Category Archives: Advice and tips for writers

421 ways to say said? Simplify dialogue instead… Courtesy of NOW NOVEL

400 ways to say said? Simplify dialogue writing | Now Novel

If you search for alternative dialogue tags to use in your story, you’ll find many lists. While some synonyms for ‘said’ read naturally (such as words conveying volume like ‘whispered’), others come across as overwritten and forced, particularly in the wrong context.

Here are 5 simple ways to avoid clunky overuse of ‘he said/she said’:

1. Decide if dialogue tags are necessary

Sometimes we say ‘she said’, ‘he said’ or ‘they said’ when we don’t need to. Just because it’s a writing device commonly used in dialogue doesn’t mean you have to use it. When you get to the end of a line of dialogue, ask yourself:

  1. Is it clear, from context, who is speaking at this moment?
  2. Do preceding narration and formatting (such as line breaks) help clarify who is speaking?

If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, you don’t need tags.

For example, you wouldn’t need to use dialogue tags in the following example. The narration beforehand makes it clear who’s speaking, and the details of the characters’ speech give away who says what:

She picked a bit of fluff off her top, looked out the window. He wondered whether he was boring her.

“You seem distracted.”
“Hmm? You’re being intense again, Guy.”

It’s clear from the narration, description and actions who is saying what in the scene. The girls’ actions make it clear she’s the addressee of ‘You seem distracted.’ Her response also gives us a sense of how her date says this.

2. Favour unobtrusive tags

The stranger the tag, the more colourful and quirky, the more it will stick out in your dialogue.

Ideally, your reader is getting as much clarity from what characters say as they get from howthey say it.

The infographic below (via The Puppet Show) has some good alternatives. Yet it suggests words such as ‘enunciated’ as a synonym for ‘said’. However, if you were to use this tag randomly in the middle of dialogue it would seem arbitrary.

280 ways to say said | Now Novel

For example:

“You seem distracted,” he enunciated.

Because ‘to enunciate’ means ‘to say or pronounce clearly’ it doesn’t completely make sense in this context, since there isn’t a clear reason for the boy to ‘enunciate’.

However, if clarity of speech were relevant to a scene, you could use this word as a tag as it would fit. For example:

“Speak slower.” The speech therapist’s eyes were stern.
“The w-wascal wabbit wan-” he enunciated, wishing each ‘R’ could be clearer.

However, you could achieve a similar effect other ways, too. For example, using ellipses, i.e. punctuation, to show concentration; pauses:

“The w-wascal … wabbit … wan … ” He wished each R could be clearer.

This shows the effort the character is putting in, thus you don’t need a dialogue tag necessarily.

When in doubt, a simple ‘said’ is often enough. Instead of letting different ways to say ‘said’ do heavy lifting, remember this sage advice from Toni Morrison:

‘I never say “She says softly.” If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear it’s soft.’

3. Use physical gesture and motion instead of ‘said’

Other ways to say ‘she said’ avoid dialogue tags entirely. You may draw attention to the character who has said a line by immediately following speech with that character’s actions.

For example:

“No I absolutely will not!” She banged the pitcher of water down on the counter so hard Sarah was surprised the bottom didn’t crack open.

It’s clear from just this line that a female character is in the scene with Sarah, and she’s furious.

The advantages of showing who said what via movement and gesture are:

  1. You can bring in scene setting elements (where the conversation is taking place and the objects surrounding characters) subtly. This adds detail and mental imagery.
  2. You can ground your characters’ conversations in a sense of place. This avoids dialogue that resembles heads in vats chatting away without bodies, movement or direction.

Ways to say said - Toni Morrison writing tips | Now Novel

4. Use ways to say ‘said’ that add atmosphere

Using gestures and actions such as the following, as outlined above, helps to lend character and emotion to dialogue:

  • She gazed out the window (this suggests being lost in thought, or perhaps longing)
  • He turned his away (suggesting withdrawal or retreat)
  • They elbowed each other and jumped up and down (suggesting children vying to be heard above each other)

Also think about ways to say said that convey volume and tone, i.e. atmosphere. Although Toni Morrison’s advice above is good (creating quietness using the spaces around characters’ lines), the occasional ‘she whispered’ has its place, too.

