Category Archives: Teaching

School Visits – A Captive Audience?

For authors who write middle grad or YA books, it seems like a no-brainer to include school visits in our plan to build our fan bases, right?


Like a lot of things, it depends on your personality, your books, and how you approach those visits. I personally love visiting schools, even though I haven’t sold lots of books as a direct result of most of those visits. Still, I consider visiting schools, teaching kids about writing, talking about stories, and mentoring young writers well worth my time.

Through the process, I’ve learned a few things.

  1. When you first approach schools, don’t be surprised if they’re wary. These days a lot of indie authors try to get school visits, but few seem interested in helping busy teachers, administrators, and librarians accomplish their curriculum objectives. And they don’t have time to babysit an author coming only to pitch their book.
  2. When you do get school visits, many schools are happy to set you up in the library. Don’t be surprised if you don’t have tons of visitors, unless you schedule with teachers in advance.
  3. Get to know the librarians. Promise them a free book. They love free books, and I always give them one every time I visit. Ask them to put you in touch with English teachers or other teachers who might be interested in meeting with you.
  4. Contact those teachers and ask them what they need, or how you can support and assist their current plans.
  5. Note – don’t be surprised if quite a few teachers scoff at the idea of some indie hack coming into their classrooms and teaching their students anything they couldn’t teach themselves. Some teachers are very open and friendly, but some are quite snobby, even though they usually have no idea how to actually write a publishable story. I’ve had to work through that in initial visits where I prove I know what I’m talking about, students enjoy interacting with me, and I bring value. They’re often much more eager to invite me back a second time.
  6. Be friendly and smile a lot.
  7. Offer to teach students about writing. I’ve spent entire days at local schools teaching students about writing and holding writing workshops with them. Students love it best when only a little formal instruction is given, followed by a hands-on exercise. I really enjoy building a story with students, and they usually love the opportunity to help create stories together.
  8. Prepare a message or presentation that appeals to a wide audience beyond just your books. I’m working on a couple different presentations suitable for larger audiences that should make administrators a lot more eager to invite me to come speak to their schools.
  9. Although it is possible to set up a big book signing event at the school, the more I learn, the more I think there are better ways. One well known author I know warned me that sometimes holding a big book signing can actually generate hostility from the school.

He pointed out that at least one teacher or administrator at almost every school fancies themselves an author, and they often feel resentment when they seen tons of students lining up to buy books.

So for a really big book signing, a great suggestion they gave me is to line up multiple school visits for the same area over a couple of days, and send all the kids home with a notice that you’ll be holding a big book signing at a local bookstore or venue close to the schools. Then the kids and their parents can come on Saturday and buy your books.

I plan to test this approach soon, and I’m eager to see how it goes.

10. Finally, know your objectives. Make sure you’re helping the school and bringing value to them. You’ll get exposure, if not tons of sales at first, but over time, it really pays off.

I’ve been cultivating relationships with local schools for the past few years, and I have a strong local fan base, partially because of those efforts. Plus I’ve helped a lot of budding authors learn some things I wish I’d known at their age.


What “Rejection” Really Means

A Guest Post by David Farland

For the last few weeks I’ve been scurrying to finish up judging on a large contest.  I’ve had to “reject” thousands of stories.  I hate the word “reject,” because it doesn’t really express what I want to say.

Very often I will read the opening to a story and it is obviously the first work of a very young writer.  It may have a multitude of problems—from simple typos, to a lack of understanding as to how to set a scene, to clunky dialog.  I know that I can’t accept the story for publication, but at the same time, I wish that I could shout some encouragement to the budding writer, much the way that my mentor Algis Budrys did to a young Stephen King.

I think that people need encouragement. It may be the only thing that will spur a young writer to greater effort.

So what does the word “rejection” mean to you as a writer?  I think it’s simply: “Try harder.”

A lot of fine works get rejected.  The bestselling works in nearly every genre experienced rejection.  Lord of the Rings was rejected by several American publishers.  Dune was rejected by all of them.  Gone with the Wind made its rounds through every major publisher.  Harry Potter was rejected by all of the biggest houses, and Twilight was rejected by a dozen agents before it got picked up—yet all of these novels became the bestsellers in their fields.

So does that mean that these were all bad novels?  Of course not.  It means that the author didn’t find an editor with a matching taste, a matching vision, right at the first.

Very often when I read a manuscript that is close to being publishable, I think, It’s a shame that the author didn’t try a little harder to . . .  That’s what “rejected” means to me.

I was talking to international bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton last week, and asked her to confirm a rumor that I’d heard.  With her first novel, she received over 200 rejections before she made a sale.  She said, “When people tell me that they’ve been rejected five or ten or twenty times, I just tell them that ‘I don’t want to hear about it.’”

Laurell has the perfect attitude toward rejection.  Try harder.


Writing is Life

A Guest Post from Scott Lee

I pulled in to the house, just back from my third time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. I had spent the ride home rehearsing the arguments I would present to my wife as to why I should pull out the credit card and immediately pay for Superstars 2017. After all, the price was the lowest it would ever be, it was set to go up in the morning, and we had a rough idea that our tax return was going to be pretty sweet… Argument in the bag, right? In. The. Bag.

