Those of you that have been following me from the beginning have seen me write a lot about her on my blog, my social media—she’s been with me since shortly after I graduated from college—she’s stayed by my side since the beginning of my writing career and the beginning of my adult life.
Things are rushing along at the speed of time, as you probably could have imagined, so I figured I should stop in and give a quick update on all the things that are going on.
I have my hands in a lot of buckets, all at the same time, apparently.
Bucket #1: Land of Szornyek
I know I haven’t stopped talking about this project since I started working on it, but it’s still kicking! Tentacles and Teeth has been published (March 28, yay!) and I had an excellent promotion that has resulted in a good number of reviews already—hopefully, there will be more to come.
Most of my work on this has been focused on the next two books: City of Dod (Book 2) is currently in production, and Book 3 (Untitled) is being drafted. I’ve also been working on my Patreon, doing updates, illustrations, ordering postcards, that sort of thing—as well as a super secret surprise.
Here is a video update for my Patreon that you can watch:
Bucket #2: Fairy Tales IN SPACE
When I quit my freelance work (did I mention that I did that? I’m a full-time author now. It was back in April. A lot has happened since then lol.), I jumped right into a brand new project. I’ll be releasing a series of fairy tale novellas, all set in space—more specifically, all set in an intergalactic space city called Rove City—sort of my fairytale kingdom in space.
I’m well on the way to being able to release the first one—a retelling of Cinderella (Untitled, thus far), and have two others mostly or partially drafted (a version of Jack and the Beanstalk, and a version of Beauty and the Beast). I’ve already scheduled my cover designer and my editor, so things are looking good!
Bucket #3: Yellow Arrow Publishing
Did you know I’m the Vice President of the Board of Yellow Arrow Publishing? Yup. Also something that’s been in the works. YAP is a local (Baltimore) non-profit that seeks to support women-identifying writers. Currently, we publish a biannual journal, host a reading series, have a writers-in-residence program, and run workshops for writers. We will also begin accepting submissions for full-length manuscripts very soon.
A couple things I’d like you to know:
We have a HUGE event coming up on August 2nd. If you’re in the Baltimore area, PLEASE COME. It’s Literary Night in Highlandtown, and we will have authors at wonderful venues all over town (art galleries, restaurants, bars, etc.) and a live readings by some of our very own, MD-local writers. There will be free books, free food, free alcohol, so bring all your friends, family, children, and dogs!
We need funding! If you are willing to make a small donation, CLICK HERE. (This is pretty much my entire job as Vice President, so you will likely be hearing more from me on this lol.) We are a 501(c)3, so your donation is tax deductible. If you are a business and want to sponsor this event, a future event, one of our writers, or anything at all, or you want to partner with us in some way, email me! ariele [at] yellowarrowpublishing.com
That’s actually all, but I really like things to be in 3s, not 2s :D
Bucket #4: Discord
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Discord chat platform (mostly for gamers) but I’ve been running a server made entirely of writers and authors! If you’d like to join, let me know. We run sprints, talk about writing, editing, marketing, publishing, and all kinds of things, and we’re always looking for people that want to participate. We have trad- and indie-published authors, writers that are just working on their first manuscripts all the way up to those who have a good number of books published.
Bucket #5: Workshops & Conventions
A newish thing I’ve been doing is running workshops and speaking at conferences. I co-ran two workshops with YAP in January and February, spoke at the Eastern Shore Writers Conference in March, and ran two workshops with the Maryland Writers Association Montgomery County Chapter in May and June. I have three workshops with YAP planned for this fall, and will be speaking at the Hallowreads Convention in Ellicot City in November. I’ve also been doing Conventions—Awesome Con in April, GalacticCon in June, and Shore Leave coming up here in July.
Bucket # 6: Life
And of course, life stuff in general keeps going, regardless of whether my books get written or not. Josh is in business school right now, we spent a lot of money on getting our roof fixed; next up, we are dealing with drainage issues in our yard (hurrah for landscaping!). We went to visit my parents for a weekend, and Josh’s parents, aunts & uncle, and sister & boyfriend also came to Baltimore to visit. My mentor passed away (I’m a little sad she won’t get to read this—she loved getting all my blog post updates), so I made a whirlwind trip to NH for the service in the middle of everything. But Josh has a nice, long, 6-week break coming up in August, so I’m looking forward to having a little time to breathe.
