One Single Word To Define 2016

I’m trying to streamline and plan so that I can be more efficient and productive in 2016.

With a new year coming upon us soon, can you think of one single word that could define what you hope to achieve in 2016?

For me, the word of 2016 is: REACH.

I contemplated alternatives such as ‘produce’, ‘distribute’, ‘grow’, ‘establish’, ‘footing’, and similar. But I feel like REACH best defines what I want to accomplish and allows me to do so on multiple levels.

For example, I want to create better reach within my distribution networks for Aulexic. That requires the production of more books and networking and connection to find buyers, libraries, booksellers, schools, and even authors, illustrators, and staff. It involves developing the website, blog, and mailing list so that I am not only connecting with people but really reaching them regularly so they stay interested and receptive.

I also want to reach more readers and reviewers for my supernatural thrillers and romance novels which again involves producing (books 2 and 3 of the Blood of the Nagaran, and hopefully a few more romance novellas) but also incorporates doing a better job with my mailing lists.

One WordAnd of course, I want Write Along The Highway 2016 to have more and more reach. We’re growing beyond Perth :: South to give access to professional development, networking, and production time to writers across the whole state.

So yes, for me, 2016 is all about REACH.

What is your word?

How do I sell my self-published children’s books? [Reader Question]

Hi Rebecca!

I feel, as a self publisher, as if I am a bit ‘out of the loop.’ Bookshops aren’t interested in self published books, and you cannot enter them into competitions in the Children’s Literature Centre. I still have many books left over from my book launch in 2013, and I don’t know how to sell them. If you have any answers, please let me know.


Dear Margaret,

I’m only just getting into the marketing side of things myself now but have learned that a great deal depends on two things. Your next book, and doing the legwork yourself.

Your Next Book
It’s very difficult to push and promote one or two titles but every new book you write and release expands on your audience for all of the ones that came before it. If you’re building your mailing list then every time you release a new title you can email your list to let them know and that new title will draw in more people for your list that you can promote your old titles to. The larger your catalogue, the better your reach so one of the best marketing tools is to write more books.

Doing The Legwork
Beyond that, it’s about actually getting out there with the books and going into places to ask for the sale/consignment. You MUST have an incredibly high-quality product for this to work. It’s so easy for self-published and vanity-press published books to look home-made and retailers will reject them on sight so make sure you’ve followed all the typesetting, size and formatting trends of traditional publishing so that your book is indistinguishable from traditionally published books. Book shops, especially independent booksellers, DO take self-published books, but only if they are done to industry standards and under industry terms.

Then it’s about building the networks, taking the books into schools, libraries, book stores, visitors centres, newsagents, gift shops, etc. Think about who your target market is and where they congregate then go there with them. If you’ve got books for toddlers offer to do readings at local parenting groups, playgroups, and library story time; if you’ve got books that have kids playing soccer you can approach your local sports groups, etc. Think outside the box here because it’s not just about getting your book onto bookshelves, it’s about getting it into the hands of your readers and you can often do that directly.

Look into your target market and build a list of contacts. Put together a press kit to send out to schools/libraries (with product descriptions, order forms, speaker rates, etc.) Offer ARCs to book bloggers, magazines, newspapers. Find news ways to tie what’s timely in the media now with what’s in your books. It doesn’t matter if your book is already 2 years old if the content is relevant to a newsworthy event today.

Ultimately, it’s putting the foot to pavement and getting out there to spread the word and to ask for the sale.

Do The Research
I guess there is a third part but it doesn’t necessarily convert to sales as effectively as the first two and it’s a long game strategy, but the truth is you must do your industry research. If you’re serious about being an author as a career rather than a hobby then you must be in the know, learn the lingo/jargon, understand what terms like trade discount and arc mean, sign up for professional memberships and use the services these groups provide, keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on not just in the local industry but world wide. The more you connect deeply with the roots of the industry the better informed you’ll be about opportunities and the greater your odds are of making connections with people who can guide and influence you.

