Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Innovator’s Dilemma is Dire for Big Publishers; What About Authors?

By Taya Okerlund

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen is most famed for his bestselling book The Innovator’s Dilemma, wherein he describes why big, successful businesses still fail. The problem they face is this: a gal in her garage, willing to work for nothing, or next to it, creates an entire market for a simpler, better, and more accessible product, which big businesses have rightly ignored because they couldn’t make it profitable. But that gal in the garage’s formerly unprofitable product grows up and eventually eats the big businesses for breakfast, ergo The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Clay made a lot of clever predictions with that book…or his theory did. Among them, he predicted the ‘broad’ failure of big publishers. And we’ve seen some of that come to pass. But publishing has adapted. Houses are suffering, but surviving within a shrinking market for exclusively traditionally published books.

In the October 2016 author earnings report, the Big 5 Publishers’ market share continued to decline. Small presses, indie authors, and Amazon imprints accounted for over 50% of market share. Readers increasingly decline printed, bookstore pedaled material in favor of a digital product.

So lets unpack what has happened to the publishing since digital publishing came about.
For a while big publishers did quite well on the ebook trade. They could sell their own digital titles at a higher profit than printed material, and all went swimmingly. But a profit driven bottom line tends always to try to repeat past successful performances over and over. Efficient, conservative, profit driving is the enemy of innovation. Meanwhile, some extraordinarily creative work began to pour forth through the self publishing pipeline.

In 2009, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was published online, the first non traditionally published work to win the Nebula Award. Wool busted out with massive success in 2011.

In 2012, two massive publishing houses, Random House and Penguin consolidated, making the Big 6, into a much less divisible 5, and more self-published hits continued to roll out. The Atlantis Gene. Atopia Chronicles, for example. These are massive self publishing successes where authors sold millions of copies.

Few books, traditionally published or otherwise, make a pittance. When you’re relying on authors like Rowling and Meyers to bankroll the rest of your publications list, missing even one big hit hurts publishers. It hurts a lot. And do you think already wildly successful online authors are going to surrender their digital rights once discovered by a giant publisher? Not a chance!

More and more, readers are spending time with titles from indie and self-published authors and the industry has adapted. Big houses have rolled out more imprint labels, some who accept unagented submissions in attempt to model the bare bones garage model publisher. These houses entice authors with the promise of fronting the cost of editing and cover design in exchange for control and creative rights. Whether this is a good deal for a savvy author is quite another question. Almost every week, I discover a new small press to which I could submit my work.

And so it seems, we have our proof of Clayton’s prediction. A new market has emerged and competition has ensued. Small presses and self publishing authors have jumped in en mass. Moreover, digital content has changed the life cycle of books, so now not only are hundreds of thousands of authors writing new books, but books’ digital character ensures they will remain to be marketed again. It is a very crowded marketplace, indeed. And just in time for book critic Lee Siegel to declare the American novel dead!

So where does this leave authors? 
Well. Many authors are becoming private editors and book marketers to hoards of newer indie authors. Work is quite abundant. I’m not sure there has ever been a better time to be an editor. But editing is not authorship. What happens to innovation?

Some authors may be quite a bit worse off than they were even ten years ago. Advances from big houses are shrunken and yet shrinking. Those on the mid list must feel this keenly. Today’s publishing offers less and less opportunity to sell the same sort of book, depending upon how loyal their following. With the decline of big publishers, the mega authors success will not be subsidizing the mid list authors’ advances. In the end, this may drive many talented professional writers from the novel writing industry.

But historically, book success has always been highly variable. It has always been true that wildly successful authors have enjoyed a more or less fussy combination of luck, commercial savvy, and innovation–some kind of innovation, be it style, or plotting or theme. They invent a new or they radically reshape a tired old genre.

Maybe hunger has a role to play in the inventive process. Good art doesn’t follow from bottom line motivation. Innovating authors are no worse off than before, despite the uptick of competition.

Lee Siegel may be right about the state of the American novel. I don’t know if it is really dead, but it is suffering. Even so, conditions may be poising it for a rebound. If professional writing is no longer a feasible source of income, then many, many “solid” books will not be written. Only the highly motivated innovators will remain, producing books, some dubious, others of a style we have never before seen. I predict fiction, as an art form, will not only survive, but also thrive.

Taya Okerlund is an ASD mama; a thing finder; an evangelizing fermentista; a teller of tales; a seeker of shoes; a sleeper on peas; a keeper of secrets; a saver of coins; and an opener of arms.

Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.

Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best.

Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.

