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Replacing Inspiration with Productivity

The struggle to stay productive is an ongoing battle, fought by people of all lifestyles and workforces. One reason it is particularly hard for creatives to conquer this daily war against stagnancy is due to the romanticization that good writing comes only from inspiration. For years, society has been fed this ideal picture of a struggling writer - he is depicted sitting at his typewriter constantly being tortured by the bores of his daily life, when suddenly he becomes enlightened to a new perspective, type of person, or influential way of thinking. He is then picked up by a publisher and sells enough books to be able to write only when he feels inspired to do so.

If you are a writer, you know this is far from reality.

The truth is that while inspiration can be wonderfully exciting, it is innately flighty and fickle. As much as you may love the idea of picking up your pen to work on a manuscript, more often than not, that pen feels like it has been filled with cement. In his article "Inspiration is for Amateurs," Daniel Howard writes, "Frankly, if I waited for 'inspiration' or even just 'the right mood,' then I wouldn't be able to feed myself." So how do you work with such an elusive muse? One way to avoid getting stuck in an inspiration-less limbo is to focus on being productive instead. Below are some tips to use productivity in your daily writing life in order to attract inspiration as well as to work without it.


Without even thinking, you create patterns and routines for almost every aspect of the day. You wake up at the same time each morning, order the same drink at your favorite coffeehouse, get settled in at your desk, check up on your social media profiles (first Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram), and you are ready to start the grind. These types of rituals take decision making out of the day until you are ready to tap into your task and work towards your main goal - to create. Whether it is done by sharing a story, reviewing a product, or communicating an idea, writing is a creative experience that can flourish when you sit down to your desk with a fresh mind that has not already been taxed by petty decision making.


Routines are certainly helpful for shoveling through everyday tasks, but it is no secret that life often interrupts itself. One morning your alarm doesn't go off, one afternoon the kids are sick and have to come home early, and another day the train you take to work is being repaired. Another key to being productive is to make the most out of any situation. When the curveballs come, swerve a little and prepare to look for material in new places. A perpetual curiosity and flexibility will only be beneficial to your writing endeavors.


So you have made it through half of the work day, sipped your afternoon tea, picked up your pen or opened your computer yet again, sat back down to the task, and find yourself facing a blank page once more. Whether it is time to pump out an article, schedule tweets, or finish a chapter of your novel, sometimes no matter how many creative triggers you have pulled, the page remains intimidating and stark. The only thing left to do is to start writing. Set a timer for 15 minutes and think about your topic and just start writing. If you don't have a specific subject already, search for simple writing prompts on the web, think about something interesting or spontaneous that happened to you recently (like your fellow commuters thrown off by the yellow tape across the subway entrance). If you write enough words, you are bound to find something useful.

It is time to stop waiting around for inspiration to visit your desk when it wants to. Create routines that relieve your mind of simple decision making that usually result in the same choices anyways. Expect to roll with the ups and downs of your days while maintaining creative curiosity. And refuse to give up on your tasks even when your inspiration is nowhere to be found but through your own perseverance.

What to Expect from an Illustrator

What to Expect from an Illustrator 

Congratulations! Your book is finished, near finished, or off to a good start. It’s time to think about art. You’re a great writer, but few writers have ever hired an illustrator. Where do you find an artist? How do you find the right artist and how do you go about hiring one?

Finding an artist is much like finding a doctor, lawyer or any other professional service provider. You’ll want someone who meets your professional standards, serves you in a way that builds up your trust, and treats you with respect. Ultimately, you (and your book) will be best served by contracting a professional artist who is a collaborator.

A collaborator is an artist who accepts your project with enthusiasm and a sincere belief in your book. An artist that is excited about your work will always produce his or her best work.

Finding an artist is easy enough, given the internet and the thousands of online portfolios to peruse. You may find a link to an artist on the CSPA website, or do a search specific to your need, for example: children’s illustrator, traditional painter, "calligrapher," animal artist, etc. But hiring and working with a professional artist is likely new territory for you.

