Category: now what

Get a Kick-Start on Editing Your Rough Draft

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Sometimes, the editing process can be more intimidating than writing a novel! It’s hard to shoulder the pressure of making your writing better. Today, Young Writers Program participant Ashton Kay shares a few tips for making editing a little bit easier:

You’ve created some quirky characters to keep the story flowing, constructed a world that your characters dwell in, and you’re finally done with torturing the protagonists through a countless number of hardships and conflicts. Guess what? You’ve finished writing the rough draft! 

If you’re internally (or perhaps, externally) screaming, ‘Aaah! Editing!’ it could mean two things; you’re either eager and excited to start editing, or you’re simply dreading to go back to your draft. 

Good for you if you’re getting urges to make the rough draft better! But fear not if you’re the in the latter situation. Even if it seems like your first draft is already perfect and ready for publishing, that’s almost always never the case. There’s some room for improvement at all times. Now, stop procrastinating, and get your hands onto the keyboard. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve that you might happen to find helpful. 

1. Take a break.

I told you to ‘get your hands onto the keyboard’—I guess I lied. Sorry about that. Get your hands off the keyboard. Now’s the time to pat yourself on the back and take a break. Free yourself from the stress of writing, and feel proud that you’ve finished the first draft. The important fact, though, is that taking a break is essential for you to obtain an objective view of your writing. A week or two is a reasonable length of time, but it’s up to you to decide how long you want your break session to last. 

2. Get a big picture of your story.

Once you’re ready to start typing again, read through your story and get a generic, big picture of it. Search for any plot holes that you might have missed, and review your story arc. Think about how the protagonist and antagonist’s motives clash, and make sure that their actions are led by the motives. 

3. Add in some foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing’s actually pretty fun to add in, now that you have a detailed and certain idea of how your characters are going to end up. It’s important for you to have enough foreshadowing so that the ending doesn’t seem too sudden and abrupt. Glue your readers’ eyes on the pages with some hints of what’s going to happen later on in the story! 

4. Adjust your story pacing.

It’s time for you to adjust the pace of the scenes and actions. Make the dramatic scenes slower-paced, and get rid of any events that contribute very little to the story, or that are unimportant. It can be painful to delete a large chunk of writing that you’ve written, but if that’s what makes your writing better as a whole, it’s probably something that’s worth gnashing your teeth through.

5. Get other people’s advice.

Ask your friends, teachers, relatives, or a friendly neighbor to read through your draft and give constructive criticism about it. They don’t necessarily have to be someone who enjoys writing, as long as they’re willing to give some advice to you. Readers are normal people, and it doesn’t take a writing expert to find out if a book’s compelling or not. Don’t get discouraged even if you get negative feedback. You still have a lot of time to go back and edit! 

Editing is part of the writing journey that you’re on, and the journey cannot be complete without the process of editing. If you’ve enjoyed the thrill of writing the first draft, I’m sure you’ll find some fun in editing as well. Get a cup of hot chocolate with a marshmallow, and keep the writing vibes going!


Ashton Kay is an aspiring writer in her teens with a boundless passion for literature. She is usually buried under mountains of math worksheets, yet she magically manages to find some time to write. When she’s writing, she enjoys traveling through time and space, making risky deals with a villain, and fighting away mutant monsters with her characters. She is a possessor of a mind that buzzes with intriguing thoughts and ideas twenty-four-seven. 

Top photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash.

Breaking Your First Draft Apart

Sometimes, the editing process can be more difficult than writing! It’s hard to take the things that you wrote and change or get rid of significant chunks. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Rosario Martinez reminds us that it’s ok to break apart what you’ve written:

You’re finished with your first draft, and you have no idea what you wrote. You just spent a month (several actually, but who’s really counting) writing this story, and now you feel like you can’t articulate what it is that you wrote. 

This happens, and it’s okay. Take a breath, take a few days to relax and not think about what you wrote. Detach, but keep in mind a date you’ll like to return. Always keep in mind a date you will return to your story. What I find helps the most is using the calendar feature on my cell phone because I have it with me most of the time. No excuses, right? (Sort of.) 

