Author Archives: fictorians

To Agent or Not to Agent

Guest post by by Robin Reed

Hmmm. My writing career, if I can use that term, seems to happen in fits and starts. I sell a story and I’m sure I am on my way, but then the next three stories are rejected and lie unloved on my hard drive. I do keep a certain amount of actual writing production going, I pour words into my computer and announce the number on Facebook so people can digitally applaud me. There have been an awful lot of skipped days, days when writing is about as appealing as washing the dishes. Despite all that, I do have more words stockpiled at the end of each week than I did at the beginning.

When it comes to building and keeping momentum in the getting published department, I am doing less well. This despite, or perhaps because of, gaining that highly sought, holy of writing holies, an agent. After attending a billion and a half “How to Get an Agent” panels at cons, I finally did it last year, and none of the ways that anyone ever mentioned on those panels.

I did it by personally meeting the agent, and paying $100 at a local conference so he would read my first ten pages. I will lay one secret of writing success (or not really success but closer than before) on you, and you may not like it. A few years ago I found myself with the means to go to writing events, and meet agents and editors in person. It was only then that I started to get somewhere in this business. A writing cruise to the Bahamas led to my first pro science fiction sale. Paying for the agent to read my first ten pages led to him asking for the whole book. A year later, after I had given up on ever hearing from him again, he signed me.

So then my writing sails were set and it was publication ahoy, right? Well, the agent sent out one round of queries late last year. They were all rejected. I assume he plans to send out more. Someday. Waiting for him has stranded me in the doldrums this year. I have all sheets to the wind, and there is no wind. So while I write, it is often without much enthusiasm. I know, my life’s passion is merely grist for the mill that is publishing. They want product, not my heart and soul. If my writing isn’t exactly what they think will sell (and they never know, do they? The Harry Potters and Hunger Games’ are always a surprise because they have no forecasting power, no matter how much they think they do) they will not take it on.

As of this writing, I don’t know if having an agent will produce any career momentum, or if I will be sent back to the minor leagues of self publishing. If the latter is the case, I will still keep what little momentum I have going, I will sell at book fairs and cons and online. I can’t stop, it’s a disease, an obsession.

So, as for building and keeping momentum, my only advice is to keep writing. You knew that before you started reading this, though. The momentum that may come when people read your work and recommend it to others and you appear on bestseller lists isn’t really up to you, except for the “writing a good book” part.

I won’t give any advice because I am still struggling with the earliest parts of writing success and no certainty it will go any further. I do suggest you meet people in the publishing industry if you can. Others have suggested to me that I should buy them drinks, which I’ve never done because I don’t drink alcohol and don’t enjoy bars, but if you do that sounds like a good place to become a face they remember. Or go to conferences.

Countdown. Liftoff. Set sail. Grease the wheels. Fill the tank. Pick your metaphor, write, keep writing, and never stop.

Robin Reed lurks on the outskirts of Los Angeles, accompanied by two cats. She has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Her self-published horror novel “Mama” sold pretty well for a while there.
She writes science fiction and humor under her real name and horror as Robin Morris. She is an entry-level member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction Writers of America.


Momentum Because Pixar

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

prompts. Those clever little devils can really get the creative juices flowing, ya know? When I’m having a rough time creating, I hit up my dear friend Google, and I get myself some clever, witty dialogue prompts. From there, it just comes naturally. When I hit my groove, and I mean really hit my groove, I am able to write for hours. I ride that river of creative momentum and I don’t stop until my fingers bleed. Well, not literally bleed, but you see my meaning.

Finding what brings out your creative flow is VERY important in building up that momentum. Without momentum you are literally stuck, unmoving, not writing! And for us authors that is incredibly bad place to be. Writers Block……a few heathens say it doesn’t exist. That you can just pick right up where you left off….Well to those nay sayers, I say booo!!!! If you are experiencing lack of momentum—writers block, you are among friends here at The Fictorians. We have all experienced writers block at one time or another. Well, thats great Aubrie, but how to I get my momentum back? Well listen up my friend, for I am about to reveal to you a secret that all authors wish they knew….

I have absolutely no idea.

However, I do know that if you don’t at least try to get your mojo back, its gone for good. As I said before, dialogue prompts are very helpful to me. I don’t even always use them for my current WIP (Work in Progress). Sometimes its a completely new story that I spout off with. It really doesn’t matter, as long as I am writing. Another tool I have found helpful is the 22 rules of story writing from Pixar. One of my favorite things from their advice is this:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

It literally helps me create new characters and story ideas all the time! You can find the rest of the rules here:

If you remember anything from this post, remember this— Never, Never, Never Give Up. -Sir Winston Churchill

You’ve got this. I promise. It may seem impossible at times, tedious, and trying. But you can do it. All you have to do it keep going. Keep up that momentum and don’t stop.

