Have you ever found yourself searching for a word to
describe certain emotions or feelings, but just can’t put your finger on the
right one? Well, believe it or not, there is actually a word for that. It’s
But lethologica does not have to get you down. It turns out
there is a whole collection of words to describe obscure emotions or feelings
that you often don’t know names for. So many words, in fact, that there is an
entire website dedicated to them called The Dictionary of Obscure
While the website includes 117 of these heartbreakingly beautiful
words, here are some of our favorites:
n. the desire to hold on to time as it passes, like trying
to keep your grip on a rock in the middle of a river, feeling the weight of the
current against your chest while your elders float on downstream, calling over
the roar of the rapids, “Just let go—it’s okay—let go.”
n. a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is
listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with
each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own
score, until we all run out of things to say.
n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become
completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a
window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your
coffee—briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done
purely for its own sake.
n. the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a
thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an
argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling
release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.
n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years
still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of
their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a
wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that
will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you
has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.
n. a friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick
right back up instantly, as if no time had passed since you last saw each
n. the awareness of how little of the world you’ll
n. the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat, whose
tenuous muscular throbbing feels less like a metronome than a nervous ditty
your heart is tapping to itself, the kind that people compulsively hum or sing
while walking in complete darkness, as if to casually remind the outside world:
“I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”
n. the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip
only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to
keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid
just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into
everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene
become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d
never have to call “cut!”
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a
life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions,
friends, routines, worries, and inherited craziness—an epic story that
continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with
elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know
existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the
background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at
n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
Writers love to read about writing. From advice on mastering their craft, to memoirs of writers, and even straight-up grammar tips, books about writing are a major part of every aspiring writer’s library.
Much like “Bird by Bird,” Goldberg’s book is an instructional writing book that is filled with personal anecdotes that are witty, charming, and filled with insight.
It’s not all grounded in sentence structure, either. Chapters like “Don’t Use Writing to Get Love” are very personal and go well beyond the page. It’s a great book for beginners who are trying to find their own voice.
As you start to venture down the trail of becoming a writer, you will undoubtedly be bombarded with rules.
From instructors to successful writers and even well-intentioned relatives, rules like “You have to write every day!” and “Show, don’t tell!” will start to pile up in your mental file cabinet.
Robert Masello wrote his book “Robert’s
Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know” to add
to your file while blowing up some of the rules you thought you knew. For
Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” is less focused
on the fiction crowd and zeroes in on storytelling in non-fiction writing. It’s
loaded with educational features focusing on the craft of writing, including
different forms like memoir and travel writing.
There are countless tips and tricks that writers can put to use in their writing to make it absolutely shine.
If you enjoy writing non-fiction, this is a must-read.
Christopher Vogler started this book as a
memo for Disney executives as he worked on The Lion King 26 years ago. (Can you
believe The Lion King is that old?) It’s essentially a reworking of Joseph
Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” made more approachable and relevant
for today’s screenwriters.
You don’t have to be writing for the
screen to appreciate the useful tips and strategies laid out in “The Writer’s
Journey.” This book should be on every writer’s desk.
What happens when you ask a bunch of
successful writers to pinpoint one of the most influential passages they’ve
ever read? This book happens.
With entries by Stephen King, Amy Tan,
Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, and a couple of dozen more writers, “Light
the Dark” is a fascinating and inspiring read.
Each writer discusses a piece of writing
that not only moved them but changed them somehow. Each entry is an easy 5-10-minute
read, which makes a great choice for jump starting each day with a dose of
A lot of writing doesn’t end up on bestseller lists. It’s done with a different purpose in mind. If you want help learning how to take your writing from good to amazing in a specific field, try one of these great reads.
“Save the Cat!” is an insider’s guide to
writing for the screen, with funny takes on everything from loglines to rules
he calls “screenplay physics.” Despite the title, Snyder wrote five more
companion books for this one.
Ever since COVID-19 lockdowns started in March of 2020 and
forced many people to work from home, the internet has been full of hilarious
memes. From jokes about doing Zoom calls in your pajamas, to cartoons depicting
parents trying to work with kids in the house, it’s clear that the switch from the
office to working remotely has been a challenge for many.
There is one group of people who are well versed in the art
of working from home, though. Those people are writers!
With frequent deadlines hanging over their heads, writers
are no stranger to hunkering down and isolating in order to get their work
In this great blog from The
Guardian, they take some of the best work-from-home advice from great
writers and compile it to help readers manage their work and thrive during
these crazy times.