Don’t worry, you can do this. You wrote a story, your story. It’s done. Now you have to read and fix that story. But how?

This is the part where I tell you how you can fix your story. But actually, each story is different and will require different approaches to edit, revise, and rewrite. There is so much information about techniques on how to approach your first draft that just looking at ideas on where to start can be overwhelming. Just remember you already have words on the page. Words you can read and make better because these words already exist. This is just my suggestion on how you can begin to approach your novel edits.

1. Break your novel into parts. 

What I’ve found most helpful is breaking your long, messy draft down into parts. It’s easier to manage visually and in terms of workload. You can divide your manuscript into the typical beginning, middle and end sections. Or simply into sets of equal number chapters—whatever helps you. 

2. Determine the state of your draft. 

Basically, assess the damage. Were you able to finish the story? Or did you only complete the word count? These are two different things. Different genres have different word counts, so let this be your first guide. 

3. Read your novel.

Now that you’ve divvied up your story into parts, here comes the fun part: actually sitting down and reading it. This can be a difficult exercise because while we’re writing we have this epic—I repeat—EPIC idea of what our story is, and we often genuinely believe that is the way we wrote it. So, reading it for the first time is a bit of a rude awakening because, well… it’s not epic. Reading your first draft is the hardest, because it makes you realize how much work is still ahead. It’s okay to feel down and cry. (I don’t think we talk about this enough as writers.) 

4. Come up with a plan for your story.

All things take time. Breathe. And come up with a plan to make your story like you imagined it. Whether you dive straight into editing, or you choose a particular thing to focus on first, make those marks on the page with your favorite pen or use your favorite editing software to fix mistakes.  

5. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Did you read something that was already somewhere else in the draft? Are you repeating a word or a phrase too much? Cross it out. Is your main character meeting a lot of other characters? Make a list and (for the love of your future self rereading your draft a third or fourth time) make notes on where and when these characters first appear. 

Write in the margins, circle, highlight, correct, revise words or sentences that don’t make sense. Write neatly so that it’s legible when you come back for another round. Be as specific as you can when you’re making these notes. Accept that it might take more read-throughs before you feel comfortable having someone else read it. 

6. Find the best editing process for you.

Research your favorite authors that write the same genre as you, and find out how they approach their drafts. You might discover something that will work with your own approach. Your approach to editing is your own, just like your story is your own. Only you will know what it needs and what it will take to get to the end each time. But whatever it is, take it bit by bit and you’ll make progress.


Rosario Martinez is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and their four sweet but demanding cats. She’s currently working on her debut YA fantasy novel. She has too many flannel things and believes a good bowl of nachos is life. To follow her journey to publication, visit her literary lifestyle blog or find her on Twitter @rosariomwrites and Instagram @rosariomwrites.

Top photo by Lujia Zhang on Unsplash.

5 Tips to Smooth the Edges of Your Rough Draft

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Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the pure rush of creating something new. Later on, when you come back for a second glance, the writing doesn’t have that same sparkle. You may not want to hear this, but editing is your friend—and it doesn’t have to be a painful process. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Rebekah reminds us that editing is writing:

Editing the rough draft of a story is a dreaded part of writing.

It takes just as much, if not more time, than actually writing a draft. But never fear! I’ve created my own method of tackling the first draft that I’d like to share with all of you as you work on your stories.

I find tips easier to follow if I’m given steps, so here is a step-by-step of the process I have been following with the rough draft of my very first book.

1. Let the draft sit for at least a month. 

This means don’t touch it at all. Don’t read it, don’t do tiny edits. If it helps, pretend it doesn’t exist. Taking a break from the draft helps me distance myself from what I wrote. It makes the text almost seem like it was written by someone else, which can make it easier to critique and fix.

2. Read the draft after the break period and don’t edit it at all. 

Read it like you would a new book and document all issues you find. This will make it easier to write the next draft. 

3. Find a format for your story that will be the easiest for you to edit. 

For me, it meant printing out the whole story, which then led me to realize something to work on in draft two (more on that in step 4). Writing in red ink all over a hard copy of my first draft has helped me, and more importantly, I’m comfortable with it. If you aren’t comfortable with editing in your story’s current format, then find another format that works. 

