Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Posts tagged ‘authors’

Are You Ready to Publish?

If only it was this easy!

If only it was this easy!

If you’re an author who wants to publish soon, don’t let all the free, helpful advice from writers, publishers, and vendors persuade you to launch a book without taking the proper steps. Many published authors wish theycould take back ugly book covers, unedited stories, and cheesy book titles.  Even worse, many other published authors don’t even KNOW how horrible their books are.

If you’re getting close to publication, consider these eleven points:

EDITING: Has your manuscript been edited by a professional? This is a vital step for all writers, and even more important if you plan to self-publish. Your cousin who’s an English teacher and works cheap does not count as a professional editor.  A professional editor will go beyond finding typos and provide critical feedback you won’t get from friends and relatives.

INDUSTRY RESEARCH: Stay abreast of trends and changes inside the publishing industry by following news reports, blogs, and your favorite publishers’ web sites.

KNOW YOUR GENRE: What authors are hot in your genre? Why are they doing so well?  Who’s reading their books? Study these writers and learn why they’re successful. If your book doesn’t fit a specific genre, that’s a problem. A book without a genre is handicapped from the start.

ARE YOU MARKETING NOW?  You should already be marketing by networking, building a fan base, and making contacts. I know this is a challenge  for introverted writers—Self publishing 1but that’s another good reason to start early. Even as you write the book, begin reaching out to other writers and fans in your genre.  With over 300,000 books published every year, you can’t depend on good luck to sell a new title. If you hire a publicist, you’ll still need to carry on by yourself once the initial marketing push is over.

WRITE A PROPOSAL WITH A MARKETING PLAN: Even if you plan to self-publish, you should create a traditional book proposal for your own use.  The proposal should include a one-page summary of your book, a comparison to other books, a marketing plan, an author biography, and broad chapter outlines.  Are you writing a novel or memoir? Do a proposal anyway.  You’ll be glad you did. (You can find half a dozen excellent books on writing the perfect proposal).

SET MODEST GOALS: Many authors fall into despair and stop marketing when don’t sell a thousand books the first month or make the Amazon bestseller list. Be happy with local book signings, reviews, and accolades.  Keep reaching for the stars, but remember you first have to launch something. Book sales are never guaranteed and no one (not even the big publishers) can predict what will happen with a book. Fame is almost always created by hard work and perseverance. Follow the blogs of successful authors like Hugh Howey and J.A. Konrath, who clawed their way to top and now help other writers.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT: Is book publishing just a check mark on your bucket list? If so, then finish your book, give it away to family and friends, sell a few copies, and move on. But if you’re passionately committed to writing and publishing—if you were born with a writing gene—then settle in for a long trip. Learn the craft, study the markets, join groups, and cultivate patience.

self publishing 3 BE PATIENT: Did I mention this before? Impatience can damage the relationship with your publisher and (if you’re self-publishing) cause you to turn out a shoddy product because you don’t wait to get things right. Everything in book publishing and marketing takes a while. Getting a book into print can be tedious and exacting. And then, when the initial excitement wears off, you wonder why the book isn’t selling the way you expected. You’re embarrassed and discouraged—tempted to give up. Publishers know it can take years to make back the money we invest in a book. If you stop marketing, you may never show a profit. Some books are slow starters, build momentum, and eventually begin selling. Other books catch on when a news story makes them timely.  Still other books begin selling when the author’s next book attracts new fans.

COVER DESIGN: Don’t go cheap, and don’t do it yourself.  Enough said.

BE SAVVY: Self-published authors support an industry of  printers, designers, editors, publicists, and firms that want to do everything for you. Amazon, Ingram, Author self publishing 5House, Writers Digest—the list is almost endless. Remember, the products they produce are only as good as the material you give them. Make sure you know what you’re paying for and check the competition before you invest.

YOUR NEXT BOOK: Plan on releasing another book within six months to a year. This will help you stop obsessing about book sales and give you something to talk about online.


