Thursday, July 19, 2018

11 Web Comics for Writers: Inspiration and Motivation

Sometimes we have to look outside of our usual medium to find the motivation we need to get the words on the page—or to just feel like someone else “gets it.” These web comics for writers perfectly illustrate what it feels like to be a writer, from the moment of inspiration to pitching your work and getting published. Be sure to click the links below each comic to see more work by each of these great artists.

1. For when you’re trying to figure out how to get started:

Comic by Guy Kopsombut at 4amShower.

2. For when you’re wondering how other writers get to be so good:

Comic by Sarah Andersen.

In the Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics, comics veteran Andy Schmidt offers sage advice and practical instruction for everything from writing realistic dialogue to communicating your ideas to other comics professionals.

3. For when you’re stuck in the dreaded middle of your novel:

Comic by Ramin Nazer.

4. For when you’re wondering whether it’s too late to get started:

Comic by Tonci Zonjic at

5. For when you’re feeling pressured to outdo your predecessors:

Comic by Gojko Franulic at Sephko.

6. For when you just can’t figure it out:

Comic via Pictures in Boxes.

Online Course: 12 Weeks to a First Draft

7. For when you’re trying to perfect your manuscript:

Comic by Grant Snider at Incidental Comics and Jon Acuff.

8. For when you’re trying to decide how to fill your day:

Comic by Elvin Dantes.

9. For when you’re seeking your nom de plume:

Another great comic by Grant Snider at Incidental Comics. (If you want more web comics for writers, Grant has a wealth of them on his site.)

10. For when we need the courage to leave our comfort zone and experience something new.

Comic by Justin Boyd at Invisible Bread.

“How do you get into writing comics? Write a comic.” Eisner-Nominated Alex de Campi Talks Comics, Prose & Multidisciplinary Creative Work

11. And of course… For when you’re wondering whether anyone will read your work:

Comic by Steve Ogden on Magnificatz.

Don’t miss our special preconference workshop, Writing Comics & Graphic Novels, at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference! The workshop features individual sessions with Eisner–nominated comics and prose writer Alex de Campi; Valiant Entertainment Executive Editor Joe Illidge; and Starlight Runner CEO Jeff Gomez—and wraps up with a moderated panel discussion featuring all three instructors answering your questions.


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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How I Stopped Sabotaging My Writing Goals: Confessions of a Late Bloomer

Despite long-standing aspirations of writing a book, initial successes with short stories and essays, and a healthy career in publishing, Andrea Jarrell published her first book at age 55. But of course, she got through it. Here, she shares her experiences and offers principles for achieving your writing goals.

Given that I published my first book at age 55, some might call me a late-blooming author. I am. But not because I suddenly discovered writing and decided to write a book. I am a late bloomer because I finally stopped sabotaging myself and did the work needed to realize life-long ambitions.

Writing books is all I ever wanted to do. Yet, for many years, I wore my writing dream like a costume—acting the part but never really committing to the work. Throughout my childhood, teens and 20s, I might have looked like someone working for her dream: sending earnest poems to teen magazines and entering contests, majoring in the right subjects, founding student publications, and working in New York City publishing jobs.

Sometimes a glimmer of the dream would start to come true: winning the Rotary Creative Writing Contest in junior high, getting into selective writing workshops, getting my first byline in a national magazine. But instead of these little wins driving me towards my dream, they often caused me to back away and to talk about the dream more than to go after it.

In my late 20s, I got jobs alongside my dream—jobs in marketing and PR that required a bit of writing talent. These jobs felt safe and productive. I got married and started a family. By my early 30s I had fashioned other goals that took me up a management ladder as I pretended the original dream to write books no longer mattered. I felt vaguely depressed every time I went into a bookstore but didn’t examine this feeling too carefully.

Of course my nemesis was fear—fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being told I didn’t have talent, that I wasn’t the best, that I had to work harder. Harder? The truth is I hadn’t been working at all.

I had been blessed with a bit of talent. I had been treading water in that same little puddle of talent all my life, and when teachers or bosses or circumstances indicated my ambitions would take a lot more than innate talent I found some other path where the people would praise me and say “good job” and I didn’t have to grapple with my fears.

They say we recover when we get sick and tired of being sick and tired. My “recovery” as a writer began in my late 30s when I went back to school to get my MFA. Yet even after working my tail off for two more years, earning the praise and encouragement of my mentors, graduating at 39 and winning a fellowship the following year, I quit writing again. The second time I stopped, I was 41. I stopped because my stories weren’t getting published and I couldn’t handle the anguish of rejection and the fear that I would never make it. I stopped writing for another five years. Once again, I sought the “atta girls” and financial security of career to boost my self-esteem.

