Navigating the Changing Face of Book Promotion with Smart, Effective Strategies

Hi everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying summer and taking time to refill their creative wells. Writing, publishing, and marketing is a lot of work so making time for ourselves to recharge is really important. The other critical thing we need is great advice and powerful resources, and Penny C. Sansevieri from Author Marketing Experts is here to give us both, so read on!

Much like the world of publishing, book promotion is constantly changing and with it, so are the services offered by book promotion companies. What may have worked just a few years ago doesn’t have quite the same impact today. I know from experience that the surge of books we see every day in the marketplace has a real effect on how various programs work. Today’s book promotion services are less about what you’re marketing in the moment and more about the foundation you’re creating.

So, what’s working in book promotion now? Surprisingly, it’s not at all what you would expect. Let’s take a look:

Email Newsletters: While it may seem really basic, unlike social media, email newsletters are an effective way to make a direct connection to your readers. We think of social media as the main way to reach our audience but in reality, it’s not as direct as we’d like it to be. And sending an email newsletter is actually a lot easier than say, managing a bunch of social media platforms. (Here’s a guide for getting started.)

Your Reader Fan Bases: Book publishing is rapidly growing and with around 4,500 books being published daily, it is crucial to build supportive reader fan bases. In the past, we’ve relied on the blogger market to help promote books but with such fierce competition, it is getting harder and harder to get attention. What remains steadfast though is your readers. Building excited and engaged reader fan bases is a fantastic way to build momentum for your book and letting readers help you with your book promotion by posting reviews and sharing your book release on their social stream. (Want to build fans and superfans? This article shows you how.)

Going Local: Many authors approach book promotion with the goal of reaching a national audience through big media. What shouldn’t be overlooked though is local media. Local media loves their local authors and can be a great launching pad for long-term success. It isn’t that you aren’t worthy of the national spotlight, but national media is harder than ever to get. Also, many bigger media outlets use scouts who research local stories that are gaining momentum, so making waves in your local market can lead to national exposure.

In addition to local media, you may also consider doing local events, whether at a library, bookstore or gift fair. And don’t forget non-bookstore markets like boutiques, coffee shops, and other area businesses that might be interested in your topic. (Here’s some more great advice on positioning yourself when it comes to media.)

Expanding Your Goodreads Presence: Goodreads is growing by leaps and bounds and with each month that passes, it gets more robust. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to get set up on Goodreads and start networking with genre-specific groups. More than any other social networking site, Goodreads is geared toward and caters to readers. Start by being a reader. Being more involved in networking and socializing and less on being the pushy marketer will garner you much more attention and will sell you more books in the long run.

Smart eBook Pricing: Digital clutter is changing the trends of ebook pricing. While price discounts and specials are good, that isn’t smart book pricing. As an example, book pricing at launch can be slightly lower than what your regular pricing might be, as even a dollar discount can give your book a helpful bump. But eBook pricing should still be weighed against what the market will bear. I also advise against pricing an eBook over $9.99, especially if you’re just starting out. As a new author, remember that readers are taking a chance on you and might be more inclined to purchase if your book’s price feels more like an impulse buy.

Amazon Book Page: It’s easy to get outwardly focused on book promotion and forget about the all-important landing page we are sending our readers to – Amazon! Your book page on Amazon should have a clear description with white space and no paragraphs crammed on top of each other. I also recommend using your Author Central Page to enhance your book page. With Author Central, you can add reviews, an author interview, or book experts. Think of your book page as a sample of your personality with information to help the reader decide to buy your book. It can also be a terrific way to drive more reader engagement on your page.

Amazon Advertising: I had some challenges with Amazon ads (also referred to as AMS ads) when they revamped their platform and the associated advertisement algorithm, but I’m happy to report that the platform has found its footing and the ads are improving. As a guideline, you’ll want to have 400 keywords at a minimum. Start your ads at $10 a day in budget and no more than .50 cents per click until you get a sense of how the various keywords are doing.

AMS ads are great to do at campaign launch, starting them a week before the book launches if it’s on pre-order. You can also use them to promote pricing strategies, lowering the book price for a few days to coincide with an eBook promotion.

Keeping Your Social Media Footprint Small: When you try to be *everywhere* on social media, it’s hard to be engaged on all the sites, all the time. And in an age of fake followers and fake accounts, engagement matters. Even if their numbers are small, the user with the most engagement far outperforms the ones with millions of followers. This doesn’t mean less work though – you’ll still need to put the effort into the site you decide to be on. Engaging readers on one social media platform in a consistent and fun/informative/helpful way is a far better book promotion strategy than trying to be everywhere. As I always say: it’s not about being everywhere, but everywhere that matters. (For more ideas on integrating social media into your marketing, try this.)

Knowing Your Audience: Many authors I speak with have no idea who their actual reader market is. When I ask them, they’ll often say: everyone. You know who markets to everyone? McDonald’s, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. But they didn’t start out focused on everyone. Amazon, for example, started out as a book site, reaching readers. It wasn’t until they built a base of readers that they began expanding out into other things. Knowing your audience is not only important when you’re writing your book, but absolutely crucial when you’re trying to market it. Zeroing in on your core reader, specifically, is key to any successful book promotion campaign. (Need help finding your readership? Try this article.)