While some of the tips, such as making sure to get plenty of
sleep and exercise, may seem obvious, the blog also provides helpful advice,
such as getting the hard things done first and quarantining yourself from the
internet and social media.
Although many people have been working from home for the
better part of this year, it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed at times. But don’t
lose faith in yourself. After all,
William Shakespeare wrote one of his greatest
works—King Lear—while quarantining during the Plague. So, if he can do it,
so can you!
“TIME’s spell-check always admonishes me whenever I compose a sentence in the passive voice, a warning that is often ignored by me.” — Richard Corliss, film critic for TIME magazine
There are certain writing tips or admonishments that writers hear so often that they’ve become almost cliché:
tell.” “Write every day.” “Use the active, not the passive voice!”
You may have some idea what active and passive voices are, but how do you define them? And more importantly, why does it matter so much, and is that rule an absolute? If we should never use the passive voice, why does it exist?
you need to know about writing in active or passive voice.
What is active voice?
“The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive.” — William Strunk, Jr., author of The Elements of Style
online dictionary defines active voice as “the voice used to indicate that the
grammatical subject of the verb is performing the action or causing the
happening denoted by the verb.”
For example: “The girl rode the pony.” The subject of the verb (the girl) is performing the action denoted by the verb (rode). The sentence does not have to be simple, nor does the verb have to be grand or physical. Here are some other examples:
frequently wears colorful Hawaiian shirts.
took its first steps on the moon in 1969.
wondered if Devin was going to ask her to the winter dance.
In each of
these sentences, the subject of the verb performs the verb action. Tyler wears.
Neil Armstrong took. Abby wondered.
You’ll hear some writers and writing instructors say to always use the active voice. It’s clear, straightforward, and strong. It gives a sense of authority to your writing.
When in doubt, it’s your best bet for good writing.
What is passive voice?
“Of writing in passive voice: Like the weather, people talk about it, but nobody seems to be doing much about either one.”— Chris Smith, senior lead communications specialist, Entergy Corporation
defines the passive voice as “asserting that the grammatical subject of a verb
is subjected to or affected by the action represented by that verb.”
switch my example from above to the passive voice it would be, “The pony was
ridden by the girl.” Now, the pony is the subject of the verb, but instead of
doing the action (riding) it is being affected by that action (was ridden). This
leaves the girl, our former subject, dangling
at the end of the sentence as if she has little importance.
voice tends to use forms of the “be” verb such as “is,” “was,” or “has been.”
They are one way of keeping an eye out for passive voice in your writing.
Let’s do the
Hawaiian shirts are frequently worn by Tyler.
first steps on the moon were taken in 1969.
was going to ask her to the winter dance was wondered by Abby.
two sentences work, but they lack the energy and directness of their active
voice counterparts. The third sentence, with poor Abby, becomes muddled and
awkward at best, but it’s not Devin’s fault. It’s the writer’s fault.
If you’re still not clear on how to detect passive voice, Rebecca Johnson, vice president for academic affairs at Marine Corps University, came up with a fun little idea when she was a professor of culture and ethics. “If you can add the phrase “by zombies” after the verb, your sentence has passive voice.”
Let’s try it!
frequently wears…by zombies.” Nope. That doesn’t work at all.
shirts are frequently worn…by zombies.” Look at that. You clearly have a
sentence in passive voice (and fun, stylish zombies).
took…by zombies.” Again, no.
first steps on the moon were taken…by zombies.” Yikes, that works, and we have
a new idea for a bizarre novel.
wondered…by zombies.” Even though “wondered” is not a vibrant, energetic verb,
it’s still active.
was going to ask her to the winter ball was wondered…by zombies.” It works, but
we’re left wondering why the zombies are so concerned with Abby’s date
examples may seem a little absurd, you might be surprised at how frequently you
slip into the passive voice without meaning to do it.
If you’re unsure whether you are writing in passive voice, try using a grammar check device like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor to find out. It’s easy to fix and, in most cases, you will end up with better writing.
Why does active vs. passive voice matter?
“Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully.”— William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well
So now we
get to the million-dollar question: “Why does active or passive voice matter so
much?” Here are a few things to consider.
How It Affects Readers
exudes energy and directness. It helps your readers move along with the
voice usually has the opposite effect. It is wordy and indirect, which makes
your readers slow down. It also makes your writing more difficult to follow as
your readers try to figure out who did what to whom. As you’d expect, this means that your reader
has to work harder, is less engaged, and therefore is more likely to simply
what you are writing, be it a thriller novel or a set of instructions for
assembling a barbecue grill, you never want your reader to stop reading before
How It Affects Characters
If you write
fiction or creative non-fiction, your characters will suffer from too much use
of passive voice as well.
