Ambient Sound Recommendations to Improve Your Writing Day

Hey folks! Last week we discussed the benefits of using ambient sounds and I admitted I’m terrible at following my own advice (I regularly watch TV while writing instead of using tools like ambient sounds to boost my focus). But today, I wanted to share three resources for those of you who want to give ambient sounds a try. These are all resources I have personally used for both writing and for setting the mood while DM’ing a D&D game (so dungeon masters, listen up!).

Online Resources

Rainy Mood

This site is by and large my favorite. It plays the sound of rain, and as a pluviophile, I love putting it on as white noise in the background.

Coffivity

This is another one that’s fun. For free, it lets you choose from three different coffee house settings to give you some ambient noise. Especially good for right now to make you feel like you’re sitting in your favorite coffee shop. All you need is a fresh cup for yourself, and you’re all set!

Ambient Mixer

This one is also fun. There are so. Many. Choices. And you can search for specific atmospheres you’re looking for. I know there’s also a way to make your own mixes, but I’ve never played with that part of the site.

Apps for your Phone

There are also a couple apps I have on my phone for those times when I’m not connected to the internet on my computer. Rainy Mood has an app with some free ambient noise for you, the Rainy Mood Lite app. There’s also Relax Forest that I really love, which has a whole bunch of forest tracks for you to listen to for free. I run on Android, so I can’t promise these are also on iOS. But if you can get them, they are fantastic!

YouTube

I linked my own personal playlist of writing sounds, but there are so many. Just search for whatever setting you’re working in, and voila! Instant atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

Ambient sounds are a great way to focus, and today I’ve shared some of my favorite tools (psst, they can also double as ways to set the mood for events like parties). If you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned, feel free to let me know about it in the comments! Or if you’ve tried one of these and hate it, let me know that, too!

Either way, I hope you found the last couple weeks useful, and I’ll see you next time!

The Benefits of Ambient Sounds for Creativity

Hey folks! So this is going to be one of those “do as I say, not as I do” kinds of posts. I’m going to talk a little bit about how ambient sounds can improve your writing process (notice I said CAN, as this doesn’t work for everyone…but it’s something to try as you experiment with your own methods!). But I will also be the first to admit that I only use ambient sounds sometimes because I am very, very distractable.

Let’s dig in!

Improving Focus

The biggest reason I’d personally give for using ambient sounds is to improve your focus. I tend to watch TV while writing (I know, I know…cut me some slack, I work full time and have lots of TV to catch up on and only evenings and weekends to do it!), but if I really need to buckle down and get stuff done, throwing on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and selecting some ambient noise can really help me put my mind to the task.

I’ve found that using sounds can reduce my impulses to check my email and social media obsessively (I have a really bad habit of that) and pull me into the story and the story alone. By limiting what is going into my ears, I’m limiting what my brain is doing and preventing the attention splitting so I can work just on the story.

Writing Habits

This next point is really similar to the first. Besides helping to improve focus, using ambient sounds can help get you into the mood for writing more quickly as part of a pre-writing or writing ritual. You may have heard about this before, but it’s part of conditioning yourself to work and your mind to think about writing.

Think of it this way: when you use specific sounds or scents regularly with a specific activity (like a particular candle or ambient sound), those things begin to be associated in your mind. In this way, when you light that candle or turn on that track, your brain settles into writing mode much more quickly because it knows what usually comes with those sensations.

Setting the Mood

Finally, ambient sounds are awesome for setting the mood-something that can apply to both readers and writers (writers, you may even want to suggest the ambient sounds you used to your readers as part of a book soundtrack).

Choosing the right sounds can really help you get into the heart of your book, feel like you’re in the setting, and set the tone. This can also help to improve your focus and get you into the story much faster.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully by now you’re seeing how closely these three points are linked…ambient sounds do so much with so little! These are just a few quick tips for why ambient sounds may benefit your writing (or reading) process. Next week I’ll share a few of my favorites, including some online sites, offline apps, and a YouTube playlist I have for myself.