While book promotion can seem like a daunting feat, it doesn’t have to be. By focusing your efforts into smart strategies that are tailored to your book and your audience, a successful marketing campaign can be just around the corner!

Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon Optimization programs as well as Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of eighteen books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors, and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the “leading guide to everything Internet.” 

AME has had dozens of books top bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit

Posted in Marketing, Platform, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Websites | 7 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Forced to Move

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Is your character being forced to move? Here's lots of ideas on how this type of conflict will impact them

Conflict: Begin Forced to Move

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, Miscellaneous Challenges

Relocating for work
Having to move due to financial constraints
Moving due to a separation or divorce
Requiring specialized care (at a retirement home, for treatment at a medical facility, etc.)
One’s building being condemned or a safety concern
Begin evicted
Moving to be on hand to support a struggling family member
Having to flee (to escape one’s enemies, avoid being caught by police, etc.)

Minor Complications: Having to take time away from work to pack, dealing with children who are angry about the move, a bank account hit as one pays for moving-related expenses, losing time to home repairs as one preps a home for sale, needing to leave on a moment’s notice for a showing, having to sell what one can’t take, having to reschedule appointments, holidays, or other commitments, difficult goodbyes to friends and neighbors, having to switch schools, a possibly longer commute or new job to navigate at the new place

Potentially Disastrous Results: Discovering the new place is riddled with problems (leaky pipes, faulty wiring, a pest infestation, awful neighbors), realizing the new neighborhood is unsafe or in some way undesirable (such as a new factory or mall being built close by), one’s kids hating their new school or being bullied by local kids, finding out a criminal lives next door, hating one’s new job, being unable to keep up with one’s new mortgage

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Second guessing one’s decision to move, self-esteem issues (if the move was a downgrade), reopening past wounds due to one’s situation (the pain of poverty, feeling abandoned or isolated, being mistreated at work, feeling unsafe, etc.), struggles with new places and change

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members (especially children), friends, organizations that the character is involved with and must now leave, one’s employer if the notice is short

Resulting Emotions: agitation, anger, anxiety, apprehension, bitterness, conflicted, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, determination, disappointment, disillusionment, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, envy, frustration, guilt, homesick, hopefulness, hurt, insecurity, loneliness, longing, nervousness, nostalgia, overwhelmed, powerlessness, regret, relief, remorse, resentment, resignation, self-pity, unappreciated, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, catty, confrontational, controlling, disorganized, forgetful, grumpy, gullible, haughty, hostile, impatient, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, irrational, irresponsible, materialistic, melodramatic, oversensitive, pessimistic, possessive, prejudiced, scatterbrained, temperamental, uncooperative, volatile, weak-willed, whiny

Positive Outcomes: Realizing one is able to adapt to change and adversity, discovering new friendships and opportunities in the new location, being able to leave behind pain associated with the old home and situation, gaining a fresh perspective on life along with the new start, feeling more independent and life-capable

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

World-building: Creating a Credible Magic System

Hi everyone! Today we have a new face at the blog: author and ghostwriter Justin Attas. He’s in love with world-building and has some great ideas on how to ensure the magic systems we create are credible and logical, enhancing the world and the story line rather than becoming window dressing. Read on!

If I started breathing fire today, it would be magic.

Ten years from now, researchers would have dissected why it happened. Then it would be science.

When I write fantasy, or any genre incorporating magic, I live and die by this premise, because no matter the depth of study in your plot, when you use magic, it needs reason, method, and understanding to back it.

Magic is a catalyst for thousands of amazing stories, but also ten thousand more flat, unoriginal ones. The key is to make magic seem “real,” in the context of your world. One surefire way to help you do this is to make sure the concept of magic stands alone in your story.

What helps your magic stand alone? Its origin, uses, and how it changes the world. Of course, no idea is entirely original, but borrow from others only in inspiration, never in execution. Build your magic from the ground up, and it will be as real as the pages (or screens) under your readers’ fingers.

Origins: Where Does Magic Come From?

The easiest way to create “real” magic in your story is to find its origin. These details don’t necessarily need to be shared at the beginning of the story, but they should be one of the first things you brainstorm. If your world is filled with magic, that’s going to affect everything, including its history. Unless magic is a recent discovery, it will play some part in how everything evolved. (Imagine how different Earth would be if twenty percent of the population could commune with animals!)

So ask yourself, what made your fictional world magical? Did it fall from a mystical meteorite? Did the gods themselves impart gifts on those they chose, or everyone? Does magic emanate from a certain material, perhaps a mineral only found in the mines of a single mountain range? It is crucial that you not just answer one of these questions, then skip ahead to the flashy spell casting. Deciding the origin of magic will form the rest of your world.