A professional is someone who meets deadlines, stays on budget, and delivers print or web quality art. Quality is subjective and there are broad ranges of styles to consider. A sketchy, loose style is every bit as professional as a highly polished oil painting; it simply depends on your preference and your book’s genre.

What exactly should you expect when hiring an illustrator? First, you should share your ideas with the artist and find out if you are a good team. You will want to work with someone with whom you are comfortable (e.g., a collaborator). Next, you should discuss concept and style (realistic, cutesy, nostalgic, edgy, etc.). You’ll need to discuss ownership of art and rates. Artists usually prefer to retain all copyrights to their art (just as you would prefer for the text). If the artist agrees to do the art work-for-hire (WFH), wherein the writer (or publisher) buys the art, then you should expect to pay a premium for those rights. In any case, you should not expect the artist to work on speculation or 100% royalties. The artist needs to be paid upon delivery of the work, just as your doctor, lawyer, grocer is paid upon delivery of their services or goods. If the project is long running, a pay schedule should be arranged. Some artists receive partial payment for sketches and a balance due upon delivery of the final art.

Prices vary, but you will get as good an artist as you are willing, or able, to pay. Some artists will abide by The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines (which are based on New York publishing industry rates), others charge less. You should expect to pay professional rates, the same as you expect when hiring a lawyer, doctor or building contractor. In turn, you will rightly expect the artist to provide nothing less than his or her highest quality of art (within an agreeable and reasonable budget, as well as time frame).

Now for the real work of finding, and working with, an artist. Youve likely already decided on “the look”. Let’s use an example of a young reader novel, intended for 12 to 15-year-old girls. It features a horse, a 13-year-old girl and her grandmother in a Kentucky bluegrass setting. You want a beautiful cover showing the girl and her horse. The interior art might be a half dozen, one color (grayscale) pencil drawings, in a realistic, but soft style. You can do an online search for artists, using keywords like horse illustration, book illustrators, etc. You will be treated to a full range of artists, perhaps many right in your home town. When you find some you like, simply call or email to get the conversation going.

Be clear about your needs! If you need a cover, specify whether it is only the front, or if it should wrap around the spine and back. Will the artist be responsible for type? If so, the artist is not responsible for spelling or proof-reading, no matter how simple the words. Be clear about the quantity. If you hire an artist to do six illustrations, they will budget and quote for six. Anything more than six will incur extra fees. Discuss the rights purchased, and expect the artist to write a contract defining those rights, along with rates, deadlines, etc.

Expect the artist to provide preliminary sketches. These are rough, but legible, pencil sketches that should give a very good idea of what the final art will look like. They should not be scribbles or thumbnails. Faces should be sketched, not just blank ovals, animals and scenery should be fleshed out. In other words, do not accept stick figures, as you will want to have a clear vision of the finished art. For highly detailed covers, a color comp (sketch with color) could be provided.

After reviewing the sketch, give the artist approval to proceed to final art. This is your call, you must be satisfied with this sketch and it’s the artist’s job to please you. In turn, you should be prepared to pay for excessive changes that were not directed in the original concept. If you discussed one girl with a horse standing beside a white fence, but then you add elements after the sketch arrives, you should pay for those added complexities. Some changes are expected: such as, make the girl’s hair shorter, the horse’s mane longer. These are “included”in the original rate. But if you add more girls and horses, a truck and trailer, and a picket-fenced, frame house in the background, you are asking for options that cost.

When the final art arrives, make sure it meets your expectations, and also remember the original agreement and budget. If you agreed to, and budgeted for, a loose, pastel watercolor scene for the cover, that is what you should get. This is where hiring a professional should minimize risk at the final art stage. If your professional has a long track record, an impressive client list, and an online portfolio of high-quality pieces, you should be fine.

