Articles by Jessica Schein

30 Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

At some point in your writing career, you’re probably going to face it — the dreaded writer’s block. For the lucky, it lasts only a few hours or days. For the unlucky, it can take weeks or even months to get over. Most writers have their own coping mechanisms, but what may work for one person is no guarantee for another. So what can you do when you’re faced with a blank white page and an unrelenting cursor?

A while back we asked you on Facebook to tell us your secret combat weapons for fighting off writer’s block, and you had some great ones, which are here. We also have a blog post from the past with helpful tips found here. But when desperate to get over the hump more advice is better, right? So to help you find at least one method that works, here’s a list of things to try in no particular order:

Take a walk

Write through it anyway

Workout

Cook a big, good meal

Listen to music

Try another creative medium: Strum a tune or paint a picture

Pick a random topic and do a 15-minute free write

Deprive yourself of sleep for as long as you can and then write until you can no longer stay awake

Write a positive note to yourself on special paper

Start (or keep) a daily log of your day in a journal

Go to a busy street/restaurant/bar and people watch for a bit and write down everything interesting you observe

Try writing an off-the-cuff poem

Write a friend a long letter by hand

Look at photos online of places that inspire you or, better yet, take a walk down your own memory lane and look at your own albums

Write a chapter of your story from another character’s perspective

Have a glass of wine or three (or chocolate)

Research your book’s subject matter

Visit a museum or art gallery

Pick a random object in your house and write 200 words about it

Find a different place to work. If you’re at home, try a coffee shop — or vice versa

Take a bubble bath

Call a writer-friend and commiserate first, then assign one another a writing project to be completed within a few hours

Try outlining your novel/essay/article, if you haven’t already done so

Write out a to-do list of every chore you need to accomplish

Spend some time pondering life in the yogic legs-up-the-wall pose

Stop berating yourself for not writing

Play with your dog/cat/reptile. If you don’t have one, ask a friend if you can come over and give their Fido some love

Try writing during a different time of the day

Take a nap

And finally… Drink a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee

We know this list isn’t exhaustive, and there’s room for more ideas, so tell us, Lulu readers, what’s worked (or not) for you?

Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography

When Thea Dodds, the award-winning photojournalist and founder of AuthenticEye.com called Kathryn Hamm, president of Gayweddings.com, to talk about an idea she had for a book on lesbian and gay wedding photography, little did the two women know that thousands of photos and seven months later they’d be publishing their debut book — Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography.

Created for same-sex couples looking to secure the right person for their own weddings and industry photographers looking to better their portraiture of the community, Capturing Love has been — from the start — a true collaboration.

After their initial meeting, the two authors spoke weekly on the phone to create a business plan and discuss their joint vision. Explains Thea:

“Before we even began digging through images, we talked conceptually about how to organize the content, what it’s look and feel needed to be, and what we thought was working in traditional photography and what wasn’t.”

(Photo by Jen Lynne)

 

From there they posted a call for photos on photography forums and went through past submissions to Gayweddings.com to find images. It was a huge undertaking, but in the end they secured photos from 46 couples in 19 states as well as Canada, the UK and Italy.

Once the project was complete Thea and Kathryn spoke with contacts who provided insight on the benefits of traditional versus independent publishing. Both women anticipated that 2013 would be a big year for same sex marriage in the wake of gay marriage victories in Washington, Maryland and Maine, so they agreed to go independent to get the book to market sooner. Now, Capturing Love is available on Lulu.com and will soon launch in the iBookstore as well as on Amazon.com and BN.com.

Given their public call for photos, Kathryn and Thea couldn’t keep project under wraps. They turned that buzz into an opportunity to build a fan base by launching a website and Facebook page almost immediately. They also decided to work with a communications firm that specialized in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) community because, as Kathryn acknowledges, “for the book to have its best chance to be recognized and make the impact we hope it will, we would need extra support to get that message across.” Last, but not least, the co-authors sent a PDF of Capturing Love around to several “thought leaders” pre-publication, with the hope that having “known” third-party reviews published on the back of the book would be helpful to us.”