I started a marketing business focused on brand storytelling. I poured all my creative energy into my client work and became very successful at it. Then one day, circumstances aligned to help me seize the opportunity to change. I was 46 with the big 5-0 on the horizon. My oldest child was in her last year of middle school and my son would be there in another year. I’d weathered the turmoil of starting a business so that my creative energy wasn’t exhausted all the time. I was sitting in my office and I spied my box of MFA stories—a box I’d been avoiding the way I avoided bookstores.

I pulled out the file folders and turned the pages of my drafts and then I got to my teachers’ final comments when I graduated. Each of them had been so encouraging. One in particular jumped out: “Just keep doing what you are doing.” Sitting on my office floor, I broke down in tears because I had done just the opposite: I’d stopped.

That summer at 46, I started writing again and immediately began to be published. What I want to describe now is the change in me and how my changed attitudes relate to the change in my writing success. Because we all tell ourselves—just do it, just go for it, just write the freakin’ book! And yet even in the face of new resolve, our lives (marriage, kids, job, caregiving, health or money problems) and the shoulds and don’ts and what ifs and fears get in the way. For years, I did not have the fortitude to keep my personal writing going even though the dream remained: I wanted to write, and I wanted that writing to be published.

The exact things I did to change might not work or appeal to you but the principles of what I did might.

Set incremental, achievable goals, and relish success.

We often hear that we need to go after the audacious, big hairy goals. But as I was sticking a toe back into my writing career in my 40s, I didn’t start by sending my work to The New Yorker. I noticed my local paper The Washington Post ran a regular column about neighbors. I wrote a voyeuristic tale of watching through my kitchen window the two young women and their father who rented the house next door to ours. I’d noticed garbage bags piling up on their deck. One day the family vanished leaving most of their belongings behind. Mysteries in ordinary life fascinate me, and when this piece—300 words or so—was accepted, I was over the moon.

Shortly after that, I took an editorial carving knife to one of my MFA stories so it would fit the submission guidelines in a Bethesda Magazine fiction contest. The story received an honorable mention. Then I submitted an essay called “Lice Season” to Literary Mama. The acceptance email said, “We’ve read a lot of pieces about lice but never one like this.”

Recently Roxane Gay wrote a great advice column in the New York Times to so-called late bloomers. She talked about her own path and said, “I kept whittling down my dream from literary fame to modest riches to just getting a book deal to, finally, simply writing a good book.” Rather than whittling—especially for a recovering writer or new writer—I see it the other way as a “building up.”

My small early wins kept me going. When the voice inside my head started to say, “Well it’s not The New Yorker,” I told that voice to shut the hell up. I enjoyed each victory. With incremental successes mounting, I gained the confidence to set more ambitious goals.

Keep getting better.

Back in my teens and 20s I could write lovely sentences and select choice sensory details but I didn’t have a clue about how to tell a satisfying story. In my 30s during my graduate program, I made a big leap. My stories began to have an internal drive they hadn’t had before. Indeed, one of my mentors said, “It’s as if you just needed to be pointed in the right direction.” I got promising rejection letters from The Missouri Review and The Atlantic but I was too impatient for success so, as they say, I “quit before the miracle.”

The second time I came back to writing, in my mid-40s when I was sending out my little essays to The Washington Post and Literary Mama, something significant had happened without my even realizing it. I’d gained a ton of practical skills during my hiatus focused on my writing for clients. My marketing business trained me to write every day, to write on deadline, to listen to peoples’ motivations and make sense of them, to hook my readers and keep them interested. I’d learned how to cut to the chase using one sentence rather than three. I’d learned a lot more about narrative arcs and effective pacing. This, I believe is why my pieces started getting picked up right away.

When I was a young writer I thought having to improve meant I wasn’t any good to begin with but now I’m excited to build on my skills and talent. I take writing workshops and regularly work one-on-one with a mentor—a formula that has never failed to make me a better writer.

Choose good mentors.

Working with a more experienced writer has been an essential part of my path. While I have learned to better trust myself in terms of what’s good and what’s not I value an “authority” to help direct me. Taking a class with a prospective mentor first gives me a good sense of whether we’ll work well together. Does their feedback excite me with new ideas and make me eager to revise? That’s what I look for.

It’s important to say that I am paying to work with these mentor-writers. This is an investment in my writing career just the way any career requires professional development. Just as I support myself through my consulting business, these mentors are supporting their own writing careers. If we expect to be paid as writers we should expect to pay the writers who teach us.