Honestly, when I type it all out, it sounds exhausting, but the truth is: I’m loving every second of it.
Anyway, here’s a picture of the dog.
Thanks for listening :) <3
Welcome to the blog of Ariele Sieling, author! If you would like to learn more about her, click here to sign up for her newsletter. She also offers publishing and marketing consulting services. Click here to learn more.
We authors are at war. We have at our disposal the books we write, our author network, and a few tools that may or may not work, depending on the day or the time or the mood of the universe as a whole. We are fighting for the attention of a few—100, maybe 1000 people that love our work, our words, our stories. But we have to compete for their attention against life in general, the entire internet, all of television, and every other book that’s been written (just to name a few things).
In addition, each of us is just one author, with a finite number of tools, a finite number of hours, and a finite number of dollars to use in the war to reach the hearts and minds of those people that are going to love our books. But too often our marketing feels like we are just flinging paint against the walls and hoping that it makes a picture.
So how do we decide exactly where we are going to spend our time and dollars? What do we invest in?
How do we build one, holistic, marketing strategy that we can use to keep us on track, moving forward, and overcoming all odds in this crazy world of modern publishing?
The short answer is: I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of the “strategies” that are out there, aren’t really strategies. They are tactics. Single activities. Once-in-a-lifetime strokes of luck. I might not have a solid, single, answer, but I do have some suggestions.
1. Decide your endgame.
Whenever I ask people, “what’s your goal as an author?” I usually get back the same answer from everyone: I want to make money. I want to pay a few bills. I want to send my kids to college. I want to be able to quit my job. My response to that is: YES. I KNOW. THAT’S WHAT WE ALL WANT. If that’s what you’re trying to do, then write and publish as much as you can as fast as you can, and then invest in paid advertising. If that doesn’t sound like the way you want to live your life, then reconsider your endgame. What else do you want? What is your ultimate goal as a writer or author? If you die, and never make a cent on writing, what do you want to achieve?
Here are a few examples:
I want to have one TRUE fan that loves everything I write.
I want to create resources for teachers to help improve the XYZ part of children’s lives.
I want to leave my story behind for my grand kids.
I want to fill an item on my bucket list.
I want to increase diverse representation in literature.
I want to write a TV series.
I want to run a personal training/SEO/cooking/consulting business.
I want to start a movement.
I want to write body and sex positive books.
I want to tell the stories of a particular demographic of people.
I want to help other people achieve their goals.
Whatever your endgame is, this will determine the choices you make as you piece together your marketing strategy. Every activity you participate in, every marketing choice you make—it should always point back to this.
2. Determine your objectives.
As I said, we are fighting a war. So what do you need to accomplish in order to win the war? That depends on what you’re trying to win, what your endgame is. Hopefully you’ve got that figured out.
Objectives should be reasonable, specific, and measurable—you need to know when you’ve accomplished it. But at least in this war, making deadlines for objectives is optional.
If my endgame is to conquer the United States, my objectives might look like this:
Invade New Hampshire.
Win New Hampshire.
Or maybe it would look like this:
Attack east coast with fleet of ships.
Send troops down over the Canada/US border with tanks.
Send bombers over midwest to weaken farms and supply lines.
I don’t know—military strategy is definitely not my thing. But let’s take a closer look at author marketing strategy instead. If my endgame is to increase diverse representation in literature, I’m going to focus my time and efforts in two areas: first, I have to write books with diverse characters (so I’ll create a strategy for that, but that’s writing, not marketing). Second, I have to get my books into the hands of people that want to read about diverse characters.
So who do I think will want to read my books?
Objective 1: Determine my target audience.
Once I know who to target, then I need objectives to keep myself on track and moving in the right direction.
Objective 2: Get 100 pairs of (new) eyes on my books every week.
Once I know for a fact that lots of people are seeing my books, I have to draw them in.
Objective 3: Create a sales funnel.
Once they’ve been drawn in, I have to keep them around.
Objective 4: Create audio/visual experiences that enable my readers to invest more emotional energy into my books and my worlds.