4. Find at least one thing to look at throughout your editing process. 

This is by far a harder step, but once you do it, the editing process becomes a whole lot easier. I realized my chapters were too short, so I decided to find ways I could build more plot into my chapters. Other common fixes could involve decreasing adverbs and using more emotions. This gives you a goal while editing, which can be helpful to writers like me who are very goal-oriented. 

5. Make a “chapter wrap-up”.

This is a completely optional step, and may only work for some writers, but it has helped me immensely. I call it a chapter wrap-up, and write it out after I finish editing a chapter. It includes four sections: Characters, Plot Points, Items to Adjust, and Connections/Extra Analysis

Under Characters, I list the characters present in the chapter and the new ways they’ve developed. Under the Plot Point section, I mention all major plot points for reference in future drafts. My Items to Adjust section includes my major flaws in the chapter as wells as smaller issues to adjust. The Connections/Extra Analysis section includes any other information I find important to include after editing a chapter.

This list has worked the best for me, but every writer is different. Improvise on this list, or find your own way! Tackle that first draft and start editing!


Rebekah lives in the United States. When she isn’t writing, you will likely find her reading comics or books, playing on her tenor or alto saxophone, listening to soundtracks, knitting, or taking nature walks. She hopes to publish her current book by the end of high school. You can find her on Instagram.

Top photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

The 3 Stages of Traditional Publishing

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Are you finding yourself caught up in transition time between being a hopeful writer and a published author? Today, author and NaNoWriMo participant Katya de Becerra offers insight on what it’s like to put your novel through the publishing process:

So you’re finally done with your manuscript… What’s next?

Finally finishing your manuscript could be daunting. Is the book good enough? What to do next? All authors, emerging and established, are faced with these questions.

When I finished writing what became my debut, What The Woods Keep, I only had a vague idea about what I should be doing next. I’ve heard about critique partners, but I’ve never had one. My creative process is individualistic, and I require total isolation to think and write, so it was unnerving to reach out to friends and ask them to be my first readers. 

I’m glad I did! Receiving insightful comments aside, friends reading my work (and loving it) gave me an enormous confidence boost that propelled me toward the next step: finding an agent.  

1. The Query

Querying agents can be soul-crushing. Curating agent lists as well as carefully researching each agent I approached, meant that each query I’ve sent out was tailored and targeted. It also meant it’s taken me a long time to prepare and email each query. I could only do 2-3 a day, and 10 was the most queries I’d have out at any given time. Though time-consuming, this process worked for me, allowing me to receive feedback from each “batch” of agents before I’d approach new ones. Being rejected based on query alone meant the pitch needed revising while rejections based on pages indicated there could be something to tweak in the manuscript itself. Though, in the end, it’s important to keep in mind that the subjective element is strong in publishing. “You only need one yes” sounds like a cliché but it’s true. In the end, all it took was one agent’s interest and, before I knew it, I had representation for my weird, genre-bending book.       

2. Submission

Depending on how editorial an agent is, a manuscript could go through one or many rounds of revision before it’s deemed ready for publishers. 

The only advice here is to trust your agent. They chose to represent you – this means they believe in you and your work. Even if you don’t hear from them with regular updates, agents are working tirelessly, hyping your work. I had to wait for about eight months before I had an offer for my first book! But it was absolutely worth the wait. My publisher and editor are perfect for me and the types of books I write and want to keep writing.

3. The Waiting Game

Here’s where the real nail-biter starts: the waiting! Some books sell quickly. Some take months—or more—to find its home. Being “on sub” is a surreal time of being stuck in limbo and trying to go about your regular life while nervously checking your inbox or staring wistfully at your phone.

My second book, Oasis (forthcoming in January 2020) was a NaNoWriMo novel! I’d written it while I was on submission with my first book, and it sold alongside my debut. At the time of writing Oasis, I wasn’t sure what was to become of it and was seriously considering self-publishing it during those 8 agonizing months that I was waiting for my debut to sell.

