Page 3 of 3

Invest in your dreams

Your Dreams are Worth the Investment!

Possibly the most important advice to take in as a writer. Investing in your dreams and in you can be done in several ways, including some that naturally come with the territory, such as investing your time into reading widely and with a writer’s eye. Before I outline what I think can be essential to a writer’s success, please understand that there isn’t a ‘sure-fire’ way to landing an agent and / or a publishing contract. Rejection is always a possibility and, from the years of learning this business firsthand, is likely. But don’t despair. Some of the most famous authors of all time, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, C.S Lewis, Stephenie Meyer, were rejected 10 or more times before getting their first novel picked up by a publisher. So, think, if success-monsters such as Harry Potter and Twilight had to face rejection before success, then chances are you will, too. The one thing you must never do is give up, because giving up is a lifelong rejection.


  1. Read books on the craft of writing and storytelling


Writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. In many ways it’s like painting a picture or composing a piece of music. To do either of those well you typically need the basics, such as paint and brushes, or musical instruments. Think of these books as your basics, as your tools. They teach and help clear some of the haze caused by lack of understanding and self-doubt.


When I first began writing novels, I can recall many times when I felt like I was simply just doing it wrong, even though I couldn’t place my finger on what. I hated that feeling. It caused more days of stress than I’d like to admit. But, since my dream was and is to write books for a living, I didn’t hesitate to better my understanding on what it was I was trying to do. Even if I needed to spend a year, maybe two, to not only read these books, but to be able to fully understand their content and become proficient with their material to have it show in my work, then I was going to do it. What’s a few years when you’re considering a lifelong career?


These are some of the more common books on writing and storytelling:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR. and E.B. White
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

*There’re many more books that can help with your particular genre or troubled area. Don’t hesitate to Google what you need.


  1. Consider using a professional critique service

If you find after giving your ready-for-agents manuscript everything you can offer and aren’t sure why you haven’t received at least a partial request from an agent, then this may be the answer. As writers, we’re often too close to our work. Our stories become our babies, our best friends, and we end up ‘protecting’ them from criticism. It’s normal for this to happen, but it also can be damaging in terms of growth and success.


So why a professional critique? Why not just have your friends and family read over your manuscript? What about an English teacher? These, surly, are cheaper options, but cheaper isn’t always the only aspect to consider. However, before I continue, I want to say that I think it’s probably best to use the resources you have, such as friends, family, fellow authors, teachers, first before considering a professional critique. You may, after doing the suggested revisions provided by your own resources, end up with a superb story, both in quality and concept. Many authors have their own networks that work, so don’t ever count out who you have.


Now, if after using your own network, you still aren’t having any success, then consider getting your story to a professional. Critiques, though keep in my mind they’re subjective, can sharpen the edges of the sword that is your story, making it possible for it to cut its way through the ‘slush pile’ and into your dream agent’s hands. Personally, I benefitted greatly from a critique. The author I worked with not only provided explanations on why she was suggesting certain changes, but she also gave great insight on how a story like mine can travel the road to publishing, and that’s the priceless aspect to these services. You’re working with someone who has succeeded at what you’re trying to do. Who better to learn from?



  1. Have your story edited


This, in my opinion, is the absolute best thing you can do as an aspiring author trying to attract an agent. Working with an editor gives your manuscript that gloss, that polished texture, and it’ll make your work stand out. As I said earlier in this post: writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. Editors can provide that guidance.


Another invaluable aspect to using an editor is that it should expand your knowledge and give you more tools for this trade, which in turn saves you in the long run because your reliance on an editor to polish your work becomes less and less. I will not lie and say editors are cheap to hire, but, in my experience, one of the smartest decisions I made when I decided to pursue writing as a career was hiring an editor. Hands down, I shaved off years of struggle by learning the many sides of writing from my editor’s reports on my manuscript(s). I learned everything from proper formatting to professional prose. Plus, my editor provided me with a tremendous amount of explanations and references. He wanted me to grasp the reasons why, and, as any editor should, he wanted me to succeed. For my success will reflect his.



