Waypoint Author Academy is your first step on the journey to becoming a confident writer and savvy business person.
Because whether you’re blazing your own trail in self publishing, or are pursuing the well trodden traditional route, at the end of the day you are still in a business.
Here at Waypoint our goal is blend writing, publishing, and healthy mindset to help you become a powerhouse publishing professional and the author of binge-worthy books your ideal readers can’t get enough of.
Waypoint is the place to be if:
you are brand new to writing/publishing and want to be sure to start out on the right foot
you have been in the industry for awhile and are overwhelmed by all the options and apps and channels for authors to publish and market
you need a quick refresher or reality check to get you out of your head and back into the flow
you want quality information from industry professionals who you can trust to guide you with honesty, integrity, and compassion
Waypoint is absolutely not the place to be if:
you are looking for a magic bullet or quick-fix to game the system and boost your vanity metrics only
you want all the readers and think your books are for everyone
you are not ready to implement long-game strategies, and attract only the ideal readers to your books
Waypoint Author Academy is a virtual learning hub designed specifically to help fiction authors build long lasting and profitable careers.
In the online space non-fiction and fiction authors are often lumped together in articles about publishing and marketing but the frustrating truth is that they are not even close to the same.
Waypoint focuses on marketable genre fiction and authors who want to produce quality books for a voracious audience.
Take a look around and see if Waypoint is a good fit for you!
Ready to start querying agents and/or publishers? We got you.
The A+ Submission Packet walks you through the following:
Checking the Market for the viability of your novel
Creating a pitch that an industry professional can’t ignore
Building a query letter to capture attention
Writing a synopsis that will best showcase your story
Discovering a personal bio that connects you to your work
How to move forward and begin the submission process
This workbook is best for writers who are nearly finished with their novel and hope to find representation and publication for that project.
After workshopping countless authors through this process over the past eight years, Jo knows the common pitfalls and strengths of most writers at this stage in their journey. She also knows that this is often the most vulnerable piece of an author’s career. With this workbook you can work at your own pace, at a time that works for you, and wherever you like. And as always, if you’d like to schedule a “Quick Chat” or a full “Mapping Call” we can go over your submission materials together.
Allie and Jo are passionate about helping quality stories find their place the world. We created this series of workbooks to give intermediate authors a series of questions and checklists to strengthen the following:
Write a Better Story
Create a Better Character
Construct Better Tension
Build a Better Romance
Write a Better Story walks you through the steps to create stories with the kind of depth that sticks with the reader long after they’ve finished.
Create a Better Character also focuses on depth of story–your plot points mean nothing without the right character to inhabit them.
Construct Better Tension gives you a checklist to work through as you plan your next writing project, or look over one you’ve completed to make sure you haven’t missed possible sources of tension.
Build a Better Romance isn’t just for romance writers! Whether romance is your main plot or a subplot – building a romance that readers connect with will always bring them back for more.
You can find these DIY Workbooks on our Etsy shop HERE.
Want to get the most out of your edits and get your book noticed? The best way to make your book as strong as it can be is by learning how to edit your own words before your manuscript ever leaves your hands.
No one knows your story the way you do, and no one can edit in a way that helps you stay as true to that idea as you can. This workbook will teach you how to look at your manuscript objectively, taking it through your own round of edits before querying agents or handing it over to your editor. Self-editing saves you time and money and helps you get the most out of your editing process, whatever publishing path you take.
This workbook is designed for authors who:
Want to get the most out of a developmental edit, or any type of edit
Want to feel more confident in sorting through reader and editorial feedback
Want to make sure they keep their novel true to their vision
MASTER SELF-EDITOR was created by Jolene Perry, a published author and professional editor. After more than a decade of working with editors from five different publishing houses, reading for agents, and running her own editing company, Jolene has assembled the tools every author needs before handing their manuscript over to a professional.
An effective story pitch sells your idea to your readers if you’re an indie author, or to an agent/publisher if you’re traditionally published. It’s a way to distill the heart of your story idea into a quick, simple description that hooks your readers and leaves them wanting more.
A pitch is crucial in selling your book. If an author takes the traditional route, a pitch sells a book to an agent who uses the pitch to sell to an acquisitions editor, the editor uses that pitch to sell to the publisher, who uses it to sell to the distributor, who uses it to sell to the bookseller, who uses it to sell to readers. In independent publishing, a pitch is the simplest and most effective tool in finding the right readers.