While my pathway to publication is rather traditional, it’s not the only way to be published. Indie publishing has grown and evolved so much over the years. It allows creators to take full control of their books and become their own publisher. So many traditionally published authors these days become “hybrids” combining different modes of publication. There’s no right or wrong way, but rather a way that’s right for you and allows you to achieve what you set out to achieve.  


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Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology and now works as a university lecturer and a researcher. Her genre-bending debut What The Woods Keep was published in 2018 and her second novel Oasis is forthcoming in January 2020. 

Top photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

The Second Time’s the Charm

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During the NaNoWriMo Now What? Months, we’re focused on helping you revise, edit, and publish your story. Today, writer Melanie Marie Martinez shares some editing advice on how to get to your second draft:

You are never the same person twice.

My grandfather told me this once, and I’ve taken it as something of a life motto. Who I am today is smarter, older, and wiser than who I was yesterday. That means that no matter how good or bad the words are today, they will always be better, or at least different, tomorrow. This is why revision is so important.

Here are some tips for writers who, like me, find it hard to revisit that initial draft:

1. Don’t throw out your entire first draft.

When it comes to writing and editing, people often say not to worry about your first draft because it’ll always be terrible. I’ve found that to be unfair. Sure, at 3 AM you might have difficulty stringing a sentence together with your daily word limit just out of your reach, but sometimes that pressure gives you diamonds—revelations you might have not come across if you were too busy overthinking!

There should be a healthy middle ground. Don’t throw it all away, but don’t treat it like it emerged from your brain fully formed and ready for publication. A second draft lets you sift out the diamonds from the coal and gives you chance to polish them.

2. Bite off only as much as you can chew.

Looking back at how much blood, sweat, and tears went into that first draft, you might suffer a bit of post-trauma at the thought of going back into the trenches again. Set up a daily and monthly revision schedule, whether that’s a chapter a day, an hour a day, or a thousand words a day. Go big or small, but be realistic to what you feel comfortable doing.

Give yourself benchmarks for the rest of the year, and cut yourself slack if the standards turn out to be too high. Revisit the schedule, revise, and keep on trucking! As long as you don’t stop, you haven’t lost.

3. If all else fails, phone a friend.

The moment you hand your writing off to someone else, it becomes a thing of its own. Though many writers are private people, a middleman can often help. If you struggle with doing a second draft yourself, hand it off to someone you trust and have them run a “sanity check.” A bare bones assessment from a close friend or longtime writing partner can wipe away some of the fog from your nostalgia goggles and give you a better idea of where to start tightening up draft two.

The truth of the matter is this: it is easier to keep starting over than wade through the brackish waters of that dreaded first draft. But it is also true that, day by day, we are constantly moving towards our best selves. Likewise, with every passing draft, your novel will become the best version of itself.


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Melanie Marie Martinez is a graduate of the Long Island University Creative Writing MFA. Since she was thirteen years old, she’s been writing fiction, poetry, and comic book scripts. When she’s not working on the Great American Novel, she tutors English and Creative Writing, teaches a Blogging for Business seminar, and helps write university-level degree programs. She was born in the swamps of South Florida and currently stalks the jungles of New York City. She can be reached at www.martinezmariemelanie.com.

Top photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash.

How to Tackle NaNoWriMo With Clinical Depression

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing is making sure that finishing your project doesn’t adversely affect your mental health. Today, writer Andrea Tomé shares how she balances writing and mental health needs:

There’s this trope in which writers almost always have a mental disorder that always grants them WRITING SUPERPOWERS. They’re able to finish a whole draft in two days, providing they have enough cheese balls and Coke cans on their desk (think Johnny Depp in Secret Window).

For some authors, writing is therapeutic. Me? My depression is so linked to my perfectionism that every time I struggle with my writing, I’m paralyzed. The white page is enormous, and it blinds me; writing a sentence requires Herculean strength.

I entered November feeling at my lowest, but I wanted to win NaNoWriMo. I was sure that my depression would always be this massive rock in my way unless I started learning to work in spite of it.