I could go on like this for a while. These objectives are HARD to write. Impossible, sometimes. And honestly, I’m not sure there are right or wrong, good or bad objectives. It’s all about what works for you.
Let’s try another example. Say your endgame is that you want to provide resources for teachers to help kids learn math.
In this scenario, you already know your target audience: teachers. And getting 100 teachers to look at your books every week seems like a bit of a stretch. Besides, in order to get buy-in from teachers, you don’t just want them to see your work, you want the opportunity to get up close and personal with them.
Objective 1: Build a network of teachers that are interested in your product.
Once you’ve found the teachers, you have to convince them to at least try your work.
Objective 2: Create a sample product that you hand out for free for teachers to use.
Teachers are now actively engaging with your work. How do you get them to buy the curriculum?
Objective 3: Approach principals and superintendents and offer discounts for bulk sales.
Now you have your books in a few schools. How do you get them to keep using it, and wanting more from you?
Objective 4: Schedule school visits, trainings, and conferences to connect teachers with ongoing support and resources.
Objectives are the things you need to accomplish in order to reach the endgame. You can have as many or as few objectives as you want. Maybe you start with two or three and add more as you go. Maybe you write down a few, hate them, and try something else new later. Whatever works—I’d say, just get started. Once you’re moving forward, it gets harder and harder to stop.
3. Develop your tactics.
Tactics are different than objectives in that objectives are what you are trying to accomplish and tactics are the actual actions that you take. When I really, truly understood the difference between objectives and tactics, that’s when my marketing completely shifted. Tactics are the things you do to make the objectives happen.
Let’s pick an easy objective to begin with: Get 100 (new) pairs of eyes on my books every week. This is something most marketing plans probably have in common (if not 100 eyes, then 10 or 50 or 500). Basically, you need to reach your audience. It’s a flexible objective too, one that you can grow or pull back on, depending on life circumstances, luck, resources, etc.
So, what tactics can we brainstorm to get 100 eyes on our books every month?
post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc.
make a Youtube series about your book or topic
put your books in Free Little Libraries
donate a copy of your book to your local library
go to comic cons, book signings, craft fairs
paid ads (Facebook/Amazon/Bookbub)
start a word of mouth campaign
put out new books
get people to sign up for your newsletter
go on a blog tour
pay for impressions
do a giveaway
post on Wattpad
make book trailers
get a short story in an anthology
build a website/Google ads
make a video game
get on a podcast/start a podcast
do radio/TV interviews
pay for a billboard
put flyers on cars
make a banner and have it dragged behind an airplane
For this particular objective, I could brainstorm hundreds of ideas. Pretty much anything you do out where people can see you will get at least one or two pairs of eyes on your books.
So how do you decide what you do and don’t do?
I have a few suggestions.
First, brainstorm this same list for every objective you wrote down. If one tactic appears as a suggestion for multiple objectives, try doing that.
Secondly, look at your time/budget allotments. If you can’t afford something or don’t have time to do it the right way, high quality (remember everything you do represents your brand!), don’t do it.
Third, if there is anything on that list that you hate doing, don’t do it. Why bother? Why be miserable—isn’t it hard enough to make a living as an author? Pick stuff that sounds kind of fun, instead.
Fourth, if you’ve tried something before and it was terrible and didn’t work, don’t do that either. Or at very least, come back to it with a different approach.
Let’s do another example: Approach principals and superintendents and offer discounts for bulk sales.
Here are some tactics to consider:
reach out to teachers you know, and ask if they can put you in touch with their principal
go to teacher or administrative conferences and network with principals/superintendents
send out cold emails or make cold phone calls to principals/superintendents in your area
pay for a vendor table at a local event, a school event, or a conference
pay for Google ads/Amazon/Facebook targeted at principals, teachers, and superintendents
make videos of you demonstrating your technique, and post on Youtube (with the appropriate keywords attached)
build a website and post a blog with information about the technique, math, etc.
start a podcast where you talk about your technique and other techniques
This one is harder to brainstorm for (especially since I write science fiction, not math curriculum), but if you just spend a little time with each of your objectives, you’ll be able to come up with a good number of items. If it were me, I would never cold call (because I hate talking on the phone). I probably would make a video series, because I have the skills to do that. And I would probably be a vendor at events, because I like talking to people face to face.
