Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What is Impromptu Writing? Q&A with Prompts

By: The Steps to Getting Published Team

Q: What is Impromptu Writing?
A: Impromptu Writing is timed writing, typically using a subject you are given on the spot. It involves writing without stopping to edit or revise.

Q: What are the benefits of Impromptu Writing for writers?
A: Impromptu Writing forces you to not only write, but to resist the urge to go back and edit your work, leading to higher productivity and creativity. It also serves as a gauge of your punctuation, grammar, and quick-thinking skills. 

Q: How much time is allowed?
A: Generally, we recommend 15 or 20 minutes, timed. You could try shorter or longer times—like 5 minutes—but it’s best not to go too far over 20 minutes for best results. Here is a fun link for timers:

Q: What happens if I run out of ideas before time is up?
A: Don’t fret! Just keep writing, even if the ideas aren’t directly linked to the writing topic. If you’re writing about the color red, for example, you might start writing about a red object and your memories of that object (a day in the park with a red kite, a day of swimming with a red pool float, a favorite red food, etc.).

Q: How do I start?
A: We have provided a few Impromptu Writing prompts, based on teaching techniques and our experience. It’s best to choose one randomly (with your eyes closed, if you can) without looking ahead first. Just choose a prompt, set the timer, and go. Do not stop!


  • Write a short story about a family who finds themselves in the midst of a long-term power outage
  • Write a romantic short story
  • Write about how you feel on your favorite planet
  • Write a short story about an unexpected reunion
  • Create a character profile. Write about your character’s history, their personality, their relationship with other characters, their ambitions—everything you know about this character
  • Create your own restaurant. Fill in recipes, food, clientele, menus, and info about regular customers
  • Write social media posts from famous people in history (ex: Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln, etc.)
  • Consider the point of view of a tree and create a story about what it may observe

Prompts for POETS

  • Create a poem or two about a childhood experience
  • Write up a collection of short poems revolving around the theme of mortality
  • Write about the first color you see
  • Write a poem about a time you forgave, but did not forget
  • Write a poem about berry picking
  • Write a poem about your prom (or a dance). What were you wearing? Who did you go with? What music was playing? How did you feel?


  • Write a snippet of a screenplay about a girls’ or boys’ weekend gone awry
  • Write a short sitcom script that takes place in a fantasy world
  • Write a play about a runaway and a group of traveling actors
  • Write a horror/drama script involving an unorthodox girl or boy with highly religious parents
  • Write a short play about an overly polite pirate with a broken heart


  • Describe a childhood friend
  • Write about a treasured or sentimental item that has little or no material value 
  • Describe an object in the room
  • Pick a news story today. Write about it. What side have you taken? Why?
  • Write about the coldest you have ever been
  • Write about a time you found something that did not belong to you (money, a purse, a backpack, etc.) 
  • Write about the first time you swam in a pool (or lake or ocean, etc.)

Feel free to try out other genres, and don’t forget to post your stories to the blog. We’d love to read them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Spotlight Publishing Opportunity

Slackjaw Magazine

Accepts: HUMOR articles

Special Note: Please submit 1,000 words or less per article

LINK: Slackjaw

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Spring Writing Prompts

By: Emrald Sethna

Flowers are maturing, the air is getting warmer, baby birds are spreading their wings for the first time, trees are reaching up higher than ever--we're in the peak of Spring, everyone! What a lovely time to be inspired by the nature around us and delve into some new writing projects. Writing prompts are always a great way to get inspired, exercise your writing skills, and take some time to reflect. Here are some prompts for you to utilize as you enjoy this beautiful season:

  • Write a short story from the point of view of a blossoming flower
  • Write a poem about what the season represents to you
  • Recreate your most cherished memory of Spring in a short story
  • In ten words or less, reflect on gardening
  • In a short story, create a character that finds hope in the idea of Spring 
  • Choose one of the images provided below and write an emotional story in two paragraphs

Happy Writing!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Choosing your POV: When to use First-person, Second-person, and Third-person Narrators

BY: Carla Trueheart 

In the planning stages of story writing, one element you want to consider is the POV, or point of view, of your writing project. The POV, in short, is defined by who is telling the story—what is their position in the story or their vantage point? If you’re new to POV, here is a quick breakdown:

First-person POV: Story is told from the “I” perspective
Second-person POV: Story is told from the “you” perspective
Third-person POV: Story is told from the “he or she” perspective

There are also different types of third-person narration, including third-person objective (distant witness, neutral narrator), third-person subjective/limited (stays with one character), and third-person omniscient (god-like narrator who knows all). There are a few points to consider when choosing a POV, including how close you’d like your reader to be to the protagonist, what you would like your reader to know or understand about the story, and how much factual information you’ll be providing them. In other words, if you choose a first-person narrator, your readers are limited to only what your protagonist knows and feels. Each POV has its own strengths and weaknesses, so let’s break them down. 