November was the most depressed I had been, but with a little help from my friends (is The Beatles song playing in your head right now?) I was able to complete the 50k words.

How? There are certain coping mechanisms that always help. Maybe you won’t write 50k in a month, maybe you’ll still struggle to find motivation, but what’s most important is to shift your focus: you’re struggling with a cruel disorder and you’re creating something beautiful nonetheless. That’s heroic.

These are my five tips on how to tackle NaNoWriMo when you’re dealing with depression:

1. Cut yourself some slack. 

Aim for the 50k, but make sure you’ll be okay if you don’t reach that word count. Think of NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to finish a first draft that’s probably gonna be terrible because that’s the nature of all first drafts.

2. Step out of your comfort zone. 

You hate this expression. I know you hate this expression. Everyone hates this expression. But hear me out: old methods will only bring old results (you hate this expression too). For me, stepping out of my comfort zone meant being less of a writing hermit and participating more in local write-ins (you can organize some with your friends if you don’t have any “official” ones in your hometown).

3. Plan your writing sessions AND your rests. 

Lack of motivation is a struggle when you have depression, so take a minute to consider your schedule and plan your writing sessions around it. What about resting? Plan it too, and be as specific as possible. Think about some self-care activities you will feel genuinely excited about: it can be meeting with a friend, or doing a Korean facemask while you listen to your favorite podcast, or maybe binge-watching that Netflix show that has been on your to-watch list since forever.

4. Don’t forget to socialize. 

One of my favorite memories of high-school were the café study sessions with my best friends in which, quite honestly, we didn’t do as much studying as we had hoped for. It’s okay. The goal isn’t to be 100% productive at the expense of your mental health; the goal is to be as productive as you can while taking care of yourself. Meeting with people is hard when you have depression, but finding a writing buddy (or a friend who will work on something else while you write) will make everything easier.

5. Listen to your body (another expression you hate). 

During NaNo I took a whole week off because I was feeling mentally drained— and my novel turned out okay. If you’re feeling burnt out, take days off and tackle your project with energy to write double the time the following days. Work smarter, not harder.

Writing is hard. Writing when you have a mood disorder is harder. You’re an absolute superhero just for trying, don’t forget it.


Andrea Tomé was born in the Fall of 1994 in the North-West of Spain. She published her first novel, Corazón de mariposa, when she was 19 and hasn’t stopped writing and publishing since.

She lives in London, where she works in the publishing industry and goes to the Tate Modern way too often. She’s also guest author for The Mighty and Sick Not Weak and she occasionally gives public speaking gigs on mental health. 2018 was her fifth time participating in NaNo and the second time she won.

Top photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

What It’s Like to Publish Your Book With a Small Press

If you’re looking to publish your novel, the options can feel overwhelming. From the Big 5 to self-publishing, where to start? Today, author Victoria Sheridan is here to share some experiences with small press publishing, which is somewhere in the middle:

Your novel is written, edited, polished, and ready for publishing. But how to go about that crucial last step? Some authors choose to go traditional by querying agents and hopefully signing with a major publishing house with lots of marketing opportunities, while others choose to self publish, preferring to have personal control of every step of the process. There is, however, a middle ground: small presses.

Small presses are what they sound like—a publisher that offers all or almost all of what a traditional publisher offers, including editing, cover design, and marketing, but on a much smaller scale. This can make them much more nimble and willing to take chances, and oftentimes they interact directly with the author, no agent needed. Many small presses have a specific special interest, which is great news for people who write genre fiction.

I chose a small press almost accidentally. I had a new manuscript, but no real idea what to do with it. It was very niche—a historical mystery with LGTBQ characters—which would be an unusual choice for a traditional publisher. But I didn’t want to self-publish—I simply did not have the background or the time to teach myself all the complex aspects. However, I knew about small presses, particularly small presses that focused on queer characters like NineStar Press and Harmony Ink. So I posted in PitMad (a Twitter pitch event) and waited.

To my delight, both a large press and a small press made inquiries, so I sent over manuscripts. The small press got back to me within three weeks with a personal email from the person to become my editor, followed shortly by congratulations and next steps from the director herself.

