From Sarah, With Joy

Sarah Allen on the craft, business, and joy of being a writer.

Writing tips every Monday

Story time every Thursday

Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1. This performance of this song (get ready for chills):

2. This trailer of this movie:

3. This GIF of this dog:

4. This cover of this magazine (Like really MERYL STREEPS HAIR WHAT? I can't even):

5. This illustration of this fairy-tale (by Cory Godbey):

6. This person hugging this person:

7. This kiss from this show:
(and this one)
(Okay and this one I'm a romantic okay?)

8. This tribute to these stories/characters/writers:
9. This kid in this costume:

10. This man on this planet:

And of course YOU, you gorgeous reader you.

Have a happy filled day!

And write on!

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Ways To Let Others Do Your Book Marketing For You

We are writers, not marketers. Writers, not publicists. We are creating art, not peddling "product."

Writers write, right?

Cue enormous *le sigh*.

Writing, creating those beautiful words like brain babies, is absolutely our most important calling. It's top priority. But we still want people to see and read and ooh and ahh over those brain babies, and that involves what the vampires and soul-sellers of the world call "marketing," and unfortunately, in the modern publishing world, if we don't do that marketing ourselves, it's probably not going to get done. And in most cases its certainly not going to get done as effectively as we could do it ourselves.

As we writers are commanded told time and time and time again, by everyone from "authorities" to Authorities, from every conceivable platform, we modern writers are now responsible not just for creating our beautiful brain babies, but for raising them smartly and releasing them into as loving and large a throng as we can muster.

But as someone from an eight child family can tell you, isn't it enough to worry about keeping our creations alive and healthy, keeping them from lopping off their hair or blowing out their diapers, without also having to be the one that bribes all the student body to be their friend and vote for them as Homecoming Queen? Okay, so maybe I'm getting a little out of hand with my metaphors here, but you get what I mean, right?

I'm here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to be low on the sleezy and high on the lazy efficient sides of book marketing. We all know the "it takes a village" aphorism, right? Well I think it applies to book marketing too. In other words, there are lots of perfectly appropriate ways to piggy-back on other people and let them do lots of your book marketing for you.

Now, just to be clear, we are mostly talking about long-term marketing here. These are things that will be most effective months or even years before your book comes out, or in the times between books while you're just working on platform building. During the heavy-hitting book release times you're probably going to be doing so much direct marketing work yourself that you'll need a year's supply of RedBull and a tribe of energizer bunnies just to get you through. These are long-term, slow building strategies, but they can really help out in the long run, and can help us be effective while still focusing our efforts on the most important thing: those brain babies.

1. Pinterest is your new best friend. When I read Anne R. Allen's post from her incomparable weekly blog I had to grin a little with the irony. I was in the middle of writing this post and in some ways we are looking at the two sides of one thing. If you haven't read Anne's post this week about the dangers and frustrations of living in our modern cyberworld, do yourself a favor and check it out. All the points she brings up are vitally important and need to be kept at the forefront of our online strategies. As we said at camp, "Safety first!"

That being said, Pinterest can be one of your most useful tools when used correctly. The many social media options and "must-do's" out there can be completely overwhelming, but before you get scared off, let me explain about Pinterest. One of the dangers of adding to your social media platform is the time-suck, and people are afraid of that with Pinterest especially. But honestly, give it a chance and Pinterest can be one of the least intimidating and least involved platforms out there. It can absolutely be a black hole of where-did-the-last-seven-hours-go if you want it to be let it, but it by no means has to be. Being an active user of Pinterest can mean no more than five minutes a day of looking at and maybe repinning pictures of motivational writing quotes, beautiful book covers, great blog posts, and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. Honestly. That's all it requires.

And did you catch that thing I just said about blog posts? I get more traffic to this blog from Pinterest than almost any other site. The way Pinterest is structured, it is easier to get discovered and spread on this site than any other, at least in my experience. What I do is make images almost like book covers for a blog post, using an applicable and appropriate photo. (Like the one at the top of this post). I edit and text overlay using a photo-editing site like PicMonkey. Don't let that scare you off either. It may be a learning curve but you'll end up being able to whip one up in less than five minutes. And then put it up on Pinterest, and bam, you have other people spreading your word. I am by no means an expert, but for an example of how I've been using Pinterest at least relatively successfully, check out my Pinterest boards, especially the ones for writers. (Whew, I didn't realize I had so much to say about this site. Maybe it deserves it's own how-to style post...)