And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future would be compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Beyond Word Processing: Useful "Extras" for Story Creation

By Christie Valentine Powell

One afternoon my college roommate, an accounting major, found me pouring over an excel sheet. “You use excel?” she asked incredulously. 

“Yes,” I answered. “It’s useful for writing.”

My roommate still couldn’t believe that a girl with a penchant for fiction would be using the same program she used in her classes—especially if she didn’t have to! In fact, I used excel as early as middle school for keeping track of my characters (and their Pokémon—this was 2000).

Excel is only one tool that writers can use in crafting a story. Using files in addition to your regular word processing files can help a writer keep track of character details; turn the story’s setting into a living, breathing world; and the mundane realities of writing and publishing.


Have you ever read a series where one of the characters switches middle names between books? What about eyes that change color? Or a horse that changes gender? A character sheet can be a great way to keep all those little details straight, especially for minor characters. 

“How do you name your characters?” comes up frequently in writing circles. Many writers have an interest in names outside of fiction, and enjoy online lists and name dictionaries. When I come upon a name that fits my story, I add it to my name excel sheet. The columns go across the top and then I fill in the information about each name. I include a column for “bearer” so I know if I’ve already used the name. I can sort the names to help me narrow down the perfect name for my character. For instance, if a new male Sprite character appears, I can scroll down the alphabet to ‘S’…

and I have a whole list of possibilities.

Drawing a family tree can generate new ideas and help you get to know your character better. This is a must if your story includes many family members or complicated backstory. I use a Paint program (free with most computers) to move names and dates around. This is also especially useful in conjunction with a timeline.



A timeline is especially useful in fantasy novels or any story that takes place over many years. I have a quick reference for births, deaths and marriages; important events in both kingdoms and characters’ lives; and the reigns of kings.  I can easily calculate how old any one character is during a certain event. This also assures that my world is populated by a realistic number of ages: children and the elderly are often overlooked in fantasy stories, but my timeline can help me discern which characters of all ages might be present.

My ‘master map’ is essential for a high fantasy world, but maps can be useful in many genres to help calculate travel times, keep track of multiple groups of characters, include different landscapes, and even visualize which direction the characters are facing. When I publish a book, I take the relevant section of my master map and turn it into an insert for the front of the book.

Another tool for keeping track of characters on a journey is the calendar. It helps you keep track of how long your characters might have traveled and how much time has passed between significant events. For my calendar, I use a template from word perfect, but you can find them for excel, download a program for the purpose, or even keep a physical copy.

Short-story writer Melissa Mead discovered: “I’ve been really stuck on the [work in progress], trying to keep track of what’s happening to who where, when, and why. I even tried outlining, and I’m a major pantser. Then I realized: I don’t need an outline to get a grip on this book. I need a CALENDAR. Never mind what chapter or scene this is, or whose point of view I’m in. Just tell me who’s doing what, where, and when. Even if there’s half a chapter happening on one day and 4 chapters on the next…This way I can even write in what the villain’s doing behind the scenes, even though it’s not in the book.”

Calendars can keep multiple viewpoints straight. And don’t forget the weather! Once, I had just described the vibrant green of a temperate rain forest… only to realize that this was autumn. The leaves would be vibrant, but not green!


My “Chapter Sheet” is a tool I use to help with pacing, though it may be too OCD for some. I keep track of the name and number of each chapter, and then copy down the page numbers from my table of contents. This calculates the length of each chapter so I can determine if parts are too long or short. I color code chapters based on the characters present and the plot points involved. This also helps me compare between books in a series.


I’ve also used excel to keep track of agents and reviewers that I’ve contacted about my books. For reviewers, I listed their name, website, when I submitted to them, and what response I received. I did the same thing for agents before I decided to Indie publish, which also included hints I’d dug up about the sort of books they were looking for.

Where is money going and where is it coming from? At the end of the year I move the total costs, total profits, and year total to another table so that I can compare years and look for patterns… and do taxes (shudder). This is the sheet that my accounting roommate would approve of!

 Much more of your story exists than appears on paper. Take advantage of all your resources! Using files in addition to your word processing can help you keep track of all the additional information and create a story that exists beyond the page.

Christie Valentine Powell lives near the sunniest city in the world with her husband, children, and lots of farm critters. Her first book, The Spectra Unearthed, was published in 2015. She also enjoys hobby farming, making toys, and daydreaming. 