And their efforts have paid off. In the past few months they’ve been reviewed in Professional Photographer Magazine and featured on WeddingWire EDU Pro Blog and in Huffington Post‘s “Gay Voices” column.

Kathryn and Thea have come out of the publishing process with sage advice for aspiring authors:

“If you are writing a book that you’d like to see on a wider stage, spend some time researching the various components that go into publishing. There’s a lot of work to do—from being a good writer and seeking feedback to understanding marketing, social media, distribution and retail. It’s no small task, but if writing or producing a book is on your bucket list and you have a solid business plan, go for it!”

For now, Kathryn and Thea are spreading the word about Capturing Love by speaking at conferences where they also help educate photographers and others interested in same-sex wedding photography. Neither will rule out another book in the future because as Kathryn explains, “it’s been fun!”

Meet Molly: A Successful Author at Age 14

Although just 14, North Haven (Conn.) Middle School student Molly D’Andrea has always known her dream: to be a writer. She worked on projects here and there, but then inspiration struck — and she ran with it.

Most authors write from personal experience, but that wasn’t the case for me. I think my main inspiration was having the base idea of the main character, and him being broken/hurt or alone/lost in someway. And things just started turning from that point.

Still, like many writers her age and decades older, she felt unsure of the words she put to the page and kept her work private. Then, at the behest of friends, she showed them a few pages of what would eventually become her debut novel, Shattered Ones. They encouraged her to keep going. For Molly, that wasn’t enough. She decided to take it a step further by publishing her novel through Lulu. At this point she “likes how the online business is working so far.”

Molly stayed away from doing any pre-publication marketing and PR because she wanted her book to be complete before anyone — including her parents — touched it. Since Shattered Ones was released in September, Molly has appeared on Fox Connecticut News, Connecticut Style and the North Haven TV Channel, and has been featured in The Citizen and the Post Chronicle. She garnered this PR simply: Her mother found and emailed appropriate contacts at local and regional newspapers, radio, and TV stations. It has, overall, been a quiet campaign — but one that has worked.

Up next for Molly is a Shattered Ones prequel, the idea for which came from a friend. She is still pondering the “rise and fall of a plot,” as well as the climax, so she’s not yet started it, but expects to.

In the meantime, Molly has advice for any aspiring writer, young or old:

Keep your head up, and remember that tunnels end in light. Because you can feel trapped and lost and like you’re in the darkness, but if you keep working at it, you’ll reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

How old were you when the writing bug bit?

Additional Recommended Reading: It’s Never Too Soon To Become An Author

Best Presents for Writers

Raise your hand if you’ve been gifted a journal in the past.

I bet you have one arm up — maybe two.

For writers, a fancy pen or notebook is a thoughtful gift, but you may not be the first or the only one with this idea for the writer in your life, so here are some alternative ideas:

For the peripatetic: A laptop case. “It’s been very helpful in preventing damage (and the need for repairs) and keeping the heat of the laptop off me and my stuff when I’m commuting. Also, if you get a classy one, it just makes you feel sexier and more professional,” says Lucas Klauss, author of Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse. He recommends Blackbox to really keep your device safe.

For the networker: Business cards. Jennifer Englert, of the blog Well Read Fish, points out, “In the past couple months, I’ve been asked for my card as a writer and I just sat there twirling my thumbs. ‘Yeah, uh… I don’t have business cards.’ But now I do, and they’re great to get your name out there.”

For the procrastinator: The Write or Die app & a wireless iPad keyboard. Lauren Morrill, author of the young adult novel Meant to Be, can’t say enough about her iPad mini, which she uses all the time to write — hence the need for a keyboard to help her thoughts flow. As she notes, “With its super-long battery life, it’s the perfect writing tool, and Write Or Die is the perfect kick-in-the-pants for any procrastinating writer. Meet your goals or the app starts deleting your work!”