A solid pitch is the first step to a solid story.
In Pre-Write Your Way to an Unforgettable Story, I draw on my twelve years of publishing experience to bring you a process that helps you pick your next project, know if the idea will work, then give you focus tools to move forward with as you draft your project. I’ve even had writers say they used this method to help in revisions.
This DIY workbook is best for authors who:
Want to work at their own time, at their own pace, and within their own space
Have a difficult time choosing which project to write next
Want their book to have its best chance of selling when they’re finished
Don’t want to panic when people ask, “What’s your book about?”
Want to have a specific and focused idea to help through the writing process
We’ll work together to put your core values to use, explore tools to narrow down your project list, and find ways to make your take on the story unique to you. Because at the heart of it all, YOU are the unique element of your story.
Saving time on your process means more time to write your next story–and the next, and the next.
Honestly, there’s nothing quite as exciting as diving into a new project, and nothing quite as daunting if you’re stuck. If you’re struggling to decide what project you should start working on next, Pitch It to Write It can help.
By working your way through the pages of the Pitch It to Write It workbook, you’ll gain a clear focus to turn your idea into the solid story it deserves to be. You can find your copy HERE.
There’s an ages old debate that happens in writing advice circles between whether you should write what you want or write what readers want.
Writing to market is bad, says one group. You should follow your inpiration and write what moves your soul.
Writing to market is good, says the other. You’re going to die broke and alone if you don’t give the readers exactly what they want.
So which one is right?
Both, but you don’t have to get weird about it…
Both are 100% necessary to incorporate into your process to a degree. If you swing too far to either extreme your stories will flop.
If you publish stories that don’t take readers into consideration at all you will not sell that book. You’ll frolic through the meadows of your imagination (which is important but we’ll get to that) until you’ve written a tangled mess of words and events that are at best puzzling and at worst incomprehensible.
If you only write to the market in a genre you don’t read about tropes you disagree with centered on characters you aren’t invested in, you might be giving readers what they want but they’ll smell your game from the first word of the blurb. These books are at best obviously formulaic to at worst a slap in the readers face.
Here’s my advice, in case any of you asked for it.
Write for you, edit for your reader.
The books that you write have come from your heart in the way of tone, theme, and emotional growth. The characters you write must be interesting to you even if the world may not be. The struggles of the conflict must be something you can sit with over the course of an entire book/series. The story question should be one you want to know the answer to.
The rest should be run through the reader filter. The tropes you use, genre you write in, creatures/world building, the plot events should be geared toward the kinds of readers you are hoping to attract to your author brand.
You love stories about unsure girls transforming into strong independent women? You can write that in many genres using many tropes. A small town girl new to the big bad city for a sassy women’s fiction, a young woman leaving a bad relationship and learning to define love on her own terms with a man she never thought would be right for her in an angsty romance, a teen girl standing up to her mother to make her own decision for the first time for a YA, a young warrior training to take down a rebel army in a Sci Fi, new to magic one girl grows into her rightful place as queen in a fantasy…
Sometimes you need to talk it out with someone who has gone before you.
If you want to write more, get an agent/publisher, attract ideal readers, and sell more books all while still enjoying your life, our customized coaching sessions are for you!
Publishing isn’t a linear journey where you start as a temp and end up a CEO, it’s a complicated and twisted road that throws obstacles at you from every angle: story problems, plot holes, marketing confusion, insecurity, fear, uncertainty and the list goes on.
We believe that a solid foundation and focusing on the FOUR PILLARS of author success is all you need to start writing, publishing, and selling books that matter to readers who will love them.
We can help you overcome an obstacle, create a plan, or become your mentor—whatever you need to move forward in your writing.
Learn more about our individual services to help you navigate your story and your career HERE
Test out our style with the FREESTORY ROOTS IDEA TESTER worksheet and see if you could deepen your story idea and provide your readers with a truly moving experience.
If you’d rather work on your own, you can find our workbooks for DIY authors HERE.
See a Detailed Explanation of Services and Prices HERE
Allison Martin and Jolene Perry co-founded Waypoint when they were both tired of seeing authors struggle as they tried to force their story into someone else’s process, or tried to sell themselves and their books while striving for someone else’s footsteps.
The POINT of Waypoint is to help authors find sustainable processes for being online, showcasing their stories, and at the heart of it all – writing better stories in a way that instills confidence in the process and is sustainable.
