Five signs you’re not ready for a brand design

We are thrilled to welcome Allison Martin as our newest contributor! 

Branding design is a complicated topic that most like to pass off as something simple and inspirational → Just be yourself and your authentic brand will shine through!

While I personally believe that, I have spent ten years educating myself in design and marketing both formally and through the school of experiential learning, so I truly understand what it means.

The even tougher part of it all is that for authors you are not just branding a company, you are branding your soul, your life experience, your view of the world.

That would be a daunting task for a narcissistic sociopath, never mind an author riddled with impostor syndrome and self doubt.

There is a big piece of the branding puzzle missing in publishing and it’s the piece that has become my mission — what to do Before the Brand.

As a freelance Art Director I coach authors through understanding their branding needs, defining their career goals, and translating that into meaningful design to grow their confidence as well as their readership.

If you’ve been playing around with the idea of developing an author brand here are five signs that you’re not quite ready.

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YOU CAN’T PINPOINT YOUR PURPOSE

When someone asks you why you write or what you write about and you can’t confidently state it in three sentences or less—like you would pitch your book to an agent—you are not ready for a branding design. There are two sides to this fence, those who say ‘I just love to read and want to share my love of stories with others’, and those who ramble off ten thousand disjointed things over a 20 minute time frame.

The problem with the first is it is vague and says zero about who you are and what you are promising your readers. What that tells me as a coach is that you lack self confidence and therefore direction.

The second tells me that you lack focus and probably self confidence too—although arrogance is a thing with some new authors, the majority struggle with feeling inadequate so they try to cram in all the things to compensate.

If you can speak clearly and concisely about what you hope to achieve with your work you might be ready to hire a designer.

YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY DESIGNERS CHARGE SO MUCH MORE MONEY FOR A LOGO THAN A COVER

There are two reasons why logo design is more expensive:

  1. Copyright — When you hire a designer to make a cover you are licensing that design from the designer, they own it and you cannot alter it or duplicate it without permission from the designer. When you hire for a logo design, you own it. The designer creates it and then relinquishes rights to you to use however and wherever you choose.
  2. The purpose — To a designer, a cover is an advertisement for a single product. A logo is a visual representation of a company’s mission statement. A design that will be used to sell products and generate profit indefinitely. So because your logo will generate you more revenue in theory it costs more to create.

Logos also require a lot more pre-design work and back and forth with a client so time is a big factor in cost.

YOU BELIEVE A BRAND DESIGN IS A LOGO

A logo is only a single piece of an author brand and not even the most important one, I would argue. You would be just fine to build a visual identity by simply choosing a font for your name and sticking with it across your entire platform.

Your brand design is about understanding your mission, working toward a consistent goal, and making sure everything you do is ‘on brand’. Your brand includes your interests, the images you take/choose, the colors you use, the clothes you wear, how you talk, what you talk about…

And if after reading all that you’re sweating and saying ‘great, now I have to change everything about myself to have a brand’ then you are definitely not ready for a branding design.

It’s not about forcing yourself into something you’re not, it’s about paying attention to what you already are and amplifying it.

THE WORD MARKETING MAKES YOU CRINGE

We are hit with thousands of messages every day wanting our money and a majority of those messages are shameless and gross. But the only marketing that should make you feel gross is if you have to lie or manipulate your way to a sale.

If you understand there are many different ways to share your stories and get the word out that don’t include tricking people into buying your stuff then you might be ready to get a brand design to help with that.

YOU THINK YOUR CAREER IS JUST ABOUT YOUR BOOKS

A lot of us authors get into writing because we can hide behind our books and remain relatively faceless to our readers. But the industry is changing rapidly, we are more and more connected in a visual way, and readers are wanting to see more of our personal space.

I want to clarify that the advice of ‘write more books’ is 100% valid. The best way to get relevant and stay relevant is to keep writing, keep improving, and keep the books coming.

But it’s no longer enough to just write more books.

Our careers are becoming more intertwined with our lives and processes, but with a little bit of forethought and strategy and a whole lot of honest introspection, an authentic author brand should be an exciting journey, not a daunting task.

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Allison Martin is the author of nine independently published YA & NA novels, and a Graphic Designer, with over ten years experience in television and newspaper advertising, and freelance publishing design.  