Keita thought being a princess nothing but trouble even before the power-hungry Stygians took over the Spectra kingdoms. Standing up to the Stygians means confronting Jasper Smelt, a former friend who insists he wants to keep her safe. His pitch-black dungeon and fiery threats suggest otherwise. With help from her friends, Keita escapes, but there is no safe place for former princesses. Banding together despite their different cultures, the girls find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the Stygians and a small rebel group. Keita wants to help, but how can she face Jasper, someone with abilities she couldn’t begin to fight, someone constantly seeking her out, someone who fears everything…except her?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Long and the Short of Flash Fiction

By Whitney Hemsath

I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction lately, and I gotta say, it’s fun. It’s challenging, but fun.

What is flash fiction, you ask? It’s a subcategory of short stories. There is a lot of overlap in categories, and the exact word count definitions vary by whoever is calling the shots for that contest or publication, but the following are some general break downs of word counts for various categories under the short story umbrella:

Short Story <7,500 words
Flash Fiction <1,000 words
Micro Fiction <100 words

The terms “short-short” and “sudden fiction” also apply to flash fiction.

Being able to tell a story in so few words is a real art. You have to learn how to get rid of extraneous characters, subplots, descriptions, etc and just hone in on the main character and their story. One of the most famous examples of a micro fiction is a six-word story (often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but there is no concrete source to verify that attribution) which goes like this:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

It tells a whole, heart-wrenching story in just six words. Amazing, huh?

Notice that it didn’t try to tell how the baby died, or if the baby really did die or if the baby just grew too quickly that they never got around to wearing the new shoes. Short stories, especially flash and micro ones, don’t try to answer every possible question about the story. They often leave things a little open-ended.

As I have been trying my hand at flash fiction, I’ve grown to love it, and here are just a few reasons why:

1) The end is in sight from the very beginning.

When you start a novel, there are often months of planning, months (or years!) of drafting, and then you have to start on edits. Even the most speedy and seasoned of writers will still need a couple of months from start to finish, while the rest of us may need a year or more. But with short stories and flash fiction, you can start and finish in a week or less, sometimes in just a day or an hour. It feels good to say you’ve finished something, and you can actually start submitting your writing for publication long before your beta readers have ever finished reading your novel. It is a satisfying feeling to start and finish a project in a brief period of time. When you are in between projects, or even just needing to step away from your novel for a bit, flash fiction can be just what you need to get the juices flowing again without committing to a larger project like a second novel.

2) Your editing skills are instantly refined.

In flash and micro fiction, every word counts. You should really make every word count in your longer fiction too, but with more word count wiggle room, there is often a few fluff words that sneak in. With a tight word count limit though, you have no choice but to trim the fat. You get really good and ditching adverbs and long descriptions and finding a better verb or more concise phrase to put in their place.

“She marched angrily in the room” becomes “She stomped into the room.” One word gone.  

“He ran as fast as he could” becomes “he charged.” Boom. Five words saved. 

You learn how unnecessary dialogue tags often are, and how you really don’t need all the smiling, nodding and shrugging when those attitudes can be implied through the context of the scene.

You spot weak or passive writing and make it strong and active.

“She began to pace the room” becomes “She paced the room.”

“The room was filled with dozens of hanging lanterns” becomes “Dozens of hanging lanterns filled the room.”

In every case, you shave off one, two, maybe even five words. And it all adds up. I know from experience. I wrote two flash fiction pieces for an anthology challenge issued by LDS Beta-Readers, one themed “Something Lost” and the other themed “Something Found.” In both cases, the word count was 1,000 words, and my rough drafts ended up with 1,557 and 1,936 words respectively. And yes, I managed to cut both of them down to 1,000 words or less.

3) It’s great inspiration for future stories

Many competitions have prompts or themes that can give you the inspiration you need to come up with a new story. And sometimes, as you create a world and characters for that short story, you get ideas for how to expand them into something longer. Quite a few authors have novels born from short stories. (See this article for more details:

So there you have it. Three reasons why I have loved dabbling in short and flash fiction lately. And guess what? I’ve actually submitted four different short/flash/micro pieces in the last few months and they’ve done really well. One is about to be published in an anthology, and two others earned me the ranks of “Silver” and “First Runner Up” in their respective competitions. All resulted from just a few weeks of writing. So yeah. I’m a short story/flash fiction convert. You should really give it a try.