Allie is an author who accidentally started a publishing design company. She’s a rebel at heart with a strong distaste for formal education—preferring the experiential and self directed approach to learning. She’s lived many lives in her three and a half decades with only one constant—a fascination with the human condition.
She dropped out of University where she studied psychology to go to beauty school, owned her own spa at 19 before selling it to travel the world, and finally settled down in a great art program…only to drop out with one class left to take.
She’s written books in Scottish pubs, and atop Canadian mountains. She’s designed covers for NYT and USA Today bestselling authors as well as Penguin Random House. She’s taught author branding and marketing at the Storymakers writer’s conference. She’s worked as a beautician, bartender, documentary filmmaker, editor, and writing coach—always fueled by her love of people as odd as she is.
Allie’s an outside the box planner and researcher often beginning each and every conversation with “I read this really great article that said…” She is driven by the need to learn new way to do things and loves to do the hard work so you don’t have to.
Allie was born and raised a small town farm girl, and now lives in the Northern Canadian Wilderness with her husband, daughter, husky pup, and mountains of outdoor gear…
Jo (Jolene Perry) is a middle and high school teacher turned author. She began her publishing career in 2010, when she signed with Cedar Fort Industries. Since that time, Jolene has written YA contemporary novels for Entangled/Macmillan, Albert Whitman Teen, and Simon Pulse. She’s also independently published a handful of novels and novellas for both young adults and adults. You can find Jolene on her website at www.jolenebperry.com
Jolene began teaching writing in 2011. She’s mentored workshops at The Storymakers Conference, taught on panels at Association for Writing and Writing Professionals (AWP), taught breakout sessions at Alaska Writer’s Guild, Alaska SCBWI, American Night Writer’s Association (ANWA), as well been a special guest at several writing retreats. She spent a year interning at the Bent Agency where she read over a hundred manuscripts.
She’s worked as a freelance editor, helping writers find agents, actors/community advocates find their writing voice, and strengthening projects for USA Today bestselling authors. She’s a former Author in Residence at Alaska Pacific University. If you care about her formal education: Jolene graduated with a degree in Political Science and French, with an International Relations certification, specializing in Middle East Studies, as well as a secondary Ed certificate. She used this degree to teach middle school math before joining the publishing world, where she does her best to help authors find their voice, while continually re-discovering the joy of writing. She’s an Alaskan living under the red rocks of the Colorado National Monument with her husband, two children, giant cat, two dogs, and moody mare.
Haley Walden writes fast-paced, character-driven fantasy with magical adventures, spellbinding love stories, and unforgettable friendships. She’s a multi-fandom trove of geekery with a wide variety of obsessions, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and many more.
In her other life, she’s a marketing copywriter and editor who helps authors, entrepreneurs, and companies engage their audiences through articulate, informative, and fun-to-read copy. She has worked with New York Times bestselling authors, internationally-renowned entrepreneurs, and incredible business owners from across the U.S. and beyond.
Haley lives in Alabama with her husband and children. Find out more about her and her fantasy series, The Witness Tree Chronicles, at authorhaleywalden.com.
Emma Rose is an avid reader, feminist blogger, and student of history – phD, she’s on her way…
She’s a kickass guitar player, is learning to ride horses, and is a cow whisperer. These are just some of her many talents. Her eye for detail makes her a fantastic proofreader. You can find Emma online www.emmaroseperry.com
**PAGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION: THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE
Sometimes you don’t need high level support or a proven framework to build your career. Sometimes you’re doing fine, and are happy as can be with where you’re writing and author career is going.
But you know there’s always room for growth, stretching, and improvement and that’s what this space is here for. A collection of hyper specific resources on a multitude of topics that relate to the FOUR PILLARS OF AN AUTHOR CAREER that you can pick from to focus on unleveling one aspect of your writing and publishing game.
Selling your books is a process that quickly gets out of control, leading to confusion, indecision, overwhelm, and then shut down.
The cause is too much information, too quickly, and at the wrong time.
Authors (and everyone else on the planet) are consumers of information, but consumption also requires digestion and integration–the most important part of learning
So all those podcasts you binged about author marketing were a colossal waste of your time if you don’t digest and integrate what you heard. Did you go out and DO the thing you learned about, let it sit for a bit, and then come back to analyze it?
If the answer is no, you just wasted your time. When the time comes for you to do things, you will have to learn it again because the first time you consumed but didn’t allow the information time to stick.