Whatever tactics you choose should always point back to an objective, which should point back to your endgame. If you do this, you’ll never sit around wondering, why am I even doing this? You’ll know exactly why. As you get more involved with this sort of planning, you can start to add layers—hire people to do some of the work for you, improve your methods of measuring what tactics work and don’t work, learn where is best to invest actual dollars. And you won’t get so caught up when a tactic fails, because you’ll have a plan, and know exactly what to do next.
And hopefully, before long, your marketing plan will be chugging along, and carrying you with it.
4. Get started.
Don’t wait until you have a perfectly thought out, perfected marketing plan. Seriously. Don’t wait. Start now. The longer you wait to get started, the less time you’ll have to enact all parts of the plan. We all have limited hours, days, minutes, so don’t wait.
A couple of extra thoughts on book marketing for authors:
It’s work. It’s hard. I hear/see a lot of authors complain about how it’s not working, or ask for the easiest ways to market their books. If you want to be a career author, then you have to be all in on the marketing as well as the writing, whether you’re trad published or indie.
If you go through this whole thing, get to the end, and think, “I don’t want to do all this. I just want to leave a legacy, or cross an item off my bucket list, or leave behind a book of memories for my grand kids,” then do that! Don’t worry about all this other nonsense. Write the book you want to write, and give it to your grand kids. Or cross it off your bucket list. Or donate it to your library. Put in exactly the amount of work you want to put in, and not a bit more.
This might not work for everyone. It’s not a hard and fast system. It’s just an idea, a suggestion, a guide. Do what works for you, ignore the rest. If anyone ever tells you that their way of marketing (or writing) is the only way, or the best way—they’re wrong, and just trying to pull one over on you. Do what works for you. The people that go viral are the people whose approach to marketing is as unique as they are, as unique as the content they produce. Be unique. Take your natural creativity and apply it to your marketing.
I have lots of other thoughts on this, as I’m sure you could have guessed, but I’m going to stop here for now. Sign up for my newsletter, email me any questions you have, comment below if you have any thoughts. If you don’t like the system, forget about it and find a different one. And good luck.
Today, enjoy this guest post on writing from my good friend and colleague, Zoe Cannon.
A few years ago, I read this series of posts about the stages every writer goes through. The posts had some interesting insights, especially about what really matters on a page-to-page and paragraph-to-paragraph level in any given story (hint: it’s not the words), but for the most part, these stages didn’t match either my own experience or what I’ve seen other writers go through. I didn’t give it much further thought, until recently, when I found my own relationship to my writing changing. I started thinking again about writing stages and whether there really was any kind of path that all writers follow. Of course there are no true universals—no two writers experience writing quite the same way—but when I looked at my own personal experience, what I’ve seen in various critique groups, and the lessons and life stories of writers far beyond me in skill and experience, I was able to see some definite commonalities.
Stage 1: It’s About the INSPIRATION.
You love to write. And when you don’t love it, you don’t write. Writing is about that glorious feeling of flow, where you see the story unfolding in front of you in your mind’s eye and the words pour from your fingers almost effortlessly. When that feeling stops—you hit a difficult part of the story, or you’re not sure where to go from here, or you’ve made it through your whole first draft but when you reread it you discover that it doesn’t get your story across nearly as well as you had hoped, or maybe your creative well has just run dry for the moment—you walk away from the story. Maybe you go through creative bursts followed by periods of not writing at all, or maybe you flit from new idea to new idea, chasing whatever calls to you at the moment.
Most people stay in this stage. You’ll hear a lot of people maligning this type of writing, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with staying here if you don’t have any goals for your writing beyond having fun. All the other stages involve pushing yourself to write even when the inspiration isn’t there, and if all you’re after is a way to keep yourself entertained and let off some creative steam, then why force yourself to keep going when it’s not fun? It’s a lot harder to finish a story if you don’t move beyond this stage, but a finished story doesn’t necessarily have to be the goal. If you just want to play, then let yourself play, and don’t worry about the rest.
Nevertheless, most people generally won’t consider someone a “real” writer—whatever that even means—until…
Stage 2: It’s About the STORY.
