Query Letter Do’s and Do Not’s

Query Letter Do’s and Do Not’s

Query Letter Do’s and Do Not’s
(Because You Actually Want To Publish that Piece, Right?)

So you’ve completed that piece, be it an article, short story, or the Great American Novel, and you’re ready to send it off to potential publishers. Great! Assuming you’ve done your due diligence you’ve assembled a list of possible homes for your work (if you want extra credit, make a multi-tiered list including dream publishers, second choice markets, etc.) and made sure your work matches their submission guidelines. You’ve done all that? Awesome! Your next step is a biggie, because you need to write a query letter.


Query letter research and writing are among writers’ least favorite activities, right up there with crafting a synopsis and reading your work aloud to a roomful of people who haven’t read a book since college. As tedious and frustrating as the submission process may be, query letters are a necessity. I’ve also got a few pro tips to help you stack the deck in your favor.

  1. Read the submission guidelines, then read them again. Print them out if you have to, highlight important words and make some notes. Submission guidelines are there for a reason, and if you don’t follow them to the letter you’re practically asking for a rejection.
  2. FOLLOW the submission guidelines. You would be shocked at how many query letters I’ve read over the years where the submitter mentions having read the submission guidelines, and then proceeds to do the complete opposite. For instance, the publisher I worked for would ask for the first ten pages pasted into the body of an email as part of the query. I opened hundreds of emails that had no part of the work copy/pasted, or the writer would include the third chapter, pages fifty to one hundred twelve, or something else that was not what we asked for. If you can’t follow a simple guideline, how will you manage an editorial letter? Publishers want writers who are willing to work with them, not ones who ignore directions.
  3. But if you have a question, ASK. Yes, following the submission guidelines is your best bet to get your query letter read, but if something is unclear your best bet is to send an email asking for clarification. We would get questions about submissions all the time, and many of the writers who’d begun that way ended up with contracts. Not only is there no harm in asking, but you should also be wary of the publisher’s response. If they are unwilling to make a reasonable accommodation, perhaps that is not a company you want to work with. (Remember, you’re interviewing them, too!)
  4. As for the query itself, short and sweet is best. A query letter does not need to be more than one page long. You need to include your project’s title, genre, and word count, followed by a paragraph or two of what your work is about. Those paragraphs should be similar to the back cover matter of a book, making the reader want more while not giving anything away. And, that’s it. You don’t even need to include an author bio, unless you’ve got something related to your project that will increase your odds of publication, such as a prestigious award or (in the case of nonfiction) if you’re an expert in the field you’ve written about. Say it with me, folks: short and sweet.
  5. Don’t forget contact information! Yes, the publisher could just reply to your email. But what if they love your project so much they want to call you? How can they mail you a contract without knowing your mailing address? Make it easy for them to open a conversation with you.

Make no mistake, following these tips does not guarantee that you will be published. But your initial submission to a publisher is the first impression they’ll get of you, and you want that impression to be good. Remember, even if they don’t pick up the first project you send them, they may be the ideal home for something else you’ve written.

Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.

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A Guide to Scripting Combat in Your Novel

A Guide to Scripting Combat in Your Novel

Your characters have just finished sizing each other up, and inevitably, you need to figure out how they will go about beating the ever-living tar out of each other. Below I have illustrated my thought process on how I construct these scenes.

I begin with two timeline points: the start (X and Y are standing in front of each other), then the result (X has Y in a headlock). In between is a multitude of points that bring the scene together, like frames in a zoetrope. The next step would be to draft a play-by-play of how the conflict takes place.

Performed by https://senshistock.deviantart.com & https://jademacalla.deviantart.com

There is an underlying flow inside every combat engagement, and decoding that flow is key to effectively communicating a scene to your readers through narration. Not every graphic detail needs to be drawn out either, just enough to create a chain of action-reaction-action steps until you have reached your result point.

As you draft each point, consider where each limb is at that moment, followed by where they will be at the next step. From there, you can link the actions together to form one fluid sequence.

I tend to work directly in my draft when sketching out the scene, but for those that like more visual organization, you can illustrate these points on a flowchart, or draw out a bird’s eye map of the scene:

A pushes B in the right shoulder -> B steps back and slaps A with left -> A steps inside B -> B pivots around and hugs A’s neck

Once your sequence is drafted, polish it with descriptors to make it sound like sentient beings are fighting, not rock-em-sock-em robots. Don’t get too hung up on left versus right as well, it could clutter the prose, and eyes may glaze over keeping track of what hand slapped what nostril.

An important detail you do want to consider is how a body moves when something smacks it around. A slap versus a punch will yield two different results in skull motion, and require a different length of recovery time. Consider a shove in the shoulder versus a shove to the hips, or other balance points on the human body. For inspiration, get a couple jointed posing models you find in art supply stores and play around with them to get a better sense of range of motion.

Questions to ask yourself:

Are joints locked, or are they limber? How hard was that strike, exactly? How have their feet shifted, what noises did they make? What happens in the background, are there obstructions in the way?

Expression is also an important piece of communication, letting the reader know how the combatants feel about their opposition. Are their jaws clamped? Did their eyes widen as they realized an error in calculation? Are they looking at something in the background, or projecting their attack to their opponent?

You should also decide how much of a disciple of authenticity you want to project on your writing. There is a certain degree of reality that can be foregone for the sake of entertainment. If movies were painstakingly accurate, a lot of people would lose their appreciation (and possibly lunch) for action.

Your worldbuilding can also help smooth out a fight and buffer the suspension of disbelief. Supporting technology/magic you have created might let a character last longer or give them an edge in their fight, if they are an alien race that is stronger/weaker than humans etc.

Ultimately, it is a challenge to be an absolute expert at EVERYTHING, so go easy on yourself and trust in the suspension of disbelief. You can’t please everyone, and someone will be ready to point out how you are wrong in twelve different languages. The sooner you are comfortable with that, the easier writing combat becomes.

Research is also your best friend. Some of my favorite sources:

  • Google specific questions like “how long does a choke hold last?” Be prepared to wade through an ocean of conflicting opinions. (Also, spoilers: not very long unless you want to kill, and even then, you’ll be holding on for several minutes.)
  • Fighting forums, especially if you are looking for specific disciplines or fight styles.
  • YouTube: there are a lot of martial art videos that display specific throws and sparring sessions. Play them on slow speed and analyze the combatants, limb positions, bent joints, where tension and force is held.

  • Analyze action films with choreography that display the fight clearly, without a mashup of jumpcuts and overly edited effects. Google for ideas on good films if you are looking for accuracy (The Duellists from 1977 and Act of Valor recommended for a start)
  • Find local martial arts schools and ask to observe sparring sessions. Explain your intentions and what you are looking for in terms of research (weapons, unarmed, etc). They may be willing to let you sit in on a session, and even participate in demonstrations (after signing a waiver).
    • One practice of import is the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance (HEMA), a group dedicated to the study of medieval combat, both armed and unarmed. Though you might not think it relevant to a SciFi world, a lot of the core mechanics of historical wrestling can be applied to modern fighting.
    • You can find their page here: https://www.hemaalliance.com/club-finders/
    • The Mass chapter is called the Boston Armizare.
Mailing Lists 103: Instafreebie Grows Your Mailing List

Mailing Lists 103: Instafreebie Grows Your Mailing List

We’re all looking for ways to grow our mailing lists. More often than not, services promising subscribers either turn out to be a waste of money or provide subscribers that want little more than to grab your free “stuff.” I’ve been using Instafreebie for six months now, and I’m convinced it’s a service that brings fans to writers. With Instafreebie, fans of a particular genre have a way to try freebies or just samples to get a flavor of an author before they commit to a purchase. While they’re testing the waters, you can snag their emails and through your charming personality, win them over on your mailing list.

Some quick tips:

  • Cover: Your cover matters more than ever. With the way Instafreebie is used, the cover is what makes or breaks your book. It’s often the only aspect shown to lure in a reader. This is where I’ve seen authors with horrible covers fall short. Instafreebie can’t cure the lackluster.
  • Call-to-Action: At the end of your freebie, make sure you give the reader directions on how to continue. If they loved your sample, make it easy for them to click a link and buy the whole book. Let them know how many books are in the series. You don’t need to include your mailing list here, because they’ve already joined through Instafreebie. So make sure you’re cashing in on fans who love your work.
  • Freebie-Grabbers: There is no easy way to combat the user who only wants free stuff and will never pay. Instafreebie does a good job of making an “optional” opt-in button. This means only people who WANT to join your list can. This combined with some mailing list management tricks can help avoid those freebie grabbers. However, every now and then, a grabber becomes a fan!
  • Promote Instafreebie: The best thing about Instafreebie is their commitment to not only the readers, but the authors. Promote other books being hosted by Instafreebie and group giveaways and every now and then, Instafreebie does you a solid and promotes back. It’s a great way to help build a partnership and with a single Instafreebie tweet, you can watch your numbers skyrocket!
Constructing a Fight – Part Three

Constructing a Fight – Part Three

All right, so far I’ve discussed the basic elements of crafting a fight scene (links), so now it’s time to actually choreograph a fight—something I sometimes do for my books, but for this example I’m using a fight I put together for the 2017 Robin Hood Springtime Festival (might want to go read the first two entries so you have the full context).

Putting It Together

Here’s the choreography. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it.

The notations are based on the Society of American Fight Directors’ stage combat system, which assigns numbers to a performer’s limbs and head. It’ll make sense in a minute.

Robin is stage center, facing the audience. Will is on his left, John on his right, Tuck on his right and slightly behind Robin. Robin invites his comrades to attack him as part of the training exercise. They waffle for a moment before John takes the initiative and comes in hard, winding up for a big strike to Robin’s left arm (phrase 1, line 2). Robin blocks the blow, as well as the next two attacks to his right leg and head (lines 3 and 4).

Because the head shot is coming in with a lot of force, Robin reinforces his block by gripping the blade of his sword with his free hand (which is a real thing). His next move is to reverse the momentum by smacking the end of John’s staff away using his weapon’s crossguard (line 5)—again, a real-life move, as is using the pommel for a face strike (line 6). A trained swordfighter knows how to use all the parts of his sword.

Because this is a training exercise, Robin pulls the pommel strike at the last second, but it throws a good scare into John, who flinches away instinctively.

Will, seeing an opening, charges in, expecting to tag Robin in the back (line 7). Robin hears her coming and whirls around, sword raised, which causes Will to freeze in a moment of panic (line 8). Robin, scamp that he is, then teases his cousin with a playful boop on the nose—which, of course, irks Will and goads her into attacking. She tries to stab Robin’s left arm (line 10), then his right (line 11), and locks blades with him—something that does not happen in real swordfights as often as Hollywood would have you believe, but I’m throwing it in for a reason.

While they’re locked up and Will’s in close, where she’s the most dangerous, Will goes for a sloppy slash to Robin’s left arm. Robin stops the attack with a forearm block (line 12) and sasses Will again (line 13) before pushing her away to get her out of distance and reclaim the reach advantage (line 14).

He then goes for a cut to her head, again pulling the blow before making contact, thus scoring a symbolic deathblow (line 15). Angry at getting caught like that, Will angrily slaps the sword away with her right dagger (line 16) and rears back for a big double slash to Robin’s midsection, which Robin aborts by bringing his sword up to her belly—another symbolic killing blow (line 17). Robin gives his cousin a smug grin and she stalks off to fume.

Robin then glances over to Tuck (line 19, which has a stagecraft note instructing Robin to keep his face toward the audience) and prompts the friar to come at him, bro. Tuck adjusts his position (stagecraft reasons again) and demonstrates his prowess by striking a right ox guard, a real longsword guard in which the sword is brought up to head level—on the right side, in this case—and the blade is held parallel to the ground, with the point aimed at the opponent.

Tuck closes the distance (line 20) and thrusts at Robin’s right arm (line 21). Robin blocks the attack. Tuck brings the sword around in sweeping arc to get over to Robin’s now unguarded left arm (line 22). Robin executes a hanging block, in which the sword points down instead of up.

Robin carries the momentum through and goes for a head cut, which Tuck blocks with his sword (line 23). Robin’s sword skates off Tuck’s, again letting the momentum carry his blade past the friar, who counterattacks with a cut to Robin’s left leg. Robin blocks it (line 24) and goes for the head again. Tuck again deflects the blow (line 25) and once more goes for Robin’s left leg (line 26). That moment creates a brief back-and-forth exchange that changes up the fight’s tempo.

Robin again blocks the shot to his leg, and then reclaims the fight’s momentum by forcing Tuck’s blade up and over to the other side (line 27). Tuck winds up with the point of his sword on the ground—and his ass sticking out as an irresistible target. Robin gives Tuck a playful kick to the rump and sends him sprawling (line 28).

Fun side fact: it took me an hour at the very least to write the original choreography, which I worked out by myself, in my living room, playing the four different roles simultaneously. It took about a half an hour to write the description you just read. It probably took you five minutes or so to read it. In performance, this fight lasts two minutes, tops.

Writing the Fight

The process I’ve detailed for creating a stage fight is very similar to the process I use when crafting a fight for a story. I work through the situation, the characters, the weapons, and choreograph the action.

The next step is turning all that into prose that is well-paced, exciting, and conveys enough detail to describe the action without turning it into a play-by-play, which is generally neither exciting nor well-paced (Jim Butcher is the only name that immediately comes to mind, and I’m calling him the exception rather than the rule).

One thing I do is figure out which elements of the fight don’t need to be detailed. Take lines 2 through 4 of the training fight. I could easily describe that like this:

“Little John barreled toward Robin, his quarterstaff raised high, poised to strike. Robin took a quick flurry of heavy-handed blows on his sword.”

That gets the point across without telling the reader where each strike was going; that’s unnecessary detail. But what about that head strike and Robin’s counter? That’s a key moment in the fight and could benefit from a little more information, along with a little color.

“John brought his staff around in a high arc, as if to cave in Robin’s skull. Robin brought his blade up, bracing it with both hands in anticipation of the crushing impact. The staff fell, sending a shockwave down Robin’s arms and all the way to his feet. Unwilling to defend a second such blow, Robin smacked the staff away with his crossguard. John stumbled. He caught himself and looked up in time to see Robin’s pommel coming straight at his face. He flailed away in a panic.”

There are highs and lows throughout the fight, and one of the keys to turning a literal by-the-numbers piece of choreography is finding those highs and lows and treating them accordingly. To use a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, what you describe in a fight sequence has to add value—to the pace, to the clarity of the narrative, to the emotion of the scene.

If this all sounds too challenging, it might be wise to heed some advice I read recently: if you can’t write a fight in terms of its moves, focus on conveying the emotion and the psychology of the sequence and write more poetically than literally.

Final Advice

This is a lot to digest, and there is so much more to be learned if you want to write solid fight scenes. To wrap things up, here’s a quick-hit list of final bits of advice:

  • Use movies and TV for inspiration, not information. Visual media is generally terrible at accurately portraying how armor and weapons actually work, in which situations they work well (or poorly), or how people respond to injuries, so look for sources that have studied these and related topics. I highly recommend the How to Fight Write blog as a general source of info on all things fighty.
  • Avoid fights that happen for the sake of an action scene (like, ironically, the one I just described. Hey, I didn’t write the script, just the fights). Give them a reason to be there, a reason that supports the story you’re telling and, conversely, is supported by the story.
  • Don’t rely on tropes such as Natural Talent, when a character who has little to no training reveals him/herself as a martial arts prodigy, or Instinct Kicked In, when a stressful situation triggers an adrenaline surge that turns a regular person into an ass-kicking machine, to get a character through a fight scene. Untrained fighters lose fights, period.
  • On a related note, turning an untrained fighter into a skilled combatant takes a lot of time. The old theory that it takes someone 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill might not be true, but a person also can’t become a black belt in the space of a few weeks. Let the development be part of the story and don’t gloss over it.
  • Avoid group fights in which the hero stands in the middle of several bad guys, who all politely wait their turn to attack the hero one-on-one (e.g., Bruce Lee vs. Han’s minions in Enter the Dragon, The Bride vs. the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Vol. 1).

If anyone has any questions or comments, let me hear them!

Constructing a Fight – Part Two

Constructing a Fight – Part Two

In the last entry in this little series (link), I started detailing the process I used to craft fights for the 2017 Robin Hood Springtime Festival, which is in many ways the same process I use for crafting fights in my books. I spoke about how the situation informs the characters’ attitudes in a fight, so now it’s time to delve into how characters further play into fight creation.

The Characters

A sequence I wrote for the show was a training fight for the heroes—a stock bit that gives the audience a little taste of action early on and whets their appetites for what’s to come—so I’m going to use that to illustrate how character affects various elements of a fight.

For this sequence, I used Robin Hood and his three key Merry Men: Little John, Friar Tuck, and his cousin Will Scarlett (who, in the faire version of the story, is a woman). That gave me four very distinct characters to work with, which means I had to take into consideration four very different sets of characteristics. Let’s break them down:

Robin Hood is a very experienced swordfighter; he’s been portrayed in some iterations of the legend as a former soldier who fought in the Crusades alongside King Richard the Lionheart. His attitude toward everything is rather cavalier; he rarely takes anything too seriously.

Little John is a large, powerful man and is not a nuanced fighter; he’s from peasant stock and never had any formal training in any kind of hand-to-hand combat. He tends to be gruff and blustery, and contrasts Robin’s attitude by taking everything a little too seriously.

Friar Tuck is a deceptively skilled swordsman, which is directly inspired by his portrayal in the Flynn Robin Hood. Physically he is no longer in his prime, and attitude-wise, he is similar to John in that he takes things more seriously than his leader.

Will Scarlett is a scrappy, rambunctious tomboy who models herself after Robin, to a fault; she takes things far less seriously and is more reckless than her cousin, and is consequently more likely to get into trouble because of it and less likely to know how to get herself out of it. She’s also quick-tempered and constantly out to prove herself. She’s an experienced fighter but has little formal training.

A further note on Will, which warrants emphasis: her gender has NO bearing on her ability to fight whatsoever. None. Arguing that her gender makes her weaker or less capable is sexist garbage, period, so basing any character’s capacity as a fighter solely on his or her gender is weak writing with no basis in reality.

The Weapons

Let’s take a closer look at the weapons being used in this fight.

Little John is using a quarterstaff, a six-foot length of hard wood that is a surprisingly versatile and effective weapon. It inflicts blunt force trauma, but as one of my stage combat instructors likes to say, it’s still trauma. A staff is unlikely to cause any cut-based wound (not incapable, but unlikely), but it can break bones and wreck joints easily. Its greatest advantage is its reach, and reach can make a huge difference in a fight, but of our four weapons, it’s the slowest — which, I’ll note, is not to say it’s a slow weapon in real life. An expert can generate a lot of speed with a staff, and thus a lot of power, but for dramatic purposes I’m treating this as a slower weapon than its real-life counterpart.

Tuck is using a proper longsword, a cutting and slashing weapon that has a blade ranging about 30 to 40 inches long. A standard longsword can be used one-handed (the other hand would be holding a shield) but is designed to be held with two. It doesn’t have the reach of a quarterstaff but is better in that regard than the other weapons. At 2.5 to four pounds, it can be moved with considerable speed (longswords, contrary to popular belief, are not slow weapons), but again, I’m slowing it down for dramatic and stylistic purposes.

Robin is using an arming sword, a one-handed cutting and slashing weapon with a blade in the neighborhood of 30 inches long. Such weapons weighed only two to three pounds, which make them pretty fast. Its reach is only slightly inferior to a proper longsword.

Will is using two daggers, which are primarily thrusting/stabbing weapons. These have the worst reach but the best speed, and give her the benefit of being able to attack two different targets at once, which is significant; it would be very difficult for John and Tuck to guard two targets at once considering they have two-handed weapons. Robin at least has a free hand to parry a second attack—as you will see.

Also, having researched knife fighting, I’ve learned that a trained knife fighter is absolutely terrifying. If they get within your range, you’re screwed. The best defense, aside from running away, is to keep them out of reach.

Now that I’ve laid the foundation, it’s time to actually write out some fights, and I’ll show you how to do that in the third and final part of this series.


Constructing a Fight – Part One

Constructing a Fight – Part One

To give you some context, I wrote the first iteration of this piece back when I was preparing to take over as fight director of the spring 2017 Robin Hood Springtime Festival, so the topic of fight construction for storytelling purposes was very much on my mind at the time.

I’ve always prided myself on writing action sequences that are not just exciting and well-paced but have thought behind and substance to them, substance that’s often missing from other prose-based fight scenes because so many writers really don’t understand that a good fight is more than just a series of cool moves; it’s a story in and of itself—and that’s where I’ll start.

Getting Inspired

I often refer to certain movies to find inspiration for creating a fight scene, something that captures the motivations behind the fight, the style, the tone, etc., that I want to convey. For example, when I was getting ready to work on the climactic third act of The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Assassins Brawl (cheap plug), I watched a lot of siege movies, such as The Two Towers for the Helm’s Deep sequence, Dredd, The Raid: Redemption, and Assault on Precinct 13.

One of my all-time go-to fight scenes is the Paris/Menelaus duel from Troy. To me, that sequence, choreographed by Simon Crane, is the gold standard for incorporating the situation and the characters into the action.

I know, it isn’t the most dynamic fight or the flashiest, but it tells a story better than most such sequences.

For those unfamiliar with the movie (or the original epic poem): Paris (Orlando Bloom) steals away Menelaus’s wife Helen, essentially cuckolding the man in front of two nations. Menelaus (Brendan Gleason), naturally, wants to kill Paris for this offense, and do so in a public and humiliating manner, which leads to this duel.

Notice how they each fight. Menelaus—who is bigger, stronger, more experienced, supremely pissed off, and not at all intimidated by his opponent—comes right at Paris and pummels him with big windmilling sledgehammer blows. He is mostly on the offensive. Paris, in contrast, is mostly on the defensive, and you get a sense of his inexperience, his desperation, and his fear in the way he hides behind his shield; by his wild, desperate attacks and defensive parries; and by his mistakes, such as getting too close to his opponent and by trying to match Menelaus’s raw strength.

To get in the right mood to choreograph a Robin Hood fight, I re-watched the classic The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, which very much informs the rollicking, swashbuckling tone of the Robin Hood Faire.

Once I’m in the right headspace, it’s time to start thinking about the fight I want to write—not plotting it out, mind you; thinking about it. I have some groundwork to lay before I start choreographing anything.

The Situation

One of the things that drives a fight is the situation. You need the context of the setting and the reason behind a fight to help set the tone and determine what’s going on in the characters’ heads. Two adults engaged in a duel to the death are going to fight with a greater degree of aggression and desperation than, say, two little kids scrapping in a playground after school. A man in a drunken barroom brawl is not going to approach a fight the same way a seasoned soldier facing an armed enemy combatant would.

In the Flynn Robin Hood, you see several examples of fights with different attitudes. Robin’s early encounters with Little John and Friar Tuck are lighter affairs. Robin is, to John and Tuck, some obnoxious rando, not a sworn enemy, and the only thing at stake for anyone is personal pride. No one is out for blood, as opposed to the Robin/Sir Guy duel, which has two longtime enemies fighting to the death—and even then, their motivations are slightly different. Guy wants Robin dead dead dead, whereas Robin is ready to kill Guy but out of self-defense rather than anger or hatred.

You might be noticing that character attitudes are in part informed by the characters themselves. That’s where we’ll pick up next time.


Mailing Lists 102: Where to Find Your Subscribers

Mailing Lists 102: Where to Find Your Subscribers

Get InstafreebieGet Mailerlite

When building a list, there is always the question, “Where do we find our subscribers?” And even if you’re getting subscribers, the question becomes, “How do I get quality subscribers?” Thankfully, I’ve started venturing into this as a primary method of communicating with my fans. I make it a point to cultivate relationships and engage my readership using my newsletter. The results over the past year have gone to a list that served no purpose other than aggravation to a list that helps my career and provides me with great connections to readers.

During this video, we talk about how to increase your subscribers. It’s not easy, and it will require work. There is no fast method. Prepare to invest your time into it. Like all other marketing, what works is not quick or easy (and sometimes not free.) The reason social media has become a black hole is because any person can create a page and shout from the rooftops.

Want homework to start moving in the right direction?

  • Go to your website and make sure your viewers can quickly get to your mailing list at least two different ways. Make sure they understand what they’re getting.
  • Add a signup on your Facebook page and send out a Facebook post and tweet on how people can join. Make sure they know the benefits and rewards. Tackle the simple and easy first.
  • Include a Call-To-Action in the back of your novels. Give them the link to your website sign up (it’ll mean they’re visiting your website AND signing up.) Do this for all the books you have the ability to change.
Mailing Lists 101: Our Most Important Marketing Tool

Mailing Lists 101: Our Most Important Marketing Tool

It is without a doubt that an author’s mailing list is one of the most important marketing tools at our disposal. It has the ability to connect fans to authors, provide new insight into the author’s world and allow fans to learn more about their literary crushes. The upsides are plentiful, and because of that, we will be spending several videos on how to begin, cultivate, grow, manage and connect with your subscribers.

If you are looking for a service to help grow your mailing list, there are many out there, however, for the sake of this series we will be using Mailerlite. I have used several but without a doubt, Mailerlite has provided me the most straight-forward user experience and saved me countless hours while managing my lists.

Your homework after this video? Start your first mailing list. Reach out to your friends and family and ask if they would like to join. Send out some Facebook posts and Tweets. Within a week, you’ll have your first fifty fans. Don’t worry if you only get one or two, we’ll be continuing this series with methods to help you grow, expand, and manage that list. Ultimately, we want your mailing list making sales and growing your fanbase!

Behind the Winners of the Cover Design Contest

Behind the Winners of the Cover Design Contest

MASFFA held it’s first ever cover contest and we were impressed, not only with the covers representing, but with the amazing turn out in voters. It was an awesome opportunity to showcase local talent and we intend to turn this into an annual event. However, it is not enough to simply have a winner, we decided to showcase the dynamic duo; author Chris Philbrook and artist Alan MacRaffen, who brought our winning cover to life.

Available on Amazon


Author Chris Philbrook


Tell us a little about your novel…

Fyelrath is the 3rd novel in the urban fantasy Reemergence series. Tesser: A Dragon Among Us is about a dragon that wakes up beneath the city of Boston, and adapts to modern life by watching Kevin Smith movies in a pizzeria. Fyelrath is another dragon, one who is responsible for managing the water of Earth. She’s brought to the UK when a bizarre infection begins to mutate humans into aquatic monsters.

What was the idea behind your cover?

The series has a distinct graphical cover design. I didn’t want to use the same designs everyone else wanted, and my designer Alan MacRaffen excels at this kind of cover art. Each book in the series is tied together by the silhouette of the dragon at the center, and the skyline of the city the novel takes place in along the bottom. Each novel looks unique with its own colors and dragon design, but they are all clearly the same series.

How does your cover reflect your novel?

It’s perfect. The dragon is an excellent representation of what she looks like in the book, the skyline of London is accurate and stylized at the same time, and the background reflects some of the… goings-on as well.

How did you originally discover Alan MacRaffen?

I think it might’ve been on a school bus in 8th grade. No but seriously we went to high school together. There’s no one I trust more than him to listen to my ideas, and see them through. He’s a professional; everything is decided on, nothing is left to random chance or laziness. When you combine that level of attention to detail with a relationship like we’ve had (20+ years and 13+ novels) you get award winning covers and layouts.

What suggestion would you give to new authors about choosing cover art?

