What Are Your Options? 13 Tips for Writers by an Author who has experienced Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

What are your options as a writer? Here are thirteen tips I've learned along the way...

 13 Tips for Writers

1. If you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to learn, be rejected, and work hard.

2. Wherever you are at in your writing expertise, you have a lot more to learn. Be teachable!

3.There is an overwhelming amount of information and options on the internet. Find a few resources/blogs/people you trust and stick with them for most of what you need to know. It gets very overwhelming doing random searches for information, so do it sparingly.

Business Lady Biting Laptop Stock Photo
It's not that bad. Lady, put the computer down...put the computer down...
4. Major publishers are harder to get in than ever. If you don't have a following of thousands of people already or some really amazing idea, expect it to be nearly impossible. I know that's disappointing, but I'd rather tell you now than tell you that after you waiting 6 months for a rejection letter.

5. Subsidy publishers are eager for your book, but that's because you will be paying them and so they will make money whether you do or not. I have not heard of one yet that has worked out to an author's benefit. Be very careful about any publisher that makes you pay them first--and that's not for printing books, it's for the actually publishing of your book (and possibly some "marketing" on their part, usually this runs in the thousands of dollars before you ever see your first book).

6. Self-publishing is easier, cheaper, and you get a book a lot sooner than other options, but know that you are the 100% sole marketer responsible. If you are self-motivated, have a great message, and believe in your book, this can work great for you. Self-publishing is also good for someone who only wants to run a few copies rather than ordering hundreds up front (if you do POD--Print On Demand-- rather than one that starts the print run in the hundreds of copies).

7. If you choose to self-publish, PLEASE create a good product. I can't tell you many books I've seen and read from amazon that have typos, grammatical errors, very homemade covers, or just aren't good writing. Kindle and POD have helped make self-publishing not the stigma of lack-of-quality it used to be, but books like that put the whole group down again.

8. Whatever you decide about publishing, get an editor, or have lots of people read the book before you ever put it out there. You can have 50 people read it, and the 51st will find that elusive typo everybody else missed. Believe me, it happened to me, except the person was about the 450th and the book was already on the market! Find people who will give honest feedback. This is one of my favorite parts in the process because I get to experience my book from a new reader's eyes. What was confusing? Did I get a fact wrong? Can I make this clearer? Is it age-appropriate?

Typos can really change your storyline...

...and they lived sappily ever after....oops, I mean happily ever after!

Let's eat grandma...or rather Let's eat, grandma.

He was doping...I mean hoping.

9. Print-On-Demand is the cheapest way to self-publish. I'd recommend Amazon's Createspace. They are user-friendly, have great customer service, and are connected with Kindle, so you can put it up easily on e-book as well. I sell about 3 e-books for every paperback, so getting in with Kindle is important.

10. Spend time on the extras. You may have a fabulous book, but if the two paragraphs on the back are boring, people aren't going to read it. Why spend so much effort on the inside and then fall short on your author bio or your back cover or the one sentence you put on the cover?

11. Invest in a great cover. People say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all do. With Amazon especially you're not picking books off shelves and looking through them. People are scanning pages and pages of covers and if yours is boring, or worse, looks cheap, there are millions of better ones to choose from. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just go to and check out the covers.

Product Details
If you're a famous classic, you can get away with this. If you're a new author with a book nobody knows about...I wouldn't buy it. Would you?

12. Don't let rejection stop you. When I used to write a lot of articles for magazines and such, I began to expect 9 rejections for every 1 acceptance. Once I got the hang of who to write for and how, that number got better, but it was a realistic way to start. There are lots of reasons for being rejected that don't mean your work is bad. Keep going till you find the right readership. (Unless your work really is bad, in which case, learn and improve!)

13. Don't use God as an excuse for poor quality. That may sound mean, but agents and publishers get real wary when someone says, "God gave me this book," or "The words are God's so..." and then proceed to say that's why the publisher really should want to publish it, or they won't take suggestions for improvements. If God had called you to build houses, He would still expect you not only to learn how to build houses, but to build them well. If you just started nailing boards together, telling people God told you build houses, you would get a bad reputation and actually dishonor your testimony rather than honoring God. So if God has told you to write, do so, but work at becoming the best writer you can be so your work honors Him.

There you have it. If you've learned some good lessons along the way, add to my list! It's always great to learn from someone else, especially someone a few steps farther up the path than we are.

Oh, also, if you have a question about any of this, please add it below and maybe it will show up as a future blog post! (With the answer, of course.)

Happy Writing! And may you live sappily ever after. =)

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How to Write a Query Letter--and How Not to Write One!