As a publisher who loves books, I beg you to perform due diligence with your work, especially if you’re an author-publisher.  As Chuck Wendig says in a blog rant:

Publishing isn’t an art — publishing is a business. A creative business, a weird business, but a business just the same, and so it behooves you to treat this like a business and to put out the best work you can. The overall property values of a neighborhood go up when you tend to your own yard — the more author-publishers who commit to doing their best and not just regurgitating warm story-barf into every conceivable nook and cranny of the Internet are going to contribute to an overall improvement. If you want the stink out of the air, spray a little perfume, you know? In short: we can all do better, so do better.”

attitude-affects-workSammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014. She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A great investment for writers


Book Publishing and Last Minute Panic

Over the years in publishing I’ve noticed a pattern among authors I haven’t seen addressed anywhere else. I call it LMP or Last Minute Panic.NLP-Short-Logo An intelligent, cooperative, friendly author we’ve worked with for months will suddenly take a crazy turn when the book is almost ready for publication. She (it’s almost always a woman) finds something wrong with the book—an item that MUST be changed or the entire project will fail. This is usually something we agreed on previously, such as the book cover, the font, or the photographs. And it’s almost always a change that readers would never notice.

We try to be compliant because we love our authors. But an author can’t be satisfied in the throes of LMP. Nothing is good enough. We fix one problem and she finds another one. The cover designer andWoman formatter are both ready to quit. I point out to the author, in a nice way, that she’s nervous about launching her book and is channeling that energy into compulsive nitpicking. She either ignores me or blows up.

When I recently published my own book (Dialogue for Writers), I observed myself for this type of behavior. And there it was—

  • The book cover I selected seemed cheap and dumb. Other books had better covers.
  • I hated the introduction and wished I could write it over.
  • I needed more endorsements.
  • The book was too short. I needed to add another chapter.
  • And so on . . .

I had to stop this kind of thinking before it consumed me and turned into the dreaded Failure to Launch.

Do you suffer from LMJ?

If you’re getting ready to publish a book, either on your own or with a publisher, it’s important to recognize these symptoms for what they are—your psyche worrying about the big step you’re about to take. Why is this so Scaredscary?

  • You’re putting yourself out there.
  • Someone is bound to criticize you and the book. That will hurt.
  • Even worse—perhaps no one will notice the book.
  • There may be some hidden flaw you overlooked.
  • Everything you’ve done seems totally stupid.

Author Neil Gaimen offered a wonderful pep talk for writers in the NaNoWriMo project:

“You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it, it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.”

Neal Gaimen’s club is a wonderful group to join, though populated by angst-driven authors. When you publish a book you’re joining a group of writers who finish their work and then have the guts to bring it into the world. Let go of your book and be proud of yourself!

The Antidote

writing-clip-art1The solution to LMJ is simple and elegant: Write another book. Channel all that nervous energy and self-doubt into your next project. Let go of your finished book, let it be published, and watch it gently float away from you into the world.  You are a writer, so keep on writing.

Publish your book and be proud!

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A new review of Dialogue for Writers

This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.

Cliffhangers and The Art of Writing

A Post from Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Cliff hanger 1Cliffhangers Part 2: How to Keep Your Reader Reading

What does it take to create a book you can’t put down?

Creating a page-turning novel takes a specific formula: a captivating cast of characters, an intriguing premise, alluring narration, calculated pacing, and the golden ingredient—a huge dash of suspense.

Suspense entices readers with the big, intense dilemma that drives the story—but also on a chapter-by-chapter level. A good story goes through multiple mini story arcs that pushes the reader though the book until the main tension is resolved.

A cliffhanger at the end of a chapter will make it difficult to stop reading.

Here’s a list of tried and true methods for creating suspenseful cliffhangers: 

  • Introduce a new element: a new character, confession, discovery, or announcement at the end of a scene creates a puzzling situation or a golden opportunity for a plot twist. Just as readers think the previous cliff hanger 2scene is winding down, a new element catapults readers to the next chapter for answers.
  • Intriguing questions: Use dialogue, internal or external, to explore what issues keep your character up at night. What is this character hiding? Will the protagonist ever find the solution to the big problem?
  • Decision Time: Leave your protagonist, and your reader, wondering what to do next on both big and small scales. How will the Big Evil be taken down? Or should your protagonist go on that blind date?
  • Clue the reader in—that is, use foreshadowing: Use a perspective switch to tell the reader something big and bad is coming, unbeknownst to the character. It sets up anticipation–will the protagonist will figure it out?
  • Interrupt or interfere: Think Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Build up a moment, perhaps with a catchy chorus, and bring the Prince and Princess’s lips a hairsbreadth apart—then tip the boat over. Don’t give the reader what they want too soon. This will keep them invested until the lip lock actually happens.
  • Break a moment of tension: Build up to the decision to throw the grenade, have the protagonist confront the killer, and then start the next chapter with the aftermath. By breaking the moment of tension, you inadvertently create more suspense.
  • Withhold information: Think heist movies. “I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do,” the protagonist says… Then the chapter ends, leaving the reader in the dark. The character figures out the master plan to catch the bad guy, and the reader keeps devouring sentences to see how they DID it. You have to stick along to the end it find out.
  • Save huge “GASP!” moments for the end: Tension should build up to the climatic moment over the course of the book, and little cliffhangers should be resolved, but save the biggest for the end, otherwise the reader will feel cheated. An intense cliffhanger seems clumsily out of place in chapter three.