Makeready Designs began five years ago as an accidental hobby and grew to a full service publishing design business that works with NYT and USA Today Bestselling authors, as well as Penguin Random House. She has currently shifted her focus to her real passion—helping authors set realistic career goals and implement effective branding strategies to grow their confidence as well as their business.

Allison lives and breathes the North Canadian wilderness, adventuring with her husband and daughter and plotting her next novel on some mountain top—but not until she’s had at least two cups of coffee.

She is represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret Literary Management.

 

Dear Writers: Don’t Be Afraid To Rest!

writer rest

Last fall, I had a spate where about six different deadlines hit me within two months. It was INTENSE; I was working for hours each day just to stay on top of things, and by the end of the two-month stretch when I turned in everything I’d been working on, I’d developed a persistent pain in my forearms that I thought was tendonitis. I’d had similar issues off and on throughout college, but they’d never hit the point of being completely debilitating, and I figured that once the deadlines went away the pain would, too.

Instead, even with greatly reduced work activity, the pain increased – to the point that I could hardly scroll through Twitter on my phone without feeling agonizing jolts from my fingertips all the way to my elbow. I made an appointment with my physical therapist, hopeful that it would be a quick fix. Instead, she informed me that the pain was not due to tendonitis – it was due to several injured nerves in my forearms, similar to carpal tunnel but more widespread. She gave me a host of exercises to do, but warned me – and has repeated this warning several times in the intervening months – that really, the only thing that was going to truly heal my nerve injury was rest.

Over and over again, something has emerged in talking with my writer friends: We writers, as a whole, are terrible at taking a break. We’re terrible at resting, at self-care, at allowing ourselves to have fallow spells in order to fill our well creatively. More writers than I can count, especially those who’ve been published or have books under contract, have worked themselves into illness or injury – repetitive stress injuries like mine, repeated colds, severe anxiety, depression, and more. Often, I see writers Tweeting about having just finished an especially grueling work in progress, and how they were going to celebrate by – you guessed it – diving right into something new.

I’ve seen friends refuse to give themselves breaks (even when they weren’t on deadlines!) through serious sickness, family disasters, the deaths of loved ones, and day job stresses. I’ve seen writers keep pushing themselves even when they’re so stressed by publishing that they’re breaking down into tears every day or two. Some of this is due to punishing schedules imposed on them by external deadlines, yes – but often, the pressure is completely internal.

Now, I love the creative rush of having a project that’s consuming all my waking thoughts just as much as the next writer. But between the nerve injury slowing my pace enormously and a recent bout of serious illness due to my cystic fibrosis, I’ve had ample time lately to think about the importance of rest and gentleness to ourselves. And here’s what I’ve come to:

