Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Platform-Building for the Prepublished Author

A platform. That which is stood upon to be heard. And in this noisy world, where billions of people have direct access to major distribution channels, getting heard is no small task.

No wonder new authors obsess over building their platforms. For most types of nonfiction, a platform before publication is a must.  It establishes both your authority and your pull. The importance of a platform for a prepublished fiction author is up for discussion, however.  Regardless, keep in mind two points:
  • Don’t sweat it. Rarely do debut authors have a truly robust online presence unless they are celebrities.  Between someone with an amazing platform and mediocre writing and someone with amazing writing and no platform, guess who I’m going to pick? (This is not a theoretical conjecture.) 
  •  Don’t ignore it. Platform-building normally takes a long, long time and involves a considerable learning curve. Putting in the legwork from the beginning helps.
Upon hearing they need a platform, prepublished fiction authors often do three things:
  1. Start a blog.
  2. Create an author page on Facebook. 
  3. Head to Twitter.
These may be steps in the right direction, but more often than not, they’re not. Here’s why.


Unpublished writers seem to love writing about writing. Unfortunately, most of your blog readers end up being other unpublished writers, which might be great for comradery, but less so for reaching your future core readership. Try to think of something that will attract readers, not just writers (or -- if you write kidlit -- the decision makers in readers’ life: teachers, librarians, parents). 

Blog with an end-goal in mind. Think about a service you want to provide, a niche that needs filling. Think about the persona you want to portray – Whimsical? Brooding? Twisted? High-minded? Let your blog be a natural extension of your brand – and make part of the draw to buying your work be, well, you.

One powerful way to jumpstart your platform is to piggyback on what others are doing. Many blogs are hungry for content providers – and already have hard-won established readerships. Maybe you can sign up as a reviewer for a book blog, or a commentator for a mom blog, etc. Or you and your fellow writers can join forces and start a blog where you share content responsibilities. Leverage the pre-existing resources – if the connection makes sense.


You know how Facebook works: the people you interact with most often and the posts that get the most comments are the ones that show up highest on your feed. If you’re not posting regularly, and people aren’t commenting back, your author page will soon fade into near-oblivion. And frequent posting when you have no real news can get obnoxious, fast.

You might be better off skipping an author page until you have traction and people who actively want to hear your writing news. Or perhaps help start a group Facebook page where a ring of genre-specific authors share their news. Your collective pull and content will help you all gain more exposure. Or you don’t worry about Facebook– just keep a nice personal account where you can share your squee-worthy news and forget the rest.

Most Facebook posts have a lifespan of hours; a few potent ones a lifespan of days. Most incredibly shared posts are passed around mindless of the originator. If you’re on Facebook and you enjoy it, by all means, continue – but don’t feel any need to make it one of the cornerstones of your marketing plan just yet.


There is nothing wrong with Twitter, and a lot right with it. If you choose to be on there (and yes, participation all these social media outlets are choices – you don’t HAVE to do all of them), just use it in a way that makes sense. Share cool and useful ideas; don’t make yourself a self-promotion hound. Reach out to people who seem like they’d belong in your “tribe;” don’t just mindlessly try to get the biggest follow-ship you can. Remember, the average tweet’s lifespan is much, much shorter than even a Facebook posts’. A select group of people who care about what you tweet and reply, favorite, and retweet often is much better than an indifferent cast of thousands.

In Short

Many resources – from books to websites -- exist out there to move you along. Just remember to start with a goal in mind. Don’t just throw something up ad hoc because you heard you had to have a platform. Be strategic – about who you want your audience to be, how you want your persona portrayed, what you can sustainably provide content about and whether there are synergistic partnerships you can start or join in on. 

By all means, don’t limit yourself to the social media networks mentioned above – think videos, web comics, memes, speech engagements, online or offline classes, etc. Slowing down during the planning stage will save you a lot of time and effort at the back end. And remember rule #1: don’t sweat it. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Happy platform-building!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Membership drive is now over - Thank you for your support of Books For Africa!

Welcome, new members!