If the artist provided a traditional illustration, that is, an actual painting or drawing, and you contracted to pay for first publishing rights, then the art should be returned, at your expense, to the artist. If you paid for work-for-hire, it is your property and the artist has agreed to transfer all rights to you. Sometimes work-for-hire art is returned to the artist, but the artist cannot use, or sell it, without your permission. The artist should, however, be free to use it for self-promotion on a website, or mailings. This is standard and the artist should never be prohibited from using the art for self-promotion. Again, be aware that a Work for Hire Agreement should involve a premium, given the significant loss to the artist when giving up rights. Ideally, no artist should transfer his or her rights in a self-publishing contract, simply because self-publishers are almost always more limited in their budgets. Contracts should be another topic, for another day, as they can be quite involved. But the copyright issue should be thought through right from the start.

Also, be sure to cite the artist either on the cover, the back cover, or the copyright information page. If the artist retains the rights, the copyright should read like this:

Cover and Interior Illustrations ©2013 Jane Doe

Working with an artist is a professional, contractual relationship, but it need not be cold and only business. It should be the beginning of a trusting, healthy working relationship. If you find an artist who is in sync with you, your work and your vision, then you will find a fellow creative who will go many extra miles to make your work shine.

The following points summarize the process of hiring an artist:

  • Review online portfolios
  • Contact the artist
  • Clarify your needs
  • Agree on the terms (rate, rights, and deadlines)
  • Review sketches
  • Okay the final art
  • Receive beautiful, production-ready art
  • Pay promptly upon acceptance


Written by Ed Koehler

Year Round Publicity Machine

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If you’re like most publicity seekers, you probably think about one project at a time. You’ve got a new book coming out in July, so you send out a release in June. For hard-core publicity insiders, though, there’s a rhythm to generating coverage, based on the natural ebb and flow of the seasons. Such an approach can help you score publicity throughout the year.


Essentially, it embodies two strategies:


  • timing your existing stories (new product introductions, oddball promotions, business page features, etc.) to fit the needs of the media during particular times of the year
  • crafting new stories to take advantage of events, holidays, and seasonal activities

Before we run through my four seasons of publicity plan, a few words about lead time. In this age of immediacy (when a Matt Drudge or a CNN can write a story and put it before millions in only a few seconds), it’s easy to forget that lead time for many print publications and TV shows can be weeks–and sometimes months. For example, you’d probably have to send a story about a Christmas book to an entertainment magazine by September 15 at the latest, so that the editor can review and change the piece, the issue can be typeset and printed, and distributors can place it on newsstands before December. Lead time can range from a day (for hard-news pieces in newspapers) to a few days (for newspaper features), a few weeks (for weekly magazines), or many months.

The longest leads are for the domain of "women’s books" like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes & Gardens and other monthlies. Since these publications often have a lead time of up to six months, they need information for their Christmas issues as early as May.

To discover the lead time of a publication you’re targeting: call the advertising department and request a media kit. Make sure to request a current editorial calendar and two recent samples of the publication. Editorial calendars are schedules of what topics a publication plans to cover for a particular month. Many editorial calendars list the closing date for accepting advertising and editorial copy. For publicity purposes, you only need to focus on the copy deadlines.

If you feel that you can contribute to a particular topic, call or email the publication’s editorial department–try to reach the managing editor–and find out which reporter has been assigned to write the story. Email or call the reporter and explain how you can contribute.
Factor lead times into your planning as you look over the following sections. If you have a great story idea for Rolling Stone’s fall issue, you need to be on the ball well before the Fourth of July.


The Four Seasons of Publicity



First Quarter: January—March
What the media are covering: Early in the year, the media are looking ahead. It’s a great time to pitch trend stories, marketplace predictions, previews of things to expect in the year ahead, and so forth. If a new president is being inaugurated, you’ll see lots of "Will the new administration be good for the [textile/film/cattle/ranching/ Internet/ . . . or any other] industry?" pieces. This is a good time to come up with something provocative, or even controversial, to say about your industry that you can tie in with a book or books.
The media also like to run "get your personal house in order" sorts of pieces during this time of year–tax planning, home organizing, weight loss, and so on. Anything that’s geared toward helping people keep their New Year’s resolutions can work.
Key dates and events: Can you come up with a story angle that ties into an event that typically generates lots of coverage? Put on your thinking cap–I bet you can! Here are some key events during the first quarter: Super Bowl, NCAA Tournament, Easter, the Academy Awards.