“My personal favorite thing about working with a small press is the community with fellow authors.”

It’s the personal and close moments like that that make working with a small press so delightful. Everyone is passionate about books, especially their books—they only put out a few, so they treat every book as lovingly as its author. Someone is there to edit with you, sort through the legal bits, and start you on your marketing journey. Have a question about your process or your rights? The answer is just an email away. Not thrilled with the cover design? They’ll work with you until everyone is happy. But my personal favorite thing about working with a small press is the community with fellow authors. Writers, in case you didn’t notice by now, flock together, and with a small press there are enough that we can all support one another, but not so many that it feels overwhelming.

Small presses might not be for everyone, but they can be a great place to find the support you need, both for morale and the publishing process itself. They’re in your corner helping you make your book the best it can be with all the care of a friend. And they’re as excited as you are to make your publishing dream a reality.


Victoria is a terribly boring office worker from New Jersey. She studied archaeology, anthropology, history, architecture, and public policy, but none of those panned out, so she decided to go back to an early lovewriting. She proudly publishes under Thea McAlistair with NineStar Press, a small press dedicated to LGTBQ+ works. The first draft of her debut novel No Good Men was a product of NaNoWriMo 2014 and comes out in May 2019.

Top photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash.

How to Write Your Rough Draft 2.0

During the NaNoWriMo Now What? Months, we’re focused on helping you revise, edit, and publish your story. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Osie Cairn shares some editing advice on updating your messy first draft to version 2.0:

Writing that initial rough draft for me is a lot like careening around corners and sitting in the backseat while my sister’s learning how to drive: Absolutely terrifying. Sure, you can let your Inner Editor out while writing, but you’re probably not going to get much done—just like your sister isn’t going to get better if you kick her out of the driver’s seat to drive to the store yourself.

But after that journey is done? When you’ve written “The End” on your rough draft and know every mile of the journey your characters take? That’s when your editor gets to take control. That’s my favorite part of writing.

Editing is where you already know the story, who the characters are, what the plot is, and so don’t have to worry about what’s going to come out when you type. You don’t have to slog through a scene wondering where you’re going or if it’s going to be relevant once you reach the end. Because you already know. It’s all written down.

It’s where you get to take the mess of a rough draft and turn it into a shiny new Rough Draft 2.0.

Sure, it can be super intimidating to know where to start when you look at the mess before you, to wonder how you’re going to fix everything that’s wrong with it, but hey, you’ve already written that rough draft! You’ve already done the hard work. You kicked your editor to the back seat so your creativity could take the wheel and get you to where you needed.

Now, you get to jump into the driver’s seat (and take control of the radio).

On this part of the journey, the biggest thing to keep in mind is this:

Editing is just like writing that initial draft, but this time you know what you’re doing.

I keep notes about what I want to fix or tweak while I’m writing the initial rough draft so I know what to work on when I get around to editing. If you haven’t done that or don’t have a general idea of the big things you want to work on, writing up a list can be a good first step. It’ll get you thinking critically about your story and focus your attention on the areas that need it.

If you already know what needs fixing and you’re at that “Ok, but how do I actually fix it?” stage, then it’s time to turn your initial rough draft into Rough Draft 2.0 with three simple steps.

  1. Open up your rough draft.
  2. Open up a blank page on your favorite word processor, notebook, or typewriter. 
  3. Rewrite everything from word one.

Just like you wrote your rough draft one word, sentence, and paragraph at a time, you’re going to write your Rough Draft 2.0 the same way. But, this time you already know what’s at the end, what scenes are relevant, what details need to be cut or included, what lines are in character or not. You get to write the story and know where you’re going.

All of the changes you make, they’re going to cause changes later down the road. New plot holes might pop up and old ones might disappear. Old scenes you thought needed a complete rewrite might be cut completely, or a detour might bring the perfect opportunity to resolve multiple points at once.

That’s just part of the process.

Fix what you can on this draft, and let the rest wait for a later pass.

Writing the rough draft might be like watching your sister learn to drive, but editing is a road trip where Rough Draft 2.0 is only one stop.