Synonyms for said that show volume include:

  • Quietly: ‘Mouthed’, ‘whispered’, ‘hissed’, ‘mumbled’, ‘muttered’, ‘said, under their breath’
  • Loudly: ‘Yelled’, ‘shouted’, ‘bellowed’, ‘screamed’, ‘roared’

The above words remind us that tags that indicate volume and tone are typically reserved for extremes – of tension, emotion or environment. A kid protagonist might whisper in a creepy graveyard, a pranked neighbour might ‘bellow’ in pure outrage. Yet these are suitable tags for climactic moments. Make characters bellow or whisper every other line and the device loses its effect.

5. Switch to a narrator or other character’s reaction

Because dialogue is relational, an exchange between two or more characters, it also works to switch to another character’s reaction instead of focusing on the character who’s just finished speaking.

For example, read the following brief dialogue:

“You wouldn’t believe what happened next. I was-”
“John, can we pause this for a second, I really need the bathroom.”
When I returned, I couldn’t believe he was still going. Something about what not to do in an avalanche. As if he were the only one at the party who’d ever had any adventures.

Here, because the second character addresses John by name, we know who’s been speaking. Because of their interruption, as well as their shock that John is still speaking when they return, we also get a sense of how John speaks. It’s a one-way street, John holding the floor (and holding his listeners ransom).

As you can see from the above, there are many ways to show who is speaking in dialogue. Other ways to say said can avoid dialogue tags entirely. Use gesture, movement or reaction to show your reader details of character and setting.

Need help improving your dialogue? Get help with everything from formatting to context when you enroll in our four-week writing course, ‘How to Write Dialogue’. Or join Now Novel for constructive feedback on your writing and help brainstorming ideas.


Filed under Advice and tips for writers, General post, Re-blogged

A creative writing teacher has to deal with a lot. By Melodie Campbell

It all started in 1992.  I’d won a couple of crime fiction awards, and the local college came calling. Did I want to come on faculty and teach in the writing program?  Hell, yes!  (Pass the scotch.)

Over the years, I continued to teach fiction writing, but also picked up English Lit, Marketing (my degree) and a few odd ones, like Animation and Theatre. Such is the life of an itinerant college prof.  (Pass the scotch.)

Twenty-four years later, I’m a full-time author. Except for Wednesday nights, when I put on my mask, don a cape, and turn into SUPER TEACH!  (Okay, ‘Crazy Author Prof.’ Too much time alone at a keyboard can be scary.  (Pass the scotch.)

Recently, a jovial colleague asked me if I was a good teacher or an evil one. I’m definitely on the kind side of the equation. The last thing I want is to be a Dream Killer. But even the kindest, most dedicated writing teachers can get frustrated. So when Anne suggested I rant on these pages, I gracefully accepted. (With the sort of grace that might be associated with a herd of stampeding mastodons.)

So here are my top ten peeves as a creative writing teacher:


  1. “I Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Genre.”

In addition to basic and advanced writing skills, I teach the genres in my course. Meaning, we deconstruct each of the main genres of fiction (mystery, thriller, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, western, literary…etc.) to see what publishers expect. This is particularly important when it comes to endings. Mickey Spillane said those famous words: “Your first page sells this book. Your last page sells the next one.”

Most publishers categorize the books they accept into genres. Most readers stick to a few genres they like best for their reading pleasure. So it stands to reason that if you can slot your work into an already active genre, you have a better chance of getting published and read.

Many students refuse to classify their work. They feel it is ‘selling out’ to do so. (Yes, I’ve heard this frequently.) They don’t want to ‘conform’ or be associated with a genre that has a ‘formula.’ (One day I hope to discover that formula. I’ll be rich.)

So I often start out with half a class that claims to be writing literary fiction, even though not a single student can name a contemporary literary book they’ve actually read. (Pass the scotch.)

  1. The Memoir Disguised as Fiction.

These students have no interest in writing fiction. They really only want to write one book ever, and that is their life story. But they know that memoirs of unknown people don’t sell well, so they’re going to write it is a novel. Because then it will be a bestseller.

