Fare Thee Very Well

First off, I’m going to be signing books at two book festivals in New York’s Hudson Valley that are coming up in the next few weeks. Details are here on the website on the Appearances page. And there will be a couple of events coming up for my new book, Sparrows in the Wind, which will be released on October 25th, so please keep an eye on the page.

Second off, I’ve decided to stop posting to the blog for a while at least, leaving open the possibility of starting up again. I’ve loved writing to you here for over thirteen years, and I’ve been delighted to watch the community that’s developed and how helpful you’ve been to each other. By now, though, I think I’ve touched on every major writing issue more than once, which you can search for right here. And I’ve invented enough prompts to set off a lifetime of writing. Please know that the prompts are for you to use—you don’t have to worry about copyright issues if you do.

For now, I’m going to leave the blog open on this website for you to continue conversations, and I’ll keep an eye on what comes in. A special shoutout here to Christie V Powell, who has commented often and always helpfully. Thank you!

For those of you who, like me, are worrywarts, I’m fine—and busy, working on a new book (the medieval murder mystery) and getting used to and loving our new puppy, Tess.

The thread that’s run through most of my posts on every writing topic has been the damaging effects of being too judgmental about our writing. Self-criticism hobbles us and gets in the way of finishing our stories. We—you!—need to find a way to put the judgments aside. Could be a spell that you recite every day before starting. Could be writing down the criticism on a slip of paper and stuffing the paper into a piggy bank. Could be hanging “For Fun” signs around your laptop or wherever you write. Or something else, which you can suggest in the comments.

Every writer on earth makes mistakes. There’s no such thing as a perfect book. We get better as we go along, and as we revise—the most important part in my writing universe. And I can’t end without saying that lists of possibilities are this writer’s best friend.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. We’ll all miss you, Gail!
    (The ‘Have fun and Save what you write’ had me in very near tears, and I don’t know why. 😥😔)

  2. Thank you so much for faithfully running this blog and interacting with your readers for so many years! I have never (that I remember) posted a comment, but I’ve come here many times to seek advice and just to see what you’re up to. I’m glad you’re leaving it up for us to come back to.

    Self-criticism has been an enormous struggle for me, and for a long time I practically stopped writing creatively at all. I’ve only recently picked it up again, and hearing your voice championing me through these blog posts means so much. You’re so encouraging and practical; you make writing feel less intimidating and much more fun. Thanks for encouraging us to do what we love and recognize our own creativity.

    Thanks again, Gail. You rock!

  3. This blog and your books on writing have hugely influenced my writing life. You’ve always been so helpful and inspiring. It meant a lot to me when you made the effort to read something I posted a link to and responded with words of encouragement. Thank you for providing a place for this community of writers to share and learn from one another. I wish you the best with your puppy and with your new book!

  4. ReaderandWriter says:

    I have found this blog so very helpful!! I am writing a book and every time I get with the dreaded Writer’s Block I come here to see what advice you have given. I have enjoyed this blog so much, I’ll miss it! Thank you so much for everything you have written both books and blog.

  5. Thank you for writing this blog for so long! I’ve been following it since the beginning – you gave me my first writing advice when I was a child and are still one of my biggest inspirations! Thank you for making this young writer want to write!

  6. Aww, I’m going to miss this blog as an amazing resource! I haven’t been on much lately, but I have learned so much and I am seriously pursuing writing. Will miss your blog Gail <3

  7. @Christie V Powell.
    I hope you’re still looking here, because I wanted to ask you a question. I tried commenting on your blog, but it said that I couldn’t comment if I didn’t have a blog, which I don’t.
    For one, I really liked The Seventh Clan when I read it a few months ago, and I plan on reading more of your books.
    My question was, what is the process of self-publishing, what is the amount of effort that goes into it, and what is your overall opion of it?