But until then, how do you feel about using sounds during your reading or writing? Do you love it? Hate it? Are you like me and know you should use it more but don’t, or do you find it doesn’t do anything to help you? Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter!

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Survival part 2: How to Write Survival Stories

Last week, we discussed why I personally love survival stories. We talked about how they can showcase the ingenuity of humanity, the way they can make us as readers think and problem solve, and how they reveal the strength of the human spirit.

Today, I’m going to speak a bit closer to the writers in the room. What is it about a survival story that makes it strong, that pulls on a reader’s heartstrings? How do we create a powerful survival story? Let’s look at four key points of a good survival story.

There needs to be high stakes conflict

Survival is high stakes, so the circumstances in which the character finds themselves needs to be high stakes as well. There have to be heart-pounding moments of terror, moments when it’s really uncertain if the character will survive. Mild circumstances or when there is any doubt in the reader’s mind about the possibility of the character not surviving will kill the tension of the story before it even begins. So no long, slow, tedious walks in the forest – at least not without encountering something more immediate. But we’ll get to that in point 3. 😉

Don’t be afraid to cut your character off and make them suffer. I know that sounds horrible, but without it, the story falls flat.

Conflict needs to be both internal and external

It’s really easy in a survival story to focus on the conflict of person vs. nature, since that’s the main focus of most survival stories. But that is a superficial story structure, and without something more, the reader won’t connect or care about the outcome of the story.

Just like in any story, we need something to make us care, and often that’s the internal conflict. We learn about the bits and pieces of the main character’s life, the things they’re struggling with, and how it relates to the life-or-death circumstances in which they find themselves.

We get to know the character, and then we can care about what happens to them.

There needs to be urgency

It’s so easy to write a slow survival story. I know. I’ve done it.

But that’s boring.

I know, it might be plausible to see a person slowly starving or something similar, but it doesn’t exactly drive the story forward. (refer back to point #1)

But, if you give the character a deadline of some sort – a life-threatening injury, danger to someone they love that is imminent – it adds a layer of tension to the story that will keep the reader of the edge of their seat, begging to know what happens next, begging to know if they’ll make it or fail/die.

It needs to be plausible

Finally, your survival story needs to be plausible. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve seen that are grounded on faulty premises…one that comes to mind is a post-apocalyptic EMP story in which the EMP killed most of the life on Earth. Right there, that is not realistic, as EMPs only affect electronic devices. Not the health of a creature.

So whatever circumstances your character finds themselves in, it needs to be something truthful, believable, and scientifically plausible, or you’ll lose your reader.

Final Thoughts

So now that you’ve heard what I consider to be the key elements to a good survival story, I’m interested to see what you think makes it. Are there other components you can think of? Other conflicts you like to see in these stories? Let me know in the comments or send me a tweet!

Happy writing, and see you next week for some of my favorite survival story recommendations!

Survival Part 1: Why I Love Survival Stories

Let’s talk books!

This week I’m going to start a 3-part series on survival stories. Why? Well, I’ll get into that this week. But the background is three-fold: I am a longtime lover of the survival story, the novel I’m querying right now is a fantasy survival story, and I just finished reading a new one (which I loved!).

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but right now is not the time I’d necessarily expect I’d want to read survival stories. We’re in the middle of weird times (yes, I am also getting tired of people calling it “unprecedented times”) that feel a little too post-apocalyptic. Personally, I’ve noticed a split between those who want to read ALL the post-apoc and those who want nothing but fluffy. At first, I did want those post-apoc books. Then I wanted fluffy. And now, as things are starting to stabilize again, I’m good with reading slightly more survivally stories.

There are several things that really appeal to me about this kind of story.

First, these stories showcase ingenuity in a way nothing else does. There’s something to be said for dropping a person in a seemingly impossible situation only to see them come up with solutions like MacGyver with nothing more than a shoelace or their own hair. Yes, that really did happen in the book I just finished. As someone who’s never had to fight for my life in a life-or-death struggle, I never would have come up with that. Amazing to see the things a person can come up with when the situation arises.