All that said, mentors are like midwives; they can help you, but they can’t do the birthing for you. I really understood this when Dani Shapiro with whom I’d worked at Hedgebrook read my book. She said, “You’ve gone and done it. You’ve written a beautiful book.” Then she added, “One always hopes.”

Her comments made clear to me that mentors really have no idea if their mentees can actually pull off writing the book they want to write. I had naively thought these wise ones could tell who’ll make it and who won’t. But they are standing by with bated breath, hopeful but ultimately as powerless as parents. In the end it’s only you who can make it happen. 

Make writing a top priority.

A talented writer friend of mine, the mother of two teenagers, and someone who has some impressive writing credits recently posted on Facebook that she had determined she could not write her book until her kids went to college. She cited sports practices, homework, dinner making and grocery shopping. And maybe that is a good choice for her, but she also continues to post about the frustration she feels about not writing her book. All I can say is that as I was building my writing career and finishing my first book, my husband cooked a lot of meals and my family ate a lot of takeout.

Maybe that is not an option for everyone or the choice that every writer wants to make. My point is that for me something had to give. What gave was grocery-shopping, dinner making, socializing with friends, and home improvement. What stayed was family time, dates with my husband, writing, work and yoga. I also stopped making my writing my reward after I finished all my other work. I moved it to the top of my work list and made it my most important client. One of the very first things an early mentor said to me was this: No one will care about your work more than you do. Not your family. Not your teachers. Not your friends. So it is up to us to make our work a priority—that most important client.

Don’t quit.

The year I started to get a little success with my essays, I decided to write a novel. I took a novel writing boot camp and then hired the novelist instructor to work with me. It took me two years to write the novel. My mentor loved it and said it was ready. Several agents were interested but then one by one they started rejecting the manuscript. I was 49, desperate to publish by 50, and I’d lost faith in my book. I wasn’t sure I liked it anymore and if I didn’t like it how could I keep pitching it.

But here’s what changed—I didn’t quit!

I set the novel aside and went back to what had been working and what I’d loved—my essays. The very next year—literally the day I turned 50—I got an essay acceptance from Narrative Magazine. Later that summer one of my essays was accepted by The New York Times “Modern Love” column, one of the most coveted outlets for any personal essayist. Age 50 was turning out to be my best year yet as a writer.

Places that excited me were accepting my pieces: The New York Times “Motherlode” column; Full Grown People; Brain, Child Magazine; Brevity Magazine’s blog; two more pieces in The Washington Post and several in The Huffington Post, as well as many anthologies. Editors were starting to come to me to ask for essays. That’s when I got serious about my memoir.

The year I turned 54, my memoir was finally done but I was loath to go through what I imagined could be another year or more trying to find an agent and then more time trying to get a publisher. I decided to submit only to presses that didn’t require an agent. My submissions resulted in three offers.

Here’s the weird, beautiful addendum to my book publishing story: Shortly after my book came out a wonderful New York City agent saw one of my essays in Harper’s Bazaar. She sought my memoir out and loved it. This agent now represents me. All that distress years before over trying to get an agent. Then getting the book published without an agent. Then a wonderful agent finds me and wants to work with me on my next book.

Do the work.

What I know today is that as much as I wanted to publish a book in my 20s I’m not sure I could have handled it. I think I would have been so undone by what other people thought—the bad reviews withering me and the good ones panicking me about being able to live up to them. This is one of the perks of being a late bloomer—feeling more deserving of whatever you’ve accomplished because you’ve done the hard work to get here.

Thank God that teenage girl rushing to her mailbox hoping for an acceptance from Seventeen Magazine didn’t know how many years it would take to feel the satisfaction of “yes” from an editor. But that 37 year old who sat typing with a baby on her lap, even if you’d told her it would take nearly 20 more years to publish a book she would have thought yes, thank you, a million times yes.

What I know today is that I no longer fear rejection and failure as much as I fear the regret of sitting on the sidelines.

So to achieve your writing goals, bring yourself to the page and write, write, write. Dig deeper than the neat and tidy good draft. Disagree with feedback and then admit it’s right. Believe you can do better. Handle rejection. Write a whole new book and another and another. Apply for residencies. Find a publisher. Do your day job without resentment. Leave the dinner making to someone else. Accept success. Make your writing your most important client.

As Jesmyn Ward recently said in an interview with Vogue Magazine: “Persist. If you stop, then you’re removing yourself from the conversation. You have to keep going and weather rejection . . . Become the best writer you can because nobody owes you anything; you owe that to yourself.”

