any necessary changes to your website and Twitter and Facebook banners. You may need to have new graphics made accordingly.

If you are using an email newsletter to keep friends, family, and fans updated, you should send out a special announcement of the date change as well.

What if readers forget about my book or lose interest due to the delay?

This is a valid concern, but it’s equally possible for the delay to translate into added anticipation for the release!

When in doubt, get creative: ask yourself what you can offer to readers that will be sure to keep your book on the forefront of their minds. This will likely look different for every author depending on your audience’s needs, but here are a few options to get you started:

You can plan a special giveaway in the interim, such as offering free signed bookplates to your audience. Or, you can set up a FB Live chat for your would-be pub day, where you play a few games and answer questions from your followers.

In the end, publication days may change, but our love for a good book never will.

 

How to Create the “Perfect” Writing Schedule

As an author (or an aspiring author), you’ve probably felt the pressure to be “more disciplined” in your writing life at some point. Maybe someone told you you should get up every morning and write for two hours before work. Maybe you heard that you should carry a small notebook at all times, and scribble inspiration daily. Or maybe you’ve simply heard other writers wax poetic about their incredibly regular and productive writing schedules, and thought “I should be more like that.”

If you are one of those writers who already has an incredibly disciplined and productive writing schedule, we would warmly invite you to continue doing whatever it is that you’re doing, because this post isn’t going to help you very much. But if you’re one of those writers who feels like you should have a writing schedule that resembles a well-oiled machine, then stick around, because we’re going to let you in on a little secret.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

The perfect writing schedule doesn’t exist.

But what about all of those incredibly disciplined and productive writers who we just cordially invited to exit this post–don’t they have the perfect writing schedules?

Simply put: no. What they have is a writing schedule that works for them (or so they say). And there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for that.

Writing is highly personal and individual. Your writing schedule should be too.

In a Reddit post (before he published his blockbuster novel The Fault in Our Stars), mega-bestselling author John Green said,

“I think a lot of writers lie about their schedules and discipline. (I know I do.) We do this so that people will think that we are, like, extremely disciplined and hard-working and whatever. I try to write every day (except for when I’m traveling, which is quite a lot of the time) for five hours in the morning, but you may notice that it is morning right now, and I am not technically working on my new story.”

Let’s put this bold: If you try to shove your writing time into a schedule that doesn’t work for you, you will damage your writing time–or worse, you will stop writing.

Here are some questions that will help you design a writing schedule that actually fits you:

  1. Realistically, how much time can you devote to writing each week, after your other obligations, social activities, and (yes this is important) rest time are adequately fulfilled? Maybe you’ll find you can write for five hours per day, like John Green is pretending to. Maybe you’ll find you only have an hour per week, or a couple hours per month. That’s ok. Choose a time slot that fits your lifestyle, because the more realistic you are with the time you have available, the more accessible (and productive!) your writing time will become.
  2. Do you work best when you complete tasks at the same time every day, or when you diversify and adapt your schedule daily? Some people enjoy–and even require–a routine. But others work best when they adapt their daily activities around the demands of each individual day. Variation is a part of life, and that’s ok! The important thing is to be honest about what approach works for you.
  3. Are there little things you can do to reward yourself for a productive writing time–and also forgive yourself for an unproductive writing time? Writing is not always its own reward–it’s hard work! Find little ways to reward yourself for every period of time that you take to write. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up if a writing sesh (or two, or three) was not as productive as you hoped.

The important thing is that you are actively seeking to create workable writing opportunities for yourself–and with time, practice, and a hefty dose of realism and self-acceptance, you will get there!

Interview: Joining Susannah Felts on The Porch

Have you ever wanted to improve your writing through amazing writing classes, participate in absorbing literary events, and meet other fascinating authors, poets, journalists, essayists and wordsmiths? Look no further than The Porch in Nashville, Tennessee. The Porch is a nonprofit writing center, offering workshops, youth outreach, and events to enrich and celebrate the local literary community.

Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch to learn more about what it takes to run a successful writers collective, and how this organization improves not only the individual writing craft of its participants, but elevates the literary community as a whole.

1). What is The Porch? What do you do?

