Twitter Etiquette 101

photo by Ron Mead

It might (or might not) come as a surprise to you that many writers hate Twitter. I confess that I’ve had my own “die, Twitter, die” moments over the years, and it’s usually due to discourtesy. The character limit, the flood of information, the time drain: those I can stomach. But people being rude or obnoxious? Well, I think we’ve all had moments where we wanted to jump ship.

Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone else use Twitter well. What we can do as denizens of the writing Twit-o-sphere is make sure that we are using Twitter well. Of course, this is subjective, but isn’t all etiquette subjective? Today I’m going to cover my top 10 etiquette guidelines in hopes of encouraging a livable, courteous place for us all to tweet. Let’s go!

1. Don’t be a numbers hog.

Remember my first Twitter column about my 5 unshakeable beliefs? One of those was “quality over quantity,” and it still is. (Can’t shake it.) What this translates to behavior-wise is treating people as people rather than tally marks. Don’t follow 500 new people at once just to see who will follow you back. Don’t unfollow everyone if they don’t follow you back immediately. Instead, try finding people who actually interest you and engaging with them. Build relationships, not a big number. You’ll feel better, your platform will be stronger, and your followers will like you more (and actually know who you are).

2. Unhook your outside accounts.

I know I’ll get some flak for this, but it drives me crazy when people hook their outside accounts to their Twitter account. I don’t want to see every single post from your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or tumblr. And if I do… I can follow you on those platforms. In fact, having these hooked to your Twitter makes me less likely to follow you at those places. Why would I sign up for double information? Not to mention that most of these “hooked” accounts require Twitter users to click out to see/read the information, which is really annoying.

Instead of hooking Twitter to your other favorite platforms, try occasionally tweeting links to how to follow you elsewhere, sometimes mixed with what type of things you offer there. For example, I sometimes lure my Twitter followers with cute cat pictures if they come “like” my Facebook page. But if I were to share those same pictures on Twitter every time, why would they bother? Offering varied content without cross-pollinating creates value in each place, rather than just one. (Occasional cross-over is fine.)

On a related note: many writers also run secondary Twitter accounts, either for organizations, groups, magazines, or whatever. It’s fine to occasionally retweet these secondary accounts so people know they’re there, but don’t retweet every tweet. It’s the same as above; if your followers wanted to see every tweet, they would simply follow that account.

3. Don’t mass-tweet a personal tweet.

I’ve noticed a growing trend: the practice of replying to everyone to reply to one person. Someone tweets something. A follower @ replies. The original tweeter replies to that publicly instead of directly. They do this by putting a period in front of their response so everyone can see it, or by tagging the person at the end instead of the beginning of the tweet. Continue Reading »

The Crushing Weight of Expectations


Rock Slide by ActiveSteve (Flickr)

It is a truth rarely acknowledged that the act of writing often comes with an entire catalog of weighted expectations attached to it. For published writers, it is SO easy for our self worth to become wrapped up in our commercial performance; it is almost inevitable that the weight of those hopes and expectations will leak out into our work. Maybe this book will bring us the coveted significant advance, or maybe this is the one the publisher will throw the entire weight and heft of their marketing and promotion machine behind. Maybe this will be the book that hits the list or earns a starred review or finally—finally—causes that elusive fame and recognition to appear.

Published authors don’t have the corner on the expectation market. Pre-published authors are often just as weighed down. This will be the manuscript that lands me the Famous Agent, or grabs the attention of the Rock Star Editor, or at the very least gets me that damned contract I’ve been dreaming of for YEARS.

This will be the book/manuscript that validates me in the eyes of
my family,
my friends,
or my peers.

This will be the book that brings me the recognition I crave. The recognition that will finally allow me to feel that I’ve made it, that I’ve achieved something of worth and value.

This book/manuscript will—at last!—make me a Real, Fully Licensed Writer instead of the impostor I’ve actually been all these years.

Dear reader, let me share with you a truth I’ve discovered the hard way—none of those things will bring you what you seek or make you feel validated. Or, if they do, it will only be for the most fleeting of moments.

As Anne Lamott so brilliantly said: “Expectations are resentments under construction.” In truth, they are one of the surest fire ways to suck the creative joy our of our lives and work. Continue Reading »

Why Writers Are More Powerful Than The Supreme Court

These days it often feels as if we have very little power to change things. After all, how can one actual flesh and blood-type person make a difference in the world if the Supreme Court says that corporations, with their billion dollar megaphones, are people too? Money talks exponentially louder than you or me, even when we’re shouting. We live in a country that fully personifies George Orwell’s Animal Farm maxim: All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others. Citizens United, indeed.