Ultimately, you’ve got to think of this as being in the book business. The creative side of writing is one part of the job, but when you take off that hat you put on the publisher hat and that means thinking of things like distribution, marketing, accounting, and all those other business angles that authors often don’t consider. Approach it like you would any other career, with a professional and business mindset committed to developing fantastic product with a good sense of who your target market is and how best to reach them.

I hope this helps. 🙂


How To Write A Children’s Book – Cost of Printing


I am mostly finished writing and have an illustrator so now my question is: What is reasonable to pay for printing? I got one quote for about $4000; that seems a bit expensive to me.”

To truly assess your quoted price I’d have to ask: How many copies and are you doing full-colour interior? Those aspects will significantly influence the price of printing. Other things that influence printing costs is trim size and binding type. At the moment I’m still having issues coming to terms with an acceptable printer so I can’t give you a firm sense of pricing but I’ll tell you what I know now from experience.

createspaceWhen I do Print On Demand (POD) with Amazon’s CreateSpace it works out to about $4 per copy plus shipping and because it’s shipping from the US it’s usually $50 for 1 book or $200 for 50 books bringing the per copy price to about $8 which is reasonable. Obviously the more you order the better the price per copy becomes because it gets cheaper. The trouble I’ve had with CreateSpace is that in the 10 proof copies I’ve ordered of “P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle” there is noticeable whitespace in the gutter. That makes me wary about using them for full-colour picture books. I do use them for novels and have been very happy with the quality and price.

I’ve also had one proof copy done through IngramSpark’s Australia branch. Their binding and gutter looks great but the paperstock was only 45gsm so I’ve put through the order again on higher quality stock paper. The 45gsm is very thin so you see the bleed through from the opposite side of the paper. IngramSpark (Lightning Source) are slightly more expensive than CreateSpace but again are POD so you can order in very small quantities. One issue with them is that they charge administration fees. It’s $50 every time you upload files which is frustrating during the preparation stage. For example, I have one proof copy from them so far and have spent more than ingram$100 for that because it’s been two sets of uploads at $50 each, plus express production and shipping for the proof copy.

I’ve recently attended some professional development workshops about children’s book publishing and have had a couple of local printers recommended to me. There are some advantages of going local with your printing company as well as some disadvantages. I’ll be approaching a few local printers for quotes over the next week so I’ll know more soon.

At the workshops we were told to expect to spend about $6000 for 2000 copies full-colour from a local printer. Because you have to order in higher quantity and it’s not POD you’re responsible entirely for distribution which can be challenging and adds a warehousing dimension to the self-publishing journey. It is more expensive upfront, but when you do the math it works out to $3 per copy which is actually comparable and in some cases cheaper than POD. It is, however, a significantly larger investment upfront and therefore there is a greater chance of not returning on the investment.

While producing a picture book is relatively inexpensive, printing does add up quickly. You have to remember that your printing costs are directly correlated in the retail price of the book and that the stock you order is a business asset. Even if you have 2000 copies sitting in boxes in your garage you have thousands of dollars worth of stock that should sell over time with ongoing marketing and distribution (assuming the book is good). It’s an investment in product rather than an expense.

I hope this helps. I’d love to know who you got the $4000 quote from and for how many copies that quote was for. As I mentioned, I’m still on the hunt for a printer I’m 100% satisfied with so am always interested to hear of those available who provide quality service.

Congratulations on the production of your book. I look forward to seeing it!

If you have a question about writing books for children or publishing, drop me an email and I’ll tell you more!

How To Write A Children’s Book – Getting Started

“I have an idea for a childrens book and I’m not really sure where to start.”

The simple answer is you start by writing the book. In children’s literature more so than any other writing the work is almost exclusively “on-spec”. This means, you have to start by writing the story in the words you imagine they should appear on the page before you submit them to agents, publishers, editors, etc. And getting started really is as easy and as hard as that.

But as you’d expect, it’s not that simple.

Children’s books are strange, complex organisms. It’s one thing to say, “I have an idea so I’ll write a book,” and another to successfully turn an idea into the kind of words needed to reach your readers.