Then I noticed that our little car wasn’t in the drive way. Huh. Becca wasn’t home. Perhaps I would end up waiting awhile before delivering my winning Superstars argument. Or then again, Becca wasn’t home…but no, I’ve lived enough to recognize that thought as a trap.

So, I walk into the house, playing it cool, calm and confident. I had an argument to make.


So here I am. Blogging. About writing. And life. And balance. Feeling that I owe you, dear reader, some modicum of advice, insight or wisdom. So here goes.

As I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks I knew pretty quickly that the story I started the blog out with—I’ll finish it later, don’t worry—would have to be included somehow. It is too ironic not to be, and it embodies what thoughts I’ve managed to gather.

First off, I find that framing the question as finding balance between life and writing, writing and real life, or between art and life—creates a false dichotomy. When I considered opening with this point, I had to ask myself if I wasn’t nitpicking. Was I just giving way to personal prejudice against any dichotomy? Everyone talks about writing this way. But I don’t think I’m just picking nits. We can talk about balancing priorities in life, we can talk about where writing fits in our lives, but as long as we split life from writing, even subconsciously, we’re self-sabotaging.

My job doesn’t define me. I am a teacher, but it’s a single facet of who I am not the sum of my identity. Even so, I don’t separate my role as a teacher from my life. It’s not something I go and do when I’m not living. And my role as a writer is no different. If you allow yourself to separate your writing from your “life,” then you make any pursuit of writing time, let alone balance, much harder.

Furthermore, in my experience, most writers are likely to experience things in exactly the opposite direction. It is writing that feels most like life. If we adopt a mental stance where we’re saying that isn’t true, suddenly we’re trying to find time for and balance with, a triviality. Good luck with that.

Second, in practical experience I’ve most often found “balance” by being a binge writer. My typical day didn’t include writing at all. And then when the muse struck in the form of some deadline, I became a zombie with an IV drip of caffeine who taught school and was hubby/daddy during the hours in a day that a sane person was awake, and, during the late night and early morning hours, I wrote like mad in order to get the paper done while the house was quiet. I wrote my grad school papers, my published short story, and my published short story collection/thesis, in this fashion. By the way, 16-19 hours of work/family followed by 5-8 hours of writing, is not balance, it’s insanity. But when I had to, I got writing done, and that seemed like enough. Not an approach I recommend.

I began to make headway a few years ago, when we went on our 10th anniversary vacation. We picked a destination vacation rather than a running-around-seeing-things vacation, and our schedule was determined almost entirely by my writing. I got up in the morning a bit before Becca and wrote my morning pages—three pages, long hand—a daily journaling/meditation exercise I encountered through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books. Then, later, we made our way down to the public library where I’d get a guest pass and a computer and write while Rebecca patiently read whatever caught her eye. I never wrote for more than an hour and a half in a sitting, and most days I wrote for just at an hour, if not a little less. In those five days I wrote well over 10,000 words of new fiction. Not the most I’d ever put together over five days, but I did it without a deadline, without having to try to kill myself in the process, and without suddenly achieving the miraculous hours and hours of writing time I had been subconsciously waiting for before I could “get serious.”

The point isn’t go take a long vacation to Telluride, Colorado without any kids, it’s that in less than two hours-a-day, I put out one of the best steady chunks of words I ever had, and at the end of the process I was neither dead, high on caffeine, delirious, nor stressed out of my mind. I did it as a small part of my ordinary life.

When I got home I had to admit to myself—for the first time, although it seems painfully obvious in retrospect—that I could in fact find balance. Make time to write without killing myself. And I started doing so.

I would love to tell you that I immediately became incredibly disciplined and dove into writing what is now my bestselling novel an hour or less at a time over the next few months. That’s not what happened. My life wasn’t transformed. Nor was my writing. But I wrote more than I ever had, with greater regularity, greater ease, and less stress. And I produced more than I’d ever produced on any single project before.

So here’s my two tiny bits of wisdom: (1) You don’t need a ton of time. Just because Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road as a highly caffeinated high speed physical endurance test doesn’t mean you have to somehow trade life for writing time. You don’t. Make writing time a part of your life. Make it routine, work-a-day, consistent. Don’t bargain for hours, days, weeks, months, or a year’s sabbatical with your work or your family. Bargain with yourself for an hour or so at a shot, or when you get really smart for any tiny snatch of free time. Make writing life. And you will discover more time and more peace than seems possible if you haven’t done it yet.

(2) Writing isn’t separate from life. In Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Make Good Art” commencement speech, he suggests that the response to negative experiences in life ought to be make good art. I often hear people simplify this to “When life happens to you, make good art!” I know what they mean, but it makes me sad. Because it’s wrong. Art isn’t the counter to life. It’s the ultimate expression of life, and its beauty, tragedy, and value. Art—or writing—isn’t just a record of life, it is the most positive and life affirming of human of acts—the act of creation. So don’t pit your writing against your life. Because the minute you pit anything against your life instead of embracing it as part of your life and making it essential, it will lose. Every. Single. Time.