Thinking about it, my blood always begins to boil. That’s when (after taking a deep cleansing breath), I remind myself of the power we do have – not in some new age “we are all one” sort of way – but as writers. Because story is the most powerful agent of change on the planet. You have more power than the Supreme Court. You have more power than the biggest corporation. You can affect people directly because story mainlines meaning deep into our hearts and minds. It’s a biological truth. Story changes how we see the world, how we feel, and therefore what we do. Want some proof? Continue Reading »

Doubt, Fear and Constipation

bananasOnce upon a time, I didn’t believe in monsters under the bed. Boogeymen were also make-believe, and hostile, big-eyed aliens were only real in movies. I didn’t want to believe in scary stuff so I chose not to believe in it. Behold, Ladies and Gentlemen . . . da Queen of de Nial!

I applied the same head-in-sand mentality to Writer’s Block. When my high school English students claimed Writer’s Block rendered them unable to write their Hamlet essays, I rolled my eyes and called them pribbling, beef-witted pollywockers. When, in 2005, I had the pleasure of hearing Dorothy Allison speak about her paralyzing, three-year Writer’s Block, I didn’t yell Shakespearean insults, but I didn’t quite believe her either. Lionel Messi doesn’t suddenly find himself unable to play soccer. Meryl Streep doesn’t suddenly find herself unable to act. Barbara Walters doesn’t suddenly find herself unable to ask nosy, semi-inappropriate questions. And three years? Surely Dorothy Allison wrote something over those three years.

But let’s get back to the monsters.

While I didn’t want to believe in monsters, deep down I have always known that they exist. They come in the form of pediatric cancer, domestic violence and chronic mental illness. They look exactly like political leaders who don’t care that their country’s people are hungry and voiceless. They are the terrorists who lob bombs into crowded public spaces. They may not live under my bed, but they do exist.

And, as I have been writing over the past fifteen years, I see Writer’s Block is equally real. My students did feel paralyzed. Dorothy Allison was unable to write for three years. It’s a monster that resides under my bed after all . . . under your bed too.

Continue Reading »

Drawing from Real Life in Fiction

Looking back at our own livesUnlike many people I know, I’ve never wanted to write the story of my life. And I’ve come to belatedly believe that this lack of autobiographic desire on my part has affected my fiction writing, and not necessarily for the best.

I say “belatedly” because I’ve been writing fiction for close to 15 years, but only a few years ago did I start to readjust what I now see as a rather closed and negative mindset I’d been maintaining.

In the past, I used to consciously avoid drawing on my own life and experiences when writing fiction. I’ll admit that I probably got a bit snobby about it, making blithe statements like “I prefer to write about lives far more interesting than my own,” and looking down my nose at authors who wrote what I considered to be thinly veiled memoir, but who positioned their work as fiction. Frankly, I thought they were being both lazy and self-absorbed in doing so. I’ve since reevaluated that stance.

So what has changed? Well, despite being an opinionated bastard, I do pride myself on actually listening to others, particularly those who are further along in their literary journeys. So I pay attention to the advice and insights of successful authors, and I make an attempt to try their advice on for size before dismissing it. To that end, today I’d like to share some insights I gained from two very different writers: WU’s own Barbara O’Neal, and the author of the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child.

A wise woman weighs in on the stories we each own

Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to see Barbara O’Neal presenting at the RWA Women’s Fiction Conference (back when the RWA still acknowledged women’s fiction as a valid category, but don’t get me started on that sore subject). At the time, Barbara was serving as the “Wise Woman” for the Women’s Fiction chapter, a title she more than deserved. The entire conference was terrific, but I think I got the biggest personal takeaway from Barbara’ segment, where she made this simple but powerful statement:

“We’re all stuck with our own stories.”

Continue Reading »

The Labor of Launch

image by Ashley Webb

image by Ashley Webb

It’s not uncommon, especially among those of us who are both writers and moms, to compare books and babies. For a while there was even a blog called Book Pregnant. In my experience, having one go-around with each, books and babies are different in a whole lot of ways.

But as I prepare for the arrival of my second baby (likely later this month) and my second book (a decent interval afterward, thank goodness) I’m reminded of some similarities between the baby part of life — the labor — and the book part of life — the launch.

You can never really be ready for either, in my experience. But if you’re looking to launch a book into the world, you could do worse than to take a few lessons from labor.