Whether you write articles or books, fiction or non-fiction, you need to know how to write a query letter. It is your first impression, a mini interview of sorts between you and an agent, editor, or publisher.

A great query sparks interest and makes the reader want more.
A bad query has the reader putting your work down without considering even the first paragraph.

Bad Queries often include:
1. Lots of sentences that start with "I."
2. Making it too personal rather than professional.
3. Spelling and grammar errors.
4. Arrogant statements like, "My book is going to be an amazing bestseller! You really want it!"
5. An address to an editor who hasn't worked there for years.
6. Fancy different fonts, lots of exclamation points, or words in all caps.

Here's an example of what NOT to do in a query:

To whom it may concern,

Hello. My name is so-in-so. I have written a book that you're going to love. It's as good as so-in-so's (famous author) new book and I know it will sell even more copies if I can just get a publisher to accept it. It's my first book an all my friends think it's great!!!!!! There is NO OTHER BOOK LIKE IT anywhere! It has a totally new style of writing and breaks all the rules, and God just gave me all the words so you don't even need to edit it! It's 600 pages long, and I know it will make a great movie.

Crazy Girl Cross Eyed And Pulling Her Ears Stock Photo

So write me back today! I've sent this letter to 50 editors, so you want to get in the front of the line for this new book that my mother calls a REAL MASTERPIECE!

Waiting impatiently,

So what goes into a great query? A hook sentence at the beginning that catches their attention and ignites their curiosity, and the information they need to know if your article/book is something they should consider.

Here's the order I use for writing queries (for articles or book proposals):

My contact information top right-hand corner (name, address, e-mail)

Their contact information on the left (person's name and company, address)


Paragraph 1--my hook (don't start out with fluffy stuff, jump right into a question or statement that will catch their eye)
Paragraph 2--More detail about the article/book and what benefit readers will get out of it
Paragraph 3--any important details like word-count, whether first rights or reprint rights are offered, etc.
Paragraph 4--A clear question, such as "Would you be interested in using this article in your magazine?"
Paragraph 5--my credentials, how many times I've been published, or what experiences I've had that make me knowledgeable on the topic
Paragraph 6--sincere gratitude (without gushing) and a closing comment

Closing salutation



(NOTE: Each of the above doesn't actually need its own paragraph. I often combine things to make the letter smaller. The more concise you can be, the better--white space is your friend when it comes to queries.)

Here's an example of a query for a magazine article (for if you're like me and visuals are much more helpful than explanation):

Kimberly Rae
Mailing Address

Mr. So-In-So, Editor
Cadet Quest Magazine

Date, Year

Dear Mr. So-In-So,

The Bangladeshi boys were excited about going to Bible camp, learning about the heroes of the faith.  When the trip to camp was stopped, their leaders beaten, and the boys taken to prison, they realized that this year, instead of learning about the heroes, they had the chance to be like the heroes.  So, like Paul and Silas, they sang in the prison, and scratched Bible verses onto the walls for future prisoners to find.

Would In Jail for Jesus, based on true events, be a good fit for your Living for Jesus issue?  It has been published once before, in Guide magazine (2010) so reprint rights are offered.

I have been published over 250 times in Christian books and magazines, including multiple articles for children.

Thank you for your time.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Kimberly Rae

Now, don't start freaking out because you haven't been published hundreds of times or whatever. If you've been published once, say so and tell them what and where. Or, if you've never been published, tell them that you regularly speak on this subject, or that you like their magazine, or that you believe readers will be encouraged about your article because _____. Just don't go for the new-kid vote, as in "I've never been published before and I really want to get published, so..."

If you're nervous about getting started, you may want to try publications that do not pay first (they get less flooded with query letters and are a good way to get your feet wet and start building relationships with editors).  The Writer's Market Guide or Christian Writer's Market Guide lists not only the publications, but the editor's name, e-mail address, and what they are looking for as far as topic and word count. (You can find either book used on amazon for not too much money. They are updated each year.).

Well, are you excited about getting started or overwhelmed and want to give up already??  I promise it gets easier the more you do it. At this point, I'm so used to writing queries that they don't twist me up inside like they did at first. Writing queries is a learn-able skill, like driving, so once you get it mastered, it becomes second nature.  It's the starting that's the hardest, so don't get discouraged! 

Happy Writing!

Related Posts:  Getting Your Work to an Agent or Publisher--What to do and How

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Guest Author Interview: Shawne Ebersole, 27 Years Writing in Bangladesh

Today, I welcome a dear friend and fellow writer, Shawne Ebersole! When I lived in Bangladesh, Shawne was one of the women I admired most. It wasn't till later that I found out she was not only amazing at adapting to culture, loving the people of Bangladesh and keeping fit, but she's a writer too. And a really, really good one.

