Rules are Made to be Broken

In my sophomore year of college, in a mandatory grammar
class, students would often ask the professor, “Well what about [example of
something that very obviously broke whatever grammar rule we’d just
discussed].” Her answer was always, “Once you know the rule, you can break
it—but it has to be purposeful.” For example: grammar tells us we shouldn’t
start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘because’. Because it’s a sentence fragment. And
conjunctions are supposed to follow a comma and combine two compete thoughts. And
technically, ellipses are only meant to represent the omission of words from a
quote. But sometimes… breaking these rules to achieve a particular feeling or
effect, like hesitance, or a disjointed thought pattern, is necessary.

The same goes for literary rules. 

Every writer—especially the very famous and successful
ones—seems to think they’ve figured out the secret to perfect prose. Make sure
you include this, don’t ever do that. And there’s a pressure to follow these rules because these
authors have been published before, so they must know what they’re talking
about, right?

Wrong.

Alright, maybe not completely wrong. Some of these “do’s and don’ts” have a kernel of accuracy to them, but I don’t think they’re as black-and-white as some authors make them seem.

One “rule” I saw said to never include detailed descriptions of the characters physical appearance or of the setting around them. I immediately scoffed. Don’t describe your characters? What kind of sense does that even make?     

Another tip is to never use adverbs with “said” when it
comes to dialogue. The reasoning is that there are plenty of other words that
would mean the same thing, and why use two words when you can use one? Instead
of “she said softly,” use “she whispered.” She didn’t say something “angrily,”
but maybe she “shouted.” Adverbs, they say, are unnecessary; not to mention
that “said” itself is boring.

What’s the problem with that, you may be asking. Seems
like pretty solid advice.

Ironically, I see just as many people condemn using anything other than “said” for dialogue. Their reasoning is that readers don’t pay attention to these dialogue tags anyway, and the dialogue alone should be enough to show your character’s tone and feelings about what they’re discussing. In other words, they tell instead of show. Again—when you think about it, it seems like pretty good advice.

So if you aren’t supposed to use “said,” but you’re also not supposed to use anything but “said,” what on earth are you supposed to do? In my opinion—absolutely whatever you want.

At the end of the day, your writing should be for yourself, first and foremost. Yes, as writers we want to share our story, but I’m a firm believer that you should always be writing the book you would want to read, not the book you think will sell the most. You may worry that no one else would want to read that, but to that I say: relax. You’re not the only one with that seemingly strange, very niche interest, I promise. And if you write your book with enough love and care and excitement, it will show, and that, more than anything, is what makes a book good.

In the words of Neil Gaiman, whose “8 Rules for Writing” are the only rules I actually wholly agree with:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs
to be written. Write it ­honestly and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

But (there’s always a but), like I said before, these tips authors give out do have some solid foundation to them.

Thinking about the rule for descriptions a little more, I think what that particular author likely meant was don’t include unnecessary detailed descriptions. It’s a thin line for sure; you know what your character looks like, you know what their bedroom looks like, you know why their bedroom looks like that, and all of this is very important because it’s key to your character and you want to make sure the reader knows your character the way you do—but sometimes that isn’t really necessary. Sometimes it can detract from the story at hand. But you also don’t want to suddenly mention an element and have the reader say, “What? Since when was that there?” and make them re-read the entire section again.

With adverbs and dialogue tags, it can get tricky. You want to make your characters’ tone clear, but too much of anything is going to become stiff and awkward, and your writing won’t flow. But if “whispered” isn’t quite right, there’s nothing wrong with saying something “softly.” What’s important is that, whatever you choose, you do so purposefully. You don’t want unnecessary words, but you ultimately get to decide what is and isn’t necessary. As long as you love what you’ve written, no other arbitrary rule anyone tries to tell you matters.

Legwork vs Teamwork: Successful Traditional or Self Publishing

To a point, self publishing is fantastic. You get to put your writing, your creative genius, out into the world for everyone to experience (and ideally purchase) with total creative freedom. Congratulations! You’re a published author now!
 

However, after your friends and family have bought your book to support your endeavors there is still the task of getting your book truly out there. Unless you have been building an online personality and already have hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of followers waiting for your content, you’ll have to do your own marketing. Therein lies one of the hurdles in self publishing: sales.
 