Next, these stories make us think, but in good ways. They remind us that we really don’t have it that bad, but beyond that, they make us think what we would do if thrown into a situation like that. They are books for critical thinking wrapped up in a pretty package of drama and edge-of-your-seat excitement. They show the raw sides of humanity and let us consider both the good and the bad.

Finally, there is nothing like a triumphant survival story to showcase the human spirit. It can show us the lengths we can go to in order to make it through a difficult situation. And they show us the pure determination and grit, the hope. They show us how people come together in impossible situations to take care of each other, like in The Martian (we’ll go through some specific recommendations in a couple weeks). They show us how people can rise above the terrible things that could happen.

And honestly, that’s the biggest draw of the survival story: the triumph of the human spirit.

Next week we’ll discuss five important elements to writing a survival story, and the week after that I have some good recommendations, but for now, tell me what you think. Do you enjoy this kind of story? Why or why not? What is it about them that make you feel that way? Let’s chat in the comments, or tweet me @selinajeckert!

Awesome Books for Writers

Looking for some great books for writers? Look no further!

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for a good craft or business book to grow your knowledge. This week I took a look over all the writing and art books I’ve consumed since I started seriously writing, and I figured why not share my up-to-date favorites list with all of you?

So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Writing Craft, Business, and Life

The first category is my favorite books on writing craft, books that teach elements of writing itself or what’s involved in the writing life and business. And boy do I have some excellent (and classic) favorites!

On Writing by Stephen King

This one is, of course, one of the biggest classics! King tells it like it is, in a relateable, down-to-earth voice. In fact, I might be due for a reread!

Bird by Bird by Anne lamott

This is an encouraging and entertaining look at how to write a book. Definitely one of my favorites, and it’s so quotable!

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

This is another classic, a collection of essays by classic writer Ray Bradbury. Definitely some interesting food for thought here!

Wired for STory by Lisa Cron

As a neuroscientist and a writer, I’ve loved this particular book. It delves into the neuroscience and psychology behind elements of a story and why certain things work so well…and how to improve your own writing with those ideas in mind!

THe Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

This is an excellent overview and must-read for any author looking to make a career from their writing. Friedman goes through things like how publishing works, your publishing and career options, platforms, and more resources for delving deeper.

For Christian Writers

This section is specific to Christian writers, but the books are packed with so much to think about regarding spirituality, mental health, and art and creativity.

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

This is another collection of essays by a classic author. It discusses what it means to be a Christian artist and how faith and art are related.

Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey

This is an incredible look at how to deal with your issues to become the artist God created and to help you create as best you can. It also does some work to dispel the myth of the starving artist. It’s such a powerful read!

For Encouragement

There are also a couple short reads that do such an uplifting job of encouraging writers to keep going and dream about how what they do affects readers. If you need a lift, pick one (or both) of these up! It won’t take long, and you’ll end up feeling validated, appreciated, and, hopefully, excited to keep writing!

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl by Laura A. Grace

This book is a collection of letters from a hypothetical fan to you, the author. It covers a range of scenarios and is so heartwarming!

For the love of a word Ed. by Annie Louise Twitchell

Disclaimer: I have a couple pieces in this anthology. But it’s such an encouraging and motivating collection of essays, poetry, and art. Definitely give this one a read if you need a bit of a pick-me-up.

My Upcoming Reads

Finally, I can’t complete this list without addressing a bunch of books on my list that I’m either currently reading or excited to dive into next. I won’t have too much info here, but feel free to follow the links to learn more!

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

Romance Your Brand: Building a Marketable Genre Fiction Series

Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream

Writing the Other

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

Closing Thoughts

There are so many good resources out there for craft, business, and life of a writer! I’m always on the hunt for new, good titles to consume. If you know of some not on my list, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Or, if you’ve read any of these, what are your own thoughts? Did you find them helpful? Let’s chat about it!