  1. Without rest, we will all hit our breaking points. Whether it’s a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store, depression so intense you can’t get out of bed, a repetitive stress injury that impedes your ability to work, or something else, we all have our limits – and if we push too hard, we’ll eventually reach them.
  2. Self-care is, in some ways, even more important for writers than for people in different fields. As a writer pursuing publication, it can feel like the goalpost is constantly moving. First, it’s getting the agent. Then, getting the book deal. Then, getting good trade reviews or blurbs from the authors you love. Then, selling well. Then, getting the next book deal – and the next, and the next, and the next. When there is always something else to aspire to, it can be hard to recognize and celebrate the moments when you ARE succeeding. I’ve have friends who are NYT bestsellers who still struggle with crippling self-doubt and still feel like they’ll never get where they want to be. If left unchecked, this kind of pattern can leave us anxious and stressed, unable to muster any of the joy that drew us to writing in the first place. It’s crucial to take time to connect with ourselves, to do the things that bring us happiness, and to celebrate the small successes – even if that’s just “I finished this draft!” or “I wrote a scene that was really tough for me!” Self-care and self-celebration are vital to make sure that we’re not burning ourselves out constantly chasing the shifting goalposts of our field.
  3. It’s okay to take breaks. I sometimes get the feeling that we worry we won’t keep being able to call ourselves writers if we don’t have a project in the works 24/7. But sometimes, the circumstances in our lives – or in our bodies or our brains – demand that we step back, take a break, and allow ourselves to focus on other things for awhile. This might be because we’re struggling with our latest rejections, or because we’re battling illness or injury or mental health concerns, or simply because something else in our life has become more pressing for the moment. Regardless of the circumstances, It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to have a little while go by without cranking out the words every single day. It’s okay to be gentle and forgiving to ourselves, and treat our own bodies and spirits the way we’d treat those we love.
  4. Sometimes a fallow period leads to greater creativity later on. Nobody is a machine, and sometimes when we’re exhausted, taking some time away can be exactly what we need to recharge our creative tanks. I try to remember when I’m in these fallow periods that I’m not being lazy or slacking off – I’m letting my brain and my spirit connect with the things that feed my creativity, so that when I’m ready to get writing again, I can have inspiration when I need it.
  5. We MUST get help when we need it. The only thing worse than continuing to work ourselves into exhaustion when problems are rearing their ugly heads is to do that and to neglect treatment for those problems, too. I made that mistake last year, and I’m still regretting it: Because I thought it would go away on its own, I was slow to get in touch with my physical therapist to deal with my nerve injury. I wonder all the time if I could’ve saved myself a lot of pain and been able to work much more right now if I had just called her up as soon as I started feeling the first twinges of pain last fall. Likewise, whatever the problem that’s besetting us, it’s important to recognize when we need help – from a doctor, a physical therapist, or a mental health professional. Far too often, I think we undermine our own problems, brushing them off as not being that big a deal – until they suddenly reach the point where they become completely crippling.

Do you struggle with taking breaks in your writing life? Have you found especially good self-care tips that help you balance your writing career with everything else? I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

headshot1Cindy Baldwin is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Her debut novel, Where The Watermelons Grow, is forthcoming from HarperCollins Children’s Books in July 2018.

Pain

We all go through it either psychologically, emotionally, or physically. A lot of times it can end up being all three. No one shares their agony exactly in the same way as another because of our different personalities, upbringing, experiences, and perspectives. But, we all deal with pain. None of us are free from it.

As you’re writing, your character or characters will always have something in one of these areas that they’re striving to get through. Trying to understand and process. They may be searching out who they are, and maybe because of their upbringing, or culture, this search causes them a great deal of affliction, going outside the grain of figuring those pieces out. Maybe the loss of someone they love has greatly affected their worth, will, drive, or purpose for existence. Or physically, an illness they feel is so intense that even getting up to take a shower is too much to handle. Each area can weaken your characters spirit and heart.

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Readers want to keep reading because pain is a universal thing, even if they don’t completely relate to what that character’s dealing with. They want to root for them. The readers feel the agony and have empathy on how much this space hurts the characters deeply and they want to be there to push them forward.

The hero’s journey for our characters is constant movement within that anguish. Getting to the next step which can be more intense, scary, hard, and worse before it gets better. Our character will want to leave, but they’ll have to make the hard choice to face it and keep going through the storm. By doing so . . . some answers, lessons, and moments will define them.

Here’s a few examples from some of my favorite books. There’s no spoilers on endings!

The character Hazel Grace Lancaster, from Fault in Our Stars, is a seventeen-year-old who has thyroid cancer. It’s started to spread into her lungs, so to breathe properly, she uses a portable oxygen tank. Hazel feels suffering day in and day out. She wants to be understood. To appease her mother, she decides to attend a cancer patients’ support group and meets a teenage boy named Augustus Waters. They begin to build a friendship and she finds out he had osteosarcoma, but had his leg amputated and is cancer free. With their friendship they’re able to help each other with the struggles they both face.

In Shutter Island, Teddy Daniels, is devastated by the loss of his wife which took place in a fire. The grief he feels messes with him both emotionally and psychologically, sending him spirally to look for answers about his wife’s death and his own sanity. He wants truth and answers. The story makes you question the depth of this man’s sorrow and wonder where his heads at, but you’re rooting for him to figure it out.

In Wonder, August Pullman, also known as Auggie has “mandibulofacial dysostosis” a rare facial deformity. Surgery is not uncommon for him as he’s had (27) of them. Auggie’s been homeschooled by his mom for eleven years, so when he’s enrolled to go to 5th grade, in a public school, pain and fear of being different sets in. He wants to be accepted and liked. Auggie goes to school anyways and faces the unknown each day.