Most self-publishing companies do nothing more than post your book onto their online store and provide paperbacks on demand. You won’t be walking into Barnes and Noble and seeing a beautiful display table with copies of your novel splayed out and ripe for new readers to pick up. There is a lot of legwork involved in making that miracle of marketing happen. Some of which require contacts in the industry to achieve.
 

Distribution is key to getting your book into stores and a good marketing team to work with distributors who will help network and setup events is as well. Much like the big publishing houses, distributors rarely accept unsolicited books or unrepresented authors. They don’t want to take up printing and distribution unless an author and their work has been properly vetted for quality, which is a process done by traditional publishers.
 

No one is perfect. Even the most well written person has a typo here and there, or misses a word because they are thinking faster than they can type. Sometimes an author has an amazing story to tell, but might not have the technical skills to get the words just right, or needs help with structuring their story. Traditional publishers have teams of editors that offer fresh pairs of eyes to go over your writing and offer constructive criticism so you – the author – can put out the most polished piece possible. Editing practices range from structural editing (helping ensure the flow of the piece is pleasing to the reader), to detail editing (crossing the “T’s” and dotting the “i’s”). The editors work with the author every step of the way to keep the piece’s original integrity, but grinding down the rough edges in the process.
 

They don’t just buff the work to a beautiful shine, the team often offers creative feedback as well. If something written 100 pages into the story doesn’t line up with events or something a character said in the first few chapters, the team will pick up on it and notify the author so they can work to correct it. A good tip for writing is to come back and read your work after you’ve had time to think of something else and “refresh” your eyes. The support teams in traditional publishing take that concept and multiply it, boosting the polish of your story and often confidence simultaneously. That polish and confidence in writing are exactly what distributors want to know already exists in a book before they will pick it up and start stocking shelves in bookstores big and small.
 

Traditional publishing will help you get your foot in the door of halls that would otherwise be closed off to a self-publisher, and relieve a lot of the stress involved in getting you down said hall. However, publishing is not a “send it, and forget it” industry. You have to want to get your book in front of everyone, yell it from the digital rooftops of the internet and find those little nooks and crannies you know your work will thrive in that a publisher might not be able to tap into. Traditional publishers will often gladly work alongside the author to market their work, to give you a bigger megaphone to shout with, but the author has to work with them throughout the journey to best-seller.

How to Outline Your Novel

Outlining a novel is different from outlining any other document. If you try to completely outline a novel from the opening scene to the closing scene, you will most likely discover that you constantly change your mind during the process of writing.
 

Changing your mind during the writing process is great! New ideas for plot points, character development, and twists are constantly opening up the further along you get into your story, which is exactly why a traditional outline is not ideal.
 

A traditional outline looks like this:
 

I. Chapter One

A. scene one

1. details
2. details
3. details

B. scene two

1. details
2. details
3. details

C. scene three

1. details
2. details
3. details

II. Chapter Two

A. scene four

1. details
2. details
3. details

B. scene five

1. details
2. details
3. details

C. scene six

1. details
2. details
3. details

 

Writing a novel does not have to be so structured like the outline above. Instead of spending a lot of time writing a clear-cut outline, try outlining your book like this:
 

I. Plot – a few sentences about the overall plot of the entire book.

A. Major scene to drive plot forward
B. Major scene to drive plot forward
C. Major scene to drive plot forward

 

II. Characters – who are the main characters?

A. Character one development.
B. Character two development.
C. How do the characters interact?

 

III. Turning points – what are the key moments?

A. The conflict in the story
B. The climax of the story
C. The final resolution of the story

 

Creating a short outline that contains just the main elements will allow you to let the story flow and change as you progress forward in writing it. As you write one scene, you will find there are several directions you could take to drive the plot forward. Allow your creativity to flow and see where your story takes you!

If you’re feeling creative…

By Jordan Thames

 

If you’re feeling creative…embrace it. It sounds easy, I know, but it can be difficult if you’re anything like me.
 