See you in the comments. 🙂

The Value of Finding Your Writing Community

Do you know why community is so important for writers?

It’s been said that writing is a solitary pursuit, and for the actual act of writing, usually that’s true. But just because writing is solitary doesn’t mean it has to be lonely. The online writing community is one of the most positive and friendly communities I’ve run into online (of course with exceptions). There is a lot to be said for finding a tribe of fellow writers to share your writing life with, and there is a special value in having like-minded individuals to talk to and learn from.

The Value of Community

There are a lot of benefits to finding a writing community to participate in, ranging from professional and creative development to fostering networks and friendships. Let’s look closer at three benefits to writing community: mentorship, fellowship, and growth.

Mentorship

One good reason to find community is mentorship. Especially as a new writer, there are going to be questions…and lots of them. And even writers who have been writing or publishing for years may have questions that more experienced writers can answer.

A good writing community can provide help to writers for writing craft, marketing, publishing industry, moral support, and/or the process of publishing. Just bear in mind that some communities will focus on specific aspects and will ask members not to post about unrelated topics. But that’s just another reason to join a variety of groups focused on different things!

Fellowship

Besides mentorship, online communities can provide places for writers to commiserate about the challenges of writing or just chat about craft and story. It’s awesome to have these kinds of connections, and they can be inspiring and uplifting conversations! You may find not only friends but colleagues with whom you can produce work together (be it co-writing, beta reading, editing, or any other act of creation and revision).

Regardless of what you find or the friends you make or don’t make, just having a place to go to chat with like-minded individuals can reduce that loneliness that can come with being a writer. These people know what you’re going through, and more likely than not, they want to help. Writers, more often than not, are some of the most generous people I know.

Growth

And finally, similar to mentorship, online communities can help you to grow. They can provide you with valuable tools, resources, and information to grow your writing and your business, and they can also help expand your thinking. By finding diverse communities, you can begin to find people who may not think exactly like you and who encourage you to try new things or to come at a story from a different perspective.

Finding communities can help you grow academically, professionally, and personally, and it is a great joy to both to be the one learning and to work with others to learn together.

Where to Find Communities

There are a lot of places online where you can find communities, but I’m going to stick with Facebook for today, as there are lots of groups on there that can get you started. I encourage you to look into a few that are relevant to you and join them to try it out…and if it doesn’t work for you, just leave and move on! Eventually you will find your people. 🙂

I highly recommend that those interested in indie publishing (or in finding new communities) check out 20booksto50k(R) on Facebook. This is a large business-focused group, but they have an abundance of “units” where they share the collective knowledge of their almost 40,000 members. They also have units dedicated to finding writers in your genre, which is a great stepping stone for new authors to network. They do strictly monitor posting, though, so be sure you read the rules carefully so you don’t get kicked out!

Another kind, positive group I recently found is Create If Writing, run by indie author Kirsten Oliphant. She is such a kind, knowledgeable person and maintains a wonderful safe community for authors to chat and learn. She also has a podcast that has excellent info for authors on marketing and branding.

Finally, I am also part of the Clean Indie Fantasy (Discussion) group, which also has an indie book club run by Fellowship of Fantasy. This is a great place for clean and Christian authors to connect, and it is an active, supportive group of authors who all help each other out.

In general, just search around and ask other writers what groups they’re in that they like. Sure, you may find some you don’t like, but you will get the chance to find the groups that are right for you, the groups that will encourage you, grow you, and make you new friends.

But most of all, don’t give up the search. Keep looking for your community, and let them support you as you support them in turn. Sometimes you don’t realize what you needed until you stumble on it.

Keep writing, my friends, and keep growing. 🙂

Discovery Writing for Outliners

How do you discovery write with an outline?

In the writing world, there are typically two types of pre-writing techniques that people discuss: planning and pantsing. Planning, or outlining, means the author takes the time to plan out each part of the book, every plot point, subplot, and character arc. Pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants), or discovery writing, as Brandon Sanderson puts it in his Writing Excuses podcast, is writing without planning out what you’re doing.