Tips on finding the right editor:


  • Do your research.

Find an editor that you think you’ll be comfortable with. You don’t want somebody who’ll tear you down to the point where you feel like not writing anymore. I’ll admit, it always hurts to hand over ‘your baby” and have it returned to you with a list of major and minor infractions. It took me almost a week to sit down and thoroughly read just the report of these violations. But, after realizing you hired this person to do exactly that, you’ll feel your confidence skyrocket because every fixed wrong strengthens your writing. And, possibly, this editor saved you from sending this out to agents prematurely.


  • Look for credentials, knowledge of the publishing industry, and testimonials.

Find out any potential editor’s background. Did he work for a publishing house, or another respected level in the industry? Does he specialize in certain genres? What are past clients saying about their experience with this editor? The list goes on, but you want to make sure you’re in good hands. Many people, and I’m sure as a writer you’ve met a few, claim they have editorial background or some gift for editing. Some cases are true, but if you’re going to spend the money on an editor, don’t risk your investment on someone who may or may not prove beneficial.


  • Find an editor who has worked with respectable authors.

This is my personal taste on the matter, but I think it’s one most can agree on. You want to work with somebody who has bettered the works of some of the people you admire or appreciate. Imagine, your manuscript is being edited by a person who has worked with Stephen King, James Patterson, or George R.R. Martin. They’re out there, so, if you’re wanting an editor of that caliber, see what it’ll take to have them go over your work. However, there’re many great editors for hire that don’t have the top earning authors listed as previous clients. It’s up to you to find the one that is right for you and your book.



  1. Time

The obvious one, but the only one that is a requirement. No matter what our goals are in life, time will always be something that will lead to our success. I say time generically because we all need a different amount of it. Some may only take a year or less to achieve their goal(s), others may need 10 or more years. The difference can be made by work ethic, dedication, and, as always, stumbling on just the right amount of luck. As a general rule of thumb: the more time you dedicate to something, the more likely you are to succeed.


How should writers invest their time? By reading and writing! The more you read, especially with the eye you’ve gained from writing your own stories, you’ll become aware of all the elements that make up a good story. You’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and how you can apply the same techniques into your own writing. Also, as long as you can decipher the method to the madness, reading well-written books gives you the greatest insight on how to write.


Write, write, write! The more you write, the better you’ll become. Writing is like a muscle, and how do we build muscles? By working them out, often. You’ll see the growth because your mind will be able to deliver the words at a faster rate, therefore allowing you to produce more content in a shorter time.


Also, make a daily wordcount goal that’s achievable. That way you can earn the feeling of accomplishment often. If your goal is to have a book on Barnes and Nobles’ shelves, then you may be waiting a long time to feel like you achieved something. That’s not a healthy feeling for the amount of work you’ll be doing, and it can possibly keep you from finishing your story.




I hope you found this blog useful. As you probably know, there’re so many ways to travel the publishing road, and I believe we all discover our own way in time. May your trip be filled with success, excitement, and fulfillment.

Interview with Kim Herbst



As I waited to hear back from agents, I strongly considered the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to have an agent fall in love with your story, and, plain and simple, I may end up with zero offers of representation. Because of this, self-publishing my story was always an option. I strongly feel that if you (the author) do the things for your book that a traditional publisher will do if they signed you, as in hiring professionals to edit, format, design / illustrate your cover, and market your book, then self-publishing can be an equally satisfying route for your work. And, knowing these things can take time, I didn’t hesitate to get started.

So, after researching several illustrators that seemed to match what I was looking for, I came across the wonderful and remarkably talented Kim Herbst. Her portfolio blew me away! She had illustrations of video game and movie characters, famous athletes, previous works on other book covers / album covers / magazine covers, and a variety of fantasy-based artwork. I had no doubt that, if she was available, this was the artist that could create the illustration that would not only bring the imagery of my story to life but capture the eyes of potential readers. And so we began discussing my project.