All cliffhangers need to be used strategically and with purpose. The end goal is to keep the book in the hands of your readers and NOT to have it thrown against the wall in frustration.

Here’s a quick list of things you SHOULDN’T do when constructing cliffhangers:

cliff hanger 3Don’t rely on gimmicks, cheesy narration, poor structure, or cruel manipulation to keep your readers going.

  • Cut off the scene abruptly to force the reader to turn the page. A cliffhanger still has to function as the end of the scene, with a little bit of closure along with the tease.
  • Tack the beginning of the next chapter onto the end of the previous one. This is just lazy.
  • Cut off a character midsentence. This is cheesy and creates an awkward break in a conversation.
  • Deceive your readers with an anticlimax: revealing immediately in the next chapter there really wasn’t any danger will make them scream—and not in a good way.
  • Insert poor narration: “She’ll soon discover she’s made a terrible mistake.” This is an easy out. Create real tension with your clever and crafty writing.
  • Script non-stop cliffhangers: Give the readers, and the characters they are following, a chance to come back down from the high every once and a while.

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A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A new review of Dialogue for Writers

This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.



Writing Dialogue Tags: Less is More

WriterDialogue tags are the things writers add to conversations to denote who’s speaking. This can be a puzzle for writers, who often fall into the trap of replacing the word said with exotic substitutes. Their characters bellow, snicker, chortle, demand, query, bark, chirp, and gasp—all while speaking. My early writing included horrible dialogue tags, but I soon learned that clumsy substitutes for said interrupt the flow of prose, distract readers, and become offensive.

Here’s what a reviewer of my book Dialogue for Writers had to say about one well known author: “I am a Stephanie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have snickered and chuckled so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting.”

Here’s an example of dialogue burdened by excess tags:

“Please help me,”Sandy pleaded.

“What’s wrong with you now, woman?”Jack growled menacingly.

“I’m about to drop these groceries. Can’t you take one of the bags?” she begged.

“You lift weights at the gym three times a week and still can’t manage a few groceries?”Jack snarled. “Maybe I should cancel our membership,” he barked.

These dialogue tags are a distraction and actually weaken the characters’ words. And, the tags become a subtle insult to readers. The excess tags imply that readers are not smart enough to interpret conversation and need remedial help with words like pleaded, menacingly, begged, and barked. I feel offended when I read this kind of dialogue.

Another example of bloated dialogue

Another example of bloated dialogue

I challenge you to look through your writing and try eliminating dialogue tags. You may be surprised by how many of these little distractions you can delete. Deleting tags works especially well during short, crisp exchanges between two characters. You know your writing is strong when readers can follow the dialogue without any speaker tags. Here’s a brisk telephone conversation from Stephen White’s novel The Program:

He was dismissive.“You have an idea where we could go?”

“Sure, there’re some places we could go from my house. Do you know where I live?”

“I’m guessing Boulder.”

“County, not the city.It’s actually a little east, near the scenic overlook on 36.”

“Morbul Bismarck neighborhood. I’ll throw my bike in the back of the truck. Give me directions.”

Alan did.

Ron said,“I can be there by nine.”

“Then I guess I’ll see you then.”

less is moreDon’t you like this scene without dialogue tags? The important thing is to vary your writing so that no scene contains dialogue tags after every speech, and the tags you choose to insert are unobtrusive.For example,you can place the tag in the middle of a line (“What’s happening?”Ron asked.“Did I miss something?”). Use this technique when there’s a natural pause in a character’s speech.