To demonstrate, if your magic came from the aforementioned mineral, how long ago was it discovered? Are the first people to find it now more prosperous than others? What regulations have authorities put on this precious material? Only three question, but these details will make the magic feel more authentic and your world will become more layered and interesting.

Uses: Who Uses Magic, and How?

After you’ve handled how magic got there it’s time to enjoy the arguably most fun part: what does it do? Remember, this is your world. Don’t feel constrained by predecessors’ work. When most people think of magic, they picture classic elementalism- manipulation of fire, water, air, or earth. You certainly can birth an interesting story from this if you use a unique twist. But don’t be afraid to make magic do, well, whatever you want. So long as you can explain it, go ahead and give your sorceress the ability to tear thoughts from a brain and bring them to life as a spectral servant.

Once you decide what the magic will actually do, there’s a plethora of choices to make regarding magic users. Are people born with natural propensity for one type or the other? Perhaps, in your world, people must study to learn magic. If so, decide what sorts of magical teachers and schools there are. People might learn the arcane arts from tomes in solitude, have a singular mentor, or attend a massive magical university. There’s a huge range to play with, and you should have fun doing it!

Need help with knowing what questions to ask about the magic in your world? Look into One Stop for Writers’ Worldbuilding Surveys.

Your World: How Does Magic Change it?

Next we want to consider how magic changes your world, and answer in every way possible. Culture. Government. Social structure. Education. War. Spare no expense on how magic fits into your story. It helps to compare your fictional world to our own. Picture all the things magic can do, and transplant that to Earth. How would it change the things mentioned above? You’ll need to tweak a few things for allowances of time period and technology, but the exercise will give you an idea of how magic affects your fictional world.

Never forget that the ultimate purpose of including a magic system is to tell a unique story. Not every detail about how magic works and what it influences needs to be stated in the story (we don’t want a pile of information dumps) but the most important aspects should fit into your plot and push the story forward. Without a compelling reason to include it, a magic system becomes a flashy coating on an otherwise dull story.

Justin Attas is a professional ghostwriter. He has written twelve novels across genres including: western, science fiction, supernatural, mystery, and crime thriller. Justin is also the author of the science fiction novel, Strand: the Silver Radio. He has a background in education, which he uses to create articles and videos to help other writers along on their journeys. As someone who had a crooked journey to writing himself, Justin aims to use his experience and skills to encourage anyone with the soul of a writer to grab a pen and start writing.

Justin’s Youtube Channel is an ever-growing resource for writers, so check it out, read his ebook, or explore his website for a comprehensive look at the writing life.

How do you go about ensuring your magic system stands up to story logic? Do you have any favorite resources you use? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Backstory, Characters, Description, Guest Post, Setting, Show Don't Tell, worldbuilding, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

Happy summer, everyone! Unless, of course, you live somewhere where it’s winter. Angela and I Skype with Lee (who lives in Australia) every other week, and it’s a little disorienting to see him in sweaters while we’re sweating our bits off. But it’s a good reminder that everyone’s situation is a little different. So wherever you live, I hope you’re enjoying the weather and finding a happy balance between work and relaxation.

Me saying that is very much the pot talking to the kettle, because the Puglisi household is a little chaotic right now. After much discussion, we decided to move from New York back to south Florida (where our remaining bits will undoubtedly be sweated off within minutes of arriving), and because the school year starts a month earlier there, we’re racing to get everything packed and finalized.

Becca’s Current Situation


So life is a little cuckoo. I just keep telling myself that in two months, everything will be great again ;). In the meantime, I’m trying to hold on to some form of consistency, and one of the best ways I can think to do that is to get my mitts on some first-page reading material. And so…



If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date,I’ll be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if I’m unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Two caveats:

  ▪    Please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

  ▪    I’d like to be able to use portions of winning submissions as illustrations in an upcoming presentation on first pages. By entering the Critiques 4 U contest, you’ll be granting permission for me to use small writing samples only (no author names or book titles).

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow morning. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. 

We run this contest on a monthly basis, so if you’d like to be notified when the next opportunity comes around, consider subscribing to our blog (see the left-hand sidebar).

Best of luck!

Oh, and one more BIG heads up!

Angela, Lee, and I have rolled out a 2-week FREE TRIAL at One Stop for Writers, and we hope you will all take advantage of it!

You can use all of our completed descriptive thesauruses (yes, including the expanded Emotion Thesaurus!) and our custom writing tools like the hyper-intelligent Character Builder that will map out your character’s arc in a handy story blueprint!

Just stop in, register if you haven’t already, and activate your free trial. No credit card required. 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 44 Comments

One Stop for Writers Now Has a Free Trial!

Ready to become an author? One Stop for Writers can help!

Imagine it:

You’re standing there, holding your book.

The weight of it.

The smoothness of the cover.

How the pages flutter as you drag your thumb along their edges.

A smile beams out of you. It’s happened–it’s really happened: you are an author.

Or envision something slightly different:

You’re at the keyboard and your fingers are flying to keep up with your imagination.