First-person POV: If you choose this POV for your story, you’ll no doubt have a character with whom your reader can identify with and really know, as the reader will be seeing the world strictly through this narrator’s eyes and know every thought process. Your reader will be super close to this narrator, and in most cases, start to trust them (unless you’re working with an unreliable narrator or a narrator who suffers from delusions, etc.). In short, the strength of the first-person narrator is the closeness. On the flip side, the reader is restricted to only what the narrator tells them, or what the narrator knows from their experiences. An example of first-person POV in a popular novel is The Hunger Games, with Katniss Everdeen as the narrator. Readers experience everything with Katniss and know her well, forming a bond. But we cannot fully know Peeta, for example, because we are not aware of his thought processes or motives. We see Peeta only as Katniss sees him. 

Second-person POV: This POV is rarely used. If you do see it in stories, it is often used in shorter works or just used experimentally. It can have a great impact on the story, as it puts the reader in the “you” position—that’s the strength of this POV. The weak point, however, is that it’s difficult to keep up this POV for any length of time, which is why it’s most often seen in snippets or short pieces, sometimes in poetry. Jennifer Egan uses second-person POV in one chapter of her Pulitzer Award Winner A Visit from the Goon Squad

Third-person POV: As mentioned, there a few forms of this POV. The most common in modern literature is subjective, limited to one character, as in the Harry Potter series. While Harry Potter is written using an outside narrator, the narrator sticks close to Harry throughout most of the story. This is useful as it can be interchangeable with first-person POV, meaning the reader knows the thoughts and experiences of one particular character. The weakness of this POV lies in the closeness of one character at the expense of others. What, for example, was Hermione Granger thinking throughout her struggles at Hogwarts?

Also used quite often is the omniscient third-person, in which the narrator is god-like and knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters. This is a useful POV as the writer can comment on many characters, including their perceptions, fears, thoughts, and experiences. This POV is often used in romance novels, where it’s important to know both protagonists. The weakness of this POV is that writers often tend to head-hop, or switch back and forth too quickly between characters. This confuses the reader and gives them less of a focal point in the story as far as characterization. 

So how do you know which POV to choose? This is the tricky part, but also the fun part. Let’s break this down as well, to help you make a decision. 

1. What do you want the reader to take away from the story? Is it more important that they connect with a main character as the narrator (first-person) or that they are told a story from an outside narrator (third-person)?

2. How much distance do you want in the story? It might help here to think of POV as a camera. In first-person narration, the camera is right on the character’s shoulder, all the time, recording everything they see and do. In third-person, the camera pulls back from that character, allowing commentary and visuals from another source, but still staying close by. And if you choose third-person omniscient, the camera pulls back further still, taking snapshots of everyone in the scene. Consider this when choosing POV.

3. How much fun do you want to have with character voice? While your outside narrator in third-person should have an interesting and unique voice while telling the story, you can’t deny that the voice of a first-person narrator is oftentimes the most memorable element of a story. In first-person, you can be quirky in prose, emotional, silly, edgy, or serious. You probably have a little more room to play with your wording, too. In choosing a more “storyteller” type of narrator (third-person), you might not have a chance to really narrow in on a protagonist's voice, but you also have a chance to assume a “once upon a time” vibe. All of these points should be considered in making your decision. 

One final tip: Do not be afraid to re-write! If your story is not working or you just want to see how it would move along with a different POV, then by all means change it. The story is yours to play with until it’s published and out there, so don’t hesitate to experiment. You never know what will work best!

Advanced Tip (FYI): It might surprise you to learn that there are also two types of first-person narrators: first-person central and first-person peripheral. In first-person central, the narrator is the protagonist (example: The Catcher in the Rye). In first-person peripheral, the narrator is a secondary character, sometimes commenting on another main character (example: The Great Gatsby).  