I hold tightly, too tightly, onto the reins of control. As a writer, I love a good play on words, but when it comes time for me to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard, I suppose?) I over critique and nothing seems to quite…fit. I remember vividly many instances of ripping pages out of notebooks, scratching through the seemingly stale words I have written, frustrated. Nothing ever seemed right, nothing was good enough. Nothing was perfect.
 

What I wouldn’t give to have those words back.
 

Embrace the messiness of creativity, because some of the most brilliant stories appear during the toughest times. Today, your words seem stagnant and unoriginal, but tomorrow you may see a glimmer in them that wasn’t there before. Remember that your story matters, and that the words you have on that page will mean something to someone, somewhere in the world.
 

The mind can be a tricky little fiend, and reading your own work in the early stages of the process can be tough. Self-editing, at this point, is your worst enemy. You may feel defeated, tired, uninspired, but that’s okay. Take the time to do something that brings you joy. Read your favorite book, rediscover your inspiration. Remember why you write.
 

Never throw your work away, even if it feels hopeless.
 

At Indigo River, we are all about words worth reading. And, trust me, your words are worth reading.

The Proper Format – Tips and Tricks

By Jordan Thames

 

Congratulations! You’ve done what many people have tried and failed to do: written a book! Now comes the next step- submitting to a publisher.
 

Submitting your first manuscript to a publisher is an exciting, albeit nerve wracking, experience. In the midst of all the thrill it can be easy to overlook some small, but important, details that are critical to include in your initial manuscript. So, we here at Indigo River have decided to put together this handy little blog to guide you through the process.
 

Context is Key

Including a summary is crucial, as this is the editor’s first impression of the actual content of your book. Make sure that you highlight the key theme, main characters, and any important details that you want the editors to keep an eye out for. I know that after spending hours perfecting your story, the last thing you want to do is condense your work into a small, digestible blurb, but it is necessary. Consider this your elevator pitch.
 

Chapter Headings are Essential

It may seem elementary, but you would be surprised at how often chapter headings are overlooked. Without the distinction between each chapter, the manuscript just seems like one ongoing novel, each chapter flowing right into the next without any sort of context. Now, if you are submitting a children’s book, then chapter headings are not exactly necessary. However, for any sort of novel they are desperately needed.
 

Don’t Neglect Your Query Letter

Not familiar with a query letter? We can help with that! Check out our blog How to Write a Query Letter. Chock-full of tips and tricks, it will guide you through the process of writing a query letter regardless of if it’s your first time, or if you’re a seasoned professional.
 

Have Someone Proofread

Proofreading is an essential part of the editing process, and bribing a friend or family member to do a thorough read-through of the final manuscript can prove to be more useful than you think. Not only is it important to read for spelling and grammatical errors, but assessing the flow of the story as well as the overall theme of the novel can provide valuable insight. The more eyes you get on your story, the better it will be.
 

Read the Instructions Thoroughly

Every publishing company will have different preferences as far as format, program, and included documents. For instance, we here at Indigo prefer Microsoft Word over anything else when receiving a new submission. Visit the Submit Your Manuscript page here on our website. It contains useful information, and even a video, to guide you through the submission process as smoothly as possible.
 

So, there you have it! While this is not an exhaustive list of every minute detail, it will get you through an initial submission and help you make a great first impression on your (hopefully) future publisher. It may be a long road ahead but don’t get discouraged, you’ve accomplished an amazing feat! Just keep pushing through, remember the value in criticism, and hold tight to your vision.
Do you have any useful tips on the formatting process? Share them with us in the comments below!

Writing for Genre

By: Jordan Ardoin

 

If you want to be a writer, you probably have an idea of the kind of stories you want to tell. While you are creating those stories, you should let them flow freely from your imagination without trying to force them neatly into a category. However, when the time comes to submit your manuscript and publish your book, it becomes important that your story fits into a genre.
 

The genres of writing are numerous and diverse. Some of the most common are commercial, literary, sci-fi/fantasy, non-fiction, romance, thriller, and young adult. You should have some awareness of which of these your book falls under, if not when you start writing, at least by the time you start editing. Knowing your genre enables you to write something that follows the rules of that genre (to an extent), which is something publishers will look for in your manuscript. So, how do you write for a specific genre? Research! Once you know your genre, learn as much as you can about it.
 