Here’s what I tell them: What happens to you in real life – no matter how dramatic and emotional it is for you – usually doesn’t make a good novel. Novels are stories. Stories have endings, and readers expect satisfactory endings. Real life rarely gives you those endings, and so you will have to make something up.

If you want to write your life story, go for it. Take a memoir writing class.

(Or if you want to turn real life into readable fiction, here’s a great post from Ruth Harris on the subject.–Anne) 

  1. “My Editor Will Fix This.”

Students who think that grammar and punctuation are not important drive me batty.

Hey, someone else will fix that. They even expect me – the teacher – to copy-edit their work. Or at least to ignore all seventeen errors on the first page when I am marking. (*hits head against desk*)

I should really put this under the ‘baffling’ category. If you are an artist or craftsman, you need to learn the tools of your trade. Writers deal in words, and our main tools are grammar, punctuation and diction. How could you expect to become a writer without mastering the tools of our trade?

  1. The Hunger Games Clone.

I can’t tell you how many times students in my classes have come determined to rewrite The Hunger Games with different character names on a different planet. Yes, I’m picking on Hunger Games, because it seems to be an endemic obsession with my younger students.

What I’m really talking about here is the sheer number of people who want to be writers but really can’t come up with a new way to say things. Yes, you can write a new spin on an old plot. But it has to be something we haven’t seen before.

There are just some plots we are absolutely sick of seeing. For me, it’s the ‘harvesting organs’ plot. Almost every class I’ve taught has someone in it who is writing a story about killing people to sell their organs. It’s been done, I tell them. I can’t think of a new angle that hasn’t already been done, and done well.  Enough, already.  Write something else.  Please. Leave the poor organs where they are!


  1. The Preachers: students who write to teach other people a lesson. 

And that’s all they want to do. Akin to the memoir-novelists, these students come to class with a cause, often an environmental one. They want to write a novel that teaches the rest of us the importance of reuse and recycling. Or the evils of eating meat.

Recently, I had a woman join my fiction class for the express purpose of teaching people how to manage their finances better. She thought if she wrote novels about people going down the tubes financially, and then being bailed out by lessons from a friendly banker (like herself ) it would get her message across.

All noble. But the problem is: people read fiction to be entertained. They don’t want to be lectured.  If your entire goal is to teach people a lesson, probably you should take a nonfiction course. Or here’s a novel 🙂  idea: become a teacher.

  1. Literary Snowflakes: students who ignore publisher guidelines.

“A typical publisher guideline for novels is 70,000-80,000 words?  Well, mine is 150,000, and I don’t need to worry about that because they will love it. Too bad if it doesn’t fit their print run and genre guidelines. They’ll make an exception for me.”

I don’t want to make this a generational thing. Okay, hell yes – maybe I should come clean.  I came from a generation that was booted out of the house at 18 and told to make a living. ‘Special’ wasn’t a concept back when we used slide rules instead of calculators.

Thing is, these students don’t believe me. They simply don’t believe they can’t write exactly what they want and not get published. And I’m breaking their hearts when I tell them this: Publishers buy what readers want to read. Not what writers want to write.

  1. Students Who Set out to Break the Rules.

There are many ways to tell a story. We creative writing teachers have some rules on viewpoint, and we discuss what they are, the reasons for them, and why you don’t want to break them.

Then we discuss why you might WANT to break them.  Apparently, this isn’t enough.  (*sobs into sleeve*)

I have some students who set out to break every rule they can think of because they want to be different. “To hell with the readers. I’ll head-hop if I want. And if Gone Girl has two first person viewpoints, my book is going to have seventeen! No one will have seen anything like it before. They’ll think I’m brilliant.”

Never mind that the prose is unreadable.  Or that we don’t have a clear protagonist, and thus don’t know whom to root for.

e.e.cummings did it. Why can’t they?

  1. Students Who Don’t Write.

They love the class. Never miss a week. But struggle to complete one chapter by the end of term. Not only that, this isn’t the first fiction writing class they’ve taken. They specialize in writers’ workshops and retreats.