Let us know if you have any questions. We’re here to help you as you work toward publication!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Spotlight Publishing Opportunity

Canary Literary Magazine

Accepts: Poetry, essays, short stories (1500 word limit)

Special Note: Focus on environmental issues 

Submissions Link:

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Archetypes: A Writer's Essential Guide to Characters

Written by: The Steps to Getting Published Team

Most writers are familiar with the hero archetype in fiction writing, but there are other archetypes as well, ones that might come in handy while constructing characters for your writing. The Steps to Getting Published is proud to present a list of common character archetypes, and we hope you will use these in your own creative projects. This is not a full list, but we encourage you to explore these archetypes and research more at your leisure. There are links provided at the end of the article to get you started, and as always, please feel free to share your experience or knowledge in this subject in the comments below. 

What is an archetype? 

An archetype is a symbol, person, setting, or motif common in literature. The archetype is often recurring in stories, and in looking at character archetypes specifically, you’ll spot some familiar types—such as The Hero archetype—in many movies and books. 

How can learning about archetypes help with my writing?

In studying archetypes and applying them to your own work, you can construct well-rounded characters with identifiable traits, hopes, and fears. Your readers will instinctively know your characters, based on similar characters with similar personalities. You might also gather ideas based on archetype descriptions.  

 In examining character archetypes in this article, you’ll find some of our favorites, such as The Artist, The Caregiver, The Spiritual Seeker, The Innocent, and more. We’ll start off with The Hero archetype, including some examples of popular characters and some facts about the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero
The Hero archetype is one we are all familiar with. These are the characters who are fighting to achieve an ultimate goal despite the often dangerous situations they face. The hero is considered morally "good," and while facing great dangers and obstacles that block their path, they often struggle with their "goodness." Staying true to themselves and their goal despite any calls to "the dark side" is what makes this archetype a popular, heroic figure in literature. Some examples of heroes were know and love are Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Sir Gawain, and Frodo Baggins. These heroes embark on their Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey itself is an archetype in which a hero plays out their story. It follows a 12-step pattern deconstructed by Joseph Campbell:

1. Ordinary World - Introduces the character, oblivious to the adventure ahead
2. Call to Adventure - The threat or call to attention that prompts the adventure
3. Refusal to the Call - Reveals fears and doubts they must overcome
4. Meeting the Mentor - Finds guidance and or training through a Mentor archetype
5. Crossing the Threshold - Truly begins the quest and adventure
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - Out of their comfort zone, the hero faces a series of challenges
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave - Preparation to face great danger or inner conflict
8. Ordeal - Where the hero uses all skills learned to overcome their greatest challenge
9. Reward (Seizing the Sword) - After defeating the enemy, the hero receives a reward (either a physical object and/or traits that make them stronger than before)
10. The Road Back - The journey home, reflecting on personal objectives and a higher cause 
11. Resurrection - One final battle where failure is not an option
12. Return with the Elixir - The hero returns home a changed person, for better or worse

The Rebel
The Rebel archetype challenges authority and answers to no one. He or she is a revolutionary, breaks the status quo, and is a firm nonconformist. As such, this type of character will normally leap off the page, as his or her actions will be outside of the norm and will shock readers. There are a few different types of rebels, including those who go against government to prove a point, those who face off against all authority (parents, teachers, police), and those who push the limits of society. On a psychological level, this archetype is usually suffering. At best, they are lost. It’s possible they have a bad family structure or they are having difficulty functioning on a social level. On the positive side, they are usually the ones who bring in change when needed, assuming they beat their own demons. In writing this character, it might be a good idea to explore childhood patterns and social issues. It might also be interesting to write a rebel who does not physically “look” the part of the rebel. A rebel librarian, perhaps?

The Caregiver
Originally known as the Mother, the Caregiver is the character whose goal is to help others. They willingly protect and care for other characters, aiding heroes on their quest through companionship, emotional support, and or medicinal support. Although this archetype is prone to martyrdom and becoming the victim of exploitation, their compassion and generosity is unmatched by other archetypes. They fear selfishness and ingratitude and do their best to keep the ones they love—as well as themselves—from harm. This archetype is shown through characters like Mary Poppins, Miss. Honey from Matilda, and Hagrid from Harry Potter.  