The Porch is a nonprofit literary arts organization, founded in 2014, and our mission is to inspire, educate, and connect readers and writers of all ages and stages through classes and literary events. We offer classes in creative writing year-round, a youth program, public community events, initiatives to expand literary access, local arts partnerships, and the Porch Prize, a writing contest. There’s always something going on!

2). How did The Porch originate, and how did you get involved?

The Porch was founded by myself and Katie McDougall in 2014. We met in a writing group at a moment when both of us were ready for a new challenge, and we shared enthusiasm about the idea of a local literary center for Nashvillle. Prior to founding the Porch, Katie was teaching high-school English and I worked as freelance writer/editor and adjunct college professor. For several years before The Porch came to be, I was also teaching writing workshops in the community on my own, held at a coffee shop near my house (shout-out to Portland Brew East!) or around my dining room table. That small-scale effort was going really well, and I kept thinking, This could be something more, something bigger. But how? Katie had dabbled in offering writing retreats, too. So, together, we made this new thing happen, taking a lot of inspiration and advice from helpful mentors: local arts organizations and established literary centers in other cities.

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like The Porch? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

Writers, like all artists/creators, need community. You may do the bulk of the work alone at your desk, but the sharing of ideas and feedback and resources that happens in a writing community is what really shapes a writing life. So many sparks fly this way. Writers connect in ways that can both move their work forward and help them navigate the waters of the publishing world, if they choose to wade in. Work evolves, lasting friendships are forged, audiences are found. Art is never really forged in isolation. We’ve seen many writers form lasting writing groups and relationships after taking our classes, and we’ve seen them publish and enter MFA programs. This spring we have someone teaching for us whom we first met when they took a class with us. They went on to earn an MFA out of state, and now they’re back! I love seeing the work come full circle. Seven years in, we’ve seen so many writing lives evolve and intersect in wonderful ways.

4). The Porch organizes a diverse array of literary events and initiatives. What kind of planning and work goes into creating your events? What advice would you give to fellow writers who want to successfully organize and/or participate in an event?

I love this question, because a lot more planning and work goes into running events and programs that some may believe! There are several stages and moving parts to even a small event, and all along you’re hoping to build relationships that will continue to grow long after a single event is complete. It takes a lot of love and effort and stamina to program and to keep programs going. Advice? Start small, and give yourself as much time to plan an event as you can. Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but maybe be mindful not to bring too many cooks into the kitchen. But above all, just learn as you go, and know that you’re going to make mistakes and that is absolutely a healthy part of the process.

If you’re eager to participate in an event — for example, to read in a regular reading series — try to be an enthusiastic audience member first. Show up for others, listen to and read their work. Be a genuine part of the world you want to see your work highlighted in, and the rest will probably come naturally.

5). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Being a successful writer means figuring out what feeds your creative spirit and then consistently doing and thinking about those things, then acting on that “source material” to create work that matters to you. I could go on at length about this, but there are all kinds of ways, small and large, that you can shape your life to make it more conducive to writing, and doing that in itself is a kind of success. You don’t have to write every day, but some level of consistency will make a huge difference; as with other practices of all kinds, it pays to use those muscles regularly. Being a successful writer means reading, reading, reading, and learning to see books as your mentors, as Katie always says. Don’t confuse a successful writing life with a successful publishing life; these often intertwine, but they are two separate things. And try not to get too hung up on the idea of success at all. “Success” is such an emotionally loaded concept, and not always a useful one for a creative life. Much of a writing life feels or looks or smells like failure — is failure — and honestly, you have to be OK with that.

Learn more about The Porch here: https://www.porchtn.org
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What is a street team and how should I use it?

As an author, have you ever thought about just how great it would be if you had a network of friends you knew would be dedicated to helping you promote your book? Sound like a fantasy?

Enter the street team.

A street team is a group of readers that help you promote your book, usually the most loyal fans of your previous books, or books in similar genres.

The relationship built between author and team members is beneficial for both parties. Team members will have access to their favorite author (you!) as well as other exclusive content. And as an author, you’ll have a team dedicated to promoting your upcoming book by posting and talking about it to their network of followers and friends — building up buzz ahead of your book’s launch!

How to recruit team members

The first step after deciding to compose a street team is, of course, recruiting members. If this is your first time getting a team together, try and shoot for between 20-50 members initially. More is great! But keep in mind you’ll have to keep track of if everyone is doing their part and promoting on their end. Exclusivity also helps make everyone on the team feel more special as well. A fun way to cement that exclusivity: Consider coming up with a creative team name!