Thank you to all of you who contributed to our Books For Africa fundraiser membership drive! We'll update you with an impact total soon, and return emails after the weekend.

Happy writing,

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sign up for RYS Membership This Week Only - July 17-18

You've asked. 
We've answered:


For a very limited time on July 17-18—and with the Books for Africa cause behind us—Rate Your Story will allow non-members to sign up for a 2014 PRO membership at a pro-rated, 1/2 year price.


Cost: $90

Duration of Membership: Immediately upon checkout through December 31, 2014


- Priority Inbox Treatment (your emails get bumped ahead of free/non-member submissions);

- 10 total manuscripts for reading/rating:
     3 free day submissions total
     7 "Anytime" submissions;

- Access to PRO bonus exclusive emails with occasional agent/editor interviews, discounts offers on professional critiques, market/submission calls, and more;

- Donation to Books For Africa's 1 Million Books for Gambia fundraiser* (video here)

Window to Purchase: July 17 and 18, 2014 ONLY

How to Purchase:
Visit the Membership Options Page on July 17 or 18 for checkout buttons. These checkout buttons will appear on the Membership Options Page the morning of July 17. These buttons will disappear at midnight (Central) on July 18. (Note: We reserve the right to end the offer early if we are inundated with an overwhelming number of new signups.)

*50% of net proceeds after costs, fees, etc. will be donated to Books For Africa, Inc. - 1 Million Books for Gambia. Books for Africa, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

If you have any questions, email us at rateyourstory at gmail dot com.

Please share, tweet, and let your friends know about this very limited offer. When it's gone, it's gone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Do I Write?: Author Blurbs for the Pre-Published

You’re a pre-published author. No biggie – tons of people are in the same boat. But then you start drafting your query letters bio and before you know it, your banging your head against the wall, cursing the day you eschewed your parents’ suggestion to become an accountant…

Relax. Every single successful writer started out with no publishing credits, and you can too. Agents and editors understand where you’re coming from and, for the most part, have reasonable expectations of the newbie author.

When you write a cover or query letter, there is no perfect amount of information to provide. It all depends on the circumstances.  In general, however, the fewer writing credentials you have, the shorter your bio should be. Don’t sweat trying to fill a paragraph up if you don’t have a paragraphs-worth of information to share. Being sparse always trumps being irrelevant. 

Do mention:

  • Degrees relevant to writing (English, Journalism, Creative Writing, MFA) or to your specific content (Education, if you’re a children’s writer; science, history, etc. if it relates). 
  • Relevant career or life experience (Law enforcement for crime novels; military for international thrillers; having lived in Uganda for two years if you wrote something about Uganda; teaching if you write for kids, etc.).
  • Membership in well-known professional writing organizations like the SCBWI.
  • Legitimate regional or national writing awards. 
  • Major or relevant magazine, newspaper, and web publications. By major, I mean publications you can name-drop and impress your non-author friends with. By relevant, I mean ones tied closely to your genre or topic.your platform if you have one. (This is another sweat-inducing topic for pre-published authors. We’ll get into it next time.)

Do not mention:

  • Your life experience, degrees, or career if it’s irrelevant to the project at hand.
  • Every little publishing credit you have. There are a lot of obscure publishers out there, and getting published in them might mean very little. Just list the most prestigious ones and indicate there are others.
  • Every little writing award you’ve received, like that first place prize in your middle school writing competition (unless you happen to be a high school freshman, in which case that might be relevant).
  • The composition, duration, or any other detail about your critique group. Having a critique group, critique partner, or beta readers is great, but the details are irrelevant.
  • Anything about your family, unless it is clearly and directly relevant to your project. If you write about autism and you have an autistic child, that’s worth knowing. If you write romances and are a thirty-something mother of three, keep it to yourself until you’ve established a relationship with your agent or editor.
  • Your motivation for writing the book. If it’s interesting and important, the topic will speak for itself. Honest. Basically, editors and agents can spot padding when they read it, and they don’t appreciate it.
But what if you really, truly don’t have ANY writing credentials worth mentioning? You can write something along the lines of “This is my first novel.” --- without any explanation about why you’re worthy. Your work will speak for itself, or it won’t. You can also just sidestep the issue:

My <specific genre> novel, Title, is loosely based on my own experience/interest in <relevant experience/interest>. Because of your <relevant interest>, I thought my story might intrigue you. 