To wit:

Find the line between education and obsession, and stay safely on this side. Labor stories and launch stories can both turn into horror stories. And there are plenty (thousands! tens of thousands! and then some!) of people, especially on the internet, who are happy to tell you their stories in stunning/gory/boring/excr-uc-ia-ting detail. In the book launch realm, it makes a lot of sense to research what your options are for all the different things you could do during the launch period for your book, but you will never, ever be able to do all of them. So don’t go alllll the way down the rabbit hole. When you reach the end of the internet it’s likely you will have read an equal number of people avowing that something was the worst decision they ever made — or the best. Gather information and then use your own judgment; that’s really all you can do.

Choose your team wisely. Especially if it’s your first time, you’re going to need some people on your side who’ve been there before. A combination of amateurs and professionals is usually best, since they’ll provide different types of support. In labor, who do you want with you? Continue Reading »

O, Brave New (Adult) World!

"Emergence" by Alice Popkorn (Flickr)

“Emergence” by Alice Popkorn (Flickr)

Today’s guest is Lorin Oberweger. Lorin has been an independent editor and story development coach for almost twenty years, and her company Free Expressions also offers some of the country’s most highly regarded writing workshops. Lorin and New York Times Bestselling Author Veronica Rossi—writing together as Noelle August—are launching their new adult trilogy this month, beginning with the novel Boomerang. Says Lorin, “Noelle August is an anagram for Veronica Rossi and Lorin Oberweger. Just kidding, it’s a pen name!”

I’m interested in the topic of genre inclusion and in pushing beyond the limitations supposedly prescribed by the marketplace.”

About her post today, Lorin says, “Though I don’t pretend to be an expert on the genre, I haven’t read much about it (the new adult genre) on Writer Unboxed, and I felt moved to explore it a bit for the WU readership. In addition, I’m interested in the topic of genre inclusion and in pushing beyond the limitations supposedly prescribed by the marketplace.”

See for more on both authors! You can also connect with Noelle August (and Lorin and Veronica) on Facebook and Twitter as well as on the Noelle August blog.

O, Brave New (Adult) World!

As a longtime publishing professional and a basic journeywoman writer, I’ve long held the mindset that any writing work is good work, that getting paid to do what I love, in any form, puts me at the tippy-top of the heap in terms of good fortune and career satisfaction.

So, I was over-the-top giddy when my friend, New York Times Bestselling Author Veronica Rossi and I sold a series of three books to Harper/William Morrow on the basis of a proposal, something that felt like the equivalent of sinking a basketball into a net one-hundred yards away.

And then came the comments:

“New Adult? Isn’t that just smutty YA?”

“Oh, it will come out in trade paperback? I’d never want to publish something that didn’t debut in hardcover.”

“But that’s not your genre. Why would you want to do this?”

Those remarks felt deflating, of course, but also curiously familiar.

In the olden days—1995—when I began my career as an independent editor, it was not uncommon for me to meet writers who, when they found out what I did, would basically sling bulbs of garlic at me and back away while making the sign of the cross.

Back then, far fewer reputable independent editors plied their trade than do now. Someone else controlled the conversation about the value of such professionals. That conversation has most definitely changed, and two decades later, I’m sought after and respected for the skills I’ve acquired and the work I do. But it took a climb to get here.

I get it. We writers live in a state that feels a little like building a house on quicksand. The ground is always shifting. Someone is always coming around to wring his or her hands and cry doom. It comforts us to feel like we understand our little patch of solid earth. We get the parameters and can tell each other how Continue Reading »

Navigating the Next Frontier in Digital Publishing: Audiobooks


Photo by Jeff Golden

When Audible launched its Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) back in 2011, my initial reaction was to ignore it. I wish I could tell you that this decision was rooted in sound logic, but if I’m being totally honest, the very idea of producing an audiobook just seemed overwhelming. This was at a time when I’d finally gotten the whole MOBI vs. EPUB thing straight and the thought of learning a new vernacular threatened to make my head explode. After all, how many times have we writers been promised that something is going to be easy only to learn the hard truth?

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred, but it seems like the digital publishing conversation changed from e-books to audiobooks overnight. Suddenly people were calling it “the next frontier in digital publishing” and it quickly became impossible to ignore this rapidly growing market segment, which, according to IBISWorld, currently represents about $1.6 billion (up from $480 million in 1997). I spent a lot of time thinking about my goals as a writer, one of which is reaching more readers, and I finally decided to take a serious look at audio.