Instead of being instigators of action, it will seem as if they are just along for the ride. They’re not doing stuff; instead, stuff is being done by them. This puts the focus on the action and not the character doing it.
How it Represents You as a Writer
of genre, from novels to ad copy, the word you’ll most frequently see used to
describe passive voice in writing is “weak.” Every action comes across as
wimpy, sloppy, and even insincere.
writer, you may come across the same way. Do you lack confidence in your
writing? What are you trying to say?
Just say it
instead of backing into it with the passive voice. Your readers will thank you.
Is it ever OK to use passive voice?
one, it can break up the rhythm in your writing (in a good way) to add variety.
There are also some instances where passive voice makes complete sense.
you’re writing a story (true or not) about a boy and his dog. In the early
pages, we learn that “Billy found the puppy, whimpering and wet, on the side of
the road.” That’s great! We have a book about Billy, and we’ve learned that he
found a puppy.
But if you
whimpering and wet, was found on the side of the road by Billy.”
We now have
a book about a puppy, and we’ve learned that a boy named Billy found him.
If the focus
of your writing is on the recipient of the verb’s action rather than the
character doing the verb, the passive voice will keep that focus where you want
it. The key is to use it sparingly.
The trick, as with all elements of writing, is to consciously select your approach. Don’t let passive voice simply slip into your writing, or your writing will suffer for it.
Choose when and where you want to utilize it to maximize its effect and strengthen your work. Or, if you’re still in doubt, follow the advice of Stephen King:
“The timid fellow writes The meeting will be held at seven o’clock because that somehow says to him, “Put it this way and people will believe you really know.” Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write: The meeting’s at seven. There, by God! Don’t you feel better?” — Stephen King in “On Writing”
Remember story time as a kid?
While the story was great, you have to confess it was the pictures that drew
you in, right? Looking at the pictures was the best part of the entire
The same applies to digital and printed communications.
Visuals, including photography and infographics, play a significant role in helping people take action, become inspired, or grasp a concept.
But you need to be careful about
where you obtain your images.
Some imagery, including those on Google Images, are more often than not copyrighted and could land you in hot water if you use them without written permission.
“One of the issues we often see is clients using what they find on Google as images for a blog, website, or social media post. This is a dangerous game as many images are protected by copyright, or creative commons license, which limits their usage without proper payment or permission from the owner,” says Charlie Ewing, creative director at CGS Digital Marketing.
Before you get in haste to copy and paste, here are a few tips to tell if something is copyrighted or not:
Credit or contact details – If an image is copyrighted, take a careful look at the caption. You might spot the name of the photographer or whoever created the image. You might also find that person’s email address in the caption. If you really like the picture, you can contact them to see if you can use it; however, don’t be surprised if you will need to pay a small royalty fee.
Watermark – Many times, when an image is copyrighted, there will be a watermark or a faint design in the background of a logo or image. No matter how much you love the photo, don’t attempt to remove the watermark. It could cost you later on.
Metadata – You may want to check an image’s metadata. Sometimes referred to as EXIF data, metadata is described as a set of data that gives information about other data. The website “How to Geek” provides a good explanation of how to do this using a PC or Mac.
Reverse image search – If you are adamant about using the image and are determined to find the creator, you can use Google’s reverse image tool. You can upload the image there, and it will trace the photo back to where it resides online. From there, you might be able to determine the owner and contact him or her.
If you can’t find the owner to ask for permission, err on the side of caution and don’t use the image.
Photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers need to protect their livelihood and, as such, often check to see if there are situations where their images are being used without their approval.
The consequences of using a
copyrighted image can be, for lack of a better word, unpleasant.
“Copyright is always
something to be mindful of in the age of information,” says Emily Glass,
director of marketing for Because Marketing. “With free services such as
Unsplash and Pexels, there are plenty of stock photo options that won’t break
the bank. Still can’t find a photo that fits? Adobe Stock or Shutterstock are
great paid options.”
Below is a roundup of some of
the best websites out there that offer royalty-free use of images:
Pexels provides unlimited downloads of beautiful photos, and you’re bound to find something to match the subject at hand. Here’s an example of a beautiful picture you can download for free on this site:
“We go through hundreds and thousands of stock photos with our clients every month. Stock images provide clients and writers with affordable, high-quality photos at their fingertips, and they have plenty of choices to pick from. Not only that but you can test and try the images before you purchase them. Photos are easy to license so you can be assured that you will not infringe on the copyright. A few of our favorite resources are freepik.com, pexels.com, unsplash.com, stock.adobe.com, and shutterstock.com,” says Sami Khaleeq, president of CGS Digital Marketing.