Second Quarter: April—June
What the media are covering: This is an "anything goes" time of year. With no major holidays or huge events, April is a good time to try some of your general stories (business features, new product stuff, etc.). Light, fun stories work here, as a sense of spring fever takes hold of newsrooms (journalists are human, you know; they’re just as happy to think about winter being over as you are, and it’s often reflected in the kind of stories they choose to run). As May rolls around, they’ll be doing summer vacation pieces, articles about outdoor toys and gadgets, stories on safety (whether automotive or recreational), leisure activities, things to do for kids, and the like.
Key dates and events: Baseball opening day, tax day (April 15), spring gardening season, Memorial Day, end of school, summer vacation.

Third Quarter: July—September
What the media are covering: The dog days of summer are when smart publicity seekers really make hay. Folks at PR firms are on vacation; marketing budgets are being conserved for the holidays; and reporters are suddenly accessible and open to all sorts of things. Get to work on short lead-time media with angles that are creative and fun. Entertainment-themed pieces do well in the summer; anything with celebrities works. Ditto lighter business stories, new product and trend pieces, technology news, back-to-school articles, you name it. Reporters are about to get deluged once again come September, so use this window of opportunity wisely.
Key dates and events: July 4th, summer movies, summer travel, Labor Day, back to school.

Fourth Quarter: October—December
What the media are covering: The busiest time on the media calendar, the fourth quarter is when business media turn serious and lifestyle media think Holidays, Holidays, Holidays. Business angles need to be hard news. Fluffy trend pieces won’t cut it, as business editors begin to take stock of the state of the economy and the market. For the nonbusiness media, think Christmas–Christmas travel, Christmas gifts, Christmas cooking, whatever. If you have a book that can be given as a holiday gift, get on the stick early.

Nail down lead times for the publications you’re targeting; call to find out who’s handling the holiday gift review article, and get your product in the right person’s hands in plenty of time–along with a pitch letter or release that makes a strong case about what a novel, unusual, or essential gift your book makes. After Christmas, you have a brief window for "Best of the Year," "Worst of the Year" and "Year in Review" pieces. Find ways to make the format work for you–the media love these things.

Key dates and events: World Series, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve.

Bill Stoller is the publisher of Free Publicity, The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses and a publicist with more than two decades of experience.

Reprinted from Independent Book Publishers Association

7 Ways to Promote Your eBook on Facebook and Build Your Author Platform

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Facebook is a powerful marketing tool for authors. Once you know how to use Facebook's features to your advantage, you will be able to build your own presence on Facebook.

Like Twitter, Facebook has developed into more than just a social media site for posting useless content. Professional marketers and corporations have teams that are solely devoted to developing their online presence via social media.

Here Are Seven Ways Facebook Can Help Authors Promote Their eBook

Create an Author Profile Page
Your author name will also become your brand. Create a profile page on Facebook and share your achievements and successes with your friends.

Leverage the Power of "Word of Mouth"

Ask you friends to join your page and then again ask them to recommend you to their friends. This form of viral marketing will help to build your list of followers.

Search and Join Related Groups

When you join a group, you are allowing others to take notice of you and your own profile. If you join the right groups that contain your target market then they will also be likely to check you out if you have something to offer. Become active on the site with informative posts and build your reputation as an expert.

Create a Fan Page for Your eBook

This page is specifically devoted to your eBook so stay focused on your goals with this page. You can provide samples chapters, give tips and information, provide links to other valuable resources, tell them about you the author and build the profile and following for your eBook.

Advertise for Direct Engagement!

It will cost you to advertise on Facebook but the return may just be worth it. Consider you options and create your advertisement so it reaches your ideal customer.

Post Excerpts of Your eBook
This is a great way for potential readers to sample your eBook. If they like what they read then they will buy your eBook as they will want to know more.