Osie Cairn is a multiply disabled queer author who hates making eye contact. They also beta read and edit others’ work when their own writing doesn’t provide them enough material to satisfy the red pen. In addition to thinking editing is the best part of writing, they have special interests in space, science, stars, and sharks. Oh, and dinosaurs, but those don’t start with an S.

Top photo by Samuele Errico Piccarini on Unsplash.

5 Tips From a Graphic Designer on Creating an Impactful Book Cover

During the second month of our “Now What?” Months, we’re focusing more on publishing in all its myriad forms. Today, graphic designer Charlene Maguire shares some pro tips on how to choose a cover that really pops for your novel:

“Why is a book cover design so important?” you might ask. Well, we all judge a book by its cover. A book cover has a visual language all its own through the use of typography, imagery, color, and emotional impact.

Your book is a little package of experiences, put together for your reader to enjoy. This package needs a sign outside to tell people what is potentially inside for them… a mystery to solve? A romance to swoon over? A drama, biography, or travel adventure? A fantastic cover speaks to the fans of a genre and tells them something about what they’re going to get.

Your cover is your book’s first impression to your potential reader. In today’s crowded marketplace of limited attention spans, a person will decide if they are interested in your book in a matter of seconds.

1. Do your homework. 

You have to do some research. This is the key to understanding both what you might want for your cover as well as what appeals to readers. Go browse in a bookstore and scroll online. Choose some covers that inspire you.

Pro Tip: When browsing online, a cover has to be impactful both when you’re looking at it full size and as a small thumbnail. Online retailers will usually display your cover at varying image sizes, so know that it has to be clear and readable at different pixel resolutions.

2. Typefaces have personalities. 

Choosing typefaces is an art all its own. Pay attention to those covers that inspired you from browsing bookstores. What kind of feeling do you get from looking at the typefaces used for the title and author?

Pro Tip: Whatever is decided on for typefaces, it needs to be readable!

3. Color is important.

The dominant colors in a cover can influence mood and play a large role in creating the contrast necessary to draw attention to your book. For a thriller/crime novel, Dark colors like black/navy blue give a sense of suspense and seriousness. For a heartfelt memoir, pale or pastel colors will convey a softer, more delicate feel. Is there a strong hero in your story? Bright contrasting colors will create a powerful stance.

Pro Tip: Complementary colors are those found opposite one another on the color wheel, and create a strong energy when used together. Analogous colors are those found next to one another on the color wheel, and give a more harmonic feeling when used together.

4. Emotional impact.

We’ve talked about typefaces and color. When using imagery (photography or illustration) for a cover, you want it to speak simply and clearly. An image is a big part of your visual story.

Pro Tip: Characters, objects, and scenes in the book do not need to look *exactly* as they are described for a cover. Sometimes that can work, but most of the time a hint of something close that draws your eye in is best.

5. Your cover is not about you.

Your cover is for your readers. What is the driving message of your book? what do you want people to know that will pique their interest? Put yourself in your readers shoes. Start the visual story there.

Pro Tip: When choosing to work with a designer for your cover, all points mentioned here reflect questions that will be asked by a designer. Send us what your story is about, examples of covers, and other preferences and specifications. From there a designer will use their creative expertise to give your book the best cover possible.


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Charlene Maguire is an award winning artist, designer, and author. When she’s not creating stunning graphics for others with her 20+ years experience in the business, she’s working on her own product creations. Her oracle card deck “The Language of Heart Alchemy” was self-published in 2016, and she is currently constructing two other card decks. The writing bug has bit her hard as well, and a first novel is being written as we speak. Find her online at www.kissthesuncreative.com

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons from David Marriott, Jr. on Flickr.

How to Research the Agent That’s Best for You

So you have your NaNo novel in hand, and you feel ready to publish. But before your book makes it to shelves, it has to change hands—from writer to agent to editor and publisher! Today, author and entrepreneur Jane Friedman shares her advice on how to track down the agent that’s best for your book:

If you want to be published by one of the big New York houses—such as Harpercollins or Penguin Random House—then you’ll quickly discover that they don’t accept material directly from writers. Instead, you have to find an agent to submit on your behalf.