And then, of course, there is a hybrid of the two, which is usually about where I fall. So how does one plan and also discovery write? Well, I’m glad you asked. That’s the topic of today’s post!

Planning

To discovery write as a planner, you of course need to start with some sort of plan. What that looks like may vary from person to person, but here is the basic idea:

  1. Plotting your story beats. Story beats are the points in the story when major things happen, such as your inciting incident, midpoint, and climax. I follow K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors method for this, with a 3-act structure, for many of my stories. In general, having these mile posts provide a loose structure and goal posts for your writing, giving you direction for your writing. For me, they also give me how many words I should have at each point so I can get closer to my final target word counts (which is good for marketing and querying).
  2. Plotting out the beginning and end. Another method of pre-planning is to just explain what happens in the beginning and what happens at the end. Nothing else, just where you start and where you’re going.
  3. Plot the character arcs. This is one other way you can pre-plot: you figure out where you characters start and where they are going. This might be more applicable for perhaps a contemporary story or character-driven fiction.

Discovery Writing

After you have something small plotted and your milestones in place, the next part is the fun part: you get to just write to see what happens. And it’s perfectly fine to have ideas for scenes already in your head as you start, too! But this will allow for more flexibility to grow your characters and your world, as you’re not constrained by your outline.

I have found when I use a combination of outlining and discovery writing that I develop richer stories with deeper meaning. Take the next Seasons of Magic release, All That Glimmers, for example. I started this book with a simple outline highlighting the main character’s need for academic validation.

And then, as I was writing between my outline points, I discovered that my main character was grieving. She had lost one of her closest friends. And she was desperate to get her back.

By allowing myself this flexibility, I provided the space to develop a deep theme and push my characters with intense motivations that ultimately led to a better story than I had imagined when I started.

And, to me, that’s the beauty of this hybrid method.

Disclaimers and Final Thoughts

Every author approaches their writing process differently, and everyone I’ve ever talked to has gone through a different writing process for every book until they find something that works for them. And that’s both okay and expected. Every person’s brain is different, and what works for one will not work for all.

That said, this is a method, found through trial and error, that works well for me! Using a hybrid, I have a road map that allows me to keep pushing toward each smaller goal, which is much less overwhelming to me than just pushing to the ending. But I also get to just have fun with the writing.

And I will tell you, I have tried both methods to the letter. I over-outlined early on…and broke the outline almost immediately because my new ideas wouldn’t fit. I’d wasted so much time creating the first outline, then making a new outline, then another new outline when I broke it again. I’ve also written a book entirely by pantsing, starting with nothing more than a character. Well, that book is still on a shelf waiting for a full rewrite. Because I figured out important points that completely changed the story as I wrote, and the beginning of it is no good anymore. And I will never pants a story with no outlining every again.

But you know what? This is the beauty of being a writer. It’s experimentation and creation. It’s trying new things and finding things you love. It’s creating the way you work so you can create beautiful worlds and stories.

So, even if this method doesn’t work for you, chin up my friends. You will find your methods. Just keep trying new things. 🙂

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What is your writing process like? Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser, or hybrid writer? Let’s talk in the comments!

Polarizing Thoughts in Writing: Should You Pay for a Beta Reader?

Hey there! I figured this week we might as well dive into yet another polarizing topic. I mean, the last one I posted all about why you may need a sensitivity reader got me my first comment about how I was wasting everyone’s time and was a worthless writer (I consider that a win…and they obviously didn’t read the article). After all, if I get no reaction, am I really making anyone, including myself, think?

Anyhow, this week a question came up in one of my groups about finding beta readers. Common enough question, really. They can be hard to find, especially quality ones. But at the end of the question was a comment that the poster was originally willing to pay $100 for the beta read, except people were quoting her much higher than that.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of “NEVER PAY FOR BETA READERS” knee-jerk reactions, and I’m here to tell you that yes, that’s generally true.

But not always.

When I expressed that, I got those same knee-jerk reactions.