For the knowledge hungry: A subscription to Poets & Writers. Jennifer Englert recommends the publication not only for its excellent articles on improving one’s craft, but also for its “comprehensive lists of contests and magazines taking submissions.”

For the avid reader: A gift card to a local independent store as well as a case for one’s device of choice are all good options. Alternatively, if you know the writer in your life’s favorite author, look into getting him or her a signed book via Abe Books or eBay.

For the next best seller: Many self-published authors have incredible talent for writing, but don’t necessarily have a knack for graphic design or eBook formatting. Let them focus their energy at what they’re best at (writing) by providing them with professional services to handle the rest.

At the end of the day, there’s one thing all writers (and non-writers) want, which freelance writer Gabrielle Balkan so bluntly put as, “More hours in the day!” Failing that, hopefully the above are helpful, and if you have your own suggestions for great writerly gifts, please add them below.

 

How to Market Your Book During the Holiday Season

November and December are the most lucrative months of the year for retailers because people are in a crunch to find and buy the perfect holiday gifts for their loved ones. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the season and show off your written wares.

Publicize your ultimate holiday gift list. At this time of year, people looking for the perfect gift often need help in the form of suggestions and ideas. Offer up your suggestions on your blog, on a contact’s blog, or perhaps even for a local magazine or newspaper. Whatever you suggest should be in line with what your book is about. For example, if you’ve written a cookbook, then come up with a list of the best bake ware — and no matter where you publish your gift tips, make sure you provide a bio with a link to your book.

Make a donation. Giving during the holiday season means more than handing out shiny new presents to friends and family, it means giving back to your community. Pick a charitable organization that inspires you and offer to partner with them. Offer signed copies of your book as perks for donors who contribute at a certain level (perhaps the charity will even name that level after you or your book!) You can also vow to donate a percentage of your profits to a charity that you support. This is a great way to boost holiday spirit and to get a charity to help promote your book to their audience. You can also donate books to families, libraries and schools that are in need. There are countless ways to give back. Which will you choose?

Drop the eBook price. Between the iPad, the Kindle, the Kobo Reader, and the Nexus 7, among many others, e-readers are becoming more and more hot, and with every new user comes the potential for many more eBook libraries. So entice potential customers by dropping the price of your book for a limited time.

Give away copies to friends, family, and social media followers/fans. Perhaps the most obvious tip but not to be overlooked since the best way for people to learn about your book is to hear about it from others. So order extra copies and stuff them in stockings or offer signed giveaways to fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter.

Strategize for 2013. There are another 365 days coming up… soon. This means you have holidays to capitalize on, anniversaries to plan, promotions to fund, and even new books to promote. Spend the last few weeks of this year thinking about how you want to handle the next 52 weeks and come up with a marketing and social media plan that will get you to your new year’s goals. This may help: Pre-Publication Marketing Timeline for Authors.

Tell us, what are you doing to prepare for the holiday season? Are you buffing up your marketing efforts?

 

The Author Who Brought Coach Kay Yow’s Inspiring Story To Life

North Carolina State women’s basketball fans know the name Kay Yow. As the team’s coach, she achieved more than 700 wins over her 34-year career, became a Hall of Fame inductee, and coached the 1988 women’s Olympic team to their gold medal win. In 2009, Yow passed away from breast cancer after battling the disease for two-plus decades. To residents of the Tar Heel state, Yow is a true legend whose story MaryEllen Williams wanted to tell:

Living here in Raleigh, NC, everyone knew the name Kay Yow but what made me want to know more about her was the fact that she was said to be a very special person, someone who was at a higher spiritual level than most of us. As I looked into her more I realized she was known worldwide. I wanted to find out her roots and what made her stand out among the best.