What hardship is your character dealing with?

Is it physical, mental, or emotional? All of them?

What would your character/characters have to do to face that pain? The next step forward?

What is one thing that your character really wants and is in search for?

  • Hazel wants to be understood/friendship.
  • Teddy wants truth and answers.
  • Auggie wants to be accepted and liked as he is.

For fun and research go through some of your favorite movies and establish what the characters ultimate affliction and want/need (goal) is. Or, even think about your own life story, a friend’s, or a family member. How has their pain/ struggle made them tick? React? How have they handled it?

Now, go write that novel. Bring all the raw emotion in so the reader is sucked into feeling it all right along with your character.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Depression & Writing

I went months without writing.

I sent lots of emails and drafted blog posts and proposals and such, but when it came time to really look at my fiction, to really dive into the craft, I could find all kinds of things to do besides write.

There were some big life changes that happened. I’d like to say it was just that.

There were some nuances I had to figure out with my mental health and body chemistry. I’d like to say it was only that.

But the reality was I was in a sort of writing depression. I felt like, for the most part, I’d gotten the big D depression that impacted my overall life under control, I’d been able to return to a new normal in most of the other aspects of my life, but when I thought about sitting down to write, all the negative everythings started swirling, growing ever heavier, and I started to look to TV episodes I’d already watched, mindless games I wouldn’t normally play on my phone, EVEN laundry during my free time. I didn’t care what it was as long as it felt like an okay excuse justify my reasons for not writing.

I was scared of my book.

I don’t write scary books.

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I had to really explore where my fear was coming from. When I started this story, I was at a writing retreat and cranked out 16,000 words in two days. I knew this story, knew where it was going, knew what the character arcs were – I was cruising. But when I came back from that retreat, I started realizing I was, in fact, engaged in a wrestling match with my mind, one that I thought I’d already won. I tried to work on this book but couldn’t. I took months to play around with another book, started to like it, then received a recommendation from my agent that this one, this really hard one, was probably where my writing should go next.

And I just – I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure that I could write this book. I felt – still feel – strongly that this is a story I can tell, that it can resonate with readers in a way that will be meaningful.

So . . .

So.

The first thing that I did was go back to the drawing board. I looked at the story I had, where I wanted to the story to go, where things had become stuck before. I got insights about character arcs from my critique partners, I read craft books, I looked again and again at this document, and then closed it, making myself keep focused on the story I wanted it to be.

And I put A LOT of effort into taking care of my writerly self, just as I have learned to do with my mental self. I fed my mind words – good, good words – to remind myself what they looked like. I took the time to find representatives of my characters, to dive into their personalities, where they live, what they want. Still didn’t write a word in the manuscript. I went to movies – the movies that were getting great buzz – and let myself sit and absorb and fall back in love with story.

And then I revised the first two chapters. It took a long, LONG time. And I sent those two chapters to my critique partners and held my breath. I was prepared to hear that they needed to be dismantled, re-written. I was ready for them to say I needed to start over again.

They didn’t.

The whole meeting, the critiques were super nit-picky. Do you know what that means?

The foundation of the story was good.

As anyone with mental illness will tell you, the moments when you can tell what is truth and what is just a thought with no power, when you can identify the source of the thoughts, things start to get better. This is also the case (and has been the case) when I have these kinds of slumps. I have to fight, and clear all the distracting chaos. I have to be able to see the things that my not-quite-well brain & writerly mind have tricked into existence for what they are – lies.

Yes, this kind of thing can happen to all people. Maybe it’s a little worse for people like me who have regular mental health issue. And I know there are all kinds of people who say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is absolutely a kind of creative block. Our job is to do the really hard work to determine, first, what we are experiencing; second, if we need to push through or pull back and heal, and third; have the courage to open the manuscript, to trust our creative soul, and to craft again.

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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Mentor/Protégé

This is a Thinking Through Our Fingers classic, originally shared on November 29, 2011.

Photo by Casey McFarland, iamcasey.com

I have been reading children’s literature all my life. It’s only been the last two years that I’ve started trying to write it. I consider myself an experienced reader and a beginning writer. Because of this, I’ve developed a mentor/protégé relationship . . . with myself.