One simple yet imperative parameter of genre that you should research is word count. Publishers expect manuscripts of certain genres to be a certain length. For instance, most young adult novels are expected to fall somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words, but a sci-fi/fantasy novel can be as long as 150,000 words without falling outside the genre norm. Usually, you can find several articles about the expected word count of your genre with a Google search.
 

Another important step in writing for genre is following genre conventions. A genre convention is a plot or structure element that nearly every work in the genre has in common. Publishers and readers alike look for these conventions. For example, readers of romance novels expect the lead couple to live happily ever after. Happy endings are a convention of the romance genre. Of course, breaking conventions is sometimes accepted and even encouraged, but they should be broken with a compelling purpose, not out of ignorance.
 

While searching the internet for information about your genre can be helpful, the most effective way to learn how to write for a genre is to read books from that genre. Read books by a variety of authors, with a variety of subject matter, from a variety of eras. Reading widely within your genre will give you a familiarity with the material you could never gain from reading articles. Once you are experienced and comfortable with stories from your genre, reproducing its conventions in your own work becomes second nature.

How to Write An Exceptional Query Letter

When you submit your manuscript to a book publishing company, you usually need three things: a cover letter, a synopsis of your manuscript, and a query letter. While a cover letter and summary are pretty straightforward, a query letter is slightly trickier. Here are a few tips on how to write a query letter.
 

First and foremost, research where you are sending your manuscript. What are the guidelines the publishing house uses? Are there certain requirements they are looking for? Will your genre be accepted by the publishing house? Make sure you always look into what the publishing company is looking for. If everything fits like a puzzle, then it’s time to get writing – again. Keep it short! A query letter should only be about three to five paragraphs and no longer than one page.
 

Query Letter Part One:

 

This is like an introduction to everything you are about to put forward. Don’t start it with, “To Whom it May Concern” like you will be apt to doing. Instead, personalize it. Mention the name of who you’re sending it to, or at least the name of the company. Try to make a connection with the publisher. Then, talk about your novel. Include the title, word count, and genre to inform the publishers of where your novel fits.
 

Query Letter Part Two:

 

The sound bite! Now, what exactly is a sound bite? The sound bite is an interesting clip from your story designed to hook the reader. It is not a summary or a synopsis. The sound bite is supposed to attract the agent/publisher and make him or her want to learn more about your story. Have this be a hook to draw the publisher to your manuscript. It can be a simple sentence or even a question.
 

You might include a synopsis after your sound bite, but it’s not always recommended since that can be sent as another file. Here are a few things that are needed if you do include it in your query. The summary is where you really start to sell your book. Make sure to have a nice hook in this part as well – whether it is in your query letter or not. It needs to be about 100-200 words. Also, be sure to not include the ending of you novel! You want the publishers to be intrigued and want to know more about your book.
 

Query Letter Part Three:

 

This is a short biography about yourself as an author. Notice how I said “as an author.” While including experience and expertise in your bio is good, if it doesn’t fit with your novel or pertain to writing in anyway, then don’t mention it. Just because you owned a pet goldfish for twelve years, does not mean that it is relevant. But if you’re writing a novel on psychology and have a doctorate in that program, then be sure to mention it. But do mention your degree and where you got it from – simple basics. Make it about you, but not unnecessarily so.
 

If you have any previously published works, related writing experience, awards, and credibility. This part should only be about two sentences unless you have a lot of experience under you belt. Even then, keep it short. Talk about the most important or highest ranking things you have done.
 

Query Letter Part Four:

 

Lastly, end your letter with a quick thank you and closing. Keep it short and sweet.
 

A few more tips for you overall query letter:
 

• Make your letter easy to skim through. A publisher will receive hundreds of letters a day. They are not going to want to read the whole thing nor have the time to do so. Use short sentences and paragraphs so it is easy to digest.
 

• Try to use the same tone as your novel in your query letter. If your manuscript is funny, use some humor. If it’s old-fashioned throw in popular words and phrases from that time period. Doing this will give the publisher a feel of your novel. Still be careful with being too wordy. You still have a page limit to get all of this down.
 