2. Take advantage of the @Mention. The @mention feature on Twitter is one of your best tools for doing some totally appropriate piggy-backing of other people's audience. On Twitter itself, when you communicate directly with people in your industry using the @mention, you increase your chances of getting your tweet favorited or retweeted, thereby being introduced to the other tweeters audience. I.e., letting them do some of the work for you.

But the @mention can help in even more ways. I've had tweets mentioned in other author's newsletters that led people to both my twitter account and this blog. And you know how I make a spotlight list of other blog posts every week? I make sure to mention those bloggers on Twitter too. Of course doing this expecting other people to owe you any favors is totally obnoxious, (and this tool is mean to be the opposite of harassment) but I've been lucky enough to have my post mentioned or retweeted on other authors blogs and that has led to some great traffic that another writer already had ready and waiting. Plus its just a great way to be involved, and involving yourself with others creates involvement for you.

3. Guest post. "Wait!" I hear some of you saying. "You said this was for lazy marketers and writing more blog posts isn't lazy-friendly at all!"

True, but think of it in terms of return on investment. Letting other people do your book marketing for you is all about efficiency. Yes, you have to spend an additional 3-4 hours crafting the guest post. But if you put in the effort, do your best work, and are lucky enough to get accepted by some of the huge platform blogs, then guess what that means? That means you spent 3-4 hours reaching a crazy large audience that it would have taken you hundreds and hundreds of hours to reach otherwise. That blogger has already put in those hundreds, even thousands of hours building up that great audience, and guest blogging is the perfect way for you to piggy-back. In an appropriate, non-creepy (hopefully) way that is beneficial to both parties.

4. Create or discover interview opportunities. Again, this can take less effort than you expect. And it's all about efficiency and return on investment, right? The good thing is that there are already some tools in place that make this strategy quite simple. Help A Reporter Out is a newsletter sent directly to your inbox every day that lists topics reporters from everywhere want to get quotes about. For example, perhaps a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee needs to interview three middle school librarians, or a blogger for a major corporation wants to talk to work from home moms. Stuff like that. I've found a couple applicable postings, and if I can, you definitely can. And there's no easier way to piggy-back on that publication's audience.

The other tool is Blog Talk Radio. Caveat: I haven't used this site yet, but I've heard a lot about it lately and plan to get started soon. What I know so far is that this is a platform for anyone to create their own radio show or podcast, and some have audiences in the thousands. If anyone has any experience using this site I'd love to hear about it.

5. Blurb, collaborate, and bundle with other authors. How do you get your name and the title of your book on the cover of someone else's book? Blurbs! If you get a chance and it seems appropriate, blurbing might be a good opportunity.

And collaborating. Writing a book with another author is an automatic introduction to their already-built audience. However it doesn't even have to be as involved as all that, because I know writing a book with someone else isn't for everyone. But what about anthologies? That's collaboration, right? Or co-authored blogs? Or working with an illustrator to create a picture book or illustrated poetry? All great collaborative opportunities that mean access to someone elses in-place audience. Efficiency in book marketing is all about getting access to these already-built audiences. A reader who buys an anthology because they know another writer might end up loving your work just as much. And all you had to do was write.

And don't forget bundles. I've never done one myself, but selling your work in a bundle with some other authors gives you basically the same advantages of an anthology, but may have an even wider reach.

6. Ask. You know who else probably has a built-in audience? Your family and friends. Maybe they don't have the reach of some of the big industry influencers, but they can still help. Again, I have to emphasize, my point here is the opposite of "be entitled and pushy." In fact as a general online rule you should be giving help as much if not much more than you're asking for it. But you also shouldn't be afraid of asking for help when its appropriate. Asking your friends and family for a boost on their Facebook and Twitter pages, especially when your book is nearing release, can be a big help in your push to get the ball rolling. And most likely you'll have plenty of people who are more than happy to help.

So. There are ways that we can appropriately piggy-back on other people's audience and let them do some of our book marketing for us. Keep in mind that this is about being pro-actively efficient and smart, and is absolutely not about being entitled or sleazy or pushy. Have I said that enough? Also keep in mind that many of these strategies are long-term and slow-building; more about building our blog readership and growing our email list than direct sales. But if we use these strategies effectively then when its time for our precious brain baby to be released into the world, we already have a bit of a network in place and ready to go.

Do you think these strategies can help? What other ideas do you have for piggy-backing on other peoples audience and letting them do some of our book marketing for us?

Write (and minimally market) on!

Sarah Allen

This Week On Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram.