Creating Your Own Images
Maybe these sites don’t
provide precisely what you need. If you need a quick photo and don’t have time
or the resources to hire a professional photographer, you can always take
advantage of your phone.
This online photo editing and designer program can be accessed via the web.
It provides graphic design
and editing tools and design templates for wedding invitations, announcements,
business cards, and more.
You can use the basic
features for free, but to get access to all the bells and whistles, you’ll have
to pay a membership fee.
Here’s an example of what you can make using PicMonkey:
Visuals are an essential
element of your blog post, website articles, and social media posts. With these
resources at your fingertips, you’re sure to steer clear of copyright
infringement, while at the same time creating something engaging and compelling
for your audiences.
professional writers, we at The Writers For Hire (TWFH) are constantly looking
to hone up on our skills while staying attuned to current trends and developments
in the writing world.
And we have
found that listening to podcasts is a fantastic way to do just that!
are tuning in while working out at the gym, or listening during your commute to
work, podcasts are a great resource for gaining knowledge and inspiration — not
to mention some fantastic stories to tell at parties!.
found, though, that not all podcasts are created equal.
So, to find
the best podcasts streaming today, we compiled a list of what our talented
writers at TWFH are listening to now. And
here’s what they had to say…
Goins is the
author of the book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, as well as a speaker,
consultant, and blogger. In his podcast, he discusses how to identify your
life’s work, ways to express yourself (your portfolio), and how to go about
fantastic podcast is for creative writers of all kinds! The podcast features
interviews with writers, filmmakers, Ted Talk speakers, and other creative
individuals who discuss their storytelling journey and the life of a writer,
including publishing and the ups and downs all writers experience.
a senior agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, representing children’s
book authors. In her podcast, she interviews authors, other agents, and editors
about the business of children’s book publishing.
Copywriter Club Podcast is a great listen for copywriters looking to build a
profitable business. Through their interviews with writers and other
professionals, they share ideas, tactics, and strategies to strengthen your
writing and business skills.
language app recently launched a podcast, which is currently available in three
languages—Spanish for English speakers, French for English speakers, and
English for Spanish speakers. The podcast features easy-to-follow stories,
designed to help users strengthen their language skills.
buffs and professionals alike, this podcast is highly entertaining and
educational. The host, Scott Fisher, interviews professional genealogists as
well as hosts of popular ancestry shows to get helpful tips and ideas for
researching family history.
intriguing podcast, Emmy winner Mo Rocca explores the people and things of the
past that have always intrigued him: from Neanderthals and JFK impersonators to
the Orphan Train and sitcom deaths.
hilarious podcast, Dax Shepard interviews fellow actors and celebrities about
the “messiness of being human.” While it may not be as educational or
informative as some of the other podcasts listed here, it is definitely one of
the most entertaining!
It may come as a surprise to you that fortune cookies are not actually a Chinese invention.
true origins are widely debated, it is a common belief that the first fortune cookies
appeared in California sometime in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
question is, though, who is behind the messages on those tiny pieces of paper
hidden inside of the cookies? Is it some kind of all-knowing psychic?
this fascinating article from Mentalfloss, many fortune cookie companies actually
rely on the wits and poetic words of freelance writers to come up with the
witty sayings inside those sweet treats.
several successful authors actually got their start writing fortune cookie
fooled by those seemingly simple prophetic one-liners, though. While writing
them may seem like an easy gig, it actually takes quite a bit of talent.
the messages must appeal to a wide global audience, while not being overly
specific or scandalous. (Nobody wants to crack open a cookie, only to read that
they are going to lose their job or go break their neck!)
time you get Chinese take-out, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the
talent and thought that went into your cookie’s fortune.
We all know an awful lot about something. It’s just the way people are.
Your area of expertise might be something useful, like knowing how to fix cars, or it might be something less tangible, say, an obscene amount of knowledge about cartoons from the late 1970s to the early 1980s (ruh roh, Raggy!).
Whatever the case may be, chances are that people come to you from time to time to ask your opinion about something related to your area of expertise.
Even folks who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves an authority in anything have this happen.
For some, once they hit a certain level of knowledge on a topic, the logical next step is to sit down and start writing about it.
Writing a non-fiction book can be a great way to expand on your knowledge of something and, best of all, show off how much you know about something (in a good way, not a braggy way).
Even in the digital age, when everyone is jumping on the internet to write blogs about what they know, we’re still seeing a lot of books hitting the market. In 2019 alone, more than 650 million books were sold!