That quote is based on an actual query letters that got requests for a full.  That was ALL the author said about herself, and that’s all she had to say. Better to keep the focus on the project than to put even a line of weak filler in the query. Or, in other words, better to keep the agent/editor excited about what’s coming than to raise a red flag about your level of professionalism.

Hopefully you’re feeling more confident about making your biographical debut now. Share your query letter bios in the comments below – inspire other people with what’s worked for you, or get feedback on how to make your bio stronger.

And now, for a special-limited time offer:

1/2 year Pro Membership will be available July 17-18 only - 

Our membership options have been closed since earlier this year. HOWEVER, if you want a yearly membership, we will open one option from July 16-18 ONLY.
The $90, half-year PRO membership good for the rest of 2014 will include:
 10 total submissions for rating plus comments 
7 "anytime" submissions - must be sent before December 31, 2014
3 submissions on the free days (one MS on each day: Sep 1Oct 1, and Nov 1)
Priority inbox treatment
access to our pro-member monthly bonus email (with bi-monthly interviews).

*Miranda Paul and Rate Your Story will donate 50% of net proceeds after credit card charges, PayPal fees, and eCommerce costs to Books for Africa, Inc.'s 1 Million Books for Gambia project.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Every Aspiring Writer That Hopes So Desperately—So Painfully,

Guest post by Steven Bohls

I. Know. How. You. Feel. I truly do. Please, please listen to me. Please. Listen to what I REFUSED to listen to. If I could go back 10 years and give MYSELF a letter, it would be this:

Dear Steven,

"Dear Past Me" letter
I get that you think you’re special. I get that you think you’re smart and talented and whatever else you think you are. Stop being such a idiot about it already. You’re not entitled to a career in writing just because you think you were “born for this” or because you’re “sooo artistic, talented, and inspired.” My advice to you (well me): Write another book. Throw it away. Write a 3rd. Throw it away. 4th. Gone. 5th. Gone. Write until your brain feels like leftover oatmeal. Write until that blurry, sparkling, wad of career-stunting hubris is finally gone—replaced with actual experience, EARNED skill, and the liberating knowledge of WHY your writing is garbage and WHAT makes it so terrible. This is YOUR career. Earn it. Own it. Live it. Don’t settle for “talent and inspiration.” Getting an agent is like winning the Super Bowl. Is there any luck in winning the Super Bowl? Um… yes. If you think there’s no luck involved, then you’re a moron. On that same note, is there any skill involved? Very little. Almost none actually. Anyone can win the Super Bowl—well, as long as they have “talent and inspiration.” Right? Hmm… In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Okay, enough preachy, preachy for now. Here’s the story of my road so far:

I would say that my career in writing began long before I ever wrote a story. I have always, always, always, always been a dreamer. My mind is cluttered with more ideas than I could spit out in a lifetime. As a young teenager, I didn’t know what to do with these worlds, fantasies, and plots (though I didn’t know they were called plots at the time). I explored poetry, sculpture, painting, video game design, and just about every creative outlet I could think of. I wanted so desperately to make my dreams ‘real’ and it wasn’t until I discovered fiction that I knew I could make such a thing happen.

I finished my first novel about a decade ago. It was a grotesque, wart-covered troll dressed in a rhinestone jean jacket, tuxedo slacks, clown shoes, and a cowboy hat. Every colorful and creative idea I could muster, vomited into one .DOC file. It was scary (not scary a good way—scary like that dish in the back of the fridge that looks like meatloaf but smells unnervingly like peach cobbler).

I took the book to an editing service of a MS critique. Author/screenwriter John Robert Marlow was assigned to my MS and somehow saw something special in me despite the hackneyed glob of melodrama he’d just been forced to cram past his gullet. After the official ‘critique’, we became friends and he worked (for free) with me out of the goodness of his eternally patient heart for over a year, helping me to develop my storytelling ability because he believed in me.