Shawne was the person I went to when I wrote my Stolen Series. She checked each of my books for cultural accuracy, and her comments made the books so much better. But I'll stop rambling and let you hear from her yourself!
Shawne Ebersole-writer, teacher, adventurer (and mom and grandma too!)
1. Welcome, Shawne! How long have you lived in Bangladesh? 
My husband Harold and I came soon after our wedding, 27 years ago.

2. Do you feel called to be a writer as well as to serve overseas, or is being a writer part of your service overseas?  
 Actually God gifted me to teach, and I include writing in that job description.  Writing is a powerful medium for teaching; the message in a book isn’t as easily forgotten as the lesson in the classroom is; a book can be read and re-read and passed on.

3. Do you write most for enjoyment or for ministry?  
 Though I enjoy writing, I do it purposefully; I guess you could say I write “for ministry.”

4. What inspires you to write?   
We Americans are blessed with a rich array of literature for every age-group and in every genre.  Throughout my life, authors have been my primary “mentors/teachers.”  When we went to Bangladesh and visited new friends in their homes, I was horrified to realize that few Bangladeshis own books.  Then in the marketplace I saw that very few books are available.  Bangladeshis need truth.  God has shown me that, so I need to act on it.

5. Do you have a regular time you write, or just when you can get to it, or otherwise?  
 I work with our mission’s Literature Division (publishing house) in researching books to translate and in applying for publication grants.  I also like to talk with Bangladeshis about what types of books are needed.  All that to say, each day I have a scheduled time to do literature work; writing is included in that.

6. How has living in a different culture affected you/your writing?  
 Living in Bangladesh has deeply affected me.  I write about what God is showing me.  I write about Him.

7. Tell us about where you live/what you do.   
We work by a rural, mission hospital; my husband is hospital administrator; I teach and write.  As God shows us and our colleagues the many needs around us (educational, physical, and spiritual), we seek to meet needs and point people to God who is Provider of all good things. 

8. Why do you do it?  
 I do it because God has given me life… literally abundant, eternal life.  A number of years ago, I had a sudden, surprise brain hemorrhage.  Afterwards the surgeon remarked on what a “lucky girl I was” that I can still talk.  That very day, I read this Bible verse, and I realized that God had a “project” for me:  “I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.”  Writing is one special way that I can tell His worth.

9. Do you feel you have missed opportunities by living overseas? Or in other words, have you had to sacrifice to be where God wants you to be? 
LOL!  People who haven’t lived overseas are missing amazing opportunities.  My life is full indeed.  I wish this kind of life for everyone who possibly can come.

Shawne riding "sidesaddle" behind her husband, Harold.

10. Do you feel there are certain advantages to serving overseas that you would not have (in life or in writing) had you remained in the US?   
I see all the more clearly and regularly my desperate need for God…and I see His amazing grace which is sufficient (and that’s the understatement of all times).

11. What are some interruptions to writing you have there that we writers here might not have? (tick-tickies, monsoons, etc.) 
Kim, this is a fun question.  Sure, we have the geckos inside and monsoons outside.  We have sudden guests at the door and countless urgent jobs.  But those very interruptions open my eyes to people’s needs… and hence to writing topics.

You wouldn't believe the adventures Shawne has had!

12. What would you tell someone who wants to be a writer but is feeling hesitant, not good enough, or afraid?   
Don’t focus on yourself; that’s a trap.  Instead, focus on the beauty of the One Who is guiding you to do this.  After all, simply by looking at Jesus  Peter could walk on water.  If you’re supposed to write, you have all you need to tell your story.

13. Anything else you'd like to tell other writers? 
Madeleine L’Engle, who is a brilliant thinker and writer, tells us that writing a story is an “incarnational activity.”  We’re giving birth.  We’re co-creators with the living God.

14. How important do you think it is to be culturally accurate when writing about a different culture for an American audience? 
 It’s essential to tell the truth in our story.  This certainly includes our portrayal of other people-groups.

15. Do you think an author needs to in some way encounter a culture before they write about it?   
Take the challenge:  Go to that country and visit the people; research the land and people, their religion and worldview; interview people who have worked among the people.  Be a cultural anthropologist, jotting observations and questions; learn all you can.  And after you write your story, ask people from that country to read your story and affirm or correct your tale.

Then after all that hard work, celebrate by writing more stories about the same people-group!

Thanks, Shawne, for your beautiful perspective! 