But, even with all those books entering the market every year, how possible is it to actually make a living as a non-fiction writer?
Is it still possible to dedicate your life to writing about topics that you care about? Or do you have to live out your dream by supplementing your writing with a job at the mall?
Let's Take a Closer Look at the Money
The traditional book route
1. Getting a book deal.
For most of us, when we dream about writing a book, we dream about just that: a book.
Dust covers, author photos, hardcovers (and soft) and, paper pages.
Glorious, glorious pages.
It’s only natural that this is the first thing that comes to mind because, despite ebooks gaining in popularity in the last 10 or so years, people still love to get their hands on a physical book.
There’s just something about them that drives us to them.
Writers are no different. If you’ve had a dream of writing for any amount of time at all, you’ve probably spent most of that time dreaming about holding a real book with your name all over the cover.
So you decide to go for it.
The first thing that’s going to happen when you manage to snag yourself a book deal is getting an advance (I’ve cut quite a few steps out here, like finding an agent and prepping your submission, but we’re talkin’ money here).
An advance is a kind of loan that publishers use to pay you up front.
In the non-fiction world, you’re typically looking at anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for your first book.
As the link suggests, this can vary a lot depending on things like your level of authority, any audience you may have, and the timeliness of the topic.
Advances are usually paid out in chunks, typically in thirds.
You get the first third when you sign the contract, the second third when you turn in the manuscript, and the final third when the book is published.
These advances are then paid out by book sales and, if you’re lucky enough to pay out your advance, you start collecting royalties.
Royalties are the percentage of each book sale that an author gets.
This can range from 7.5% to 15% of the retail price depending on the kind of book that’s being sold (hardcover vs. mass market paperback vs. trade paperback vs. ebook, etc.) and the publisher.
Since all deals tend to be different, let’s say you’ve just released a book that sells for $30 as a hardcover.
If your royalty is 10%, you get $3 for each book sold.
Now, let’s also say you managed to secure a $15,000 advance.
That means you’d have to sell 5,000 copies of your book to earn out your advance.
Any books that you sell after that 5,000th book means money in the bank for you.
2. Writing your book.
OK. So, you’ve signed the contract and collected you first payment. Now what?
Well, now you write.
That initial chunk of the advance is meant to help you get through the writing phase. A non-fiction book can be a big, long, project, and it helps to have a bit of financial freedom from your job to get it done.
It’s probably going to take you anywhere from six months to a year to complete your book, depending on how much research you’ve done in advance, how well you know the source material and similar factors.
The first third of your advance is for this section.
You’re looking at another couple of months to get through this. That’s where the second third of your money goes.
3. Promotion time!
The final third of your money comes when you turn in the finished copy of your book.
Once you’ve gotten your book done and publishing dates have been set, it’s promotion time.
Yup, even if you’re with the bigger publishers, writers still end up doing the bulk of the promo work.
This is because with close to a quarter million books hitting the shelves every year, there just aren’t enough marketing people out there.
That, and frankly, no one knows your book like you do.
If you want your book to be successful, you’re going to need to market your book until you’re sick of it.
And, you’re going to have to do it every chance you get.
You’ll talk about it on social media, you’ll tell your friends, their friends, your family, their friends… Chances are, everyone who is even slightly connected to you is going to know that you have a book coming out.
And, if you’re lucky, most of them will buy it.
Going the DIY route
It wasn’t that long ago that self-publishing was seen as a bit of a fool’s errand.
Sure, you might have made some money, but the success stories were few and far between.
Flash forward to today where self-published books have been making great strides in terms of quality, being taken serious by both writers and the general public and, best of all, people have been making money doing this.
Online retailers like Amazon have made it beyond simple to self-publish a book and sell it on their site, thanks to things like Kindle Direct publishing.
Unlike the traditional publishing world, you don’t get any money up front when you go the self-publishing route.
In fact, all the associated costs of putting the book together—the ones that would have been covered by the publisher in the traditional publishing market—get covered by you.
That means you pay the editors, book designers, cover designers and all that.
All this can be done for just a few hundred with turnkey publishing sites, or for tens of thousands with elite editing and publishing services.
The more you put in at this stage, the better the chances of your book looking like it was put out by professionals and not just someone who knows Photoshop (because your book will have been put together by professionals).
But, once that’s taken care of, you get a bigger piece of the pie on the sales end.
Instead of only getting the industry standard of anywhere from 7.5% to 15%, you keep a much higher percentage after the retailer takes their cut.