• Keep these tips in mind when submitting your query letter. And make sure to read the submission guidelines for each publisher you are sending them too! Take a look at this post to see what Indigo River requires to submit! And take a look here to look at our submissions page. Make sure to read it!

How to Write a Press Release

By Tanner Chau

 

Knowing how to write an effective press release for your book is the secret weapon in marketing. Whether you are self-publishing or working with a publishing house for your project, every author should practice writing their own press release to send out to either local or national media outlets.
 

There is a basic formula to composing a press release:

 

1. Create an attention-grabbing headline.
 

2. Choose relevant news content that gets right to the point and use it as an entry point to advertise yourself and/or your book.
 

3. Include quotes pertaining to the news story that ties into the relevance of your book/you as an author or authority on the subject matter.
 

4. End with contact information for either the author (you) or the publishing house you are working with. You will also want to include information about the launch of your book or how to purchase your book.
 

Here is how a press release should sound when covertly advertising your book: Imagine you have written a book about climate change and a local conservation club is hosting an event. You attend this event and write a quick informational about the goals of this event, provide a quote on your thoughts about the event and establish yourself as an authority on the subject. It ends with a brief plug about the author (you) being such an authority who just so happens to have a new book publishing regarding climate change.
 

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What does one of these so-called press releases look like?” Well, no need to fear because there is a perfect example called “The Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written” which appears on PR Newswire’s website (link below). The article itself is a press release discussing how this one is the most amazing ever written. It is a wonderful example for the structure and flow you will want to accomplish when writing your own.
 

If you have never paid much attention to the logic of press releases or are still unsure of what a press release is, the best recommendation is to read some. The bait and catch is to draw a reader in on exciting information while also advertising a service or product. It’s a slick marketing move that anyone can do given practice.
 

Lastly, here are a few tips to keep in mind when putting together a press release:

 

1. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Any media outlet or reporter that will lay their eyes on your press release is going to immediately notice any spelling errors, incorrect grammar, and improper formatting. It is the primary reason they will stop reading your submission and toss it in the trash.
 

2. Avoid clichés to the best of your ability. As writers, we are all too familiar with the cliché trap and the media is savvy to it as well. No one wants to read the same old song and dance, unless there is an unexpected twist and shout at the end.
 

3. When referencing current events, it is best to triple check the information you are discussing. Fact checking is second nature to any reporter and incorrect facts are the quickest way to shorten your credibility.
 

4. Be sure to keep in mind your audience, just as you would any other time you are writing.
 

You are your best resource for marketing your book, your brand, your everything and it would be almost silly of any author to not take up the opportunity to exercise a marketing technique that has the potential to be picked on multiple news outlets on the national level. Who wouldn’t want that kind of attention?
 

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-most-amazing-press-release-ever-written-113302099.html

Grammar Pet Peeves, Part 2

By Jordan Ardoin

 

This small series of blog posts is to help you get your book published. By going back and proofreading your work before submitting it, you are able to turn in a nice, polished copy of your manuscript. It helps the publishers and, if your book is accepted, the editors deal with a few less things during the editing process.
 

So, let’s get started.
 

The Oxford Comma.

 

The Oxford comma is my favorite thing in the entire English language! And, in most writing styles, it is correct to use it. From experience, not using the Oxford comma can make your point muddled and
confuse your readers. One of the most common examples is a direct quote from The Times: “…highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year- old demigod and a dildo collector.”
 

If you weren’t able to tell, this sentence makes it seem like Nelson Mandela is an 800-year- old demigod as well as a dildo collector. Probably, not the idea you were going for. Adding the Oxford comma showsseparation between the people:
 

Correct: “…highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod, and a dildo collector.”
 

Here’s another example to further my point of how amazing the Oxford comma is.
 

Example: I like cooking my family and my pets.
 

Without the commas, this sentence is saying that the speaker likes cooking their family and their pets.
Let’s not be cannibalistic psychos and use some commas, shall we?
 

Correct: I like cooking, my family, and my pets.
 

With the commas, the speaker is listing what their likes are, not planning what they are having for dinner. Make sense?
 

So, please, just use the Oxford comma and give us all a piece of mind.
 