Andrea Jarrell’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many other popular and literary publications. She earned her BA in literature at Scripps College and her MFA in creative writing and literature at Bennington College. A Los Angeles native, she currently lives in suburban Washington, D.C. Her first book, I’m the One Who Got Away (She Writes Press, September 2017) is an award-winning memoir.

Take your writing career to the next level at indieLAB, a new conference for entrepreneurial authors.

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 445

For today’s prompt, write a special day poem. A special day could be a holiday, birthday, anniversary, or just a day when everything changed. There are special days that everyone recognizes and special days that maybe only you (or a small group of folks) appreciate. If it’s special to you, then it’s fair game for this prompt.


Get Published With Poet’s Market!

The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.

In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a Special Day Poem:


when i was young, i was quite sporty
and never referred to as portly
but what can i say
today’s my birthday
and i’m growing into my forties


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Today is his 40th birthday.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


Find more poetic posts here:

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

Does Your Book Have a Billboard on Amazon?

Authors can leverage ads and Book Detail pages on Amazon to make them work like a “billboard” of sorts. But in order for your Amazon billboards to help sell more books, they must display certain characteristics.

by Rob Eagar

What if I told you that authors can learn a lot about marketing from billboards on the side of the road? For example, whenever you drive down the highway, you see billboards promoting local restaurants and attractions along with national hotel chains, beverage companies, movies, and public service announcements.

If billboards didn’t exist, thousands of people would never know certain products or services were available. Countless businesses rely on billboards to help increase awareness and drive sales. What makes a good billboard an effective marketing tool?

  • Billboards are strategically placed to reach a lot of traffic.
  • Billboards use images and words to grab your attention even driving at 60 mph.
  • Billboards communicate enticing value in 10 seconds or less.
  • Billboards urge you to take action, such as “eat here,” “visit today,” or “get discounts.”

In contrast, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of ineffective billboards. Big signs with boring pictures, words that are too small to read from your car, or no call to action is displayed. Many billboards are just a waste of space on the side of the road.

As an author, you have a billboard that people see everyday. Your billboard is located on Amazon, which is the largest drive-by audience on the Internet super-highway. Amazon receives millions of visitors every hour and offers two kinds of “billboards” for authors:

  1. Amazon ads for books
  2. Book detail page

Amazon ads for books act like billboards that grab people’s attention as they rapidly scan search results on Amazon’s website or specific product pages. A good ad can convince someone to pull over and check out your book. That brings them to your second billboard, which your Book Detail Page.

Every book on Amazon has a detail page that acts like a big sign advertising all of the highlights about a book, including the cover art, marketing hook, book description, price, customer reviews, etc. This detailed “billboard” can persuade people to stop driving around, read a sample chapter, or click the “Buy Now” button and make a purchase.

However, in order for your Amazon billboards to help sell more books, they must display the same characteristics as a physical billboard next to the highway:

  • You must strategically place your ad in front of the right readers.
  • Your cover art and marketing hook must quickly grab a readers’ attention.
  • Your book description must communicate enticing value in less than 10 seconds.
  • The text for your book ad and description must entice people to take action.

When you create effective billboards on Amazon, you have the ability to steer thousands of readers directly to your books and persuade them to purchase. People are “driving by” your books right now on Amazon. Are you giving them a reason to pull over and make a stop?

After reading this article, you might be thinking:

  • How do I strategically place my book in front of the right readers on Amazon?
  • How do I create a book ad that will grab readers’ attention?
  • How do I write a book description that entices people to purchase in less than 10 seconds?
  • What if I hate the marketing text that my publisher put on my book’s Amazon page – am I stuck with it forever?

Good news. I’ve partnered with Writer’s Digest to answers to all of these questions in a new online video course called, Mastering Amazon for Authors. Watch 11 self-guided teaching videos that explain how to create a billboard for your book on Amazon. As your instructor, I’ll be available to answer your questions using a private forum for students. In addition, you will learn how to:

  • Convert more sales when readers view your book on Amazon
  • Secure more persuasive customer reviews for free
  • Get your books noticed on Amazon’s huge website
  • Use Amazon’s algorithms to get free marketing for your books
  • Build your author email list using Amazon’s massive audience
  • Create advertising that drive readers directly to your books

Currently, Amazon sells nearly 50% of all print books and over 70% of all e-books in America! If you want to reach more readers and sell more books, you must learn how to sell more books on Amazon.

Registration for Mastering Amazon for Authors closes on Thursday, August 9th. If you want to sell more books on Amazon, now is the time to act. Signup before July 19th and save $75 off the regular price of $375. Use the link below for course details and registration:

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from Writing Editor Blogs –

State of Wonder: Annihilation and Wonderbook author Jeff VanderMeer imparts his best tips for cultivating creativity from the world around you.