The same rule applies to structures, foundations, frameworks, methods for selling books. What someone else does won’t necessarily be right for you. Just because some guy is famous for marketing books doesn’t mean it will be the magic solution to your sales problems. Or because some Facebook group is obsessed with ad strategy, sharing tips, tricks, and rants about ads all day, doesn’t mean ads are right for you.
The number one thing you need to do when creating your marketing plan is to get curious, get comfortable with risk, and get listening to your intuition.
The most effective way to sell more books is to create a marketing plan that you are excited to implement. The most impressive sales techniques in the world won’t sell you a single book if you don’t show up—or worse, show up half-assed and confuse people.
If your goal is to sell books, what’s the path of least resistance between the book and the reader? This trail will look different for everyone.
Everything you do will fall under one of these four categories, and the goal is streamline, simplify, and eventually automate/outsource.
One of the biggest problems I see with authors in all genres is the slow shift away from being a writer and toward becoming a marketing expert. I’m guessing you didn’t start writing with the goal of accidentally changing careers half way through?
The four tiers of an Author Marketing plan are Vision, Strategy, Tactics, and Gimmicks (not all gimmicks are slimy, I promise).
Your vision is just for you—the ultimate goal, the dream, the state of being that you’re after in your publishing career. Where do you want this journey to take YOU? If you’re unsure, write your Vision scene.
The typical day scene is a written account of a day-in-the-life of you, the author. There’s a reason it’s a typical day and not a special day too. It’s easy to imagine the day your book comes out, or the premiere of your movie/show, but those dreams are also too specific and not a representation of your inner success and happiness.
Think to the future, if everything went your way and you got all the things you wanted, what would a typical day in your life look like five/ten years from now. I’m guessing it doesn’t involve you obsessing over ad copy? Dig into this scene and write it down as if it were a scene in a novel. When you write down your goals and dreams, they become that much more real—more attainable.
Don’t hold back, but don’t get too carried away either (we all want million-dollar book deals). Stretch your vision of who you want to be (not just what you want to get) and how you want to exist in this world but start today. Start where you are right this second. You don’t need to change your circumstances, core values or personality to become a successful author. And you can’t change the facts of your life/the world right now.
Write the details and experience your success in the way that feels right for you and your life. Grab your Dreams to Goals Guide to dig into this exercise.
Your strategy is your big picture view or map of how you’ll make it to your vision by providing your audience with a magical experience. This is where your readers become important in your marketing.
How will you show up? Where will you be? What is the path you’ll take your readers down? What landmarks of your life/writing are essential for your readers to see?
Often the word strategy gets tossed into things like ads, funnels, opt-ins, and the like, but in truth, none of those things is an author strategy by themselves. Your strategy is the engine, how all the bits fit together to make the whole machine work. The purpose of an engine is to drive a car. The goal of your marketing strategy is to sell books.
Your strategy includes your branding, online persona, and presence, all of which can be discovered in this simple FREE five day Author Traction Challenge.
Your strategy also includes your reader journey. You need to understand how readers browse and buy books, move through the process, and build your marketing strategy around their needs while remaining true to you.
A tactic is one small, focused effort to gain a specific result. So the overall goal is to sell books. A tactic is to release a free story to get people on your email list. The free story is the tactic, and the specific result is more people on your list, the big picture is that they’ll eventually buy your book.
There are hundreds of tactics to try and test, to mix and match. Your job while creating your marketing strategy is to fill it with tactics that work for you, your readers, and your time—not with what others tell you to do. I’m not saying ‘don’t trust book marketers’, what I’m saying is they don’t have a magic framework no matter what they might promise you. So don’t try to cram yourself into someone else’s vision.
The only absolute I have when marketing is never lead your reader into a dead end.
This phrase is repeated to my authors over and over again.
The secret to creating effective tactics that support a solid strategy is the LOOP EFFECT. Every call to action should take your reader on a journey back to you.
What does this look like in practice?
The simplest is the end matter of your book (yes, your end matter is a marketing tool not just a thing you need at the end of a book). When someone buys your book and reads it, is that the end of the line? Or do you have a link to sign up for your email list, get another book from the series, or join your discussion group? The link in the back of the book brings them back into your world–it completes the loop.
Every tactic you employ to expand your readership, grow your following, or sell your book should be AFTER you’ve thought through your loop. What are you asking readers to do? And how are they directed back to you after doing it?
A bad reputation follows the gimmick around like a shadow, but gimmicks themselves aren’t gross, the people who misuse them for selfish reasons are.