The best advice I can give you about dialogue tags is this: Try to strike a happy balance between using said after every speech and not using a tag at all. Forget the other stuff, and remember–simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.  If  you’d like to read more about how to write dialogue, grab a copy of my new book on the topic:


A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers


Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A new review of Dialogue for Writers

This book delivers. If you are a writer, you’ll find a wealth of information and insight that will allow you to assess your style and discover practical ways to make good writing better.
Even popular published authors can benefit from this book. For instance, I am a Stephenie Meyer fan. She is a master of her genre, but if she had read Sammie Justesen’s book, Edward would not have”snickered” and “chuckled” so much that these particular dialogue tags became annoying and distracting. Sammie Justesen’s book offers great advice from a number of perspectives including the all-important publisher’s perspective. I have no hesitation in rating it a five-star book.

Find the book on

The Publishing Process

Publishing is a big step

Publishing is a big step


Last night we met with a local group of writers and spent an hour answering their questions. We love meeting authors and hearing their concerns.  To our surprise, much of what they wanted to know concerned the basic publishing process and how things work. By what magic do publishers turn manuscripts into books? There must be other aspiring authors who have the same questions, so here’s the publishing process in a nutshell:

  • First, the publisher receives either a manuscript or a book proposal.  What is a book proposal, you ask?  In many cases, you don’t have to actually write the book up front—you send publishers a proposal for the book.  This is a win/win situation.  While writing the proposal you focus on creating an overview of the book, how you’ll sell it, who will buy it, and how your
    Our favorite how-to on book proposals by Michael Larsen

    Our favorite how-to on book proposals by Michael Larsen

    book will measure up against the competition.

  • If the publisher likes your work, a publishing contract is signed. The publisher may sign a contract with you based on a proposal or a finished manuscript. This contract will contain a due date for your work.
  • Once a publisher receives your manuscript, their work begins. Editing is the first step. For large publishers this process can take months because your work will be in line with many others.  For smaller publishers like NorLightsPress, editing takes from three to six weeks.  You and the editor will go back and forth over the text, but the publisher has the final word on how things will be.
  •  Meanwhile, you and the publisher will be working on cover design. You will have input, but not every publisher has time to work with your ideas. Some do; some don’t.
  • If your book contains photographs the publisher will need high resolution images for the printer. You’ll be expected to provide these. You may use stock photos.
  • After editing, the book is  formatted into a PDF file. This is the pre-printing stage and you’ll have a chance to read through the manuscript again. Now you’ll see the pages as they will appear in the book.
  • When last minute changes are completed, the publisher submits a PDF file to the printer to generate proof copies. You and the publisher review the proof copy for errors.
  • At last! The proof copy is approved and the publisher can order books. Soon your book goes “live” on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sellers.
  • Your book file is formatted for eBooks and submitted to those sites for sale.
  • Are you marketing?  Hopefully you stayed busy creating a marketing platform and sending out feelers.

    This is just the beginning!

    This is just the beginning!

NOW, you can start book signings, interviews, blogs, and conference speeches. Never leave home without books! This is when your work truly begins. Holding your first book is an amazing thing.  Sharing it with the world can be daunting. Have a plan, and work your plan!

A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers


About Sammie Justesen

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review of Dialogue for Writers

What I left with after reading Sammie’s book is a brain swimming with ideas she has generously shared based on her years of experience in all aspects of the industry. She shows us, not just tells us, with style, humor and an easy, comfortable voice. Her examples bring the points to life. Sammie indeed practices what she preaches, and shares with us as reader and writer a fun to read and handy compilation based on experience and insight.   –Gin Getz, author of The Color of the Wild andThe Last of the Living Blue


Book Covers: Do They Matter?

YES, book covers do matter.  We should judge a book by the cover—and everyone does. A book cover tells us how professional the author is.  Did she care enough to hire a professional designer instead of using a cheap template?  Is she smart enough to select a compelling cover? Does the cover show what to expect inside the book?


This is wrong on so many levels

Do-it-yourself book covers: You’ve seen them. Garish colors, hard-to-read text, a perplexing title, and weird symbolism.  Sometimes I cringe in sympathy for the proud author who thinks he’s going to sell a million copies of an ugly book.

A bad book cover. Don't you agree?

A poor choice, don’t you agree?