For Jeff VanderMeer, the act of writing is only a component of the process—to him, experiences are vital to storytelling. Here, he shares his best tips for discovering the wonder in the world around you.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

“I’m not a big fan of, in 
general, saying you have 
to write every day. But I 
do think it’s really important if you’re working on a novel 
or story that it lives in your head every day.”

From a writer as industrious 
as New York Times bestseller Jeff 
VanderMeer, such a candid admission 
surprises me. VanderMeer is the author of the Southern Reach 
trilogy (including the award-winning Annihilation, made into a movie starring Natalie Portman earlier this year), writing guides like The Steampunk Bible, and dozens of essays and short stories. His pronouncement is distinct from most novelists, who are often keen to cite obsessive work ethic as a key factor in their success.

[Don’t miss Jeff Vandermeer’s keynote at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018!]

As our conversation continues,
 it becomes clear that for VanderMeer, the act of writing is only a component of the process—to him, experiences are as vital to storytelling as time spent staring at a screen. The Florida local is hyperaware that any element in the world around him can feed his tales, from the Gulf Oil Spill to dental surgery to fungus growing in the trunk of his car.

It’s an organic approach to writing woven throughout 2013’s Wonderbook, his acclaimed guide to “imaginative fiction”—reprinted in a revised and expanded version on July 2.

Here, VanderMeer talks the new edition, the symbiosis of setting and story, and persevering through the ups and downs of a writing career.

Most authors label themselves and their work by genre, because that tends to be how it’s categorized in the industry.
Do you see an advantage in approaching writing 
outside of the boundaries set by those somewhat arbitrary distinctions?

I think it’s very much up to the individual. Some writers repeat themselves a lot, which is perfectly fine—you only work in one subgenre; say, heroic fantasy. And so, the label is useful. And then there are writers [like me] who do many different things, don’t repeat themselves. And the label becomes a form of death because you get labeled as something and then you’ve moved on to another kind of book and you’re still being labeled the other thing, which can interfere. So suddenly marketing becomes entangled with your artistic expression in a way that’s not useful.

For Wonderbook, I wanted people to encounter the book as a general writing guide that just happens to default to nonrealist fiction examples, which is something I thought was fairly unique because I wasn’t able to find that when I was coming up. Every writing guide defaulted to Faulkner and Hemingway as examples. And then also, of course, [Wonderbook] has the visual element, which helps in terms of, again, breaking down those mechanical versus organic things. Kind of finding a visual expression for that. And then also, finding a visual expression for this whole genre versus literary thing with kind of an in-between. You know, because it trades off a lot of pop-culture type approaches and comic-book type approaches that I think helps to negotiate that boundary in a way that it makes the boundary disappear a little bit.

Setting plays such an important 
role in your stories. I think about the Southern Reach books and how the landscape is pretty
 literally a character unto itself. What techniques do you employ 
to bring these environments to life on the page?

I think one thing that’s really important to me is that I see all setting as an expression of the character point of view. Even in third person, because when I’m writing in third person, I’m pretty tight in on the character POV, so there’s a lot of interiority. The environment is literally an expression of what the character would see. By thinking about what the character would notice and not notice, you also get a better idea of the person you’re writing about.

In Annihilation, the biologist is a first-person narrator who isn’t really that invested in the “human world” but is invested in the natural world. And so the natural descriptions do overwhelm the narrative in a way that they wouldn’t if she didn’t have that focus. One of the insider jokes of Annihilation is that there are conversations around the campfire, so to speak, that the expedition has that the biologist just summarizes in a couple lines because that’s not what she’s interested in. If I had been writing from the POV of a different character, there would have been fewer nature descriptions and there would have been more other types of things. And then, when you go to [the next book] Authority, you have a main character who is not invested in the natural world at all and has no idea what one bird is from another. Those descriptions kind of go away and you have a lot more of what you might call a “traditional looking” scene.

In terms of the landscape, a landscape is always alive. It always has something going on beyond the characters. Sometimes I literally put myself in the place of the particular setting and think about how it might impact the story in some way. That comes to fruition in terms of me thinking in the Southern Reach books about how Area X would have agency and how it would impress itself upon the characters.

And then there are tactical-level things I think about. There’s a section 
in the new Wonderbook called “The White Deer Project” that’s exactly about this. It focuses on one little piece of a setting in upstate New York and then asks writers to kind of learn everything they can about that setting. And then [asks them to] try to figure out how to express that in interesting ways through character and narrative.

[Learn more in the online course Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy.]