Post Events

Use the events' tab to list all upcoming events that you are participating in from public speaking engagements, library visits, signings, to the release of new videos, audio interviews or eBook announcements.

These tips will get you started on Facebook in promoting your eBook and building a fanatical following. There are many more great tools you can use so be sure to do your research and learn from those authors who already use Facebook for marketing.


Six Pointers When Creating Children's Picture Books

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Let’s face it, the children’s book market is one of the most competitive spaces in the retail book trade. A children’s book is not only measured against the huge number of children’s books being created every day; it is also competing against all the mainstays like Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, and Eric Carle, who are so beloved that they don’t have to fight for shelf space.

Competition is so fierce that even when every piece of a children’s book project is perfectly executed, it’s still a small miracle to convince, cajole, and charm retailers into carrying the title where it can keep company with Little Bear or Sheep in a Jeep.

To have its chance, the book does have to be perfectly executed. That is the first step toward success, or, all too often, the first step toward failure.

Three Musts

Incredible illustrations. The importance of high-quality, professionally executed illustrations cannot be overemphasized. Characters and storyboards must be conceived and carried out by experienced children’s book illustrators.

In this arena “cute” isn’t good enough—illustrations have to be dazzlingly perfect, and creative to boot. A traditional style of illustration can give a book a classic look, while a more quirky style can help differentiate a title.

I recommend getting a professional opinion of sample illustrations before committing to an artist. Asking library buyers, literary agents, book publicists, and/or book distributors for feedback is a good start.

And it’s always wise to compare the quality of your book’s design and illustrations to the quality of design and illustrations in comparable titles that have sold well in bookstores.

A story that hasn’t been told. Because of all those kids’ books published every year, you have to have a new message—or a least a new spin on an old message—for children and the people who buy books for children.

A book about a popular topic like friendship, bullying, or nightmares must approach it in a new way. You can innovate with an unexpected story, funky characters, an inventive rhyme scheme, or unusual illustrations.

Sometimes choosing an unaddressed topic and picking a specific niche can give you a built-in fan base. For example, topics like vegetarianism, knitting, or debt might fill holes in the marketplace.

High-quality production. Like illustrations, all production values for kids’ books must be of exceedingly high quality.

To ensure printing quality, do research on printers you’re thinking of using. Ask each printer to send you a sample with specifications similar to your book’s specs so that you can physically assess paper, ink, and binding quality.

For retail outlets, it’s best to print books by offset, as opposed to using print-on-demand technology. The quality is significantly higher with an offset press.

Three Mistakes

On the flipside, here are a few mistakes we see too often:

Too much text per page. A lot of kids’ book submissions have far too much text per page. For children’s picture books, which are usually targeted at ages 4–8, text can be as minimal as you want it to be, but it’s generally a bad idea to have more than 70–80 words per two-page spread.

Shooting for 0–30 words per page is ideal—when it comes to the amount of text per page, less is always more.

Unclear age group.
If it’s not clear what age group a book is suitable for, prospective buyers may think that the book doesn’t fit into any category. The topic, the length, and the diction must all be age-appropriate.

We often see books pegged for 4- to 8-year-olds that approach a topic in a way that’s too complex for that age group, hurting their chances for acceptance by retailers, librarians, parents, and teachers. Similarly, we often see picture books that are 60–70 pages long, which is too long for the picture-book market. Generally, 32 pages is a good length for a picture book meant for ages 4–8.

Too high a price. The retail price range for a children’s book is very limited and determined by the retail buyers. Charging $1 more for your book than other publishers are charging for comparable books could have a severe negative impact on sales.

Most hardcover children’s books are priced between $9.95 and $16.95, with $14.95 being ideal in most situations. Board books are typically priced at $4.95 to $6.95.

A note about money: It is important to consider profit margins before starting production on a children’s book, since the price point is very low because of the competitive landscape, and a color interior makes the printing price per unit significantly higher than for black-and-white books.

You’ll want to consider all costs before getting started, so that you have a plan to recoup them.


Reprinted from Independent Book Publishers Association.



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