It seems baffling, but some people like to hobby as aspiring writers. They learn all about writing but never actually write.  Of course, we veterans can get that part.  Writing is work – hard work. Writing is done alone in a room.  In contrast, learning about writing can be fun. That’s done in a social environment with other people.


  1. Creative Writing Teachers Who Steal our Material for their Own Classes (*removes gun from stocking*)

Not kidding.  I actually had an adult student come clean about this.  By class seven, he hadn’t done any of the assignments, and admitted he was taking the class to collect material to use for the high school creative writing class he taught.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

  1. Students Who Don’t Read.

This is the one that gets me the most. Last term I did a survey.  I asked each student to write the number of books they had read last year on a small piece of paper and hand it in.  I begged them to be honest.  They didn’t have to write their names on the paper, so I would never know who had written what total.  Here’s the tally of number of books read;

  • Highest number by one person:  26
  • Lowest number by one person:  0-1
  • Average:  7

Yup, I’m still shaking my head over that low.  He couldn’t remember whether he’d actually read a book.  (How can you not KNOW?)

And these people want to be writers. *Collective groan* Why – will someone please tell me why anyone would want to be a writer if they don’t read books?

To be clear here:  I read 101 novels last year.  I read for one hour every night before I go to bed, and have done so for years. That’s seven hours a week, assuming I don’t sneak other time to read. Two books a week. And that doesn’t include the hours I spend reading students manuscripts over three terms.

If reading isn’t your hobby, how can you possibly think you can write?  Why would you want to?

By this point, you are probably asking:

Hey Teach!  Why do you do it?

As this term draws to an end, I decided to ask myself that question: why be a creative writing teacher? Then give myself a completely honest answer. Here goes:

It’s Not the Money.

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Part time profs in Canada are poorly paid.  I’m top rate, at $47 an hour.  I’m only paid for my time in the classroom (3 hours a week). For every hour in the classroom, I spend at least two hours prepping and marking.  We don’t get paid for that.  At end of term, I spend several days evaluating manuscripts.  We don’t get paid for that either.  This means I am getting paid less than minimum wage.  So I’m not doing it for the money.

It’s Not all Those Book Sales.

When I first started teaching, an author gal more published than I was at the time said a peculiar thing to me:  “Be sure you enjoy teaching because aspiring writers don’t buy books.”  At first I was puzzled, but then I started to understand what she meant.  Students are here to learn how to make their fiction better. That’s their focus. They really don’t care about what their teacher has written.

So why the heck do you do it, Mel?  That’s time you could invest in writing your own books…

It’s Vegetables for Authors: It’s Good for Me.  

Let me explain: It takes me back to first principles.

I teach all three terms.  Every four months, I am reminded about goal/motivation/conflict.  Three act structure.  Viewpoint rules.  Creating compelling characters.  Teaching “Crafting a Novel” forces me to constantly evaluate my own work, as I do my students.  In other words, it’s ‘vegetables for authors’ – good for me.

It’s the People.

By far, the most valuable thing about teaching a night course year after year is it allows me to mix with people who would not normally be part of my crowd.  Adult students of all ages and backgrounds meet up in my classrooms, and many are delightful.  I’ve treasured the varied people I’ve met through the years, and keep in touch with many of them.

Getting to know people other than your own crowd (in my case, other writers) is extremely valuable for an author.  You’re not merely guessing how others different from you may think…you actually *know* people who are different. This helps you create diverse characters in your fiction who come alive.

As well, you meet people from different professions…doctors, lawyers, salespeople, bank officers, government workers, labourers, grad students, Starbucks baristas, roofers, police, firefighters, chefs, paramedics.  I have my own list of people to call on, when I need to do research.

It’s Good for my Soul

I’m paying it forward.  Believe it or not, I didn’t become an author in a vacuum.  I had two mentors along the way who believed in me.  Michael Crawley and Lou Allin – I hope you are having a fab time in the afterlife.  Hugs all around, when I get there.

Students take writing courses for all sorts of reasons.  Some take it for college course credit.  Some take it for interest, as they might take photography or cooking classes.  Others need an escape from dreary jobs, and a writing class can provide that escape, if only temporarily.  But many actually do hope to become authors like I am.  When I connect with one of them, and can help them on their way, it is magic.  There is no greater high.