You have stories that you need to tell, and you’re willing to slog through the not-fun parts of writing in order to make that happen. Maybe you have that one great idea that you’ve been trying to get down on paper for years. Or maybe you’re bursting with more stories than you could write in a lifetime, and have no idea which one to work on first. Either way, getting the story onto paper is worth pushing yourself through the times when you don’t feel inspired, because now the story matters more than the feeling of inspiration.
This is when many writers start establishing goals and routines—something external to push them forward when the inner motivation isn’t there. Maybe you decide you’ll write every day. Maybe you get up half an hour early and write before you do anything else for the day, or write on your lunch break, or after your kids have gone to bed. Maybe you set a daily quota of words to write, or tell yourself you can’t watch your favorite show until you get an hour of writing done. Maybe you participate in NaNoWriMo (this is what pushed me out of Stage 1).
Most writers, unless they prefer to focus on short stories or have a deeper-than-average well of inspiration to carry them through Stage 1, finish a major project for the first time here. Some writers stop there; they had one story to tell, and they’ve told it. Others keep going. Some writers learn to revise here; for others, that doesn’t come until Stage 3 (ahem, looking at that writer in the mirror with the 5+ untouched first drafts from her stint in Stage 2). Either way, finishing a project is an amazing feeling, not only because you’ve accomplished a major goal, but because of what your stories mean to you. They’re your babies; they’re pieces of you set down on paper. Which is why it can be so nerve-wracking to send them out into the world. And that brings us to…
Stage 3: It’s About the REACTIONS.
You’ve started sharing your stories with the world. Or maybe you were already sharing what you wrote back in Stage 1, but the stakes are higher now. Because you don’t just want to write anymore—you want to succeed at writing, whatever that means to you. Maybe you just want to learn how to polish a draft until it tells the story you want to tell, but this stage is when most writers start thinking about publication.
You join a critique group, and studiously revise your story based on their notes. You try to eliminate adverbs, and give every character a flaw, and follow all the other rules you learn about as the wider world of writing opens up to you. You write and rewrite with the goal of getting positive feedback—a “this is much better than the first draft” from your critique group, “good” rejection letters (the ones that come with a personal note instead of just a form letter), a publishing contract.
If you do publish a story or several, whether traditionally or by putting your books up for sale yourself, this stage doesn’t end there. Now success—or failure—is measured in average star rating on Amazon, number of newsletter subscribers, followers on social media, the size of your royalty checks. I think this is the most stressful of the stages, because it’s so dependent on things you have only limited control over. You live for that five-star Amazon review or the notification that you have a new subscriber. If the numbers aren’t as high as you expected, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. If you get a one-star review, you consider revising based on the reviewer’s feedback, or completely changing your plans for your next project, or maybe giving up on writing entirely.
A lot of writers give up here, disillusioned. You thought your story was good when you put it up for sale, but despite all your marketing efforts, it’s only selling one copy a month at best. Or you’ve collected dozens of rejection letters without a single personal note to show for it, let alone a publishing contract. Or you haven’t even gotten that far, because no matter how many times you tweak the story, your beta readers keep finding problems. Even if you find success here, however you define it, you might start feeling burned out by the efforts to make sure your growing fanbase likes your new book as much as the next one, or to keep your sales up so your publisher will buy your next book. But of the writers who persist through this stage, many move on to…
Stage 4: It’s About the PROCESS.
This is where many writers refine their personal process. Or if you already developed a system that works for you back in Stage 2, you lean into it instead of trying to change things up based on advice from your critique group, or the writing guru of the moment, or Joe Schmoe on Facebook who sells more books than you. Maybe you start writing as soon as you get your idea, while it’s fresh, and then write three or four drafts, each one focusing on a different element of the story. Maybe you write page by page, polishing each page until it’s perfect and then never looking at it again. Maybe you use the Save the Cat structure, and like to plan out five scenes at a time but no more than that, and don’t need any high-level revision but have to go over your draft three separate times to catch all the typos and grammatical errors. My own process is a two-part outline (scene-by-scene and beat-by-beat), a first draft, a revision for story and narrative issues, and a line edit. There are as many ways to write as there are writers—more, really, because no writer writes every book exactly the same way. But there’s always one common thread, and that’s what this stage is about.
In this stage, you write a story, and you send it out—mail off your query letters, email your completed manuscript to your agent, upload the files to the ebook retailers, post it on Wattpad, whatever—and then you move on to the next. That’s what this stage is about—the act of writing itself, sitting down at your keyboard every day (or however often you write—in this stage you often no longer need to follow a one-size-fits-all rule like “write every day” in order to write consistently), and starting and finishing and starting again. That story from Stage 2, the one you’ve spent years trying to perfect? You still love it, but it’s out of your hands now, and you’re on to the next thing. That book that sold hundreds or maybe thousands of copies out of nowhere, and you still don’t know why? You pour yourself a glass of champagne and keep working on the next story. That book that got dozens of one-star reviews on Goodreads? You still cringe when you think about it, but you also know it doesn’t really matter, because you’re writing a new story now.
Because in this stage, writing is about the work, not the works. The act of writing, not the finished product. When you sit down and do the work, the finished product takes care of itself.
At this point, you may find yourself outgrowing your critique group—not because you no longer need outside eyes on your stories, but because you’re less concerned with revising to other people’s preferences. You solicit more targeted feedback now, often from carefully-chosen beta readers and paid editors. You might start experimenting with new genres, no longer as concerned with meeting expectations, or you might stop feeling the need to experiment and instead settle into writing the things you know you love.
This is where writers often move beyond the basic skills they learned in Stage 2, and the more advanced, but still universal, skills of Stage 3, to specialize in the things they’re best at or that are the most interesting to them. Some writers focus on building characters that readers connect with, others on prose quality, others on plot structure, others on genre tropes and writing to market.
Sometimes you’ll sit down and the words will just flow out of you, and the story will carry you along the way it did when you were writing purely for the fun of it. You’ll still love all the stories that you write, and every one of them has a piece of you in it (if that’s not the case—if you’re choosing your projects based purely on external factors—you’re in Stage 3). And you’re still putting your stories out there and receiving external feedback (if you’re unwilling to let your stories go, you’re in Stage 2), although you might have stopped reading your reviews and might be checking your sales on a schedule instead of whenever you have a free minute. But the thing that distinguishes this stage from all the others is that you see all of those things as transient. Today’s inspiration will be tomorrow’s slog. Today’s fascinating new idea will be tomorrow’s boringly familiar project. And today you may wake up to hate mail, but tomorrow you’ll more than likely wake up to a five-star review on the same book. The work is the only constant—but the work is all you need.
Zoe Cannon is the author of the Internal Defense series (a YA dystopian series with a dose of realism) and the Catalyst series (genre-breaking post-apocalyptic paranormal-ish YA). She is currently working on an urban fantasy series about a black-ops agent for Hades in the secret war between the gods. You can sign up to be notified when the urban fantasy is released (and get updates on her other books) here, and find out more about her books here.
Minkets! I know I said everyone likes kovers, but honestly, minkets are really everyone’s favorite monster. To find out why, read the book! :) I started designing them using aye-ayes as my model. For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a picture of an aye-aye:
Ugly isn’t quite the right word—hideous? Terrifying? Granted, some other pictures of aye-ayes are a bit easier on the eye, but this is where I started.
Minkets are relatively friendly monsters, in it for themselves, obviously, but willing to work with other animals, humans, or monsters to survive. They will eat anything (literally anything), and are ravenous gobblers of all cuisine. If you are insecure about your cooking? Get a minket.
You know Nibbler from Futurama? I love the way he eats, so that’s how I imagine minkets eat.
Here’s another one, with a meal scene right in the middle:
Anyway, you get the drift.
So minkets eat a lot and everything. They are wily, smart, able to communicate to a certain extent. They are social animals, but are perfectly capable of being independent. They have families, and remember them, even when they get separated or one dies.
They have big ears, human-like fingers, and sharp blades that extend from their knuckles that they use when fighting or to rip apart food to make it easier to eat. They can climb, run, and hunt. And they have blood red eyes. There are a few other characteristics of minkets as well, but since they are a key monster in the series, I’m going to keep a few secrets. Muahahahahahahahahaha.
Here was my first sketch:
And of course, here is the full illustration, done in stippling:
For this drawing, I experimented with layering textures, especially in the fur and her left hip, and was really pleased with the results. Also, her teeth are amazing.
If you’re interested in reading the book, click here to order it on Amazon.