Even though “talking books” have been available since the 1930s (they were originally intended for people with visual impairments), the confluence of digital audio formats, mobile devices, and our “on the go” lifestyle has made audiobooks more affordable, portable, and accessible to a wider audience than ever before, an audience who is embracing the format as a way to multitask. Last year The New York Times cited a Bowker survey that revealed that “among people who have recently bought audiobooks, 47% listen while commuting in a car, 25% while working around the house and 23% while exercising.” Though the audiobook market is smaller than that of print and e-books, if you consider that only a fraction of books make the transition to audio, you could argue that the audiobook market might be an easier place to get discovered. Add to that the fact that audiobook listeners have the most diverse reading habits—”84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past year, and 56% also read an e-book,” according to Pew Research Internet Project—and you can see how offering your work as an audiobook could translate to e-book and print sales of other titles.

With all of this in mind, I decided that I couldn’t ignore audio anymore; it was time to embrace digital publishing’s newest technology, vernacular and all. At the beginning of this year, rather than setting my usual resolutions about losing weight and saving money, I set just one: to turn my novel, Empty Arms, into an audiobook. It was a long road and it wasn’t always easy, but my head didn’t explode and I find myself here, in the beginning of July, with a newly approved audiobook to launch and a number of lessons to share with anyone who’s thinking of making a similar journey. Continue Reading »

Help This Group of Writing Mothers Get to the WU Un-Con (and help yourself to some fantastic resources at an unbelievable discount, too!)

Swapped with permission from WriterMamas website.

Writing conferences can be a valuable experience for authors — the information, the focus, and the camaraderie. They take money and time, but they’re worth it.

Unfortunately, authors who are mothers with small children often find it even harder to manage, both financially and from a time standpoint. Often the dreams of writing take a back seat to the necessities of family life.

The Un-Conference — and the mothers left behind.

There’s a strong sense of connection for the members of Writer Unboxed. They’re holding their first in-person conference in November — the Un-Conference.

(Other than loving the community, we are not affiliated with Writer Unboxed. This is just writers helping other writers.)

We discovered there were mothers with young children who would be unable to attend because of those additional financial issues. They would have to come up with not only airfare (in some cases, international airfare!), room and board, and the conference fee — but they were going to need childcare help, as well.

Since it’s a close knit family, we decided to throw a fund raiser — this fund raiser — which would sell a bundle of valuable resources that would benefit our fellow writers, and whose proceeds would enable these writing moms to attend the conference.



Have you had trouble figuring out that whole “platform” thing? Have you had difficulty juggling your writing and your promotion (not to mention the rest of your life) and feel like you could use some resources to make that easier?

Thanks to the generosity of several awesome authors and experts, we’re offering this collection of ebooks and courses to help navigate craft, marketing, and career planning.

What’s the price?

Together, these resources would retail for over $200.

And we’re selling the whole lot for $100 — 50% off.

We’ve budgeted $15,000 to take care of the financial needs of the moms on our list.

So when we sell 150 copies of this bundle… THE SALE WILL CLOSE.

This is limited quantity only. First come, first served. We’ve made this agreement with our donors, and since this is a one-time fund raiser, we’re not holding any finances for future growth or a private organization. It goes from you to the mothers. That simple.

What’s included in the bundle?

Continue Reading »

Write Faster (and Better, Too)

Equestrian and Horse JumpingHave you read Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love yet?  You really should– it’s great.

Shortest.  WU post.  Ever!

Just kidding.  But not about my recommendation of Rachel Aaron’s book, it really is well worth checking out.  Now just to be clear, I don’t know Rachel at all, never met her, never even e-mailed with her.  I hadn’t heard of her or her book until another author whose blog I follow mentioned that she was giving the strategies recommended in the book a try.  This was six months ago, just after we’d had our third baby, and frankly anything that promised to help me write more efficiently in the obviously limited time I had sounded well worth looking into. So I downloaded the book and dove in.

It’s been awesome.  Seriously.  In the six months since my sweet baby boy was born, I’ve written two full-length books and am just this month finishing up a third.  I wouldn’t say that’s entirely due to having read 2k to 10K, since there are so many other factors that go into a creative streak.  (If anyone has others to share, let me know; I would LOVE to be that productive all the time).  But (I know I’m sounding kind of like an infomercial here, but it’s really true) the strategies Rachel recommends have helped hugely for sure.

I admit that I was skeptical at first of the title.  10K in a day?  I’m not sure I could ever write a book that fast.  I’m not sure if I did write a book that fast it would be worth asking anyone, even my mother, to read it.  Every writer is different, and I’m sure there are those who can write faster and still write well.  But I’ve found I have to live with my characters and my story for a certain amount of time before I really understand them and can do them justice.  If you feel the same, I completely understand that.  Good stories take time.  But the book isn’t about trying to boost your output willy-nilly up to 10k, forget about quality,  it’s really not.  I’m not currently writing 10K a day or anything like, but the strategies have helped me consistently write 2K in the same amount of time I used to take to write more like 1,000 words.  That’s still a speed I’m comfortable with, but it is also helping me finish the books twice as fast.  More importantly, the techniques don’t just bolster your word count.  I mean, we could all just add a minimum of 2 adjectives to modify every noun we write and call it good.  (He sat on the chair.   He sat on the big, red chair.  Look!  More words!)  More words isn’t the point; for me, the strategies really do make the writing better.