If I was vs. If I were

 

You’ve heard of Justin Bieber’s song “Boyfriend,” right? You have if you’ve listened to pop radio over the past couple years. Did you know that, grammatically, his song is wrong? He sings, “If I was your
boyfriend…” which is incorrect. Grammatically, the correct way to say it, “If I were your boyfriend…”
 

Now, Beyoncé has a similar song, “If I Were a Boy.” Yet, this song is actually correct. How so?
 

It all boils down to some of the nitty-gritty parts of grammar: subjunctive mood. What is subjunctive mood? Well, according to the Oxford dictionary, subjunctive is defined as relating to or denoting a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible. Both Beyoncé and Bieber are wishing or imagining something. Therefore, were needed to be used.
 

Now, if Bieber was speaking in past tense and explaining that he was once this girl’s boyfriend, then his statement of “If I was your boyfriend…” would be correct. Since he is not implying that, then his song is incorrect.
 

One Space After Punctuation

 

When typing, some people were taught to leave two spaces after a sentence because of the how typewriters use to be set up. The font they used required two spaces so the words of the end of the previous sentence would not run into the words at the beginning of the next.
 

With typewriters being outdated and not as commonly used, the two-space rule has been changed. Current fonts that are being used on laptops and tablets do not require two spaces, only one. Double spacing after sentences now, makes the text look odd and slightly off.
 

While the double space isn’t necessarily wrong, it is most likely to be changed to one space during the editing process. Removing the space yourself will help the editing process go a little smoother and give your editor one less thing to worry about.

How to Submit Your Book and Actually Get It Published

By Jordan Ardoin

 

Everyone who’s serious about writing has at least one goal in common: to get your book published. Unfortunately, another thing all writers have in common is the knowledge that getting a book published can be very difficult. Publishers receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of manuscripts a month, and only about 10% of those end up published.
 

What can you do to set your manuscript apart from the rest and make sure your book is in that 10%? As in so many other professional situations, your first impression plays a big role in whether or not your book gets published. A publisher’s first look at your manuscript can make or break their decision to publish you. Therefore, it’s important to submit the best manuscript you possibly can and to submit your manuscript properly. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.
 

1. Polish, Polish, Polish

Poor structure and sloppy grammar leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone reading your manuscript. Especially when that “anyone” has already read twelve sloppy manuscripts before starting yours. You want your manuscript to be a breath of fresh air, not another in a long line of headaches for a weary publisher. So, edit, proofread, edit, and proofread one more time before submitting. If you want to get your book published, you have to show the publisher your absolute best, and that means putting yourself through a rigorous and thorough editing process.
 

2. Include a Well-Written Query Letter

Many publishers will ask that a query letter accompany submissions. A query letter is basically a sales pitch that convinces a publisher or agent that your manuscript is worth their time. Your query letter is a first impression within a first impression, and it’s important that you write a good one. For detailed advice on writing query letters, check out our blog post on the subject.
 

3. Do Your Research

Research on your book can include information on possible target audiences, marketing strategies, or examples of similar books that have been successful. Including such information in your query letter shows the publisher that you are serious about not only publishing your book but also selling your book. Research on specific book publishers should include looking into what kind of books they usually publish and making sure your book is a good fit for them.
 

4. Follow Instructions!

Nothing looks worse for you as the author than when a publisher sets out specific, detailed guidelines for submissions and you don’t follow them. Take the time to read the publisher’s website thoroughly before submitting. Most publishers have a preferred format and want specific information included in your query letter or synopsis, and they will tell you all of this on their website. You worked long and hard on your manuscript; don’t ruin your chance of being published by making a careless mistake at the last second and not following directions.
 

If your manuscript is as squeaky clean as it can possibly be, your query letter is informative and formatted perfectly, your research has yielded loads of useful information, and everything is done exactly the way the publisher wants it, it’s time to submit your book! (Of course, you could always proofread one more time.)
 

Just remember, even if you take all of these tips to heart and follow them religiously, you will still get rejected sometimes. After all, only 10% of submitted manuscripts are published. However, by following the tips outlined here, you increase your chances of catching a publisher’s eye and achieving that ultimate dream of getting your book published.