Pre -Order my debut novel Secret of Souls here:

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aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.

Some Thoughts on Writing and Art

Guest post by by Brent Nichols

I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve got the knack of it now. I can get word onto the page, and they tend to be reasonably good words, too. Writing isn’t a problem for me these days.

No, the problem isn’t the writing. It’s the NOT writing. The problem is all those zero-word days when all that lovely momentum I’ve built up just disappears, and the reproachful pale rectangle of a blank page stares at me from my computer screen until I can’t face it anymore and I go and do something else.

And when it happens, I never seem to know what to do about it. How to push through. How to reclaim my momentum.

Recently, though, I found some new insight, and it didn’t come to me through writing. I’ve been dabbling in art. I’ve been drawing and painting, and almost every sketch and doodle has me thinking, not about art, but about writing.

I’ve played around with art before, over the years. I’ve bought sketchbooks, made half-hearted attempts to draw, grown discouraged, and moved on. Then, last December, I decided to give art another shot. I promised myself I’d do a sketch a day through 2017. To my surprise I’ve actually made the promise stick. It’s well into July as I write this, and I’m going strong.

Some of my sketches make me cringe, but that’s okay. If there’s one thing writing has taught me it’s that the only way to make good art is to make bad art, over and over, as you learn.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a couple of giant sketchbooks in my garage. They were nestled in the bottom of a box I hadn’t opened since I got married. I don’t know how long it’s been since I bought them, but it’s been more than ten years. And in all those years, I have not made a single mark in either sketchbook.

Not one line.

Today I decided to change that. There’s something intimidating about the sheer size of those enormous pages. It was a chance to make bad art on a dreadful scale. I know my skill as an artist, and while I’m a bit better than I was six months ago, I’m only too aware of my limitations. I knew how this picture would turn out.

But I kept thinking about the useless blankness of all those pages. The blankness had to go. I wouldn’t have a masterpiece when I was done. But it would be … not nothing.

I did a preliminary sketch, and then I set to work with ink and brush. And I made a mess. Parts of the picture worked, but overall it was blotchy and sloppy and deeply unimpressive.

No, I won’t be posting it here.

When it was done, I knew a bit more about how to use ink and brush. In fact, considering how little experience I have with the medium, I actually learned quite a lot. And my giant sketchbook, hoarded for so many years, finally contains a picture.

Not a great picture. Not even a good picture. But not nothing.

That’s how you write a brilliant story, one that will touch people, one they’ll talk about years after they read it. You write a page. If you can’t write a brilliant page, write a terrible one. And then another, and then another. Page after page, until one day you realize you’re writing something that’s actually pretty good. You face the blank page every day, and you refuse to settle for nothing.

And that’s how you get your momentum back. By refusing to settle for nothing.

Your challenges will evolve, but they certainly won’t go away. Today, for instance, I’m avoiding the next scene in my novel. I don’t know how to get it right, so I’m painting pictures in old sketchbooks and writing blog posts for the Fictorians.

My writing, unlike my art, is deeply important to me. I can’t just shrug and tell myself that whatever I put on the page is fine because I’m learning. This is my profession now, and it’s the only thing I really care about. I really don’t want to screw up this next page. I don’t want to learn that I can’t get it right.

But right now that page is blank. It has no value, and it hasn’t taught me a thing.

It’s nothing. And I’m going to change that.

Brent Nichols is the author of the Aurora-nominated novel STARS LIKE COLD FIRE and the sequel, LIGHT OF A DISTANT SUN. He self-publishes tales of science fiction adventure under the pen name Jake Elwood. He’s also a cover designer, making book covers from stock art. Eventually he’s going to do his own painted covers, but he’s not there yet. You can find his books on Amazon, and you can view his cover designs at


How to Describe Your World to an Artist

A guest post by Holly Heisey

So you’ve just finished your masterpiece. Maybe, like me, you focus on the story in the first few drafts and the world itself is a colorful blur. If an artist asked you right now to describe the feel of your world for your book cover, could you do it?

Or maybe you lead with description, your prose so gorgeous a reader could live in it. You know all the details of your world, and you can describe any object in a given room. But could you describe the visual feel of your world? Could you pare down the details?