Shawne's book, What is God Really Like?, is available by order through mail, in English or Bengali/Bangla, and the proceeds go toward Bangladeshi children's camps!
Here's how to order:
To purchase an English or Bangla copy of the book, people should send a minimum $5 donation and their mailing address to 126 Cedar Lane, Laurel Springs, NJ 08021, USA, until this coming September; if they want a Bangla version, they should tell me if they want the book in the Hindu or Muslim dialect.  The $5 donation will cover the book’s publication and shipping, plus help Bangladeshi kids. (All money will go toward Bangladeshi children’s camps this coming year.)

Post some encouragement for Shawne below, or any questions you have for her. Gotta go--I'm going to go order her book!

Next Week: How to Write a Query Letter, and How Not To!
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How the Amazon Ranking/ Bestseller Numbers Can Work for You

I recently got these questions from a fellow author:

What constitutes bestseller status on Amazon, Kimberly? Will Amazon tell you you reach that milestone or do we have to watch for some magic number?

Figure Thinking With Question Mark Stock Photo
Good questions. If you're an author, you've probably noticed those important-looking numbers on book pages on Amazon. If you've got a book out, you likely have noticed how they can change from, say, 565,000 on one day to 1,265,000 on another. Seems like they change every hour!

Actually, they do. I'm no Amazon expert, but I've learned a few things about how the system works, and all 5 of my books that are out have hit the Amazon bestseller rank. You may assume to get there you have to sell hundreds or thousands of books, but it's actually easier than you think.

I'll try to present this info as concisely as possible, and if something's unclear, feel free to ask below.

Every book on Amazon has a ranking number. It shows where your number is compared to the other millions of books for sale on Amazon. The higher your number, the worse your sales are. The lower the number, the better your sales. The super popular books get in Amazon's top 100 books list. Out of millions of books, that would be extremely hard to do.

However, Amazon also keeps track of the top 100 books in each of its categories. That's the good news. If you sell a large number of books in a small amount of time, you are much more likely to get in the top 100 of your book's category. (Your publisher chooses your category unless you self-publish in which case you choose it. But Amazon also seems to list it in other connecting categories, which is also good for you.)

Your category is very important if you want on the bestseller list. The broader your category, the more competition you'll have. For example, if you pick romance, there are a LOT of romance books on Amazon. However, if you can find an aspect of your book that fits a different category, picking that will improve your chances significantly.

Specific example. My Stolen Series has 3 books in it. For book 1 and book 3, I picked Suspense/Romance or something like that. For book 2, though, because it is about an adopted girl going to find her birth family, I put it in the adoption category. Even though the overall Amazon numbers were similar between the three books, book 2 stayed on the bestseller rank for months because of its tighter category.

Okay, let's look at some real numbers. On a book's page, the Amazon ranking number is listed in the Product Details. Here's mine for the Sick & Tired e-book right now:

Product Details

If you've had a book out for awhile, you probably won't see "Amazon Best Sellers Rank." You'll see something like what another of my books, Stolen Future, looks like right now. It has hit the bestseller status, but over time (like I said, it gets updated every hour) as the sales dwindle, your numbers do as well.

Product Details

E-books tend to sell much more than paperbacks, and there are less total books the e-book section of Amazon than paperbacks, so your e-book numbers will almost always be better than paperbacks.

I don't know the exact numbers, but my guess would be that any number over 1 million (paperback) means your book is selling less than 5 copies a month. Anything smaller than 500,000 is a good sign (again, paperback), it means your books are selling pretty regularly, just not a lot.

Anything less than 100,000, I think you should be pretty proud of your book. =)

Then of course, there's the bestseller rank. You may have noticed that the e-book for Sick & Tired is currently in the bestseller rank in 2 categories even though the overall number is around 50,000.

So if you're launching a book and want to know your numbers, or just wanting to keep track in general, what do you do?

You check it every hour or so. If you have an Author Central page on Amazon (highly recommended--here's mine if you want an example: Kimberly Rae's Amazon Author Page), it will give you your rank over time, but that's your overall rank, not the ranking for individual categories.

How do you get your book in the top 100 in its category? Well, either write an amazingly popular book, be famous, or...

Decide on a launch date, and ask everyone to wait to order it until that day. If a bunch of people order it in a small window of time, that gets your numbers way up (or rather down). This may shock you, but it took less than 50 books sales to get Sick & Tired on the bestseller list. Same with Stolen Future--it hit the bestseller rank in a category on launch day after 33 sales, because the sales happened so close together.

So that's the big secret, from what I can tell. I hope sharing it with you will be helpful.

Did I miss anything? If you have a question, or more info to add, please comment below!

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