Articles by Jessica Schein

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:

Inspirational Quotes for Writers

How many times have you come across a quote and thought I should write that down? If you’re anything like me, the answer is: a lot. Finding meaning in someone else’s words is a joy, and as a writer I find comfort in the wisdom — and struggles (let’s be honest) — of others. It’s nice to know that not everyone gets “it” (or a seven figure deal for that matter) the first time out the gate.

“I try to remind myself how much I love to stitch words together to make a story that kids might enjoy reading,” says Kristiana Gregory, author of the young adult novel Stalked. The Robert Frost quote taped to her printer reads, “All the fun is in how you say a thing.”

Alexandra Foster, a former New York City-based freelance writer, turns to Ralph Waldo Emerson when she’s struggling:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

I have quotes all over my apartment. Above my desk I have Ernest Hemingway’s “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” And on my fridge there’s a small piece of paper with Andy Rooney’s words scribbled: “A writer’s job is to tell the truth.”

VH1 writer and blogger Kate Spencer says Andy Warhol’s honesty “speaks” to her — especially when he said: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Each of us will take to certain phrases more than others, but in case you need a little inspiration these days, here are some quotes to consider:

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” –Joseph Heller

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” –Stephen King

“You can make anything by writing.” –C.S. Lewis

“You can’t edit a blank page.” –Nora Roberts

You might also enjoy the Pinterest Pin Board we just started as a place to collect inspiring quotes for authors.

In the comments, tell us: What quotes inspire you as a writer?

Author Success Story: The Walk-On by Matt Stewart

Matt Stewart knows what it feels like to be the underdog. As a freshman at Northwestern he walked on to the school’s football field and earned a position as the fifth-string free safety. But that didn’t deter him: through hard work and dedication he rose to second-string his sophomore year and in the process earned a full-ride scholarship. Stewart’s rise to success mirrored the team’s. In 1995, after 20-plus years of losing seasons, Northwestern’s footballers won 10 games as well as the Big Ten, and even played in the Rose Bowl.

Life changing for Stewart and his teammates, the school’s breakthrough season was a story he felt he had to tell, and after years of research based on his coach’s own book, the games Stewart’s mother taped, and the programs he saved, he finally finished. The Walk-On was released in May.

“I wrote this book to inspire others, to let them know that no matter what the odds, no matter what the obstacles, anything is possible as long as you work hard, believe in your abilities and approach your goals with a good attitude.”

From the get-go Stewart knew that publishing the book was only one of his goals. Making sure it got into the hands of the right readers was another—and to date his approach has worked. The Walk-On is sold on Lulu, Amazon, BN.com, the iBookstore and a number of brick-and-mortar stores. He secured indie placement by visiting the stores in person and asking them to consign his book — a deal that gives the retailer 40% of the profits and the author guaranteed shelf placement for at least three months.

The Best Web Resources for Authors (Part 2)

In an earlier blog post we went over some of the Internet’s best sites for the latest on publishing, finding a critique buddy or group, and even writing prompts. But that’s of course not all the Web has to offer. Here are a few others you might want to check out:

Mashable: Think you know social media? Think again. This self-proclaimed “largest independent news source dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology” features helpful articles on what’s trending (hint: keep checking to see if there’s a PR opportunity for your book); the latest must-have apps; and the marketing campaigns that have caught their expert’s eyes. If you’re looking to find out who’s showing off their stuff right, visit Mashable and learn from the best.

Seth Godin’s Blog: Seth Godin is a marketer extraordinaire. No, really. Just ask American Way magazine, which called him “America’s Best Marketer.” How did he earn such a title? Well, in addition to publishing 14 books (now available in 30 languages), he’s also founded dozens of companies. Although he admits that some failed, his latest– Squidoo.com, a platform for publishing original, user-crafted lifestyle content on single topic pages–averages 13.1M U.S. visitors per month and 27M worldwide. In short, listen to his thoughts on “the circles of marketing,” taking risks, and, well, anything else.

The Coalition of Independent Authors: Speaking of those risks Mr. Godin talks about, if you’ve published (whether independently or not) you’ve taken the biggest one a creative type can.

Author Success Story: Ruth Anne Kocour

Trek to K2 and Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tajikistan, and China. See topography that has led to isolation–physical and cultural–of tribes blocked for centuries by natural barriers, lack of infrastructure and communication. Ruth Anne Kocour’s tale of travel and adversity lends a face to today’s news and a glimpse into what we all have in common–our humanity.

When it came time to publish her new book, Walking the War Zones of Pakistan: One Woman’s Journey Into the Shadow of the Taliban, Ruth Anne Kocour planned to bypass traditional publishers because she wanted to “enjoy more control over the final product.”