    • Self-publishing can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. Once you set up an account with amazon, it’s really simple to upload your story as an ebook. But if you want to do it well, here are some of the basics…

      The first step is to write the book, as well as you can. Next, edit as best as you can, with as much feedback as possible (preferably with a paid editor, but keep in mind that won’t be cheap). You’ll need to format your book or pay someone to do it for you. If you’re only doing ebook, this is easier, but you’ll still need chapter breaks and usually a table of contents, things like that. It’s much more involved with a paperback, since you’ll need to consider things like font and font size, page numbers, additional front material (title page, table of contents, etc), what the chapter breaks look like, and so on. You’ll also need a cover. Covers are super important for marketing, so this is not a place to skimp on time or money. Unless you really, really know what you’re doing, you’ll need to purchase one. Some places have premade covers, which are cheaper (find one you like and buy it, and they’ll put your name and title on it for you). Getting the paperback as well as the ebook will cost extra, if you go that route.

      In case you’re wondering, I personally don’t hire an editor, a formatter, or (usually) a cover designer. I do have lots of beta readers, and I’ve been willing to put in work/study into learning the skills needed for all of these. It’s taken years and a lot of mistakes, and I’m still improving.

      I’ll go more into marketing on your other question.

      Overall opinion: I originally chose to self-publish because I decided that my goal was to share my stories, and I would be satisfied by progress, no matter how slow, even if I didn’t make as much money or reach as many people. I like that I have all creative control–traditional authors don’t get any say over their covers and very little over formatting, for example. I like that self-publishing is a lot faster (I usually release two books a year right now). You get a higher percentage of royalties, so if you do manage to make it big, you’d be earning more money, and you get paid more often (usually monthly). I’ve heard that traditional authors have to do more and more of their own marketing, and that as time goes on, publishers will put even more of their focus on big-name authors and less on new authors, or even mid-list authors (those who do well but aren’t hugely popular). With self-publishing, you get what you put into it: the more you learn to market, and to put out a good product, the better you will do. In both cases but especially in self-publishing, success usually comes a little at a time, and very few see results right away. This year, I finally made enough money to make up for all of my startup costs (website, the 4 covers I bought, experimenting with ads, etc), and I started in 2015.

  8. Also, how do you get your book out there, if it’s only on Amazon, because I feel like people don’t just scroll through amazon, they search what they want, get it, and get out.

    • Getting your book out there requires marketing. There are a staggering amount of books already in the world, so you’re right, the odds of someone scrolling through amazon and stumbling on your book is very small.

      The marketing world changes very quickly. Sometimes methods work, then they get outdated. Platforms change. So I’ll try to be more general, but keep in mind that any of this advice might change over time.

      The #1 way to market is to write a really good book with a really good cover. Next step: keep writing. Not only will more books mean more chances for readers to find you, you’ll also grow and improve with each one. Oh, I forgot to mention one more pro about self-publishing: you can change things, and do it quickly. You can upload a new cover if the current one doesn’t seem to be working. I can fix typos or even re-edit a story within a day. I can even change the title or give myself a new penname. (A few things can’t be changed, though, including paper color. I accidentally published book 2 of a trilogy with white paper instead of cream, and that can’t be undone).

