Monday, January 29, 2018

Winter Writing: Exercises in Show Don't Tell

By: Emrald Sethna

As writers, we are often told to "show, not tell," meaning we must understand the importance of details and descriptions that grip readers and reel them into the story. They should be able to envision the environment you display and be stimulated by the senses that the characters experience. In other words, include detailed descriptions. This can be difficult, however, given that there is a fine line between just enough detail and too much detail. Would you want to spend two or three pages listening to a description of the meal a character is eating? Not really. You may want to allow readers to see or taste the dish for themselves but that can be done in a matter of a couple sentences--ones that not simply tell readers about the dish, either. Let's look at a few examples and exercises to help you understand and practice the use of descriptions.

Since we are in the midst of the winter season, we'll focus on descriptions of the winter environment. Feel free to take inspiration for your own work in the future! Firstly, we will look at an effective description that "shows" followed by an unneffective one that "tells" and a long, undesirable desciption that "shows too much."

What you want: "The frost clung to the stubby tree's sleeping branches, sparkling in the golden morning light."

What you don't want: "There was frost on the tree."

What you don't want: "The milky white frost clung to the stubby tree's sleeping, brown-black branches that stretched five feet long. They sparkled and glimmered in the sun's golden rays hitting it at a perfect 45 degree angle."

Notice how "telling" a reader about something leaves them with several questions. What tree? Where was the frost? What did it look like? Meanwhile, a long description gives readers too much unnecessary information. We don't need to know what precise angle the light hits the tree nor do we need to know the color of frost or how long the tree's limbs are. Writers must strive to describe what is necessary--just enough to allow readers a glimpse into the environment, which they can summon through their own creativity--without going overboard.

Let's have you exercise descriptions of winter. Below you will find some key words for the different senses a character could experience in a winter environment. Your job is to take the following situation and create an effective description.

Situation: Your character is walking down a sidewalk. It's the middle of winter. What is the world like around them?

Here are the key words you could use:

Sight: Sparkle, Hazy, Glisten, Dense, Pile, Cloud, Thick

Smell: Sharp, Fresh, Crisp, Thick

Taste: Icy, Frozen, Cold

Hearing: Crush, Crunch, Swish, Whoosh

Feeling: Soft, Chilly, Cold, Sharp, Dense, Solid, Icy


"The dense snow crunched beneath her boots. Her vision was hazy from the cloud of soft flakes that showered down onto her. It easily erased the footprints she left behind."

Get creative and try to show the situation rather than tell readers what happens. Utilize adjectives you would associate with winter and use your own experiences as inspiration!

With a little practice, you will have no problem becoming the Goldilocks of descriptions, distinguishing between too much information, not enough description, and what is just right.

Share your exercise descriptions in the comments below, and if you have any questions, let us know!

Happy Writing!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

When is the Best Time to Submit Manuscripts?

By: Carla Trueheart 

In the literary world, timing is everything. Most writers know the importance of book release dates, but how about sending out book proposals? Over the many years it took me to get published, I detailed the agents and publishing houses I sent to, and most importantly, kept a record of dates and times. What I found, in looking back over these lists, is that there are definitely good times of the year to submit manuscripts, and bad times of the year to submit. While literary agencies and publishing companies are indeed open year-round in most cases, response times and even follow-up emails are highly dependent on the seasons. To help aid you in submission times, here is a list of the seasons with an explanation of possible reasons agencies and publishers either respond quickly or leave you hanging. 

Summertime is the best time for fun in the sun, but the worst time for submitting manuscripts. It’s vacation time for many, and I’ve found that I rarely received responses to query letters during the summer. If I did get a response, it was normally not until the fall. It’s also quite likely you will run into notes on the agency webpage stating that so-and-so is away right now, and is therefore not accepting any queries. While it’s not out of the question to submit during the summer, be aware of vacation dates, agency attendance, and response times.

This time of year is not normally a problem as far as response time. Most agents seem to be tucking in for the winter season and not vacationing or attending conventions. Overall, I would consider the autumn the best time of year to submit manuscripts. In fact, when I finally did receive a publishing contract, it was after I had submitted a book proposal in the fall. While this is obviously not an exact science and is dependent on where your agency is located, there are some definite pluses to submitting manuscripts in the fall. It’s also a good reading time, so an agent might be more willing to look over your manuscript or partial.

This can go either way. There are a few things to consider: the holidays and NANO (National Novel Writing Month). After November, a lot of writers involved in NANO are submitting proposals. You don’t want to get lost in the flurry of queries. And the holidays, of course, are busy for most agents—they are people too—so it’s comparable to the summer in that respect. The winter is high reading time, however, so in my experience, it can go either way.

Agents are usually pretty quick to respond in the spring, but conventions do start up around this time. As such, you may see a higher than average amount of agents not accepting manuscripts until a certain date, or they may list dates they are out of the office. This is also true of publishing houses who will be attending conventions and seminars. On the plus side, you might consider attending one of these conventions, as they are great ways to approach an agent and tell them about your work, face to face. Still, the spring is a good time to submit overall.

In sum, the summer and winter are probably the worst times to submit, while the spring and fall are the best. Again, this is not an exact science, just what research and my own personal experience has determined through the years. So what do you do in the meantime? You can submit a query and take your chances, or you can continue to work on your manuscript revisions and final edits. You can also continue to research agencies and publishers so when the right agent is available at the right time, you will have the best shot at receiving a publishing contract.

 Good luck with your queries, and please let us know if you have any questions at all!

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