The result

ADH Final 1

Needless to say, I had a wonderful experience working with Kim. She has such a unique style and, when combined with her skill and creativity, the sky isn’t the limit. It’s only the baseline.

*As many of you know, I recently signed with literary agent Cyle Young. My book is currently being reviewed by publishers and, if one of them makes an offer, I most likely won’t have too much say over the cover. Thus, Kim’s beautiful illustration of the dragon and boy may remain a personal token that I get to share with all of you.


A little bit about Kim Herbst and her clients


Kim Herbst is a freelance illustrator located in San Francisco, CA. She spent time living in Taipei, Tokyo, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Brooklyn.

She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and graduated with a BFA in Illustration.

She contracts with Kongregate for mobile games and shares a studio with her husband and a cat named Pixel, even though she’s allergic to cats.

Kim’s work has been featured in magazines, album covers, gallery shows, and children’s educational books. She’d love to collaborate with you on a new project! Contact her via kmh [at ]

Select clients:

Google, National Geographic, BOOM! Studios Comics, Colorado Springs Independent, Willamette Week, Karmin, Isthmus, Flaunt Magazine, Rhode Island Monthly Magazine, Oxford University Press, Games TM Magazine, SciFi Now Magazine, Pearson Publishing, Boston’s Weekly Dig, Bitch Magazine, Scholastic,  Digital Artist Magazine


Below is the short interview I had with Kim. Though she’s an artist and I’m a writer, there’re numerous parallels between the two fields. After all, creating is an artform in itself!



1. What information should a potential client have at the ready before contacting you? Anything specific for book cover illustrations?

Illustrators love authors that have done their research on hiring an illustrator! If someone is contacting me, the usual bases to cover are: What is your project? Summarize your needs succinctly to try to get the illustrator interested in the project (say it’s a fantasy story, or sci-fi, etc etc). If you know your budget, give a rough estimate so the illustrator can see if it works within their rates or afford to take on the project. If an author has no idea what budget to pay, Hire An Illustrator had a blog post a few years back specifically for Children’s Book illustrations (think, 32 pages of colored illustrations). that can give a good idea. The Graphic Artist’s Guild Pricing & Ethical Guidelines book also gives good brackets for how much to pay illustrators. You can also ask the illustrator what their rates are, so long as you provide them with more information such as, if you’re working with a publisher or self-publishing. If you plan to give the illustrator royalties, if the illustrator will retain the rights to the image or hand over the rights to the publisher/author. Another great piece of information is if the author has a specific deadline in mind. Illustrators need to know if they can fit a new project into their schedule; I always want to make sure I can personally give my full attention to someone’s project, and ensure that my illustration is of great quality to the client. So in short: what is the project, if you’re working with a publisher or self publishing (for books), what’s your budget, and what’s your deadline.

2. When creating art for someone else’s vision, what is your process for generating ideas and inspiration? Do you prefer a very strict visual guideline from your client, or do like it when he or she leaves room for your creativity?

Room for creativity is always great! It’s quite hard to work in very strict guidelines – unfortunately I don’t have the technology to simply read someone’s mind and see precisely what someone else wants me to draw, so we really have to meet somewhere in the middle. Usually someone seeks out an illustrator because the client enjoys the particular style they’ve found in the illustrator’s portfolio. What you see in the illustrator’s portfolio should be what you expect to receive as a final product. It’s never a good sign if someone contacts an illustrator, who works in dark, gritty black and white line work with adult themes, to produce a very rendered, painterly, poppy-colorful children’s illustration. The illustrator won’t be comfortable working in such a distinctly different style, and it’s odd that the client would contact them for such an ill-fitting job. There are plenty of illustrators out there, and finding the right one is like finding a piece of clothing that fits you and your sense of fashion. When starting a project, I personally ask the client what sort of emotion or look/feel they’re attempting to evoke in their project. After hearing a project’s summary I ask for 3-5 descriptive words to get the big picture: Is it supposed to be Dark? Whimsical? Exciting? Hopeful? Despondent? I’ll also ask who the audience is, who would this book or article be aimed towards? And from there, I can get a good idea and start gathering references, researching, and then create layouts and composition sketches.