The Intellectual
The Intellectual archetype is intuitive, is constantly seeking education, and is able to keep up a conversation with almost anybody. They can be stubborn and combative, always think they know the answer, and they can even be narrow-minded at times. On the positive side, they are perpetually trying to find answers, so they are a good character for any novel—the Hermione Granger figure—who always knows the best way to do things. They are highly logical, so be aware that they might lack depth of thought (an opposition to The Artist archetype), and they might take failing harder than other archetypes. 

The Lover
We see The Lover archetype in many stories. These are the characters who revolve around the creation of meaningful, lasting relationships. They advocate for strength in intimacy and are also known as the friend, partner, intimate, enthusiast, sensualist, or team-builder characters. They fear being alone or being rejected, rarely recovering from the loss associated with heartbreak. It is their goal to be around the people they love, thriving in situations that bring them closer to their companions, loved ones, or friends. It is often that this character shows commitment, appreciation, and gratitude without being prompted to do so. The weakness of this archetype, however, can include the risk of losing their identity as they strive to please others. Examples of the Lover are characters like Samwise from Lord of the Rings, Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, and Anna from Frozen. They are passionate people that thrive amongst the people they love.   

The Artist
The Artist archetype does not necessarily need to be defined as a creative who masters art, music, culinary arts, literature, or dance. The Artist might also be seen as someone who appreciates beauty, might be known as a “dreamer,” and perhaps sees the world in different, unique ways. If writing a character using The Artist archetype, it might be useful to explore the inner thoughts of this type of person, including some of the quirkiness and abstract thinking so common with The Artist. For example, an artist sees things like color, light, words, tastes, and textures differently. Basically, you’ll want to avoid setting this character up as merely a man or woman who produces art. Why is this lifestyle so important to them? Why do they produce art and why does it make them happy? What drives them? What happens if they fail?

The Everyman
This archetype is a fun one. The Everyman is a character often depicted as a stand-in for the audience. Although they are not a hero (they do not feel the moral obligations that heroes do), they can be protagonists or supporting characters that are thrown into an adventure. These kinds of characters do not have much control over the situations they find themselves in. They are normal people in the wrong place at the wrong time—or the right place at the right time, depending on the adventure. Rather than trying to overcome great obstacles for a higher purpose or for the common good, as a hero does, The Everyman simply tries to escape difficult situations alive. A great example of an Everyman is John Watson from the Sherlock Holmes novels or Arthur Dent from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Watson is considered a normal person who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, being eccentric Sherlock's right-hand man as he solves crimes, just as Arthur Dent is a normal businessman who finds himself saved from the destruction of his planet. These characters reflect the normal lives of ordinary people, like readers, yet are swept into a grand adventure.   

The Spiritual Seeker
This archetype follows a specific path, one they hope will lead to life purpose and a higher level of spiritual understanding. The Spiritual Seeker is often searching for truth and purpose, and they are not necessarily happy, nor will they necessarily be happy when they attain higher levels of truth and purpose. To that end, we might write this type of character as constantly searching but not finding, unfulfilled, or facing an existential crisis. On the positive side, this archetype normally sees the good in most situations, and they normally believe they are happy as they are tossing aside the material world in exchange for something better. To begin a story, consider sending them off to find what they are seeking.

The Innocent
Many characters we adore or are inspired by are part of The Innocent archetype. These characters are ones that—as the name suggests—are innocent bystanders or supporting characters in a plot. They are typically children or women who are pure and unfazed by any dark, evil situations they become entangled in. Their goal is to be happy, do the right things, and they fear being punished for doing something bad or wrong. Some may see these characters as "stupid," though they are truthfully so morally pure that any evil surrounding them does not corrupt or impede them. Prim from The Hunger Games is a good example of this archetype. She is a young girl who is concerned with the wellness of others and is hopeful despite great odds against the ones she cares for. These innocent characters are a beacon for hope, purity, and righteousness in a plot. 


Spotlight Publishing Opportunity

Chantwood Magazine
Literary Magazine

Accepts: All Genres
Forms: Short Stories and Poetry (100-7,000 words)

Special Note: This magazine does "blind" readings, meaning your work will be judged on writing only, not credentials.

Submissions Link:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Spotlight Publishing Opportunity

Bewildering Stories 

Literary Magazine

Accepts: all genres, including fantasy, horror, and sci-fi

Forms: most forms, including short stories and poetry

Submissions Link:

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: