Best Websites for Writer Feedback

The other day I wrote a rather controversial piece about Authonomy (www.authonomy.com), and received mixed responses, with most of the discussion taking place on the Authonomy forum after a member shared the blog. In my post, I encouraged people to avoid Authonomy. Today I will share my favorite alternatives to Authonomy.

1.) YouWriteOn (www.youwriteon.com – This website is formatted similar to Authonomy in regards to the rating scale, but the interface is rather difficult to get used to. Nonetheless, it’s much more secure and reliable for feedback and advice. The premise is simple; you upload your novel and then the website assigns it to another member to read and review. You then review another member chosen at random. After 8 reviews, your story enters the website’s story chart, and the top ten highest rated writers each month receive a review from Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, etc.

The beauty of YouWriteOn is that the number of writers on the site is significantly smaller than Authonomy, meaning your chances for reaching the story chart are much greater. There’s also the ability to have your book self-published for a very small fee, though I do not recommend self-publishing for various reasons(see previous blog posts). From what I’ve experienced as a short-term member of YouWriteOn, the reviews are top notch, and you really get a feel for how readers will view your book in the future. It’s easy to create an account and begin right away. You don’t have to spam people for reviews, nor do you have to spend hours trying to get people to back your book.

2.) Blogging – I recommend this because it is so easy. You simply upload portions of your story, submit the post to various forums, etc, and people will respond. You can update the blog with your progress on the book, and eventually you will create a following which you can use to promote your novel once it’s published. My favorite blogging website is WordPress, but Blogspot offers a great alternative, depending on your personal preference.

3.) Scribd (www.scribd.com) – This is fairly new, but it’s a great way to share your story with friends on Facebook. You can upload it and have your Facebook friends provide feedback, etc. It’s the easiest way to get reviews of all the tools I’ve listed.

4.) Writing.com (www.writing.com) – An older website, but still a fun way to upload documents and have people provide advice. It’s one of the largest writing communities on the internet, and has a good track record of success.

I still cannot in good faith recommend Authonomy, but it’s a free website, so if you’d like to try your luck, then by all means create an account. I believe that YouWriteOn offers a much better system of receiving feedback than any other similar site on the internet, and for beginning writers, it is an invaluable tool. Share other favorites in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe.

Website logo

Authonomy: Approach with Caution

If there was ever a hive of scum and villainy in the literary world, it would be Authonomy (www.authonomy.com). As a writer searching for advice early on in the process, I looked high and low for a place to share my work and receive feedback from others, besides Facebook, blogging, etc. So I came upon Authonomy after being recommended from a friend in the publishing industry. That “friend” has since been placed on my blacklist, and shall receive a bundle of coal this Christmas.

Authonomy was both a blessing, and a tremendous burden that distracted from my writing more than anything else ever could, or ever will. Many sleepless nights were spent trying to extract a review from the users on the website, and it took some time before I realized that all of my tireless efforts were folly.

Before I continue any further, let me explain what Authonomy is. It is a project by Harper-Collins to get more people excited about writing. Obviously it has many more complexities beyond that, but the main idea is quite simple. The website revolves around writers creating an account, uploading their unpublished novel, poetry, etc, with the ultimate goal of receiving  a publishing deal from Harper-Collins themselves. But what they don’t tell you is that in the four years since the website’s launch, Harper-Collins has not accepted a single book for publishing.

Books are rated by both a 5-Star system, and by being placed on “Bookshelves”. Each user has a bookshelf with space for five books, their own not included. So in order for a writer to progress up the rating scale, they must spam other writers into “backing” their book (placing it on a bookshelf), and having their book rated and reviewed. Since there are a few thousand users on the website, with more being added daily, it takes quite awhile before you begin to see results.

Unfortunately, whether you have a great book or not really doesn’t matter on this site. Most of the writers employ cloak and dagger strategies to have their book travel up the rating scale, and onto the Top 5 Books of the Month list. These books are read and reviewed by the Harper-Collins staff, who then provide feedback and bid you “good luck” in the future while they turn you down.

I remember feeling that my experience with Authonomy was akin to something like a group of powerful men holding a delicious meal before the eyes of a thousand starving people, and telling them they must fight to the death in order to win the meal. Obviously that’s a rather morbid and exaggerated example of the website, but it isn’t quite far from the truth. I have seen many great books that have progressed nowhere, and many more books with total garbage inside that made it to the top five, because the writer spammed just everybody on the site with some sad story or another. There was this woman I recall, who’s book contained more typo’s than Spell Check could keep up with, not to mention a juvenile dialogue, non-existent plot, and grammatical errors out the wazoo. Yet, she convinced enough people that she had a terminal illness, and that she just wanted to have a book published before she died. Needless to say, she made it to the Top 5 list, and was granted a review by the Harper-Collins editorial staff.

Her book never accomplished anything further than that, but her lies propelled her above the “real” writers on the site. This is not the only case of a “sally sob story” being used to promote a book on the website. Nearly every other message I received asking for my support was by someone professing to have some sort of illness, or disability, you name it.

My point, before I extend this rant any longer, is that Authonomy is not to be trusted as a viable tool for authors. It’s much too unpredictable, and writers will say anything about your book if it means that you will give them a good review in turn. My book made it all the way to the Top 20 within a few weeks of uploading, but it came at a big sacrifice to my other writing projects. My arduous labor was for naught, it seemed, because for every legitimate review someone posted of my book, ten more were posted with something like “Good book! Please rate, review, and back my novel.” In all honesty, very few books were worthy of reaching the Top 5, but if you want good reviews, you must provide them, even if it means lying like there’s no tomorrow.

It was not a complete waste, however. I do admit that a few positive and constructive reviews were sent my way, but unfortunately not enough to merit a good experience overall. When I started spending 5-6 hours per day solely spamming writers into checking out my book, a sudden revelation hit me; this is madness. 

Each month I checked out the books that had made it to the Editor’s desk the previous month, and each one had been rejected. Several of them I felt were extremely well-written, and I began to question what Harper-Collins judged to be a “good book”. It was then that I decided to “throw in the towel”. That was over a year ago, and Harper-Collins still has yet to publish a book from Authonomy.

Writing Seminars and Why I Hate Them

We have all been invited to attend a writing seminar in some form or another. The glitzy brochure in the mailbox offers “secret” advice from Author experts, or “exclusive” consultation with an “award-winning author”, etc. Meanwhile, a quick Google search will reveal that these so-called experts have barely sold 1,000 copies of their self-help book, with no real experience to offer the attendees of their overly expensive conference in a cheap hotel.

So why do people shell out hundreds of dollars for this obvious con? Simply because they aren’t willing to do the hard work themselves. It’s much easier to have an “expert” stand on a stage and give you a step-by-step process to becoming a successful author, even if they’re sharing the most obvious of advice. But because you paid $125 for this ticket, you believe that it is exclusive.

False.

I’m not saying that every single writing seminar is a fraud, but what I am saying is that all the information you need is readily available for FREE. I hate Writing Seminar’s because they are a way for little known author’s to con desperate writers into giving them money in exchange for “wisdom”. I’ve been to several such seminars, and they all repeat the same basic information. But if a $150 seminar is what it takes to get you on your feet, then more power to you. In the meantime, here’s a few articles I’ve found extremely helpful on my journey to the Editor’s desk:

Ten ways to become a Successful Writer:

http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/16077/writing/ten_ways_to_become_a_successful_writer.html

Be a Happy and Successful Author:

http://www.squidoo.com/happyandsuccessfulauthor

15 Practical Author Tips:

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/a-guide-to-becoming-a-better-writer-15-practical-tips.html

Become an Author: http://www.ehow.com/how_2308324_become-author.html

Finding a Literary Agent: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-find-a-literary-agent/

There are many, many such articles with wonderful tips on becoming a best-selling author, writer, journalist, etc. The point is, avoid writing seminars at all costs. Save your money, put your research skills to work, and educate yourself on the world of literature.

Ten Tips for Twitter Beginners

Twitter is an amazing social media tool, and used correctly, can promote and advertise yourself to the world. But in order to be effective, you must understand how Twitter works. For one, you must realize that it is not Facebook, Myspace, or Google +. It’s entirely different, and therefore contains entirely different rules and guidelines that you must follow to use it properly. That being said,  I believe everyone should have a Twitter account, and if you do not, then hopefully this article will convince you to come out of the Dark Ages and into the future of communication.

Tip #1: Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet. This is, in effect, a quick way of sharing something of relevance, or irrelevance, with the world.

Tip #2: There are no “friend requests” in Twitter. Twitter uses a very simple system of following someone who’s tweets you’re interested in reading. They will receive notification of your follow, and have the option of following you back. Their tweets will show up in your Twitter feed, and you can also receive tweets on your mobile device by subscribing to users that are important to you(friends, family, co-workers, etc).

Tip #3: Anyone in the world can read your tweets, unless you make them private, and likewise, you can tweet @ anyone with a Twitter account. This is an easy way of connecting with celebrities, business people, friends, musicians, etc. Most celebrities do not have a public Facebook account, simply because there’s a 5,000 friend limit, and there are many fake celebrity accounts. With Twitter, there is a system of verifying that the account does indeed belong to its celebrity user. Also, many celebrities will respond to tweets, because it is so simple.

Tip #4: If you want to gain followers, then follow complete strangers and friends alike. Many people will follow you back, and this practice will get your numbers up. This doesn’t mean you have to follow them forever, but be forewarned that some people, upon discovering that you’ve stopped following them, will do the same for you.

Tip #5: You will not sell your book, products, movie, pictures, etc through Twitter. It is not a sales tool, it is a marketing tool. Twitter is a way of expressing yourself and your work through short tweets. If you want to sell your product, purchase ad space on Facebook, Google Adwords, etc.

Tip #6: Hashtags. These are a critical part of Twitter’s success. Placing a hashtag in front of a word will highlight it in your tweet and make it a trending word(i.e. #amazing, #facebook, #subway), and once your tweet is posted, you can click on the word you’ve hashtagged and see what other users are saying about it.

Tip #7: Connect your Facebook and Twitter account for the most effective means of reaching your audience. This saves time, and is great if you use Twitter on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Even regular, non-internet capable handsets can be used for Twitter. Just go into your Twitter settings > mobile > text messaging, and follow the instructions.

Tip #8: Be active with your account. If you want followers, you have to be somebody worth following. Share a funny quote, tweet something random, reply to followers tweets, and be as interesting as you can.

Tip #9: Don’t be “that guy” who always tweets about their book, or always asks for followers, or tweets every two seconds. People will shun you sooner than you can say “oops”.

Tip #10: Have fun with your account, and realize that it’s just another way of sharing what’s on your mind with the world. Grammar is not necessary, and you will have to commit grammar crimes regardless, since there’s a 140 character limit.

Creating your own Book Cover Art

If you’re the kind of person who likes doing everything yourself, then you’ve probably already turned down all of the art concepts that your publisher has sent you. They more than likely just weren’t quite what you’ve envisioned gracing the cover of your novel. Lucky for you, there are free programs and software tools at your disposal to help you create the perfect cover, and you don’t have to take a single computer course to learn how to use them.

The program I use is a free design software called G.I.M.P(www.gimp.org). This is basically free Photoshop, with a similar interface, usability, tools, brushes, etc. It’s easy to pick up, and there are many tutorials available to help you learn the basics to get started. My favorite instructionals came from Youtube, and a quick Google search will bring up hundreds of others. There are guides on how to make planets, houses, people, animals, etc. Nearly every sort of artistic scenario you can think of has a tutorial associated with it.

The learning curve for using G.I.M.P is relatively small, and within a week, if you keep a steady schedule of practicing and watching tutorials, you’ll be able to start working on your first cover. If you have an artistic background, you can shorten this time nearly in half. My suggestion, for beginners, is to start small. Create something similar to a tutorial you’ve watched, but not so similar that people liken your image to the original. Embellish it, and let that be your first picture. Then, using your new found knowledge of how to create a picture with G.I.M.P, work on your first original design.

Make sure you use a template that’s big enough to shrink if needed, but not so small that it shows up pixelated when you turn it into a cover. 1600 x 1200, and 1024 x 768 are great templates for a cover image. You can turn it into a poster to sell at Book Signings, use it on your website, create a desktop background, and more.

Sometimes a simple picture tells more about your story than a complex design ever could. Think about starting with a basic one-color background, and then use the text tool to make an extravagant book title. If the font you’re looking for didn’t come installed with the program, you can always Google search free font downloads, and find the one you want.

Be careful not to make a cover with too much going on. It will distract from your title, and sometimes turn people off from your book. Try and get as much feedback on your picture as you can before sending it to the publisher for review. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. A great website for showing your art and receiving feedback is Deviant Art (www.deviantart.com). You can create a profile and upload your photo’s instantly, and by commenting on other pictures on the site you can draw attention to your own.

Before I made my own cover, I contacted various artists and companies to see about having them create a cover for me. But what I found was that most will charge in between $200-$500 just for one picture. It was then that I realized I could make my own cover for FREE, I just needed a little patience. So I did my research, and the advice I’ve provided above is everything I followed while saving money and creating a photo that I felt was perfect for my book.

If you have the money, but don’t have the time to make your own photo, then check out 99 Designs (www.99designs.com). You can set the amount of money you’re willing to pay for a picture, and then designers will bid on your project and upload pictures for you to choose from. Whichever picture you like the best “wins” the contract, and just like that you’ve got a picture you enjoy, for the price you’ve set.

Editing your Book like a Professional

Book editing is not free, unless you do it yourself, or find someone in the higher education field willing to assist. But chances are they will take longer than you would like to complete your manuscript, as they have other duties that take priority over your project. Luckily, there are many tools available to make sure your book receives as much editing as it can before sending it to a publishing company or literary agency. In this post, I’ve highlighted my two favorite editing programs. Having a properly edited book is absolutely key to your success as an author. You might have a great story, but if it looks like a middle school child wrote it, you will be turned down at every stop. Don’t worry, there is hope for even the most grammatically challenged among us.

The first on the list of tools is a Thesaurus. Before I wrote my first book, I don’t know if I’d ever opened a Thesaurus, much less even seen one. The schools I attended growing up never required us to learn how to use one. Even now, I don’t own a Thesaurus, but I use an online program (www.thesaurus.com). It has everything you need to transform your book from a chaotic mess into a literary masterpiece. It’s also attached to (www.dictionary.com), for those moments when you really want to use a big word, but don’t quite know if you’re using it correctly.

The second online program is EditMinion (www.editminion.com). I’ve only used it a few times, but it’s been great as a writing assistant. The website is still in Beta mode, which means it might not catch everything, but if you feel that your book reads more like a scrambled word puzzle than a novel, then this website will work wonders for you.

If these tools aren’t working out for your book, then do a quick Google search, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of alternatives that will suit your needs. Don’t forget to utilize the tools provided by Microsoft Word, or whatever document creating software you use. Technology has made it nearly impossible to not have a cleanly edited manuscript, so be sure that you aren’t missing a valuable asset by trying to rush through your writing.

Spamming until you see Results

So, you’ve finished writing your book, script, graphic novel, etc. Now what? This is where the going gets tough, and if you’re tough, you’ll get going. By this I mean sending your book into the cacophony of literary agencies, publishing houses, editors, etc. At this point in the game, you’ve just spent months or years completing your novel, and you’re ready to move onto the next project, right? Not just yet. You still have to find someone to publish your creation. There are several methods to achieve this sought after goal, and I’ll take you through a few of them.

Step One: Research. Find out what companies books that are similar to yours are being published through. Contact other authors and seek their advice. Many popular writers have a blog, and like to share the journey they took to become an author, so I would suggest starting there. Authors aren’t selfish people, and most would gladly help you the same way they were. Visit the Literary Marketplace (www.literarymarketplace.com) which has a comprehensive list of agencies and publishing companies to send your manuscript to.

Step Two: If you have the funds available, consider hiring a Publicist. They specialize in promotion, and perhaps they can generate more interest in your book than you can. You might be the next J.R.R. Tolkien, but you probably don’t know the first thing about the advertising industry. There are things that agencies look for that might not even realize. Your book might be the best thing since sliced bread, but if you can’t explain it the right way, it will forever remain a document file on your computer.

Step Three: Spam. You spam them until they shut down their website, or change their email address. Ok, so maybe not quite as dramatically as that, but you will want to continue sending your manuscript into the world until you receive a positive response. If an agency turns it down, hopefully they’ll also have given you a few reasons as to why they refused your manuscript. Take this in good spirit, and revisit, revise, and resend your manuscript to them. Don’t place all your bets on one agency or publishing company, however. Send it to them all.

Step Four: While it might not be the dream you’ve always had, smaller publishing houses still offer a good stepping stone for your career as an author. This can be a great first stop on your way to the Bestseller list, as long as you play your cards right. Continue spamming(sending) your manuscript to the agencies, but if you receive a contract from a smaller company, you might want to think about it. Now, this is only after you’ve just about exhausted yourself spamming(sending) your book to as many agencies as you can, with zero positive reception. Small presses will give you everything the larger companies will, just in a smaller dosage. They’ll advertise, promote, and sell your book as best they can, because the future of their business is riding on your success.

In the end, don’t give up. I’ve known authors whose books have taken 5-6 years to publish, and authors who were published in under a year. It’s different for everybody, but if you have a good book, and it’s written, edited, and formatted correctly, chances are high that you will receive a contract for it. Keep spamming(sending) your creation to as many places as you can. Dedication is usually rewarded with success, so don’t quit, no matter what. And remember, spam on, my friends.

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a novel, short story, script, etc, is the very first page. Even the beginning sentence is a challenge for many, as it can be difficult to come up with something that will instantly grab your reader’s attention. So how do you stop the procrastination and channel the creativity? There are several methods that have proven helpful to writers worldwide, myself included.

A big first step in the process is to shut out all the distractions. A noise-free, clean environment with all the comforts you need is an absolute must. No one can tune out the sound of children running through the house, or the obnoxious drivel of commercials on the television, or the barking dog next door. Finding a spot in your house, the Library, the park, etc, should be the first step in finding natural inspiration. Once you’re relieved of the stress that comes with unwanted distractions, you can begin writing your novel.