That leads me to terroir. The term comes from viticulture and winemaking, but you’ve related it to storytelling.

Well, the term is a wine term and it has to do with the fact that there is a complex set of interlocking variables that are specific to each place that wine grapes are grown that are responsible for the taste of the wine and various other aspects of it. I thought that would be really interesting to apply to fiction, to the Southern Reach books, and think about it beyond wine. What are the specifics of this landscape or this area, and how does that manifest?

In world-building you hear a lot about very general topics like culture, society, religion. But this is kind of like building from the ground up to get to that point. So it’s really about getting that kind of tactile feel. The more granular your approach to the background, the more it can somehow 
shine out through the characters and make them more complex. That’s what I’m always trying to do—get a better sense of character, and get a better 
sense of how a character is going to behave in a certain context. Sometimes it’s because of a deep exploration of setting.

How can writers position 
themselves to draw creative inspiration like that from
 their own experiences?

One way is, in any kind of environment, finding the personal stake in the mundane world that you navigate every day. Being able to see the details of that world fresh, not letting things become invisible because they’re too familiar.

I could, right now, learn a lot more about what’s going on in my front yard in a way that might lead to character, or plot, or narrative. I try to be open to that idea that story is all around us. One way that this happens is just method acting, first of all. You inhabit the character as you walk through the world and you try to pretend that your reactions are that character’s.

The other thing is the incoming [stimuli] from the world. When I’m looking at the world through the eyes of the novel, everything incoming can be translated into the novel. You open yourself up to the world. You’re a receiver for details, snatches of conversations, whatever. But to do that you have to be in a headspace where the novel’s living in your head every day.

You said in the past that travel has significantly influenced your fiction. Growing up in the Fiji Islands and having traveled all over the world, I’m wondering if you can tell me a bit more about that and in what ways it’s had that influence?

Well, I think it’s a potentially fraught topic because you can be appropriative. I mean, just because you visit a place doesn’t make you an authority on it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re a part of that place. And that’s, I think, why growing up in Fiji—my parents were in the Peace Corps and then also traveling a lot all over the world before I was 10—I turned to fantasy to reconcile that because somehow, instinctually, I knew that I had lived places long enough to know them, but still was not a part of them. And so fantasy, especially fantastical and imaginary cities, allowed me to kind of channel autobiographical elements, but in a context where they were divorced from the original cultural context, for example.

But the one thing I definitely think is that if you’re going to write about a place directly, the very least you can do is get a tactile sense of it. So I’m a big believer in, literally, just running your hands over things in a setting. You know, getting the texture and the feel of it. What are the smells? Just engaging all of your five senses because no place is like any other place. And so that was very helpful. It’s come out at the right distance, I think, in novels like Borne where I write about Fiji but from a distance. Where Fiji is never named, but I can still call on those autobiographical details that are very specific and they add something to the text.

I read that the idea for your next book, Hummingbird Salamander, was born out of your research into climate change. Could tell us a little bit about your research process? For instance, is that a topic you realized was ripe for storytelling so you dove in with the goal that the kernel of the story would sort of present itself to you? Or did you already have a plot in mind and were specifically looking for channels into it?

Well, I’m looking right now at my research, which is, literally, a desk piled with like 200 books on various things to do with nature, and climate change and whatnot. And one thing I realized before Hummingbird Salamander was just simply that I’d already been doing this since the ’80s in terms of talking about climate change in my fiction, more or less. But I’ve not been doing so directly. When I looked at all these books that I’d already read, I realized I had already done all the research.

I completed this research and all I need to do is make sure that it’s current in terms of the facts. But not actually have to absorb anything organically or wait to be able to write this. And also, you always search for different ending points in the story, so Hummingbird Salamander is directly dealing with things like eco-terrorism, wildlife trafficking and climate change because the central mystery involves that. So my hope is it won’t come across as didactic and it expresses things more directly at the same time. But my approach to research is pretty much this: I think about a story for a long time because that gives me the leeway to do the research early on, and then let it become just kind of organic in the back of my head.

I want to go back to something you said a little bit earlier about not wanting to come across as didactic. You’ve written a lot of so-called “eco-fiction,” and pieces that look at human’s impact on nature. And many of your stories can be seen as allegory for problems the world’s facing today in different ways. I’m wondering, how consciously do you think about the stories you write holding real-world agency to affect change?