      Back to marketing. Here are some tricks and tips that I personally use:
      1. Have a website (again, it’s best to either hire a professional or put in extra effort into doing it well).
      2. Have a newsletter. Right now, mine is monthly, although I’ve been thinking of moving up to biweekly. You’ll need to hunt down subscribers to receive your newsletter. Right now, I’m using a promotion company which gives out one of my books to readers for free in exchange for their email for newsletter.
      3. Social media platforms. Pick the ones that you like to use anyway. The best method for using social media is to be a friend first and a promoter second. People like to interact and express themselves. People do not like to be bombarded with begging. (I have an article on my blog with specifics about using twitter).
      4. Offer free stuff. I mentioned one of my books is free for newsletter subscribers. I’ll also do temporary deals where I’ll set other books for free for only a few days. I’m working on getting my first book permafree (so you can always get the ebook on amazon for free), but I haven’t done that yet. It’s the first of a series, so hopefully some of the readers who get it free will go on to pay for the rest of the series.
      5. Network. I’ve found author groups and clubs. I read some of their stories and they read mine. I always write reviews when I enjoy others’ books, and I’ll recommend their books when I find someone looking for a genre or trope that I don’t write. I don’t expect this to have immediate returns, it’s more of “a rising tide raises all boats” kind of mentality.
      6. Seek out reviewers to leave reviews on your books, in exchange for a free copy. I usually do this in the first few months before and after a book launches.
      7. Make your book more findable: I’ve taken a few classes on this. The idea is that you use keywords in your book’s description and in other places, so that people who are scrolling are more more likely to find you.
      8. Ads: These should be sparing and in small doses while you figure out what works best for you. Expect not to make much money, or even go negative, while you’re still learning. I suggest finding classes that teach you how to use the various platforms.

      There’s a lot of information out there, and this is a huge topic, but hopefully that’s enough to get you started.

      • Thanks! I’ve been looking at your blog every now and then, but like I said, I can’t leave any comments. I’m too young to use any social media for a few months, and probably won’t use any for a few years, and I wasn’t planning on using ads, but I also plan on doing some of these things in the future.

  9. I’ve loved this blog so much! I began reading it as a teenager when I was writing my first novels in high school. Now I’m a writing teacher at a college and I turn to it so I can assign blog posts as readings to my students.
    Thank you so much for all the hard work you’ve put into this over the years. It was absolutely instrumental in my development as a writer and I think it’s one of the best writing advice sources on the web.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Thank you, and thanks for letting me know! Congratulations on teaching! I hope your current writing is going well!

  10. I never commented on this blog, even though I have read it for so long. I first fell in love with your writing after I read Ella Enchanted in the solitude of my grandparents’ guest bedroom. I stayed up until very early in the morning finishing it. I have always been a writer at heart, and when I found out about your blog I continuously turned to it for advice on my own writing. You’ve become my mentor of sorts, even though I’ve never met you and you have no idea who I am. I write mostly stage plays now, but I still will come to your works for inspiration and wisdom in everything I write. I just want to thank you for everything you’ve put into spreading your knowledge of storytelling and encouraging us along the way! I wish you the best in your life and your work. Thanks again! <3

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I’m glad you commented at last! The blog is still here though I don’t think I’ll be adding to it–or very rarely, if something comes up about writing that I’m eager to share.

  11. I actually just finished reading Ella Enchanted to my five year old little sister 2 hours ago, and she loved it. Thank you for always writing such amazing stories, Gail.
    (I am very excited to read Sparrows in the Wind, and I’ve saving my Barnes and Noble gift card I got for Christmas so I could buy it around the time it comes out.)

  12. Thanks for your years of mentoring writers here, Gail!
    Hopefully, some people are still open to answering questions here…
    Is it still *okay* to have a tragic backstory for a character, or is that too overdone?
    To set the stage, I’m writing a YA fantasy novel. My main character’s mother was killed before her eyes when the main character was about eight years old. This event led to my MC’s self-blame problems and a lot of mystery and intrigue in the book. I’m sure I could incorporate the mystery and self-blame issues in some other way.
    Any thoughts on tragic backstories?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      It will give me great pleasure if the conversation continues.

      So I’ll start. Your question makes me think of the pretty new tv series, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (high school and up), in which one of the MCs has exactly that backstory, and the backstory entirely informs the front story. I don’t think tragic backstories have been done too much. Everybody (probably even newborns if they could talk) has a backstory, which can’t be entirely happy. I say, go for it!

    • I still look in from time to time.
      I think “tragic backstory” has so much wiggle room that it’s not something you can overdo.
      Brandon Sanderson talked about being a chef instead of a cook. The cook just follows someone else’s recipe. A chef knows the ingredients really well and is able to combine and use them in exciting new ways. Sanderson suggests taking the trope apart to see what about it is appealing–what made it so popular? Then you can figure out which elements you still want to use and which you may want to cover in some other way.