That bigger chunk of sales that you take home is going to help you pay off what was basically your advance faster (the money you spent putting your book together) and will help you start making some money.
What does success look like?
Best seller status is something that most writers dream of at some point or another.
It’s kind of the old school version of going viral, only with books.
Best seller lists are, as you might guess, put together based on how books are selling.
They’re calculated on a weekly basis and the criteria, data gathered, and stores used to calculate these lists tend to vary widely from list to list.
The New York Times, for example, puts together their list basedon the sales from vendors across the United States, although the list is reported confidentially, so no one ever really knows for sure which stores are doing the reporting.
USA Today, on the other hand, tells you some of the vendors they rely on for their list.
And those are the easy ones to figure out.
Just look at how Amazon figures out their numbers here.
Go on. I’ll wait for a minute.
Had a look? Great. You probably noticed that for every explanation they have, there were exceptions.
The trouble with bestseller lists is, among other things, is there’s no guaranteeing anything about them.
You could have the best book in the world out there, and your book could still struggle to get on the list because of something, anything that happened in the world that week.
Take a look at the list below (from The New York Times non-fiction list), for example.
Notice that the bestselling non-fiction paper is Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
This list, as it happens, represents the week after Hawking’s death.
Things like this can throw off the momentum of just about any book, regardless of how well it has been doing in the previous week.
According to Bridget Marmion, former senior vice president of marketing for publishing houses such as Fararr, Straus and Giroux, and Random House, and founder of Your Expert Nation, being on a best seller list is always nice, but it should never be your goal.
It’s mostly because of the number of factors at play when determining the lists.
If a movie adaptation of a book happens to be coming out the same week as your book (this can happen in non-fiction as easily as it could happen in fiction, think of movies like Eat Pray Love and Wild), it’ll be a struggle to get your book on the list.
Having said that, if you can get yourself on a best seller list, it can help.
“Being on a list that is important to your audience would move the sales needle, if you’re on it for a few weeks,” says Marmion.
She adds that this can also help you with your next book, as traditional publishers are more likely to take a chance on someone whose book has been on a best seller list.
The burning question (I’m sure) is just how many books does it take to crack a best seller list?
Well, that answer, I’m afraid, is complicated.
It depends on the list, the time of year, what else is happening in the world and a host of other things.
Getting into the Amazon Top 5 would require sales of about 300 books a day.
And, to really complicate things, it’s entirely possible to get on an Amazon best seller list by selling very few books because you’re in a category that’s so specific you’re essentially on your own.
Just check out the example located towards the end here, which hit the best seller list with only three books sold.
These numbers aren’t high, but most books, especially debut books, don’t even come close to selling that many books.
Few books earn out their advances, which means they sell enough books to pay off the advance, and the numbers for average books sold can be as little as 250 books (although like everything in the publishing industry, there’s a lot of factors at play in figuring out exact numbers like that).
So...now you've got a book out
It’s a great feeling being able to hold a book with your name on the front of it (trust me, I know).
At this point, you need to decide what it is you want to do with that book.
If you want that book to make money, you need to market it.
In fact, you should have started marketing it, like, six months before it came out.
Unless you’re an established name in your industry, traditional publishing houses aren’t going to put too much effort into marketing your book.
With the sheer number of books hitting the shelves every year, publishers just don’t have the time or resources to do that.
You have to be prepared to hustle and self-promote your book to make it work.
If you have any authors, fiction or non-fiction, on your social media feeds, you’ve seen them doing this before.
It takes a lot of time and energy to make it work, but if you want your book to succeed, you have to be ready.
As if this didn’t seem daunting enough, according to Nick Morgan, who helps thought leaders and public speakers publish books (among other things), most publishers give a book about two weeks to make money.
After that, a book gets remaindered, which is when a book is sent off to discount books stores or remainder bins in book stores.
That means you really have to hit the ground running with your book if you hope to get a second book, or even earn back your advance.
This can leave a lot of authors feeling betrayed, especially when you add the fact that publishers don’t really promote books enough to help you succeed.
Luckily, all is not lost.
It’s possible to use your book to help you earn money doing something else. The trick, according to Morgan, is figuring out what that something else is.
Having a book (or two) to your name is never a bad thing.
Among other things, a book helps people understand that you really know what you’re talking about, and solidifies your status as an expert in your field.
Not just anyone can sit down and write a book. It takes a solid understanding and a very firm grasp of your topic to produce a quality book.
A book helps you stake a claim as someone who is an authority on a topic.
This can be especially helpful early on in your career, when people often struggle to be taken seriously and even to make a good living.
