5 Year Blog-versary Round Up!

9e4073d6863e21b9a5b923c3e62390afWow, 5 years since this blog began!

Thank you to the loyal readers and commenters for your engagement with my posts.

I decided to do a round up of some of my top posts over the years.


30 Questions to Ask Your Main Character

When You Start Comparing Yourself To Other Writers

7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

6 Tips To Hook A Reader on Page One

4 Ways To Edit Your Book Back on Track


Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

5 Secrets To Publishing Your Debut Novel

7 Ways To Make Yourself An Easy Author to Work With


How To Write A Synopsis

8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

How I Read Slush: 3 Lessons for Writers

Agent perspective: What’s wrong with your manuscript

Social Media:

7 Ways To Build a Platform Through Your Online Community

6 Ways Social Media Doesn’t Help You Get Published

Q: Do you have a favorite post? One that changed your opinion of the industry or changed your manuscript for the better?


4 Publishing Industry “Rules” You Can Break (and 6 You MUST follow!)

In publishing rules are just guidelines. We give you these guidelines to help you (believe it or not). We’re not trying to make your life harder; we are trying to show you how to succeed. These guidelines are what you should generally follow, but there are times you can break the rules.

A great skill for a writer to have is to know which you can bend and adapt, and which needs must be met. Read on…


  • Anything that is contradicted by multiple people at top levels – Have your go-to sources (Writer’s Digest, ME!, KidLit411, Debutante Ball, Writers in the Storm, Pub Crawl Blog, Query Shark, Jane Friedman, Girl Friday Productions, Susan Spann etc) and trust those who have years of industry experience at the top levels–we all agree on the important things. However, there will be things we don’t agree on. Therefore, trust your own gut sometimes or go with 1 trusted source (aka if you are querying a certain agent go with their guidelines, not some XYZ site that’s right 60% of the time). The most important thing is that you’re clear and concise–so if you bend the rules make sure you’re making yourself more clear, not adding complications.
  • “One Size Fits All” social media advice – If anyone is telling you there is one single way to build an author platform or brand they’re wrong. Recognizing and growing your brand will always be authentic to you. Just be yourself online, and be consistent about it. Emulate the frequency or interaction of others that you admire online, but develop your own voice. (More on platform/branding below.)
  • MFAs are the only route to getting published – You don’t need one. If you have one that’s great! But no one needs one to get published. Some people like the structure and built-in critique system. But you can recreate that outside of a school program by reading a lot and with writing groups and critique partners.
  • Marketing and publicity that began in the ice age of publishing – We are working in a very different world. The good thing about where we are right now is that writers can take chances on things! Cover reveals, price point drops, merchandise that is unique to your book. Be agile! Be forward thinking! You have full permission to question all marketing and publicity advice–but, here’s the kicker, you have to try everything and you have to throw yourself into it. You don’t get to complain that publishing is a different world and do nothing. You get to say “hey, things are different and discoverability has changed–so what am I doing as a writer to find my readership?” Finding your audience is up to YOU, not your publisher but they will help. Relying on what a publisher has done in the past shouldn’t be good enough for you, you can’t assume anything. You need a fresh plan for your book and a team that understands what your unique goals are. Everyone wants to sell books, your team will be on board for that, but it’s the ways we’re doing it that have changed.

If you understand why the rules are there, sometimes it’s okay to bend them to make a point. But you must know why the rule is there in the first place. It’s like satire. If you’re going to satirize something you have to know 1) what it is you’re playing with 2) what satire is.


  • Spelling and grammar – This should be easy enough in the manuscript, but sometimes writers like to get cute with puns in titles. (Please avoid! Puns in titles makes everyone question themselves and sales/booksellers think there is a typo.)
  • General length guidelines – Your adult manuscript should be between 70-90k words; if you can’t follow these rules then there’s something wrong with the structure of your book. Reasons it might be longer than 90: SF/F. However, even debut SF/F should try to be 90k because it gets really expensive to print (therefore the cost of the book goes up) and translate long works (you won’t get foreign rights deals) which makes it an uphill battle for debut authors starting a career.
  • Yes, you must get on social media – There are no excuses for a contemporary writer not to be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. Join the conversation! Learn more about the industry and your market. Unsure about social media? Read my post about building an online community and this one about recognizing your brand.
  • Communicate with your team – Rebelling against the establishment isn’t going to get your book published well. A great book might get published, but an author that’s willing to go above and beyond to promote themselves and work with their team will be a shining star. Rebelling against what your agent, editor or publicist needs from you will stop them from wanting to help you. Be a willing partner. Tell us what you’re up to and let’s work as a team.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction platform is a MUST MUST MUST – There is absolutely no way to get non-fiction published in a big way without a platform. Agents don’t look at non fiction unless it comes with a sizeable audience and a demonstrable expert. (Hint: Here’s what we want in a platform. And here are my important platform secrets that you should know from reading my blog.) Fiction authors: platform isn’t a requirement, but understanding that you’ll need to grow one eventually is helpful at early stages.
  • Submission guidelines – there is no way you’re going to get an agent’s attention by ignoring or modifying their guidelines to suit you better or try to stand out. The ones that stand out are the ones that follow the guidelines and do it well!

Yes, these rules are there for a reason…to help you get published!

Q: What other “rules” are you still confused about?

Things I Wish I Knew: Book Baristas Tips for Social Media

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.22.30 AMIf you don’t know about Book Baristas you’re probably not on Instagram. Book Baristas, at the time of writing, has approximately 80,000 Instagram followers and is certainly one of the most followed and respected “bookstagramers” around. If you’re on Instagram be sure to follow her! If you’re on the fence about the power of Instagram for books I think she’ll convince you it’s necessary.

She recently took a job working in publishing and has moved to NYC. She continues to blog and bookstagram while working for Penguin Books. Her name is Natasha Minoso and she’s our next “Things I Wish I Knew” series interviewee. I was thrilled to direct her some questions I know writers ask a lot: how do I grow my online platform and how do I work with book bloggers? Read on for the answers…

Book Baristas is a major book recommendation source on Instagram! Congratulations on building that platform. What do you wish you knew when you started it? 

Thank you! I wish I would have known that it would be both extremely time consuming and addictive. It’s a lot of work to keep up an Instagram, but its 100% worth it to be able to connect with readers/authors/publishers all over the world on one platform.

When you started Book Baristas did you strategically plan for it to grow on Instagram (as opposed to Twitter) or was that a natural place for the platform to develop? How fast did it grow?

I definitely didn’t plan for it to become as big as it is – creating an Instagram for the blog was just another outlet I could use to drive traffic to my blog’s website. It became apparent that Instagram was going to play a bigger role in this whole blogging world I was suddenly a part of. I’d say it started growing a lot faster after one of my first-ever Instagram giveaways (#BookBaristas5k) in February of 2015 that ended up being a crazy successful giveaway. Since then, it’s been kind of a whirlwind!

What advice can you give to writers about working with book bloggers or Instagram reviewers?

I’d say to remember that these bloggers/reviewers are going to be busy reading/reviewing a ton of other books and to be patient with the time that it can take for a review/Instagram feature to go up. Personally, I feel a sense of urgency when a writer will ask me when exactly I plan to put up a review. Blogging can feel insanely overwhelming so I’d just be more aware of that. Also, be prepared for whatever review/rating you get – sometimes a story doesn’t resonate with a reader and that’s okay.  

What advice do you have for writers or bloggers trying to grow their platforms? 

Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.

For more, follow Book Baristas on Twitter, Instagram and the blog, or follow Natasha’s personal account on Twitter.

7 Ways To Build a Platform Through Your Online Community

Social MediaI wrote a bit about platform last week. It’s not the end of the world for fiction writers if you don’t have one. (What is platform? Let Jane Friedman tell you.) However, it’s great if you do by the time your book is on the market. Not necessarily at the time of querying your book, but coming up to the publication of your book. Once you have your publication date, something you can work towards to build momentum is your platform which in turn will be your readership.

1. Be sure to follow lots of people. The chances of them following you back are high. It seems like a simple tip, but if you want to get more followers, extend a hand and follow more people. No need to be a perfectionist about being online; it’s called social media for a reason. The best way to find followers that you might like is to go to the account of a writer you enjoy, and is active online, and look at their lists.

2. Once you start following someone on Twitter or Facebook, @-reply to something they say within the first 3-5 days. It’s a simple gesture that says, “I’m not a spambot. I think we have a lot in common.” That starts the dialogue early and increases your chance of people following you back as well as recognizing your image and name.

3. Started a blog, but not sure what to write about? This is NOT to say that you must blog. It’s certainly not. But many writers start their online identity with a blog and then run out of steam. Here’s a handy guide of 52 (!!) blogging ideas based on your book’s content. Now you can’t say you don’t have things to write about. The most important thing about a blog isn’t always the content (it should be good) but the consistency. Make sure people know when they will receive things from you or can check in: weekly? bi-weekly? daily? There is no right answer. It’s about what works for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of hashtags. Yes, too many are confusing, but just one can make all the difference. Do you post to your blog on Mondays? Use #MondayBlogs. Do you engage with other writers? Use #WriterWednesdays. On Instagram they are essential so use #amreading #booksofinstagram or others that relate to your topic. That’s how people find you. You can make up your own hashtags but you have to use them frequently enough for them to gain traction. For general posts, you’re best to join in with another hashtag that already exists and people recognize. Here are 100 Twitter Hashtags Writers Should Know. And a scientific guide about when to use those hashtags.

5. When you talk about your book–leading up to publication–you must use a hashtag that captures the title. There are no excuses on this one. If you want to connect your readers to you and each other, you must be providing a link of communication. A hashtag of your title is that link. Readers want to socially engage with each other. They want to share quotes, reviews, and more. Give them that opportunity by leading with example. It’s not cocky to give your book a hashtag, it’s a reality of social media.

6. Once you have built a community, it’s not the time to spew links. You did the hardest thing, you build a nest egg following! Now, in order to keep them, you have to keep the promotional link spewing to a considerate amount. The point was to lead up to your publication date, right? Well, now that you have their trust you also have to respect their feed. Things like Goodreads copy giveaways and quote graphics are two good ways to keep things aesthetically pleasing. Think about it: what’s in it for them? Marketing is a call to action. A barrage of links isn’t what people want, but a free copy or story told in GIFs is! If you build it, they will come. i.e. If you have succeeded in creating good relationships they will support you when the book comes out because they like you not your links. Invite people to engage, don’t threaten them with spam.

7. Be memorable. What is it about your online persona that will keep people coming back? Are you an authority on something? Have a hobby other that writing? The best way to be memorable is to be you. If you feel like you’re putting on a hat when you do it then it’s not coming from an authentic place. Growing a following is a slow process, so it has to come from a place that you know. And that’s usually yourself and your writing.

Q: What are some surprising ways that you’ve connected with like-minded people online?