Publishers are not immune to bad cover decisions, which is why we use a professional designer to help keep us on track.  For us, a book cover is all about product development, marketing, and making a profit. Isn’t that what you want? As you consider the cover for your book, think about these basic elements:

1.  Your book cover is primarily for MARKETING .  We often struggle with writers over this concept.  The book cover is not  a place to display your favorite colors, explore the inner life of your characters, or show how artistic you can be.  The cover is all about convincing people they must have your book.  The book cover is your number one sales tool.

2. At first glance, prospective readers should be able to tell your book’s genre, the general subject, and the tone of the book. The Color of the Wild For example, you don’t want a New Age title that resembles a history book, or a romance cover with a horror vibe. Our new book  The Color of the Wild is a memoir that focuses on nature.  The cover’s soft colors hint of intimacy and a human story.

  1. Chemo front cover large fileBackground colors are important. You can choose a vibrant, arresting color like bright red, or go with a soft color.  Keep in mind that white fades into the background on internet sales pages.  We chose bold purple for Chemo: Secrets to Thriving from Someone Who’s Been There.  The authors didn’t want the standard pink for breast cancer, and readers seem to love this shade of purple.

4. Your font should be easy to read, even when you shrink the book cover to 25% on your computer screen.  These thumbnail copies will appear online, and the title should still be legible.  Avoid fancy fonts that make people read twice.

5. Avoid clutter.  If you’re writing about home repair, don’t have ten different tools scattered around the cover. Focus on your main idea and avoid distracting images.

  1. Final-ISA CoverYour own photo?  Yes, some authors place their pictures on the cover to good effect.  This works if you’re attractive and the setting helps show readers what the book is about. For example, with our book Community College Success we considered half a dozen cover images and finally decided to use our author, Isa Adney. Isa hired a professional photographer, which is way better than using a selfie!

7.  Unexpected is good, but don’t go too far afield.  Your book cover isn’t the place to be overly cute or use symbolism most people won’t understand. The cover is for your readers, not for your ego. shut-up-skinny-bitches-cover The cover for our book Shut UP, Skinny Bitches! is for shock value, but that may not be the best choice for your book. If you’d like a quick, easy way to study book covers, sign up for a service such as BookGorilla, GoodReads, of BookBub that will send cover images and book descriptions to your Inbox every day.  Just remember to stay within your own genre. I also recommend book designer Joel Friedlander’s amazing web site: Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:

Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.

Find the book on

The ART of Writing Descriptions

Writing descriptive passages is much like painting a scene. Both artists and writers must decide what to leave in and what to ignore.  Joyce Hicks, my favorite watercolor artist, has this to say about painting scenes:    Joyce Hicks May 20

“The most common mistake artists make, as beginners, is to follow the natural tendency to try to say too much in a painting. Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message. Remember that less is more, and knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in. As your skill and experience grows, you’ll learn to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your work and to focus on composition instead. If your goal is to take your work to the next level, you must first understand the meaning of design as it relates to art before you can move forward as an artist. You need to visualize your subject in simple terms so you can paint relationships between shape, color and value instead of painting ‘things.’

“For many who first begin to paint, the tendency is to act as a human camera recording subjects as accurately as possible instead of using time-honored principles and elements of design to produce works of art that are more pleasing and worthwhile. Knowledge is power, and the lack of it is what leads to failure. Fear of failure blocks the way to bold, confident statements and paintings that look as if they had almost painted themselves. It’s not enough to simply want to paint beautiful pictures; you must also arm yourself with necessary skills and knowledge if you are to have any hope of doing so.”

How true this is for writers, including me. I don’t want to be a human camera, yet I do want readers to “see” the things that surround my characters.  This concept is especially challenging as I write a memoir, because as I try and bring memories to life, my heart wants to include everything.  These are techniques I use:

writing hug

1. Ask yourself, “If I wrote this description as poetry, what would I include?” Good poetry is clutter free. Imagine the classic poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and think how Robert Frost might have written that scene in a novel. He chose to use the most vivid, painterly images in his poem, and they could be transformed into a compelling prose passage.

2. Work descriptions into the plot and combine them with action. This technique eliminates the stress of writing long passages and keeps the story moving.

3. Don’t be afraid to let your readers use their imaginations. Give them the bare bones and let their minds fill in the rest.

4. Since you’re writing from the viewpoint of a character, only include what that person would notice. Avoid having a narrator (you) interrupt the story to describe scenery or background information.  Stay inside one character’s head.  If you’re writing in first person, don’t have the character stray too far from the story.