With regard to climate change, I don’t think I can change a climate change denier’s mind. I just think that’s kind of a cult at this point. And you really can’t work against that with facts or fiction. But I can, I think, change the mind of someone who says, “Yeah, I believe in climate change but I don’t think it’s really going to be a problem for the next 50 years. It’s not going to be a problem during my lifetime.” And so, with that in mind, some of these projects like The Southern Reach [series], there’s an environmental message but it’s something that, hopefully, you feel deeply in your body while you’re reading, but your initial entry point into the book is not an explicitly environmental message.

And sometimes I will make sure the game isn’t rigged by having the things that are most environmental said by the characters you like the least. Just to make sure that I’m not bringing some bias in there that is affecting the fiction because I’m trying to get across a message. So sometimes it’s like, I just want this to live in the body. I want someone to deeply reflect on this, if they get caught up enough in the fiction to read it all the way to the end, so that they’re kind of like, not trapped—but it’s more organic, again, in this expression than just simply saying we need to do something about this.

You’ve said that you made every mistake you could make in a writing career. What do you think is the key to persisting through those valleys?

I think in terms of keeping going, taking the long view is really important. I think a lot of times writers make bad decisions because early on, the power differential is so, so off—in terms of your position in the publishing world. And so, when an opportunity comes along, you kind of know in the pit of your stomach it’s not really the right opportunity, but you take it anyway because you feel like it’s the only chance you’re going to have.

The other is just finding ways to have endurance and be bloody-minded about believing in your work. And that takes time, but it also means doing things like putting your work out there and getting the scar tissue of getting a bunch of rejections, and not just folding your tent if a couple places reject your work. Continuing to get it out there because that gives you the valuable mental experience of living in that world and getting used to that. Because that is the default you’ll be existing in. You’ll be getting stuff rejected more than you’ll be getting it accepted.

I realized early on I just wanted to be a writer and I would be writing whether I was published or not. And that’s true today. I would still be writing even if I had never gotten published. And I think that’s really important. It is very liberating to realize—I want to be published, I want an audience, but this is also personal to me and I’m going to do it no matter what happens.

Don’t miss Jeff VanderMeer’s keynote at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC, August 10-12, 2018!

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Literary Agent Alert: Tess Callero of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Literary agent spotlights (with this spotlight featuring Tess Callero of Curtis Brown, Ltd.) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

About Tess: 

After graduating with a dual degree in Marketing and English from Indiana University, Tess moved to New York City to pursue a career in publishing. She has been with Curtis Brown since 2015, building her list in both the adult and young adult space. She also serves as the Social Media Director for the agency and is a member of the Digital Innovations and the Contracts committees of the AAR.

What She’s Seeking:

Contemporary YA across genres, but I’m especially looking for a good romance or suspense. I’d love a heartfelt friendship story, or a coming-of-age that makes me ugly cry. I’m also interested in accessible YA fantasy and magical realism. Some recent favorites include ONE OF US IS LYING, THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END, and DEAR MARTIN.

On the adult side, I’m looking for mystery/thriller/suspense, upmarket women’s fiction, and #ownvoices romance, both historical and contemporary. I especially appreciate a smart, young, self-aware female narrator. Think SWEETBITTER, THE ASSISTANTS, or LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE in these categories.

For nonfiction, I’m on the hunt for food narrative, cookbooks, pop culture, science, business, history/biography, women’s issues, humor, and true crime. Recent favorites include AMERICAN FIRE, CORK DORK, and BACHELOR NATION.

How to Query:

Please query me at No attachments please. I will respond if interested.

You’ve devoted hours, days, months—even years— to writing and editing your novel or nonfiction book. With all that time invested, it’s natural to want recognition for your hard work and dedication. Take your writing one step further and tackle the publishing process. When you enroll in this online course, you’ll learn the details of the query letter format and how to write a query letter that catches the attention of agents and publishers. Learn more and register.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Writing and Publishing Graphic Novels from Start to Finish

By Steve Kissing

One of the things that amuses me about publishing my first graphic novel is that prior to engaging in this project a few years ago, I had never read one. I had some sense of graphic novels, of course, but I paid them no heed. Truth be told, I suppose I even looked down on them as if they were somehow beneath a “real” writer, reader and book lover such as myself. However, when I was approached about converting my memoir, published in 2003, into a graphic novel, I had to face my ignorance and arrogance. Here are some things this graphic novel neophyte learned through his baptism of fire.

Graphic Novels Are Rising in Popularity

While still not fully mainstream, you have probably already noticed the proliferation of graphic novels where you shop for books. NPD Bookscan reports that comics and graphic novels have seen “compound annual unit sales growth of 15 percent over the last three years, making it one of the highest growth categories in the trade book marketplace.” In other words, it’s not just stereotypical comic book nerds buying graphic novels.