You skip lunch, ignore the ping of Messenger. Coffee? What coffee.

There is only the story and the iron certainty that this one is…special. Deep down you know it’s stronger than anything else you’ve ever written.

Can you see this dream, fulfilled? We can.

Your ideas deserve to be immortalized on the page. Your stories need to be out in the world. And One Stop for Writers is determined to help make this happen.

Since One Stop for Writers‘ inception, Becca, Lee, and I have focused on developing highly intuitive, powerful tools because as writers ourselves, we know what you really need to create your best work. And today we are thrilled to announce we now have a 2-week free trial! (No credit card is required).

So, if you’ve heard amazing things about our fiction-focused thesaurus database–the largest description bank available anywhere–visit us and start using it as you write!

Or, if you’ve had writing friends talk about a hyper-intelligent tool called the Character Builder that helped them create an all-star story cast, maybe it’s time to create an all-star of your own.

Even if you just know Becca and I love to build useful things for writers, stop in and give our free trial a spin. We’d love for you to discover what writing can be like with one-of-a-kind resources is at your fingertips.

Let’s create something amazing–our readers are waiting!

Angela, Becca, & Lee
Your One Stop librarians

Visit One Stop for Writers

Posted in About Us, Focus, Goal Setting, One Stop For Writers, Show Don't Tell, Software and Services, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 3 Comments

How To Stop Self-Doubt From Holding You Back From Writing

Self-doubt can be a crippling weight, especially for writers. Today we have writing mentor Leigh Shulman with us, and she has some terrific, actionable ways to use prompts to turn self-doubt on its head (and get you writing again!)

I’ve never met a writer who didn’t doubt. You worry you’re not good enough. You wonder if anyone even wants to read your writing. You even begin to suspect that unless your writing fills some very specific criteria, you couldn’t possibly be a real writer at all.

Problem is, worrying about all these things holds you back from writing. Instead of sharing writing for feedback or sending work out for publication, doubt gets you mired in the mud and stuck. 

But what if doubt could propel you forward instead of holding you back?

I created these four journaling prompts to help you dance with fear and follow your instinct as you become a stronger and more confident writer.

Prompt One: Let Go of Doubt with an Unstructured Free Write

This is the most powerful writing exercise I know because it helps you move past self-consciousness and get your ideas on paper. In twenty years of writing and teaching, it has never failed me. 

When to use this prompt: 

When you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed or you’re simply not sure where to begin. This is a perfect prompt to move through resistance.

How to use this prompt:

You’ll need a timer plus your desired method of writing. Use a pen and paper or type directly on a computer. Whichever works best for you.

Set the timer for ten minutes and write for ten minutes without stopping. No editing, erasing or crossing anything out. If you don’t like what you’re writing, simply move to the next line and continue with your next thought. If you have nothing to say at first or you think this is the most ridiculous exercise ever, write that down.

What to do next:

Read through your freewriting, circling any ideas that jump out at you as interesting. Let your instinct guide you. Those circled ideas become the seeds for finished essays, stories, scenes, and books.

Prompt Two: Dive Deep into Your Doubt

When to use this prompt:

Any time self-doubt hits. Instead of pretending you don’t feel the way you do, embrace it and write.

How to use this prompt:

As with unstructured free writing, you’ll set a timer for ten minutes. This time, dive into what you’re feeling. Explore the edges of your emotion by writing down what you experience.

Where do you feel doubt in your body? Does your stomach tighten or do your hands go cold? What sparks the doubt? 

Use the Emotion Thesaurus to answer these questions, too. What verbs connect to the sensations you experience? What happens with your doubt once it begins? Does it escalate into full worry and disbelief? Or can you ease your doubt and turn it into curiosity?

What to do next:

Apply your personal experience of doubt — or any emotion for that matter — to your characters or in a personal essay. You can lift passages directly from your journaling and edit them to fit a story or scene.

Prompt Three: Talk to Your Haters

When to use this prompt:

When you find yourself stuck because you believe no one wants to read your writing or when you imagine you’re writing to a specific audience.

How to use this prompt:

Write about the audience you imagine not wanting to read your work. What do they look like? Where do they live? Why do you believe they won’t like what you have to say?

Or perhaps there’s a misunderstanding? What is it your reader really wants? And what about your writing will resonate with them?

What to do next:

This process of diving into the thinking of another person is the basis of character building. You can incorporate this person into something you write.

This prompt also helps you develop your author branding and platform building. When you have a clear idea of who wants to read your writing and why you know where to reach out and how to find your readers.

Prompt Four: Problem Solve with a Targeted Free Write

When to use this prompt:

You know basically what you want to write, but you’re not sure how to write it. Or you have so many ideas, you’re not sure which to choose. Whether perfecting your storytelling, fleshing out characters or understanding why a scene isn’t working, targeted free writing allows you to explore your options and experiment.

How to use this prompt:

Instead of writing whatever comes to mind as you would in an unstructured free write, begin with a question you have related to your writing. Some examples of what you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen next in the story?
  • What does my character want?
  • Which of the subplots need development?
  • Any other quandary you currently face with your work-in-progress. 