Fortunately, finding an agent is more about doing research and pitching appropriately and not about having an inside connection. You need to answer three questions as you search: 

  1. Is this agent actively considering new work? 
  2. Do I think this agent is a good fit for my work? 
  3. What materials does the agent require for my work to be considered?

I recommend you take a methodical approach to the research and submissions process to ensure that you give your work the best possible chance. Here’s the big-picture overview:

  • Begin with online databases or print market guides that list hundreds of agents. Develop a broad hit list that includes every potential agency you might approach.
  • Next, dig deeper into each potential agent by doing online research. You’re looking for any information that might help you understand what submissions they want to see from writers.
  • Then start to categorize the agents according to fit: “my dream,” “good fit,” “maybe.”

You’ll be gathering lots of information, so use your favorite note-taking tool or software. I like Evernote. Other writers use Microsoft Excel. What’s important is that you log the information so that you can easily find it later. You can use this same document to track your submissions process.

Major Databases for Researching Agents

Some of the following resources are free. Others require you to pay a subscription fee. As you might expect, the fee-based services typically offer higher-quality information, and your research process would likely be incomplete without investing in one.

  • WritersMarket.com. You can pay a monthly or annual fee to access its database, or look for the annual print edition at a library or bookstore.
  • PublishersMarketplace.com. I consider this the best place to research literary agents; many agents have member pages at this site with helpful submissions information. A paid subscription is required, $25/month.
  • AgentQuery.com. Free site offering about a thousand agent listings and an excellent community for writers going through the query process.
  • QueryTracker.net. The basic service is free.
  • Mswishlist.com. A site that aggregates tweets from agents and editors about what they’re currently looking for. “MS” stands for “manuscript.”

Databases include information about what types of work are accepted; what submission materials to send and when; specific tips from the agents being listed; and more. Publishers Marketplace, though expensive, can be particularly insightful since it gives you access to book deals that have been made recently (as well as going back to 2000). For each book deal listed in its database, you’ll find the following information:

  • the author and title of the book, along with a one-sentence description
  • the agent who represented the book
  • the editor and publisher who bought the book

You can search the deals database based on your own book’s category or genre, and can narrow your search further by using keywords. While it’s far from a complete listing of publishing deals, Publishers Marketplace quickly gives you sharp insight into who’s buying what, and what agents are actively selling.

Once you’re armed with your list of agents or publishers, undertake a more in-depth investigation of each. 

First, visit their websites, where you’ll typically find the most up-to-date information, including whether they’re open for submissions. For literary agencies, read the descriptions of all member agents and determine which one is the best match. Some agents have active blogs or news and events pages, which can be useful to scan.

After studying the website, move on to social media. Twitter is popular in the publishing community, so you’ll likely find a presence there. Many agents use social media to have conversations with authors, potential authors, and other industry insiders. Studying these communications not only provides insights into the submissions process but helps you ascertain fit. Is this someone you want to do business with? Do you like their demeanor? What gets them enthusiastic?

Other Methods of Researching Agents and Publishers

One of the oldest recommended methods of finding an agent is to look in the acknowledgments section of a book you’ve read that’s similar to your own. Just about every author thanks both their agent and their editor.

Another tried-and-true method is to ask published friends—if you have any—for a referral to their agent. The danger is that your author friend might not believe your book is all that good! So it can be a delicate situation.

If you’re willing to work with a new and “hungry” agent, then keep a close eye on new market announcements. You can find them reported at Publishers Marketplace, which you can access if you’re a subscriber; Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents blog, which posts about new agents; and online writing communities that have dedicated threads for such announcements. Also, every year, Writer’s Digest publishes a special agent issue in October, highlighting twenty or more agents who are seeking new clients.


Jane Friedman is a full-time entrepreneur and has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. She is the author of The Business of Being a Writerwhich received a starred review from Library Journal and is considered an essential reference for writers. Learn more at JaneFriedman.com

Top photo by iam Se7en on Unsplash.