5. Use strong, active words and concrete details instead of  vague, hazy descriptions.

6. Remember, knowing what to leave out is far more important than how much you leave in.

We artists sometimes cram too much information into a story or in a painting. Joyce Hicks says, “Doing so leads to confusion and overshadows the piece’s main message.”  As authors, we need to recognize the most vital message within each passage, then check to see if our writing supports that message without confusing, boring, or distancing readers.


We are painting with words, are we not?



Sammie Justesen is the author of Dialogue for Writers, a new book from NorLightsPress.

FRONT cover final

Sammie is also president of the Lawrence County Art Association

Joyce Hicks’  new book is available for preorder on Amazon:

Enjoy her blog at: 

Joyce Hicks book



Small Publishers versus The Big Five

A recent article in Writers Digest ( discussed the pros and cons of working with a  small publisher.  As an editor, then a literary agent, and now a publisher, I have unique experience with this topic.

The Writers Digest article hit the high points, but I want to add more.  About one third of the books I sold to large publishing firms ended up languishing in limbo-land.  The authors complained about no support, poor MadCatcommunication, and no feedback on how to improve sales.  In many cases, the original editor left the firm and the book became an orphan—a fate worse than death.  Here’s an overview of the topic:

The Downside of a Small Publisher

 When we sign new authors at NorLightsPress, I always start by telling them what we cannot do when compared to one of the big publishing firms.

  • We don’t have a huge marketing reach. We do not employ a sales force, pay for front tables at Barnes and Noble, or purchase ads in magazines and newspapers.  We depend on our authors for most of the marketing. However, talk to any new author who published with a large firm and you’re likely to hear a sob story about no marketing support.  The large firms spend 90% of their marketing budget on 10% of their authors.
  • We can’t book you on national television.  Say goodbye to your dreams of Oprah.  Sob.
  • Our sales goals are modest compared to the Big Guys.
  • Bookstore sales are harder for a small firm to achieve, although most of us do work with booksellers.
  • Most small publishers can’t afford to pay advances. However, that means you start earning royalties much sooner.
  • Well, that’s about it!  Marketing is the biggest issue, as you can see.

Our experiences with large publishers helped us forge NorLightsPress with author satisfaction in mind.    

happy-catThe Upside of a Small Publisher   

 I’m speaking for NorLightsPress here, but most indie publishers offer these same advantages:

  • We accept un-agented submissions.
  • Your book won’t be self -published.  You have a publisher who believes in your work and is willing to invest time, energy, and money.
  • We charge no fees.
  • We will keep your book in print for years, not drop it into oblivion after 90 days. Our backlist keeps selling year after year, and we continue supporting our authors.
  • We offer better royalties than larger publishers because we believe authors deserve a fair share for their efforts.  Since our authors help more with marketing, they earn larger royalties.
  • Our royalty statements are detailed and state-of-the art. The large publishers send statements that give no real information.
  • We offer a substantial discount on books you purchase. You can buy books for resale and make money that way.
  • Yes, your book will be available in all eBook formats and online with the major booksellers. We especially work hard on the Amazon pages.
  • Your book will be available to bookstores if they choose to order from our distributors. Barnes and Noble will order books for selected stores.
  • Professional editing, a professionally designed book cover and a well formatted interior. You get plenty of input during this process, although we have the final say.
  • We can have your book on the market within 60 to 90 days, as opposed to a year or longer for large publishers.
  • We provide review copies and a professionally designed media kit. You find the reviewers for us, and we’ll send out the books at no charge to you.
  • We do not withhold part of your royalties to pay for returned books. This can be a huge issue with some publishers, who will keep several thousand dollars of your royalties.
  • We provide an online splash page for your book with a look-inside feature.
  • We’re available for phone calls and you’ll work with the same people for years. Your book won’t be orphaned because an editor moves on.
  • If you’re able to hire a publicist, which we encourage, we’ll work with that person to maximize book sales.
  • We do not have a restrictive option clause in our contract.

ladder-of-successMany unhappy writers have discovered that the Big Five in New York City are not the holy grail of publishing.  Having your book disappear into a black hole and then finding you aren’t allowed to sell your next book to a different publisher (read the option clause!) is a painful wake-up call. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to find a Big Five editor who will champion your book, then enjoy the roller coaster ride!  If you’re like the  other 99% of authors, publishing with a small press is a great option for those who are willing to work their way up the ladder of success.