Then write for ten (or more) minutes to answer your question.

What to do next:

Use the solutions you uncover and apply them to your works in progress. Try something, see how it works. If it doesn’t fit your needs, try something else.

People often avoid journaling, because they wonder what worth free writing can be if no one ever reads it. What if you develop an idea and it ends up being the wrong one?

This is simply part of what it means to be a writer. Yes, you will likely write pages you’ll never use. But the more you practice, the more you move past the resistance and doubt that holds you back.

For more ways to get past self-doubt, download this Build Your Writing Confidence worksheet.

What helps you get back to writing when self-doubt hits? Let me know in the comments!

Leigh Shulman is a writer and writing mentor with over 20 years experience. She’s the author of The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life. Her online writing mentorship program The Workshop guides writers as they create a business plan for their writing lives then make their plans happen. For more ways to get past self-doubt, download her Build Your Writing Confidence worksheet.

Posted in Experiments, Focus, Goal Setting, Guest Post, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Lessons | 16 Comments

Three Simple Questions That Will Unlock Your Story

Writers are the most powerful people on the planet. Yes, you! You have the power to change your readers in a more profound way than almost anyone else they encounter. 

How? By allowing them to experience, first hand, the profound change your protagonist goes through in the pages of your story.  

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it? It is in a way. Here’s the scoop: Stories are the world’s first virtual reality. They allow us to vicariously try out difficult situations that might paralyze us in real life, the better to give us useful inside intel on how to best survive should those situations befall us. So sure, your reader might be devouring your novel while sitting in her most comfy chair, but biologically, that story has catapulted her out of her own life, and into your protagonist’s. And as your protagonist’s worldview changes, so too does your reader’s.  

But there’s just one caveat: for that magic to happen, you must actually tell a story. And the biggest problem with most manuscripts, as one freelance editor recently lamented, is that most of them “are just a pile of pages, not a story.”

Turns out that it’s relatively easy to write a pile of pages, but not nearly as easy to write a story. As the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once quipped, “most people know what a story is, until they sit down to write one.”

So, before you sit down to write another word, let’s first define what a story actually is. Then we’ll dive into three simple questions you can ask to ensure that you’re telling one.

What a story actually is – the nutshell version

A story is about one single external problem that grows, escalates and complicates forcing the protagonist to make a long-needed internal change in order to solve it (or not, if it’s a tragedy).

What is that one single external problem? The plot. What is the story about? The long-needed internal change the plot will relentlessly spur the protagonist to make. 

That’s why at the heart of every story is an irony: what the protagonist thinks will solve the problem and get her what she wants is actually the thing that’s keeping her from it. 

Here’s the secret: a story isn’t about whether or not that external plot problem is solved – Will the protagonist save her daughter? Rescue her brother? Keep the earth safe from evil intergalactic unicorns? Of course we care about those things, and we’re dying to know how they turn out. But what has us on the edge of our seat is how that external problem is gradually forcing the protagonist to change internally, giving her the insight and the strength to solve it. Readers are wired to track the internal change—the shift in how the protagonist sees the world, the shift in why they’re doing what they do.  

This means that you can’t start by simply envisioning the plot. First, you have to envision the internal change that the plot will force the protagonist to make.

If you’re wondering, Wait, what change? Change from what to what? Why?That’s exactly what these three simple questions will unlock. 

To be very clear: these are questions to ask about your protagonist’s impending internal change before you shove her onto page one of your novel. Right now, as far as she’s concerned, her life is probably going to go on just the way it always has; she has no idea about the deliciously dark and stormy night you have in store for her.  In other words, you’ve got her right where you want her.

1. What does your protagonist already want?

Every change we humans make is based on one thing only: how it will help us achieve our agenda. This doesn’t make us selfish – heck, your agenda could be coming up with a cure for insomnia (please). Or to bring a smile to everyone you meet (that’s sweet). Or to create an ad campaign that would convince people once and for all that cellulite is actually quite lovely (please, please). 

The point is, until you know what your protagonist will enter the story wanting, you can’t figure out what change she will have to make in order to get it.  So ask yourself: what, specifically, does my protagonist already want – whether she’s aware of it or not? The more concrete your answer can be the better.

2. What external change does your protagonist need to make in order to achieve her goal?

Here’s a maddening irony: we’re often completely oblivious to the very changes we need to make to have a shot at getting what we want. In fact, we tend to instead embrace our current iffy behavior, thinking it’s helping us. 

For instance, that ace copywriter whose dream it is to change how the world views dimply thighs? She really, really wants the big promotion that’s up for grabs because it means she’ll get the dimply thigh project, but she not only doesn’t tell anyone (even her boss) that she wants the job, she lets everyone else take ownership of her ideas, which of course they’re all too happy to do. If she doesn’t speak up soon, she’s going to get passed over again! 