A gimmick is simply a way to get fast results with minimal effort. Unethical marketers use tricks and bribes to pad numbers and create false promises to get self-serving results but at the core of a well used gimmick is reward.
Giving away a $50 gift card is a gimmick. You’re relying on the basic fact that most people like getting free money. But the reward is so open-ended that the goal isn’t to provide real value to readers, it’s to get as many people to sign up as possible regardless of what they need. Misused gimmicks are selfish marketing because you care more about your numbers, ranking, profit, or status than you do about offering readers something they will need/want.
How I recommend authors use gimmicks is to serve their existing readers by rewarding them for their support.
Let’s say you have 500 people on your email list, and your next book is about to release, but there isn’t a lot of buzz happening even though your launch strategy is in place. You can whip up a quick gimmick that will help boost the buzz plus offer the people who are already supporting you a reward for their efforts.
Send out an email and ask your subscribers to share your release with their followers on social media and send you a link to the post. They’ll be entered into a draw for $50 for each platform they share on up to three platforms.
Important Note: You cannot use this to get reviews, that goes against Amazon’s terms of service. Getting more buzz around your book sure, but you cannot reward readers for reviews.
It’s quick and dirty, but instead of being greedy about it and trying to get numbers through manipulating strangers, be strategic and reward those who already support you.
Your road to selling books to readers will be full of vision, strategy, tactics, and gimmicks. They should work for you and make you excited to show up for your readers.
Each one will inform the other, but if you keep these things centered in your mind, your marketing plan will almost create itself:
Start where you ARE, not where you wish you were
Fill your strategy with things you’re excited to try
Always lead your readers back to you using the LOOP EFFECT
Reward the readers you already have with gimmicks, and forget about your vanity metrics
Remember that your best marketing strategy is always the ONE YOU’RE ACTUALLY GOING TO SHOW UP FOR
It’s easy to slip into thinking your writing is just you—the author. Your readers and those dreaded gatekeepers are way over there. In essence, it’s you alone and then everyone else you are trying to reach across some great expanse, whether real or imagined.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
It should be you—the author—surrounded by the people who support and uplift your career in different ways.
I want you to start segmenting your support networks into categories and then understanding what each support category does for you. Your support system is not a two faction entity—this or that—it’s multi-faceted.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Your readers are people who open your book, read your words, and like them. They will often read more of your books and like those too. They will talk about, review, and recommend your books. The ultimate support a reader can give you is to talk about your book to others. That is reader endgame.
But make sure you know if your readers are also your buyers.
Wait? Aren’t they the same thing?
Your buyers are the people who open their wallets and purchase your books. These can be the same person in the case of most adult fiction, but don’t assume it is.
For Middle Grade and Young Adult, the buyers are mostly parents/guardians and librarians. The adults are often the ones with the final say in what kids read. Knowing that is crucial to setting up your marketing plans or structure your story to be sure the people with the money get the message, but the reader gets the experience.
Even if your reader and buyer are the same person nurturing them as a readers and selling the next book to them are two very different things.
Your efforts with your readers should be on nurturing them into advocating for you. Save the hard marketing for your buyers.
Your peers are other authors who are in a similar place to you. Not to imply that only debut authors can network with debut authors or that traditional authors must stick together. I mean, people who are struggling with the same things you are, or hitting similar milestones. If you’ve released your first book and are trying to get it into more reviewers’ hands and another author has 12 books out and is working on her first 100K month, the two of you don’t have relevant advice to share back and forth.
The hallmark of a peer relationship is that it’s mutually beneficial. You need to network with authors who have similar struggles because each of you will have different strengths to lend to each other. You will be able to speak the same language, commiserate together, hold each other accountable, and cheerlead each other.
A word of caution here: Beware the Author Whirlpool!
The Author whirlpool is my term for clusters of authors that begin to treat each other as readers. I’m not too fond of newsletter swaps for this reason (and others). I’ll share your book, you share mine. I’ll buy your book, you buy mine.
Authors all hang out together in big Facebook groups where they inadvertently build a readership of other authors and not readers. They pump money into ads and target authors and wonder why their conversions are low. It becomes a whirlpool and continuously flows in on itself but never expands beyond other authors.
Your peers are not your market.
You need to learn. Learning and growing as an author happens through formal or informal education. Finding a mentor, teacher, or coach isn’t mandatory to a successful author career, but it sure does speed things up and make them way less painful. Your agent or editor qualifies a mentor as well. Mentors are always more knowledgeable or more experienced than you, and the flow of help runs from mentor to mentee (even if the author is paying for the help).
The best way to find a mentor is to be active in author circles to respectfully and tactfully conduct yourself within those spaces and hold back your urges to defend yourself when receiving feedback. There’s nothing more off-putting to an established writer than a newbie asking for advice and then proceeding to refute each point. No one wants to waste their time teaching someone who does not want to learn.
Hiring someone if you have the funds is the best way to know you’re getting the support you need from someone who believes in your writing and will show up for you as they promise (because you’re paying them and if they don’t show up you will stop paying them).
People who aren’t in the writing community don’t often understand the writing community. If I had a dollar every time, someone asked me a silly question or made a stereotypical assumption about what I do…
But here’s the thing with your home-front support.
You don’t need them to support your writing.
You need them to support your time and energy.
So many authors don’t get the support they need at home, but a lot of authors also don’t articulate their need and desire. You hole away behind a computer screen, and your loved ones become resentful that you are distracted and distant, not that you’re writing. You tried to talk to them about your books, and they were dismissive, so you fell silent and steal bits of time here and there, never telling anyone what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Just because your husband doesn’t like your genre doesn’t mean he won’t support you. It might mean he won’t ever read your books, but is your husband your target audience? Not likely. His opinion on your writing isn’t going to be helpful.
But him taking the kids to the park on Saturday morning so you get some time to write? That is what support of your time and energy means.
The real secret here is honest communication. Talk to your family about how much you love writing and how it makes you a better parent/partner/friend. Set real expectations that they can understand around your time and energy, not your books. Be open to compromise and flexible to changing it up.
“I need an hour to work on a project that makes me happy, when can we fit this into our schedule to work for our family?”
“Writing helps me clear my head, gives me a creative outlet and fills me with purpose. When I feel that sense of purpose, it makes me more confident, fulfilled, and excited about life. That makes me show up better as a parent/partner. I need a space of my own in the house to do this work. How can this work for all of us?”
Once you settle on your time and space, protect it.
Be patient but firm with them if you are safe to do so. It takes time to shift expectations and set the foundations for your boundaries. They aren’t going to get it right, right away. Remind them what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how their support is helping.
I tell my 5-year-old that she’s helping me write my book when she’s coloring/reading next to me—that my words are a direct result of her support. I show her how many words I wrote on the screen, which she finds fascinating and is pretty proud of herself for being a part of it.
I report my writing progress to my husband, not as a sarcastic jab or justification, but as if my writing is a job just like his. I ask him how his day was when he gets home and what happened at work.
I started telling him how my day went too in a casual way. No snark, no passive aggressive nonsense that would only make him shut down. I talked about how many words I got down, if they were a struggle, I complained about characters as if they were co-workers and celebrated milestones which helped him understand the process better.
After a while of me doing that, he started asking about it. More than that, he began to understand that I was working toward something that mattered to me. My chatting about it normalized it in my family and extinguished any assumptions he had about what I did behind the computer screen.
Next week is the final post in the 4S Author series and it’s often the things authors skip straight to, which is why I strategically left it for last. See you next week for a chat on SALES.
If you need some extra support, reach out to us here and we’ll help you get back on track with your writing.
Story is arguably the most important part of a writing career. You can be wicked confident and have a ton of money to throw at an in depth marketing plan, but if your story isn’t compelling all the hype will quickly flop.
Now, there’s no possible way to get all the ways to improve your writing skills into a single post. I would never even try.
Instead, I will walk you through how I work with authors to deepen their own stories. Notice I said stories, not writing. Wordsmithing is a skill separate from storytelling in my mind, and the most critical part of writing a page-turner is having a solid story behind your beautiful words.
Great stories are always about compelling character growth. A character starts at point A and ends at point Z, an entirely different person—for better or worse. Humans are drawn to human struggles. We are sucked in by a character in a seemingly impossible situation, and it’s curiosity that drives us to know if they will get through this list of insurmountable obstacles. We absolutely must know what happens next.
As an exercise in character growth we are going to turn to my favourite thing: Trees.
I’m obsessed with trees (I have a giant tree tattooed across my whole back as proof), which I combined with my love of story to create the Character Growth Tree.
Let’s chronicle the growth of your protagonist through trees…
Stay with me here.
The characters are the trees; the story is the forest; the plot is the elements.
The tree has four parts for the purposes of this character lesson—roots, trunk, branches, and leaves.
The Roots are Character Misbeliefs
The roots are invisible but the most vital bit to the tree’s chance of survival. Without roots, there is no tree. Without understanding and developing solid character’s roots, the book you’re writing will not be able to grow and flourish as spectacularly as it could.
I love to poke at character motivations. It’s my whole editing style. Why did the character do that? Why doesn’t she trust men but still is a serial monogamist? Why did he choose this over that? What happened in their life to foster this train of thought? And on and on I go. I drill my authors with questions about the exact details of why their characters think, act, and speak the way they do. They both love and hate me for it.
Because the series of events that shaped a character’s entire belief system before the story begins culminates with the root scene–or the moment the character chooses to go all-in on their misbelief (or the lie/fatal flaw, as some editors call it).
The key to a sturdy root structure for your character is choice. The events in your character’s life do not make them, how they choose to react and respond to those events shapes them. Your character must have agency in their own story. Too many times characters just weather storms that come at them with no active participation in them. Take what happens to your character and analyze what they choose to do with their circumstances.
The Trunk is Character Reactions
The trunk of your character is their foundational choices and reactions. Once you understand their roots and how strongly a character holds tight to their misbeliefs, you can bring them out of the ground and expose them to the elements (the plot that will continuously batter the character’s misbeliefs like wind and rain). This trunk will be the protection they use against the plot assault. Think carefully about how your characters protect themselves. Their actions, choices, and reactions will protect the soft core of vulnerable insecurity that lives beneath the bark’s sharp hardened edges.
It’s completely pointless to know things like what kind of coffee they order at Starbucks unless there is a reason that is relevant to the story. Do they order an iced caramel Frappuccino—even though they think cold coffee is blasphemous—because their friends do? Perhaps they’re terrified of not fitting in, so they suffer through gross ice coffee to keep their popular friends thinking they belong with the popular crowd? Because in that case, their Starbucks order is relevant, not because of what they order, but WHY. They choose to silently suffer to protect their belief that popularity is more important than joy.
Your plot is going to challenge that misbelief. They will grow to realize that their happiness is more important than being popular (if it’s a happy ending), or they will destroy themselves in the effort (if it’s a cautionary ending).
The Branches are Character Behaviours
The branches of your character are their behaviours that result from their misbelief and the protective way they respond to threats against it. Keeping on with the Starbucks analogy, if our character wants to be popular and is willing to drink gross coffee to achieve it, what sort of outward habits would stem from making decisions to follow the crowd? They would be more aware of what others were doing. They’d hesitate before making decisions, ask a lot of questions, or maybe they’re never the first one to speak, instead they wait for their friends to say something first. They lie about having plans and blame it on others, so they don’t have to go to Starbucks and suffer one more sugar cup of yuck but still get to keep their status.
The options are endless, but your character’s behaviours grow directly from their protective reactions to keep their misbelief alive.
The Leaves are Character Mannerisms
The leaves are the outermost layer of your character’s misbelief. The beautiful, colourful distractions from what’s going on beneath the surface. All the ways in which their mannerisms, habits, actions, choices, and misbelief are left to reader interpretation.
Maybe they touch their mouth a lot to stop themselves from talking, or laugh nervously, or stand defensively. They might be twitchy or stutter when asked their opinion. Character mannerisms also grow from environmental circumstances such as sharing a trait with a parent, culture, social group, or geographic location. Still, the core reason the character adopted these habits will always trace back to that character’s root—their misbelief about the world.
What happens next?
Once your characters have all been created, you then have a forest. An interesting tidbit of tree knowledge is that all trees in a forest are interconnected by their root systems. Nutrients are passed back and forth from tree to tree or cut off from the trees that are unlikely to survive, for the greater good of the forest.
In a similar manner all your characters roots, misbeliefs, and mannerisms are going to become intertwined and feed off each other.
This process is how you take your characters and create a story around them that creates a compelling experience for your reader, not just a book to be read. After your readers take in the characters and understand them, they will begin to see how it’s all interconnected beneath the surface, and they’ll be desperate to see how it ends.
Are you looking for help strengthening your characters to create a truly compelling story for your readers? Check out our Story Chats and we can help you level up your storytelling.
Starting with SELF is appropriate because it’s often the thing authors abandon first. We spend so much time trying to contort ourselves for agents, editors, and readers we completely forget that we’re a very important piece of our stories.