As an artist, I work with authors all the time on distilling their visions into cover art. Most authors know their story well, and many have a good idea of what they’d like on their cover, but they often have a hard time translating those concepts into visual ideas. A visual representation of a story is a different medium than the story itself. A cover, unlike a summary, shouldn’t describe the world, but invite the reader into it.

So how do you translate the vision in your head for an artist?

First, gather reference. Artists love reference—it’s like gold for dragons. Have you ever dream-casted your novel or collected images that looked like places in your world? That will come in handy now. Try breaking your world into four categories: people, places, things, and ideas. Google image search, Pinterest, Behance, and Artstation are your friends. Gather photos and paintings of things that could inhabit your world. For the idea category, put in images that evoke the emotions, themes, or specific scenes in your story. Building the visual feel of your book is a lot like finding your novel’s theme as you write. You’ll know it when you start to see it.

Here’s an “idea” Pinterest board for one of my story projects:

The next step is research of a different sort. A lot of authors overlook market research, but it’s too important to skip! Your cover is an invitation, but it’s also like a secret visual code. Your cover, if targeted correctly, will tell a reader exactly the kind of story they’ll get in under two seconds. A good cover artist will know the market trends, but you should know them, too. You might give your artist a beautiful description of your world and they’ll make a beautiful cover, but if your novel is adult fantasy and it reads at a glance as contemporary YA, that’s a serious setback. You want to give yourself as much advantage in reader expectations and sales as you can.

The quickest and most targeted way I’ve found to do market research is to run two searches: the first in your book’s specific ebook categories on Amazon, and the second as a more general search on Goodreads. On Amazon, look at the current ebook bestseller listings for your specific categories. The ebook charts will give the truest feel of the indie market—you’ll see exactly the kinds of covers that are selling books right now. Some of these covers will be amazing, and some…not so amazing. But most of them will have pieces of the visual tropes—or code—for that genre.

As an example, if you’re writing space opera, bestselling books often have starships. Big, colorful, epic starships. Those that don’t are still colorful and epic, sometimes with characters in action. Lots of blue/green, lots of red/orange. Lots of shiny tech and lens flares. This is the genre code for space opera.

Save the covers you like and that are similar to the visual feel you discovered while gathering reference earlier. And once you have a few favorites, it’s a good idea to look them up on Goodreads and explore the “readers also enjoyed” links. This will open up your search to books published in the last five years and bring in more traditional publishing trends. Study these, too. Collect your favorites. But be careful not to collect more than a few covers from over five years ago, as chances are the trends will have changed.

Now that you know the visual feel of your book and the cover tropes of the audience you’re targeting, look again at the references you’ve gathered for the feel of your story world. What are the big things and recurring trends? What evokes the most emotion? Write these elements down in a list. Look at the genre covers you’ve just gathered. What are the genre codes you want to target? Write these elements down, too, and compare the lists. Where do they match up? What gives the stronger image? For example, if you have an urban fantasy with a cool fight scene in the forest, but most of the book takes place in the city and that will make the stronger marketing image, you’ll need to decide what best represents the book as a whole.Not everything needs to match up, and you don’t need to hit all of the genre cover tropes—it’s probably a good idea not to. You want your own twist on this, within the genre. Look for the things that will make your cover stand out. But keep in mind, too, that the tropes are a visual code that people will read, whether you send the right signals or the wrong ones. Make sure your ideas hit at least a few tropes in your genre.

When you’ve found the elements you like, describe them in detail. Break them again into people, places, things, and ideas, and describe every detail of your main character or characters (physical appearance, clothing, emotional and mental states), the strongest places and most interesting settings, any objects or effects the characters or places might need, and any other cool things that might help convey the emotional feel. If the genre you’re targeting has covers that tend more toward abstract design than characters or scenery, still describe it all, paying particular attention to props and emotions. Include some of the reference pics you’ve gathered for each category, and some of your favorite covers that are similar to what you’d like for your book.

And that’s it. You now have a solid page or two of workable details and visual guides to take to an artist, who can help you hone your vision from there. This is a great process to do if you’re self-publishing, but I think it’s valuable for authors aiming at traditional publishing as well. You’ll know exactly how to describe your world to anyone who asks. And you’ll know your world better for yourself, which is the true gold.



About the Author:

Holly Heisey is an author, illustrator, and designer with a love of spaceships and a tendency to quote Monty Python. They’ve had stories in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Clockwork Phoenix 5, and Escape Pod, and have designed and illustrated for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Future Chronicles anthology series, and USA Today and bestselling authors. Holly lives in Arizona with their pet cacti, enjoying the heat and plotting to take over the world.

You can find Holly at, on Instagram @hollyheiseydesign, and Facebook at