See our submission guidelines at:

Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers: Create Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction

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Marketing Plans and Book Publicity

If you’re a writer who wants to publish, then you must think long and hard about marketing. Some writers love selling books, while others (most of us) would prefer having a root canal or swiming the English Channel, which Selling 1seems only a little more daunting than marketing a book in today’s economy.  Here’s the sad truth: Most publishers will not help market your book.  Even if they award you a $20,000 advance, that does not mean they’ll help you sell books.  I know this from experience as a literary agent. Ninety percent of the books I sold received almost no marketing support from publishers—and that includes the big New York firms with massive budgets.

Why? Various reasons, but here’s a big one: In large firms, the marketing and editorial departments are separate. Because an editorial committee offered a huge advance to the author doesn’t mean the marketing department will decide to push the book. Big name authors who’ve already established themselves receive 90% of the marketing budget. I’m sure you see the catch 22 situation this creates. How can you ever hope to become famous if their already-famous authors receive all the marketing money that should help new authors become famous?

For smaller publishers like NorLightsPress, marketing is a matter of economics. We operate on shoestring budgets and can’t afford frills. Therefore, we ask our authors to develop marketing plans that include the desire and ability to sell their own books.  This is no different than the big publishers, except we’re up front about what we can and cannot do.

What about self-published authors? A writer/publisher is in the same situation as other published authors: do it yourself.

Book marketing gets harder every week because thousands of people are self-publishing and flooding the market with poorly written books.  Readers are tired of responding to ads for books that turn out to be sub-standard.  When a hot new marketing idea appears, within a couple of weeks it’s beaten to death and no longer works.  That includes the Amazon 0.99 cent deals.

Furthermore, you need a budget for marketing. Spend your money wisely and only after researching all the options.  Hiring a publicist is a good idea, but find a reputable one and check references.

 Should ALL Writers Create a Proposal and Marketing Plan?

 YES.  Traditionally, fiction and memoirs don’t require book proposals, but I urge you to create a proposal anyway.  I promise you, the marketing section is the second thing an agent or publisher will turn to, right after they read the topic of your book. The process of writing the proposal will help you focus on:

  1.  what your book is about (underlying themes)
  2. your target audience
  3. how you will reach that audience.

Writing the Marketing Plan

Many authors hit a roadblock when it comes to putting together and implementing a book marketing plan. You know you need one, but you only have a vague idea of what to include. This plan should describe how you will create public awareness for your book and get people to purchase it, either online or in a bookstore.

  1.   Define your market.  Who will buy your book? Don’t say “anyone who reads.”  You must be specific. Your markSelling 2et is probably about 50% of what you think it is. For example, if you’re targeting doctors, how many of them will actually want your book or even hear about it?  Probably one percent, not one hundred percent.
  2.  How can you reach these people?  How can you create a buzz about your book? Fiction is more difficult to market, as you probably know. Having a specific genre helps tremendously, because you can target readers of that genre.
  3. Be specific.  Don’t make vague statements like, “The author will use social networking to market her book to millions of people.” Or “the author will be available for interviews on national media outlets.”   National media outlets are not going to knock on your door.  (Please do not plan to appear on national television. Be realistic).  List specific magazines you’ll write articles for and specific groups you’ll target – both local and national. Consider when and where you might speak at conventions, workshops, and other events.
  4. Spend hours brainstorming, studying, and searching the Internet for specific marketing ideas.

Consider these opportunities for your book:  

  •  Interviews – in person, by phone, or on the Internet. Who, what, and where?
  •   A mini tour of bookstores, with book signings
  •  Corporate marketing
  •  Organizations to which your readers belong. How will you reach them? Can you speak at conferences and sell books in the back of the room?  Be specific these events. Promote-Graphic-TWO-5
  •  Media contacts and appearances. Again, be specific.
  •  Create a strong writer’s web site and blog.
  •  Blog tours and guest blogging are good, but you must be specific.
  •  Social media marketing. Everyone is doing this now. How will you make it work for your book? Be very specific.
  •  Book reviews – who will you contact? Do you have reviews lined up? What reviews have you already line up?
  •  Any affiliations or contacts that will help promote your book.
  •  Find ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
  • Endorsements from well-known people or experts, if possible.
  • Large bulk purchases make publishers happy, because they indicate you’re either going to sell those books or live with them in your garage forever.