We tried to submit the MS to the world in what became such a traumatic failure that I spun into a genuine depression that lasted for a year and a half.

This was a terrible and tragic time in my life so that’s the last I’ll say of it for now. I’m sure some of you know the raw anguish that I’m referring to, and don’t needa reminder here.

The facts remained: I had learned how to tell a story. But I did not know how to write.

I formed a dedicated writing group and wrote a second novel and then a third and a fourth. Stories came easily, but something important was still missing. I then discovered that the bestselling mega-author Brandon Sanderson volunteer taught one class every year at the university I was attending. Despite having senior-status priority registration, the class filled up in seconds and I didn’t get in. I showed up on the first day to see if I could somehow add it. Two hundred other hopefuls had the same idea. Brandon said he would add only three. He had everyone write their names on slips of paper than put the white bundle of confetti into his (totally awesome mind you) bowler hat and announced he would toss the papers in the air and snatch the lucky three at random.

“But first!” he said, holding up a finger like an infomercial spokesman, “has anyone written more than three novels? I give priority to serious writers.”

I could talk for hours about the influence Brandon had on me that year, but I will simply say that Brandon gave me what I was missing—he taught me how to write.

I discovered he’d written 12 novels before he was ever published. With an overabundance of tenacity and insanity coursing through me, I decided to write one novel every month for the next year. Brandon loved the idea. I completed 6 novels in the first 6 months. He worked closely with me during this time, offering wonderful revisions on many chunks of my books. He expressed confidence in my future but I still didn’t feel like I was ‘there’ yet.

So I wrote another book, attended writing conferences, accumulated writing awards, and focused more intensely than ever on my writing group. And then I wrote JED AND THE JUNKYARD WAR—the first book I felt truly excited/hopeful/confident about. But I was too scared to query it. The memory of the earlier depression still stung so severely, I just couldn’t go through it again.

Also, I knew I STILL needed to focus more on craft. STORIES FOR ROBERT was my ‘experiment’ in craft. The first version was pretentious and indulgent and my brother (who possesses great literary and writing aptitude) was quick to let me know this. I wrote it again from the beginning—this time, more tenderly.

I finished the second version and was very happy with the result. It was time to submit. I started submitting STORIES FOR ROBERT on a holiday (weird choice I know)—May 26th. The very next morning, I had three requests for the full.

Ella Kennen from Corvisiero Lit quickly responded and said she liked my writing but asked what else I had. I sent her JED AND THE JUNKYARD WAR. She read the whole thing and responded in less than half a day with a revise-and-resubmit then asked for STORIES FOR ROBERT in the meantime. A few days passed in which she read and once again asked, “Have anything else?” I sent her the first chapter of dark comedy/satire I’d written. She loved it but still asked again, “Have anything else?” I sent the first chapter of another middle grade. Her daughter read it and asked her mom, “Why didn’t you ask for the full?”

(Really, Ella, what’s going on here?)

She then asked for summaries of EVERY full book I’d written. (By the way everyone, this all happened in like 1-2 days)

I sent them. And then there was silence.

“She hates them.” I said to myself. “She hates them all.”

After non-stop communication, nothing but silence. All. Day. Long. (Oh yeah, and it was my birthday…)

I couldn’t stand it anymore so I added her as a friend on Facebook.

Nothing. No response.

That night, at 1am, I went to bed and checked my phone. She’d accepted my friend request and posted on my timeline.

“I have a belated birthday present for you. Stay tuned!”

I stared at the message for like an hour. My wife—sick of me asking “What does she mean??”—had long since fallen asleep.

And then, impulsivity surged and I clicked, ‘LIKE’ on the comment. In less than a minute, Ella sent a message.

“It's 2 am in Utah. What are you doing up?”

I stared at the message and with shaking hands, replied, “Staying tuned.”

“May I call you?”

I looked at my sleeping wife, grabbed a sweatshirt then snuck from my house and sat in the driveway. And then, at two in the morning, I got “the call.”

The reason I shared this long-winded story was to answer the question, “What got me an agent?” It wasn’t one book. It wasn’t three. Or four. It wasn’t one award or one writing class or even professional contacts (Yes I had a BUNCH of stellar “contacts”). It was EVERYTHING. It was my choice to treat this as a career before it ever became one—not as a hobby—not as a story or a series or an idea—but as  a way of life. And so, when I was finally ready—truly, truly ready. It happened. And not a moment before.

Don't chase Love, Fortune, or Success. Become the best version of yourselfAll too often, I hear the words, “I will not stop until…” Writing is what I do, it is who I am, and it is part of me I will never stop trying to improve. There is no “until,” and there never will be.
And so… I would also say that there is no substitute or shortcut for success in something that is as worth it as this. Treat writing with the same degree of commitment you might if you were trying to achieve something as EQUALLY awesome/prestigious/revered like neurosurgery or professional athletics. I promise you that there is NO faking it—no easy path through. Don’t think that you are the exception. Work hard. Study craft. Write until you can’t write anymore—and then wipe away the tears and KEEP writing.

Above all, from the words of Neil Gaiman in his incredible commencement speech

Make. Great. Art.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Come a Little Closer...

Eyeball from Miranda Granche, Creative Commons 2.0
…a little more…a little more…there! When writing, it’s best to get so close that you can see the whites of your character’s eyeballs—or rather, so close you can hear their every thought. This is called deep POV, or deep point of view. While there are times you might not use deep POV (when you’re writing from an omniscient POV, for instance, and using the voice of a narrator), it’s usually the best way to go.

But what is deep POV? you ask. And how do I use it?

Deep POV is when you write so deeply inside your character’s head that you take on their eyes, ears, and thoughts.

There’s no need for he felt or she heard in deep POV. When you ARE the character, you don’t need to specify to yourself that you felt it, you heard it, or you thought it. Confused yet? Here’s an example.

Jason worked his way through the dark hallway. He bumped into the wall and bit his lip. He felt warm blood ooze from the cut.


Jason worked his way through the dark hallways. He bumped into the wall and bit his lip. Warm blood oozed from the cut. (Note how I cut the “he felt” in the last sentence, and just jumped into the action as it happened)

AND ACTUALLY, you can deepen the POV further…

The dark hallway was a bear to maneuver. He bumped into a wall and sliced his lip. Warm blood oozed from the cut. (Note how I transitioned from telling how Jason worked through the hallway to actually BEING Jason as he walked. I took on his thoughts)

Can you see the differences in each sentence? They are subtle, but discernable. And the deeper you delve into your character’s POV, the more readers will connect with the story. Become part of the story. Love and recommend the story…

OK, maybe not that last one, but it will make your story more relatable, or closer, to the reader—and that can only be a good thing.

I know, I know, you’re wanting more examples. There is no better way to learn than to actually dive in and try it. So, take this sentence and see if you can deepen it:

Bree dropped the spoon. She heard it clatter on the kitchen floor, and she felt the cake batter splatter on her bare feet. What a sticky mess. She just knew her mom was going to freak!

How did you do?

If you cut out “she heard”, “she felt”, "she just knew" you are well on your way to understanding deep POV. If you took out “Her” from the last sentence and just started with “Mom”, you are practically a master!

There are more subtlety and techniques to learn, however. For more information on deep POV, you might try Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. It’s not a kid lit book, but it’s what taught me a lot about the subject.

Any questions? Ask them here and I’ll see if I can help! Or go pull a paragraph from a manuscript and show us your before and after in the comments below.

Ella's note: I ask authors to use deep pov all the time, and am thrilled when they already know about it. It's a simple but powerful tool to create an immersive reading experience, particularly when you combine it with rich characterization, which we'll be talking about in the the next couple of weeks. 