For starters, there is a broad range of children’s books primarily established by reader age. So before you begin writing you should ask yourself: Is this a book parents will read to their babies or toddlers? Is it a book for early readers to read together with established readers? Is it an early reader read alone? Is it a middle grader, able reader? Is it a tween or preteen chapter book? Is it a Y.A novel?

Establish the age and reading ability you think your idea is best suited to reach because each style of book is written in very different ways.

Toddler & Baby Books aka Board Books (30-150 words)
There are a couple of different types of Board Books, some are picture books printed in board book format, but others are skills-based introducing vocabulary, numbers, colours, etc. Board Books should have very few words to a page because little readers are often more eager to turn the page then to wait until long passages have been read. They introduce babies and toddlers to the concept of books as something fun to see, explore, and enjoy and are printed to withstand mess and mouthing.

Young Children’s Picture Books (300-600 words)
This is perhaps the most common book type meant when a writer thinks about writing for children so I’m going to save it for now and come back to it in more detail later.

Early Reader Shared Reading Picture Books (400-1000 words)
This is the domain of Aulexic. We focus primarily on picture books written to be read by established readers to and with children who have language and literacy difficulties such as dyslexia. They follow the same concepts of traditional picture books but have richer vocabularies and more rhythmic and rhyming construction that encourages predictive reading and joyful repetition. They can also introduce talking points and more complex storyline because the comprehension is supported by sharing the reading experience with an able reader and are written for older children who have deep interest but limited literary foundation.

Early Reader Read Alone (level 1 = 100-600 words, up to higher levels that reach into 5,000 words)
These books require many of the traits of the early reader shared reading but are much more restrictive in vocabulary. It is vital to use 99% words assumed to be known by readers based on their established reading level. These books may have fewer pictures but early levels definitely have fewer words than an Early Reader Shared Reading book because the early reader will tire quickly as they develop skills in decoding, working memory, and comprehension.

Chapter Book (4,000-15,000 words)
Chapter books are leaning much more toward novel format. By now they are reading primarily black text on white or cream paper. These books may include some hand-drawn-style illustrations but images are not dominant on the page and there are generally far more words than pictures. The chapters are kept short so that emerging readers have opportunities to rest between sections.

Middle Grader (15,000-40,000 words)
A step up from chapter books are the middle graders. These generally have no illustrations unless it is a decorative chapter divider. Chapters are kept short and tight.

Y.A. Novel (40,000-80,000 words)
This is the closest variation of children’s book to what is considered “just a book”. But Y.A. Novels are still written for readers who are not yet adults and need to be written with an awareness of the fragile development still in progress in its young reader. These books can touch on some serious topics, they can be emotion-rich, they often focus on a very centric teen protagonist making decisions they feel are life or death within the viewpoint of the narrator who is often also the protagonist. They are usually very intense and can get risqué. But it is important to remember your reader is not an adult and still requires sensitivity so you should avoid explicit content in language, sex, and violence.

Back To Picture Books
Bright and colourful, the picture book brings together expressive language with beautiful illustrations. If you write and illustrate you may be able to present a very talented whole package for publishers and publishing, but you may be an author who gets paired with a talented illustrator or an illustrator paired with a writer.

In traditional publishing, an author who does not illustrate their own work has very little influence on illustration. Their domain is the words and exclusively the words. You write the words, turn them over to your publisher who pairs your words with an illustrator. You don’t usually get an opportunity to give notes on the images you want and in many cases cannot reject the illustrations that are chosen for your book. The two worlds are vitally linked in the book but surgically separated in production.

In self-publishing, picture books can be very exciting to create because you can team up with or commission your illustrator and guide the artistry as well as the words. When I write as Bec J. Smith for Aulexic I start by brainstorming story concept and outlining the story with my children, Kaylie (14) and Joshua (10), then draw up storyboards of each page.

We often make this activity a day trip excursion. For example, book one we brainstormed in the one-hour drive to the beach. I spent the few hours they played in the ocean drawing storyboards and firming up the concept with their suggestions and support. For book two, we spent the day at Perth Zoo and outlined the story while touring the animals. The next day I drew up the storyboards in a three hour ‘writing’ block at our regular Sunday write in at Armadale Library.