Find an artist with a resume you appreciate. Talk to them. Give them your idea and allow them to be creative. If you don’t let them run with your idea, you’ll never get their own personal muse; you’ll only get their interpretation of your rote idea. Be flexible, have high standards, and hire a professional.

Artist Alan MacRaffen


How did you get into designing covers for authors?

I’ve always been an artist. I even went to art school, but I’d never really made a living from it. It was more of a recreational pursuit. Then I wrote my first novel, Carnival of Time. After sitting on the finished manuscript for a few years, I finally decided to self-publish. It was a real learning experience. Writing a book is a huge undertaking. But learning that I couldn’t just submit my raw Word file—that I actually had to create a marketable cover, find a way to format and generate a whole new kind of file I was totally unfamiliar with, then another file for the ebook version—that was truly daunting. Almost to the point of giving up. But I had gotten so close, I couldn’t let it go. I channeled my stubbornness into determination and learned all I could about book design, interior formatting, and how to compile all of that into a professional-looking file ready for publishing. I won’t lie: it was a huge slog, but eventually I got everything to come out exactly the way I wanted it. When Chris finished his first book, he remembered that I had figured all of that out, and offered to pay me to do the same work for him. I’ve worked on every book he’s done since, and eventually branched out to other clients as well.

What was the inspiration behind designing the Reemergence series?

I love drawing creatures: dragons, monsters, animals. My preferred method is to sketch them in pencil or pen, but while that might serve well as an interior illustration, it makes for a poor book cover. However, I was also really taken with a lot of the graphical covers I’d been seeing on bookshelves recently. Clean, dynamic and eye-catching designs with sharp-edged silhouettes and relatively simple planes of flat color. For Tesser, the first book in Chris’s Reemergenceseries, I decided to combine the two, using a hand-drawn illustration of Chris’s main dragon protagonist, then converting it into a crisp graphic silhouette. I included the Boston skyline to show where the story takes place, and added in a background of glyphs and symbols to evoke the theme of magic that runs heavily throughout the first book. Chris has an array of important dragon characters in his series, each physically distinct and with their own themes and qualities. By changing only the colors and details of each cover, they keep a consistency of design that ties them together as a series, while still standing out from each other. Each one tells you what the main dragon character is like, physically. The skyline shows you where the story takes place, and the background symbols give you hints about the book’s theme and additional characters.

Can you describe the how the back and forth works with an author?

Chris and I have known each other since high school, so our dynamic is much more familiar than with the usual artist/client relationship. I’ve even written a novella that takes place in one of his worlds. But whether I’m working with Chris or another author, the process can vary a lot from book to book. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for an image, other times they’ll suggest a great concept right off the bat and all I have to do is find a way to make it happen. Other times the author might suggest something cool, but then I’ll counter with one of my own ideas, and if it’s right for the book, they give me the go-ahead. There are stumbling blocks sometimes. I’m not perfect, and now and then I have to tell a client that I don’t have the right kind of technique or resources to pull off a particular image. But I can always suggest an alternative, and if that doesn’t work for them, I’ll try another, and another, until we find something that fits the author’s vision. It’s their book, and ultimately the cover has to serve the author’s needs, not mine.

What should authors be on the lookout for when choosing designers?

My biggest suggestion for authors would be to keep an artist’s style in mind. Look at their other work before getting your expectations up about what they can create for you. If you approach a cover designer who always uses dark, edgy photo-manipulations, and then ask them to do a really cheerful, colorful painting, it’s not likely to end well. Either they’ll just say no, because they know that you’re asking for something far outside their skill set. Or—worse yet—they’ll say yes, and you’ll end up with a hot mess of a cover that neither of you are happy with. So always look at an illustrator’s portfolio and consider how your book would look dressed up in that same style.

What suggestion would you give to new authors about illustrating cover art?

If you don’t have a really strong background in art and design, hire a professional. It will cost money, but you get what you pay for. Cliché or not, people really do judge books by their covers. You’ve already put so much time and effort into writing your book; you want to make sure your cover reflects that same level of quality.