No question, my life is richer through teaching fiction writing, even if my bank account is not.

You can help Melodie’s bank account by buying her humorous books, like The B-Team. This will keep her from writing dreary novels that will depress us all. (Pass the scotch.)

by Melodie Campbell (@MelodieCampbell) February 11, 2018


What about you, scriveners? Have you ever taken a writing class? Did you drive your teacher nuts with any of these things? (I know I was guilty of several…Anne) Have you ever taught creative writing?

If you’re in the area of the Central Coast of California on Tuesday, February 13th, you can meet Anne in person. She’ll be talking to the SLO Nightwriters about “How a Blog Can Benefit Any Author’s Career.” The meeting will be in San Luis Obispo at 11245 Los Osos Valley Road at 6:30 PM. FREE!

About Melodie Campbell: The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy.” Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. 

Melodie Campbell has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis Award, and eight more awards for crime fiction.

In 2015, Melodie made the Top 50 Amazon Bestseller list, sandwiched between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts. 

She is the former Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.  You can find her at

You can help Melodie’s bank account by buying her humorous books, like The Bootlegger’s Goddaughter. This will keep her from writing dreary novels that will depress us all. (Pass the scotch.)


Brand New from Melodie Campbell!

The B-Team: The Case of the Angry Ex-Wife

They do wrong for all the right reasons…and sometimes it even works.

Perhaps you’ve heard of The A-Team?  Vietnam vets turned vigilantes? They had a television show a while back.  We’re not them.

But if you’ve been the victim of a scam, give us a call.  We deal in justice, not the law.
We’re the B-Team.

Available in ebook and paperback


EVERYTHING CHANGE CLIMATE FICTION CONTEST  NO ENTRY FEE. Submit one piece of fiction up to 5,000 words using the impact of climate change as an element of your story. The winning story will receive a $1000 prize, and nine finalists will receive $50 prizes. Also, there will be an anthology of selected winners. The contest sponsor is the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University. Deadline February 28.

The Nelligan Prize. $2000 first prize for a literary short story, any length. Plus publication in the Colorado Review. Must be previously unpublished. Fee $15. Deadline March 14th

Eludia Award for a Novel or Story Collection Contest from Women Writers Over 40! $1,000 and publication by Sowilo Press is given annually for a novel or story collection by a woman writer over the age of 40. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of any length with a $30 entry fee by March 15

Red Hen Press annual Nonfiction Contest.  $1,000 prize and publication by the prestigious Red Hen Press. They’re looking for an essay collection, memoir, or book of narrative nonfiction. Florencia Ramirez will judge. Using the online submission system, submit a manuscript of at least 150 pages with a $25 entry fee. Deadline April 30

Wergle Flomp Humorous Poetry Contest  NO FEE. The First prize is $1,000 and there’s a second prize of $250. Also 10 Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each. The top 12 entries get published online. Judge: Jendi Reiter, assisted by Lauren Singer. Length limit: 250 lines. And there are no restrictions on age or country. DEADLINE APRIL 1st

Write Romance? Harlequin Romance (HQN) takes unagented submissions (via Submittable) for Romantic Suspense, Historical, Medical, and many other subgenres. Check out Harlequin’s guidelines here.

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Filed under Advice and tips for writers, General competitions, Re-blogged, Submission calls

The lowdown on Literary fairs in the words of Fred Johnson at

More and more book fairs and festivals are springing up each year, and there have never been as many options for writers looking to reach out to new audiences and get involved in their local literary scene. That said, not all book fairs are created equal – across the world, literary fairs tend to either be community-focused, grassroots events powered mainly by goodwill, or larger, more dissolute corporate affairs drowning in sponsorship. Each model has its pros and cons, but the perfect literary fair sits somewhere in the middle.

For new authors, literary fairs and festivals are an invaluable resource. While you may pine to adopt the ‘solitary author’ life popularized by media representations (and by famous recluses such as Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Jonathan Franzen), the reality is that the author-as-hermit archetype is a luxury that must be earned. For writers still fighting to make their mark (particularly if they’re self-publishing), self-promotion is a necessity. The good news is that, unlike copy-pasting adverts to your social media feeds, attending literary fairs and festivals can be a lot of fun. You might even make some money.