Before she could write Kay’s story, which would ultimately be released as her nonfiction book Triumph, MaryEllen spent a considerable amount of time doing research. She watched videos online, read all the newspaper articles she could get her hands on, and contacted the person in charge of Kay’s estate to get consents and releases as well as to option the story to the beloved coach’s life. Once she identified the key figures in Kay’s life, MaryEllen sought them out. Kay’s friends, family, and former staff members answered MaryEllen’s questions and thus the narrative was born.

Once she completed her manuscript, MaryEllen decided to skip traditional publishing altogether and go independent for one reason alone: timing. When told it could take years to get an agent and a book contract, she turned to Lulu, which ended up being, “the best thing I ever did because they have bent over backwards in their support for this inspiring project,” MaryEllen said.

Now Triumph: Inspired by the true life story of legendary Coach Kay Yow can be purchased through Lulu.com as well as both Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s websites.

To promote Triumph, MaryEllen hired a publicity firm to do a six-week PR campaign. But MaryEllen isn’t only relying on them; she knows that an author must also be her own biggest advocate and so she’s been hitting the pavement in her hometown of Raleigh. Recently, Quail Ridge Book Store and the N.C. State Bookstores agreed to take copies of Truimph, which MaryEllen knows is a triumph in and of itself.

Next up for MaryEllen is a screenplay of Kay’s story, which she’s been dreaming about even before she started the book. It’s been an incredible journey she admits — and she’s learned quite a few things along the way.

My tips to any author are to work hard, ask anything and everything about your subject. Persevere and never give up.  Every hurdle you meet can be overcome.  Believe in yourself and your project.  You are, as I said, your biggest advocate.  Get excited. It’s contagious.

Tips for NaNoWriMo Success

It’s late. Your heart-rate is elevated. The coffee is still percolating. Your hair, unwashed, is now reaching skyward as you tug on it almost every minute. You look over at your wall calendar, but you don’t need to be told what month it is: it is November. It is National Novel Writing Month. 

Started in 1999 by Chris Baty and “20 other overcaffeinated yahoos,” the write-50,000-words-of-a-novel-in-a-month challenge started with 21 participants and 6 winners. In 12 years it’s grown exponentially. By 2011, 256,618 writers attempted the feat and 36,843 finished.

The word count threshold, 50,000 words, means that a writer must commit to writing just a little under 2,000 words a day, or, to us writers, A LOT OF STINKIN’ WORDS. While some established authors take months or years to craft a narrative, writers participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), have just one month to commit to a draft. Several best-sellers have emerged from NaNoWriMo including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

We totally understand that finding the time and creative energy for this 30-day challenge is a huge feat, so here are a few ways to make the words flow!

Author Success Story: Robert Marckini

When Robert Marckini was diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 years ago, his life came to a stop. He was devastated, but also motivated — to find the best care. Robert quickly ruled out surgery after seeing what it did to his brother, who’d been diagnosed with the disease years earlier. So he started looking into other options, such as external beam radiation, internal radiation, cryosurgery, and active surveillance. He read everything he could find on the Internet and in libraries, interviewed a number of doctors representing each treatment modality, and spoke to dozens of patients. With all this information, Robert felt a duty to help others make their best choice. Thus his book You Can Beat Prostate Cancer was conceived.

As many independently published authors can attest, once the manuscript was done, they turned toward traditional publishing but found mostly rejections and closed doors. Robert had the same experience. As he explains:

“When I approached publishers, they told me I needed an agent. When I approached agents, they told me I needed to have been published before. The decision to self publish was easy.”

Now You Can Beat Prostate Cancer is available on Amazon, Lulu, Ebay, and B&N.com.

Although Robert doesn’t have a social media platform, he still managed to spread the word by mentioning the book’s publication in his monthly newsletter. Started in 2001, it runs between 18 to 22 pages and covers prostate cancer prevention, detection, treatment and proton therapy. Currently his newsletter goes to 6,200 members and 1,000 additional readers.