Despite having had an “excellent” experience working with St. Martin’s Press on her first book, Facing the Extreme, Kocour didn’t want to go through extensive re-writes and wait years to see Walking the War Zones of Pakistan in the hands of readers especially since Kocour believes independent publishing is the future of the industry:

“I believe traditional publishing will focus more on subjects with broad market appeal, sensational subjects, timely events, and/or celebrity-type bios, and I see self-publishing as an excellent option for subjects with niche markets or those of regional interest, that wouldn’t capture the attention of a mainstream publisher.”

So Kocour turned to Lulu who evaluated her manuscript as part of the Editorial Quality Review package. Together they worked on a mechanical edit that improved grammar and punctuation, and which she called “the most technical and comprehensive edit I’ve ever had.” For the cover Kocour provided Lulu with photos she thought would “lend to a good design” and received two mock-ups back, both “top notch.” Overall Kocour is quick to praise Lulu, which she says “exceeded her expectations.” Even the process itself was “fun.”

Having a successful media tour for Facing the Extreme already under her belt, Kocour was at an advantage in terms of marketing. She drew from her network of journalists and bloggers, among others, and was even contacted by new media via her website, through referrals, or from her talks. Additionally the timeliness of her story helped — and now hardly a week goes by when she’s not asked to speak or do a TV interview. Still, she learned a lot about publicity this time around:

“Media loves media.  Once you have a successful track record with the media, you become a known entity–one they can count on. We have several of my TV interviews posted on my website where media people and others can access them.”

Now Kocour is an independent publishing convert, and sees the route as not only viable, but preferable for new and veteran authors. Currently conceptualizing a new story, Kocour plans to once again publish through Lulu. She also intends to bring Facing the Extreme back in print—in hardcover, paperback, and as an eBook. This, too, will be through Lulu.

Her advice to new authors is very simple.

“If you think you have a book in you, and you want to get it out there, then do it! And definitely take advantage of the vast array of services Lulu has to offer, and its great staff who are more than willing to walk you through the process.”

The Scoop on Scrivener

As writers, we’re known to seek comfort in the form of tea, complaining, and well, more complaining. It’s part of the process, which as of late has been somewhat revolutionized with the software writing program, Scrivener.

If you follow authors on social media or have a critique group, you’ve probably already heard of it. Praised by mainstream media like The New York Times and tech publications such as Wired, The Seattle Times even went so far as to say that writers “swear by” Scrivener — which over the years has received awards from MacWorld and MacUser.

A self-proclaimed “content management tool,” the software is designed to help writers “structure and compose” long documents such as dissertations, screenplays, essays and of course the ever-daunting novel. The “binder” section in the left navigational pane helps you find and edit specific portions of your document and hop to and from your research or other notes then back to your writing easily. Don’t like where one scene or paragraph is placed? Drag and drop it into a new location; no need to waste time copying, pasting, and re-formatting your text. Last, but certainly not least, the virtual index card feature was created to help authors determine the best sequence for their work. Explains Allison Martin, who used the software to redraft her YA fantasy novel, plot a contemporary piece, and write a short story:

“Often while writing I’d have an idea for a future event or couldn’t remember what I was leading up to in the scene I was writing. So I’d pop over to the corkboard and check or type a quick note in the side bar so I would remember. Being able to see a point-form version of my novel is extremely helpful for me. Scrivener catches all my tangents and afterthoughts and compiles them into neat and organized homes that I can go back to and actually understand what I meant in my notes.”

Lauren Morrill, author of the upcoming young adult novel from Random House, Meant to Beagrees about Scrivener’s organizational merit.

“I like the way it forces me to think in parts of a novel: scenes, chapters, etc. Word is just one giant, endless blank page, which can be really scary.”

Structure isn’t the only helpful Scrivener provides. The often updated software offers an outlining tool, allows you to switch to scriptwriting mode for screen or stage play formatting, and even exports your document into the format you need for self-publishing.

That said, there are some drawbacks, notably the program’s file exclusivity, meaning that it’s not possible to pull one’s Scrivener files into Word to do a read-through when not at your home computer. Although the company has stated on their website that they’re “hoping to bring a scaled-down version of Scrivener to the iPad (and possibly the iPhone too) eventually,” nothing has been announced just yet.

Those new to the software should heed advice from veteran users. Notes Allison Martin,

“Think of Scrivener as a ‘writing software program’ not as a ‘word processor.’ It’s not like Word or Pages where you just start writing. It’s meant to aid you in the ENTIRE writing process from research to outline to publication.”

Lauren Morrill concurs, and also advises users to “watch YouTube videos” to really understand how it works before diving in. Otherwise you may run the risk of reaping more frustration than reward.

Speaking of one’s experience with Scrivener, have you used it yet? If so, tell us what you think in the comments below.