So, let’s break down what exactly literary fairs and festivals can do for you. Once that’s out of the way, we’ll look into what you can do to get as much out of fairs and festivals as you possibly can.

What are literary festivals and how do I sign up?

Literary fairs and festivals come in all shapes and sizes. From the huge Harlem Book Fair in the USA to the Poetry Book Fair in London, literary fairs are difficult to tar with the same brush. Some tend to swell beyond their focus (corporation-sponsored fairs are sometimes threatened by the inclusion of celebrities and sports personalities), whereas others struggle to fill the lineup. One thing you can count on, no matter which book fair you attend, is that there will be talks by authors, signings, workshops, and possibly a few specialist panels on specific topics.

As a visitor, you’ll attend talks by your favorite writers, queue to have your book signed, enjoy some festival food, drink some wine, attend a workshop or two, have some lovely conversations, and maybe buy a book or two. It’s all very tranquil. The same cannot be said for the writers in attendance – things can get chaotic (and expensive!) very quickly, which is why it’s so important to have a plan in place before you attend. After all, literary agents will be in attendance, small publishers will be lurking, and commissioning editors and buyers abound; there are potential customers everywhere.

Literary fairs tempt many different types of potential buyers and contacts.
Literary fairs and festivals offer up an invaluable chance to bypass the bureaucracy of standard agency/publisher applications – if you can corner an agent and force some wine into their hand, you’ll have maybe three minutes to explain why they should totally pick you up. If you’re not prepared, you’re wasting that opportunity.

Typically, the bigger festivals are pickier with who they host, and tend to foreground established and traditionally published writers – this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival, for example, is hosting writers including Joyce Carol Oates, Colson Whitehead, and Jonathan Lethem – but such festivals nonetheless tend to make an effort to represent local authors who are lesser known. Brooklyn Book Festival is also hosting hundreds of Brooklynite debut novelists and poets, few of whom have particularly expansive readerships.

This confirms that it’s a good idea to start by scouting out your local area. Fairs and festivals are obliged to represent local talent (particularly if your book is set in or describes the local area) though, if you can afford to be picky, it’s worth bearing in mind Hay Festival founder Peter Florence’s insights:

I think maybe the only two ‘rules’ I’ve observed to be generally applicable and true are these: the only festivals that really work are rooted in their communities; and that – as in everything you know about biology, economics, history, politics, and life – diversity is wisest and strongest.

– Peter Florence, interviewed in The Guardian

Happily, many festivals are now actively (finally) reaching out to indie or self-publishing authors, so getting on the bill for even major local book festivals isn’t as difficult as you might think. Just make sure to contact the festival organizers far in advance (six to nine months is a safe bet) and have your best pitch ready.

The earlier you start planning for a book fair, the better the financial outcome.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that most festivals either pay only the headlining writers or don’t pay at all. Certainly, the hordes of lesser-known, stall-manning authors and poets are unlikely to see much of a direct financial return (but then they are being given the chance to sell to attendees). When you’re taking a day (or weekend) off work to travel to the festival; staying in a hotel, B&B, or campsite; and feeding yourself expensive festival food, costs can shoot up very quickly. As such, you’ll want to have planned ahead – you’ll probably be able to bring food in with you, and if you book far enough in advance, accommodation won’t be so expensive. Be sure to exploit free refreshments wherever they can be found, and practice your sales-speak so you can sell a few books!

What literary fairs and festivals can do for you

If you’re successful in applying for a place at a book fair or festival, chances are you’ll be manning a stall between events. This is your chance to put yourself and your book on display – you’re going to want to attract as many interested people as you can (even if they’re not customers or agents – you never know who could prove useful in the future).