  • First Line Magazine: Submit a story with the assigned first line. Due Nov. 1.
  • Critical Pass Review: Calling all poets, writers, photographers, and visual artists! The Critical Pass Review is now accepting submissions for its Fall 2014 Issue. Due Nov. 19.
  • Madcap ReviewThere are two weeks left to submit to Madcap Review! Due Oct. 31.
  • Imitation & Illusion: For I&A 2.2, we're looking for submissions that combine the styles of poet Jillian Weise and sci-fi writer James Blish. Each author uniquely approaches a specific subset of the science fiction genre, broaching the subjects of biology, self-awareness, and society. Due Nov. 21.
  • Big Book of Useful Poetry: Submit "useful" poems as well as the tags for their usefulness. Tag examples: . Poems can be previously published as long as you have the rights for reprints. No limericks. Submit up to three poems. Until Filled.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

To Hold A Killer In Your Hand

There are lots of cool things about Las Vegas.

One of the coolest has to be the Clark County Renaissance Festival.

I'd never been to a Ren Faire before this weekend (I know, I know, it's like I need to turn in my nerd card or something) but that oversight has been fixed. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but boy, I wasn't disappointed.

As some of the people I chatted with beforehand mentioned, the people watching was often the coolest part. The costumes and decorations and food and everything were just incredible.

Also camels.

(I swear its the Geico Hump Day camel. He's making that face...)

So, there's this thing, both online and IRL, where I sometimes wonder if I'm being taken seriously. Not you guys, you guys are great. And it's not ever anything even remotely big deal-ish. But, ya know, I get called darling and sweetheart a lot, and every once in a while I'll catch a surprised look on someone's face when they see that I can, like, do things. I'm pretty sure this all just comes with the short, round-faced blond territory. Which, again, is totes fine most the time, but I do wonder sometimes if I look young enough even just in profile pictures and such that it influences my online and IRL interactions with serious, important people like agents and editors.

But I think, at the Renaissance Fair, I came up with a solution.

First, I need to take lessons from this guy:

That is real life full metal armor and there was real life jousting with real life lances that shattered on impact and everything. It was completely epic. This guy is a former soldier and started the Knights of Mayhem for the pure love of jousting. There's not a single agent or editor or book buyer alive who would not take this guy seriously.

Am I right? This guy was so epic I had to play with Photoshop to capture his true awesometacity.

(Is there female jousting? Is that a thing?)

Mostly, though, I just need to make sure that in all my profile pictures, I've got a killer in my hand.

Isn't she gorgeous? The trainer said her name is Sheba, and she's a Bateleur Eagle. I mean it just keeps building epic upon epic. Sheba? Bateleur? And look at that wing span!

To be honest, though, I'm not sure that picture is going to help me out very much, because even with a killer in my hand I still look younger than I am, and I still have a goofy grin on my face. Although, the trainer did compliment my endurance and tight grip (I'm also stronger than I look :v). And you know what, I'm thinking maybe that's okay, because all it means is that I just need to find people who take goofy grins and round faces and Pixar and Mo Willems and Gary Larson and Frasier and puns and Aslan and Atticus and the Newberry Award and chocolate covered bananas as seriously as I do. And, of course, there are lots of us out there, which is why the blogosphere is so amazing, because I get to talk with lots of you all the time!

So yeah, let's just acknowledge that the best life is one where you have a Bateleur Eagle or a lance in one hand, and a blue-ray DVD of Monsters, Inc., or the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, or a Mickey Mouse hat in the other.

And with whatever hand you've got left (whether you were born with it or stole it from the church cemetary across the street, I won't judge)...

Write on!

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Traits of Seriously Despicable Villains

There is a whole spectrum of antagonists and characters who are just awful people. There's the cackling, hand-wringing villain, the sweet but deadly villain, the shy misunderstood villain, and even villains who probably more like anti-heroes (*ahem* Snape *ahem*). These types of characters are kind of fun to watch. We like to see them be witty and snarky or finally show their true inner feelings.

But there's a difference between characters we love to hate, and characters we just point-blank hate. Period.

I'm talking about the latter kind of character. I'm talking about characters who are honestly no fun at all, who make our skin crawl, who can even make us sick to our stomach. Because sometimes those are the characters our protagonists are going up against. I can think of quite a few characters who are rude, dishonest, even petty, who people still end up rooting for. So what is that makes a character truly despicable?

To be honest, I'm not very naturally good at writing villains, which is why I've been thinking about this lately. When I try to write out and out villains I typically end up liking them too much, and then they turn out more like anti-heroes than real villains. So I've been thinking of villains that I consider truly horrific, and trying to see what traits those characters have that make them so utterly loathsome. Here are some I've come up with.

1. Misogyny and Racism. The second a character in a book or show evinces an inkling of misogyny or racism, they loose all credibility. That is the instant I stop being able to take them seriously in any way. Everything they say from that point on becomes pure bunk. And if a character is so unsympathetic you don't even consider them worth your notice, I think that's a successfully unsympathetic character.