But I will remind you: just because one person wants to hire a beta reader doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You don’t know what brought them to that decision in the first place. So yes, by all means, tell them it’s not necessary to pay for a beta reader. But if that’s what they want, we should respect those wishes.

What are beta readers?

Let’s back up a second and define beta readers for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term. Beta readers are like your book’s first testers. They generally read a lot in your genre, so they know the tropes and can see when there are problems with a story. They read for fun. Oftentimes, the author can provide specific questions for the betas to respond to so they can find the problems in their story.

Beta readers are looking for any story problems to help the author improve the book before they start sending it out into the world.

Where are beta readers?

Typically, authors find beta readers in reader groups, often online, or they may exchange manuscripts with other authors for feedback (technically, exchanging with another author is considered alpha reading, as authors are professionals in the field rather than the intended audience, but few writers make this distinction).

So…you pay them?

Not really. Very rarely does anyone pay for this service, and it’s pretty standard to assume no payment.

However, there are some people who offer paid beta reading services. From what I’ve seen, the going rate is about $1 per 1000 words ($80 for an 80k word manuscript). And a lot of writers will get pretty mad when they see this.

Now, let’s just mention one elephant in this room. Wouldn’t this just be like content editing? I mean, yes, it could be considered content editing. Or at least a form of it. However, content editing will likely come with more detail, in-depth analysis, and a higher price tag. Editors likely have more experience in the field as well.

Paying for a beta read is like paying for a less intense form of editing.

So when should I charge for beta reading?

Short answer, rarely or never.

Long answer, it depends. And it’s up to you.

The idea behind charging for beta reading comes from the idea that our time is valuable. And I get that. Usually, this matter is resolved by offering an exchange or, if you’re a reader and not a writer, just getting a chance to be part of the book creation process.

But when there is a professional offering various editing services, beta reading may be part of them. These people may not want to do an exchange of services for a number of reasons, such as if they don’t have anything ready for exchange, already have all the help they need, they are solely editors and live off the money they make on their freelancing time, or don’t have the time available if it’s not paid work (freelancing can be tight).

Another option is that an author may want to pay for this service. And at that point, it’s about understanding their needs and meeting them as best you can as an editor. It’s part of that professional relationship.

Ok, then when do I pay for beta reading?

Honestly, ultimately, this decision is up to you. But here are a few examples of why some authors prefer to pay for beta readers:

  1. They’ve been burned by free readers in the past (such as getting many readers who take the book and become unresponsive).
  2. They’re looking for unbiased opinions and feel that paying for the service would offer that.
  3. They do not have time to find free betas or do a service exchange.
  4. They’re on a tight timeline or are struggling to find the right beta readers online.
  5. They want a more professional opinion (again, this would be considered more alpha reading than beta reading).

Concluding thoughts

I hope you can see how this might be polarizing. Many authors are adamant that you never, ever pay for beta reading, but in my experience, that’s not always fair. Just like it’s not fair to judge people who have their reasons for paying or for charging.

Should you charge? That’s up to you. You might get a lot of hate for it. But that’s still your decision and your time.

For me, I never charged until I had a client come to me and insist she pay me for beta reading. I don’t know her reasons, and it wasn’t my place to ask. I offered a service exchange. I told her I don’t typically charge for that. I offered anything I could to avoid charging her.

And guess what? She still insisted on paying me.

Again, whether or not to pay or charge for betas is a question to be answered by each person, and each situation, individually. So while we can offer all the advice in the world, we need to respect other people even when we don’t agree with their decisions and understand that there’s probably more to it than we can see from the outside.

Just like pretty much everything else in life, right?

Write on, my friends. ❤

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Do you have polarizing thoughts on this polarizing topic? That’s ok! This is a conversation, and my only intent is to remind us to be considerate of the needs of others and remember we don’t have all the details of this decision.

But if you share your thoughts below, I’d be happy to chat!