Bingo! The ability to stand up for herself is the external change she needs to make if she wants to have a shot at her dream. Now the question is: why doesn’t she just speak the heck up for goodness sake? What’s stopping her?

3. What is keeping your protagonist from making this change, internally?

This is where you’ll strike gold! Because we’re about to leave the surface world—the world of what your protagonist does—and dive into the world of why she’s doing it. This is the layer that readers come for, the layer that brings your novel to life, giving meaning, urgency and conflict to every single thing that happens. What mesmerizes readers is your protagonist’s internal struggle, the one that leads, scene-by-scene, to the change they’ll have to make.

The question to ask yourself is: what deeply held belief is causing your protagonist to take such misguided action? Because as far as she’s concerned, she’s not making a mistake at all—she’s doing exactly what she should do, except that for some reason she can’t quite figure out, it’s not working.

For instance, maybe that ace copywriter doesn’t dare ask for the promotion she so dearly wants because she believes that pride goeth before the fall. And so if she has to tell her boss how much she deserves it, it will not only prove that she doesn’t deserve it, but that she is arrogant to boot. To her, that’s not a “belief,” it’s a fact.

Aha! That is the misbelief that your plot must now force her to question and overcome if she’s going to get what she wants. 

Now that you know the specific change your protagonist will have to make, and why it’s so darn hard for her, you can begin to create a plot that will spur her toward it every step of the way – whether she likes it or not. 

And here’s the bonus: by digging deep into your protagonist’s past to answer these three simple questions, you’ve already unearthed the story-specific info you need to envision the single escalating plot problem you’re going to throw her into. After all, you’d never toss her into a pile of pages, not when there’s a compelling story to tell.

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her 6-hour video course Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius can be found at, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at

Psst! Angela here, who has been traveling the internet a bit lately. If you need help with making your Character’s Physical Description Stronger, I’ve got you covered. And if you’re focused on growing your audience, find out my 5 Tips for Building a Fan Base.

Posted in Characters, Motivation, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 5 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Seeing an Ex with Someone New

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Category: Relationship Friction, Loss of Control, Ego

Examples: Learning that an ex is seeing someone else can be a painful experience, especially if the character is still emotionally attached. The amount of conflict this situation arouses will depend on many factors, but the most impactful are who the ex is with and where the character sees them. For varying degrees of tension in this scenario, consider the following possibilities:

Seeing the ex with… 
The character’s best friend
A family member
The character’s therapist, pastor, or other trusted mentor
A rival
Someone the ex always claimed they didn’t like
Someone the character can’t easily avoid, such as a co-worker or their child’s teacher

Seeing the ex and their new significant other… 
At a funeral
At a family reunion
In a place that holds significance for the character and their ex (the site of their first date, the church where they were married, etc.)
In a confined area where avoidance is difficult, such as a shared taxi, a train car, or an elevator
At an event where the character needs to be at their best, such as a performance or important business meeting

Minor Complications: The character saying something they’ll regret later, awkwardness or unease that causes the character to do something embarrassing (spilling a drink, putting on an obvious act as if everything is fine, etc.), skipping school or calling in sick and getting in trouble for it, avoiding the ex by cancelling plans with a friend and creating tension in that relationship, temporary uncertainty about one’s current romantic partner, becoming need with one’s romantic partner

Potentially Disastrous Results: Getting into a physical altercation with the new person, the mental strain causing collateral damage for the character in the aftermath (blowing a work presentation, not doing well at a job interview, etc.), obsessing about it and ruining the current romantic relationship, seeking revenge against the ex, coping in an unhealthy way (getting drunk and doing something stupid, spending large amounts of money, becoming promiscuous, etc.), pushing one’s romantic relationship to the next level before either party is ready to go there, seeking to get the ex back (even if the ex was bad for the character, the relationship was toxic, etc.)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Comparing oneself to the new person and finding oneself lacking, romanticizing the old relationship (only recalling the good memories, remembering things more positively than they actually were, etc.), needing to process the new information but having to hide one’s emotions, difficulty finding closure (if the new person is someone the character will see often), becoming dissatisfied with one’s singleness, struggling with suicidal thoughts, slipping deeper into an existing mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.), revived feelings of remorse or guilt (if the character was to blame for the break-up)

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character’s current romantic partner, the ex, the ex’s new flame, friends and family members

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, conflicted, contempt, depressed, desire, devastation, disbelief, flustered, hurt, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, obsessed, powerlessness, resentment, sadness, self-pity, shock, stunned, vengeful, vulnerability

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, catty, confrontational, controlling, impulsive, insecure, jealous, macho, melodramatic, needy, obsessive, oversensitive, paranoid, possessive, promiscuous, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, self-indulgent, vindictive, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: Eventually gaining closure from seeing that the ex has moved on, comparing one’s current partner with the ex and seeing how much better one’s situation is now, seeing one’s faults realistically (if one was to blame for the break-up, or the new person is a truly good person) and being motivated to change them, being freed emotionally to pursue a new relationship

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

5 Innovative Strategies That Could Help You Win a Writing Contest

One person I love having at the blog is Savannah Cordova from Reedsy, because she always has an innovative take on every subject. If you enter writing contests, this post is one you will want to read, because she offers a ton of great ideas on how to make your entry stand out. Enjoy!