I then gather photographs and write one-sentence descriptions to accompany each storyboard. All of this goes to the illustrator I’ve commissioned. I found him on, he lives in Indonesia and English is his second language so it is important that I express what I want in a very visual way. But it’s amazing because he takes my very rudimentary (aka terrible) sketches and turns them into magical art.

Once I have the illustrations I use Adobe InDesign to layout the picture book and then construct the words and language to fit the pictures. In this way, the concept informs illustration but illustration informs text. It becomes a true symbiosis between the two vital parts of the whole picture book process.

The Simple Not Simple
So, as you can see there isn’t really a clean and easy answer to, “how do I start?” The industry is huge and regardless of the route you plan to take there is a LOT to learn. And, depending on the route you take, the process can vary considerably. But you do need to prioritise creation, because you’ll learn fast through doing, and being willing to make mistakes, and in learning in bites the bits and pieces you need to know as you need to know them.

It’s great to get tips, advice, and guidance along the way, so if you have a question about writing books for children or publishing, drop me an email and I’ll tell you more!

The Secret Uncertainties of a Writer

Armour yourself against the secret uncertainties of your writer soul.You know something?
The inner critic is mean.
It loves to play on existing insecurities and drill into them as if debriding an open wound. It digs and hacks away at the flesh in those weakest parts of ourselves, and then, sensing the blood already drawn, circles and attacks in lancing strikes until we’re tempted to whimper in a corner, defeated.

The key as a writer is to armour ourselves against these abuses. As writers, we must harden ourselves against our own doubts and trust in ourselves and the work we are producing. (Tweet this!)

Today, as I was editing a scene from Birth of the Sacred Mother the inner critic was picking on my grammar and sentence structure. I have a habit of doing interesting things with what might be considered a comma splice. Grammatically in the strict, academic sense, it’s WRONG. But the truth is, when the inner critic gets out of my way and my creative, playful self is allowed into my writing the inner me LOVES how I play with sentences like this. It likes the technique I use, and it thinks the reader will have no trouble understanding the sentence so why change what is ultimately a part of my writer’s voice or style in the hope of making it more ‘correct’.

But it’s an insecurity, because as I’ve told people to reassure them traditional education is not necessary for a writer, I failed ninth grade English and never really learned all the rules and intricacies of grammar. What I do know, I’ve learned through experience or self-taught with thanks to wonders like Grammar Girl, Strunk and White, and Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I know grammar is one of my weaknesses as a writer, and the inner critic knows I know it. It’s an open wound and that dark voice inside loves to work on it in the most vicious and cruel ways.

The trouble is, if we let these uncertainties fuel the inner critic it can tear us down and get in the way of creation. These doubts lead to writer’s block and as much as some professional writers decry the very existence of writer’s block I believe this is the root of it. At least it has been for me. That voice inside torments and ridicules the inner child that is our writer self. And like a child, if we have trouble standing up for ourselves against the bullies, we might shut down, run away, cower and hide. That leads to words not getting written.

In my case, there are ways to strengthen myself against the critique. Obviously, since I know grammar is a weakness I should do further study until I’m confident I know the rules enough that when I break them I can feel comfortable telling the inner critic with logic and reasoning why I’m doing it rather than responding emotionally. And that’s the thing; Every time the inner critic digs into an insecurity, it’s an opportunity to look at how you can strengthen yourself. (Tweet this!) Perhaps that’s why those professional writers decry the existence of writer’s block, they’ve had years to build their defences against the inner critic and no longer cower from the bully. They stand tall, even against the inner doubt, and find the words regardless of the criticism their inner critic tries to heap upon them. I’m not there yet, but I’m in it for the long haul and I’m learning, and building my defences. Are you?

Which of your open wounds does your inner critic debride? And what can you do to strengthen yourself against the beration so that you’re creating a defence that keeps the bully from standing between you and getting words on the page?