      One thing I’d suggest is studying real life cases with real life people. How do people recover from trauma? How does someone live and grow in this kind of situation? That way you’ll make sure that you’re covering this realistically instead of using it only for the shock value.

      You can also research what’s already been done. I enjoy using TVTropes (warning: time-sucker). Here’s their entry on “Dark and Troubled Past”, which breaks down the common uses of this trope, how it’s related to other tropes (though you might have to spend time getting used to their vocuabulary) and lists other works that use it. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkAndTroubledPast

    • While tragic backstories are certainly used a lot now (maybe even too much in some cases), I don’t think they’re necessarily a bad thing. As long as the backstory is interesting enough and has real effects on the character, I think it’s fine. Nothing is truly original! I think your backstory sounds great.

    • I am planning on writing almost the exact same thing to one of my MC’s! Except he was thirteen, and it lead him to becoming the antagonist. Just thought that was funny.

  13. Dear Ms. Levine,

    Thank you so much for everything you’ve done over the years to make reading and writing magical! Your work has had a huge impact on my life. Writing Magic was the first book on writing that I read all the way through, and I enjoyed it so much that I even did a prompt for every chapter (which is very rare for me) — and I’m still wanting to write a story about the ghost eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It taught me so much in such a simple, joyful way. As a kid, it felt so much more accessible to me than all of the big, complicated textbooks on writing did.

    When I discovered your blog, I was going through a lot of periods of writer’s block and was starting to not enjoy writing as much. Your blog has helped me through that. Your tone here has always been so helpful, encouraging, and practical. I’ve tried out a lot of your advice, and it always helps. I was just making a list of possibilities yesterday! Whenever I’m having trouble with my writing, I always turn to your old posts. And you’re right — you really have covered practically every writing topic under the sun! I can always find what I need on this blog.

    Your blog inspired me to read Ella Enchanted for the first time, and I loved it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read it since. I’ve always been a big fan of Cinderella, and Ella Enchanted is one of my very favorite versions. I love the book so much that now when I think of Cinderella, I’m just as likely to imagine Ella as I am to imagine the Disney version!

    I’ll miss new posts on this blog, but I’m glad that you get to take a well-deserved break. Good luck with your writing and your new puppy! I hope you know how happy you’ve made a young writer.

  14. If anyone is looking for book recommendations of and genre, I would look at the YouTube channels, A Book Like You, and Alexandria Roselyn. They are both so good and have the best book recs! [though I have read most of them 💜]

  15. I just realized I was writing a love triangle almost exactly like the one between Will, Elzabeth, and Commadore Norrington in Pirates of the Carribean! Down to the personalities of the characters, and even the way they talk! I should probably change that a bit in the edits. 🤣😂🤣

    • Hey, if it works, it works. I read a fantasy a little while ago that was pretty clearly based off of the Lion King, both characters and plot (like, the love interest is named Lana and the villain is Clar, and it involves the young man growing up as a prince until he’s blamed for the death of his father…) The only thing actually copyrighted is the exact wording.

  16. Whenever I try to write a story that takes place in a castle or palace, especially when I’m writing about the royalty, I get really bored, because I don’t know what a princess (or a king, queen, whatever) does all day. Does anyone have any resources that you use to get a better idea of what that life would look like?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      If your world is medieval’ish, you can look at a book about daily life in the Middle Ages. You can read about the upper classes, and what you discover can be applied to royalty. Noblewomen, I think, would be educated, so they might be reading religious books. And they’d embroider, spin, weave. A princess would learn how to run a household. From what I’ve read about European royalty, they were always looking for sources of money–and spending money, maybe for something for a church, like an altar. This includes women. Kings would be fighting or planning wars or outfitting an army (costly). They might be meeting with advisors, other royalty. Sometimes they got into really tiny things, like subjects’ complaints.