If you’ve ever participated in a writing contest, you’ll know that it’s one of the most exhilarating, motivating, and overall craft-stimulating experiences you can have as a writer. Indeed, what starts off as a modest contest entry can even turn into a much bigger project, like a book.

However, the flip side of the coin is that if you’ve entered multiple writing contests and still haven’t won, the experience can become intimidating, demoralizing, and frustrating.

I’ve personally been on both sides of the contest conundrum: I’ve lost time and time again and felt incredibly discouraged, then had all faith in my writing restored after a win. And recently, my knowledge of writing contests has gained yet another dimension — the perspective of a judge, as I help decide the winner of a weekly contest we hold at Reedsy.

My experience as both a writing contest participant and a judge has given me a finely-honed sense of what contributes to a winning entry… and what doesn’t. To that end, here are five innovative strategies that could help you win — some of which I’ve used myself, some of which I’ve seen in action, but all of which have proven concretely successful (as you’ll see from the examples below).

1. Draw from a recent experience

“Write what you know” is some of the most oft-given writing advice for a reason. Writing about something you’ve personally seen, felt, or done lends the story an air of authenticity that’s nearly impossible to replicate in any other way.

How to win a writing contest

My key addition to that advice is to make it recent: the fresher the experience, the stronger your writing about it will be. Of course, if you want to write about something from a long time ago that affected you deeply, that’s your prerogative — but you might find it hard to dredge up the words to describe something that happened months or years ago.

I’ve found that the more recent the experience, the more smoothly the words flow. Indeed, this was the tactic that I used for my story “Perspective,” which actually won the Reedsy short story contest last May (and led me to my current job). When I wrote “Perspective,” I was getting ready to move away from my family and feeling sentimental, which I indulged by watching old home videos. The intensity of emotion I felt then inspired me to write a story that started with a woman watching her home videos and see where things might go from there.

2. Subvert the prompt

Many contests provide writers with a prompt or theme to write about. In this case, another highly effective technique is to subvert the contest theme/prompt. Of course, this can backfire if the rules of the contest are particularly rigid — however, in most cases, judges will appreciate writers who think outside the box.

There are many ways to subvert a prompt. One common method is to switch up the expected genre; for example, if given a dramatic prompt, you might make it comedic instead. You might also interpret the prompt’s phrasing in an unorthodox way, and/or apply it to a subject that nobody else would think of. Two great examples of this from the Reedsy contest are “Leaves” and “Apart,” each of which responds to a quote in such a way that the original speaker never intended, but with utterly brilliant results.

3. Evoke a certain atmosphere

This one can be hard to pull off for writers who’re real plotters and always prioritize story over setting the scene. But bear with me: sometimes it’s best to focus on atmosphere, particularly if setting is a meaningful component of your piece.

You can evoke atmosphere by employing detailed sensory descriptions: what the characters see, hear, smell, touch, everything. Remember to show rather than tell as much as you can, though don’t overwhelm the reader with paragraphs of description — break it up with some dialogue and action.

This also ties into my first piece of advice, in that one of the best ways to create strong atmosphere is to base it off real life. Judges will be much more able to “soak up” the atmosphere of your story if you, too, have experienced it.

If you can, immerse yourself in that environment for a solid hour or two before you start your story, making observations and notes. When you’ve emerged from your sensory cocoon, you’ll be primed to evoke that atmosphere as part of a more polished piece. (If you’re still lost, check out this contest winner, “A Bird in the Hand,” which conjures atmosphere beautifully.)

If you are unable to visit the setting yourself, these tips will help you deliver description that feels real to readers.

4. Try out an unusual POV

Using an unconventional or surprising point of view in your writing can also be a major boon in a contest. Most entries are written in basic first or third person, so using a different POV can really help your piece stand out.

For example, second person POV (in which the narrator addresses their intended audience as “you”) is rare, but very powerful when used well. One of our winning stories that did this was “Local Hero,” in which the narrator speaks directly to her tormented husband. The impact of second person POV here is breathtaking — her sorrow and pain are palpable, and the reader feels almost as though they are responsible for it, since they perceive themselves as the “you.”

You (the writer) might also consider writing in standard first or third person POV, but not revealing who the narrator actually is, or making them unreliable. Finally, you could switch back and forth between different narrators, possible even different types of POV (e.g. between first and third person), which keeps the pacing swift and readers on their toes.

5. Play with temporal structure

Perhaps the most challenging of these suggestions is to experiment with chronology and temporality in your work, disrupting the reader’s conception of how time should work.

A well-established way of doing this is to include flashbacks, which gradually reveal more and more information that coincides with “present-day” events in your story. You can also reverse the timeline — though this is tougher because you can’t just rehash everything backwards. You have to carefully depict information and events in such a way that it reveals something of import; Reedsy contest winner “The Final Day” accomplishes this reveal with great aplomb.