What TV Got Wrong: Being a Writer (New Girl Edition)

Okay, New Girl is one of my absolute favorite shows. I love the characters. I love the antics. It makes me happy. And as the series progresses, we learn that one of the major characters is a writer (and writes an absolutely terrible first book, that includes a word search).

But there is one particular episode in season 6 that drives me absolutely insane (potential spoilers if you haven’t seen it): the episode all about Nick’s Pepperwood Chronicles novel. Specifically when he gets his first rejection from a publisher and his friends push him into selling it himself.

You see, in episodes leading up to this one, it’s slowly being established that Nick is a writer working on a book. And I have issues with some of those moments as well, such as when every. Single. Person. On the show. Tells Nick his book is perfect with absolutely no corrections or issues (hint: no book is ever perfect, even after publication). But for now, I’m going to focus in on this one episode.

So anyway, back to this episode. Here are the things New Girl got wrong about being a writer, as well as a reality check.

Myth: If you get a rejection, your career is over.

Nick submitted his Pepperwood Chronicles book to a publisher, and they rejected it. He was so embarrassed he wouldn’t tell anyone, and he decided it meant his career is over.

Here’s the hard truth: if you want to be traditionally published, whether you submit to an agent or directly to publishers, you will have rejections. So many rejections. And you know what? None of them mean your career is over.

Think about this: J.K. Rowling got over 100 rejections for Harry Potter, and that series is one of the best selling series of all time.

A rejection doesn’t end your career. And it doesn’t mean your book is bad.

Myth: As soon as you finish the book, you’re ready to submit it. Or publish it.

Okay, so truth be told, I do not really know what Nick did after finishing the novel. But as I said before, everyone told him it was perfect.

Your book is never ready to be published as a first draft. Even if you draft fast or clean, you need beta readers to make sure you don’t have loose ends, offensive material/misrepresentations, or major plot errors, and preferably a series of developmental editing, copyediting and line editing, and proofreading. Then you can move on. Even indies should follow these steps, even if they don’t hire people for them and just find good readers to help (many indies just don’t have that kind of money starting out, and I’m learning that’s not as big a deal as I once thought).

And if you’re going traditional? You still need beta readers and several more rounds of revision to polish it so it is as close to publication ready as possible. No agent or publisher will take a first draft, and it makes you look unprofessional.

Truth is, you’re going to have several drafts of your book as you tweak it and make it either publication ready or ready to submit. Never ever ever a first draft.

Myth: You should make your own books to sell. And you can do it in a day.

This one is weird, but in the episode, Nick’s girlfriend gets him a book reading at a bookstore. For his unpublished book. The night she finds out about the rejection.

Problem is that he’s unpublished so has no book to sell.

No problem for New Girl’s title character, Jess. She just whips up a bunch of books for him to sell (honking beasts, by the way…note: page count is important!).

NO. You are not going to make your own books as an indie. You upload your work to a print-on-demand site, they print when they have an order, and it takes a few days to be available. Also, you’re going to want to order yourself a proof copy to make sure you didn’t screw it up. And if you have the money, you’ll probably be hiring someone to design a professional cover that’s not literal bits of paper cut and glued to a brown cardboard cover.

Myth: As an unpublished, unknown author, a book reading will solve your problems.

If no one knows you exist, you’ll be lucky to get a few butts in chairs at a reading, unless it’s a collaboration with a better-known other author. In the episode, Nick packs his reading (even though it isn’t a ton of chairs). And it’s viewed as the solution to his problem, the jump start his career needs.

A reading (or a book tour) is unlikely to sell you many books, and it’s a gamble that even traditional publishers rarely take anymore.

Concluding Thoughts

Bottom line is that TV gets a lot of things wrong (most people know this already), so don’t be discouraged if you see TV writers hitting it big while you’re still struggling to break in or be read. Or even to write.

Writing is a complicated thing that is mostly different for each person, but stick to it! And keep your eye out for more misrepresentations in media. 🙂

For now, though, do you have any pet peeves in TV or misrepresentations of what you do that drive you crazy? Share with me below!