Whitney Hemsath is an author currently residing in Provo, UT who wrangles three small boys and makes a mean pot of zuppa toscana. She has a degree in screenwriting from Chapman University, but switched her interests to novel writing and began writing in earnest in the fall of 2016. Since then she placed 3rd in the 2017 Storymakers First Chapter Contest - Non-fiction division, received silver in the adult division of "The Way of Writers: Building Worlds with Brandon Mull" writing competition for a short story, and was named First Runner-up in the League of Utah Writer's flash fiction contest. Her YA Sci-fi "Song of the Sapien" is just about ready to query and her LDS non-fiction "Types, Shadows and Casseroles: Finding Christ in all Things" will be out to beta readers by the end of 2017. She's also has some LDS romance, dark fairy-tale retellings, and MG mystery coming down the pipeline as well. Her favorite things to write, however, are parody song lyrics and really corny puns.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Academic Insights about Successful Writers

by Becca McCulloch

I’m a sucker for a good book on writing. From Stephen King’s On Writing to Anne Lamott’s Bird in the Hand and John Gardiner’s On Moral Fiction, my library is filled with philosophical tomes full of witty insights and motivational phrases such as kill your darlings and said is dead. The books are inspirational—I flip through them whenever the muse is absent.

But they’re not exactly science. Science is objective. It requires observations of multiple subjects to eliminate bias (assumptions) and create a pattern of predictable outcomes. As a university professor, I’m fascinated by science. So I wondered what the sciences had to say about effective writing.

The subjective nature of writing and storytelling make it difficult to gather empirical evidence, but here’s what I uncovered as I scoured research databases to uncover what objectively contributes to a successful writer:

What are writers like?

Writers tend to be a little on the odd side—outsiders who reject social norms and tend towards idealism. Blind ambition pairs with curiosity to create that zest for creation and understanding. Then you add in an unfortunate tendency towards sadness and a heightened sensitivity. We’re an odd bunch, but it makes us more capable to feel and interpret feelings, which contributes to heightened empathy. This combination of traits makes us more able to describe the complexities of the world (but also makes us likely to become depressed at least once in our lives).

What lifestyle factors do writers share?

Well, given the focus of the publishing world on New York City, you probably won’t be surprised to find out that the most successful writers have lived or worked in NYC at some point. Beyond that shared geography, successful writers tend to have a history of family or personal trauma. This experience tends to form a heightened affinity to persons who are marginalized—the stories that need to be told. In addition, writers tend to be out-of-sync with their social group. It’s actually rare for a family to have multiple writers. Most writers are the oddball artist among more practical sorts.

What behaviors do writers have in common?

We’ve arrived at the factors we can control. Since this is the most important section, let’s pull out that good, old-fashioned bullet list. Here are the top 10 writing behaviors shared by over 80 successful writers:

  1. Seek education about the craft and life in general
  2. Keep a journal and/or life record
  3. Have a spiritual practice of some form
  4. Be purposeful in your life and planning
  5. Use some kind of formal organizational tool for writing
  6. Engage in frequent revision and critique cycles
  7. Meditate on themes and connections in life
  8. Enjoy language—love books and words and the meanings in each
  9. Spend time each day in intentional composition
  10. Be observers of the world and the people in it

What behaviors could you add to your practice to help you be more successful? And if you didn’t find yourself in this, remember this little scientific fact: there are always outliers that defy the data. Be your own person and love the craft. That’s the best way to make your work shine.

Becca McCulloch is a wife, mother, professor, and writer but rarely in that order (if in any order at all). At night, she transitions from mild-mannered educator into mild-mannered artist, writing about LDS (Mormon) issues in a modern and complex world. In 2016, she won the Storymakers' First Chapter Contest/General Fiction category. Becca resides in Utah with her husband, 2 children, Great Dane, two cats, and a pesky, yet friendly raccoon that won't leave the outdoor shed. Her short story, A Fae One, was published in the 2017 LDS Beta Readers anthology Mind Games and she recently released a co-written work under the pen name Liv Bartlet (LDS readers be warned: this one has swears and sexy times).

Amazon Link:
Twitter: @WriterMcCulloch
Instagram: @WriterMcCulloch

1.     Piirto, J. Themes in the lives of successful contemporary U.S. women creative writers. Roeper Review. Vol. 21 , Iss. 1,1998
2.     Yang Shuxian. A comparison of writing strategies employed by successful and unsuccessful EFL writers. Journal of Teaching and Management. Online only. As seen at: Accessed 6/6/2017.
3.     Carey, Linda ; Flower, Linda ; Hayes, John R. ; Schriver, Karen A. ; Haas, Christina.  Differences in Writers' Initial Task Representations. Carnegie Melon. As seen at: Accessed 6/6/2017.
4.     Rosemary S. Caffarella & Bruce G. Barnett. Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers: The importance of giving and receiving critiques. Studies in Higher Education Vol. 25 , Iss. 1,2000
5.     Ferrari, M., Bouffard, T. & Rainville, L.What makes a good writer? Differences in good and poor writers' self-regulation of writing  Instructional Science (1998) 26: 473. doi:10.1023/A:1003202412203

Thursday, November 2, 2017

How to Start a Mailing List

By Victorine E. Lieske

Mailing lists can be daunting and scary, but don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it sounds! I’ll walk you through how to do it with, but other mail programs are similar, so if you like Mailchimp better, or somewhere else, you can probably apply the same idea to the other program.
The first thing you want to do is sign up for an account. With MailerLite, your account is free until you have a thousand people on your mailing list. Don’t worry; it takes a while to get a thousand people, so you can keep your free account for a while.

Step 1: Go to and click to set up an account.

Step 2: Click Subscribers at the top of the screen.

Step 3: Click Add New Group, it will be a large orange button on the right-hand side of the screen.

Step 4: Name your group, and click Create.

Step 5: Now you need to create a way for people to subscribe to your list. Click on the Forms button at the top of the screen.

Step 6: Click Create Embedded Form if you have a website where you want to put a signup form for your mailing list. (If you don’t have a website, don’t worry, there will be another way to have people sign up. Just keep going.)

Step 7: Name your form, and click Save and Continue.

Step 8: You can choose to create an embed form, or a subscribe button that will create a pop-up form. I’ll go over the steps to create an embed form, but you can mess around with the other if you want. So, click Create Embed Form.

Step 9: Check the box for the email list you’re working on, and click Save and Continue.

Step 10: The next screen will show you a simple subscribe form all filled out. You can keep it the same, or personalize it. For me, I give away a free book when people subscribe, so I changed my wording to let them know if they subscribe, they get a free Kindle book. If you want to see mine in action, here’s the webpage:

Step 11: Once you change your wording to personalize your subscribe form, click Save.

Step 12: Now you can choose if you want to embed JavaScript, HTML, or an IFRAME code. If you’re not sure which works with your website, pick one and try it. You can always change it to something else if it’s not working. I used HTML on mine, but remember to add the HTML to your Source code on your website page builder. (Just find the Source button on the website page builder and copy and paste the code in there, then click Source again to turn that off and see if it worked.)

Step 13: If you can’t get the code put in your website, or if you don’t have a website yet, don’t worry. On the screen with all the code is a Form URL. Copy this and save it somewhere. You can hand out this link, or put this link on your website, and people will be able to sign up for your newsletter using this URL link. If you want to see what your newsletter signup looks like, just copy this link and put it in a new browser window, and go there. See? A cool signup form for people.

You’re done! Now you have a mailing list!

If you get some people to sign up and want to send out an email, just go to your MailerLite dashboard and click Campaigns at the top, then click Create Campaign on the right side of your screen.

Don’t stress about having to send out emails. For years, all I ever emailed my list about were new releases. I don’t like getting tons of emails, so I figured my list wouldn’t like it either. I don’t make up reasons to email, to talk about what I’m watching on TV or what I had for breakfast. I only email when I have a new release, or when I’m swapping newsletters and I tell them about someone else’s new release. Your newsletter isn’t how you market and sell existing books. If they’ve joined your newsletter, they probably already have your existing books. Use your newsletter to launch your future books.

Note: If you have people who have expressed interest in joining your mailing list, you can click the Subscribers button on the top of the screen, then click the green button that looks like a person with a plus beside their head. This is the Add New Subscribers button. Most people just starting out won’t have people yet to add, so you might not need to do this. Warning: Do Not add all the people on your email contact list to your mailing list!! This is called SPAMMING them and people don’t like it! You can send an email inviting your friends to join your mailing list, but please don’t add people without them knowing. You can be penalized for doing this.

Victorine writes romantic comedy, and loves everything romance related. When she’s not writing her next book, she’s usually watching something romantic on Netflix, or curled up reading her favorite clean romance books.

Her Big Fat FakeBillionaire Boyfriend

Kenzie Bennett just wants to attend her sister’s wedding without looking like the loser her mother thinks she is. When she mistakes Camden for her date-for-hire, she doesn’t realize her good fortune. But her ex left her scarred, and even though Camden is everything she'd want in a man, she's not looking for love.

Camden James needs a distraction from his crazy stalker ex-girlfriend, and Kenzie fits the bill perfectly. Spunky and full of life, she makes him laugh. The more time he spends with her, the more he falls in love. Too bad she’s made it clear there isn’t anything between them.

This is a clean romance and a stand-alone novel.