I imagine it’s a pretty common occurrence.

“You’re a genius!” says the mentor in me. “This book is destined to become a classic!”

And the writer smiles and types furiously while the muse is still nearby.

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But soon (sometimes within minutes), the mentor has changed her tune.

“This book is garbage. You’ll never amount to anything as a writer. Your time would be better spent cleaning the fridge.” [sympathetic “wah-wah” from a single trombone]

At times like this, the mentor would do well to remember words from her own hero, her great-uncle Wilbur Braithwaite. Wilbur was a writer of poetry and music who also happened to be veteran of World War II, a state-champion coach in multiple sports over a 50-year career, and a mentor to hundreds of high school athletes. In this article, he listed the following as one of his “Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Coaching”:

“Your players tend to become what they believe you think they are.”

Ponder that for a minute. If I treat myself as a wannabe who is wasting her time, most likely I will remain a time-wasting wannabe. If, however, I can treat myself as a beginning writer who has great potential and promise, I will work harder and continue to improve, and I may just fulfill that potential and promise. So the lesson, I think, is this: Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself, and then remember #10 from Wilbur’s list:

“Work hard to influence the outcome of important things within your control.”

That’s the advice I’m giving my protégé today.

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Elaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

Back Cover Blurbs vs Query Letter Blurbs

Blurb is a weird word. It sounds like a fish trying to talk. Blurb. Blurb. Blurbitty-blurrrrr-blurb.

Quirky as the word itself is, the ability to write an effective one is a vital marketing technique. While studying effective query letters and back covers can help us develop a sort of sixth-sense regarding blurb writing, a lot of authors struggle because of the profound similarities and differences between back cover blurbs and query letter blurbs.

The queries I critique tend to fall into one of three camps:

Camp #1: Reads like a synopsis, listing almost every major event in the story, often in laundry list “and then” fashion. Literary TMI.

Camp #2: Reads like a back-cover blurb. Often contains vague, and clichéd language.

Camp #3: Gets the level of detail spot-on, making my job way easier (yes, this actually happens, and yes, I sometimes weep tears of joy when it does).

I’ve seen authors complain that some agents ask for queries that are “more like a back cover blurb,” but when they try to mimic that style, their queries still fall flat. It’s my belief that understanding the similarities and differences between a back cover blurb and a query letter blurb, can make or break a querying author.

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Similarities: 

Back-Cover Blurb Query Blurb

Meant to intrigue/entice the reader.

Meant to “sell” your book.

Contains plot, character, and world-building elements (to name a few).

Doesn’t reveal the resolution of the ultimate climax of the story.

Is written in present tense.

Differences:

Back-Cover Blurb Query Blurb
Avoids spoilers as much as possible. Spoilers galore! Many secrets revealed!
Generalized language. Specific details all over the place!
Attached to a published book. Does not need to prove it can be a book, because it already is. Attached to a manuscript that might or might not be ready to be a published book. Needs to prove itself worthy.
Aimed at readers. Aimed at publishing industry professionals.

 One of the biggest differences between the back cover blurb of a published book, and the query blurb of a query letter, is detail-level. Back cover blurbs are secretive creatures. They have to be vague. They have to avoid spoilers. Their goal is to intrigue with just enough information to entice the reader, but little enough that the reader will still be thrilled and surprised by the story itself.

Your average author has read far more back-covers than they have query letters. When we try to describe a story in blurb-format, Back-cover-ese is the language we automatically translate into. Also movie trailers. Our brains tend to be big fans of movie trailers.

Back Cover Blurb: “In a race against time, young Owen must delve into his secretive past and learn the truth, or lose his newfound brother who he’s already beginning to love!”

Query Letter Blurb: “Ha! That’s not what I heard. My author told me Owen was adopted, and that his newfound brother Jimmy lives with his bio-mom—who kept Jimmy but not Owen!—and his birth family is super screwed up because his bio-dad cheated on his bio-mom with her sister, then robbed both women blind! And while he’s dealing with that hot mess of emotional overload, Owen’s got to track dad-dude down because he’s their last hope of finding a bone marrow match for Jimmy!”