      • Thank you, this gives me a good idea of where to start. Even though I know that the life of kings and queens was not as portrayed in Faerie Tale Theatre (where they sit around on their thrones all day), that mental image remains. It’s a boring image, though, and I’d like to replace it with something that more closely resembles reality. Thank you for these suggestions!

  17. Hey, Gail, I know you said you’re done writing blog posts, but I do have a question that could turn into one if you wanted. My question is, does anyone have any advice on writing holiday books or seasonal books or anything like that, cause I’ve wanted to do that for a while, but I have been sure how or where to start.

    • What specifically do you want to know? I haven’t done it myself, but I have friends who have–for several holidays, not just the Christmas ones (Cassie Shiel’s Sweet Holiday Romance books come to mind–they’re appropriate for all ages). This is Cassie’s facebook group if you want to ask her anything: https://www.facebook.com/authorcassiesreaders
      The only thing coming to mind that I’ve picked up is that you need to have your book ready for sale at least a month before the holiday in question, but I have a feeling you’re asking for advice long before you hit that stage.

      • Gail Carson Levine says:

        I’ve never written a holiday book, but there are lots of seasonal and holiday picture books for younger children.

    • I’ve written a few seasonal stories, and I work on them the same way that I work on all my other stories. I get an idea, I brainstorm, I write, I revise, etc. I think the hardest part is actually coming up with an idea. As far as that goes, I wouldn’t try to force it too much. Just pay attention to various things that are a part of the holiday season and ask yourself questions about them – what-if questions that lead to funny scenarios are my favorite for holiday stories. Once you have an interesting idea that relates to the holiday, write it like any other story! And maybe just keep thinking about the holiday and asking yourself questions about it (What could go wrong with this tradition? What funny thing could happen because of this idea?) while you write.

      The most important thing (at least for me) would be to have fun. Channel all of your joy and love for the holiday you’re writing about into your story.

  18. Thanks, and I kind of just wanted to write one for fun, and see what it turns into! I thought it might be fun to write something seasonal since I’ve been on a seasonal reading kick the past few months.

  19. Lady Literature says:

    Does anyone have any tips on writing a spoiled prince who doesn’t think much about anyone else? I have the idea in my head, but I can’t seem to write it out.

    • My first thought in reading your question was that he must care about something other than himself sometimes, or it would be very hard to like him. There are a few people who are utterly self-absorbed and still lovable, but they are very few. There has to be some kind of redeeming quality. Often, they’re funny. If they can make you laugh, you’re less likely to get annoyed with them. Maybe the prince is so hilarious in his selfishness that he’s still appealing. Even so, I think there have to be hints of the change to come. Maybe he does something kind for one of his servants even though there’s nothing in it for him. It may be a small thing, but it matters to the recipient.
      Considering that, my biggest tip would be to establish a bond between the reader and the prince as early as possible. This is always a good idea, but it’s crucial when writing a potentially unlikable character. Show the reader that there is more to him than his spoiled, selfish characteristics.

  20. Also, does anyone here play Forge of Empires? It’s an online game, and I play there, so I was wondering if there was anyone else playing there, so we could chat about our WIPs there.

  21. Does anyone have any tips for writing short stories? I’ve been wanting to try some, since I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of my longer projects, but I don’t know where to start. I think my main problems are coming up with a plot that’s small enough to fit in a short story and figuring out how to do the pacing in a short story. Any help would be appreciated!

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I don’t follow any writing blogs, but my favorite books on writing, the ones that were most helpful to me, are listed here on the website. Click on “About” and then on “For Writers.”

    • Nathan Bransford has a writing blog that I’ve heard is really good, but I haven’t yet looked into it, so I couldn’t give a personal opinion on it.

    • I don’t have any suggestions but Gail’s book writer to writer has a chapter or two on writing blogs, I think. Are you wanting to start one?

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