3. Assuming life doesn’t get in the way, typically how long does it take to finish an illustration for a client?

This can really vary! It all depends on what’s being asked for in the illustration. Drawing a single individual will take less time than say, filling an entire area with origami cranes or flowers. I know some colleagues that will get a phone call from a newspaper like the New York Times at 1pm, and they need to hand off a final illustration by 6pm the same day – it’s super intense. For things like articles and book covers, if I’m not working on anything else, and completely dedicated to the one project, it can be finished within a couple days. Also depending on how many revisions the client would like, this can bring the illustration time up to a week or more if the client isn’t happy with the direction. I like to try and nail the direction and details as early on as possible though.

4. What would you consider to be a “Dream Project” for you? Consider nothing out-of-bounds!

Honestly, simply being asked to draw in my specific style for projects was always a dream of mine! Maybe being asked to do a Google Doodle?? Or more published work in magazines in general. A giant, personal dream project keeps being put on the back burner, but I’d love to finish a slice-of-life graphic novel I’ve re-written abut 8x. Finally started on a few pages of that, and would love to continue work on it!

5. Over the course of your career, what are some of the projects that stand out in your mind?

One of the first big clients I worked with about a decade ago was Oxford University Press – it stands out to me because I wanted to do my very best, and had to accurately portray historical pirates, had to research actual pirates, their ships, their attire etc. I made them with cutlasses and revolvers because that’s what they had at the time, but ended up having to completely cut the weapons out because it was for young children. I kept thinking, if it’s supposed to be historically accurate, why would we censor the weapons pirates had?! They’re pirates! There was one image where a pirate had to walk the plank, and initially I’d had a knife being pointed at the man being forced to walk. Since the weapons were all cut out, the pirates threatening him were then changed to all be laughing and pointing at the poor guy. I somehow felt that imagery was even worse!

6. What are you working on currently?

A lot of my day is currently eaten up by a full-time job working for video games publisher, Kongregate, in San Francisco. I work as a Senior Artist, helping out on a variety of games in a variety of styles, from licensed characters, to pixel animations, and everything in between. I love it because I’m endlessly learning new techniques which I can bring back into my personal style. But on the freelance side, I’m currently working on an exciting poster series with a giant tech company, which I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about just yet. Between all of that, I love working on personal illustrations to pass the time, just to get the creative juices flowing!

7. What is the biggest piece of advice you can share with aspiring artists?

If one decides to pursue a career in the creative field, rely on discipline over talent. It’s so easy to fall prey to the words of ‘you’re so talented,’ and you become complacent. I wasted a bunch of my early years believing I didn’t need to practice drawing, or working as hard at my craft because of the siren-song ‘you’re really talented!’ (and saying the dreaded cliché, “well that’s just my style!” when I received harsh criticism over things like funky anatomy). It’s motivation, but motivation is fickle and fleeting. As an illustrator, I can’t rely on motivation to get a job done. There are deadlines and edits to be made, and discipline steps up to the plate every time. Discipline gets you to sit down and crank out multiple concept sketches and layouts, even when you really, really don’t want to do it. Discipline is practicing your craft, even when you’re not currently at your job in the creative field. Drawing isn’t akin to riding a bicycle, it’s more like learning an instrument. If you stop drawing for awhile, you don’t just instantly pick it up again, you have to keep it up! Every. Day.


To find out more about Kim, her work, and to how best she can assist with your illustration needs, check out her website at

Be sure to follow her on social media!