^^^Don’t write your blurbs like this. This is terrible writing. The story idea is kind of cool though. Someone should maybe write that.

Query blurbs, as you may have noticed, are the loud-laughing, secret-sharing gossip at the party. They spoil almost everything. But they do it for good reason. Agents and editors read more query letters than we can probably imagine. They understand story structure. They get it on a deep, bedrock level. To appeal to them, to show them ours is a story worth giving their (very limited) time to, we need more than just the basic surface-level of the story.

Details. It’s all about those specific details.

When writing your query letter blurb (or anything, really) please, for the love of words, avoid phrases like:

  • “Or her whole world will be turned upside down.”
  • “Or everything he thought he knew would fall apart.”
  • “Or everything would change.”

Back Cover Blurb: “She must race against time to prevent a catastrophe!”

Query Letter Blurb: “She must defuse the bomb or a school bus full of children is going to blow up!”

If a phrase in your query could be used to describe literally hundreds of other stories, it doesn’t belong there. You’re not going to hook agents or editors with generic lines like “They must master their new ability or the world will be destroyed.” The world is always about to be destroyed. Main characters always have new abilities that need mastering.

What makes your story special? What’s unique about it? What does your story have that the other 724 queries in the agent or editor’s inbox don’t? A main character who uses graffiti art to make incisive social commentary, but secretly dreams of being an accountant some day? A clever novelization of Westside Story, but with mermaids? A murderer who puts a chess piece in the mouth of each of their victims, and the clever young waitress who figures out why?

Querying authors, find those details, and then share them! If you sacrifice clarity for the sake of mystery, you sacrifice your best chance to show agents or editors what your story is actually about. Make sure your query letter is that talkative gossip at the party*.

*But aim for the 250-300 word sweet spot, okay? Agents and editors have tired eyes and tired brains. Be nice to them.

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Kimberly VanderhorstKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

 

Empathy and Writing

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of interactions on social media on some pretty difficult topics. Sometimes opinions and viewpoints conflict with others, which can lead to lots of arguing, hurt feelings, and, sadly, sometimes loss of friendship.

Other times I’ve seen kind exchanges where respect of others’ ideas happens. These are my favorite to read where the conversations aren’t laced with hate and “you’re wrong, I’m right” undertones.

I really enjoy observing people, listening to their thoughts, watching their interactions, and how that makes up who they are as a person. I try to understand what makes people tick, what motivates them, and perhaps even what life experiences led them to where they are now.

So, how does this all relate to writing?

Writers must have empathy.

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Without empathy, it becomes really difficult to get inside your characters’ heads and write them authentically. This also applies to nonfiction, but it’s more along the lines of being able to write in a way that’s relatable to others so you can impact your readers on a deep and personal level.

Being empathetic is more than feeling sorry for someone’s situation—that’s sympathy. Having empathy means you know what it would be like to walk around in another’s shoes because you can feel it. You can put yourself in another’s situation and understand what that would be like. It’s an ability to see more than your own narrow point of view, often with accompanying emotions.

What if I don’t have empathy? Then what?

Some people are naturally more sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, but some of us are not. But, I believe it can be developed.

  1. Try looking outside yourself. Imagine what it would be like if your life experience was that of someone else’s. How would you feel? How might that impact you life now and in the future? How would it alter your beliefs about yourself, others around you, and the world?
  2. Seek to understand. When opinions differ from yours, try to understand the other viewpoints. Ask questions for more reasons why they feel the way they do. Talk less, listen more. Think about others’ views until you can fully understand why someone would think that way.
  3. Read books with characters from diverse backgrounds (and make sure they’re an accurate representation). Reading is a wonderful way to visit other places, hang out with different people, and experience things you have never yourself experienced—all from the comfort of your favorite chair. It’s a great way to get inside the head of another person and experience their thoughts and feelings.
  4. Be compassionate. Having compassion means really loving those around you. Love opens the gate to greater empathy because you care about others on a deeper level.

The world needs more empathy and compassion. As writers, we can spread more of that by using empathy to create authentic characters with real emotions and motivations. Be a writer who learns about people, their thoughts, feelings, emotions, motivations, and experiences not just from a sympathetic view point (though that’s a good starting point), but from a more intimate standpoint of empathy.

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles-family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.