2. Mistreatment of Subordinates. This is a big one. You know the classic screenwriting book, Save the Cat? Well, the title of that book comes from a type of scene that typically comes early on in the movie. It's either a "save the cat" scene or a "kick the cat" scene. If a character seems aloof, rude, or otherwise unlikable, but then comes across a stuck cat and tries to help, we start seeing the possibility of redemption for that character. On the other hand, if a character seems pleasant and charming but, when left alone, starts kicking cats, we as an audience feel we've seen the characters true and contemptible nature. "Kicking the cat" comes in many forms, whether its manipulation, physical violence, or something else. But if you want a villain your readers truly hate, a character who mistreats those with less power is a good way to go.

3. Lack of Remorse. In my opinion, one of the most successful villains ever written is Wild Bill from Stephen King's The Green Mile. (Trust Stephen King to come up with the great villains. And Sam Rockwell's brilliant portrayal in the film adaptation doesn't hurt either.) One of the things that makes Wild Bill so gut-wrenchingly awful is that he is not only outright racist, he not only assaulted two little girls, but he thinks its funny. He spends his time laughing and shouting awful things to the guards and other inmates, and only takes things seriously long enough to be let out of the straight jacket before he's back at it again. If we sense true repentance in a character, I think we can forgive them nearly anything. But lack of remorse equals lack of sympathy.

4. Sense of Entitlement. In almost any crime show, every few episodes you'll come across a criminal who's committing crimes at least in part because they feel they are above the law. They feel that they are above the "common crowd." They are special. This sense of entitlement is particularly awful when combined with abuse of those less powerful. In low doses this basically just makes readers roll their eyes, but taken to extremes can make your audience want to pull the dang rug out from under this idiot in as dramatic and violent a way as possible.

5. Sadism. This one can really get your skin to crawl. And it's one of the reasons I had to stop watching Criminal Minds, because they did this so strongly in a lot of their villains. But let's take a lighter example, like Princess Bride. Prince Humperdink's manipulation of his subordinate (Princess Buttercup) is totally creepy, but equally creepy is the way Count Rugen's eyes get wide with pleasure as he's torturing Wesley in the Pits of Dispair. (Don't even think about trying to escape. Also I still can't believe that's Christopher Guest). Adding that layer of liking the terrible things they're doing to other people really ups the readers disgust.

Now it's your turn. Which are your favorite examples of truly despicable villains? Are there more traits we should add to this list?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:

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  • Cicada Magazine: Cicada YA lit/comics magazine seeks submissions for an upcoming issue on Tricksters and Thieves. We’re on the lookout for tales of pirates, con artists, and trickster gods; explorations of glamour, enchantment, sleight of hand, and other crafts of illusion; and investigations of the slipperiness of the authentic self in a world of performances. We’re also interested in forms of creative appropriation: translation, fan fiction, retold tales, found art and poetry. Due Oct. 31.
  • Coe Review Magazine: Coe Review, established in 1971 and run by an entirely undergraduate editorial staff, wants to read your poetry and fiction. From our hundreds of submissions, we choose those with refreshing perspectives, forms, styles, and messages. Due Oct. 25.
  • Damselfly Press: damselfly press seeks to promote exceptional writing by women. We welcome work from female writers of all experiences. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section before emailing your submission. Rolling Submissions.
  • Storm Cellar Magazine: Storm Cellar, a literary journal of safety and danger, seeks amazing fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and flash. We welcome visual art in any medium. Midwesterners and women are encouraged; we're listening for diverse voices. Rolling Submissions.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Metal Creatures That Live In The Desert

I live in the desert, and this last weekend, I got to visit more of it. I often take the opportunity to visit my grandparents and other extended family in St. George, Utah, during LDS General Conference weekend. It's a great opportunity to just basically do something different.

On this trip, my grandma and I went exploring up Zion's canyon and stopped at some of the delightful shops along the way. We got some delicious bumbleberry icecream, took pictures of the beautiful red rock, and of course, discovered the delightful metal creatures that live in the desert.

We've got our metal owl, metal lion, metal lobster, metal kitty cat, and that delightful robotic frog with a metal fly caught in its trap. Some good fun.

I really admire those with these types of artisan skills. I think it requires a tremendous amount of patience...something I don't have. But whatever it is that you create--whether it's a metal lobster, a spinach salad, or a smile on someone else's face--remember that you have taken disorder and made something beautiful, which means the world is a more beautiful place because you're in it.

And because there are metal lions and owls and lobsters.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!
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