And remember, team members need to be active online. There will be opportunities to promote your book in person — like talking with a bookseller or book club — but word-of-mouth will be most effective online and on social media.

Where to find members

  • Reach out to friends and family who would be a good fit
  • Check in with any beta readers you may already have
  • Go through previous relationships with book bloggers and people who have previously reviewed your book
  • If you’re promoting the next book in a series or a book similar to a previous work, reach out to people who have positively reviewed your book on Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, etc.
  • Announce in your mailing list, newsletter or on social media that you’re looking for team members

Have people fill out a Google Form so you can go through and pick who would be best for the team, or create a form/page on your website where they can enter info. Ask them things like what social media accounts they have, other books they’ve read in your book’s genre, any specific ideas for how they’d like to see your book promoted, etc. Consider keeping a tab on your website where people can request to join and you can consider building up your team for future books.

How to communicate with your team

So how do you keep track of communication with members once you’ve assembled your team? You’ll need to have an online space where all members can have access. Consider creating a private page on your website that only team members can access with a password. Or an easy option: Create a private Facebook page with just you and members — just make sure everyone in your team has a Facebook account!

Wherever you decide to keep team communication, you should make it a goal to post here regularly as well (we know, basically another social media platform!!). But interaction is important: It helps team members get to know you and vice versa. And it builds a great relationship with your team for future releases.

Notes on communication

  • Try and keep content focused around you and your book. After all, the goal of your street team is to promote your work!
  • Organize things like author interviews/takeovers with other authors to cross-promote and provide new content for your team members.
  • Make sure your team has access to any kind of promotional materials, both digital and physical. This could be bookmarks they can pass out to friends or flyers, stickers, buttons, etc. that they can drop off at local bookstores and libraries.
  • And again, exclusivity is important! When making announcements, make sure team members are one of the first — if not the first — group you reach out to and alert of something new. For instance, if you’re planning a cover reveal, your team should be able to see the cover before the general public.
  • You can also consider hosting a special launch event/party with just team members to celebrate all their hard work leading up to your book’s launch!

How to incentivize team members

It’s important to keep your team active and engaged during the book promotion process. The easiest way to do that is to create a challenge system where members must complete a task to receive a special reward, i.e.: After they post about the book on all their social media accounts, they’ll get a sneak peek of a future book excerpt. For bigger challenges/rewards, you can have drawings for prizes, i.e.: If someone gets a book club to read your book, they can be entered for a video chat session with you.

Potential rewards for your system

  • First access to any advance reader copies
  • Early access to extra written content like short stories, prequels,
  • Signed copies of books
  • If they aren’t already, consider allowing them to be beta readers for future novels
  • Sneak peeks at cover and title reveals, excerpts from future books etc.
  • Early and/or exclusive access to content on your author website or blog
  • Bonus book-related content like printable artworks, maps, bookmarks etc.
  • A video chat session with you (or potentially with an author friend as well if you’re working on cross-promoting!)
  • Promotion of your team members’ blogs and social media accounts on your own channels
  • A shoutout in the acknowledgements section of subsequent books

Potential challenges for members

  • Have them leave reviews of your book(s) on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, other bookseller sites, their own personal blogs, etc.
  • Posting Instagram photos (if you don’t already have a hashtag around your book/series, now would be a good time to think of one!)
  • If they have a blog, hosting you for an interview or guest post.
  • Sharing others’ reviews and social media posts about you and your books
  • Sharing your blog posts and reposting posts from your social media accounts
  • Posting shoutouts of you and your book on their own social media channels
  • Talking about and recommending your book(s) to their family members, friends, etc.
  • Requesting your book(s) at their local libraries and suggesting them to any book clubs

There’s no set limit on how often you dish out challenges and rewards, but weekly challenges are a good goal to shoot for. You want challenges to be often enough to keep members active and engaged, but you don’t want to give them too many challenges that they are overwhelmed. Being a team member should be fun — not a chore!

Organize your system in the beginning of your book promotion period so that as the weeks go on, all you have to do is keep track of if team members are completing the challenges. And don’t forget to let everyone know that the rewards are not the main purpose of the team: They’re a way of thanking team members. The goal is to get the word out about you and your book to new readers!