The next thing you’ll want to do is get off Facebook. Don’t even keep a tab open, “just in case” somebody opens a chat with you. They can wait, and I’m sure they’ll understand once you’re an accomplished writer. Turn off the cellphone if that becomes too much of a temptation. You know yourself better than anyone else, therefore you know your weaknesses as well. Whatever you feel might be detrimental to your writing progress should be cancelled out.

Once you’re free of distractions and sitting in an environment you feel comfortable with, the writing can finally begin. Now comes the hard part. You know what you want to write about, but how do you begin your masterpiece? One word: Imagination. Channel your inner child, because no matter how deep, dramatic, serious, etc, your book is, the mind of a child is constantly brimming with creativity. There’s a part inside all of us where that creativity is waiting to be extracted. “How do I find it?”, you might ask. The answer is to have fun with your book. Don’t take anything too seriously, or you’ll end up frustrated and facing dead ends. Let the book flow, and don’t force the words to appear, or they never will.

Enjoy the experience of writing a book, and don’t let it become a chore. If you feel that your book is burning you out, take a few days from writing and just relax. Even if you need a couple of weeks respite from the book, it will be worth it in the end. Be proud of the story you are creating, and let it become something you yearn to write every day. Some authors have even booked a night or two in a hotel, simply so they can finish those last few pages of their novel. That’s a little on the extreme side of finding a peaceful area to write, but if it becomes necessary, then by all means, go for it.

The best inspiration comes from your friends and family. Share your experience with them, and if it’s encouragement you need, they’re the best source for it. Another way to seek motivation is to find things related to your story, and use them as a creativity stimulant. If you’re writing a science-fiction novel, watch a few alien films, read your favorite extraterrestrial books, etc. For a crime-thriller, do some research into the field, consult an expert(i.e. a detective, crime scene investigator, judge, etc), or tune into a police scanner. Whatever it is you’re writing, you’ll want it to be as authentic as possible. People enjoy reading books that they feel could have real life connotations.

All in all, have fun with your story, don’t be afraid to mess up, and take all the time you need. It’s doubtful that somebody else is writing the same book you are, so don’t feel rushed. Even if you have a deadline, pace yourself, and enjoy the process. Being an author does have its stressful moments, but the composing of the story shouldn’t be one. If you follow this advice, then you’ll be well on your way to a good book writing experience.

Sticky Note

Advice for aspiring Authors

This is a blog post I wrote as a guest for a website dedicate to sharing authors experiences as they foray into the literary world.

“As a new author just barely out of my teen years, my experience from beginning to end of writing my first novel has been anything but traditional for many in the literary field. My first book, titled ‘Inceptum’, first began as an assignment in college, but quickly developed into a passion I wasn’t aware I even had. I’ve learned much along the way, the biggest lesson being that one should never self publish, except as a last effort to see your book in print. If you feel your story is worthy of being read by the public, then seek out a literary agent, or a small publishing company to get you on your feet.

There are thousands of agents across the country, and chances are high that at least one or two will show an interest in your book, provided it has been written and edited professionally. One way to see this through for free is to contact a professor at a nearby University, and ask if they’d be willing to review your book for grammatical errors. Many in the education field would be glad to off their services for free, or even for a small fee.

Another mistake first-time authors make is with scheduling their writing sessions. If you feel that you’re an “inspired writer”, that’s great, but you still need to balance time spent in front of the computer, or you will burn out from overexposure. After I completed my book, I was so sick of reading it that I didn’t even touch it for several months. Make time for yourself during periods when you won’t get distracted by anything, and sit down for at least an hour or more to create your story.

If you’re having trouble finding the inspiration to write, consider sitting back and ask yourself why you’re writing this particular book. What about it inspired you in the first place? Is the story going anywhere, or is it dead in the water? Don’t be afraid to delete a chapter here and there if they aren’t contributing to the overall flow of the book. For me, my story was science fiction in nature, so to find inspiration I would watch my favorite science fiction movies. It really helps to experience things related to your story and look to them for assistance.

The best advice I have ever been given, is to write a story that you will want to read over and over again. It shouldn’t matter if you never sell a single copy of your book. If you are happy with the finished product, then any sales are an added bonus.

In conclusion, I plan on writing many more novels in the future, as well as working on a sequel to my first book, ‘Inceptum’. You can pick it up at www.zackwall.com, or download the Kindle version on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter: @authorzack, and check out the official Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/inceptumbook”