Okay, so what does the book actually say?  Rachel’s strategies are really simple– so simple I was kind of smacking myself in the head and wondering why, 10 books into my career as an author, I’d never thought of that.  But that makes them all the easier to implement.  Here are my two favorites: Continue Reading »


Travis Nep Smith

Flickr Creative Commons: Travis Nep Smith

Imagine you’re having a holiday dinner at home.  A tablecloth is spread.  Silverware is laid.  All is perfect until you knock over a glass of red wine.  What happens?  Quickly you spread open a white table napkin and drop it over the spill.  The puddle of wine seeps through.

The tablecloth is now, in a way, a memory.  The napkin is a map of the little lake of wine.  The wine is infused in both.  Even after you throw them in the wash the stains remain, faintly, as a reminder of a meal that started long ago and, in a way, is never finished.

Perhaps you have some laundry tricks that I don’t have?  Or you use paper tablecloths and napkins?  Never mind.  You get my point.  When you infuse something as strong as red wine into an absorbent piece of cloth, a faint awareness of that wine lingers.  Future meals are infused with and informed by the memory of that small holiday disaster.

Your novel is like that.  It’s the dining room, a place where many meals are eaten and finally add up to a life.  Every one of those meals, though, involves that tablecloth and napkin which are imprinted with something which I would call your protagonist’s greatest need.  That need is always present even if you cover up that stain with a table runner and cleverly fold the napkin.  You know it’s there.  You are always aware of it.

Have you come across scenes in excellent novels which seem to have no plot purpose but which work anyway?  Have you ever felt the undertow of a character’s yearning in commonplace action, tugging your awareness down below the surface of an everyday situation?  Such scenes are infused with the point of view character’s fundamental, underlying and (as yet) unmet need.

How do we achieve that effect in every scene?  How do we infuse every moment with unspoken awareness of the need that is pulling a character inexorably through the length of the story?  Naturally, I have a suggestion.  Try this… Continue Reading »

Timeboxed Whining


photo by Mark Menzies

Please welcome today’s guest, Monica Bhide, to Writer Unboxed! Monica is a well-established nonfiction writer, appearing in such publications as Food & Wine, The New York Times, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, Bon Appetit, and many more. She’s been named one of the seven noteworthy food writers to watch by The Chicago Tribune, and one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter by Mashable. She’s also published three cookbooks, including her June release, Modern Spice: Inspired Indian recipes for the contemporary Kitchen.

Monica’s first short fictional story, entitled Mother, was published by Akashic Books in a collection called Singapore Noir just this month.

Recently, Monica pitched us for a guest post here at WU, and we couldn’t resist. She wrote:

We all deal with writing projects that fail. As a recovering engineer, I felt I need to engineer a way to deal with the failed project and move forward. I hope my technique will help people move forward in a more productive way.

Intrigued? Read on. We think you’ll enjoy Timeboxed Whining as much as we did.

You can learn more about Monica on her website, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

Timeboxed Whining

Some projects die. No matter how talented the creator, how great the project, how awesome the reviews are, there are projects that do not make it. Books with great reviews sell only a few copies, paintings end up in dumpsters, innovative products never make it to market. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the timing wasn’t right, maybe the stars did not align, or maybe the artist wore the wrong shirt.  What is my point? Shit happens.

I have had manuscripts shrivel up and die, and books that I thought would be awesome just barely create a flutter in the market. It is hard. As creative people, we put our heart and souls into our work, and when it doesn’t succeed, all we want to do is quit.

I have created a coping technique to deal with the sadness that accompanies such a situation. I call it “Timeboxed Whining.”

Timeboxing is a technique I learned about during my consulting days in corporate America. Basically, it places a time limit on a situation. For instance, no matter what happens, the six o’clock news needs to go on at six. So the preparation work for that broadcast needs a timebox, which is to say it needs to be completed within a certain timeframe no matter what else happens because there is a hard deadline at the end.

Now, combine that with whining and you have a workable solution to mourning a failed project. (Artists swear by this. I do, too.) This is a five-day exercise. Here is how it works. Continue Reading »