As Morgan puts it, “You have to establish expertise via a book.” From there, you can leverage that book to grow your career.
This extra level of authority helps you almost regardless of what you do.
People are more likely to trust a vet who’s written about a pet care over one who hasn’t.
A motivational speaker who has a book is not only going to be able to charge more because of their book, but people are going to listen more. Same if you’re a journalist or a politician or an athlete.
All this means is that you have to know going in what you hope you get out of your book.
If you’re going into it expecting success and sacks full of money to start arriving at your door on the day it’s published, you’re probably going to end up disappointed.
But, if you’re willing to do the work that needs to be done (like the marketing) or you’re writing a book to help bolster some other aspect of your career, then your book is going to help you make money.
It might not be tons of money, not to start, but, like all things publishing, if you’re willing to play the long game and build up a following using that first book, it’s going to get easier and easier to make money with each subsequent book.
With the rise in popularity of media programming such as PBS’s Finding Your Roots, and the ease and accessibility of home ancestry and DNA test kits, more and more people are choosing to research their family history.
The internet has made this research easier than ever before.
For those who decide to go even further—to compile and record the facts and stories they find—it has also brought along tools for writing and publishing a family history book that can be shared and passed down for generations.
The idea of such a complex and time-intensive project can feel overwhelming. But with a little sticktoitiveness, and the right process, the journey can be a rewarding one.
Seven Steps to Writing Your Family History Book
Step #1: Getting the Family Involved:
One of the biggest challenges you will likely face will come at the very beginning of the process.
Hesitant family members or an older generation afraid of sharing family secrets can be a stumbling block, which often prevents people from going any further.
Carol Cooke Darrow, a Certified Genealogist in Denver Colorado, has personally written three separate family histories.
She also leads a monthly class teaching others how to do the same.
She suggests using photos as an ice-breaker. Direct questions may seem intrusive.
Showing someone a photo opens up the possibility for them to tell the story of who is in the picture, why they are there, what happened that day, and so on.
Step #2. Collecting Living Memories
Personally talk to or interview as many people as possible.
No amount of research can ever produce the rich detail of an actual remembered story.
While it is not always possible to interview someone in person, or even over the phone, letters and email can be extremely useful.
It is important to develop a set of written interview questions before you begin.
This will give your research a road map, and yet allow for the answers to go in an organic direction.
It will also give continuity to your narrative, as that begins to develop.
You can use this same set of questions whether conducting an interview in-person, by telephone, or even email.
Hollace Ava Weiner, of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives, suggests limiting the attendees at an interview.
She learned when writing her own family history that too many people in an interview can be a distraction, and lead to interruptions. “We wrote down questions. We assigned one person to ask the questions.”
You may even find it necessary to bring in a 3rd party to conduct the interviews.
People are sometimes more willing to share when other family members are not around.
Written transcripts, audio files, records, photos, and almost anything else can be attached to your final project.
If you plan to publish a traditional bound book, you will need to convert all of these to visual images that will become a page in the book.
If you envision something more like a scrap-book, you can attach these items directly to the finished product.
Family members who may be unwilling to give you an interview or share personal stories, may share photos, mementos, or other documents.
Assuring them that you will return originals, if they desire, will go a long way toward helping you in your cause.
Excellent quality prints and copies are now easy to get and steps can be taken to preserve the originals.
Step #3. Understanding and Choosing a Writing Format
There are many styles or formats to choose from when writing your family history book.
From the very technical formats used by historians to the more casual and eclectic scrapbook, you will need to decide what form your final project will take.
For historic archivists, the two most commonly used forms are the Register (sometimes called Descendancy) and the Ahnentafel.
The Register style essentially begins in the past and moves forward in time to the present.
The Ahnentafel begins in the present and moves backward, incorporating a specific numbering and charting system for tracking family units.
But unless you plan to submit your family history book to a national archive, you may want to take a more modern approach.
A memoir or family biography may be the right choice for you.
One method is to trace a surname back as far as you can, then write a chronological biographical narrative leading to the present day.
In this case you would place your ancestors within the context of history, writing their stories both remembered and presumed.
You will end up with something like a novel all about your family—the politics, economics, and circumstances that led to movement, migration, and settlement.
Another option is to compile records, stories, memories, interviews, charts, etc. scrapbook style in a bound book.
This approach is no less time consuming, but may be more suited for those wanting to combine multiple branches of the family tree into one book.
These also make lovely anniversary/engagement/graduation gifts.
Which style you choose depends on the narrative you wish to tell and the book you wish to produce.
Step #4. Conducting Family History Research
Some people have been conducting research for many years, and are just now thinking of compiling all of the information into a readable, preservable book.