Why do I use the word specific so often? Publishers are wise to the fact that authors will whip out a marketing plan because they’re expected to write one, yet they have NO intention of following through.  A detailed, specific marketing plan shows you have the interest, ability, and determination to sell books.

lightbulbSearch your soul.   Do you want to sell books, or is being published the only reward you need?

 Are you willing to devote time at least an hour every day to marketing your book?

 Can you keep this up for months and even years? 

 Will you follow up with more books to increase your name recognition?   Will  you brand yourself?  

 Is WRITER a big part of who you are?

 Publishers are realistic. We know your book won’t hit the bestseller list right away. We want you to be a patient and persistent marketer, building a web of networking opportunities that will support your career as a writer, year after year.   We want you  to succeed!

Please share your comments on marketing books.

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Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers.

Rejection — it Hurts!

Rejection is one of the reasons I became a publisher.  As a literary agent, I found myself with half a dozen perfectly fine manuscripts I couldn’t sell to publishers. The authors had strong marketing plans, the topics seemed timely, and the writing was professional.  Yet, these books couldn’t find a home. We organized our own publishing firm (NorLightsPress) to get these books into the marketplace.  We also wanted to publish two novels of my own that were gathering dust.NLP-Short-Logo

Yes, I too have been stung by the barbs of rejection. Several large publishers considered my first novel, but in the end it landed on the rejection pile because it didn’t fit a specific genre. I finally went with an indie publisher, but that turned out to be a rip-off and I had to buy back the rights to my own work.  An expensive lesson.  Becoming a publisher at least ensured I wouldn’t fall into that trap again.

RejectionNow I want to further explore REJECTION.  Why do publishers reject perfectly good books?  Because sometimes rejection isn’t based on the quality of your work—it’s because of publishing issues you can’t control and may not know about:

1. The publisher may already have one or more books on a particular topic. They don’t want to publish another book that will compete with what they’ve already placed on the market. Doing so  wouldn’t be fair to their authors. (To get around this issue, you might offer a book that supports what they already have in print, but doesn’t compete).

2. The publisher had bad luck with books on the same topic and doesn’t want more of them.  Unfortunately there’s no perfect way for you to know which books aren’t doing well for a publisher unless you have access to their sales figures. However, if you have a topic in mind, check a similar book’s Amazon page for sales rankings and customer reviews.

3. A topic was popular, but is no longer hot with the public. Check the bestseller list to see what’s popular, but keep in mind the public’s taste changes often.

4. The competition in a particular genre (especially fiction) is so intense that only a few books can be chosen.  It’s like a Miss USA contest with a thousand contestants instead of fifty-one. The judges are overwhelmed by too much of a good thing.

5. Here’s a big one: The author doesn’t have a strong marketing plan.  Even with fiction, which does not require a book proposal, publishers need to know you can sell books without their help. You need a detailed and comprehensive marketing plan that heavily incorporates social media—book blogs, book sites, and electronic media.

6. Publishers thrive on imprints and genres. If your book is a hybrid (like mine), it will be harder to sell. In years past, booksellers needed to know where they should place a book within the store.  Now, online sellers like organize their lists and marketing around genres.

I could list a dozen more reasons for rejection, but you get the idea.

And here’s the amazing thing: By following the six guidelines above, a publisher may be DEAD WRONG about your book. The truth is, no one really knows what’s going to sell and what isn’t.  Every book is a gamble.  Publishers like us try to even the odds by following best practices, but we’re often wrong.  Joe Biel, the publisher behind Microcosm Publishing says, “Books that sold into the tens of thousands, or more, were books that we were worried wouldn’t sell. Ironically, when we try to make informed decisions to develop titles for commercial success, they always fall flat.”

Joe points out that the books they believed in because of content, not commercial ability, were the ones that immediately took off.  There’s certainly a lesson to be learned here, but larger publishers are less able to take chances because their books are filtered through editorial committees.  Indie publishers are more nimble.Rejection 2

At NorLightsPress, we agree with Joe Biel.  Like his firm, NorLightsPress is more about passion than profit.  We want our books to add value to the world, and we would do this for free if we had to.  We do have to reject many books. But we do it with compassion, because we know rejection hurts.

Do you have any rejection stories to share?  attitude-affects-work




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