ABOUT KATIE: Katie Clark is a proud Rate Your story judge. Her published works include multiple A Tour of Your Muscular and Skeletal Systems, Animal Actors, Police Horses, and more. She is anticipating the release of her first YA dystopian novel, Vanquished, through Pelican Book Group. She is available for classroom visits and Skype chats to discuss her books. You can learn more at her website,

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dealing With Rejection: The Writer's Guide

The only writers that don’t experience rejection are the ones that don’t attempt submission. Yeah, rejection stinks, but not even trying stinks more. If rejection is an inevitable part of the process, then smart writers learn strategies to deal with it. But first, you have to understand what’s going through your head. Here are three common (if simplified) stories we tell ourselves about rejection:

  • It boils down to innate ability: People with talent get accepted. I got rejected. Ergo, I have not talent.
  • It’s the industry, stupid: Do you know the odds of being published? Of course I got rejected. Publishing’s too tough.
  • It’s a roll of the dice: Will the right editor see the right manuscript at the right time? Getting published is all about luck.

Those three stories have one very potent similarity: they take the control out of your hand.  Most of us have those niggling (or chasming) thoughts of self-doubt – about our talent and/or our chosen vocation. When a rejection comes in, it just affirms what we knew to be true all along. And when you think about the process that way long enough, anything other than quitting seems insane.

Then there’s one last way of understanding rejection. Let’s call it the eye of the tiger story. It’s the story that acknowledges that, yes, the publishing world is unpredictable and tough, but you are tougher. Garnering rejections is just one part of the effort you need to put in to arrive at your goal. And effort is nothing to shy away from. It is a powerful story that all successful writers share, in one form or another.

The Five-fold Path of Indulgence

You will be surprised how effectively changing your perception of rejection affects your reaction to it. But let’s face it: it will rarely give you a warm and cozy feeling. That’s where coping mechanisms kick in. In a nutshell, be good to yourself.

Indulge in Your Feelings
Rejection stings. It aches. It makes you feel rotten, nauseous, angry. More importantly, it makes you want to dive head-first into the closest pint (gallon?) of cake batter ice cream.  Whilst pummeling a pillow. And screaming at that character you love to hate in that HBO series you hate to love. As the tears pour down. Reach out to your partner, your critique buddies, your cat – heartache need not be a solitary activity.

Regardless of how the details shake out, throwing yourself a pity party is a perfectly reasonable response to rejection – as long as it’s time limited. You are only allowed to feel sorry for yourself for so long (how long depends on the exact nature of the rejection, but let’s set a general limit of 24-hours). Yes, the publishing business is tough. Yes, rejection sucks. Now channel that misery or ire into your writing project and move on.
Indulge in Your Dreams
Writers are a creative lot, and should not underestimate the power of positive visualization. Vivian Kirkfield envisions an agent being wowed by her submission. Dee Ann Waite emerges “donning armor and sword, prepared for the fight ahead.”  My personal dream involves an invitation to The Daily Show. Yours might involve a best seller list or Oprah’s book club. Whether you are fueled by optimism or indignation, imagining a successful future can give you the confidence to move forward.

Indulge in Your Passions
Remind yourself why you write in the first place. Read that book from that gobsmackingly talented author. Remember the people or events that inspired you to start stringing words together. Look up inspirational quotes.  And, as author B. J. Lee reminded me, know that there is something inherently valuable about writing itself – regardless of what the publishing outcome is. Refocus, refresh, and resolve to move forward.

Indulge in Your Craft
There’s no point attempting to deconstruct a vague rejection letter – and most rejections will be boilerplate vague. But take any actual feedback to heart. If you disagree with it, at least consider why the reader had that response. Study new markets for your project.

But by far the best and most important way to deal with rejection is to KEEP WRITING. Nothing puts that auto-rejection that came seven months after submission into perspective like having another manuscript or two in the works.

Indulge in Yourself

There is one last key ingredient to handling rejection. Even if you spent every spare waking moment on your opus, you are not defined solely by your writing, and its worth is not defined by agents or editors. You are a beautifully complex creature that contains multitudes and can create worlds with the flick of a wrist. You have a body that needs good fuel and exercise. A mind that relishes in having a multitude of experiences to grow. A spirit that finds strength and comfort in community. You ARE an author, but not only that and the more different parts of yourself you can tend to, the more capable you will be of putting any rejection that comes your way into proper perspective – it is but a speedbump.