Others have recently become interested in their family history and want to publish a book in time for a family reunion next year.
Wherever you are in your journey, and whatever your timeline, there are online tools available to help.
The internet makes research much quicker and easier than it ever has been in the past.
Access to microfiche, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, wills, census and military records, immigration and naturalization records, ship passenger lists, land records and even newspaper articles are all at your fingertips.
Free and paid sites such as these will be invaluable in your search.
International Society of Genetic Genealogy
The National Archives
TWFH genealogist, Jennifer Rizzo, gives us her review of some of the best of these sites. She breaks them down by cost, pros, and cons in this great article.
Step #5. Document Collection
A good rule of thumb: If you cite it, you should include it.
Zoe von Ende Lappin, a member of WISE Family History Society in Denver, Colorado who has written and published a comprehensive family history entitled The Savages of County Louth and America, recommends that you “Identify unproven material, such as family stories, as such. But document those that you can verify.”
Think about the final product and how meaningful it will be if the records you were able to find were included in the bound book.
Many times you can request copies of documents through the site where you found them or download the records directly from the web.
Possible items to include are:
The genealogy chart or family tree you create
Maps showing movement and migration
Census and military records
Written, audio, or video transcripts of family interviews
Images of family heirlooms, such as a watch or wedding rings
Step #6. Writing Your Story
Now it is time to start writing.
There are many online tools for writing, charting, and organizing everything that you have collected.
Back Up My Tree, Evernote, and WordPress are all excellent! But a simple word-processing software such as Word or Pages is also sufficient.
The most important thing is that you put it down in writing.
It is also important to think about your audience.
Who is going to read this?
If writing a memoir, write in first person, otherwise a third-person narrative is the best approach.
Story-telling is the way history has always been passed down.
As you are collecting stories, you may discover a recurring theme.
You might notice that a large number of your ancestors followed a similar profession.
You may see that most of them were members of the same societies or fraternal organizations.
Following a theme is a good way to give your research direction, and begin to formulate a narrative.
Consider your audience as you begin to define the project.
No one wants to read every detail of every descendant you have ever had leading back to The Garden.
Choosing a specific theme that interests you, or one specific couple whose lineage you want to follow, will give you the framework for a story people want to read, and that you want to write.
One commonly used theme is to write about the members of a family who lived in one specific geographic location. The Smiths of Texas County, is an example.
Or you may choose something more unusual such as a family history of recipes.
Much can be learned about a family through the food they eat.
You could write stories about the women, where they lived, how they found local ingredients, the economic challenges they faced, and the children they bore.
Carol Cooke Darrow suggests that “starting small, choosing something you want to preserve, and giving yourself a deadline” are all keys finishing the project.
Step #7. Publishing Your Story
You got the family involved, you collected the living memories, you chose a format, you conducted extensive research, collected all the documents, and wrote your story.
Now it is time to publish your hard work.
For many projects, Amazon’s CreateSpace is a high quality, low cost option.
With online tools accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and no up-front fees, they are an easy safe zone in the self-publishing market.
There are limitations with what you can do creatively. But, if you are looking for straight-forward templates and quick publishing turn-around, CreateSpace has everything you need.
For a more robust project, or one where you have more creative control, you may need to look to a smaller publishing house.
Stellar Communications, for example, has a team of professional editors, writers, graphic artists, photographers, illustrators, and more who can help you with your custom job.
Other self-publishing sites such as Lulu, Otter Bay, Geology House, Stories to Tell Books, and Legacy Books are all online and offer different features.
Pro Tip- Including Photos and Visuals
A picture is worth a thousand words, and at no time is that more true than in a family history.
If you have been able to collect photos and other visual history, you will no doubt want to include those in your final book.
Make yourself aware of any copyright laws regarding your materials, and always remember to give credit where credit is due by documenting where you found the image.
After scanning the originals, Dropbox, cloud storage, and even thumb drives can be helpful as images can take up significant amounts of space on your hard drive.
For storing original photos and other delicate items, our expert Jennifer Rizzo recommends a good-old fashioned cedar chest.
Just make sure to place them in a polyester sleeve or acid free paper box first, and store the chest away from direct heat or moisture.
Writing down your family history is a gift to yourself, your relatives, and to generations yet to come.
Whether for an anniversary gift, a submission to a national historic archive, or simply a compilation of many years’ worth of personal research, it is a project worth perusing.
Recognizing the scope of the project, setting an achievable deadline, and following these steps will help you achieve the goal of a beautiful, polished, and sharable finished product.