Robert also encouraged both practitioners and patients to review his book on various retailer’s websites. His nudging definitely paid off — he’s garnered over 100 reviews on his Amazon page (a “must read for all men” says one customer) and close to 30 (“If you should buy one book about prostate cancer – this is the one,” says a reader) on Lulu. That said, explains Robert, his strategy mostly relied upon the strength of the product.

“Most of the marketing happens by word of mouth from men and women who have read my book and found it helpful. Many have told me it changed their lives.”

He may not have ever thought he’d be an author but Robert Marckini sure is now — and for aspiring writers he has some advice:

“Don’t put off starting your book. Just sit down and start writing. It will come to you. Go over your drafts many, many times. Have trusted friends and pseudo-grammarians review your manuscript. Read Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well. It’s the best book I read on how to write a book.”

As for Robert, he’s already at work on a second edition that will include an index, information on the latest developments in prostate cancer detection and treatment, along with considerably more graphics.

Top Awards for Independently Published Authors

As the end of the year nears, it seems like every few weeks another round of traditionally published books and authors win the Pulitzer, Man Booker, National Book Critics Circle, and Hugo awards — to name a few. It feels endless — and sometimes deflating. What about the independently published authors who’ve put their heart, soul and countless hours into their books?

Let’s face it: the desire to win an award is two-fold. Not only does it give you, as the author, validation, but it also gives you more credibility among readers looking for their next good read. There are plenty of awards out there specifically for independent authors. Here we list just a few worth submitting to:

Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards: Yes, you read correctly. This is sponsored by the same Writer’s Digest many of us read for advice, so you know it’s legit. Although submissions are closed for this year, future authors take note. Entering a book into one or more of their nine open genres means you have a chance to win $3,000 (or $1,000 for nine runner-up winners), a paid trip to the annual Writer’s Digest conference in New York City, access into a number of new distribution channels, 10 copies of your book for submission to major publishing houses, and much, much more.

Next Generation Indie Book Awards: It’s been five years since the first awards were handed out, and it’s still going strong! Enter your book into one of more than 60 categories and you may be the recipient of a cash prize of up to $1,500, you’ll be attending the gala awards ceremony in New York City, and you’ll be listed in the awards catalog, which goes to “thousands of book buyers, media, and others” according to the website.

Great Apps for Writers

You’ve heard plenty of people say,”There’s an app for that,” but which are best for writers? Whether you need to give your creative side a kick or want to continue revising your work during your morning commute, here are a few apps you may want to check out:

Pages: For $9.99 this Apple app allows you to write and re-write no matter where you and your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch are. Start a new doc or drag Pages ’09, plain text, or Microsoft Word files into the iCloud and… boom, your creativity can take center stage at the bus stop or while waiting for a movie to begin. Other perks include choosing from 16 templates for reports, flyers, cards, and posters; adding in charts and graphs; or printing wirelessly with AirPrint. And since Pages saves your work as you go, you’ll never have to worry you’ve lost your latest if you press the wrong button or close out of the app. Given all of these perks, it’s no wonder MacWorld rated it 4/5 stars.

Advanced English Dictionary & Thesaurus: 250,000 entries, 1.6 million words, and 134,000 pronunciation guides — all for 99 cents. Need I say more? If you’re in a bind, this is the app to turn to. What’s more, you can edit your history, bookmark specific words, and learn not just what the word means and its synonyms but also a whole host of related information including examples/types and parts of the object you’re looking up.

Story Tracker: At $7.99 this app is a steal for the submitting writer who wants to keep his or her ducks in a row. You can keep track of the publications you’ve submitted your works to (sortable by date), make note of details for each market, including title, genre, editor, or deadline, catalog your submission history with specific sites and markets, and more.

Evernote: See something you think might make for a nice moment in a future novel? Jot it down with Evernote, a free app that helps you “stay organized, save your ideas and improve productivity.” Recently optimized for the iPhone 5 so that you can view more notes, this New York Times Top 10 Must-Have app’s perks are many and include: