Friday, January 5, 2018

Choose Your Own Writing Prompt: Winter Edition

By: Emrald Sethna

The Steps to Getting Published is proud to bring you an assortment of winter writing prompts to get those frozen writing gears spinning. Choose one, choose two, or choose them all! We hope you have fun with these, and as always, please share your work in the comments section if you'd like. We'd love to see what you come up with!

Here are your choices:

1) Write a short story about being stuck in a snowstorm.

2) Image prompt: Based on the image provided below, write a one-page story:

3) Write a five-page screenplay about the aftermath of a crazy holiday season.
4) Write a poem about how winter makes you feel.
5) Write a 250 word short story about an insane winter season. 
6) Write the happiest winter or holiday season story in five words.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How to Avoid Scams in the Publishing World

By: Carla Trueheart

Along the road to getting published, most authors turn to helpful outlets and people in the publishing industry, such as literary agents, writing contests, and other self-marketing tools. Unfortunately, there are many publishing scams out there, some of them quite convincing. The biggest problem with publishing scams is that there’s a fine line between businesses charging exorbitant fees and people who are flat-out thieving money with no services rendered. Both of these are considered scams, and as authors in this business, we should know how to combat them. Mostly, that would involve being hyper vigilant, but in some cases, even that isn’t enough.

Scams in the publishing world include everything from book review scams, literary agent scams, book publishing scams, and even scams involving movie deals. As careful as I am, I’ve fallen for two such scams in my publishing career, one involving a contest and one involving a book review. The contest scam was clever. They found me through my author website, researched my book, and contacted me through my email about my book being “nominated” for the contest. They had facts, so naturally I believed them. 

The book review scam was from a company I thought I knew, but even after I paid for a book review, I never heard from them or received any review of my novel. In the end I got my money back through Paypal, but I would have preferred if this had not happened in the first place. Since then, I have not paid money to any publishing or marketing company I have not heard of, even though some are probably legit. I’m hoping some of what I’ve learned, been through, and researched will help you avoid such headaches.

Below, I’ve listed some of the common scams out there and some of the ways we might be aware of them. Keep in mind that even if you do fall for some of these, it does not mean you weren’t paying attention or that you failed in any way. Scams, by nature, are clever, and while most are obvious as scams, there are some that will occasionally miss our careful eye. 

Marketing/Book Reviews
With the rise of self-publishing and the amount of new authors out there, many online companies have opened virtual doors, hoping to help authors promote their books through marketing and/or book reviews. Some of these are legitimate companies, such as Readers’ Favorite, Justkindlebooks, Book of the, BargainBooksy, and FreeBooksy. There are, however, other companies offering services that either do not have a huge following or are straight-up scams. Overall, do not give money to companies you have not heard of or companies that do not have a social media following. Red Flag: an obviously amateur website, a company you can’t find on Google.

Self-Publishing Houses/Vanity Press
Ah, the days of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Xlibris. Thankfully, many of these presses are exposed now, but you can always check new ones out individually. I found this helpful article: There are some good self-publishing companies out there, but research is really needed to make sure you are getting a fair contract and a book that is not listed at a ridiculous amount of money no one would ever spend for a book by an author they don’t recognize. Sadly, I’ve heard so many horror stories when it comes to vanity presses. Keep in mind that if you give your money to one of these presses, you will forever have your book on Amazon (they really won’t take it off), and they DO NOT do any editing for you. Make sure you do your homework before dishing out any money. Red Flag: You pay A LOT of money and your book is listed for retail at a ludicrous price.

Writing Contests
As mentioned above, one of these scams got me. The company took my money, then disappeared from cyberspace. The best course of action is to make sure the website is professional and updated. If it looks like it was just constructed the day before in about an hour, it’s probably a scam. Also, make sure you have heard of the company or another writer/author you know has heard of the company. If you haven’t heard of them, you can consider researching, and make sure you see the name many times in a Google search before giving out money. Also, don’t pay a ridiculous amount to enter any writing contest. The odds are usually not in your favor. Red Flag: The company emails you claiming your book has “won” a nomination. The company website is not professional.

Literary Agents
If there is one message I could get out there to new authors it is this: DO NOT GIVE MONEY TO LITERARY AGENTS. They do not ask for, require, or need your money. They are paid the same way you are paid when you sell books: through a percentage of sales. The proper procedure for approaching a literary agent is to first send them a query letter (a synopsis of your work with your author credentials). You will then get a response in most cases, either a rejection letter or a letter requesting to see more of your work. If at any point during this process the agent asks for money, they are not a legitimate agent. Tell them you are no longer interested and move on. You will find most agents have professional websites and work with a literary agency. Red Flag: Asking for any money at all.

Movie Deals
If you are asked, out of the blue, to hand in your manuscript or book because it was optioned for a movie, do not do it. While it’s every writer’s dream to have their book made into a blockbuster movie, it happens, in most cases, after you have a bestselling book. Producers, directors, and scriptwriters normally do not approach new authors, so be leery of anyone who claims they will get you a movie deal. Red Flag: You are contacted by email (from someone you’ve never heard of before) and asked to cough up money to have your book made into a screenplay.

Poetry Scam
Beware the big book of poetry. This one gets a lot of first-time writers seeking to get poetry published. Basically, you submit a poem and they send you a congratulatory letter, saying your work is being published in a poetry anthology or other type of poetry book. The catch? You have to pay a lot of money for this book—you and everyone else who sent them a poem. This scam has actually been going around for many years, so it’s pretty perfected. Here is a link for more info: Red Flag: You are asked to pay A LOT of money to see your work in print.

With any of these scams, it is best to research before paying money or entering your protected works in a contest. Read the fine print, Google the company, seek the advice of other authors, check out the website, and be extra cautious of companies that approach you by email. Good luck, and please let us know if you have any questions or concerns!

UPDATE: Beware of a new scam involving a company called OKIR PUBLISHING! They are attempting to get information/money for a "book expo" and their self-publishing services. More info here:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spooky Halloween Writing Prompts

By: Emrald Sethna

Happy Halloween, dear writers! To celebrate this fun, spooky occasion, let's work on another freewriting prompt:

 "Write a scary story in 10 words or less."

"Write a one paragraph story about a haunted mansion."

 "Create the description of a scary monster in two paragraphs or less."

Writing prompts are a great way to get creative, strengthen your writing skills, and gain inspiration for those future publications of yours. Share your ideas down below!

Happy Writing! 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Freewriting Prompt: Autumn

Freewriting Prompt - Autumn
By: Emrald Sethna

Exercising your writing skills is important for a writer. Taking on challenges can not only help you develop your writing for publication but can also give you inspiration and greater confidence in your abilities to produce something amazing out of one simple prompt.

Steps to Getting Published is determined to help you on your journey to publication. That is why we have developed freewriting prompts to inspire you and aid you in mastering your writing as well as boosting your confidence in your work.

Here is your prompt inspired by this beautiful season:

Create a two page short story based on the image above.

To complete this exercise, think about the different elements of the image. How does it make you feel? Are you seeing through someone's eyes? What is your character doing there? What are they thinking?

Leave us a comment if you have any questions and feel free to share your great work with us as well!

Happy Writing!

The Query Letter: An Easy 3-Part Structure

By: Carla Trueheart 

Let’s face it: query letter construction is not easy for any author. In one page, you are expected to dazzle a literary agent or publisher, condense your 80,000 word novel down to one paragraph, and sell yourself as a writer as well. If query letter construction continues to be a battle for you, it might be useful to break the letter down into three basic parts: The Introduction, The Book Synopsis, and The Author Bio. If we tackle each part on its own, with a little bit of patience and some time, we will eventually get there. 

The most important thing to remember, aside from the 3-part structure we’ll discuss, is that agents want to see professionalism and a story that is unique but still accessible. Even if you don’t have other books or publications under your belt, your story idea and writing may rock their world, giving you a chance at publication. Every successful writer starts somewhere, and most with just a query letter and a dream. It is achievable!

But first we need to focus on the query letter, so let’s break it down into three easy steps as mentioned: The Introduction, The Book Synopsis, and The Author Bio. I will also include a quick breakdown at the end of the article for your convenience.

The Introduction
This is your opening paragraph. Here you should include your manuscript title (in CAPS), your genre, and your word count. You will also greet the agent here and offer a reason for querying them: Do they represent your genre? Do you admire a book they’ve represented in the past? Do they have an interest in your particular plot or character types? Make it clear why you chose them for your project. You can also include a book hook here if you’d like: A one-sentence teaser to get them interested right off the bat. 

 The Book Synopsis
This will serve as the middle paragraph of your query letter—the meat of the sandwich. This is where you will write a synopsis of your story, including the PLOT, the PROTAGONIST and THEIR GOAL, and the CONFLICT. You will not include the book ending here. This is just an overview, so think of the back cover plot write-up of a book you own. You can even look at book covers to get ideas on how to construct your synopsis! 

 The Author Bio
This is the last paragraph of your 3-part query letter. The author bio should list your publishing background, writing education, jobs in the field, blogs, or any other relevant information. If you don’t have any published works, simply offer a few sentences about why you wrote this story and why you are the best person to have written it (for example, you’re a doctor and the story is a medical thriller). Do not come right out and say you don’t have writing experience. Try to find something you can use here about yourself that is relevant to your project and is interesting. You wrote the book for a reason, after all!

End the query letter with a polite closing/sign-off (full legal name + contact information). Make sure to THANK the agent for their time. 

As always, let us know if you have any questions on this process!

Query Letter 

INTRO: Title, Genre, Word Count. Why are you querying agent?

SYNOPSIS: Plot, Character, Goal, Conflict. 

AUTHOR BIO: Publishing History and Relevant Education. Why did you write this book?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Should you pay for a Book Review?

By: Carla Trueheart

Whether you’re a traditionally published novelist or you are self-published, an important part of the marketing process is the book review. You’re familiar with the concept: you spend months or years writing a book, a reader loves it or hates it, and they (hopefully) post a review for others to agree with or shoot down. Book reviews are terrific conversation starters in the online environment, but more importantly, they are great tools for getting your book noticed. If you have plenty of reviews, you gain credibility as a writer. After all, haven’t you read a book based solely on the recommendation of others? 

The problem with book reviews lies mainly with getting them. I’m sure, as writers, you’ve had people look you straight in the eye and tell you they will most definitely post a book review, but months later, they haven’t yet done so. If you’re a writer with a following already, losing one or two reviews probably won’t hurt your career too much. If you’re just starting out, however, you are probably clambering for any review you can get. One piece of advice you’ve probably seen in writing books and writing blogs is that you should never pay for a book review—but should you?

The answer of course is personal, but in most cases, depending on how you feel about spending money, ethics, or putting yourself out there, I would say yes. When starting out, book reviews are super important, so paying for a review here and there might be the jumpstart you need. Places like Amazon even promote your book based on the amount of reviews you have, so if you look at it that way, paying for a book review is a marketing tool and should be seen as part of the promotional expenses for the book. Book reviews may also be used in part as testimonials to post on your author website. In a nutshell, they are a must.

So let’s say you’ve made the decision to pay for a book review—where do you go now? There are a few online services that offer book reviews, both free and paid (I’ll post links at the end of the article). When it comes to many of these sites, you will probably wait a few months if you try to get a free book review, but you can purchase an “express” review for anywhere from $7 to $500. Kirkus Reviews would be at the higher end of the expenses, but they are fairly reputable and do a good job. Readers’ Favorite is lower at about $50 for a 2-week express review package, and they are reputable and do a fine job as well. Lower than around the $50 mark, you run the risk of receiving a poorly written review or none at all. Recently, I checked out Apex Reviews ($7 for a 2-week review!) and received one review that was obviously a rehash of my back cover summary—and one review was never posted at all. So, like with most purchasable services, you get what you pay for. 

Another avenue you might consider is Goodreads. You won’t pay for a review through Goodreads, but you can join groups to swap reviews. I’ve had good luck with this process in the past. Basically, you read another author’s book, post your review, and then place your own book in a pool for another author to read and review. I’ve seen authors gather as many as 50+ reviews doing this! Just keep in mind you will need to read a book and post a review before you are allowed to enter your own book. That can be time-consuming, but it is a way to get more reviews for free. 

The best way to go about book reviews, ethically, is to put the book out there and hope it catches fire and gains reviews on its own. However, when starting out, it might be a good idea to look into some of the review services listed until your book does catch fire. It might be the spark you need to get it going, because once readers see a plethora of reviews—even if some are not favorable reviews—they will want to check out your book. As mentioned, reviews are also important for promotion through Amazon and for your personal author website testimonials. Please let us know if you have any personal experiences with book reviews, or if you can recommend any other services to our followers!

Readers’ Favorite:

By: Carla Trueheart

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Friendly Generators

By: Emrald Sethna

We all get stuck. At some point or another, all writers face that taunting blankness in their minds. Sometimes it frustrates and other times it makes you lose a sliver—maybe even a chunk—of confidence in your works and ability as a writer. You shouldn't let it get to you, however, because there is a way to easily gain some inspiration for the story you struggle to pursue.

If you're having difficulty developing the image, characteristics, or name of a character, the setting of your novel, even the whole plot of your novel, we have two words for you: Random. Generator. Have you ever heard of them?

Let's take a look at a few right now: - Random Name Generator is a great website to use when you are feeling stumped about the full name of your characters. You are given options to generate common, average, and rare names of either men, women, or both. As you look through the generated names, you don't have to choose only one option, you could mix and match if you so desire. This is a great way to get some inspiration. - Perhaps you are feeling a little unsure of what to call the town your story takes place in. Town Name Generator is one of the many random generators that the Fantasy Name Generators website offers. From dragon names to pop culture names, this website is wonderful for whatever kind of names you need. - Here's an interesting one! This is a Random Plot Generator that tells you about a random main character, secondary character, situation, theme, character action, and setting. You can use this website to exercise your creative skills and/or find elements of your stories or characters that you are unsure about.

Want to challenge yourself? Give these generators a try. Make a story out of the first answers they give you. You never know how it could blossom into a great storyline for your future published works.

Leave a comment down below with any cool ideas you got from these generators or how you think they could possibly help you in the future!

Happy Writing!

By: Emrald Sethna

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How Long Should My Manuscript Be?

By: Carla Trueheart

Before submitting a manuscript to an agent or publishing house, one of the first things you should do, after final edits and revisions, is make sure your word count fits your genre. This is not always a simple task, as you may be tempted to go over the word count, or perhaps you are stuck under the word count. Still, this is an important factor when an agent or publisher looks at your work. Believe it or not, it might just make the difference between whether they request more of your project or they pass. Word counts are not tricky when it comes to understanding certain genre requirements, but it does get tricky when attempting to be precise in word count. 

Certain genres have certain expectations. In general (and I will provide a quick breakdown below), you should be between 80,000 - 90,000 words for general fiction. Definitely not over 100,000 words, especially for a first-time author. This word count expectation includes romance, horror, thrillers, crime, westerns, LGBT, mystery, and most mainstream adult fiction. Things change a bit with fantasy and sci-fi, as with world-building, these genres allow a little more leeway when it comes to word count. You can go a bit higher, but not too much. YA in general should be a lower word count than adult fiction, and children’s fiction, lower still. Literary fiction also allows a bit longer of a word count, but not too much more than general fiction. 

So what do you do if you go over the word count? You can try to submit the project and take your chances, provided you’re not too far over the recommended word count for your genre. After all, Twilight was picked up by an agent and was way past the normal word count for YA fiction. The best course of action, however, is to revise until you’re closer. Alternately, you might consider making your manuscript a two-book series. If you go this route, you will need to find a complete break in the manuscript, one that makes sense and includes a climax and a conclusion. There is nothing worse than reading a to-be-continued book that does not give a clear ending of some kind.

If you’re under the manuscript word count, this is a bit easier to rectify. Simply add more to your story, fill in with details, backgrounds, setting information, or anything else you feel the manuscript might be lacking. You might also consider having a trusted friend who is a reader or editor look over your work and determine where the work needs fluffing. Remember, however, not to add narrative for the sake of adding to the final word count. Generally, if the word count is too far under, the story needs more attention to plot and theme. 

Remember that agents and publishers almost always ask for word counts. This is so they can determine if the work needs major editing and/or fits the expected word counts for a genre. Unfortunately, it is also used to gauge your writing ability in some cases. If you’re a new author and your manuscript is 150,000 words, you have probably not mastered the fine art of editing (and in their eyes, writing as well). The same is true for writing below the word count. Basically, it’s a red flag you don’t want to raise, either way. 

Here is a list of manuscript word counts that should be helpful to you, as well as a quick visual aid:

General Fiction: 80,000 - 90,000
(includes romance, mystery, thriller, horror, LGBT, westerns, crime, women’s fiction)
Fantasy and Sci-Fi: 100,000 or even a touch higher is normally okay, unless it’s YA or children’s
Literary Fiction: 80,000 - 100,000
YA: 60,000 - 80,000
Middle Grade: 40,000 - 55,000
Children’s: 20,000 - 35,000

Again, going slightly over or under should not be a problem in most cases. If your romance novel ends up at 92,000 words, it should still be fine to present to agents. If your YA novel ends up at 101,000 words, however, you have a problem to address. Remember that more pages equals more printing paper, which equals more expense for a publisher who might not be so keen to take a chance and risk that much money on a new author. Keeping the recommended word counts in mind should put you on the right track toward publication!

I hope this helps. Please don’t hesitate to contact us/comment for more information or with questions!

By: Carla Trueheart 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dealing with Rejection in the Publishing World

By: Carla Trueheart 

Whether you’re a new writer or an established writer, sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with rejection in the publishing world. Unfortunately, it’s part of the process, but that knowledge does little to ease the pain of rejection. As writers, we often read stories about famous authors who have been rejected in the past, like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, but when it comes down to receiving that dreaded email in our inbox, we are still hit with the punch of rejection on a personal level. We wonder if we’re any good as a writer, what could possibly have been wrong with our work, and why the intended agent or publisher did not connect with our project. If we thought we were sending to a sure-thing, or worse, we sent in a full manuscript after a request from an agent or publisher, we might even shed a tear or two.

It’s important to remember that most agents and publishers don’t want us to take the rejection personally. There are many, many reasons why your work might have been rejected, and since the publishing industry is a business, it might not come down to your writing or even your idea. At the time, the plot or theme might not be what is selling, or the market might be flooded with works similar to your own. An agent might have too many projects on their list and not need your additional project at the time. The publisher might not know what genre would best suit your work, and therefore, pass on the manuscript. If you’re sending out shorter works or poetry, it could come down to limited space in a journal, an abundance of submittals, or even the editor being in a bad mood when they read your story or poem. Basically, we have to remember that there are many other factors to consider.

So then, what to do when you receive a rejection? First of all, take a breath. Remember that there are many other opportunities, and that you are NOT a bad writer. You came this far, completed a project, and have a dream you’re attempting to fulfill. For all of those reasons, you need to keep going. Toss the rejection aside, wipe away the bruise, and send your project elsewhere. The best and most famous writers are the ones who not only kept learning about their craft, but also were persistent even when the odds were against them. Keep in mind that someone will eventually connect with your work and that you will eventually get where you’d like to be. And besides, you don’t really want to work with an agent or publisher who does not champion your work. Finding the right fit takes time, but it will happen.

 One last thing to remember is that publishing, at this stage of the game, is not a quick business. Some authors get lucky and publish after a year or two, but for others, it could take up to ten years or more. While waiting for your golden moment, keep working on new projects, perfecting the project you’re trying to sell, and revising your query/cover letter as needed. Keep reading books and learning about writing. Stay positive and assured. And when you finally get that “yes” reply, wherever you land, it will feel like it was meant to be all along. 

By: Carla Trueheart

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Researching for Novels

By: Emrald Sethna

Historical fiction is fun to read and write. After all, you get a glimpse into the past, whether that be involving time travel or characters living out their lives in an alternative history to the one we know of. However, absorbing readers into realistic depictions of the past is not always an easy feat. Depending on the era or year you delve into, you might have to consider cultural differences, community opinions towards certain subjects, familial roles, fashion, and even popular language. There is quite a bit you might have to take into account. What is the best way to learn of these historical elements? Well, Google of course.

There are several websites you can visit that offer you detailed insight into the life of people and great events taking place in the era you wish to learn about. Here are some examples of wonderful sites to research with:

For information about preferred hairstyles throughout history:

Local Histories tell stories of a country and culture's past, like the following page about the history of India:

History Magazine also posts great articles about life in different time periods, as shown in this article discussing interesting facts about life in the 1500s:

There are many websites devoted to relaying information about history, and they are available to you to explore and learn from. All you need to do is type in the era you wish to research—or a specific element of the era, such as roles of women in society during that time—in a Google search. You'll be amazed by all the facts you read, facts that you can mention and include in your historical fiction. It's important to help your readers engage in the plot and be absorbed into your story.  

If you ever need help with researching, comment below and send us a message. We are here to help!

Happy writing!

by: Emrald Sethna