In any case, as you can probably tell, the essential lesson to glean from all of this is: be the most unique version of yourself as an author and write a story only you could write. Ironically, following other people’s advice on the subject won’t get you nearly as far as marching to the beat of your own drum. So be intrepid, go forth, and write!

If you’re feeling inspired to start right now, head on over to our directory of over 300 writing contests you can enter in 2019.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels).

You can read more of her professional work on the Reedsy blog, or personal writing on Medium.

Posted in Experiments, Flashbacks, Focus, Guest Post, Mood and Atmosphere, Point of View, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 5 Comments

Why Every Novel Needs a Sprinkling of Fear

You’d be forgiven for thinking that only horror books should contain an element of fear, but I’m here to challenge that thought by claiming that all books – regardless of genre – need a sprinkling of it.

Why You Need Fear in Your Novel

Fear is a driver. It drives plot, pace, tension, and emotion—which, when you combine those elements, creates the climax of your story. Status quo would suggest that desire is the predominant motivation pushing a hero towards the climax of a story, and sure, it might be. But fear is a secondary motive.


In most stories the hero wants something: to save the day, to save a loved one, to stop the villain. But having those goals also means the hero has something to lose…the world, their loved one, innocent lives.

Having something to lose – something of value – creates fear. The fear of losing something important will naturally drive your hero onwards.

5 Tricks for Creating Fear

1. Insinuation and Implication

When the Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, I was twelve – not old enough to watch it. But I’d seen the trailers and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Afterall, you didn’t see any monsters in the clips. What you did see was a lot of running, heavy breathing, and twig snapping. 

So I asked my dad (who had seen it), what exactly he’d seen to make it so universally scary. He said, “Well, you don’t see anything.” That made me realize that a reader or viewer’s imagination is FAR superior to any words or clever film trickery. 

One could argue that fear doesn’t exist; it’s an emotion caused by a perceived threat of the danger of pain or harm. In other words, it’s just an idea in someone’s head.

And that’s something we writers can take advantage of. We can insinuate that bad things will happen and that’s enough to send a reader’s mind racing.

2. Use Psychological Fear

The types of fear that are popular tend to cycle. For example, since the early 2010s we’ve seen the rise in popularity of psychological thrillers like Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) and The Girl on The Train (Paula Hawkins). But in the late 70s through to the mid 90s, physiological fear was huge, especially in gory films like the Halloween series, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

How to Create Psychological Fear

At the heart of psychological fear is the emotional state your characters (and therefore your readers) are in. Therefore…

  • Make sure your hero has a fear that the hero, reader, and villain are aware of. The villain can then capitalize on it and make the hero face that fear in order to defeat them. 
  • Remove all possibility of hope for your hero. Make it seem like he or she will lose. That drives up the tension and heightens the fear factor by making your reader assume that losing is inevitable.
  • Make sure your hero is vulnerable. Vulnerability can be a form of foreshadowing; if your hero is in a dangerous situation and all alone, the reader automatically knows something is about to go down. Note: you can also make your hero emotionally vulnerable, which is particularly effective for inner flaws or genres like romance.

3. Use Physiological Fear

This one does what it says on the tin: violence, gore, torture, or anything gruesome. It’s not for everyone nor every genre, but the prospect of injury or maiming will inevitably create a sense of fear for both your hero and your reader.

4. Capitalise on Your Hero’s Emotion by Using the Senses

Fear is an emotion, which is why it’s essential to utilize the senses in your descriptions. Hopefully you’ve read Becca and Angela’s Emotion Thesaurus, which will tell you that fear is a physical reaction heightened by your senses. When you’re afraid, your face turns white, you blink rapidly, your muscles tighten, and beads of sweat run down your back. Your villain should provoke that sort of reaction in your protagonist. If he does, your reader will feel it too. 

Likewise, showing the reader (rather than telling her to be afraid) will also increase the sense of fear she feels:

“Don’t tell me the killer is standing in front of you holding a knife covered in blood. Show me the table where the knife used to sit, and a trail of blood droplets on the floor that finishes at your feet. Let me hear the creak of floorboards or the click of a lock that no one’s had a key to for a decade.” Sacha Black, 13 Steps to Evil – How to Craft a Superbad Villain

5. Withhold Information

Knowing what a monster looks like creates one type of fear, but NOT knowing what’s coming creates something different. Let the reader (and the hero) know something awful is coming, but withhold just enough information so they don’t know what, why, or when. When authors do this it reminds me of the movie technique of making music crescendo into a fever pitch and then dropping to silence. It puts me on edge every time.

No matter your genre, fear is vital. Whether you want to increase tension and pace or create depth for your hero’s motivations, it’s one tool that should be in every writer’s toolbox. These five tips will get you started, but try exploring multiple genres, as well as film, TV, and theatre, where you’ll find plenty of subtle tricks and techniques for crafting fear.

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers,, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now.
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Posted in Emotion, Fear, Motivation, Pacing, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 19 Comments