[FFF] Syllable Soup: Because The Right Word Does Matter

by Guy Incognito

Syllable soup is not sour or sweet,
No chunky vegetables, no floating meat.
There are terms and expressions, from message to motto,
Enunciated nouns and verbs with vibrato.
There are plenty of adjectives and probably some slang,
At least if you’d like your soup to have tang.
Would you care to make some? Anything goes!
Gather ingredients and write them in rows.
Mean what you say and say what you mean.
To create quintessential communication cuisine.
Let’s get our soup started, the syllables are hot.
Decide on your words and then fill up the pot.
Now start the stirring, let the flavors all change.
A good hearty soup should have sounds that are strange.
But you must be careful. Do not over spice.
Words should enhance, invite and entice.
Though all words are free, some have a cost.
Some are not simple, so your reader gets lost.
The stovetop’s the page, the chef is the writer.
Who chooses the words to make stories burn brighter?
Syllable soup is a scrumptious delight,
When the cook stirs in all the syllables right.
Never too many and never too few,
Make the syllable soup that’s inside of you.
What’s that you say, you’d like a sample?
How about instead I just cook an example?
Seems fair enough — sometimes once we see,
Then our hearts and our minds and our spirits agree.
Let’s start with a word that’s been pummeled to pulp.
Drop it into the soup and get ready to gulp.
Your teachers have probably all said, “Said is dead!”
But said is not dead, it’s like butter to bread.
Or syllables to soup — I’ll explain what I mean.
Your teacher just meant that “said” shouldn’t be seen.
Said is a word that has only one sound,
No matter how you inspect it or spin it around.
Yet how many ways can you also say said?
I have so many examples inside of my head!
Speak, utter, voice; pronounce or reply,
Your hero could exclaim, or opine, or cry.
Or maybe declare, recite or disclose,
But a rose by another name is still just a rose.
When you find yourself searching for perfect ingredients,
Don’t settle for the sound that seems most expedient.
There is no substitution for that one perfect word,
That gets the page read and your stories all heard.
There is music to language, each word has a beat,
To get you nodding your head and tapping your feet.
Each word has a sound, some short and some long,
They are notes in the verse of a sentence’s song.
Choose each one wisely, place them all in a group,
And share a savory spoon full of syllable soup!

This is just one of many brilliant rhymes and poems for readers of all ages now available in Guy Incognito’s new book, Syllable Soup. When Sean Platt heard from a publisher that his vocabulary was too rich for children he was blown away. He thought children of all ages deserve to be immersed in the wonder and fullness of language! I agree completely and I’m so glad that early rejection lead Sean into the world of Self Publishing. Now, from the Guy Incognito imprint comes a fabulous book of rhymes and language for children that will enrich their lives and yours! For lovers of language, and people who believe children deserve to be immersed in beautiful words, grab yourself a copy of Syllable Soup and share it with the whole family.

Going Into The Dark: Writing The Scenes Your Whole Being Cries Out To Avoid

Shut up and do as you're told.I had a hard scene to write tonight and my Resistance to it was so great that I was crying my eyes out at the Muse arguing about having to write it the way They demanded. I’m terrified of this scene, it’s brutal and dark and takes the story places that will definitely alienate some readers. I wanted to step back from the scene, write it from a different character’s POV so that it’s less violent and breaking, but I couldn’t make it work and the Muse kept insisting that I needed to get into that dark place and make this happen to my character. And not just to have it happen, but have it visceral and in a POV so close that the reader is ripped through the experience with the character. Good writers are evil to their characters; they push them to their limits and force them to experience the worst of things so that they can rise above their experiences to become the people they were destined to be.

Anyway, after a lot of tears, and an argument with the Muse I did what writers always have to do when the Muse is insisting one thing over what you think you should be doing. Shut up and do as you’re told. So I wrote the scene. 1500 words of hell. And it wasn’t hard to write once I got out of my own way about it. I’m sure it’ll need a hell of a lot of editing and I’m terrified it’ll make it into the final draft because of the public perception part of it. But I also know that the Muse was right, this scene is a crux-point. Without it I wouldn’t be doing the story or the characters justice. It’s brutal, and honest, and dark, but it’s also rich and emotional and compelling. And it shapes my protagonist’s whole, entire future.