Now I promised you the rest of the story…


My wife was waiting for me back in our room. I felt something coming, kind of the way the lady tied to the tracks in a classic melodrama must feel something coming.

“Hi Becca,” I said. “What happened to the car?”

“Well,” she said, “about that. I was driving on the other side of town today and every warning light on the dashboard came on at once. So I took it to the Toyota dealer. They say the transmission is shot. It’s going to be $5000 dollars to replace it.”

I asked about Superstars 2017 anyway. Why? Because writing is part of my life. An essential part. My wife knows and supports this. We talked about it. I didn’t apologize for asking, and she didn’t yell at me for being stupid, selfish or ridiculous or impractical.

I haven’t paid for Superstars 2017…yet. And I won’t for a while. Seems we need that big tax return elsewhere. I didn’t insist on paying for Superstars immediately, or get down about not being able to. Instead, we made plans for exactly how to pay for it later.

I’ll pay for my car now, because that’s part of my life, and I invest in it. I’ll go to Superstars next year, because writing is part of my life, and I invest in it. In the mean time I’ve had a few hours here and there, and I’m about finished with draft one of a new short story. I’ve loved writing it. I haven’t had a lot of time, but I’m getting it done, and every minute so far has been pure pleasure.


Scott Lee:

Scott Lee is a strange individual who chose teaching and writing as his two primary careers. Obviously he has no desire to make any money, and on that count has largely succeeded. He has, however, written much poetry, some individual short stories, published a short story collection entitled Singular Visions, directed 15 plays, and fathered several human children to go along with his less material offspring. He has thoroughly succeeded, in his own humble opinion, at living a worthy and interesting life.

SSWS Writing Scholarship: Should YOU Apply?

We’re taught in school to always ask the questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. Today, let’s start with why.

job_huntHave you ever wanted to have one-on-one conversations with experienced, best-selling authors and be able to ask them anything? Have you ever wanted to meet a New York editor, an acquiring editor for one of the most successful small presses in the nation, or find qualified indie editors? Have you ever felt like having a larger community of dedicated writers around you might help improve your writing skills and your writing career? Does the business side of writing–working with agents, contracts, hiring artists and editors, marketing, etc–seem a bit overwhelming at times? Could you use information from people who know what they’re doing to help in your writing career?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you NEED to apply to the Superstars Writing Seminar (SSWS) scholarship. Here’s the link:  Seriously, go look at it right now.

2010 SuperstarsOkay, as for the other questions. What is SSWS? The most amazing writing seminar you will ever attend. I’m not just saying that, and no, I’m not being paid to say that. I attended the first SSWS in 2010. If it was mediocre or repetitive, I’d have only gone once. I’ve been three times. I plan on attending again. It is worth every penny, but if you earn the scholarship, your tuition will be free. Here’s what it says on the website: “The only focus at Superstars is to teach you how to have a successful writing career by sharing how those at the top of the industry manage their careers.” Take a look at the past classes, and I can only tell you that each year somehow manages to get even better.

Superstars Presenters April 2010Who? Anyone who hasn’t attended SSWS in past years is eligible to apply for the scholarship. The instructors are Kevin J. Anderson, James A. Owen, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, and Eric Flint. To list their credentials would take the rest of this post. Guests include Toni Weisskopf (Baen books), Christine Monroe (the US Manager for Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo), Todd McCaffrey, and Jody Lynn Nye. Again, I can’t list all their credentials. It’s just too much. Nope, I’m not done throwing out names. Past and recurring attendees include our very own David Carrico (author of 1636: The Devil’s Opera) and Brad R. Torgersen (multiple award nominee and winner) This is what Brad had to say, “This is not a craft class nor is it a critique workshop. It’s a no-holds-barred crash-course in how to perform and conduct yourself as a professional fiction author.”  There are more quotes where those came from and you can find them on youtube, too.

When? The scholarship application is due by November 22nd. That’s this Saturday! The seminar will happen in February.  colorado springsThat’s the perfect time so you’re somewhat recovered from Christmas, have your tax refund on its way, and are in need of a short vacation. The exact date for 2015 is February 5-7th.

Where? Apply to the scholarship from the website, but give yourself time to write a short essay and get a couple of referrals. The people involved in making this opportunity take it seriously. They want to give it to you, but you have to show that you really want it and are willing to do the work. The seminar takes place in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s a great place to visit, and airfare is reasonable.

unikarkadan2How? For the full story on how this scholarship came to exist, I encourage you to read the introduction to One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology. It still gives me a warm feeling every time I scan over the story again. Once the idea took root to fund a scholarship so aspiring writers could attend SSWS, people pitched in. The cover artist, the publisher, the editor, and the famous and not-so-famous writers all volunteered time and work for the sake of helping other writers find their dream. And even though SSWS attendees were competing with one another for slots in the book, we cheered each other on, critiqued stories to help one another, and as often happens with this group, we did all we could to help our writing friends succeed. opportunity knocksThat is a rare camaraderie to have with a group this size, but it’s there and it’s precious.

In conclusion: If you’re serious about writing, take the time, do the work, and apply for this scholarship. Hurry! You’ve only got a few days to change the rest of your life. Opportunity is banging at the door.