With this in mind, you’re going to have to make sure that you’re able to talk confidently and engagingly about yourself and your book but, beyond that, you’re also going to want to ensure that:

You’ve got stock to sell,
You’ve followed the festival guidelines and rules to the letter,
Your stall, display, and books look good – consider bringing along home-made signs and posters,
You’re ready to accept currency (this means bringing change) and/or card,
You’ve got business cards and flyers at the ready,
You’ve brought your laptop. With this, you can exploit social media, instantly establish contact with any useful people you meet, draw up quick applications or messages, and keep track of your sales,
You’re ready to pitch your book (and yourself) at a moment’s notice.
It’s also a good idea to seek out anyone you know who has attended the fair/festival before. They can help give you an idea of how you should structure your day and how much walking around you’ll have to do. Speaking of walking around, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes and are ready for any bad weather that may be coming your way – there’s nothing more miserable than sitting in the rain with blisters on your feet, trying to sell damp books to equally soggy punters.

Success at a literary festival entails more walking than you might think.
Beyond hopefully selling a few books, you should also be on the lookout for literary agents and publishers. But don’t turn up blind – do your research beforehand. See which agents are turning up, which publishing houses are sending commissioning editors, whether Barnes and Noble or Waterstones are sending buyers, and tailor your pitch accordingly. Don’t make the mistake of reeling in an agent when they don’t even deal in your genre, and don’t blather on to publishers when you do finally snag their attention – be focused, engaging, knowledgeable, and memorable. If there was ever a time for informed charisma, this is it. After all, you’re not going to be the only writer there vying for their attention. You’re not only going to have to look good; you’re going to have to look better than everyone else.

But it’s not all networking and nepotism. Book fairs and festivals are, after all is said and done, wonderful opportunities to meet people who have the same interests as you. If you’re lacking literary friends, they can be a great way to fill that hole. Who hasn’t wanted to be part of a Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Stein-esque coterie? You’ll doubtlessly learn a lot from book fairs about the current trends and preoccupations in publishing and, even if you don’t succeed in pitching anything, just talking to agents or publishers can help you out in the future when submitting proposals. After all, if they can put a face to the name, you’re already in with a better chance of establishing a healthy working relationship.

Talks, panels, and workshops

If you’re given the option, always put yourself forward to host a talk, join a panel, or lead a workshop. It might be scary, but if it goes well, you’ve helped develop your personal brand – you can be sure of at least a few book sales and you should gain a fair few followers on your social media channels. Best of all, you’ll be more likely to snag additional speaking gigs in the future. After all, if you’ve led an interesting discussion or a workshop at a festival once, you’re evidently qualified to do it again. Next time, it could be a bigger festival with more people. Maybe it’ll be a writers’ conference. Maybe an expo. Maybe they’ll even pay their writers!

Get involved with literary fairs however you can – your role will only grow from there.
But even if not, establishing yourself as an authority and an expert is something that literary agents and publishers love to see, and is something that you owe yourself too. After all, book marketing is no longer merely about book marketing; in today’s climate of hyper-visibility, it’s just as much about author marketing (even those recluses I mentioned earlier – McCarthy and Franzen – have been dragged onto The Oprah Winfrey Show by their insistent publishers). The more visible, authoritative, and public you are, the more potential customers are going to want to read your book.

Get your face out there

Even if you don’t sell any books, don’t host any talks or workshops, don’t find any agents, and spend the whole day talking to interested passers-by and asking questions of more established writers during their panel talks, you’re still reaping the benefits of books fairs. After all, a huge part of marketing is simply getting your face and your name out there – being visible instead of invisible. If anyone goes home remembering their conversation with you or, even better, your name and book, it’s a win. That said, you should also be pushing your social media feeds and your Amazon page (if you have one – and if not, why not?) If you can gain fifty new followers on Twitter, that’s fifty people who’re going to see your updates and promotions, and that’s nothing to scoff at.

If you’re not ready to get stuck into literary fairs as an author, go as a ticket-holder – there’s still lots to learn, and you can be taking notes, attending workshops, and talking to authors to prepare yourself for your own time in the spotlight.

Have you attended any literary fairs or festivals? How did you find them? Do you have any tips for our readers that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments. Or, for more great advice on this topic, check out Why You Need To Brand Yourself As An Author, And Exactly How To Do It and Grow Your Author Brand Through Networking.

first published August 9, 2017


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Filed under Advice and tips for writers, Re-blogged