If you haven’t read the Series Kickoff outlining the 4S’s, do that here.
The self has two sections: your physical self and your higher self.
Your Higher Self
Your higher self is not a spiritual thing (although it can be if that’s important to you) but more a way in which you carry yourself. In regards to writing, it comprises your values, expectations, and boundaries. These three areas must be understood if you are to have a hope of building a sustainable writing career.
Define your beliefs. What is the code of conduct in your life? Identify the force that drives your behavior?
We all love to talk about values in a romantic sense. We want to value family and love and kindness, but in truth, we sometimes choose our values based on how good they make us look.
Behind all the posturing, our real values are there, and they are coming out every day in how we behave. When we act in alignment with our values, we feel refreshed, inspired, motivated. When we are working counter to our values, we feel stuck, hopeless, or agitated. Values often change and morph as we do, and they’re not fixed. You can integrate new values into your life that will serve you and your writing better.
My two highest held values are communication and integrity.
This is not what you expect from others; it’s what others expect from you. And you have more control over it than you think.
Again this comes back to behavior. You set expectations in others with the choices you make. Every time you sit down to write and your kids want something from you, do you get up and do it for them? Or do you tell them to wait until after your writing time? Both of those actions are setting an expectation.
If you interrupt your creative time to cater to others, you’re communicating to them that your writing time is optional and non-essential. They will continue to interrupt you because you’ve indicated that it’s okay if they do.
Boundaries are born from expectations. Let’s continue with the interruption example as I’m guessing it’s a common one, and it’s also a smaller, more manageable boundary to set.
Boundaries are the lines that you will not allow others to cross—a time/action/space you protect, literally or figuratively. I often instruct my clients to create a Nope List for their fiction, which is a list of boundaries you’ll set with your family/friends and your readers. Write out a series of ways you refuse to compromise your goals and values to achieve some arbitrary metric—such as I will never add gratuitous sex into my novel to gain more sales.
How could we set a healthy boundary around writing time with our children? Here’s how I do it. See how my values (communication and integrity) play into my boundaries.
I get up early to write as I have a preschool-aged daughter and I’m a morning person as they say.
I sat down with my husband and daughter and talked to them about my writing. I told them why I love to write—that it gave me purpose and joy. I let them in on my process—I’m most productive in the morning and require quiet, uninterrupted time to get into the flow. I asked them how they felt about my writing and if they had questions about how I was spending my time at the screen. Through their answers, I realized that they didn’t understand my writing time and often felt I was neglecting them to scroll social media and avoid them. So I explained further. We talked about online presence, my relationship with my readers, and my marketing efforts. I walked them through my brand and how I use my time to write, edit, publish, and promote. Once they understood better, we set the expectations around my creative time as a family.
Unless there is pain or blood, my time is MY time. I make sure to hold up my end of the bargain by sticking to the arrangement. I use that time to work, not to flitter around on the internet doing unnecessary things. And when 8 am rolls around, I pack it up and turn my attention to the family. If my boundary is crossed, I gently remind them of our agreement. I offer them an option to solve their problems and follow through with a list of consequences that we predetermined, such as if my daughter can’t give me that time, she has to play or read in her room instead of in my office. If I breach my end of the agreement, they remind me of the time and how I’ve gone over.
This example sounds very hippie, but it took a lot of reminders and a lot of putting my foot down. It’s a long and bumpy road. Slowly, my family began to understand that I respect my creative time enough to defend it, and now they respect it too.
Your Physical Self
I have zero interest in using this space to make you feel like you need to be a certain way or size or shape to be healthy. Health looks different for all of us, depending on our genetics and our environmental circumstances. Our bodies communicate with us about what makes it feel better and worse. Being in tune with that can improve your creativity because what you eat and how you move affects your focus and clarity—in helpful ways and harmful ways.
If you love to work out hard and cook elaborate Keto meals, then do that.
But connecting to our bodies could look like drinking a big glass of cold water before you write because it perks you up. Or take a break from writing to do some stretching in your chair. Or save those cookies for after your writing time because you know sugar makes you foggy and grumpy.
Practice listening to your body.
Whether it’s your higher self or your physical self, it’s about alignment. This industry has enough obstacles to navigate; our relationship with writing doesn’t have to be one of them.
If you need help sorting out your priorities and creating a plan to bring your Self back into your writing game, I’ve got you covered. Let’s chat soon.