I have experienced this sales surge firsthand. I have dozens of family, friends and colleagues who chose not to read my narrative memoir but who have already read the graphic novel version. The easier to digest, visually driven stories are more inviting for some. I assume this is due in part to the fact that we live in a world awash in imagery, from streaming movies and TV shows to social media where video, photos and infographics reign supreme. Whatever the root causes, the key reason graphic novels sell is that they are entertaining and artful, some of them as much as any other book of any other type.

[“How do you get into writing comics? Write a comic.” Eisner-Nominated Alex de Campi Talks Comics, Prose & Multidisciplinary Creative Work]

It’s Not an Either/Or Proposition

I first told my story—one about how, as a child, I misdiagnosed my hallucinations caused by a seizure disorder as demonic possession—via a feature-length magazine piece. I then wrote a narrative memoir, and now, some fifteen years later, it’s also a graphic novel, published by London-based Markosia. (I tease my writer friends that the next embodiment of my story will be an animatronic themed park ride.) My point: Perhaps the book you’re writing could also be “re-packaged” as a graphic novel. Or vice versa.

If your story, true or not, is filled with visually interesting scenes and characters, it may be particularly suited to the graphic novel format. My hallucinations, in which I “saw” things such as alligators and famous people like Abraham Lincoln, certainly lent themselves to some interesting visuals. In fact, this is why I was encouraged to convert my narrative memoir into a graphic one.

Getting Used to Thinking in Pictures

It can hard for those accustomed to communicating in words to think and express themselves in pictures, especially if you’re not the one actually drawing them. I didn’t draw mine. (That’s a good thing because even my stick figures are lame.) My story was illustrated by Jim Jimenez, an experienced graphic artist with credits such as “X-Men” and “The Mask.” (Jim needed to be directed, though; more on that in a moment.)

So much of a good story is rooted in how writers describe people, places and things for the reader to see in her mind’s eye. With a graphic novel, the visuals do virtually all of that heavy lifting. As such, far fewer words are needed. The tried-and-true advice to “show, don’t tell” applies to graphic novels as much any other kind of book, but also applicable is the counsel: don’t show and tell. In other words, no need to communicate the same information through images and words. That’s a story-killer called redundancy.

Through the process of creating my graphic novel, I thought of it less as traditional writing and more like creating a storyboard for a movie, for which I was writing captions. This helped me to “see” the story in images rather than just words.

The Layers of Graphic Novel Creation

In creating my graphic novel, I received professional help from an experienced graphic novel scripter, Charles Santino of Marshall Holt Entertainment. (A simple Google search will identify people like Charles who can help you for a fee or a portion of the sales.) Working collaboratively, Charles and I prepared the book’s script in sections—what you could think of as chapters—broken down by page and then by the “panels” on each. (Page through any graphic novel and you’ll see that most deploy different sized panels, some bigger, some smaller, on each page. Some panels may have multiple captions, and some none at all.)

The script describes the images for the artist to capture in each frame (along with providing the caption that will accompany it), while leaving plenty of room for his or her imagination and talent to enhance the scene. In some cases, we also provided the artist with some reference material, such as photos of my family, neighborhood, school and church.

Here’s a sample script page:

The artist would then provide a rough sketch for my approval, that looked like this:

Next would come a black-and-white version of that page, which looked like this:

Then another person, who was not the artist, would add the color. (Two colorists contributed to my book.)

And then the captions are added, a process called lettering. This is a specialty in its own right and is typically done by someone other than the lead artist. My project engaged two letterers. Here’s a sample finished page:

Perhaps needless to say, we made edits and changes along the way, though we always worked hard to get each stage right before moving on to the next, as it’s much more efficient to make changes to visuals before they are colored and the lettering is added.

I so enjoyed this process, and now feel comfortable with it, that I am planning to write another graphic novel, a work of fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world. I am also now a regular reader—and advocate—of graphic novels. (For a nice overview of some of the best graphic memoirs, check out this article on Mashable.)

If you’re not reading graphic novels, take it from me: you’re missing out. And if you’re not thinking about writing one, your readers—and potential readers—will be missing out, too.

Steve Kissing is an award-winning magazine writer and published poet who also runs a communications firm in Cincinnati, OH called Wordsworth. His recently released graphic novel is available on Amazon and in select bookstores.

Don’t miss our special preconference workshop, Writing Comics & Graphic Novels, at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference! The workshop features individual sessions with Eisner–nominated comics and prose writer Alex de Campi; Valiant Entertainment Executive Editor Joe Illidge; and Starlight Runner CEO Jeff Gomez—and wraps up with a moderated panel discussion featuring all three instructors answering your questions.


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