So, it was a painful night’s writing, but as usual, worth every minute. And hopefully it’s the hardest scene of the whole book. Although, while my Muse did promise me that, I have a hard time believing it because of the position of this scene in the entirety of the story arc. The climax is only just beginning to build, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Still, I know the Muse means from a personal sense within myself. There will be violence and darkness in the rest of the book but what happened in this scene doesn’t ever happen again. From here, the character begins to heal. This scene was the breaking, everything after this is building her back to greater strength.

Concrete Poetry: Water Rising, Sky Falling

It’s another From The Archives moment here on The Craft of Writing Fiction. This time I stumbled across something I wrote for a university creative writing unit a few years ago. It’s a LONG way away from good, but I was trying a technique I’d never used before, concrete poetry. And honestly I probably put way more time into getting the word spacing working (including changing words and rearranging sentences to better fit the space needed to make the image) that the story itself is sub-par. But I thought I’d share it anyway, because it’s cute, sweet, and it’s visually very cool.

So, here it is, concrete poetry as attempted by Rebecca Laffar-Smith. This one is called, “Water Rising, Sky Falling” (yep, even the title needs serious work). Enjoy!

CLICK HERE FOR FULL SIZE - Water Rising, Sky Falling - Concrete Prose by Rebecca Laffar-Smith

(Click the picture for a full-size version which should be much easier to read than this smaller downsized one.)

Press Coverage And Prepping For Launch

The Flight of Torque by Rebecca Laffar-SmithI’m so excited today. Tomorrow is the official launch of The Flight of Torque. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much as a debut self-published author. I love the book, obviously, and I’m so pleased to have it available for readers after working on it so long. It was a true work of passion and there was a lot of heartache and doubt along the way. There were weeks and months when I honestly didn’t think it would ever get finished. The final book is better than I ever could have imagined when I began it and I’m so pleased with the way it grew and evolved, even if it doesn’t have dragons.

Now, as we’re on the eve of launch, I’m feeling a child-like anticipation. It’s like waiting to open the presents the day before Christmas. It’s not long now, and while I’m not expecting Santa to bring me a swimming pool, I’m thrilled to know the book is going to be celebrated by friends and family. Those who were with me through the struggle, those who knew me when being a writer was a young girl’s dream, and those who are fellow writers looking to me as a beacon of what is possible. I’m hoping there will also be people I don’t know, readers and potential fans, to whom my book truly speaks.

I have to admit, the odds of that weren’t very promising this morning. I got a call from the events coordinator to talk final preparation and decision making. Our booking numbers were looking a little flat and unimpressive. Following from my friend Sioban Timmer’s debut launch on Saturday with 115 people in attendance, and fellow writer Shane McCarthy’s talk on Monday with 35, the handful of registrations I had for The Flight of Torque’s launch saddened me.

I had a good whine with some trusted online friends who helped build me back up and then I went about my day; homeschooling my son, preparing for the NaNo committee meeting, and doing another run through of my speach for Penguin Club tomorrow; but then a friend from writers group sent me two photographs on Facebook which completely transformed my day.

The West Australian; Tuesday, November 4th 2014

My name, and the book launch, is mentioned in Tuesday’s West Australian! This is a newspaper released across the state with a daily circulation of approximately 160,000. That’s a LOT of potential readers who might be interested. If even 0.01% of that audience showed interest it would give the event a significant boost. But honestly, the conversion of potential readers to launch attendance no longer matters to me because the media coverage was enough to make me feel like I’ve “arrived”. It’s another of those author milestones. Seeing my name alongside bestsellers like David Whish-Wilson and Brooke Davis was bliss. It altered my perspective so drastically that I’m again very much looking forward to tomorrow, no matter how many faces I’ll be standing in front of.

I’ve pulled out my camera and have the battery on charge so that I can video record the event for my online friends, family, and fans; I’ve stopped looking with dread at the extra boxes of books because even if they don’t go like hot cakes tomorrow they’ll sell eventually; I’ve found a new chipper burst of energy and enthusiasm that will carry me through. So, here’s to new adventures and every new beginning.