Urban Fantasy: A Closer Look

Let’s talk urban fantasy!

Welcome back to Fantasy Month! As a reminder, you can find out all about this event over on Jenelle Schmidt’s blog.

Previously, we’ve discussed some of the subgenres of fantasy, but today I want to delve more into urban fantasy, its own subgenre of fantasy. Why? Because urban fantasy has a lot of subtle nuances that tend to be used interchangeably, and there can be a lot of disagreement about what exactly urban fantasy is.

But first, a note. Even though this is how I define urban fantasy, you don’t have to agree with me. Not everyone does! But I encourage you to share your ideas in the comments so we can chat. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Urban fantasy is not contemporary fantasy

I feel like this is a common misconception. Many people equate urban fantasy with anything set in modern time. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

By definition, urban fantasy (UF) must take place in a city setting (urban). It could be historical urban fantasy, but the most likely, and the most recognized, is modern day city settings.

Contemporary fantasy, on the other hand, isn’t restricted to a city setting. It can be rural, under the ocean, on the moon…though there may be other overlapping genres there. 😉 But the key is that it takes place in current times without specifying location.

Contemporary and low fantasy aren’t the same

Low fantasy, similar to contemporary fantasy, takes place in our world. However, similar to urban fantasy, it does not have to be modern time. Contemporary, by definition, does take place during modern times.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are similar…but not the same

This one is still fuzzier to me. Urban fantasy is similar to paranormal romance (PNR), but it tends to focus much less on romantic elements. PNR centers on romantic relationships, though it shares many other characteristics with UF. As I had mentioned last year in the fantasy subgenres breakdown, paranormal itself tends to center on another specific characteristic, so I’d say that PNR is just paranormal with a romantic twist.

Do you have a good definition of PNR? Do you love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments!

So what are some hallmarks of urban fantasy?

Many people will overlap urban and contemporary fantasy, and there are a lot of book series that fall into this category in bookstores and online. Many of them tend to share some of the same features (but these are by no means inclusive and UF doesn’t have to contain all of them):

  • Brandon Sanderson once described urban fantasy as “chicks in leather fighting demons”. This can be accurate for some.
  • Many main characters (not all) are female.
  • Main characters may be human or not. But they become deeply immersed in supernatural culture.
  • There are often slow-burn romantic elements, but it is not the focus of the story, and romance isn’t a requirement.
  • Books are often long-running series.
  • Each book in a series is self-contained, but overall character arcs continue to develop from book to book.
  • UF may contain the following (or more!): shifters, fae, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mages, demons, angels, any magical creature you can think of.

Do you have other characteristics you’ve seen in urban fantasy? What are they? Tell me in the comments!

Final thoughts

Personally, I LOVE urban fantasy, but I know it isn’t for everyone. For me, I love that idea that magic could be just around the corner, that we just don’t see it around us. It’s an idea I became almost obsessed with over the past several years, starting with when I read the Mercy Thompson books in grad school. And because of my love for it, I tend to write quite a bit of it.

This Cursed Flame is a YA contemporary/portal fantasy. It doesn’t take place in a city, but it is set in modern times. It includes many, many djinn. And a genie.

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks is also contemporary fantasy, but it doesn’t take place in a city, so again, just contemporary. It does, however, have fae all over it.

And my newest release (out today!), Freeze Thaw, is a blend of contemporary and historical fantasy, as it combines magic in the Ice Age with magic in the modern world. But it’s set at an archaeological dig rather than a city, so I say, again, contemporary.

I’d love to tell you of all my upcoming projects, but it would simply take too long. So instead, do you have any favorite UF (or similar) reads? What are they? Why do you love them? Let’s chat!

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New Release Announcement!

As I mentioned, Freeze Thaw is out today! It is novelette length and a Sleeping Beauty retelling…in fact, it’s the same story that started all the Seasons of Magic stories! It was a Top Ten finalist in the Rooglewood Press Five Magic Spindles contest, and I am still in love with my story.

Click on the picture or the link above to find out more!